Day 528 In Beijing: Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Cappadocia, Lift Off!

 

Up, up, and away!

Up, up, and away!

Jill and I, and our closest 15 other friends, climbed into the gondola and got ready for our lift off.

The gondola is basically a massive, woven material, box that we stand inside of and watch the world below us as we fly through the air.

It is set up like an oblong grid with 2 sections on each side for 4 passengers each and then one section in the middle for only the pilot.  It blocked off so people can’t move from one side to the other since that would unbalance the load and make it very dangerous for everyone involved.

Our cabin mates were Abby and Brent.   They were also from the USA, but not via China, and Abby was about to start her graduate schooling at University of Texas, Austin in psychology so it was a perfect match!  Both were incredibly nice and friendly and we enjoyed spending our time with them.

We talked to Mike, our captain, a little bit as he was getting ready and then pretty much stopped speaking when we took off because we were so enraptured by the scenes that were pretty much didn’t speak a lot on the flight.

As you can see from the video, almost everyone else was quiet and stunned by the beauty of what we were experiencing.

At this point, we were only over the flats so we had no idea what really lay ahead of us.  We had watched a few videos on what other people had experienced but it is nothing like the real thing.

That includes my video and what you will see by my pictures.  This truly needs to be seen, and experienced, live and in person.

 

 

 

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

 

So intricate and so perfect.

So intricate and so perfect.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Day 511 In Beijing: Evening Call To Prayer In Goreme, Turkey.

 

sunset10

 

After Jill and I relaxed on the balcony at our hotel, we heard the call to prayer start again.

When I write again, it is because the call to prayer happens 5 times a day in Turkey.

I’m guessing this is true in all Muslim countries, but since I haven’t been to all of them, I can’t state that.

We didn’t hear the call to prayer in Malaysia, when we visited there two different times, and we were in major cities with lots of mosques.

We may just have been too far away from the mosques to hear the call but I doubt it.

There is something so relaxing, so calming, and so hypnotic about the call to prayer.

I love listening to it and just letting my mind wander.

The owner of the Village Cave House Hotel told Jill and me that he believes his grandfather worked on that mosque and another one that is near the hotel.

As you listen, you will notice you can hear the call to prayer bouncing off itself as the different mosques’ speakers played it just a second or two apart from each other.

It may have also been perfectly synchronized but the distance between the mosques, and our hotel, may have caused the delay as the sound may have reached us at slightly different times.

Either way, it was magical and a perfect way to be welcomed into Goreme and our stay at the Village Cave House Hotel.

 

 

Day 510 In Beijing: Night View Video From The Village Cave House Hotel.

 

The night view from our balcony.

The night view from our balcony.

 

Jill and I loved just sitting on our balcony and hanging out.

We had a nice bottle of Turkish wine, and if you didn’t know, the Turks make some great wine, our favorite Turkish white cheese, and some crackers to enjoy along with the view.

We knew we were only here for a few days so we wanted to make sure to take advantage of the peace, calm and tranquility as much as possible.

so we did.

Enjoy.

And cheers!

 

Day 490 In Beijing: Protests at the Israeli Embassy.

 

The protest in front of the Israeli Embassy.

The protest in front of the Israeli Embassy.

Even though it is a few months ago now, there was a major event going on between the Palestinians and Israelis.

As you can guess, Turkey, being that it is somewhere between 95-99% Muslim, was on the side of the Palestinians.

We had no idea, when we were returning from Nate’s house, that we’d drive right by the Israeli Embassy.

All we knew was that we were stuck in major traffic for about 20 minutes or so.

As we got closer to the embassy, we realized that the flags were Palestinian and the people were chanting slogans, which we couldn’t understand, but we got the idea.

There was no violence or discord, other than people speaking their minds, and I can only imagine what these people think about the situation in the Middle East.

I can only imagine it is very different than most people in the USA, and definitely different from people in China.

The one exception might be in Xinjiang, which is the Uyghur and Muslim region of China.

Our ex-roommate, Gulzar, was from Xinjiang and told us a lot about what is happening to her people, her culture, and her religion and it is sad.

I’ve always disliked when people are subjected to a rule of another country and what this means for the indigenous culture, and this means even in the USA where the native people have been subjected to reservations and their culture being taken from them, and I’m always interested in how people respond to this dilemma.

I’ve often joined protests in my home country of the USA and feel that the freedom of speech is incredibly important and sacred.  Even if I disagree with what you want to say.

We didn’t get out of the cab, since we don’t speak Turkish, even though I would have loved to been a fly on the wall to this whole demonstration and to have seen how it ended.

I’m guessing, from what I could see, it was peaceful and quite reasonable.

Also, I’m not giving any political statements or opinions here.

Just showing a slice of life in another part of the world that most people probably don’t see.

 

 

 

 

Day 309 in Beijing: One Extraordinary Fishing Pole!

 

This has to be one of the longest fishing poles I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.

When the fisherman sat down with it, it had to be about 4 feet long.

Then he started telescoping it out.

And kept telescoping it out.

And kept telescoping it out.

And kept telescoping it out.

I’m not sure if you can tell by the pictures, but the fishing pole has to be about 25 feet in length.

One end is incredibly pointy and small.

the other is about 4 inches wide since the rest of the pole fits inside it when it collapses.

There was a guy across the river with two smaller ones but this one just left me amazed.

I love how the cherry blossoms, water, trees and sky create such a serene scene.

It is days like this that make me want to stay in Beijing for many years to come.

Serenity now...

Serenity now…

Day 281 in Beijing: Addictions.

Many people have addictions of one type or another.

Most people know, even if they won’t admit it to others, if they are addicted to something.

It affects their daily life, their work, their free time and their state of mind.

I’ve got a bit of an addiction also.

I’m trying to break it.

I like reading comments on articles from e-news sites.

I used to be very addicted to my righteousness and telling others how to live their lives.

It seems most of the people posting comments on these sites also feel the same way.

Let me be specific, they don’t feel the same way I do about how someone should live their life, just that the person commenting knows better than the person living their own life how to live it.

It is a confusing sentence but that is what it is.  I’m okay with that.

I’ve been attempting to break this habit with very little success because I haven’t put a lot of effort into it.

Mostly I look at the comments and think about how serious, mean and judgmental they are and then ignore them.

I’ve been wondering, in the last week or so, why I even look at them.

I think it is an addiction to the self-righteousness that I had before dying a slow death.

I can remind myself that I’m, mostly, not like that anymore and also feel somewhat superior to the people that are commenting.

This is, actually, rather self-serving and yet very destructive.

I’ve decided not to read the comments for the rest of the month and note whether I feel more positive or less positive about my state of mind or if there is no change at all.

Life is an experiment and I’m going to run one on myself.

I’ve also noticed, on social media sites that I’m a part of, that people seem to want to pull me back into the persona I was before I made this change to be more positive.

It is another test of my strength against the addiction of hubris and self-righteousness that I have learned to check myself on and agree with them and then move on.

Agreeing with someone, and finding even a tiniest bit of truth in what they are saying, tends to negate almost any argument.

When I first started praticing this about 7 years ago I found this quite difficult to do in the moment.

I learned a very simple way to set my mind to agree with someone from my supervisor, Brac Selph.

I don’t think he even realized he was doing this, but anytime someone said anything to him in our group supervision, he would immediately answer with, “You’re right.”

I noticed this and started doing it also since when I tell someone, “You’re right” I then choose to find something to agree with them and that reduces their desire to argue with me because we have just agreed.

You may choose not to do this, or you may think I’m incorrect in my assumptions, and you might be right, but for me, it just makes sense.

I find it is not always easy, especially with someone I tend to disagree with strongly, but it saves me energy, time and other problems that come up because of disagreements.

Also, if the other person is incredibly argumentative, they tend to get tired of talking to me because I don’t give them much to argue with.  They go find other people that fit their way of thinking and being.

That used to be me.  I decided on New Year’s Day to try to be more positive, constructive and caring when I comment or speak to people.

I think I’ve succeeded greatly.

And this is just one more step in my journey towards a more fulfilling and wonderful life.

Feel free to join along when, and if, you decide to come along!

 

Day 275 in Beijing: My battle with the Green Eyed Monster.

According to Shakespeare, and my good friend, John Annesley, jealousy is the green eyed monster.

Shakespeare wrote, in Othello, “Beware of jealousy, my lord! It’s a green-eyed monster that makes fun of the victims it devours.”

I tend to agree with The Bard on this one.

I have been working hard at controlling my thoughts, emotions and behaviors over the past few years.

It is a dedicated study that I have been doing and continue to do each moment I breathe.

My study of emotions and thoughts began long before graduate school where I studied to be a Marriage and Family Therapist.

I specialized in Somatic Psychology (body and mind) but later took a seminar in David Burns’ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and my life changed in an instant.

It is based on scientific research, including scores written by the clients themselves so it is not just the therapist deciding what is the truth for a client, and allows me to distance myself from negative emotions and feelings quite easily.

It also allows clients to do this.  I’ve seen it over the past 6 years and feel there is no better way to help people decide what is right for them, in this moment, and move on to a much more content, positive and fulfilling life.

One of the true benefits is it allows one to see that they are in control of their choices and are free to do what they want, at any moment, because the consequences will be theirs, whether they make a choice or not.

My choice has been to rid myself of jealousy and I’ve done a fairly good job at it.

I’ve had a few small pangs of it in the past 9 months living in Beijing but they went away quite quickly because I’m living, in my opinion, what is pretty much the perfect life for me.

However, I hit a major roadbump a few days ago.

A high school friend of mine was visiting China for work.

We were going to meet up and catch up after 20 some odd years.

However, she ran into a famous musician and her band and decided to hang out with them.

They actually gave her back stage passes and invited her up to their hotel rooms.

She was able to hang out with them and live a bit of a dream.

Well, at least it is a dream for me.

This is where my jealousy came in.

I would love to be invited back stage by a world famous musician and get to hang with her and her band.

So, instead of just being excited for her, I started to feel as if I wasn’t important and was being “left out.”

Strangely enough, it wasn’t that I was being left out of seeing my friend, because I knew she’d be back in a few months and we’d hang out then, it was that I was being left out of a party that I never would have been invited to or even thought about if not for her getting this amazing chance.

Jealousy, that green eyed monster, can strike at any second.

Now the choice was up to me: I could do some behavioral therapy work or sit and become more jealous.

I choose to do the work.

I’m also a firm believer in being vulnerable and admitting your fears.

I have found that when I admit my fears, then tend to be destroyed by the truth of speaking them.

I told Jill that, “I’m feeling really jealous of her wonderful luck and the great chances she is having.  I want to be there and having those experiences with her.”

Jill looked very surprised and noted, “I don’t think I’ve ever known you to be jealous.  Is there something I can do?”

I told her, “Nope, I just need to do a bit of a daily mood log and work on my cognitive distortions.”

Interestingly, I don’t think Jill really gets jealous.  She seems genuinely happy for what people receive and what she receives.

I have practiced these so much, with my clients and on myself, that it is almost automatic at this point.

I sat there, thought out the cognitive distortions and how my automatic negative thoughts could be reframed in a positive thought, and blew the lies that my jealousy told me with away easily.

I allowed myself to feel gratitude for my wonderful friend who was getting this incredible adventure and chance of a lifetime.

Instead of jealousy, I felt joy for her.

I also felt proud that I hit the speed bump, did the work, and drove right over it.

It is something I preach to my clients as relapse is almost 100% and the skills that you learn in therapy will help you stop the speed bump from becoming a mountain.

I’m proud that I live by the words that I speak.

And, that jealousy is still alive and can remind me that we have a choice to be grateful or not.

I choose to be grateful.

 

 

 

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 266 in Beijing: No Longer Watching The World Go By.

Since New Year’s Day, I’ve made a lot of changes in my life.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions because I believe that if you want to change something about yourself, don’t wait until a certain day or time. 

It just happened to fall into place when I visited a Buddhist temple that day with Jill and our friend Dipesh and listened to the chanting and realized how peaceful one can be if they put their mind towards that goal.

It is also a large part of acceptance in behavioral therapy that I’m very fond of using for myself and my clients.

One of the results is that I decided to become vegetarian. 

I did this for 6 months, once before, and loved it.

A little back history:  I was involved in a car crash when I was four years old and lost my sense of smell.

Since, like almost everyone else, your question will be, “But what is your sense of taste like?” I’ll answer it right now: I think I can taste at 50-60% of what is an average person’s sense of taste.

So, going vegetarian for me is quite easy: I”m not tempted by smells of yummy foods as I walk into restaurants. 

Also, I know bacon tastes great.  I just care more about the environment, the pain that pig goes through, and the waste that is produced by eating meat. 

Jill, my amazing girlfriend, also decided to jump on board and seems to enjoy the simplicity and ease of being vegetarian.  She was also horrified by the treatment of the animals and the waste that accompanies the mass production of meat in the world.

This is not a holier than thou post, by the way.  You can eat or do whatever you want.  I’m just simply explaining my actions.

I also have stopped talking about political ideals or ones relating to spirital or religious beliefs. 

They only serve to keep people apart and don’t help to build a community.

I’d rather live the way I live, see if people are interested, and then talk to them personally.

I’m one small guy in one large world.

And I’m cool with that.

Lastly, I’ve stopped reading most of the news out there.

I haven’t watched the new for the last 5 or so years becuase I feel it is basically a way to control people and make them fearful of their neighbors and keep them locked in their houses and afraid.

I’ve actually prescribed clients to stop watching the news if they are depressed or anxious.  It tends to have an amazing effect on their mood because they don’t have to worry about events that are beyond their control as much.

I have no interest in the negative news as I think most people are doing the best they can, and if you interact with them, they will show their humanity and care for their fellow human beings.

I continue to read some of the comments on my Facebook wall as they are posted by others, but I’ve cut that down to almost nothing at this point.

Rage, anger, disappointment, fear, distrust and other destructive emotions, as well as many of my automatic negative thoughts have disappeared along with the horrors of the world.

Maybe I’m hiding my head in the sand and using escapism but I don’t think I am.

I believe I’m making a change for the better, trusting in my own ability to make friends, be a good person, and that it will be returned.

If you know me, you know that I tend not to focus on the past.

I don’t blame my parents, upbringing, or society for my choices. 

I can’t think of one person that has taken advantage or intentionally tried to hurt me.

The only times bad events have happened to me is when I let my ego get in the way and jealous, greed or other emotions like those aren’t kept in check by me.

And me alone.

I make the choices that define me.

I am grateful for the freedom to be me.