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 577 OUT OF Beijing: New Year’s Eve.


Happy New Years!

Happy New Years!


Jill and I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Singapore last year with our friend Dipesh.

It was an 8 minute show of fireworks and then a very delayed walk home to our hotel because they aren’t used to crowds of that size in Singapore and they forced everyone to walk down the same route which led to massive people jams and nowhere to go for a long time.

The day before, we did the same walk home in about 30 minutes.  That night took 3 hours.

We prefer smaller, and more intimate, parties with just our friends.

Luckily, our friends Alvaro and Kelly have their New Year’s Eve party most years and had it again this one.

We were in San Francisco and the party was in San Leandro, over the bay, so we had to figure out a way to get there on mass transit since we are going carless from now on.

We hopped on the Muni train, then moved over to BART and then Alvaro picked us up at the BART station near his house.  We were going to grab a bus to his place but he was nice enough to offer and we accepted.  Muni was free from 8 pm that night until 5 am the next morning so our trip only cost us about $6 bucks each way which was a steal as far as we were concerned.  Jill hasn’t had a car for over 5 years, and I haven’t had a car since I left for China, and the savings are amazing.  I mostly rode the bus the last two years I was in the states and took carpool whenever I could.  It is also a nice way to meet with people I may not have met in any other circumstance.  It is also part of our drive (pun intended) towards minimization and being more frugal.  We find we don’t make as many frivolous trips when we don’t have a car and plan out our days to be more efficient in regards to what we do and when we do it.

We arrived at the party and said hello to Kelly, her parents, Alvaro’s parents and their twin daughters.  They are incredibly cute and love to dance around.  Sadly, I didn’t get any pictures of them.  Simply stated, they were wearing princess gowns with tiaras and are about 3 years old.  We were having a great time just watching them run, dance and play with each other for a bunch of the night.

People started arriving, many who didn’t know I had returned from China, so we were able to catch up with many of them and update them on our adventures.  It was wonderful to see so many happy faces at our return and to realize that we are part of this small salsa community that seems to grow and add people but still stay close and like a family.

We danced a bit and mostly talked and ate delicious food while talking and catching up.  As 12 pm arrived, we all gathered by the tv and started to countdown the seconds at 10…9…8…7….6…5…4…3…2…1…HAPPY NEW YEARS!!!!

We had a great one.  I hope you did to and wish you the best 2015.




Day 574 OUT OF Beijing: San Francisco City Hall For The Holidays.


The man was holding his date's head so she could take a picture with shaking from the cold.

The man was holding his date’s head so she could take a picture with shaking from the cold.

Jill and I needed to take some pictures of City Hall for our website, SF Tourism Tips.

We went down a few days ago and were reminded why we love San Francisco.

You could say, without question, that we left our heart here and have found it again.

The City Hall is so beautiful and lit up so nicely that it took our breath away.

Of course, it could also be the incredible winds we had lately that blew over trees and cut people’s power but I think it is more likely the beauty of San Francisco.

It definitely was much colder in Beijing and it is nice to walk around in a windbreaker or a fleece sweatshirt and be warm.  No need for massive jackets, gloves, scarves and definitely no need for air quality masks since the air quality here is fantastic.

We cannot explain how amazing it is to have fresh air, every day, and not take it for granted.

Almost everyone in the USA would take it for granted, as we did, before we lived in Beijing.

I also don’t think anyone that hasn’t lived in a polluted city won’t be able to realize what it is like, even if I explain it, because it is such an overwhelming and all-important feature of your life each and every day.

There were days when we wouldn’t leave our apartment because it was so bad and we could barely see apartments 1 block away.  It is like San Francisco fog but your eyes start to tear up, you feel your throat tighten up, and you are lethargic for no logical reason other than the air is not breathable.

If Jill or I had babies, there is no way we’d raise them in Beijing.  I’d be afraid for their health and their lungs being born into that toxic mess.

One doctor stated that living in Beijing is equal to smoking 1/6 of a cigarette a day because of the pollution.  I would have to think it is more equal to smoking a full cigarette a day when the air quality gets bad enough.

Suffice to say, we are unbelievably happy we are home.


Day 572 OUT OF Beijing: Happy New Year’s Eve!


Goodbye Airpocalypse!

Goodbye Airpocalypse!


Jill and I have started our new life and are moving along swimmingly.

Today is New Year’s Eve and we are going to be celebrating with friends and doing a little salsa dancing.

We will probably drink a lot of champagne, eat amazing food, and have a truly incredible time since we are back home and things just feel “right” again.

We are definitely missing our friends back in Beijing and wishing them a wonderful New Year’s Day since they will have crossed the New Year’s Eve dateline before we do here.  We love you all and wish you were here to celebrate with us.

I have posted before about the Airpocalpyse app on my iPhone.

This will be the last time you, or I, see it since I deleted it.

I don’t plan on ever going back to Beijing, and I don’t want to be reminded of the pollution and conditions of living there, anymore.

Neither does Jill.

We are moving on to bigger and better things and want to focus on that.

I will be, however, writing a book about our experiences so we will be looking back at it.

But not right now.  Today is for the future and for enjoyment.

The air is clean in San Francisco and not a cloud in the sky.

Our website SF Tourism Tips is doing incredibly and we are working on our new site to help others live the life they want and figure out how to change what is in their way to being more content.

So, say goodbye to the Airpocalypse App.

Give it a good send off and a huge, “Thank you” for the laughs and the information that allowed Jill and me to figure out if we would leave our apartment on certain days or just stay home, order in, and watch Breaking Bad, 30 Rock or some movie that we’d have downloaded.

Happy New Years to all and I hope 2015 is the best year of your life so far.

I am sure it will be for Jill and me.


Day 571 OUT OF Beijing: Christmas Morning above the Castro.


The view from one of the houses we are staying at over the Castro District.

The view from one of the houses we are staying at over the Castro District.


Jill and I have been house sitting, at two different houses, for the past week.

One house has a gorgeous little Italian Greyhound named Dante and a very cute tabby named Goya.

The other house has two super cute kitties named Buzz and Coco.

We walk Dante everyday and most days we walk him twice.

We also go check on Buzz and Coco when we walk Dante and he seems to enjoy hanging outside the house and checking out everything in that part of the Castro District.

It is nice because the houses are only about 15 minutes walking distance from each other and we are able to meander through Corona Heights Park and a few staircases and back alleys.

It is also quiet and calm here and the exact opposite of the constant hustle and bustle of Beijing.

We can not express how different it is actually.

It is like going from Manhattan on steroids to a town of 400 people in Nebraska.

Coincidentally, in about 4 months, we will be living in a town of 400 people in Nebraska as we will stay with Jill’s parents, Bill and Emma, for a month or two.  They live in Cedar Rapids and she wants to catch up with them and introduce me to my soon to be father and mother in law.  The wedding is probably gonna happen in 2016 so there is no rush but it will be nice to meet each other’s parents, other than on Skype, since we haven’t been able to yet.  This is what happens when you meet someone 8 days before you leave for China and then ask them to marry you in Turkey.  It’s an expat life for us!

On this trip around the USA, we will also see our friend Christopher Rubin and his family down in LA and spend a week in Cancun with Jill’s sister’s family in Cancun.  After that we will head to Galisteo, NM to hang with my mom and step-dad for a few weeks before heading to Costa Rica or some place in Latin America to start looking for a long term residence as we build our websites and businesses.  It is one of the true wonders of the internet age that we can work “anywhere” and strive.  We plan to teach others to be able to do the same once our new website is up and running in a month or two.  We love the vagabond life and what it affords to us.

So, Jill and I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Wonderful Kwanzaa and any other holiday or pagan ritual that you subscribe to.  Here’s a little view from the second house we are house sitting and of the Castro District.  Just another gorgeous Christmas in San Francisco.  And not wisp of smog anywhere in sight.  So glad we are home.  Whatever, and wherever, home is.


Day 569 OUT OF Beijing: Support Sonya in Her Fight Against Cystic Fibrosis!


Jill, Sonya and me in her room at UCSF.

Jill, Sonya and me in her room at UCSF.


Jill and I went to visit our friend, Sonya Haggett, at UCSF on Christmas Eve.

She was hospitalized, a few days before that, because she is suffering from pneumonia which was caused by cystic fibrosis.  Sadly, she had to spend her 40th birthday in the hospital instead of out partying.  In classic Sonya style she had a party after she got out anyway.  🙂

She has now been hospitalized 8 times in the past 13 months and yet doesn’t seem to ever give up hope or become negative about her life events.

Sonya is one of the first people I met when I started salsa dancing about 14 years ago.

There was a dedicated little crew of us, that all went to Allegro Ballroom in Emeryville, CA, and a lot of us have stayed friends even if we no longer dance as much as before.

The salsa community seems to be very tight and connected and a lot of them have stepped up to help Sonya in her battle against this disease.

Jill had met Sonya once before we left and they had hit it off immediately.  This was the first time we’d have been able to see her since we left for China and we were incredibly excited about that even though we were bummed that she was back in the hospital.

Before we arrived, we asked if we could get her lunch and suggested Yellow Submarine because it is a local place and their sandwiches are incredible.  She agreed and we ordered pastrami sandwiches and picked them up before we saw her.

We were so happy to see her and gave each other long hugs.  It had been way too long and it seemed as if it was also only yesterday since I had seen her.

We talked about life, what had been happening with her, how she copes and continues to stay strong, and our time in China.

It was wonderful to see her.  After a while, her cousin, Eric, showed up and we decided to give them time alone to talk.  He was nice enough to take this picture of us.

Here is my request: Sonya will be receiving new lungs, as soon as possible, and that is all paid for by insurance.  HOWEVER, she will “be married” to UCSF for the 8 weeks after that transplant and that ISN’T paid for by insurance.  She will need about $35,000 to pay for it.  At this point, she has about $28,000 so she is close but not close enough.

If, in any way, you would like to donate to Cota in support of Sonya, please do and then and share this blog post.  I am certain we can help her and give her a wonderful holiday/birthday gift.

Trust me, Sonya deserves it.

The website is COTA and all you have to do is click this link COTA FOR SONYA and click on donate online.

We thank you in advance.


Day 567 OUT OF Beijing: Grace Cathedral Videos


Jill and I think beauty of Grace Cathedral speaks for itself.

To give you another perspective on it, we’d decided to post some videos.  We will be using some of them on our business site, SF Tourism Tips.

Enjoy them and the fact that I’ve now written 567 blog posts over 567 days.

I find it pretty cool that I haven’t missed a day and that the numbers line up as 567.

It is the small things that make me happy.

And large things like Grace Cathedral.




Day 566 OUT OF Beijing: Merry Christmas and Grace Cathedral.


Grace Cathedral in all its glory.

Grace Cathedral in all its glory.


Jill and I love Grace Cathedral.

It is probably the most beautiful Cathedral in San Francisco and it is located on the top of Nob Hill.

It has an amazing view out towards the bay and also back towards Daly City and out towards Ocean Beach.

It has been built out, as needed, through the years and yet the style has never changed.

It is a gothic cathedral and the acoustics are fantastic.

We also needed new pictures for our website and business, SF Tourism Tips.

It just so happened that the Rainbow World Fund Tree of Hope has been located at Grace Cathedral the last two years and we were able to see it this year.

It was located at City Hall last year, but we were both in China and were not able to see it, so it was nice to see it in such a magnificent location this time.

It is based on the 1000 origami cranes that were made by a Japanese survivor of Hiroshima in the belief that if she made 1000 of them she’d be cured of cancer.  She died about 300 cranes short but the legend lives on and this tree is a symbol of that hope.

I actually visited Hiroshima in 1997 and was taken by the Peace Plaza and how many thousands of origami cranes were there.  It was a magical place and it is dedicated to world peace as they have seen the worst humanity could ever do to itself.

This tree has another part of it’s own story that is quite incredible: “The wishes are then printed and folded into origami cranes by a diverse team of volunteers, including members of San Francisco’s LGBT and Japanese American communities, survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, local children, and life-­‐sentence prisoners from San Quentin.  The origami “crane wishes”are then placed on the tree.”  From Grace’s Cathedral’s website.

Jill and I walked around and took a lot of pictures, enjoyed the scenery, and just sat in silence for quite a while.

We really loved looking at the amazing streamers that hung down from the ceiling and probably were over 100 feet in length.  I tried to find out what the represent but was unable to at this time.  I’ll have to ask a docent next time I go.



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 558 OUT OF Beijing: The Last Supper (and breakfast).


Austin, Alex and Patrick and the rest of us doing a final cheers at Jing A Taproom.

Austin, Alex and Patrick and the rest of us doing a final cheers at Jing A Taproom.


Jill and I made so many friends during our 1.5 years in China that it is still hard for us to fathom it.

We were really lucky to be around such amazing people and have such a fantastic support system.

Living in Beijing is really difficult and it can be quite overwhelming.

The company I worked for has one psychotherapy department and it is in Beijing.

That says it all for me and Jill.

We were able to have a few goodbye dinners, and parties, and I am grateful for everyone that came.

I’ve decided to post a few pictures of them and our friends.

FYI, I gained about 20 lbs in the 1.5 years were we there.  I believe this happened because we ate and drank, a lot, with a lot of friends.  We also chose not to join a gym because we didn’t want to deal with going through the pollution to workout and then have to deal with it again to get home.  I stopped running because, after a day or two of nice weather, we’d have horrible pollution and it would basically set me back to the beginning and I just gave up.  These were our choices, and we own that, but it was a very difficult place to live.  If not for our friends, both at work and outside of work, it would have been even tougher and I doubt we would have stayed as long as we did.