Day 560 OUT OF Beijing: Back in San Francisco!

 

The rainbow crosswalk in the Castro District.

The rainbow crosswalk in the Castro District.

 

Jill and I were supposed to fly into San Francisco on December 15th.

However, our flight was diverted to Oakland because of the storms and we weren’t able to land back in our “home” town.  We had some turbulence on the way down and yet the overall flight was fine.

This was actually a fitting end to our travels in, and out of, China as it has been an incredibly bumpy ride for the last 1.5 years.

Some of the high points:

Jill and I are engaged.   Hell, we met only 8 days before I moved to China so the fact that we even made it there is amazing enough.  But engaged?  Truly incredible.

I was able to help a lot of people in need of therapy and coaching.  I worked on some of the most high profile cases in Beijing.  If you look at the news of what happened, with expatriates living in China during the past 1.5 years, there is a decent chance I worked on the disaster and tragedies as a psychotherapist and a trauma specialist.

I worked with the most amazing co-workers and staff.  I was able, at any moment, to get support, knowledge, and whatever my clients, or I, needed to make sure the client had the best care possible.  The knowledge level at my company is amazing and the professionalism is beyond compare.  I’m honored to have spent 1.5 years with them and could not have wished for a better group of people to work for and with.

We made an amazing amount of friends and connections.  People inspired us to dream bigger and not settle for the norm.  It takes a special kind of person to survive, and thrive, in Beijing and our friends do that.

We were able to save a nice little nest egg for our future plans to travel around the USA and build our business at San Francisco Tourism Tips over the next year or so.  We are also going to be building a new website to help people live their dreams and take the road less traveled.

We were able to visit parts of China including Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Tianjin and see places out of history like The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, and The Terracotta Warriors.  These and many others will live on in our pictures, this blog, and our memories for the rest of our lives.

We also were able to visit Singapore, Malaysia, Mongolia, Turkey, and Greece.  Not a bad way to spend a year and a half.

Some of the bad points:

RAB (Richard Arden Bermudes) passed away while we were gone and we were not able to say goodbye in person. This will haunt me.

Jill’s grandmother passed away while we were gone and she wasn’t able to be there for the funeral and memorial.  She seems to be doing fine with it and was able to say her goodbyes before we left but I’m sure this still is upsetting to some degree.

As mentioned above, I worked on a lot of the major disasters that happened in Beijing during my stay.  This was incredibly positive because I could help a lot of people but it was also difficult because I saw so much grief and death in my 1.5 years.  From what I’ve been told, the 1.5 years I worked at my company saw as much emergency situations as anyone can remember.  And I always volunteered to help because I enjoyed doing it but it did wear me down.  However, I don’t regret one second of it.  I know I helped save peoples’ lives and helped them find a way out of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, psychosis and other very painful places.

Jill had a breast cancer scare and needed to get a biopsy.  This can be scary enough, living in the USA, but living in a foreign country makes it 10x worse. Everything turned out fine but it was still not an enjoyable experience.

Jill fell and hit her head and had a huge bruise for quite a while.  The amazing thing about Jill is that almost nothing gets her down.  She was able to laugh about what happened and let me write a few blogs and post pictures.  She is truly amazing.

This is just a short list of things that happened and I’m going to be writing a travelogue about them and others in the next year.

Jill and I sort of forgot all of these events as we drove into San Francisco with our dear friend, Alethea Bermudes and saw the Golden Gate Bridge rise out of the fog and clouds.

The Grateful Dead once sang, “What a long strange trip its been” and they were partially right because our long strange AND AMAZING trip has just begun.   It is past, present and future tense.

We both hope you continue along with us as we travel around the USA and then off to some foreign country to see what the future brings us next.

 

Day 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 356 in Beijing: Happy 1 Year Anniversary To Jill and Me!

 

We took this picture a few days ago.  I wrote the date we were there instead of our anniversary!

We took this picture a few days ago. I wrote the date we were there instead of our anniversary!

Many of you know that Jill came to stay with me after I arrived in China.

This is how it all began:

I was leaving for China and wanted to see the San Francisco Carnaval parade.

It is usually jam packed with people so I went down to get my spot at 8 am.

There was almost no one there.

So, after 30 minutes, I got off the curb, walked over to a restaurant, and grabbed breakfast.

When I returned to my spot, there was a woman, wearing black sweats and sweatshirt, and sunglasses there.

“Hmmm,” I thought, “She’s pretty cute.”

I asked if I could sit down by her and she agreed.

We started talking, and waiting for the parade to start, for the next 1.5 hours.

My dear friend, Jon-David, showed up and joined us.

We basically spent the whole day together and had some amazing food after the parade ended.

As we split up, I asked Jill, “Wanna go on a date tomorrow?”

She agreed and we haven’t been “apart” a day since.

Other than the 1.5 months that I was in China and she was in San Francisco, but we talked on skype every day and we’ve been as happy together as either of us can remember.

That isn’t to say everything has been easy: Especially in China, where relationships are stressed and pulled in ways that they aren’t in other places.  However, our willingness to grow, admit our mistakes, and trust each other, has allowed us to be stronger and more comfortable each new day.

We decided a nice little photo retrospective would be a good way to celebrate our anniversary.

By the way, Jill was down at the parade to shot pictures for her website:

http://www.sftourismtips.com/

It is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sftourismtips and if you “like” that page, we’d consider it a very nice present to the both of us as that is how she survives and she is working hard at making it a viable, and powerful, website.

 

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Day 205 in Beijing: Human Feet. It’s What’s For Dinner.

DINNERTIME!!!!

DINNERTIME!!!!

Jill and I tried being fish food again.

You may remember that we did the fish feet food dinner when we visited Shanghai a few months ago.

They were tiny little fish that, when they ate the dead skin off our feet, made us laugh because it tickled us so much.

These guys were more like big fish that were really looking to be fed.

They didn’t hurt but it wasn’t as ticklish.

It took about 15 minutes, and cost about 3 dollars US, and it was well worth it.

Not only do our feet feel so much better but the looks on the faces of the people walking by, and their questions, was worth way more than we paid.

People tend to be pretty freaked out by this and I can’t really blame them.

It is a pretty strange thing to do.

I know that in China one can actually wear a swimsuit and go into the water up to their necks and have the fish clean off the dead skin from everywhere that is not covered.

I’m not sure if I’m up to that experience yet, but trust me, if I do, you will hear about it here on my blog first!

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Day 200 in Beijing: Not in Beijing.

200 Days in Beijing.  And San Francisco.  And Healdsburg. And Malaysia. And Sinagpore.

200 Days in Beijing. And Shanghai. And San Francisco. And Healdsburg. And Johor Bahru.  And Kuala Lumpur . And Sinagpore.

It should be day 200 in Beijing for me.

It is not.

I’m in Kuala Lumpur.

Little did I think when I started this blog that I’d even be doing a daily blog that would take me all the places I’ve been to as of today.

A bit of history:  I used to have a blog, a few years ago, where I posted things about my views on life, love and therapy.  I decided that it probably wasn’t the best thing to do since I wasn’t sure I wanted my personal life out there.

However, when I started getting ready to move to Beijing, I decided to do a 14 day countdown for my friends and family that wanted to keep in touch.

When I arrived here I found that I enjoyed it so much I’d attempt to do a blog post for each and every single day of my 3 year contract at my job.

I may stay longer than 3 years but that was my minimum and that is where I wanted to start.

I’m now at 200 days and surprised at how easy it has been to think of something new, and different, each day.

There have been a few tough times where I felt I was losing steam but I asked my readers to give me suggestions and it brought me back to life.

I would like my readers to comment more and tell me what they like and what they want to know as that does excite me and I have more of an idea that people are actually reading my blog.  I would like to think people are reading it and enjoying it but I won’t know unless they tell me.

So, I appreciate, deeply, everyone that writes to me and comments.

It honestly makes me smile each time.

In honor of that, I think Steve Johnson needs a shout out, as we say in the states.

Steve is an old high school friend of mine and has been a one man cheer team for me and my blog.  I think he has “liked” every single post and commented on most of them.

Steve, thank you.  I’m honored and humbled to be your friend and someone that you feel deserves being read.

And, since this blog is mostly about life, love and the pursuit of travel, ending with a thank you to Steve, while visiting Malaysia with Jill, and then living in the same apartment complex as my older brother Robert and his wife and new born son in Beijing, China, while conversing with my family and friends all over the world, do I realize that, in the end,

I am home.

Day 191 in Beijing: Five Things I’ve Gained By Being In Beijing.

I just posted about the five things I miss being in Beijing and I thought it would only be fair to look at the five things I’ve gained living here.

As my friend would cal it, “The dialectic.”

1. Seeing my brother, Robert and his family, whenever I want to see them:  My brother has lived in Beijing for 6 years now.  He has his own blog: A Man Called Su, which I suggest everyone check out and subscribe to as he has a different take on China than I do and he is also an amazing photographer.  He is married to a wonderful woman and they just had a baby about 2 months ago.  We actually live in the same apartment complex so we can visit whenever we want and go for walks together.  Since we’ve been living in different countries for the past 6 years, it is a big benefit and reason why I moved to Beijing in the first place.

2. Living on the wild side:  I had been living a pretty mundane life, in my humble opinion, for the last 5 years or so.  I had received my Master’s Degree in psychology and started working.  On a salary that averaged 43,000 USD a year, during that time, I paid off 65,000 USD in student loans by being extremely frugal.  All while living in San Francisco. Not an easy feat! I didn’t travel or buy a new car or spend money on myself other than what were the basic necessities.

I’m proud of what I did and how I accomplished this feat because it was hard work and I wanted to be debt free as quickly as possible.  I did it, exactly, 6 years to the day that I took the out the original loans.  However, I wanted to break out of my shell and see a different part of the world.  I was going to quit my job and travel down to South America first, then Cuba because I love the culture and salsa dancing, and then to Europe and over to China.  It seems I have gone the other way at this point and that is wonderful.  I have now seen the Great Wall, The Summer Palace, The Temple of Heaven, The Forbidden City, not to mention Shanghai, Singapore and Malaysia.  Oh, and I was able to stand on top of an oil rig in the the Pacific Ocean.  Yeah, that was pretty cool.

I now get to live on the very wild side and experience a culture, people, place and life that I never would have thought was possible.

3. Jill: I met Jill eight days before I moved to China.  We were both at the SF Caranval parade and waiting for it to start.  I was also waiting for my dear friend, and ex-coworker, Jon-David.  Jill and I started talking as she was getting information for her website and business, San Francisco Tourism Tips, and needed pictures for her page on the SF Carnval for next year.  After an hour or so, Jon-David showed up and we all had a great time hanging out.  All three of us went to lunch, I asked Jill out for a date the next day, and we spent the next 8 days together and she saw me off at the airport.  We talked on the skype every and, within 2 weeks, she had booked a ticket to Beijing.  On July 31st, she arrived.  Things have been truly wonderful and being able to experience Asia with her has made it so much easier and enjoyable.  We just celebrated our 6 month anniversary and, as far as I’m concerned, If you can travel with someone, it says a lot about the strength of a relationship.

4. The understanding, once again, that what I believe is a fallacy.  My preconceived morals, values, ethics, are malleable and fluid.  There are some things that I “believe” are the truth but it is not universal and each culture has a different take on how things should be done, what should be believed and how creatures should be treated.  I come from my own ethical viewpoint but I love being challenged and having to figure out why, and how, I came to this belief and if it is actually fair.  I work as a Behavioral Therapist and that is one of my core beliefs: What is right for me, may not be right for anyone else.  We all make our own choices and have to suffer the consequences for those choices.  It is up to you to decide and choose your path.  If you don’t choose, you have still made a choice.

5. My new friends:  This includes the wonderful Chinese nationals I’ve met and the expatriates.  I feel as if I need to push myself more to hang out with more Chinese nationals and that is on the schedule since my work often has get-togethers and sporting events that I can go to and it is so easy to do that.  Everyone that I have interactions with, including the guards at my apartment who always say, “Ni hao!” or “Hi!” to me and smile widely when I walk by, to the cabbies who laugh at my horrible pronunciation and say a word or two of English to me, it has been wonderful.  I can not say enough about the kindness, elegance, and generosity of my coworkers, both expatriate and Chinese nationals. They are truly incredible and wonderful people who go out of their way.

As for the expatriates I’ve met in Asia, it is almost like an immediate second family.  We are usually the oldest of the crowd, with Jill and me being in our 40s, but it doesn’t matter. We are both very young at heart and so we end up with friends that are in their 20s and 30s.  We love to hang out, have fun, and try new things.  We have friends from all over the world and continue to build connections and share with each other.  If I had not come to China, this would not have happened and I wouldn’t feel like I was as much of a world citizen as I do now.  I love feeling like I’m growing, moving, changing and learning more about myself, other people and the world.  It is what I strive to do for the rest of my life.

The road not taken is the road I actually decided to take.

 

Day 180 in Beijing: 180 days in Beijing. 910 To Go.

I am rather surprised at how quickly it has passed.

180 days in Beijing.

Not actually true since I’ve spent time in Tanggu, on an oil rig in the Pacific Ocean, Tianjin, Shanghai, Malaysia, Sinagpore as well as Beijing.

For the year or two before I came to China, I had only left America to visit Mexico.  Not too exciting.  Since then I have to say that my life has really been a trip.

Pun definitely intended.

The reason I came to China is a story in itself.

I was going to quit my job, as a social worker specifically working with 18-24 year old people that had been diagnosed with their first or second psychotic episode.

These were mostly people that were on medical, medicare, and other social services.

It was an incredible job where I was able to help my clients learn more about their diagnosis, how to master it, and help them continue their lives and not be caught in the stigma and get lost in society.

I also learned a lot about myself.  I had been working with geriatric clients (60 and above) for the 5 years previous to that and, as much as I loved that job, to be able to help young adults control their hallucinations and delusions, and other issues that would occur, proved to me that we have so much more power and choice in our lives and that if we desire to overcome almost anything, we can.

It is why I quit that job actually.

I love salsa dancing and have been dancing it for around 13 years or more.

I love Cuban music.

I am very intrigued by their culture.

I had decided, a month before leaving the job, that I would take a year off and travel the world.

I’d start in mexico to see my cousin, Michelle and her husband John, and then travel south.

Eventually, I’d go to Cuba, then Europe and then end up in China and visit my older brother, Robert.

Then things changed in a blink of an eye.

My brother called me and told me there was a job opening at a medical center that he knows about in Beijing.

He asked me if I was interested and I instantly said, “Yes!”

I emailed over my resume, was interviewed, was hired and then had to have a full physical. I had to do an EKG and a lot of tests that I didn’t expect. This included a vision test where I learned I have 20/10 vision.  I can read the smallest line at the bottom of the test easily. I also had to do a color test and see numbers that are different colors from the background. If you can’t recognize the colors, you are colorblind.  Luckily, again, I have perfect vision. Every other test showed that I was healthy.  The doctors doing the tests were actually quite interested in the results and the reason for the tests as they had never heard of someone having to get a major physical to go to a job overseas.  They called me with the final results and congratulated me and wished me well on my journey.

After getting the results, I got my visa, sold almost everything I owned (I have 5 lawyer sized boxes back in America, a large painting that my mom gave me years ago, and nothing more), taking a two week vacation to Mexico to visit my aforementioned cousin Michelle and her husband John, I bought my plane ticket, hopped on a plane and arrived in China.

That was 180 days and, 180 blog posts, ago.

Since I have a three year contract, that means I have roughly 910 more to go.

 

 

 

Day 166 in Beijing: The Singapore Flyer.

Jill and I decided to do a little sight-seeing and wanted to visit the Singapore Flyer.

A word of advice to people that know me, I work as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and love working with people that are experiencing depression and/or anxiety.

I find that anxiety, with a motivated client, is very easy to cure and a lot of fun.

The reason I believe it is fun is that the client, in a very short amount of time, can master their fears and usually start laughing at how silly they were and how easily the client has defeated them.

I have no fear of heights but Jill does.

We’ve been working on them a bit and she’s done an amazing job of mastering them.

When we met, there was probably little chance she would have gone up in the Flyer and looked out the windows.

Today, almost fearless!

Since this is low season, we didn’t have to wait at all and got in one of the capsules with another couples, who happened to be on their real honeymoon, and an Australian bloke.

We all enjoyed the flight and loved seeing Singapore from a different vantage point.

As you can see in the pictures, Jill was able to look out the windows, stand up and walk around and had almost no problems for the whole 30 minute trip.  She is getting closer and closer to conquering her fears of heights and I can’t wait for her to stand at the tip of a building and exclaim, “I’m the Queen of the world!”  Hopefully, unlike Titanic, the building won’t collapse after she states it.

Day 149 in Beijing: Shanghai Skyline.

Jill and I went to Shanghai a last month and absolutely loved it.

I wrote about some of the trip and our visit to the beautiful canal town of Zhujiajiao.

Zhujiajiao exemplifies “old China” while Shanghai, and its magnificent skyline, represents the new.

There are three different massive high rises in Shanghai.

The Shanghai Tower will be the second tallest skyscraper in the world when it is finished.

It will be 2,073 feet high.  I hope it is done by the time I leave China because I’d love to visit and take some photographs from the observation tower.