Day 486 In Beijing: Trip To Tianjin, Part 3.


Traffic, and the traffic lights cameras, at the intersection.

Traffic, and the traffic lights cameras, at the intersection.

Jill, Nuria and I decided to go out to a local Chinese restaurant for dinner.

There are a lot of them around, not just because we are in China, but because we are in a Chinese district of Tianjin.

Tianjin, if you remember, has about 15,000,000 people living in it and yet isn’t really very well known.

It is a second tier city, because of many reasons, and pretty much no one knows about it, outside of China, because it is mostly a factory town.

Expats don’t tend to live here because they aren’t factory workers or middle management.  They are higher up, and therefore, live in Beijing or Shanghai where the business of business happens.

We took a taxi to the restaurant and I noticed that there were loads of flashing lights at the stop light.

I have never seen anything like this so I wanted to get a video of it to show everyone how often these cameras are taking pictures.

We talked to the cabbie, on the taxi ride home, and he said it is to see how busy the traffic is at that moment.

However, in Beijing, since there are too many cars, they have certain days, each week, that you can’t drive.

They use your license plate and if you are caught driving on that day twice in one year, you lose your license.

Pretty harsh.

We asked if that same law applies here in Tianjin and the drive said yes.

So, that means they are also tracking the amount of cars, and the people driving when they shouldn’t be, constantly.

That being said, it was a pretty cool light show.



Day 484 In Beijing: Trip to Tianjin, Part 1.


Another shot of the South Beijing Railway Station.

Another shot of the South Beijing Railway Station.

After spending a week back at work, the Golden Week holidays arrived and we decided to head down to Tianjin to see our dear friend, Nuria.

We bought the train tickets about 4 days ago and love that we can buy tickets, on a High Speed Train, so easily and so cheaply, whenever we want.

The tickets cost us about 60RMB each, or about 10 USD to go 150 kilometers on the fastest possible train in China.

That is really pretty cool.

The only problem with traveling in China during the October Golden Week Holiday is that about 150,000,000 of my closest friends are also traveling at that time.

Just for information’s sake, Golden Week is the world’s largest human migration.

And it happens every single year.

The actual number may be more around 200,000,000 but whose counting 50,000,000 people?

The trip was actually amazingly easy and we have to guess that most of the Chinese nationals actually traveled the night before and were already heading to their destinations.

It was still pretty busy, and there were lots of people, but it wasn’t the insane crowding and pushing we’ve seen on movies and videos.



The train ride down was great and incredibly smooth.

After we got off the train we found our friend Nuria and hopped on the subway.

We then grabbed a cab to her apartment and had a delicious lunch that she made based on Spanish dishes that mixed in some yummy Chinese foods also.

As we’ve learned, you make do, and make your own recipes, when living in China since so much of what we are used to isn’t available.

It is one of the joys of being an expatriate because you learn to make new things and live outside the box.

We also had a Chinese sparkling wine with lunch and were surprised at how it tasted.  It was a bit too sweet but, overall, was drinkable and an excellent value at 28RMB (about $5 USD).  One can’t argue with that when having a fun meal with a dear friend.


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Day 388 in Beijing: Crazy Cab.


The view from the backseat.

The view from the backseat.

I recently took a cab for work.

I was on the suburbs of Beijing and needed to get back to downtown in a hurry.

The taxi drivers tend to take their time, since they don’t get tips in China, and that means they can make more money.

The taxis are so cheap, I don’t really care about a few more nickels or dimes.

This guy had a different idea of how to drive.

He kept the pedal to the medal and basically drove on the shoulder the whole time that he could.

On the freeway he was changing lanes and cruising through traffic like he was a fish in water.

He noticed me taking a video and started laughing.

Strangely enough,  I felt more safe with him than the slow drivers that don’t seem to really be paying attention.

This guy was like Mario Andretti and knew exactly where to go, what to do, and how to get it done.

It was actually a lot of fun.

Although, like almost every cab in Beijing, there aren’t any seat belts.

Sorry to scare you, once again, mom.




Celebrating my CHINAVERSARY with Jill, Nebraska State Senator Kate Sullivan and her wonderful husband Mike.  A very nice way to ring in the second year in China.

Celebrating my CHINAVERSARY with Jill, Nebraska State Senator Kate Sullivan and her wonderful husband Mike. A very nice way to ring in the second year in China.

This is actually a weird problem to have.

This is my Chinaversary.

I’ve lived here for one year.

Except, that isn’t quite right.

I lost a day in my flight over so I’m never sure if I’ve really been here for one year or not.

I’m going with this is my anniversary since I left the USA on this date and technically would have arrived on the same date if not for the time change.   And, it would also set my “Day …” count off by a day if I didn’t do this.

I can’t really believe I’ve been in China for one year.

And that I’ve written 365 blog posts.

I had no idea that I could find that much to write about, that much to think about that much to keep going, day after day.

I’m actually quite proud of my accomplishment.

I also thank everyone that has been on this ride with me, either physically, like Jill, or mentally/emotionally like my family, friends and readers of this blog.

Some of the things I’ve learned in my first year:

Traffic in China is pretty bad.  I just moved to a new place about 1 block from my work.  It takes me 3 minutes to walk there and my stress load has gone down incredibly.  I used to commute, by taxi, for about 30-40 minutes each way.  The time I get to spend relaxing with Jill and going for walks is priceless.

Beijing is huge.  23,000,000 people, and by some estimates, 25,000,000, in a 200 km city.  It just seems to go on forever.  This has good and bad points.  We mainly have figured out the good points and that there is always something new opening and a new place to explore.  Or, better yet, a very old place to explore.

We love traveling.  We truly love to get out, try something new, meet new people, and see what life is like outside of our “little world” back home.  It gives us a new perspective every time we meet someone because we hear a life story that is so different and so contrary to what we both used to believe about what we could or should do with our own lives.

We miss our friends and family back home.  This goes without saying.  Two dear friends, and one who is basically “my second father” died while I was away.  I did what I could do, from here, but missed the memorials or being able to truly say goodbye.  This is a major downside to being an expatriate.

China is an amazingly dizzying place to live and understand.  It is like the industrial revolution on steroids.  I’ve never experienced anything like it and I’ve been to a lot of major cities around the world and lived in Japan, Australia and other countries.  Seriously, nothing compares to China.  That is good and bad.

Jill and I are an amazing couple.  We have put up with, I would say, was probably one of the hardest years of our lives and have come through with more love and respect for each other than we could have imagined.

Here is a simple list of what has happened since we met, some good, some bad.

I moved to China.

I started a new job.

I moved into a new apartment with very little support or idea of how to do anything in China.

Jill Moved to China.

Jill’s grandmother died.

Two of my friends/mentors died.

3 different visa trips to leave China so Jill wouldn’t overstay her visa.

Jill started Mandarin school.

Dealing with pollution.

Jill’s almost having to start over from scratch on her website because of problems.

The internet being limited beyond belief because of….I won’t state that here.  😉

Jill found out that people very close to her have cancer.

Jill had a breast cancer scare and a biopsy here (everything is fine, thankfully!).

Amazing boss and dear friend in the same person.

Seeing the Great Wall twice.

Having friends from the USA visit.

Salsa dancing in China.

Playing badminton with my coworkers.

Making new incredible friends that keep us continually laughing and feeling like we have a “family here.”

The ability to support and love each other through the hardships and know that we have each other’s love.

A move to a new apartment that is wonderful.

My therapy practice which is doing incredibly well.

Working in situations that I would have never imagined in the USA which includes doing therapy on a oil rig in the the middle of a bay in China among others.

Helping many people feel better and figure out what is right for them.

Not having to own a car.

Seeing the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Tienanmen Square, Summer Palace and so much more.

Seeing Chinese New Year in China!

Having Octoberfest in Beijing.

Becoming vegetarian, together, on New Year’s Day.

Visiting Mongolia.

Visiting Shanghai.

Visiting Malaysia, twice!

Visiting Singapore.

Spending NYE in Singapore with Dipesh.

The ability to take a month off in the summer and go to Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria.

Jill’s websites taking off and becoming a real force for tourism in San Francisco.

A new internet service that is screamingly fast which allows this blog, Jill’s sites, and all the connections we need to stay here and feel more at “home” when we miss people.

Overall, the positive definitely outweighs the negative and I’m sure there are lots more to list but I don’t want to overwhelm people.  Suffice to say that year one was incredibly tough, and taught us so much about ourselves, and each other, that we know year two will be a breeze. We are so much stronger, knowledgeable and resilient to what comes our way that we will succeed and master whatever needs to be done.

We both thank you for all your support, care and love.


Day 360 in Beijing: Moving Day!


Beijing is a huge city.

It is really incomprehensible how large the city is compared to any other city I’ve been lived in.

There are 6 ring roads and the furthest one out is about located at a point that it takes about 220 kms to drive around the city.

The 6th ring road is about 10 kms from the center of the city.

There are about 25,000,000 people here.

Beijing is massive.

We were living right inside the 4th ring road and about a 30 minute cab ride from my work.

It became a daily ordeal to find a cab, take the ride through traffic, and then get to work or home.

I’ve had long commutes before, especially living in El Cerrito and commuting to San Francisco (sometimes up to 1.5 hours each way) but it seemed much longer here.

It was also just tough being so far away from our friends and people we truly care about who live near Sanlitun.

All our favorite restaurants, bars, and my work are all downtown so it just didn’t make sense to live where we were anymore.

The only negative is we won’t be as close to our wonderful roommate, Gulzar, and our dear friend Federica.

But that is the expatriate life.

And starting today, Jill and I have moved into our new apartment near where I work.

I can now get up in the morning and walk to work in a few minutes.

It is wonderful!

The move, by the way, went incredibly well.

My buddy, Justin, set us up with a moving company that he knows and trusts.

They ended up showing up about 1.5 hours late, but other than that, they were incredible.

Three guys, working their butts off in 100 degree heat, and moving our stuff with almost no complaining or whining.

These guys WORK.

They took our armoire, our queen sized mattress, our washing machine and a bunch of other stuff and just kept going without a rest.

We all helped out a bit but it was mostly them.

How much did this all cost to move our apartment, with three workers, about 5 miles and then up 5 flights of stairs since our new place doesn’t have an elevator?

Well, we had set the price at 450RMB.

Jill and I then bought them 2 bottles of water each (we offered beer but they told us not when they are working).  This sounds obvious but there are times when we’ve gotten in a cab and you can smell alcohol on the driver’s breath.  Not these guys.  True professionals.  We also bought them Popsicles.

That cost us about 20RMB.

We gave them a 50RMB tip, which no one tips here so they were very happy with that and we felt they definitely deserved it.

Total price:  520RMB

Total price in USD: 85 bucks.

Honestly, our new place is fantastic and we have our internet and wifi all set up already.

We later went for a walk by the canal behind our apartment and celebrated.

We also have to give a HUGE thank you to our dear friend, Rachel.  She is a native Beijinger and moving to Hong Kong in the next few weeks for work.  She has helped us out so much and we love her dearly.  THANK YOU, RACHEL!

Life is good.

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Day 347 in Beijing: Health Check, Part 1.


People upon people upon people.

People upon people upon people.

Jill has decided to study Mandarin and, because of this, she will need to get a different visa.

She is on an “L” visa, which needs to switch it to a student visa in next few weeks.

In accordance with this change in status, she is required to get a health check.

Now, I work at a medical facility that is amazing.

It is, without a doubt, the most professional company I have ever worked for and I’m honored to be an employee there.

It is an expatriate company and that gives me a lot of security and feelings of safety since I see how they conduct their business.

Jill, on the other hand, has to go to a Chinese company to get this done and that had us a little worried.

We weren’t sure if they would speak any English, what the level of cleanliness would be, and how things would be handled.

We talked to a few friends that had been through it before, and we reassured, and decided we’d go together so I can give Jill support and call my office in case anything goes wrong.

We woke up, got ready and headed out for Jill’s health check.

We had to bring her passport, visa, 357RMB (about 60 USD), a passport photo and police registration (we have to register where we live every time we leave China with the police).

We hopped on the subway line 5 heading north and took that for about 30 minutes.

After that, we transferred to line 13, at one of the busiest stations in Beijing, and headed to Wudaokuo.

This gives you an idea of how insane this station can be.  This isn’t even the rush hour.

Wudaokuo is the student/expatriate/collegiate area and the health check area is about 20 minutes away from it by bus.

If we could find the bus.

Which, at first, we couldn’t.

The exit from the Wudaokuo station to the bus station was pretty darn confusing.

We ended up, after walking around for about 10 minutes, finding the right bus and got on.

It took us out through the tech area in the north of Beijing and we saw all kinds of crazily designed buildings that we made for major technology companies from around the world.

That was interesting but the traffic was horrendous.  It took us about 45 minutes to go about 3 miles.

The city is growing so fast that it is really becoming a problem and this was a good example of it right here.  And just another reason we are moving 1 block from where I work so that we don’t have to commute as much in a few weeks.  It just becomes tiring and stressful after too long.

The worst part was the bus ride, after 45 minutes, seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

We showed a fellow bus rider our map and he told us to get off and go the other way.

We then got off, decided enough of this wasted time, and hailed a cab.

It seems we were headed in the right direction and would have been there if we had just taken the bus for 3 more stops.


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Day 345 in Beijing: Horse and Carriage. Or Cart.

Jill and I love wandering around Beijing and just looking at the sites.

Surprisingly, the sites are often not buildings or mountains but are just out of the ordinary experiences for us.

I don’t think I would have ever seen a horse pulling a fruit cart in the USA.

I know I wouldn’t have ever seen an electric bike with gerbils, birds, turtles and other living creatures cruising around the back streets in the USA.

China, and especially Beijing, is a crazy mixture of old and new.

As I’ve mentioned before, driving in Beijing is an incredibly wild ride.

If you are brand new, this comes as a surprise and seems scary and crazy.

After a bit you get used to it and take it as an everyday event.

The point that often escapes people is that the people living in Beijing probably only started driving cars about 10 years ago.

15 at the most.

To think that there are 25 million people in this city, and many of them just learning to drive recently, that is rather amazing.

That is one of the problems also: they drive as if they are on horses or bikes.  This means they do u-turns in the middle of the most busy streets and stop in the middle of the road.  It is almost as if drivers here in Beijing expect their cars to be as thin and small as a bike or a horse, and therefore, you can pass them no matter where they stop.

Sadly, this isn’t true.

Also, when there is a car crash, the people get out and start arguing about it and who will pay.

From what I’ve seen, many people just pay off the other driver so there isn’t a record of the accident and the authorities don’t have to be involved.

This also happens elsewhere but I’ve never seen such massive crowds gather around a small car crash and so many people yelling and stating how much a driver should pay, who is at fault, and what should be done, especially when they didn’t even see the crash.

It is almost as if a car crash is a spectator sport that becomes interactive.

I’m glad I’ve never been in one and it is another reason Jill and I are moving about 1 block from my work in a few weeks.

We can not wait to walk to work, or dinner, or the river beside our apartment, and not have to drive and deal with traffic and this type of frustration each day.

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Day 334 in Beijing: Key Hanging From Tree.


The key hanging from the tree.

The key hanging from the tree.

I left work and walked towards my usual taxi cab area.

It is actually just the driveway to my office and taxis can pull in easily.

A more minimalist portrait of the key.

A more minimalist portrait of the key.

There isn’t an actual taxi stand or anything specific.

As I walked over, I noticed this key hanging from a tree.

Someone must have lost the key and someone else decided this might be an easy way for the person to find it if they came looking for it.

I have to agree as I noticed it immediately.

I also found it to be quite beautiful in its simplicity and singularity.

It is almost like a ornament or a piece of art.

Day 328 in Beijing: Another Cab Story.


A taxi card to go to the 798 art district in Beijing.

A taxi card to go to the 798 art district in Beijing.

As I left work, I hurried out to the main road by my office and hailed a taxi.

This involves a bit more work, here in Beijing, than it does elsewhere.

Instead of just waving my hand, I wave my iPhone, with my “taxi card” already pulled up.

This allows the cabbie to see me more easily, as it has a backlight on the screen, and also allows them to know where I am going once I get in.

Let me explain.

Taxi cards are cards that have directions on them in Chinese script.

These are invaluable in Beijing because this city is constantly being built, and rebuilt, and nothing is constant except change.

So, since my Mandarin in horrible, and addresses are quite hard (there are some streets that are a 22 letter word here), I use the taxi card.

The taxi card has the whole address printed out on a virtual card on the iPhone screen.

It is simple, it is quick, and the cabbies almost always know exactly where to go.

Once in a while they don’t, so they tell me to take another taxi, but I think that might also be because taxi drivers get paid so little here that going a long distance doesn’t really add up when they can do a bunch of small taxi rides in their own area of town and not drive way out in the boonies where I’m living now.

Again, this all changes in one month when I move to the center of town, and one block from my work, and to freedom.  I honestly can not wait to move there and just walk across the street to work and to come home.  It will reduce my commute by about 1 hour each day and my rent will drop.  I will also be closer to the people that matter to me in Beijing and my life will be pretty much as perfect as I could imagine.  And, for that matter, it is almost perfect now so that is saying a lot.

So, I jumped in the cab and showed the driver my taxi card.

He nodded yes and started driving.

And then started talking on his cell phone.

This is not unusual here in Beijing.

I’ve seen a driver with 3 cell phones, as well as iPad, strapped to the windshield or dashboard, and still drive the cab while talking on one of the phones.  It is amazing and unsafe.  And classically China in every way.

So, I start laughing immediately because the driver is this tiny little guy, no more than about 5 feet, 5 inches, and incredibly thin.

Yet, if you are a Star Wars fan, you will appreciate this:

He sounds EXACTLY like Jabba the Hutt. He could do a perfect impersonation if he wanted to! He had that amazing deep and gravely voice.

I could have sworn he actually said, “Solo! Hay lapa no ya, Solo” and then laughed that HUGE Jabba the Hutt laugh afterward.

The cabbie continues to talk on his phone and misses my turn off for the 4th ring road. Then he says, in English, “Sorry” since he was talking on the phone and made the mistake.

About a minute later, the cabbie, looks in the mirror at me, waves his phone around in the air, shakes his head in disgust and then says, “My brother!”

I’m seriously dying from laughter in the backseat.

This cab driver speaks English and has an awesome send of humor!

Then, add to it that he turns off the meter, about 3 blocks from my house, and I want to hire this guy to drive me everywhere.  He realized that his mistake caused my trip to be more expensive but he shut it down at the price it would have been.  I actually didn’t mind paying more because this trip made me laugh so much but I couldn’t argue, since I don’t speak Mandarin, and so I just said, “Xie Xie” and smiled and laughed a lot with him.

Just in case you aren’t a Star Wars fan and don’t know the Jabba the Hutt laugh, here you go:


Day 327 in Beijing: Seat Belts and Wi-Fi.


I'm all smiles as I get to wear an actual seat belt in a Beijing taxi!

I’m all smiles as I get to wear an actual seat belt in a Beijing taxi!

I was taking a cab ride home a few days ago and noticed a seat belt.

This actually didn’t surprise me that much but what did surprise me was that I also noticed the buckle for a seat belt.

I’ve now been riding in cabs for about 1 year in Beijing and this is the FIRST time I’ve seen the actual buckle for a seat belt in a taxi.

Cue my mom fainting and having a panic attack at this moment.

For those that don’t know, I was involved in a car crash when I was four years old.

It was pretty major and I had brain surgery twice.

Yes, I can see you all nodding in agreement and thinking, “Ah!  Now I understand why Aram is the way Aram is!”

Anyway, my mom has always told me to, “Drive safe and wear your seatbelt” every time that I’ve gone anywhere.

And, my mom will be proud, I’m fanatic about it.  I actually won’t even start my car’s engine until everyone is buckled up.

No such luck here in Beijing.

This person's parents must be so proud of the money spent on English lessons.

This person’s parents must be so proud of the money spent on English lessons.

As one of my friend’s wrote when I posted this picture on WeChat, “That is like finding the golden ticket.”

When seat belts are compared to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, one knows this probably won’t happen again and it is blog worthy.

By the way, the other interesting thing that happened on the cab ride was when I went online on my phone.

As the iPhone does, it searches for wi-fi that is close by.

Pretty much every single store in Beijing has wi-fi and many people seem to have their phones set up as wi-fi hot spots.

Often the names of the routers are in Chinese but this one was in English and seems worth noting.

Now, I’m not sure why someone would name their router and wi-fi service this, but I could only imagine what the password would be and what their parents think about it.