Day 629 OUT OF Beijing: Austin, My Buddy from Beijing.

 

Gao Jie, Austin and me at the salsa festival.

Gao Jie, Austin and me at the salsa festival.

 

Austin and his friend, Gao Jie, were visiting the states from Beijing and we happened to be in San Francisco at the same time they were.

We were also at the 7th Annual Salsa Rueda Festival and so they both got to see a bit of what that festival was like but mostly we hung out, caught up with each other, and just relaxed.

Austin and I met through a friend on Facebook who knows both of us.  He suggested we meet up and hang out when I got to Beijing and Austin and I hit it off immediately.

He later met Jill when she came over and we bonded like brothers and sisters and made sure to help each other out when we needed it.

That is a big part of being an expatriate: Taking care of each other because most of the time your family is so far away and can’t help you out when you need it.

One tends to have incredibly close friends, when living overseas, to make up for this and it almost feels like one has a new family every time that you move or change locations.

This is both positive and negative because you make lots of friends, and build amazing communities, in a very short time but you also have the negative where so many people you love move away and you have to say goodbye way too often and way too soon.

Luckily, we knew that Austin would be coming to SF and we’d be able to see him and we were incredibly happy to spend a few hours with him and Gao Jie here.  Their travels were starting in Los Angeles and then going all the way up to Seattle where Austin has to do some work.

It sounded like an amazing trip and we even set him up with information from our website, SF Tourism Tips, and gave him ideas on where to stay in Healdsburg where I grew up.

It is nice to have friends, and stay in contact, when it is so easy to lose that connection, by being an expatriate.

 

Day 627 OUT OF Beijing: Rest.

 

Our luggage and us at the Salsa Rueda Festival.

Our luggage and us at the Salsa Rueda Festival.

 

I tend to think that Jill’s and my life looks incredibly fun and adventurous from the outside.  And it is.

However, we get worn down because we are running from place to place, researching information for SF tourism Tips, interfering with our friends and family’s lives by staying with them, and trying to continually minimize more and live on less and less.  We are even continuing to minimize each place we stop and think we can get down to less than we have now.  And we are pretty dumbfounded by how little we have and how we can get along on it

Also, even though we love taking mass transit and not having to own a car and deal with the hassles associated with that, it can be very tiring.

The 7th Annual Salsa Rueda Festival in San Francisco just ended on Sunday and we spent 5 straight days having fun, dancing, meeting people and helping out Nick and Serena who run the whole thing by themselves (major props to Nick and Serena for a job incredibly well done!).

We are staying at my sister’s house in Walnut Creek and were hoping to see a few last friends before we head off on Feb. 28th for Los Angeles and hit the road for at least 5 more months.

However, we are both so exhausted and worn out that we are trying to stay low key and relax at Stacy’s house and just catch up on things.

Jill is still working 5 days a week, 8 hours a day (or more) on her site and we wouldn’t ever think of going to work in an office again, but sometimes we just need to rest.

I’ll be posting videos of the salsa festival we were at over the next few days but, today, just rest.

I hope you all have a restful day also.

Day 623 OUT OF Beijing: Minimizing to Maximize our Travels and Life.

 

Jill beside our luggage to show perspective.

Jill beside our luggage to show perspective.

 

Jill and I are getting ready to set out on another epic trip all over the world.

We know we are hitting Los Angeles, Cancun, Santa Fe, Nebraska (Jill’s parents live there) and then we are off to parts unknown.

We are expecting to go to Costa Rica to start our travels outside of the USA.

However, we might go and hang out with my cousin, Michele and her husband, John, down in Mexico if that works and they want us to come.

We also have invites to stay in Colombia, Spain and so many other places that it is hard to even comprehend what wonderful and exciting adventures are coming our way!

In our year and half together we’ve already visited China, Mongolia, Singapore, Malaysia, Greece and Turkey, where I asked Jill to marry me (yes, she accepted).

Being that Jill and I have figured out we really don’t need much when we travel, we have decided to minimize to a massive extent.  We only had one carry on each for a month when we were in Greece and Turkey.  We know we don’t know much and hate having extra weight or unused gear.

Here’s where it all started. When we moved to China, we both had 2 full sized pieces of luggage, 2 carry on and a backpack.  I had basically sold everything else I had and Jill had a small storage area.

That was for 1.5 years and the only reason we needed so much was because I needed to buy gifts for people, bring my therapy books over, and we would be faced with major temperature changes and be prepared to have all deal with all kinds of issues that might have come up.

By the time we had left, we had minimized down to 1 check in, 2 carry on and 1 extra bag each.

Even though that is much less than most people we know, we knew that there is no way that would work for us if we wanted to keep cruising and be as mobile as possible as we travel all over the world.

So, we’ve been whittling down our luggage and our clothes over the past 2 months.

Today was the day of reckoning.  We got Jill’s backpack from her friend Leslie, and started packing again.

We gave away 2 more bags of clothes to Goodwill and both of our large check pieces of luggage were emptied.  They will either be used by Randy, since he travels so much playing with different bands around the world, or they will be donated.

We also will donate two of our smaller bags that we don’t need.

So, we are down to 4 bags total.

1 check in piece of luggage.

One 45 liter backpack.

1 15 liter day pack.

1 5 liter mini day pack.

We plan to buy a 30 liter backpack and get rid of the check in piece of luggage.

It isn’t that the check in piece, which has wheels, isn’t useful, it is that we want to be more mobile and able to adjust to our travels.  Backpacks give us that.

Our plan, when needed, is to wear the 45 liter backpack on the back and the 5 liter backpack on the front.  This will balance our load and will allow us to carry everyone.  Jill will wear the 15 liter day pack and wheel the carry on until we get the new backpack.

Less than two weeks from now, we head off on our Megabus to Los Angeles and then the fun begins.

By they way, about 1/5 of the 45 liter backpack is taken up by my cycling gear.  This will be dropped off at my friend Christopher’s house as we want to do a some cycling when I get there and hopefully when we return.  That is why we will be able to survive with a 30 liter backpack instead of another 45 liter one.  The beauty is that both of these don’t have to be checked when we board a plane so it is faster, easier and safer.  We still are able to fit both our computers, our kindles, and our phones since we will be working from wherever we are.  We don’t feel we are going “without” because we have what we need.

Our view on life is simple:

Own your things.  Don’t let your things own you.

 

 

Day 622 OUT OF Beijing: Happy 46th Birthday to Me!

 

Jill and me celebrating my birthday and enjoying our ride on the SVT Salsa and Rueda Party bus.

Jill and me celebrating my birthday and enjoying our ride on the SVT Salsa and Rueda Party bus.

 

Jill and I are getting ready to have a major party this weekend at the 7th Annual Salsa Rueda Festival.

The party started last night, when we hired a few private party buses and drove all over San Francisco.

My friends, Nick and Serena, run the whole event and it is one of the biggest in the USA.

Some of the best teachers, performers and fans of Cuban music and dancing come from all over the world just to be at this festival.

Luckily, it is always on the same weekend as my birthday so I get to celebrate with loads of friends and pretend as if this is my birthday party every year.

Jill, always willing to try something new, went on the party bus for the first time last night and seemed to have a great time.

She was able to meet a lot of my friends that she had never met before, and was able to do a little salsa dancing also.  It isn’t really her scheme but she’s a trooper and danced with me a few times.

Most my friends are new to her since we met only 8 days before I left for China.  Since we’ve been back we’ve been working non-stop since we got back to update San Francisco Tourism Tips, she hasn’t really had a chance to meet a lot of my salsa community.  That is going to change, BIG TIME, this weekend.

Since I won’t be around my immediate family on my birthday, I will be around mi familia salsa.

A wonderful way to start the party and to begin my 47 year of being alive on this little blue marble we call Earth.

 

Our friends, Nick and Serena, watch as their team practices for their performance.

Our friends, Nick and Serena, watch as their team practices for their performance.

 

Day 618 OUT OF Beijing: Valentine’s Day, Love and Carnaval San Francisco.

 

Page 3 on Carnaval San Francisco's DRUM BEAT!

Page 3 on Carnaval San Francisco’s DRUM BEAT!

 

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and Jill and I both got a wonderful surprise that helped us celebrate our love courtesy of Carnaval San Francisco.

If you remember, Jill and I met at Carnaval almost two years ago.

That was 8 days before I was going to leave for China.

I was meeting my buddy, Jon-David, to hang out and watch the parade.  It was going to be my last Carnaval for 3 years since I planned to stay in China for the duration of my contract and wanted to see other places instead of coming back to the bay area.

Little did I know I’d meet the love of my life, Jill Loeffler.

I posted about our first date, the next day, and how we had a “First Date Re-Dux” when we got back to San Francisco about 2 months ago now.  By the way, we are leaving San Francisco in 14 days.  Time really does fly in so many ways!

I tagged Carnaval San Francisco in my blog because I wanted them to know how much we appreciate them and how important they are to Jill’s and my story.  BiancaEstella de la Rocha, noticed my blog post and how we met at Carnaval.  She wrote to me and asked if we’d like to be featured in the Valentine’s Day edition of DRUM BEAT.

DRUM BEAT is their official newsletter and we were both blown away and humbled at the same time.

Bianca told us that she would put us in contact with Valencia Newton and she would do the interview.

Valencia contacted us, about a week or so later, and we set up a time to meet.

We met at a coffee shop on Market Street and had a great time.

Valencia is someone that we instantly took a liking to since she is so happy, gregarious and outgoing.

She is also the current Queen of Carnaval San Francisco!

How cool is that?  Jill and I got to be interviewed by the Queen!!!

Valencia told us this was her first time she had professionally interviewed someone and we were quite surprised as she had a lot of questions, seemed at ease, and was very professional and concise.  I, on the other, tend to babble and Jill rolled her eyes more than once and said, “Yep, this is Aram.  He gets excited and tends to talk a lot.”  Jill worked in journalism, and on the radio, and so she knows how to do interviews and how to be interview. I tend just to talk and want to have people “raised up” by my excitement.  I think, in looking back, it is another reason why we do so well as a couple since we balance each other out.  She grounds me when I need it, and I ground her when she needs it (which is not that often.  Jill’s a rock and I’m constantly amazed by her stability and ability to know what is the right choice in almost any occasion).

The interview took about an hour and we talked about everything from falling in love, blogging each day, running San Francisco Tourism Tips for the last 5 years (and the last 1.5 years in CHINA!), minimization, getting engaged in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey, what we have planned for our new website and also what Valencia’s dreams and hopes are.  It was like we were friends that had known each other for years.

Valencia is going to be a natural at this and I see someone that is ready to take the world by the horns!

We were told the edition would come out on Valentine’s Day and Valencia let us know we could read through and do corrections with the different drafts.  About 2 weeks later, she sent us the first draft and it was almost perfect.  She had done an excellent job of getting the facts straight, making a very coherent and exciting article, and almost being 100% correct.  We were really pleased and excited to know that our story was going to be in print sometime soon.

Another exciting part was the photograph that Valencia chose for the interview: It was of us in Santorini, Greece, at our friend Vassilias Micheal Chryssos‘ bar and restaurant, Palia Kameni Cocktail Bar.  It was a very romantic night and we met up with Vassilias here in San Francisco as he and his girlfriend, Soneth, are traveling (and working) in California for a few months.

I’ve posted the interview below.  Please do me a huge favor and go to the Carnaval SF Facebook page and “like” their page.  Also, go to the Carnaval and support them with your patronage, your money and you joy.  This is an organization that does so much, for so many, with so little.  Along with allowing us to meet and fall in love, it is one more of the reasons that Jill and I love Carnaval SF.

 

Click here to see the PDF version of the Valentine’s Day DRUM BEAT featuring Jill and me!  We are on page 3 and 4. Valenica, who interviewed us, is in a photograph on page 2 dressed as the Queen and standing with the King.

 

Page 4 of Carnaval San Francisco's DRUM BEAT!

Page 4 of Carnaval San Francisco’s DRUM BEAT!

 

 

Day 401 in Beijing: Beijing Swingers?

 

Swing dancing in Beijing!

Swing dancing in Beijing!

A few weeks ago I posted about salsa dancing in Beijing.

Well, Beijing has more than salsa and I went to a party, to celebrate the 4th of July at a rooftop bar called Migas in downtown Beijing.

Our friends from Jing A Brewery were pouring their new watermelon wheat beer and my buddy, Shagi, from Dienastie Sunglasses, was promoting and selling them.

It was an awesome time and a swing band showed up to play out of the blue.

I’m guessing they were hired but we didn’t know about it and we were very pleasantly surprised.

I can’t remember the name of the band but I’ll find out and we will definitely go see them play again soon.

Enjoy the videos below and, if you watch them, you’ll see my buddy Shagi doing his thing and Jill walking through them with her “Jing A” t shirt on.

 

Day 393 in Beijing: Salsa Dancing in Beijing.

 

Isaac, Jill and me.

Isaac, Jill and me.

Who would have guessed that Cuban style salsa dancing would be imported into Beijing?

Well, it has.

My buddy, Isaac, is an amazing salsa dancer.  He, and his wonderful wife, Mary, loved dance and love life.

They are exactly the kind of people that are part of the Cuban salsa community back home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Isaac had introduce me to David Huo, who is from Beijing, and quite famous for being the “Chinese Cuban Salsa Champion” around the world.

David was generous enough to introduce me to his crew and I’ve gone dancing numerous times here.

Isaac was in town visiting his brother, Jonathan, who is a famous actor in China.

Well, we decided to go dancing and have some fun in Beijing.

Isaac was, without a doubt, the guest of honor as he is well known for being an amazing dancer and everyone wanted to dance with him.

The band consists of only Chinese Nationals and 3 of them have actually studied in Cuba to learn how to play better and understand the music.

All I can say is it was wonderful to see a bit of “the bay” here in Beijing and to be able to catch up with my dear friend after over a year.

 

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Here is a video of David Huo dancing in Cuba from a few years ago.

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.

 

 

9 Days to Beijing: Allegro Ballroom

431991_601856843166661_505365305_nI said goodbye to a dear friend today.  Her name is Allegro Ballroom.  She has given me love, connection, support and shown me a new family.  This is where I started dancing salsa about 13 years ago.  I remember going there and not knowing anyone at first.  Then, I started asking people to dance and asking questions of the instructors and becoming friends with them. I started to hang out at Allegro every Sunday and it became, as I called it, “My church.”

After 10 years I realized that I only missed going to Allegro’s on a Sunday about 10 times total.  I would schedule work and vacations around it as I knew that no matter what was happening in my life I was supposed to be there with my salsa family.  We ended up sharing birthdays, marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and everything in between in this magical place.

Something I’ve noticed about Allegro is a strange turnover every 3-4 years.  It seems, other than the true hardcore dancers, people may get bored, may get married, or some life change happens and then start to disappear.  I’m glad that most of my small circle seems to have stayed together with a limited amount of turnover.  Thirteen years is a long time to stick with something and it has enriched my life in more ways than I can mention or describe at this point.

So, I said goodbye to my dear friend Allegro tonight.  However, even though I said goodbye, she will always be in my heart, and I in hers. I love you, Allegro.

10 Days Beijing: San Francisco Carnaval and dancing casino style salsa

942205_10151672037324553_1420609647_nI have yet to go to Brazil for Carnaval and so the best I can do is our local one in San Francisco at this point.  I have friends that also set up a salsa dancing area and it is always a great time.

The style of salsa dancing that I do is most commonly refered to as casino style.  It comes from Cuba and, to me, is more based on African influences mixed with the European social dances and western dances such as lindy hop and swing.  I love the dance, the music and the friend I have made in the community.

That is the most important point for me: Community.  Most my family lives in different parts of the US, and even outside of the US, and so the casino community has become a de-facto family for me.

I have known some of the dancers for over 13 years and they have been there for me and I have been there for them.  We have all seen relationships start during this time together.  Some make it and people get married.  Sometime they do not.   That being said most of the people tend to be able to stay in the community and give the other person space when they break up and the salsa family stays together.

One of the great things about this community is that it is worldwide.  I already have a connection in Beijing to be able to dance casino style salsa and will be going out with David when I arrive.  I plan to make my new community a new family for me.  It will allow me to connect, have support, give support and do what I love the most: dance casino style.

Here is a video of David when he was in Cuba:

David (Yao Fei Huo) dancing in Cuba circa 2006