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 563 OUT OF Beijing: Greece Comes to San Francisco!


Our first drink at Palia Kameni.

Our first drink at Palia Kameni.


Jill and I spent a few nights in little town of Fira on the island of Santorini, Greece after we got engaged.

We had been to Mykonos, Naxos and Paros and were worried Santorini would be too crowded and expensive.

Imagine our surprise when it was actually about the same price as the lesser known islands and not crowded at all.

We walked around Fira and found this amazing bar named Palia Kameni Cocktail Bar.

It was facing towards the caldera and where the sun would set later that night.

We decided to sit down, have a drink and hang out.

One of the waiters, from the UK, talked to us for a bit and seemed like a nice guy.

After our drinks came, the owner, Vassilias came up to talk to us as the waiter told him we had just come from China and were engaged.

We talked for about 1-2 hours and discussed how he came to own this bar at such a young age (he was 28 years old), how to live the life we want to live, and how to achieve financial freedom as soon as possible to be able to travel and see the world.

Vassilias told us that he took the bar over from his dad and he is slowly making changes. One of the changes was to pay his staff enough that he, and they, could shut down for the 6 month winter break, and be able to live without fear of running out of money.  For Vassilias, that also includes going to visit his girlfriend, Soneth, who is a speech therapist in San Francisco and Los Angeles this winter.  We told him that we will be back in SF and wanted to meet up with him.  He agreed and we came back the next night to watch the sunset again.

We just got back to SF on December 15th and Vassilias told us he was leaving on the 20th for LA and we decided to meet up at the Squat and Gobble in the Castro Area.  We had a wonderful time talking and figuring out future plans and how we can support each other as he builds his business and we build ours.

It is everything we love about owning our own business, being able to travel, and living a life that is less structured and more independent.

It is not for everyone, but there is no way we want to live any other way, at least not at this point in our lives.

I’ve include pictures taken from his restaurant in Fira.  If you ever go to Santorini, please say hello to him and enjoy the sunset from there.  It is life changing.


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 500 In Beijing: 500 Days of Travel.


Jill and me making a new friend. The life of an expat.


I’ve been traveling for 500 days now.  Jill for about 465.

It has been a long road.

We’ve had some amazing times, met some amazing people, and seen a lot of amazing things.

We’ve also had hardships and tough times.

We’ve already had great friends leave and that is one of the really tough parts of being an expat.

The people you meet, and love, move on.  And so do you.

And so will we.

It is a matter of time, as an expat, before you leave and end up somewhere else.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because we get to experience a lot of new people, new places and new adventures, but it can be tiring after a while.

It is something that I deal with, with my clients at work, at different times.

People don’t seem to understand how tough it is to make really close friends, but also know they, or you, will be leaving and that you have to rebuild your support system over and over again.

On the positive side of things you then meet all kinds of new people but on the negative side you lose contact with all kinds of people you care about and want to stay in touch with over time.

This is where this blog, Twitter, Facebook and other methods of social media help out a lot.

As we know, where Jill and I are living, makes it quite difficult to use these social media sites without a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and that makes the internet move very very very very slowly here.

There are times when we are using a VPN but still can’t get on to the social media sites and this affects Jill in a very difficult way since she needs the internet to run all her online businesses.

However, we are dealing with it as best we can and these are just part of the trials, and tribulations, of living in China and living overseas.

Jill and I actually read a book, on our kindles, while on this trip called, “Happier Than A Billionaire” by Nadine  Hays Pisani.  It is all about chucking your job, doing something somewhat crazy and moving to another country, and then seeing what can happen.

It is probably one of the funniest travelogues I’ve read and Jill and I were literally laughing so hard we started to cry at times.

After we finished the trip to Turkey and Greece, we ended up liking “Happier Than a Billionaire” on Facebook and are now friends with Nadine.

We talk to her almost daily about living overseas, each other’s dreams and desires in life, and how we can make them happen.

This probably never would have happened if I hadn’t met Jill 8 days before leaving for China and her taking a chance to spend the next 465 days with me, a guy she barely knew, in a country (multiple countries if you count our travels) that she knew nothing about, and our desire to meet interesting people, live a life less ordinary and take a chance on life.

By the way, if I can put a plug out for Nadine’s book, please click this link and buy it:  Happier Than A Billionaire.  It is on amazon and you will thank yourself for it.

Looking forward to what tomorrow brings.


Day 441 In Beijing: The Spice Bazaar.


Love this shot.

A man and his store.

Jill and I went through the spice bazaar on the way to see the other sites around Istanbul.

It was a quick trip, and this isn’t the huge bazaar that Istanbul is famous for, but it is very cute.

There are lots of spices, and other things, that are hanging on the walls and put out in front of stalls.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in this one because we wanted to get a move on and get situated in regards to our plans for the next week of what we wanted to see, when we wanted to see it, and how long everything would take.

We aren’t big time planners but we like to make sure we can get done what we want to get done and not miss out on things because we don’t set our plans accordingly.

We also knew we’d be back by the spice bazaar, a few different times, because our subway stop drops us so close to it and we could easily go through it.

It was probably about 2 football fields long and wide and full of all kinds of yummy looking spices.

It also had a lot of soaps that were made with spices in them and Jill said they smelled wonderfully.

That is another thing that hit us immediately: the smell of the city is so different from Beijing.

It smells clean and fresh.

People from Istanbul may not agree, but compared to Beijing, it smelled like we were in a place much closer to nature and much more clean.

We also didn’t see nearly as much litter and there was almost no graffiti at all.

We actually didn’t really notice this until we went to Athens where there is graffiti everywhere.

It was a shocking difference considering it was only a one hour flight and the two cities are so much alike in many other ways.


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Day 435 In Beijing: The Alpha And The Omega.


The sun sets over Santorini. And over our life changing trip to Turkey and Greece.


I really don’t want to write this blog post.

It means that Jill and I have left Turkey and Greece and are headed back to Beijing.

In every way we feel as if we shouldn’t leave.

The friendliness of the people.

The amazing tasting, and healthy, food.

The cleanliness.

The lack of pollution and crushing crowds.

The ease of getting from one place to another.

The ability to quickly learn the basics of two different languages and connect with so many people.

The amount of different cultures intertwined and accepting of each other.

At some point, these countries will be our home.

We both feel like we have finally come home even though we were born in the USA.

I will be posting, over the next month or two, our full travelogue in Turkey and Greece.

There will be many pictures, many stories, and many wonderful experiences.

At this point, however, I am deeply saddened to be leaving and don’t want to even start blogging because it means that it has ended.

The closest I can remember to feeling this way was one time when I was returning from a trip to New York City after seeing my mom‘s art show at a gallery.

I was flying back to San Francisco in a plane loaded with passengers.

I can’t remember every feeling so alone.

I started to cry.

Not because I was sad but because of the amazing humanity, kindness and connection that I had felt on this trip.

It was just after 9/11 and people in New York were so kind and loving that it blew me away.

I wrote 5 pages of notes, on the flight, and still have them in my storage boxes back in the USA.

I’ll post them when I get a chance to find them on a visit home someday.

I know people think New Yorkers are rude, but they aren’t.

They just don’t suffer fools lightly.

If you are lost, and want help, they will be there in a second.  Just don’t stand in the middle of the sidewalk and block everyone else.

Honestly, I respect this and that they have places to be, lives to live, and things to do.

People in Turkey and Greece are the same way.

They help you whenever you need it and constantly amazed me at their laughter, happiness, and joy about life and living it.

This is what being in Turkey and Greece also brought out in Jill and me.

We remembered how to be happy, carefree, and safe.

Most of all, we felt like we fit in.

It was a wonderful feeling and I almost don’t want to see any of it end as we get ready to pack up our belongings and get on a plane flight back to Beijing.

By the time you read this blog post, we will have landed, and been in Beijing for a a few hours.

Give us a little time, and we’ll be fine, but right now, it is hard.

Day 433 In Beijing: The Flight And Arrival In Xinjiang.


I love the look of the woman beside us.

I love the look of the woman beside us.

Jill and I heard our flight called and headed out.

One of the interesting things about Beijing airport is that it handles 73,000,000 people a year.

That is utterly absurd and insane number.

I can’t even get my mind around it.

It is also one of the worst on time arrival and departure airports in the world.

This I can get my mind around after living in China.

However, we’ve been quite lucky since almost all our flights have been on time and quite enjoyable regardless of which airline we’ve used.

If you check out China Southern or China Eastern, they are ranked quite lowly overall.

However, I have to say we’ve had decent food, good service, and very comfortable seats every time we’ve used them and would definitely recommend them as they didn’t seem very different from United, Delta or any of the American airlines we’ve used previously.

Turkish Airlines, on the other hand, is amazing and we love flying them whenever possible.

But that is a blog for another day as we flew them numerous times inside Turkey and took lots of pictures.

We had a layover in Xinjiang, where our ex-roommate comes from, and it was beautiful.

It was also boiling outside.  It was somewhere around 113 degrees according to our pilot.

We hopped off the plane and after checking through customs, hung out in the waiting area for our next flight.

It was 6:30 pm.

An, interesting, and confusing part of China is that even though it is the size of the USA, it only has one time zone.

So, when it is 6:30 AM in Beijing, it is also 6:30 AM in Xinjiang.

Even though the suns rises and sets 3 hours earlier.  So, basically it is really 3:30 am in Beijing when it is 6:30 AM in Xinjiang.  It doesn’t make any logical sense.

It is silly rule that the government enforces for no particular reason that I want to attempt to explain on this blog but not while I’m living in China.

Either way, it was a beautiful sunset and a gorgeous landscape.


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Day 432 In Beijing: Getting Ready For Vacation!


Getting ready to go on vacation to Turkey and Greece!

Getting ready to go on vacation to Turkey and Greece!

The day had finally arrived.

We were OUT OF HERE!

Trust me, we needed it.

I absolutely love my job and wanted to make sure I didn’t start suffering from burn out and Jill has her own website SF TOURISM TIPS and works incredibly hard on it.

As you may know, the internet in China leaves much to be desired.

It seems to come and go, depending on the whims of some unknown entity, and this makes it quite difficult to be able to keep working on a website that requires a lot of detail, information and access to the USA.

We are essentially blocked from using Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, unless we are on our Virtual Private Network (VPN) and the VPN is much slower than our usual internet feed here in China.

In other words, we needed a break and we needed it now.

We got it.

We got ready for our flight and already were feeling relaxed.

We said our final goodbye to our dear friend, Gulzar, and jumped on the bus.  We took it two stops and headed for the Airport Express Subway.

It is a fairly new subway line and only has 3 stops total.

It costs about 5 bucks each to go 45 minutes so it is a heck of a deal.

After we arrive at the airport, we hung out and just relaxed.

We spent a lot of time talking about Jill’s website, as that is going to be how we fund our world travels and live the life we want.

This is going to happen in a few years but we are very much into planning and making sure things work out, as much as possible, how we set them.

Jill has been working on her site for over 4 years and I’ve been editing and helping her with ideas since we met.

It is, to be honest, her baby and I’m just helping but it is becoming more and more of a team effort each day.

It may seem strange, since I have a blog that I update every day, but I don’t like writing factual stories based on research.  I enjoy writing fiction and making stories come alive (although, as far as I know, everything I’ve written on this blog is absolutely true).

So, Jill writes her website and I edit it and it seems we make a great team.

In so many ways since we also make a great team traveling, supporting each other emotionally and financially, and in pretty much every other way I can imagine a couple would want to support each other.

i’m not sure if you’ve traveled with your partner, but if you haven’t, you will learn much more about each other, in a week or two, than you will in years of living a stable life at home.

I think this is because each choice, moment and change happens so quickly, and so often, that you quickly learn how the other reacts, how they think, and what their strengths and weaknesses are without having to wait years for a stressful event.

Jill and I have been to Shanghai, Mongolia, Malaysia and Singapore twice and we met only 8 days before I left for China.  She arrived 1.5 months later without knowing anyone other than me here.  And she only truly knew me through emails, my blog, and Skype.

Talk about a leap of faith.

We both believe deeply in planning while also living in the present.

Day 431 in Beijing: Goodbye Drinks!


Goodbye drinks at Schindlers!

Goodbye drinks at Schindlers!

As you , my faithful readers know, we have a ritual of good bye drinks when we go on a trip.

This actually started because our friend, Thorsten, from Schindler’s restaurant, suggested it.

If you haven’t read my earlier posts, Schindler’s is run by Mr. Schindler.

He has lived in Beijing for somewhere close to 30 years.

His life, like so many expats living in Beijing, is not what most restaurant owners lives usually seem.

He was actually the attaché for the East German Embassy during the Cold War.

He has run the restaurants for most of his time here but more importantly, he actually physically handed over the keys to the attaché for the combined German state when the wall fell and they became a single nation.

He is also a wonderfully jovial man and a heck of a person.  His wife made sure that Jill had a birthday cake for her 40th birthday party 5 days after Jill arrived and we celebrated her coming to Beijing.

Thorsten is the manager of Schindler’s and one of my first friends from my travels to Beijing.

Thorsten always makes sure that we come by and have our farewell drinks and we have a few pictures to commemorate the occasion.

It seems many people leave Beijing and it is a nice way to say goodbye and make sure to connect and show you care.

This was for our upcoming trip to Turkey and Greece and we were very excited and could not wait to get out of Beijing and to some place that had beautiful views and beaches, was less crowded and clean.

We’d had enough of pollution, masses of 25 million people, and cement and skyscrapers for as far as the eye could see.  It was definitely time for a change.

We’d been in Beijing for 7 months straight.

Every expatriate we know has said that they need to leave every 3 months or they start to get depressed, anxious and angry.

We had hit that point a few months ago but weren’t in the place to take off.

We won’t make that mistake again as it affected our emotional and physical health way too much and is advice that needs to be respected going forward.

It is the same thing I’d tell my clients so i might as well pay attention to my own prescription!