Day 351in Beijing: Our Fakeamix Has Arrived!

 

Cheers!

Cheers!

Jill and I decided we want to eat more healthily and really wanted a Vitamix.

We’ve been vegetarians for 5 months now and wanted to take the next step.

I have a Vitamix back home, sitting and waiting for me, at my friend Sue’s house.

However, it weighs a ton and it is too expensive to ship over to China.

Therefore, we asked our friends Martin and Kenn, at The Local, and they suggested we buy the same ones they just bought a few days ago.

So, they ordered it for us and we received our new Fakeamix blender a few days ago.

It is almost exactly like the Vitamix I had at home and it works wonderfully.

It also only cost about 100 USD, which is a nice savings, and is quite easy to use, clean, and store when we don’t need it out on the counters.

Honestly, it is the little things, like having good friends order a blender for us, that make being an expatriate so much more enjoyable and easy.

Our Fakeamix is made by Hyundai and is actually more quiet than my real Vitamix.

This may be because the engine isn’t as powerful but it seems to do just fine for what we need as we mostly make green smoothies with it and it blends them up perfectly.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 319 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 18-24

 

Leaving China makes a rainbow.

Leaving China makes a rainbow.

And the sun rose on Erlian.

And on us.

We woke up and looked out the windows of our hotel room.

Erlian is a pretty damn boring place, sad to say.

Honesty is the best policy, right?

As we got up, we decided to try the buffet breakfast, which was included in our hotel stay, we were pretty worried that it would be all meat and eggs.

Erlian is on the Mongolian border and Mongolia is a serious meat eating country.

We were pleasantly surprised since there was a decent amount of vegetarian options, although no fruit, and we ate up our food and decided to walk around Erlian and get some pictures of the people and the place.

There is one thing Jill and I love about China and that is the doggies.  As you know, if you follow this blog, we love the dogs and take a lot of pictures of them.  The dogs here seemed to be somewhat skittish, and we are guessing they are not treated as well as the dogs in Beijing, and they looked more like they were homeless.

Jill and I really enjoyed the Mongolia script for their language and how the signs were in Chinese, Mongolian and Russian in many places.

I had no idea that so many Russians would be near this area, but since it is part of the Trans-Siberian Railway, it makes sense for the signs to have all three languages written out.

After walking around for a bit, we went back to our rooms to get ready as we were meeting Diana at 9 am to start the border crossing journey.

Jill took the first shower and stepped out of it into a puddle of water.

The shower wasn’t built quite right so the water from it drained out into the bathroom.  There is a drain, under the sink, for the water to drain into as a back up but the floor was tilted towards the toilet so that didn’t help at all. I took my shower and we basically were walking in water whenever we went into the bathroom again.  It flat out didn’t drain at all.

Other than that, our stay at the hotel was fine and we would stay there again if we need to go to Erlian on another trip.  I guess that is about the best review I could give it.  In fact, I basically gave that review on Tripadvisor the next day.

As we would be returning to Beijing this afternoon, we checked out of our hotel, which cost us about 40 USD for the night, and waited for our driver, Diana.  We had no idea what she looked like and we had chatted, briefly, on WeChat a week before to make sure she had space for us.

A nice SUV drove up and his very cute and perky woman of about 35 showed up and said, “Hi!” to us.  We jumped in her car and she started playing American music on the radio and singing.  She was friendly and smiled a lot as we drove to our first destination.

Jill and I didn’t really have a clue what would happen.  Our friend, Moeava, telling us that she’s the best and she’ll take us on some errands during our trip.  We were looking forward to seeing what would happen and a tiny bit apprehensive.

We ended up driving to a big parking lot with lots of other jeeps and trucks with people waiting around.  This is where most the other visa run people meet and haggle for the lowest price to go over the border and back.

Three other people, including a 50 year old mother and her 25 year old daughter, got in.  The mother and daughter couple were from Mongolia, originally, and now live in Beijing.  They have to make this run every 30 days to be able to stay in China.  This gives you an idea of how much more they are paid in Beijing compared to Mongolia and why there aren’t a lot of people that choose to stay in Mongolia if they can work elsewhere.

The mother and daughter both spoke English and were very nice.  The other guy didn’t speak English but did speak Mongolian and they all talked among each other.

As we drove around, Diana did some of her errands and picked up, or dropped off, stuff that she had picked up in Mongolia.

She told us she does this run 4-5 times a day and usually takes about 4-5 people.  We paid about 25 bucks each, for our run, and if you add this up, that is a serious amount of cash just to take people back and forth across the border each day, especially in Northern China or Mongolia.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Day 296 in Beijing: Nothing Tastes As Good As Sour Love.

It looks so romantic from afar.

 

Jill and I get a weekly massage at Butterfly Nail Salon and massage in the massive Yashow Market in Sanlitun.

This market sells clothes, electronics, jewelry, and all kinds of other stuff.

And, everything is knock offs and usually pretty cheaply made.

In fact you can get a Burberry/Hermes/Louis Vitton scarf for about 10 bucks.

5 bucks if you bargain hard.

The quality isn’t the best but when you are in China, no one knows the difference so you can impress people that are easily impressed with supposedly expensive stuff.

I personally don’t care about brand names so I don’t bother with this stuff but it is a great way to buy a bunch of gifts, at a very low price, to bring back home and people seem to do that a lot.

The basic idea is to see what they offer, and then start at about 1/4 of the price and never go over 1/3 of the price at the end.

In reality it is a pretty stupid thing because people that know what they are doing will just waste time (like us) as we try to get down to the price we know they will sell it to us and we aren’t tourists that will overpay.

Nothing says romance like sour love.

Nothing says romance like sour love.

However, they make loads of money off the tourists that do overpay so we are stuck bargaining when we know what is a fair price and just want to get it over with.

Trust me, either way, they are making loads of money because this stuff costs them nothing to produce.

Anyway, there is some classic Chinglish at the Butterfly Nail Saloon in Yashow.

We’ve gone a number of times, but I didn’t realize it until just recently.

So, if you are in love, I hope these words don’t come true:

“May your love SOUR on the wings of doves in flight.”

Now, I know they meant to write, “May your love SOAR on the wings of doves in flight” but I have to admit it sort of sounds like a death knell of a relationship.

Maybe I’m just not romantic enough to get the meaning.

To each their own.

Day 270 in Beijing: Time to Shop: Tibetan Style, Re-Dux.

The Tibetan Gentleman.

The Tibetan Gentleman.

So, if you are a faithful reader and follower of my blog you will know that I messed up a previous blog post that was supposed to be about a Tibetan man Jill and I saw walking around the Yashow Market a week ago or so.

Well, I’m trying to stay true to my word and so here is the post!

We were walking around as I was trying to buy a knock-off of Beats By Dre bluetooth headphones and saw this incredibly elegant looking man walking through the market.

I followed him around a bit and tried to take a few pictures without being intrusive.

Being that loads of Chinese people take pictures of Jill and me, and even sometimes touch us, I thought I was actually pretty sly and respectful.

I don’t think he noticed me and, if he did, I hope he realized that I took the pictures because he looked so wonderful and majestic.

I usually don’t get offended when people take our pictures, or stare at us, because we know that many of the country people in China haven’t seen foreigners in person.

Beats By Dre knock off bluetooth headphones.

Beats By Dre knock off bluetooth headphones.

They come to Beijing, or Shanghai, and see all these different people and are rather amazed.

I don’t blame them.  If I grew up in some small town located far from a major city, I’d probably act the same way.

Anyway, not only did I get this wonderful picture of this Tibetan gentleman, I did a great job of bargaining for my headset and got it down from 30 to about 12 USD.

I’m guessing it probably cost about 35 cents to make so they still made out very well but that seems to have been quite a good deal according to my friends who also buy things at Yashow.

Day 194 in Beijing: Need Versus Luxury.

Understanding need versus luxury.

Need: a requirement, necessary duty, or obligation.

Luxury: A pleasure out of the ordinary allowed to oneself.

I tend to be a fairly frugal person.

I allow myself to enjoy what I have earned but also try to figure out if I truly need something or am just buying it to satisfy some desire that is fleeting and more easily explained by greed, competitiveness of wanting to keep up with others, or some other emotion that tends to backfire and leave me feeling more lonely and empty after the purchase of the product.

Need, to me, is a requirement, a necessary duty or obligation, as the above definition states. I need to eat, to breathe, sleep and to live and, when I break it down to basics, not much more. Luxuries are pretty much everything else. This includes computers, smart phones, cars, and other things most people might consider needs. These luxuries, considered needs, might be the kinds of food one eats, where one eats, what utensils one uses to eat, and what condiments one adds to that food. Maslow states as much with his hierarchy of needs.

I bring up food and why I believe it is a luxury because many people take for granted that the way they eat, and what they, eat is automatic and as a need. People may choose to eat at expensive restaurants they ignore that the majority of the world subsists on around a dollar a day. Living in China, and watching how people eat, reminds me that most Americans eat far more than they need and that type of food is a luxury that beyond the financial capabilities of many people here. This is changing with the import of McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, and other Western restaurants. Sadly, as these Western restaurants, and foods become more prevalent, obesity has skyrocketed here.

As a therapist, I make more money than 6,500,000,000 people in this world. In spite of that, I often feel as if I lead a fairly simple life, choosing not to have many of the luxuries that many of my friends and family can afford. I have developed this value over years, making these choices my morals. Or maybe my morals made these choices? Chicken or the egg? I believe in defining the difference between a want and a need, not buying luxuries just because others have them. I try to remember what is actually a need. If it is a luxury, then I judge its cost and whether I choose to spend money on that luxury.

An example of this is my new Computer. I had never bought my own computer. I’ve always used hand-me-downs from my older brothers or my sister because I didn’t need the newest piece of machinery and didn’t want to spend the money on something that was overkill for my wants. After many years of using these computers, I decided, since I was moving to China and wanted to have something that was reliable, up to date, and small, I’d buy my own laptop. I took over two months researching them and then made trips to the local stores to wait and see if the laptop that I wanted would be put on special or someone possibly returned it and I could buy it on discount. After a few months, I found it. It is exactly the model I wanted and I bought it. It was 33% off because it was a return and seemed absolutely perfect. I’ve owned it for 8 months now and it works perfectly.

A laptop, and any computer, is definitely a want and not a need. However, I balanced the want of this computer with what I’ve decided I don’t need in the past 10 years: I have not traveled much (after living in Japan, Great Britain, Australia and a few others places previously). I went to graduate schools, funding my studies almost entirely with student loans that I had $65,000 of debt after receiving my Master’s degree in psychology. I felt the moral obligation to pay them back as I made the choice to take out these loans.

My choice to pay back loans as soon as possible since I see them as a gift from other taxpayers to me. It was not fair for me to abuse that generosity. With this attitude, and that intention, I paid back all of the $65,000 in student loans in 6 years. I did this while living in the Bay Area making less than 50,000 dollars a year. For at least two of those years, I survived on about $25,000 a year as I worked towards my 3,000 hours to earn my Marriage and Family Therapist license. To many that may sound like a tough life. It isn’t. It is a choice. Again, even when I made $25,000 a year, I lived a more plentiful life than about 2/3s of the world. Most of them don’t have the options I have and the luxuries I can afford to buy.

To be clear, I’m not chastising those that choose a different path or have a different moral belief about their financial situation. I have made choices so that I can afford to live a life less burdened by material possessions:

I am not married.

I do not have kids.

Other than my student loans, I did not carry debt.

I have 3-4 credit cards, which I paid off every month. They helped me achieve and keep an almost perfect credit rating without ever paying a late fee or interest. They are a means to an end and I own them, they do not own me.

Living in China, I pay cash for everything. I could use my credit cards, in some locations, but I’d rather not. I’d rather know exactly how much I spend and how much I save. I budget a certain amount every week and then see how well I can keep within my means.

Compared to the guards at my apartment complex, who live on approximately $200 USD a month, I’m a billionaire here. I never let forget this is a luxury many don’t have around the world. I also remember that the guards seems to be as happy as anyone I know. Although the Western belief system continues to force us to believe otherwise, money does not buy happiness.

Be willing to ask for what you want and seeing what is given is a huge part of my being frugal. I’m also generous with my time, support and knowledge, which people seem to feel is a fair return for the material gifts I sometimes receive.

In reality, I do not need a computer. It is a luxury. I’m glad that I see the difference and can still enjoy it for what it is. A gift to myself.

Some thoughts to ponder:

What do you consider a need?

What do you consider a luxury?

Is there just one luxury that you could redefine as a need?

How would this redefinition save you money?

How would it help you feel more in control of your spending habits?

Ten years ago, what was a luxury and what was a need?

Ten years from now, what will you consider a need versus a luxury?

How does the way you use money satisfy your desires?

Also, one of my favorite websites about frugality and how to spend money wisely is The Simple Dollar.  I love Trent’s story and how he decided to change his thoughts on money, his behaviors and how he used money and how his life changed because of this.  He tends to use a behavioral therapy mindset to figure out how to spend money.  I also really enjoy his suggestions and honesty.

Day 183 in Beijing: Dolce & Vabanna.

Rockin' the sleeveless tshirt.

Rockin’ the sleeveless tshirt.

There is a very cool market about 10 minutes walk from our apartment complex.

It is a bunch of small shops, with the owners manning the stores and under one massive roof.

Basically it is an open-air market with a roof.

We went there to get some pictures framed and also because our friend, Federica, goes to university near it and said it is a fun place to check out the merchandise and see how the local Chinese people shop for the items they need to buy.

We also needed to buy some winter gear since it will get very cold, very soon, and we didn’t want to be caught out in the cold.

Up close and personal.

Up close and personal.

We looked at some of the jackets but didn’t really find one that would fit me as it seems my arms are a bit too long for most the jackets that are made here.  I’ve heard from other expatriates this is a common occurrence and it can be troublesome to find clothes that fit well.

We did find a great skull cap and some excellent gloves that were quite inexpensive.

That being said, my favorite part was walking up to this shirt, reading the print, and sharing it with Federica.

Federica is from Italy so she got a good laugh out of this shirt.

We didn’t buy it, yet, but we may just do that for the novelty of it.

In case you can’t read the fine print:

“Simple sneakers and shoes.

“Dolce & Vabanna”

“One Pair Op Sneakers”

(totally garbled and speaking in tongues mess which I won’t even attempt to type out)

“Snekers shionm know the beauty of the people and so this fashion arbna mhsclzi and dhmkn”

All yours for the low, low, low asking price of 20RMB or about 3 USD.

 

Day 137 in Beijing: Amazon.cn Not Amazon.com

Most of us know about Amazon.com.

It is essentialy the same company here in China except the URL is Amazon.cn.

The “cn.” stands for China.

Deliveries galore!

Deliveries galore!

If you live in Western nations you have probably ordered something from them and it has been delivered by a truck with a bunch of other packages.

I’m used to seeing deliveries by the big UPS or Amazon trucks and hadn’t really thought about how Amazon in China has their products delivered.

I only knew that they are fast as can be.  I often receive my packages the day after I order and they always call me on my cell to let me know they are coming before they arrive.

Of course, I then have to call my friend who speaks perfect Mandarin, to tell them that I’m home and they can deliver it.

Yes, I’ve been slacking on learning Mandarin.  One day at a time.

Anyway, as I walked out of my apartment I saw the customary yellow and black branding on Amazon on this gentleman.  I looked at his jacket and it definitely was Amazon.

I love how strategically he has stacked all his deliveries and how perfectly aligned everything his packages are on his three-wheel motorcycle.

By the way, many of the bikes here are electric.  They have a range of about 20 miles and go up to 20 miles per hour.

They cost about 200 dollars and are fantastic.  I have no idea why they are so expensive in the USA other than mark up and wish they were cheaper.  I would have bought one long ago as they are incredibly efficient, easy to park, and can be recharged every night by taking the battery inside an apartment and just plugging it into a normal outlet.

Day 136 in Beijing: Halloween. In Ito Yokado. Beijing Style.

BOOOOOO!

BOOOOOO!

We love our little local grocery store, Ito Yokado.

Actually it isn’t little or specifically a grocery store.

I lived in Japan in 1996-1997 and learned that many of the stores, like Ito Yokado, would have a Macy’s like top 4 or 5 levels and then a grocery store in the basement.  Sometime there would be a very nice art gallery on the top level of the store.

I found it to be a smart use of space and a good way to keep the shopping experience local and limit the use of driving/busing around to get what I needed during the day.

Luckily, there is an Ito Yokado about 1 block from my apartment.  It is also much cleaner, faster, and nicer than the Wu-Mart on the other side of our apartment complex.  Since the Wu-Mart often smells badly, it is a breath of fresh air.  Honestly.

We got there every other day as the fridge we have is almost like one from my days in the college dorms and we can’t fit very much inside it.

So, we went shopping a few days ago and we happened on to the display for Halloween in Ito Yokado.

I managed to snap this picture before a security guard told me that pictures were not allowed and that I shouldn’t have taken one.

I am not sure what problems my picture of their Halloween decorations could cause but please be nice and don’t cause any after seeing it.

Especially if you work in a rival grocery store.  We don’t want to get banned from Ito Yokado!

Day 90 in Beijing: Shopping for Clothes. At 7-11.

I’m a huge fan of 7-11.

Not the ones in America, but the ones here in China.

Same with the 7-11s in Japan when I lived there in 1996.

There is something about them here that seems like home,

even if I never went to them when I was home back in the U.S.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I went to one when I was there.

I just never had a good reason since I could get everything I needed elsewhere.

7-11 stores in China seem to have just about anything a person would need.

Not only do they have the basic food stuff that most people go to 7-11 for in the States,

but they have so much more.

Anything you need, 7-11 has it.

Anything you need, 7-11 has it.  It is almost like an five-and-dime store from the old days.

If you notice,

there are underpants,

stockings,

slippers,

socks

dishwashing towels,

feminine products,

 

and, of course, the essential N95 mask that so many people here wear when they are sick or the pollution is bad.

Day 75 in Beijing: Shopping Logic.

The local Wu-Mart has about 50 to 75 people working the floor, selling stuff, folding stuff, talking to each other, talking to customers, allowing you to test things, and, in general, doing everything humanly possible to keep themselves, and you, the customer busy.  It truly is a consumer’s dream.

The lines stretch well into the distance.

The lines stretch well into the distance.

The check out line, on the other hand, is always understaffed.  When I arrived, the two cashiers had about 6 people waiting at each check out stand.  By the time I checked out, it was up to about 20 people in each line.  No one had called for another check out clerk and numerous employees had walked up, looked at the line, and then smiled and walked away.  There were four more check out stands waiting to be used.

I’m guessing that people are trained to do specific jobs and that they stick with them.  They are probably not allowed, or taught, how to do the check out and they only have a limited amount of people working the check out areas.

This leads to a lot of long lines and it can be fairly frustrating to most the people in line as they seem to be asking the employees to bring more people to work the cashier area but the employees don’t seem to have any idea what to do about the problem.

This is not a one off event or I wouldn’t bother posting about it.  It seems to be fairly common and yet there is little, if anything, being done about it.

It does, on a positive light, make one really decide if what they are buying is worth the time, money and effort.

And, maybe, just maybe, people won’t buy as much and be less consumer oriented.