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 483 In Beijing: HSR to Beijing.

 

The nice subway attendant who took Jill's luggage.

The nice subway attendant who took Jill’s luggage.

Jill and I love train travel in China.

It really is fairly simple, fairly fast, and fairly inexpensive.

Especially the HSR.

HSR, which I still call “Bullet Trains” from the time when I lived in Japan (which is a whole different blog post and would be it’s own website since I lived there from 1996-1997 and taught English in the JET program), stands for High Speed Rail here in China.

Therefore, HSR is the abbreviation.

As mentioned previously, we took an overnight train, which took about 13 hours, to Xian but we decided we wanted to be back Friday evening and get a good night’s rest on the return trip so we booked the HSR.

The train ride to Xian, on the slower train, cost about $70 USD.

The HSR back to Beijing, which took about 5.5 hours, cost about $90 USD.

It is about 1000 kilometers away and would cost $180 USD round-trip if we did both ways.

I wish trains in the USA would be so cheap and so easy to use but they aren’t.

I honestly love train travel as you get to meet people, hang out, see the countryside, and just relax.

The beds on the 13 hour train were soft enough, even though they weren’t really that soft, to sleep but we prefer the HSR so we can get where we are going and just be done with it.

It is also very cool to see the speedometer, in each car, showing “304 KPH” as we fly through the countryside.

Speaking of the countryside, and 1000 KMs of it, it is pretty sad.

So much of China is being turned into massive cities, in the middle of nowhere, with these buildings that all look the same and are just huge blocks of boring concrete.

I’m talking about building cities of 10 million people, not 100,000, being made in 5 years.

That is a lot of displacement

China is trying to become a 1st world country, at light year speed, and is actually killing all the culture and style that made China beautiful in the past.

It also is producing loads of toxins, pollution, and waste as they do this.

An example of this is Tianjin.  We will be going there for the October holiday.  It is about 30 minutes, by HSR, from Beijing.

It has over 15,000,000 people living in it.  And I’m guessing you’ve never heard of it.

I know I sure hadn’t until I went there for my job.

And that isn’t even called a “first tier” city in China.

Jill and I really enjoy the quiet side of China and there is less and less of that around as it “progresses” into the 21st century.

We arrived in Beijing at 10:45 pm and were cutting it very tight as the subways all shut down at 11:30 pm here.

We ran to the first subway, caught it as there were 2 more trains after us but we didn’t want to chance it, then got to our transfer station and caught the last subway train to our final transfer and ran like mad to get to it and made it with about 30 seconds to spare or we would have had to get a taxi, on Friday night at 11:29 pm, and that is not easy because so many are full and many won’t stop to pick us up.  So, we sat down on the final train, relaxed as it was almost empty, and then walked to the exit.

As we did this, a nice young gentleman noticed Jill’s slight limp, from her fall that morning, and offered to walk her bag for her.

She accepted and he helped us out of the station and then locked the gates closed for the night.

After 2.5 days of pure madness and wildness, we walked 3 blocks from the station and were home in Beijing.

 

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Day 482 In Beijing: Two And A Half Days In Xian.

 

Jill being taken care of the doctors and our two translators, Miranda and Lizzy.

Jill being taken care of the doctors and our two translators, Miranda and Lizzy.

We were getting ready to leave Xi’an after 2.5 days of craziness and insanely busy exhibition hall cruising.

Think about this for a second:

In 2.5 days we had:

1) Taken an overnight train to Xi’an.

2) Seen the Terra Cotta Army.

3) Seen a major exhibition and expo and been a guest of honor by EACHAM.

4) Stayed in a 5 star hotel in Xi’an, all expenses paid.

5) Met the head of the whole expo and been able to drink some amazing wine with him and the winemaker at Kaiwai Vineyards.

6) Been invited to come visit the Kaiwai Winery and stay there if we come back.

7) Jill had been interviewed on Shaanxi television (that is the province where Xi’an is located) about Jill’s company and websites: www.sftourismtips.com and www.allaboutredwine.com.

8)Rode a tandem bicycle on top of all 16 kilometers of the Xi’an wall with new friends from countries including New Zealand, Sweden, Austria.  Later that night we met up with new friends from Germany, Portugal, Russia and Turkey.  14 people (including us): 8 countries.

9) Met two fantastic new friends, Lizzy and Miranda, who served as our interpreters, and got them to try some wine and beer with us at the expo.  Yes, we are bad influences.  Honestly, I think they had as much fun as we did and they will come visit us when we are back in the USA.

10)  Went to a Chinese bar named, “Mexico” which had Micheladas and chips and salsa.  Well, they had chips.  Instead of salsa they had honey mustard dressing.  Yeah, not quite the same thing as in Mexico but you do what you can in a small city of “only” 10 million people in China.

11) I was interviewed for a local Xi’an newspaper on our experience at the expo.

12) Explored the “Muslim quarter” of Xi’an inside the Xi’an wall.

 

Then, to top it all off, just as we were leaving the expo, Jill tripped over an exposed power cord and fell.

And fell HARD.

I was a few feet in front of her and couldn’t do a thing until I saw her sprawled on the ground.

I immediately reached down to check on her and she had hit her knee, then her shoulder and finally, her head.

That is what really scared me.

Her eyebrow started to show signs of bruising immediately and a huge crowd of people gathered about as quickly as someone could say, “DOWN GOES FRAZIER” in China!

Luckily, the people working the expo, including our two translators, Lizzy and Miranda, saw it happen and ran over to help.

The expo people brought over a doctor and he checked Jill out and we waited around for about 30 minutes as they ordered  a private car to take us back to the hotel.

it is a pretty brutal bruise and it was quite a scene at the expo as loads of people started milling around trying to help, give advice and offering us our choice of local hospitals.

Luckily, Jill didn’t have any headaches, dizziness, or blurred vision so it seems as if he eye had gotten the worst of it and her brain was okay.  We decided not to go to a local hospital and wait and see how things go.

If we needed, we could go to where I work and she’d have the best medical care in China.

Call me biased, but it is true.

We took the private car back to the hotel and decided to wait on the second floor balcony overlooking the lobby.

As we waited at the hotel to go home on a high speed train, three women got in a fight in the lobby in full view of everyone sitting there.

Yes, you just read that right: 3 Chinese women in a 5 star hotel started fighting with each other.  It took an expat friend of ours to walk in the middle and break it up.

Seriously, you’d think that Jill and I make this stuff up to add spice to our lives and stories.

We don’t.

This is the reality of living in China.

Honestly, it is nothing out of the ordinary.

Just another day in the life of Jill and Aram in China.

 

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Day 481 In Beijing: Xian and The Muslim Quarter.

 

Annie, Jill, me, Eleni, Alena and Phil in front of the Xian Drum Tower.

Annie, Jill, me, Eleni, Alena and Phil in front of the Xian Drum Tower.

Jill, the rest of the group, and I really enjoyed riding around on the wall.

Since it was flat, it wasn’t very strenuous and it was fun.

We had to be done by 6:50 otherwise we couldn’t return our bikes so we spend through the last corner and turned them in.

We also then met up with Emre, from Turkey and Alena, from Russia.

We headed down the stairs and into the walled city so we could meet up with a few other people that were attending the conference and check out the Muslin Quarter and have some dinner.

After taking a few pictures, we were able to find Catarina, from Portugal and Sarah, from Germany.

We also met our “host” Marco, who is from Germany but has lived in Xian for the past 9 years.

He knew every nook and cranny of this city and made sure to show us a good time.

Marco was even kind enough to lead me and Jill on a hunt for good vegetarian food because the dinner place everyone else chose only had meat.  We ended up bringing our food back and enjoying it with them.

We all went out to dinner and then went to a crazy restaurant named, “Mexico” since we wanted to hang out and it is one of Marco’s favorite places.

Jill and I ordered Micheladas and they were quite good, other than being served in beer glasses instead of mugs, but that is where the fun started.  Our friends ordered mojitos that seemed to have been made with Sprite and vodka.  Everyone else said their drinks were fine and we were more than happy with our Micheladas.

We also ordered chips and….honey mustard dressing?  Yep, the chips came with that as a sauce and also with ketsup.  Not really how I remember them being served when I went to Mexico, but, when in China…

Anyway, it was a great night and we had a lot of fun.

Best of all, we made a bunch of new friends, from all over the world, and were able to experience a brand new city.

 

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Day 480 In Beijing: The Xian Wall, Part 2.

 

About to dodge an electric car coming our way as we ride our tandem bike on the wall.

About to dodge an electric car coming our way as we ride our tandem bike on the wall.

Jill and I both think it is  fun living in China and getting to do things that we’d never get to do in the USA.

We’ve met people that there is just no chance we would have met if we had stayed at home.

We’ve had experiences we never would have had, both good and bad, if we had stayed at home.

And, we’ve learned things about ourselves, that we never would have learned if we had stayed at home.

They say that the strength of a relationship can be shown when you travel with each other.

Well, Jill and I met 8 days before I moved to China, and her willingness to jump in, move over here, and try a new life, says so much about her.

I guess my willingness to quit my job, move over here, and see what would happen says a lot about me also.

As far as I can tell, if traveling together proves if a relationship can make it, we are gonna make it easily after this journey.

Especially when you add in the extra stress of living in China, and starting a new job, and having almost no connections here when we arrived.

And yet we’ve built a real community and expatriate “family” that I will be very sad to leave when that day comes.

This trip to Xian was just another example of that:

As expatriates, you become close to people, and connect with them, in ways that you wouldn’t back in your home town or country.

In China it is incredibly important to do this because expatriates are so out of place and people can feel so lost, hopeless, and alone.

We definitely count on our expatriate family, which include my eldest brother, Robert, to do that.

Jill’s cousin, Michelle, lives in a city of 400,000 people in Northeastern China.

There are about 20 expatriates living there and 7 of them are one family.

I have no idea how she handles it, but she does, and she is amazing.   Meeting Michelle has been another gift of living in China.

One really doesn’t know who they will meet when they travel.

It allows Jill and me to keep an open mind, and eye, to what may come and how to deal with things that happen to us.

So far, so good.

Enjoy the ride…we sure are!

 

 

Day 479 In Beijing: The Xian Wall, Part 1.

 

The gang with our bikes.  From left: Jill, Phil, me, Eleni and Annie.

The gang with our bikes. From left: Jill, Phil, me, Eleni and Annie.

Jill and I have been to the Great Wall of China two different times.

We are actually going again in about one week.

We will be going with a bunch of students from Eseune Business School and our dear friend, Nuria.

I actually met Nuria when I first moved here and went salsa dancing.

She’s from Bilbao, Spain, and a wonderful person.

She works at the school and invited us to come along with the new students and stay at a farm house.

We immediately accepted and thought this would be a wonderful way to spend the Autumn Holiday in China.

However, since we were still in Xian, at the conference, we decided to check out the Xian Wall.

Now, it isn’t as long as the Great Wall, obviously, and is actually inside the city itself.

It runs about 16 kilometers long and is about 50 feet high.  It is also formed in the shape of a rectangle that protected much of the old city.

Most of the houses and businesses inside it are the “old style” but they are being torn down, like so much of China, to build new and “civilized”housing which is not very interesting or exciting.

This is the way of progress, I guess, and it makes us quite sad.

We ended up going with a bunch of friends, from many different countries, and riding bikes on top of the wall.

We had been told that it had rained for 2 weeks straight in Xian, and the skies had been hidden by “fog” that whole time.  A word to the wise, when a Chinese National says “fog” they mean smog but they don’t want to admit it.  Trust me, it is smog.

Tonight was absolutely gorgeous and we were able to take a lot of fantastic pictures with our new friends.

Phil is the tall guy and he is from Austria, Eleni is blond and from New Zealand, Annie is a brunette and from Sweden.

 

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Day 478 In Beijing: Guns and Interviews.

 

Jill getting interviewed for Shaanxi television!

Jill getting interviewed for Shaanxi television!

Jill and I were just finishing our lunch when Sarah, who is responsible for all of the crazy expatriates on this trip (and there were about 200 of us) asked us to do an interview about our company.

The would be for a Shaanxi television station, which is the province that the city of Xian is located in, and a pretty big deal.

We, of course, agreed and thought it would be a blast.

When we were about to start, the interviewer started talking to me and I made sure that they knew that it was Jill’s company and I was her employee and that they should interview her instead.

I guess this is pretty common, almost anywhere, where men and women work together, that the man is expected to be the head of the company.

I’m glad that I spoke up and made sure they realized that women are just as smart, powerful, and can run a company as well as any man.  And, I know from experience, Jill can run one better than anyone else I’ve met and, without a question, about 1,000,000 times better than I could even think of running one.

The interviewer seemed very pleased to interview Jill and they actually did about a 20 minute interview.

I was able to grab a video of it and I think Jill, and her translator Miranda, did an amazing job!

By the way, they did interview me, for a local Xian newspaper, later in the day.  I had to say we both had fun being interviewed and meeting all the nice people in Xian.

 

I, on the other hand, decided to play with a laser tag rifle at the conference.

It was pretty darn cool.  The idea was to be able to hear the actual “events” going on with the headphones and then fire at the other person.

They only had the guns set up so I was just firing at the guns but the actual laser tag had full gear including armor.

The coolest thing about it is that they actually had, at their manufacturing plant, a 6 foot tall robot that was set up with fully remote controlled laser rifles and directional ability.  In other words, you could hang out, use your remote control, and have this massive robot do your bidding.

You can also sit in the “head” position of it and ride around.

Honestly, this was awesome.

You can see it on the poster beside the gun rack.  Trust me, that thing would be damn scary if it rolled up towards you.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 477 In Beijing: The 3rd Western China Multi-national Sourcing Fair.

 

Jill, the Kaiwai Winery owner/winemaker and me.

Jill, the Kaiwai Winery owner/winemaker and me.

The whole reason for this trip, paid for by EACHAM, was for Jill and me to go to a sourcing fair.

Now, we weren’t even sure what a sourcing fair was, but we were told the trips were fun and, so far, that had been proven true.

Basically, we got a trip, by train, and got to stay in a 5 star hotel, for free.  The tickets and transport to the Terracotta Army cost us about 75 USD, total, and that was a deal considering this trip would have cost us about 400 USD if we paid for it ourselves.

Therefore, we were obliged to go to the sourcing fair and meet the vendors.

Our vendors were chosen, in advance, by what we were interested in doing and learning about, so we were set up with some interesting machine companies (no idea what we were able to build and I’m pretty sure semi truck axles are not on my holiday shopping list.  It was still interesting to see how they were assembled).

They actually did a very good job of putting us in contact with a few wineries and a brewery.

Along with Jill’s main website and business, SF Tourism Tips, Jill has a second website, All About Red Wine, it was quite useful for her to talk to the winery owners, and winemakers, and discuss how the wine is made here and what they are doing with it.

Our favorite winery, Kaiwai, and winemaker, asked us to hang out with him and told us all about what he did and how special it is to him.  Everything is organic and handmade.  They even has some other their own grape varietals, one named “Weibei” that is delicious.

The owner asked us to come and visit his winery next time we are in Xian and, if we ever make it back up this way, we definitely will!

As mentioned before, we were also given two translators, Miranda and Lizzy, who were fun, smart and very cute.

We made sure they were able to taste the beer, and wine, and they seemed to enjoy spending time with us.

Miranda is wearing the glasses in the picture and Lizzy is not.

We hope they come and visit us in the USA when we return home so we can return the favor and tour them around San Francisco!

 

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Day 476 In Beijing: Trip To Xian, Terracotta Warriors, Part 6.

 

Jill and I primarily take photographs but we also realize that having a video of something as magnificent as the Terracotta Army makes a real impression on others.

It is still hard to comprehend the size, and amount of soldiers, if you aren’t there in person, but this gives a better representation of it all.

If you are ever in town, to paraphrase Ferris Bueller, I highly recommend visiting it.

 

 

 

Day 475 In Beijing: Trip To Xian, Terracotta Warriors, Part 5.

 

The final shot of the Terracotta Army.

The final shot of the Terracotta Army.

 

Jill and I continued our tour around Pit 1 and were able to see more of the warriors that were getting excavated and refurbished.

We didn’t hire a guide, since we were in a rush and didn’t want to bargain.

Yes, everything in China is a bargaining event and it gets very tiring.

Sometimes we just want to pay a fair price and be done with it so we just give up and don’t bother.

Imagine living each day as if you were going into a car dealership and having to bargain for a lot of what you want.

It tends to make us cynical and jaded and we, therefore, don’t have as much interaction as we normally would with others.

So, we skipped the tour guide and I wish we hadn’t because I would have liked to know why they are wrapped in cellophane.

Our guess was they were being glued back together and this allows them to hold until the glue settles but we aren’t sure.

Either way, walking around the back of the exhibit was a wonderful way to end our visit to the Terracotta Army.

 

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