Day 240 in Beijing: Chinese New Year

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Jill and I have been told about the awesomeness of Chinese New Year fireworks for a few months.

We weren’t sure if we’d stay in Beijing, or China, for it as it is a massive festival and most businesses shut down.  Also, if one wants to travel around China, there are about 200,000,000 people traveling back to their homes and the trains are jammed packed and quite chaotic.

Speaking of travel in China during Chinese New Year, Jill and I watched a brilliant documentary on this migration titled, “Last Train Home.”  I would recommend it to anyone that wants to have a better understanding of what an average Chinese worker goes through to survive in today’s world.  It is very powerful and moving.

We were told of a rooftop party at a restaurant near Houhai Lake.  This is a beautiful area and I have a blog coming out, in a few days, when we went to watch people ice skate on the lake.

Luckily it is a quick subway and then bus ride to get there and we planned on grabbing a taxi home since all the buses shut down around 11 pm.  One of the joys of Chinese New Year in Beijing is that almost everyone else has gone home so the subways and buses are almost empty.  It has never been so easy to get a seat as it has been in the past day or two.

Amazingly, it wasn’t that cold and we were able to walk around in just our jackets and didn’t even need our hats or gloves for most of the night.

We arrived at The Orchid and sat down for a few drinks.   It was an all you can eat and drink menu for 300RMB (about 50 USD).

Not a bad way to say goodbye to the Year of the Snake and welcome in the Year of the Horse.

We waited for our friends, Nick, Deven, Nic and Jason and when they showed up we moved upstairs so we could look out the windows and watch as the festivities started.

Another couple arrived and we invited them to sit down with us since they looked like they didn’t have anyone else to celebrate with at this point.

As we talked with our new friends, we found out that he originally Eric was from Half Moon Bay and Kimberly was born in Santa Rosa, California.

For those that don’t know, I’m from Healdsburg, California.  It is a beautiful little town in the middle of the wine country.  Santa Rosa is about 10 miles away and was one of our main rivals in sports and pretty much everything else.

As Jill’s and my world gets bigger, it continues to get smaller.

As midnight approached, we went on the rooftop but it was so packed we had to stand on the stairs.  I was worried about Jill and her knees being in pain and tried to figure out somewhere else to stand and still be able to see the fireworks clearly.

Jill noticed our friends on the top of another roof and we asked if we could come join them and they agreed.  We hung out with them and enjoyed the fireworks for about 30-45 minutes.

We then went back to the party and hung out until around 2 am and were lucky enough to grab a cab almost the second we walked out the door with another friend we met tonight and shared the cab ride home, turned on our air filter to the highest power (it makes a grey noise that blocks out the sounds from the constant fireworks and firecracker explosions) and happily fell asleep after welcoming in the Year of the Horse.

I wishing you all “春节快乐“, which is pronounced “Chunjie Kuile” and means Happy New Year in Mandarin.

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Day 239 in Beijing: Pondering the Past, Present and Future.

Jill and me at the Forbidden City.

Jill and me at the Forbidden City.

Chinese New Year is tonight.

I sit and ponder what culture, family, and happiness is today.

I look to the past and see how different we are compared to when extended families were the norm and most people lived with 3 or possibly 4 generations under the same roof.  In the West, this is pretty rare but, in China, this still occurs.

Then again, in China, there are kids living with their grandparents, and parents having to live hundreds, and possibly thousands, of miles away, to make ends meet.

As I sit in Beijing, with Jill, and we are getting ready to go out to a hotel and watch hours of fireworks and firecrackers (Beijing’s Chinese New Year’s fireworks are the world’s largest unorganized fireworks display every year) I realize how lucky I am.  In fact, at 8 am the day of Chinese New Year’s, as I’m writing this, firecrackers are already going off.

This will last for 10 days straight.  I has been recommended by friends that live in Beijing that we would be smart to buy earplugs so we can sleep.

My life, in almost every way, is exactly the life I want to live.  The only problematic issue is being apart from my family and friends back home.  This becomes quite obvious when someone passes away or a wonderful occurrence happens like a wedding that I will miss because of the distance.

Jill’s grandmother died this week, at the age of 97.  She wasn’t able to go home because of the long flights, then long drives, and the timing of everything.  So we celebrated Grandma Helen with a few of other dear friends and talked about her life.

I believe that this way of  of “family” that expatriates learn to accept and master if they want to stay stable and content living far from people they love.

Some people don’t like being this far from their “family” and yet others love it.

Living in Beijing, I’ve found a new definition to what is “My family.”

That is all there is, in a way, yet there is so much more.  My family includes my father, Michael, my mother, Judy, my sister Stacy, and my brothers, Robert and David.

If you extend it a little farther it also includes my step-father, Phillip and his son, Kody.

If you then extend it farther it includes my aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, brother in laws, sister in laws and other people that continue outward into the human race.

Do I include my friends?

Do I include my enemies?

Do I include people I have never met?

Do I include people that I will never meet?

I think of the Buddhist belief that we are all tied together and there is no self in regards to caring about, and connecting with, others.

There is a classic saying “. . .that if a butterfly chances to flap his wings in Beijing in March, then, by August, hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be completely different.”

Strangely enough this is often mistaken for Buddhist lore but it was stated by an MIT meteorologist named Edward Lorenz in 1906.

I love how science and Buddhism are like cousins, far removed from each other, but actually closely intertwined.

Most of us, at least in the Western World, think of ourselves as more individual and fairly limited to a family connection.  I would suggest otherwise.  I believe that we are all connected.  If you trace my DNA and your DNA back to a certain point, we most likely all merge at some place.

According to the story of Adam and Eve, all humanity descends from two people.  Other religions have similar ideas.

As we progress scientifically, I am interested to see what science finds out about our genetics and our connections to each other.

I think that is why I’m so fascinated by Buddhist belief and the style of thinking that the Dalai Lama uses.  He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If Buddhism has a belief that science is not able to prove incorrect, then we should believe it.  However, if Buddhism has a belief, and science does prove it incorrect, we must discard it and take on a new belief.”

As noted before, I work as a behavioral therapist.  This belief is one of the reasons that behavioral therapy is so useful to my clients.

I also use behavioral therapy on myself for the same reason.  One of the tenets I learned from David Burns, MD, and my supervisor Brac Selph, PhD, was that I had to go through all of the interventions that I would ask my clients to go through.

I would learn more empathy for them and understanding of what they are trying to achieve and how hard it is.  I have done, and continue to do this, and I find more evidence, each time, for the method I use and the responses my clients get to heal themselves with an amazing amount joy.

I look at my past and wonder how much easier life would be if I could just learn, adapt and discard illogical, useless and harmful information and feelings instead of holding onto them and causing damage to myself, others and the universe.

I am doing that more and more each day and can quantify exactly how much better my life is now.

I welcome you to do the same on this, the first day of the Chinese New Year and Year of the Horse.

Day 238 in Beijing: Blowing Bubbles.

As Jill and I were leaving the Masjid Selat Melaka, we noticed a group of women and their kids hanging out.

The kids seemed to be distracted and were playing among themselves while the mothers were chatting and laughing.

As we walked by them, we noticed why they were laughing.

One of them was blowing bubbles and the others were enjoying the moment.

Moments like these are why I love traveling: They dis-spell the myths of what we are told about other cultures by the media.  We see, for ourselves, the commonality of all humanity. I’m sure there are cultures that would think this strange and silly but I’ve yet to come across one.

I’m thinking buying a bunch of bubble liquid and bringing it wherever I go to help make connections and remind people that we are all, in our hearts, little children full of joy.

Day 237 in Beijing: Masjid Selat Melaka, Part 2

The sign and the mosque.

The Melaka straits and the mosque.

As much as we enjoyed walking around the masjid, we were also a little concerned.

Not for our safety or anything like that since we never felt, even once, concerned for our safety in Malaysia.  The people are friendly, outgoing and are incredibly helpful to any tourist that needed assistance.

There is a point of realizing that the fear we create is only that and nothing more.  The fear of the other, the fear of being taken advantage of and the fear of seeing people for who they  really are, instead of a stereotype or a simplified version of a group is deadening to humanity and the world.  The more we see people as individuals, and treat them as such, the better the world will get along and the more we will all be able to deal with each other.

I have noticed that Jill and I tend to have very disparate groups of friends.  We often hang out with people in their young 20s, and get along great with them, and then hang out with people in their 50s or 60s and get along great with them.  We are both interested in meeting the person inside and getting to know what makes them tick and how they view the world.  This allows us to connect with people and find commonalities that others might miss.

I used to be a psychotherapist/social worker back in the San Francisco bay area.  I worked for 5 years with elderly clients dealing with any diagnosis ranging from simple depression to psychosis.  I then moved to work with 18-24 year clients dealing with first or second episode psychosis.  I was able to effectively work with all these clients, and their families, because I took them for who they are, doing the best they can with what they have, and then tried to support them with empathy and skills that I have learned that have helped not only others, but myself, in times of need.  I didn’t look down on them because they were having difficulties.

I was also honest in the issues that I saw and asked if I could give input.  They almost always allowed me for it, and when they didn’t, I wouldn’t give it until they asked for it later.

In this case, I am giving an unasked opinion of a concern I have that became very evident when we walked to the Masjid Selat Malaka and back to our apartment.

Most of the buildings around it are desolate and decaying.

This may not be a sign of much but it seems as if they were all built within the last 5-10 years and yet none of them are occupied.  It is like walking into a ghost town and one gets the feeling this would be what a town feels like after it is dead.

There is a massive bazaar type building right beside the masjid and it is utterly empty and fenced off.  The windows have not been finished and the wiring is exposed in many places.  It doesn’t look like there is any intention of finishing it and it seems as if it will get worse.

I see this happening here also and it worries me.  Building for expansion is okay but building to keep an economy going, when the majority of people can’t even afford to live there, is a house of cards.

I see this house of cards starting to get wobbly and I’m worried.

Not only for Malaysia, but for the rest of the world as when one card falls, it starts knocking down the others until they are all flat on the ground.


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Day 232 in Beijing: New Year’s Day.

I apologize for jumping around regarding dates, times and locations of my blog posts.

I tend to write my blogs about a week or two in advance because I don’t want to miss any days.

Being that I have a full time job and a full time life, if I wrote each blog, each day, I’d fall behind and forget what the heck I had written about, want to write about and will write about.

I’d also have stacks and stacks of photos sitting in my folders and unused because I don’t have the time to edit them in that moment.

This is especially true when I go on vacation or travel.

Lastly, the internet connections are not always reliable so it also interferes with my ability to do timely blog posts.

Therefore, this is a blog post about how I spent my New Year’s Day evening.

As you know, we celebrated New Year’s Eve in Singapore watching the fireworks down by the Marina Float with about 200,000 of our “closest” friends.  There was an 8 minute fireworks display and I’ve now seen NYE fireworks in the USA, Australia, Japan, and Malaysia.  I will see the Chinese New Year’s fireworks in just week from now in Beijing.  I’m looking forward to it although I’m a bit apprehensive of the 10 days of sleepless nights when fireworks are continually exploding all around the city.

Jill and I were wandering around Singapore on New Year’s Day and just relaxing.

We had spotted the Thekchen Choling Buddhist Temple about two blocks away from our hotel and since we were visiting temples, mosques and churches on this visit, we decided to stop by and see what was happening.

Luckily enough, they were having a special chanting session since it was the start of the lunar new year that day!

Jill, being the person she is, had people walk up to her and start talking to her as we waited.  A few people talked to me also but I was sitting on the men’s side of the aisle while she was closer to the door and sitting on the women’s side of the aisle.

As I was talking to someone, Lama Thubten Namdrol Dorje Tulku walked up beside Jill and talked to her for a few moments.  He then handed her a book that he had written.  He had just returned from learning with His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama and had a feeling of such calm and peace that it emanated from him.

The book, Direct Expressions, is wonderful.  I read it on our bus ride up to Melaka a few days later.  I highly recommend it as it is based in mindfulness and caring for your fellow human being and, in what seems to be part of the Buddhist tradition, very humorous and jovial terms of language and belief.  It also shows great respect for the beliefs and traditions of Buddhist life.

One man started playing a drum and ringing a bell to announce the start of the chanting. People that had been wearing shorts and tshirts just a few minutes before, appeared in gorgeous black or orange robes and sat down in the chairs around us.

Here is a quick video of the call to chant:

The chanting started and the Lama sat by the drum.  He looked around a few times and as he rose to move to a different position I saw him smile.  He seems to be a genuinely happy person.

One reason I’m interested in Buddhism is that behavioral therapy has recently been adapting Buddhist ideology into its practice.  This is where the idea of acceptance and choice is so apparent in the work that I do with my clients and the work I do on myself:  I can choose to make a change, which will cause suffering of one type, or stay the same, which will cause suffering of another type.

If I choose to stay the same, I accept that I am making this choice and try to do so without regret, guilt or other emotions that would cause negative reactions.  Or, if those emotions appear, notice them, welcome them and then let them go and continue on my way.

I mention that either changing or not changing will cause suffering because to live is to suffer.

This may sound like a terrible idea but it is actually quite freeing.  I know that I will suffer, and the suffering will end, so I can use that to continue, move through the suffering, and know that suffering will come again and be ready for the experience.

I love my mom.  However, when she dies, I will suffer.  I will suffer for the things unsaid, the things said and everything in between.  This is life.  I can do the most I can to make sure she knows I love her (and I know she’s reading this blog so I know she will see this) but there is only so much.  Life is impermanent and so the ability to cherish what we have now, in the present, and let go of the past and fears of the future, allow us to be truly alive.

The ability to live in the now is all we truly have because we can die at any moment.  Again, this can be a terrifying reality or it can be an enlivening one.  I choose to be excited by this belief because this means I can cherish, and relish, each and every moment I’m alive.  I live with the feeling of joy and excitement at what each day will bring and where I will go.

As the chanting continued, the kind man sitting next to me kept showing me the words, in Chinese and and in English, that they were chanting but since I don’t speak Chinese I didn’t understand them and just listened and tried to take in the feeling of calm and comfort.

We stayed for about half of the chanting and then quietly got up and left.  I felt some guilt at leaving because it seemed to be so relaxing and generous of them to welcome us.  However, I realized this was just an emotion and I had enjoyed my time, and hoped that the people with me had enjoyed theirs, and that was how life continues to be.

I’ve posted two videos of the chanting.  The first is in normal speed and the second goes into double time:

and later the chants are done in double time:


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Day 228 in Beijing: Linear and Circular Spectrum.

Make your choice and see what you can become.  The options are endless.

Make your choice and see what you can become. The options are endless.

I am often asked by people about how to be happy in their job, their relationships and their life.

My belief system is grounded in behavioral therapy and has been further adapted to include other methodologies and mindfulness.

This does not mean it has a religious or spiritual belief behind it but that each moment is impermanent and we have a choice to live our lives, by choosing our thoughts and behaviors, which affect our emotions, each nanosecond that we live on this planet.

I used to search for jobs, friendships and relationships that would be “the one.”  The more I looked, the more I found that no matter how much I believe one job is better than another, one person is better than another or that “this new thing” will allow me to be happy, I was incorrect.  My hypothesis was that something else would make me happy when I wasn’t willing to do the hard work to re-frame my automatic negative thoughts and my biases to the outside world.  I wanted everyone else to change instead of realizing that it is my fault, in a very positive way, for each and every interaction that I have and what the outcome will be to that interaction.

We all have this ability to be exactly who we are and what we are right now.

We are that job we don’t like, which is a job someone else would love to have.

We are that person we hate, who is that person someone else would love to love.

We are all those things that we despise.

I was the thing I despised because of my ego and my insecurities.

In the end, we may just be specks of dust and atoms that scatter back into the universe.

This is exceptionally freeing to me because that means I can live my life with less regret and less pressure to have to “be something” or “prove something” that doesn’t really count in the long term.

This allows me to take on as many roles, and personalities, as I want and make changes whenever I choose to make them.

Many people I know see their life or their life choices as a linear spectrum.

They see it as a flat line that goes in one direction.

There is good on one end and bad on the other.

I prefer to take the ends of those lines and bend it into a circle.  I see it as those ends are not the opposite.  They are actually very close together and can oftentimes be interchanged.

I’m not saying that every US president is the same but, in many ways, they are probably not that different when you look at it:  both human, both “male”, both work in politics, both think they are doing the right thing, both believe they are chosen to lead, etc.

I recently went swimming with sharks in Malaysia.  Some were about 3 feet long and I was right beside them without any protection.  I also went skydiving after I received my Marriage and Family Therapist License as a way to prove to myself that fear and anxiety are lies and I have a choice to overcome what I choose to overcome.  I continue to do that every second of my life and love how my mind and body respond to the mastery of a new skill.

I feel it is my responsibility to take the positive in me and let it flow into what I do.  If I don’t, I then encourage negative energy from other people to build and take control of my life.

I encourage you, in your own way and style, to be willing to feel the fear in new adventures, to make mistakes, and to revel in the changes that result.


Day 203 in Beijing: The War on Christmas?

If you watch certain American media outlets, or read newspapers by them, there seems to be a number of people worried about a hypothetical “War on Christmas” back home.

I’m utterly confused how one can have a war on a holiday that is made up but hat is just me.

Think about it: A dude that flies around in a sleigh with a bunch of reindeer and circumnavigates the entire Earth in less than 24 hours.  This includes people who don’t believe in Santa Claus, or have never herad of him, and he still gives them gifts.

That sounds like a pretty cool guy that no one would want to go to war with.  He also doesn’t sound like anyone that would go to war, either.

One of the issues that often comes up by people who believe that there is a “War on Christmas” is that other religions are trying to take away Christmas as a holiday and make it their own or destroy it.

The fact is I live in Beijing, China and am vacationing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, right now.

According to “The War on Christmas” folk, these nations should hate Santa Claus and everything that he represents.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

China is supposedly a Communist nation that doesn’t believe in religion.  This isn’t really true because of Buddhism but we will ignore that point for now.

China spends so much money and time on Christmas that it all people need to do is visit and they will lose all fears of a war breaking out anywhere.  The people here LOVE Christmas and everything about it.  It is probably more like Christmas here than it is back in the USA.  The Chinese have more fun and less anxiety about Christmas because they love buying things and giving gifts.

Maybe we all could learn how to respect the Christmas spirit and give a little more to the needy?

In Kuala Lumpur, as you can see by the pictures, there are Christmas trees everywhere. Remember, it is about 90 degrees with 90% humidity so it isn’t like Santa is going to be flying in and landing in the snow here anytime soon.

If anything, I’d worry he’d get heat stroke and die with his big heavy coat.

Listen up, folks:  The Commies in China, and the Muslims in Malaysia, love Christmas and Santa Claus.  So, if you believe in Santa, and Christmas, relax a little bit and feel safe that nobody here wants a war.  Let alone, a War on Christmas.

I think that all people want is a little peace, love and holiday cheer.

Isn’t that what the Christmas spirit is supposed to be about anyway?

If you agree that it is, please donate to a charity or help people in need.

I have a friend that would be such a person.

Her name is Mary Resenbeck and she is stuck in an isolation ward in a hospital in San Diego.  She has diverticulitis and is having a very difficult time.

She has developed C-Diff because of the antibiotics and can not even hold, or breastfeed, her newborn 3 month old baby, Gracie.

She and her husband, Doug, have 5 children and neither of them can work at this point since Doug is taking care of the children himself.  Gracie is staying with family members since she is so young.

They have insurance but it will not cover everything they need, let alone the basic necessities that they have during this time and the months to come.

Mary may be in the hospital for months to come, as she heals, and then needs surgery to fix the ruptures in her colon and reattach it.  This is no small problem and not a quick fix.

This is the reality of life.  People need help and, if we have the means, we can choose to help them.

I donated this morning and hope you will also.

Please follow this link and help her out.  It explains her whole story and is touching and powerful that what I posted here.

Please make it a Merry Christmas for Mary, Doug and the rest of her family.


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 190 in Beijing: Five Things I Miss Being In Beijing.

I live in Beijing, I can get most of what I want since it is a city of 23 million people, give or take a few million.  I also don’t live in an area of town where there are lots of expatriates so it is harder to find the things I want and miss.  If I did live in Sanlitun or Shunyi, I’d probably be more likely to find them and not get homesick very much.

Thinking about it, I actually don’t get homesick very often.  I think it has happened once or twice in the whole 6 months I’ve been living here.

I would have thought, with the language, culture, time, and everything else difference, that it would have happened more often.

I guess it goes to show how much I feel welcomed by my family, which includes my brother Robert here in Beijing, and the rest of my family around the world, Jill being here, my amazing group of friends, both here and abroad, and my wonderful job.

I honestly think I’ve never been so content with my life and in the knowledge of how many possibilities and adventures are out there for me every single day.

That being said, there are a few things that I do miss:

1. Being able to get somewhere easily/transportation.  This includes being able to understand bus routes, talking to cab drivers, getting simple directions from someone or giving the directions to them, and the speed of google maps back home in the USA where they download in seconds, not minutes, or more likely, never.

2.  Seedless grapes:  Yep, we have yet to find seedless grapes.  Really not a tragedy on the grand scale of things but it is interesting that the grocery stores we shop at don’t seem to have them.

3.  Yummy American wines at fair prices:  Chinese wines are young and cheap.  Which is great if you want to have some 2 buck Changyu, but not if you want some really tasty wines.  Chilean wines are quite good and they have a tax deal with the Chinese government and so they aren’t outrageously priced.  Sadly, it seems as if the EU and American wines are pretty highly taxed and so it makes it difficult to buy decent wine at a fair price.

Let me rephrase that.  It is almost impossible to even buy decent American wine.  When we do find it, it is usually Carlo Rossi, Gallo, Turning Leaf (subsidiary of Gallo), or very low grade Mondavi.  And they cost about 30 USD a bottle.  For wine that would cost about 7 bucks in the USD.  So, we tend to stick with the cheap Chinese wine which is good enough for now.

By the way, I think that Chinese wine will be very good in about 5-10 years.  They are putting loads of money, time, and effort into connecting with wineries around the world and learning everything they need to know to make the highest quality wines.  I’m interested in seeing how they progress in the next few years.

4. Spices are hard to find for everyday cooking.  We have to travel about 45 minutes, to the expatriate areas, to find them and they are fairly expensive.  This also includes other foods like pickles, olives, sauerkraut (which we LOVE), and other condiments that seem ubiquitous in america.

5. Mustard:  Oh, I miss my mustard.  I’ve never been a fan of catsup, which they seem to have in abundance, and this has only become more definite as I’ve lived in China.  I do, however, love mustard.  I love it on pretty much anything that most people put catsup on.  Or, if you are European, whatever you put mayonnaise on.  It is almost unheard of here in Beijing.  When I ask for it at restaurants, I use the Mandarin word for it and most servers are utterly confused.  Then, in their attempt to be helpful, they bring out wasabi, which we all know is used of sushi.  I have pretty much stopped even asking for it and given up hope at this point.  We also have to travel about 45 minutes to buy small mustard bottles as mentioned above.  It is a luxury here.

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.