Day 273 in Beijing: Freedom Chosen.

Jill and me at the Sultanate's Water Wheel in Malaysia.

Jill and me at the Sultanate’s Water Wheel in Malaysia.

Something I’ve been pondering lately is the meaning of freedom.

For many it is having the freedom to buy what you want, go where you want, and do what you want.

For me it is more ambiguous.

It is more a way of life and a way of thinking that allows me to have freedom.

The way I ended up coming to China is a perfect example.

As is my relationship with Jill.

As is my desire to be a minimalist in almost everything I do.

As is my way of being a therapist.

I attempt to be as efficient as possible.

Life is too short, in my humble opinion, not to be efficient and not to enjoy it.

That is how I define freedom.

I left my job in California with only a plan to travel the world.

I wanted to start in Mexico, then go south.

I’d jump over to Cuba, since I love Cuban culture, dancing and music.

Then I’m go over to Europe to see my friend, Isabel Oller in Spain, and visit other places and people.

Lastly, I was going to head over to Asia.

Since my brother lives in China, he knew some people and he thought I should send over my resume.

Plans changed immediately.

Freedom Chosen.

I was hired to come to Beijing and be a therapist at the most amazing company I’ve ever worked for at this point.

I also was waiting for the San Francisco Carnaval Parade 8 days before I left to see friends, salsa dance, and say goodbye to “mi familia” there.

I ran into the woman that would become my girlfriend, Jill Loeffler, and we spent the next 8 days together and she saw me off at the airport.

1.5 months later she arrived and we haven’t been apart for a day yet.

Freedom Chosen.

She had the freedom to do this because she quit her high-paying, and incredibly stressful job, about 3 years ago and has traveled and started her own websites.

She lived in Airbnb apartments for the past 2.5 years because she didn’t want to be tied down to a rental agreement and stuck in one place.

Freedom Chosen.

She has traveled to Mexico, Spain, Morocco, France, Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Some of these were with me and most were on her own.

Freedom Chosen.

She moved to China and we’ve since traveled to Malaysia and Singapore.

We plan to do a train ride across the Silk Road and into Turkey this summer.

Freedom Chosen.

A very important ideal in my way of doing Behavioral Therapy is that regrets really aren’t useful in most cases.

They can be if they allow you to be more productive and keep you moving forward but I’ve found that the same results can usually be achieved from a much more positive outlook where cognitive distortions and negative self talk are minimized and questioned.

We both think in the same manner, although Jill has never done therapy, while I needed Behavioral Therapy to figure out my self.  I have helped Jill with some negative thoughts using a daily mood log and she figured it out as quickly as anyone I’ve ever met.  She lives in the present and doesn’t rely on the past to make her decisions for her.

Freedom chosen.

Because of our choices in life we have both found jobs, or made them ourselves, that allow us to live this style of life.

We chose not to have kids.

We chose not to have property.

We chose not to be tied down.

We chose not to live in the past or with regrets.

We chose not to worry about events we can’t control.

We chose not to worry about what most other people do.

We chose to live our lives, while treading softly on the Earth, as best we can.

We chose to live as examples of how two people can live, love and bring happiness to others that want to come along for the ride.

We choose Freedom.

Freedom Chosen.



Day 258 in Beijing: Geographer Cafe.

Welcome to the Geographer Cafe!

Welcome to the Geographer Cafe!

After walking around for a while, we decided to grab a bite to eat.

We love Malaysian food and we decided, on New Year’s Day, to start being vegetarian.

This is somewhat difficult in China because we can’t speak Mandarin and there is so much meat in the food in most restaurants.

However, in Malaysia, where English is a primary language, it is quite simple.

We walked into the Geographer Cafe and thought it looked like a good place to have a nosh.

So, we ordered up some vegetarian spring rolls and some other Malaysian food that was delicious.

As we looked around the place, we noticed how it was a “world traveler” kind of cafe and we asked to go upstairs and into the closed areas of the restaurant.

The staff smiled and agreed.

We really enjoyed checking out this place and definitely recommend stopping by if you ever get a chance.

Heck, they even had an tango floor upstairs!

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Day 257 in Beijing: Shantaram.

Shantaram on the horizon.

Shantaram on the horizon.

And we bounce back to Melaka, Malaysia on our around the world post today!

Jill, Dipesh and I were walking through the back streets of Melaka and just taking in the sites.

Jill has been reading the book Shantaram for about a month now and seems to enjoy it.

She’s the kind of person that when she starts something, she doesn’t quit.

She almost never gives up and stays on track and keeps a positive attitude.

The few times I’ve seen her have a rough patch, we do a little Daily Mood Log work from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and she’s right back on the beam!

I only write this because I’m a huge fan of people practicing what they preach, and I preach behavioral therapy.

I also use the mood logs, downward arrows, cost benefit analysis and other techniques myself.

I’ve found they allow me to let go of the automatic negative thoughts and cognitive distortions I used to believe and that caused me incredible pain and anguish.

They still pop up, once in a while, and it is now so easy to defeat them and continue on with my amazing and happy life.

Jill is able to do that now also which is something I’m quite glad she was open to learning and able to master so quickly.

Notice the interesting masks just below the overhang.

Notice the interesting masks just below the overhang.

Suffice to say, she’s an amazing person.

As to how this pertains to the blog post:  She has been reading this massive book for over a month and is continuing to work through it and finish it.  I applaud this sense of personal drive and hard work.  I’m also glad she enjoys the book, because, if she didn’t, it would be a pretty miserable way to spend her time.

We happened to pass by this little eccentric bar and noticed its name immediately.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy traveling so much: The unexpected surprises and “connections” that I make to other parts of the world and to my, and other’s, lives.

Unfortunately, the bar was closed so we didn’t get a chance to go inside but I’m guessing it probably was just as amazing inside as it was outside.

Day 251 in Beijing: Christ Church of Melaka.

The Christ Church of Melaka.

The Christ Church of Melaka.

Jill, Dipesh and I continued on our tour of Melaka and came across the famous Christ Church of Melaka.

It is the oldest functioning Protestant Church in Malaysia.

The Dutch conquered Melaka from the Portuguese in 1641 and turned the churches into Dutch Reform.

For the celebration of the centenary capture of Melaka, the Dutch built a new church which is the Christ Church of Melaka.

In 1824, the Dutch and British signed a treaty which then gave control of Melaka to the British and the Christ Church became the property of the Church of England.

It was originally painted white but was painted red, with many other nearby buildings, to remind people of the original Dutch heritage.

The paving stones have inscriptions in Portuguese and Armenian.  One in particular, captures a bit of the history of Melaka and the person buried within the tomb.

Greetings, you who are reading this tablet of my tomb in which I now sleep. Give me the news, the freedom of my countrymen, for them I did much weep. If there arose among them one good guardian to govern and keep. Vainly I expected the world to see a good shepherd came to look after the scattered sheep.

I, Jacob, grandson of Shamier, an Armenian of a respectable family whose name I keep, was born in Persia near Inefa, where my parents now forever sleep. Fortune brought me to distant Malacca, which my remains in bondage to keep. Separated from the world on 7th July 1774 A.D. at the age of twenty-nine, my mortal remains were deposited in this spot of the ground which I purchased.


An interesting fact of the Christ Church of Melaka is that it was built without any nails.  We guessed it was because the nails would rust in the tropical air but were wrong.

They built it without nails because Jesus Christ had been crucified and they didn’t want to remember him with the nails in his hands and feet.  Therefore, they built a church that would not have any nails in it.


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Day 250 in Beijing: Professional Photo shoot.

Jill, Dipesh and I were walking around Melaka and just having a great time when we wandered upon a professional photo shoot.

I’m intrigued by fashion and how the Western belief of fashion has taken over many places and being intertwined with local fashion in some instances.

We watched as the photo shoot continued and I appreciated that angle the photographer used for most of his shots as he was laying down and shooting up to highlight both the clothes and the tower from the mosque behind the models.

After this we continued on our way and kept walking around the backstreets near Jonker Street, which is a very famous street and I will be blogging about in a future post as it is quite beautiful and full of life.

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Day 249 in Beijing: Matching Shirts.

We love our little motorcycle and sidecar shirt!

We love our little motorcycle and sidecar shirt!

Jill and I went out to dinner with our friend, Brian, a few months ago.

He introduced us to one of his friends, Laurie Burkitt, who writes for the Wall Street Journal.

She did a piece on couples that wear the same shirt to show love and affection since there isn’t a lot of public displays between people in China.

Well, Jill and I took it one step further.

Love on a bug!

Love on a bug!

As we were walking around Maleka, with our friend Dipesh, we actually found shirts that are a “combined” cartoon when we wear them side-by-side.

Yes, we really are that dorky.

We have worn them a few times in Beijing and our friends laugh and think they are pretty cool.

I’m glad we bought them so we can show affection to each other while not offending anyone.

Actually we do hold hands and kiss in public.

We are so scandalous!


Day 243 in Beijing: This is exactly why I travel.

Well hello there!

Well hello there!

Jill and I were walking around Melaka and checking out the Portuguese Settlement.

It was pretty empty and so we just wandered by the seaside and had a few coconut juices as we cruised around.

We heard a motorcycle coming up behind us so we swung around to make sure we weren’t in the way of it.

I immediately grabbed the camera and started shooting pictures of the driver and his passengers.

One never knows what they will see in their lifetime.

And the more one leaves their comfort zone, the more one will experience and the more one will grow.

This is exactly why I travel.


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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 236 in Beijing: Masjid Selat Melaka, Part 1

Simplicity and beauty combined.

Simplicity and beauty combined.

Jill and I had read about an amazing mosque in Melaka that was built over the Melaka straits and we knew we wanted to visit it before we left.

We’d been running around, a lot, on this trip and hadn’t had much down time and we were thinking of skipping it.

The pool at our airbnb apartment was nice and relaxing and the weather was hot and humid.

We looked at the pros and cons of skipping the Masjid Selat Melaka and decided that we’d probably regret not going and we could sit in the pool on another day.

We are both so glad that we decided to visit that Masjid Selat Melaka.

If I only had one word to describe it, it would be, “beautiful.”

I’ve seen some of beautiful architectural sites of the world including Big Ben, The London Bridge (and it wasn’t falling down, by the way), The Golden Gate Bridge, and The Sydney Opera House, The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

I’d have to say it was equal to some of those because it was so simple and yet so perfect.  There wasn’t a wasted piece of space and there was a large amount of open space that allowed the mosque to feel fresh and peaceful.

We both loved the sounds of the water crashing below it and the waves moving slowly by us as we stood out on the deck that surrounds the masjid.

The people were incredibly friendly and, as we stopped at the entrance and looked around, a gentleman walked up and asked, “Would you like to go inside?”  We responded we would and he told us that Jill would need to wear the hijab and I would have to pull my shorts down to cover my knees.

Jill went to put it on and a few women helped her with it since it is quite tricky.  She told them, “I respect anyone that is wearing this because it is so hot!”  The women nodded and smiled.

The hijab that Jill wore was made of nylon and didn’t seem to allow the body to breathe much at all.  These seemed to be used to at the mosques because so many people, and especially tourists, borrow them and they would wear out very quickly if they were made of a softer material.

I wore one later on our trip and I felt the same way. as Jill.  This was especially evident when I pulled the hood over my head to see what it would feel like to cover up as many women in Malaysia do.

Most of the women we saw on our every day travels wore very light hijabs that seemed to allow for the body to breathe more and didn’t seem to be uncomfortable.  I have no idea about the burqa because I didn’t speak to anyone wearing those on my travels so far.

After being fitted, the man walked Jill back to me and took a picture of us together.  It is actually one of my favorite pictures of our travels because we are in front of a gorgeous mosque, over the water, in a beautiful country and we are learning about Malaysia, Islamic customs and doing our best to fit in and also express who we are as individuals.

I was a little worried about wearing a Bear Republic Brewery t-shirt into the mosque since drinking alcohol is forbidden in the Islamic religion but no one seemed to mind and it is  fun to wear a shirt from my hometown while traveling to far and distant lands.

As we walked around the mosque, people would smile and greet us kindly.  They often wait for us to take our pictures and we did our best not to interfere with anyone who was praying or trying to take pictures of their own.


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