Day 630 OUT OF Beijing: Break Time.


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.


All I can say, is that after 630 blog posts over 630 days, I’m ready for a well deserved break.

I’ve loved sharing Jill’s and my adventures with all of you and will write more when I feel like it.

I have no idea when that will be.

I want to thank everyone that has enjoyed my blog posts and read them.

I’m incredibly grateful for the comments, responses, and care you sent me while I was living overseas with Jill.  She is also.  It meant more to us than I can ever relate to any of you.

Thank you.  Seriously, THANK YOU.

Now it is up to you to write your own story.

Most of all, I have to thank Jill.

My darling, I will do my best to never let fear stand in our way.

Thank you, Jill.

You saved my life.



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 616 OUT OF Beijing: Anchor Brewing Company Tour.


Jing A in the Anchor Steam Brewery!

Jing A in the Anchor Steam Brewery!


Jill and I knew we needed to leave the City Guides tour to make the Anchor Brewing Company tour in time.  We seriously have the best “jobs” in the world doing research for San Francisco Tourism Tips, right?

We hopped on the bus, got spit on by some guy with a serious mental illness (He also pretended to shoot at us after he got off the bus. Oh, San Francisco you are a city of dichotomies) and arrived at Anchor Brewing.

We were a bit early so we had lunch and hung out until our scheduled 1 pm meeting time.

At 1 pm, we went upstairs into the tasting room and Stephen showed up to introduce the tour and what would be happening for the next 90 minutes.  FYI: The tour cost 15 bucks and needs to be rsvp’d for at least a few weeks in advance.  It used to be free but people would have to reserve their spots 6 MONTHS in advance and, if they didn’t show up, the tour time and space was wasted.  Trust me, 15 bucks is more than worth it for 45 minutes of history and to taste 6 different beers!

Stephen poured us all a beer and told us that it would be the last beer we get, while on the tour, so to savor it.  I did my best but finished it within about 5 minutes.  He gave us a tremendous amount of history regarding Anchor Steam, including that they were the first craft brewery in THE USA opening in 1871.  They survived not only the 1906 Earthquake and also Prohibition.  All of the beers are made in the copper brewhouses.  They also have 6 different beers, which most people (including me) didn’t realize as they aren’t as widely distributed.  The company also almost died, as it was very close to being bankrupt, at one point but is now doing better than ever and they will even been expanding to a new location in China Basin near ATT Park that will hopefully open in 2016.  It will also double their total output.  The current building, which will stay in operation, was built in 1937 and is beautiful.  The tasting room looks like a 1930s or 1940s tasting room and is quite stylish.

However, this is definitely a craft brewery at this point. They brew 22 hours a day and work three shifts to make sure they can produce enough product.  That may sound like a lot but think about this: Budweiser produces 51% of all the beer consumed in the USA.  I went to one of their tours, with my buddy Nate Pile, about 4 years ago and it was insane how much beer was being made.  And that was only one of 11 breweries that they have around the USA.

I’ll stick with the little guys and keep drinking my local beers.

Stephen also stated that there are now about 17 microbrews in San Francisco proper.  That is just now up to the same level before prohibition so it is pretty obvious that San Franciscans always liked their beer but it took a long time for us to get back up to speed.

By the way, Anchor Steam is called that because of all the steam that would come off the top of the building as it brewed.  It is a special beer, which is only made of the best ingredients with no adjuncts, pellets, rice or corn.  They are the real deal.  Surprisingly, since it seems like they’ve been around forever, Anchor Steam only started bottling their beers in 1971.  I guess I was only 2 years old at that time so it has been forever for me.

As you can see in the pictures. the employees are allowed to drink some beer, from time to time, and they seem to love their jobs and their beer.  We were told they get one beer after 4 hours of work.  Sounds like a great job to me!

Stephen allowed us to hang out afterwards, as we told him we were trying to get information for the SF Tourism Tips page and we discussed life, beer and traveling as he, and many of the employees that talked to us, seem to be very fun, slightly goofy, and adventurous people.  No matter if you are a tourist, or a local, I’d suggest this tour because there is so much information, and so much beer, that it is a trip down memory lane…if you can remember it afterward.

By the way, if you notice, I’m wearing my favorite shirt from Beijing.  The front of it has the Chinese character for “JING” and then A.  This is the brewery our friends, Kris Li and Alex Acker (and his amazing wife, Ashley. Hi Ashley!) own and where we spent much of our time in Beijing hanging out. They are two of the sweetest people we know and like family to us.  Without those guys, and their AMAZING beer, we’d not been able to survive that city.  We miss you guys and hope you come visit us and visit Anchor Steam when you do!

Ps.  Click this link if you want to go on an Anchor Brewery Tour.


Day 615 OUT OF Beijing: North Beach and San Francisco City Guides.


View from the parking lot.

View from the parking lot.


Jill and I headed off to San Francisco to check out another San Francisco City Guide walk as we continued to update San Francisco Tourism Tips.

We took the bus in and then walked from the drop off point up Columbus Avenue to North Beach.

We were pressed for time, since we had a tour at Anchor Steam Brewery at 1 pm so we knew we’d only be able to stay for about half the 90 minute tour.

Our guide did a great job and introduced us to a lot of the old San Francisco and how North Beach started up with lots of Italian families moved in and started to incorporate their favorite parts of Italy into the USA.

We started at Saints Peter and Paul Church which is located at 666 Filbert.  Jill mentioned this to me and I thought it was rather humorous and a bit of classic San Francisco craziness.

One of the facts that we were told was that Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were actually married at City Hall, since the church wouldn’t let them marry there because she had been married before, and then they took pictures at the Peter and Paul Church because they wanted their families to think that they were married in a church.

There has also been a lot of movies filmed here and it has become quite famous.  It was almost empty and we took our time walking around and enjoying the gorgeous interior.

After we left Saints Peter and Paul church, we walked into Washington Square.  There were a lot of Chinese people dancing and exercising here, at 11 am, because they have started coming here to enjoy the day since Chinatown is so crowded and many of the older apartments have very little room.  So, it was fun to watch a bit of Chinese culture that had been transported here and remind us of something that we truly loved living in Beijing.

We saw one man, in particular, doing his exercises alone and then he hugged a tree for about a minute.  It was so comforting and he seemed so happy as he was enjoying his day.  As we walked by, he smiled and waved at our group.

We then moved over to Liguria Bakery, which is famous for its focaccia.  They are also infamous for their family being rude, abrasive and pushy.  It is all part of their way of being and I hope they never change it because San Francisco would lose some real characters.  And amazing focaccia!

We then walked by Joe DiMaggio’s family’s old house and passed a woman who ran a day care company and her little “bus” of kids that were so cute.  Just in case you wonder, we asked permission to take their picture and she agreed.

Last but not least, we went to the parking lot above a police department for some of the best views of San Francisco.  It is also located above the parking lot for one of the mortuaries in San Francisco and I just loved the perspective that this view gave to the shot.  Sadly, we had to leave so we could get to our Anchor Steam tour but we want to go back and do the whole thing as soon as possible!


Day 610 OUT OF Beijing: Why We Walk, Part 4.


The Wild Turkeys of Petaluma.

The Wild Turkeys of Petaluma.


Jill and I are trying to lose some weight, get in better shape, and not be stuck in front of the computer doing work for San Francisco Tourism Tips all day long.

In that vein, we are making sure to do walks each day that we aren’t out in San Francisco getting more information for the site.

Petaluma is such a wonderful little town and it is so easy to get out in to the countryside and away from traffic, cars and noise, especially compared to places like Beijing, where it is almost impossible to find silence and solitude, even in parks and nature since it is so polluted, packed with people, and dirty.

For that reason, alone, we need to be out and taking advantage of what we have been given here and we are doing that.

On the days where we don’t walk, I’m trying to run or do something else to continue getting in shape.  I’m definitely not where I want to be at this point and so I’m doing something about it.

As we walked over a rather large hill in the outskirts of Petaluma, Jill said, “Hey, look at that!” and pointed out a few turkeys that had just finished crossing the road in front of us.  No, I didn’t ask them if a chicken had crossed the road before them or why if it had.

We stopped, watched them walk around and realized, once again, that we are in an area where there is lots of life and nature and that we almost never saw birds in Beijing.  We both mentioned this fact to each other, a few times, when we lived in Beijing, but it really comes to life when you see so much flora and fauna in its natural environment.

The only place we really saw that was at the Beijing Zoo and that was a truly horrendous event of which I will only say that that there were people feeding cheese to the monkeys, gazelles and zebras. I’m sure that is exactly what those animals diets are supposed to be, right?

A friend of mine said he saw people hit the pandas with apples in the head so the pandas would look at them and be more active.  Suffice to say, NEVER go to the Beijing Zoo if you care about animals at all.

We, on the other hand, were able to see these amazing animals, treat them with respect and let them live their lives, and then see a few tiny quail walk out of the blackberry bushes as an added gift.

If we had just sat at our computers, working all day, we’d have missed this wonderful gift.

That is why we walk.

Day 609 OUT OF Beijing: Why We Walk, Part 3.


Bill and Rosemary with their Land Rover.

Bill and Rosemary with their Land Rover.


Jill and I were hanging out, working on SF Tourism Tips, and decided we’d go to lunch in Petaluma.

We were going to walk to Lagunitas Brewing Company, have a beer and some food, and then walk back to Randy and Alethea’s home since it was a gorgeous day, we wanted a break from work, and we like getting out and about.

As we know, the best laid plans of mice and men…

We started walking down the main streets and saw Lombardi’s Gourmet Deli and BBQ and decided to take a detour.

We bought a sandwich, some macaroni salad and a bottle of red wine since they had a huge deck and we wanted to enjoy the view.

As we ate our food, we noticed a rather impressive Land Rover in the parking lot.

It was covered with stickers from countries all over the world and we had fun trying to guess which sticker was for each country and where the owners had traveled.

After about 15 minutes, a man walked out and started towards the car.  I told Jill, “I want to go ask him what they are doing and where they are going.”  She said, “Go for it!”

I walked over, flag the man down and asked him about their travels.

Bill told me that they had bought this Land Rover in the UK and then driven it all over Africa for a few years.

In opposition to the news we hear of Africa, they loved the Sudan and said that the people are very friendly and that there is very little crime.  It was interesting because I’ve found that the media very often lies about conditions, here and abroad, to keep people in fear and from experiencing new places and meeting people.

They were in Petaluma on their way down to Joshua Tree, after being in Canada for a few months, and were looking for a good campground.

That is why Jill and I travel and talk to people.  We think almost everyone has something to offer and we can learn from them.

Bill’s wife, Rosemary, came up to us and I invited them to sit down with Jill and me and share a bit of time and share each other’s stories.

Bill and Rosemary had traveled all over the world, starting long ago, by using their professions to get them where they wanted to be.  Or, in one case, not where they wanted but then decided to stay for 10 years.    But that is their story and I’ll let them tell it on their blog if they decide to.  By the way, they probably have only half of the stickers from countries they’ve visited because they weren’t for sale or available while they were there.  I would guess they’ve been to somewhere between 75-100 countries.  I’ve been to 16.  It gives me incentive and inspiration!

Jill and I were intrigued by their choice to sell their house and hit the road.  Their idea of minimalism is very close to our’s, except they have a car, and they live inside their Land Rover almost all the time.  They do use other services, like TrustedHousesitters, to find homes to house sit, but they are also very frugal and financially smart so they can travel for as long as they want to.

This trip started about 2 years ago after they had returned back to the the UK to see their daughter and her family.  They shipped their Land Rover to Uruguay and then started driving all over Southern and Central America from there.

After moving into North America, they went through Mexico, the southwest of the USA, and up to Canada.  They stayed in Canada for a few months and are now heading across the USA to the East Coast where they will ship their car, and themselves, back to the UK.

They aren’t sure if they will settle down when they get back home and are trying to figure out what to do next.

After listening to their story, and be totally amazed by their willingness to take chances, live a different life, and not be tied down to possessions and places, we told them more about our plans and beliefs.  They seemed to appreciate them and were impressed that we could do all this traveling without a car and just walk, bike, bus or take mass transportation to get around.

The next day they were planning on going to San Francisco so Jill gave them some ideas and told them she would email them a plan later that day so that they could have more specifics if they wanted to use them.

After a few hours of talking, they needed to get on their way to  their campsite and we needed to get home.  We gave them some directions and they decided to go food shopping.  After we parted, Jill and I decided to skip Lagunitas entirely, since it would be dark before we headed home, and we decided to go shopping also.

We walked about 1 mile to the grocery store and saw their truck in the parking lot.  We smiled as we knew we’d get to say hi one more time and walked in and saw them immediately.  We all started laughing and talked for a few more minutes before we parted and went our separate ways.

In case you want to see their travels, click the links below:

Africa Road Trip

Latin America Road Trip

That is why we walk.