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 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 556 OUT OF Beijing: Bye Bye Beijing.

 

Jill, the cake, and me.

Jill and I are ready to have some Bye Bye Beijing cake!

 

Jill and I are somewhere over the Pacific Ocean right now.

We are flying home and hopefully we are peacefully asleep as you all read this.

We are out of Beijing and on to our continued adventures as mobile vagabonds.

In the last 1.5 years we have had so many amazing experiences, made so many friends, and seen so much that this blog barely touches the surface our our time abroad.

I will be, in the future, writing a book about it and going very deeply into what it is like to live in China, be a therapist here, and how it has affected both Jill and me.

However, at this moment, I just want to thank all my amazing friends who Jill and I have met here in Beijing and in China.

This also includes our friends we’ve met on our travels to Malaysia, Singapore, Mongolia, Greece and Turkey during the past 1.5 year here.

We decided we’d have a little Bye Bye Beijing party and it was fantastic.  We had it at The Local and it was a perfect way to say goodbye and start to move on.

Being an expat can be difficult because people are constantly moving and appearing or disappearing from your life. We know this is part of the joy and the sadness.  I had to say goodbye to a lot of clients also and that is a tough part of being a therapist.  You help people through their most difficult times in life, see them change, and then have to say goodbye.  It is both a joyful experience and a loss.  Maybe that is why I’m okay with being an expat and seeing so many people come and go.  I can accept that they will leave, I enjoy the time I have with them, and then I know that something else will appear and I’ll learn more or see a new way of thinking.

I also hope that these friends, and the many others we’ve made, will come visit us wherever we are and keep in contact.

As for plans, we expect to be in San Francisco Bay Area for the next 3 months.  Jill has an amazing website, San Francisco Tourism Tips, and we need to be there to support it and our livelihood.  If you haven’t see her site, please click the link above and subscribe or like it on Facebook.  Also share it with anyone you know that might be interested.  It is made for travelers and locals and Jill has done an amazing job.  I’m absolutely amazed at how hard she works and how professional she is regarding this business.

During our stay in San Francisco, we will see my sister Stacy’s family, and my dad, in Walnut Creek.  During this time, we will visit my brother Dave’s family in Portland.  After that, we will head down to Los Angeles to see friends and family for about a month.  During that month, we will make a quick jump down to Cancun to see Jill’s sister Julie and her family.  Then over to Santa Fe, NM to see my mom Judy and her husband, Phil.  Lastly, we will hit Nebraska to see Jill’s parents, Emma and Bill.

After that?

We are thinking we will live in Costa Rica or possibly Colombia.  We have a lot of options and it could even include moving to Turkey or Greece.

It is a hard life but somebody has to live it.  🙂

We are also building a new website that will be unveiled in the next month or two.  It will focus on helping others live their dream life, figuring out what that exactly is, how to plan it, deal with problems that come up, and then inspire others to do the same.  Keep your eyes open for it because it is a life dream for us to help others make their dreams become reality.  This includes you, our dear readers!

Thank you for being a part of this journey as we’ve reached 556 days in Beijing.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have.

We look forward to seeing everyone back at home, or wherever you are, and continuing to write the story of our lives as it moves ahead.

Enjoy our final post from Beijing and pictures of the party.

 

Day 554 In Beijing: NAZARS or Protection from the Evil Eye!

 

The Nazar protector tree.

The Nazar protector tree.

 

Jill and I grew up with very different stories told to us as children.

Her parents weren’t world travelers and she must have gotten that from somewhere inside herself.

I, on the other hand, grew up with stories of traveling everywhere, whenever possible, however possible, and whyever possible (a new word I just made up).

My grandparents once bought a Volvo station wagon, in Sweden, and then drove all the way down to India.

If I remember this correctly, this was in 1960s or 1970s. Incidentally, I took my driver’s license test in that wagon and passed it on the first try.  It was a boxy, blue 240.  A classic.

I, therefore, remember stories my grandparents would tell me about driving through Turkey, in their volvo station wagon, and ending up parked, on the side of some mountain, with a bunch of Turkish truck drivers, and dancing all night long.

I was raised to believe that traveling was the norm, not the exception, and that staying at home was somehow a strange choice for our family.

Because of these trips, my grandparents always had interesting artifacts around their house: Indian sculptures and statues of gods, photographs and paintings from all over the world, and jewelry from their travels.

My grandmother had a lot of jewelry with Nazars on them.  This was, according to Turkish myth, to ward of the Evil Eye and protect people.

So, when I saw this tree, with all these amazing Nazars on it, I immediately thought of her and took a picture.

I thought we had taken pictures with us sitting in the chair but I guess we did not.

That just means we have to go back and visit this amazing tree sometime in the future!

I think my grandma and grandpa would approve.

 

Day 553 In Beijing: Kocabag Winery in Cappadocia.

 

Jill and me enjoying the wine.

Jill and me enjoying the wine.

 

After seeing the Agzikarahan Caravanserai, Jill, our crew and I all went to do a little wine tasting.

Jill is a big time wine lover and so am I so we thought this would be fantastic.

We’d been quite impressed with the wines from Turkey, so far, and were looking forward to checking out Kocabag Winery.

They are rated as one of the Top 5 wineries in Turkey and we had tried a few bottles of their wine in the previous week or two.It was very beautiful and the wine was excellent.

Sadly, because of the government and the Muslim influence, alcohol is very highly taxed in Turkey so an average bottle of wine costs around $15 USD.  This isn’t really nice wine so the type of wine that Jill and I like to drink is up there in price.  Therefore, we did some tasting but didn’t buy any of the wine at the winery because we continue to be on a budget and need to stay frugal no matter how much we want to party and have fun.  FYI, winery tasting rooms usually charge more for wine so we usually buy them in the stores.  Again, it isn’t as romantic but it is frugal and we can afford to travel more often if we do that.

However, Andrea bought some and it came in a beautiful bag.

We took our time, walking around the tasting room, and talking to the attendants.

There are a lot of different varietals, most of which we had never heard of, and it was nice to try new grapes and new wines to help us learn more about the world and open our palates to new experiences.

That is what traveling is about for Jill and me.

 

Day 552 In Beijing: Agzikarahan Caravanserai In Cappadocia.

 

A bird flying through the skylight.

A bird flying through the skylight.

 

Jill, our crew, and I hopped back in our little 10 person van and took off down the road.

Driving out of the Ihlara Valley was a nice way to end the trek and just look back on everything we had seen from the valley floor.

We were told we were going to see the Agzikarahan Caravanserai next and I was very excited to see this location.

Agzikarahan is one of many different stops, for the travelers, and their camels, as they crossed Turkey back in the past.  “Agzikarahan” means “Black Mouth” in Turkish and caravanserai means, pretty obviously, “Caravan.”  Agzikarahan is the name of the town where this caravanseri was built.  This was part of the famous “Silk Road” that stretches all the way back through China.

The Agzikarahan caravanserai is amazing.  The walls are incredibly thick, to resist any attack and it is totally imposing to outsiders.  It is actually quite imposing to people inside also as we found out when we went inside.

There are many of these caravanseris in Turkey because the traders would use them, as stops, every 30-40 kilometers as they made their way to and from their destinations.

Why every 30-40 kilometers?  Because that is about as far as a camel could go in one day.  Pretty ingenious if you ask me.

Most of them were built in the 13th Century and many are being refurbished as they are becoming more of a tourist attraction.

Inside of the Agzikarahan caravanserai was a small church.  It later was turned into a mosque, as the Muslims took over Turkey, and is still in very good condition.

We walked around and checked out the no longer used stable and were amazed at the architecture and how they made us of “sunlights” in the ceilings so that rain water, and sun light, could get inside if they needed it.

I love how decorative and beautiful this caravanserai is and would enjoy seeing more of them and doing a trek back to China at some point.

I probably will use a train or car instead of a camel.  Imagine that trip?

 

Day 550 In Beijing: Lunch at Belisirma Village, Ihlara Valley.

 

Our little tour group!

Our little tour group!

 

Jill, our group, and I were ready for a nice lunch when we arrived at Belisirma Vilage in the Ihlara Valley.

As we got close to it, we heard people talking and saw a bunch of geese in the cool river.

We had no idea what to expect but we noticed the cute little water gazbebos all along the river and hoped we would be able to sit in one.

We were guided to one and crossed the little bridge and took our seats.

The waiter came over, took our orders and gave us some drinks to cool our bodies.

It all tasted great and it was wonderful to sit above the water and just hear the sounds of peace and tranquility.

There was also a very cute puppy that came around and wanted to hang out with us.

However, he was afraid of crossing the little bridge so he just sat beside it and wagged his tail, looked at us, and then scampered off to eat food that others fed him from the tables on the other side.

Our guide left to sit with the other guides and talk to friends, while we ate, and we and our friends from Colombia had a nice conversation about life.

All in all, a wonderful way to end our tour of the Ihlara Valley.

 

Day 549 In Beijing: Trekking Through the Ihlara Valley, Part 2.

 

A large cave with cliff wall dwellings.

A large cave with cliff wall dwellings.

 

Jill and the rest of us kept trekking through the valley.

We also kept being amazed by the power of nature and how it could split rocks and make cliffs that look impenetrable.

Incredibly, the cliffs weren’t as many people had built homes into them and lived there as you know.

These were somewhat different as they seemed to be much smaller and more concentrated than the other ones we’ve seen.

There was also a very big ant that was carrying around some food and was not going to be stopped by any humans getting in its way.

I was continually reminded how small we humans are while also noticing how much we can affect our surroundings for thousands of years.

It allows me to have perspective on my place in this world and this universe.  Both in terms of how unimportant I am and how important I am.

It is something I teach to my clients:  Every single choice you make means everything…or nothing.  It is up to you to decide how you want to be thought of, remembered, or forgotten.

Because, sooner or later, we will all be forgotten and we will all be forgiven.

Sooner or later, there will be no one to remember us so live the life you want to live, try to do the best you can, and remember to forget.

Life really can be that simple.

It, like everything else you do, is a choice.

 

 

Day 548 In Beijing: Trekking Through the Ihlara Valley.

 

Camilo Alejandro, Andrea, their parents, Jill and me.

Camilo Alejandro, Andrea, their parents, Jill and me.

 

Jill and I were definitely feeling the heat as we entered the valley.

Luckily, there was a wonderful little stream running through the middle of it and enough trees to cool us down.

We had prepared and had on light clothing and a minimum of gear.

At this point, we were only really carrying our camera, my iPhone (to use as a camera) and a few other things.

We tend not to buy stuff so we don’t need to carry much or have a lot of extra gear to carry around when we go traveling the world.

It really does make life easier as our choices are limited to what we really need compared to what we want.

As we trekked through the valley, our guide Sibel told us stories of the people that used to live there and what they went through on a day to day basis.

We also talked to our new friends from Colombia about where they had been, where they are going, and what they have enjoyed so far.

We were able to expand our knowledge by being friendly, open, and good tourists.

Jill and I try to be good tourists as much as possible.  People from the USA have received a pretty harsh label as bad tourists and we do our best to make up for it.  We tend to tip well, really pay attention to the guides and what other people are saying, and find ways to connecting and showing that we care about the culture we are a part of at that moment.

We also just enjoyed the peace and quiet of being in this gorgeous valley and having nature underfoot, and all around us, after being in Beijing for the past year.

I once was told, when I was young, that if I ever feel down, I could go hug a tree.  This person was a psychic, and I don’t believe psychics actually have any ability to tell the future or anything like that, but she was a Marin hippie also and probably realized that being in Nature is more important than most of us think.  And, as crazy as it sounds, hugging a tree is incredibly calming and relaxing.  It is sort of like meditation.  So, being in nature like this, after being in Beijing, really made a difference in both Jill’s and my attitude and appreciation of life.