Hotel Ibis and Sanlitun, Beijing

This has been my home for the last two months, and will be for two more here in Beijing. The area near work is a bustling commercial and office area and full of activity. There are a few huge shopping mall areas with many restaurants, coffee shops and fast food joints, designer clothing and accessory stores, an Apple store and the largest Adidas store in the world, supposedly. On Friday nights the big intersection between Soho and Sanlitun is pure madness. The pedestrian, bicycle, scooter and auto rules of the road here are more like guidelines. The locals do not give AF! They will honk or ring their little bicycle bells at you and if you don’t get out of their way, Mao help you. The pedestrians are mostly young people all decked out in the hippest gear looking down at their phones. On weekends at Sanlitun there are packs of photographers taking pictures of the pretty young girls. Kinda creepy but the girls pose so I guess they’re ok with it.  The selfie is an obsession here.  Selfie sticks abound.
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Now, when you walk down South Sanlutin road south east toward my hotel it gradually goes from glitzy, hipster shopping mall area to old-school, ratty apartment buildings and local mom and pop shops selling rice liquor, fresh fruit or medical supplies. My friend and co-worker Nicole showed me this small ‘supermarket’, I would have never known it was there! It was tucked away between the joint renting electric scooters and the lady selling embroidered pillows (or something, I’m not quite sure). On the street it gets a lot filthier and dustier as you get to my hotel, right across the street from the Chaoyang hospital. There’s a 7-Eleven I frequent that sells surprisingly good, hot and freshly made food. When I’m feeling cheap or super lazy I have that for dinner or breakfast on weekends. But the music in there is THE SAME TWO MUSAK TRACKS EVERY TIME I GO IN THERE. I know them by heart now and can’t help but hum along while shopping for the odd sundries. If I worked there I would have burned the place down long ago.
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About halfway between work and the Ibis hotel there is a primary school. Sometimes in the morning when I’m walking home from the gym or on my way to work, the kids are out in the yard doing some singing, chanting or marching in formation. It’s obviously a cultural thing but it’s pretty cool to see and hear, and a small crowd gathers on the sidewalk. Also, one morning I woke to the sound of marching and chanting.  Thinking it was some sort of military formation I jumped up and looked out the window to see a restaurant staff (it was obvious from the chef’s hats and waitstaff attire) parade. One of the staff marched to the side with a big red flag with gold text I couldn’t read. Another time as I was on my way to work one morning I saw the entire staff of a salon outside in a strict formation, at attention while the (owners, bosses?) lectured them. I’d seen this before outside of restaurants too.
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Then there’s the block across the street from the Sanlitun shopping mall, the Sanlitun “bar street”. There are all these bars with big neon signs and bay windows. It seemed like a happening place from a block away. Upon getting closer I noticed none of them were very crowded on a weekend night which made me a bit skeptical. Inside they all have stages for dancing girls and karaoke. I made the mistake of walking down that side of the street one night and got accosted and harassed the whole way by servers saying “lady bar” and “sir, come have a beer” while following me down the street. It reminded me a bit of Puerto Vallarta but it gave me a vibe that I’d get into too much trouble and spend way too much money there. I avoid that side of the street now.
Oh and there’s no shortage of McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks here.
It’s just a cross section of Beijing that’s fairly typical I guess but I’m equally intrigued, a bit grossed out (everyone smokes and spits), and grateful for the opportunity to be here.  At times I find things absurd and crazy but then I remember, America must seem pretty nuts to folks who’ve never seen it before either. I think it’s expanding my perception of this big world we live in.
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Confession Time

It’s time I was honest with myself and my family and friends. It’s time I faced my true self and ignored the stigma that society puts on me, and others who face this dilemma. It’s no easy task but it cannot be ignored or pushed under the rug any longer.

I’m no longer vegan.

I haven’t been vegan since I moved to China.  In fact, I started eating meat before I even left. It started with one innocent rib at a friends going-away BBQ for me.  It all changed after that. I got the chicken for my in-flight meal. I’m not sure how to feel about my first meal in Beijing. It was vegan.  At least I think it was, I can’t be sure. But when I went out with my new co-workers I didn’t even bother to mention that I was once vegan.  I didn’t want to say anything about it, didn’t want to call attention to it or make it a big deal. I didn’t want to make it all about me and my crazy dietary restrictions. I mean, first impressions right?

The hardest part is knowing I’ve let my vegan friends down. I’ve gone back to the ‘dark side’. And my carnivorous friends will probably say ‘I told you so’ and continue to find ways to ridicule me and cajole me.  It’s really a struggle to be in this gray area, it’s like I don’t fit in any dietary social category and that’s tough.  But I will persevere.  I won’t give up. or wait maybe I did give up I’m not sure.  But I do know that what I eat tomorrow has no bearing on the kind of person I am or want to be now. I’m not sure what any of that means I’m kinda buzzed right now.

I reserve the right to go back to a whole foods, plant-based diet if I so desire. It’s my decision and mine alone. Especially when I have a stove and refrigerator to call my own again. I don’t need to follow anyone’s pre-conceived notions of what a healthy, proper, ethical diet is.  I can decide for myself what’s right for me. You know maybe it’s time we set aside our gastronomical differences and accept each other as we are.

24 May 2018

One year ago today my life changed in ways I couldn’t possibly imagine. I’d found my soul mate four or so years prior, my partner in the rest of my life and we were focused on when and how we could retire and enjoy the rest of our lives. Couldn’t wait to settle down at the river house. But that day, everything changed. Cindy was super exhausted and out of sorts the night before and that whole night was in a state of agony I didn’t fully appreciate. I don’t blame myself, there had been times before we weren’t ourselves and it didn’t seem life-threatening. But that morning she ended up at the hospital, and then in ICU, and then Liz and I were saying our goodbyes. It happened that fast, too fast to comprehend.

But the family and I were surrounded immediately by more family and so many friends. Everyone came to our side and propped us up as they themselves were grappling with the reality, as we were. She was so loved by so many and still is. I thought I had a lot of friends and that night at the church Ethan said so me “you do”. In the days that followed so many were there calling, texting, hanging out with, feeding, laughing, crying and just being there for me, for Bessie and for Liz. Most of all, I’m so grateful for the love and support of Max during this time.

That day everything changed for me and I still have no idea where anything is going for me. But that’s totally ok, it doesn’t have to be defined or figured out today or for as long as it needs to be. It’ll work itself out. But one thing I do know is that I can forge my path my own way as Cindy helped me learn. I can think of exactly what I want to do and where I want to be doing it and that is my intention. I’m on this interesting adventure that we all know Cindy would be stoked about, considering what’s transpired. I fully intend to see where it leads and if it leads to somewhere I don’t want to go then so be it. At least I know I have many, many people to rely on and love.

I miss you Bon so much. I’m so sad you are gone and sometimes it’s too much to bear but I know you’d want me to be happy and explore and live life, and that’s what I’m going to do. i’m going to honor you for the rest of my days and do all the stuff and things we wanted to do, even if sometimes it’s the nothings. I lob you Bon and always will.

Beijing Day 1 (and travel day)

I didn’t sleep well the night/morning before my flight. Would you? But that was ok because I wanted to be good and sleepy for my flight anyway. I was tempted to upgrade my seat but decided against it mostly because I’m trying to be frugal.  I’m glad I didn’t because the flight, and my seat was just fine as it was.  I was good and sleepy from the little sleep, the little pill my doc prescribed me and of course booze. I caught up on my reading and movie watching (Thor Ragnarok, Coco, 1/2 of Walk With Me & Darkest Hour, Slash’s book and started Children of Time).

Customs was not bad at all at the Beijing airport, baggage claim was a breeze and I was met with one of those signs with my name on it. handwritten and the woman who picked me up didn’t speak a word of English and was WeChatting till we got in the car.  Very nice but we didn’t talk at all for the entire hour + ride to the hotel.  I nodded out most of the time anyway.  Beijing was totally gray skies and huge big city the whole ride. It was about 4pm THE NEXT DAY (so 11:40 plan ride + 15 timezones) when I got to the hotel.

I checked in and got my bags to my room and was starving so went to the little “restaurant” adjacent to the hotel. Again, no English and was so groggy and tired I totally forgot every word of Mandarin I’ve been learning (5 minutes a day almost every day for maybe a month). The girl at the counter pulled out a menu with English so I picked the eggplant with dry noodles and a salad.  It was delicious. I went over to the 7 Eleven next door on the other side of the hotel and got some stuff. Went back to my room and cracked open some of the duty free booze I’d gotten at SFO and promptly passed out.  Woke up about midnight local time to a WeChat from some of the Base folks who invited me to dinner the next night (and a little side shopping trip to get a power adapter for my laptop so you can thank them for this writing).  I was elated.  So I couldn’t sleep for a few more hours. I managed to mostly unpack and set up my room, including my music stuff. I took Cindy’s ashes out and put it on the window sill and one of her scarves now covers one of the lights in the room like she would do.

I finally passed out and woke up the next morning way too early. So I finished tinkering with my stuff (I packed way too heavy as I knew I would) and set off to explore as best I could.  I really wanted to go to Tiananmen Square but it was a bit to far on foot and still didn’t have a SIM card for my phone so I opted for the Temple of the Sun.  Totally walking distance (for me, I like to walk).  it was a bit like walking the strip in Vegas but with no drunk rednecks whatsoever. Not that I don’t enjoy drunk rednecks, in fact just the opposite. Lots of electric scooters, pedestrians & busses. At one huge intersection there was an underground pedestrian walkway just to get across the street and there was this adorable girl singing and playing guitar sitting on her bicycle in this tunnel.  Perfect acoustics, she was a tad off-key but that was totally ok.

I got to the park and it was just lovely. Took some pics (see my instagram).  Lots of families with little kids, people doing tai chi, yoga and martial arts, a group with a harmonica and a music stand singing the most beautiful Chinese folk music (I guess?). Really cool! I made my way around the park and saw most of it and it was still like 11:30am. I sat there for a bit and decided I had a fairly long walk back so started out. I managed not to get myself lost and made it back to the hotel just after noon. I took advantage and chilled out in my room and rested, making sure I wasn’t going to suffer too much from jet lag.

At dinner tonight I met some really nice folks from basically all over the world and had an amazing dinner. I got lots of good insight about how Beijing is and how KL will be, and about the company.  Talked a little shop (I think I have my work cut out for me but I am actually really stoked about that) and got the lay of the land as to the best lunch spots around the office. After dinner a couple of my coworkers took me to an electronics store were I scored the Swiss Army knife of power adapters and got me pointed back to my hotel. I’m pretty sure I made the right decision.

I think about you every day

I imagine you piddle-paddling around the apartment I’m about to move out of, in your bare feet and night shirt/dress ready to do the nothings. On the couch watching TV and I’ll fall asleep 10 minutes into the show with Pumpkin between us.

You unlocking the door I’ll be walking out of for the last time soon, Pumpkin shooting toward me like a cannon ball as soon as the door opens, giving me a black eye with her nose as she licks my face off. And we make baby voices about how it’s been a whole 12 hours since she’s seen me.

You’re super grumpy and tired after work and don’t talk much. With your puffy down jacket, putting down all you bags and such. I take Pumpkin out for a walk. When we come back you’ve changed into sweat pants and a t-shirt and socks and you’re in the kitchen making food, or at your desk.

All of us walking into the freezing kitchen at the river house late on a Friday night. I pour us whiskey shots and open a couple of beers. You open all the doors and windows to air the place out. Pumpkin finds a doggie toy to murder with extreme prejudice. We make a fire.

I get ready for work and you uncharacteristically get out of bed, super grumpy face not saying a word. I’m a little nervous you might scold me about being too loud or something. I take Pumpkin to the back yard, come back, kiss you both goodbye as you’re sitting at your desk working on your computer.

We hurriedly get ready to go on some trip or some party and you go into the kitchen and pour us a couple of whiskey shots (“whoops! Whoops!” How did that happen?!”). You say I can wear jeans but wear a nice shirt and ask me to help you put on a necklace. We take a selfie because we look so fabulous.

I miss you so bad it hurts. And all these fellow commuters are wondering what this dude next to them is crying about.

Please Enlighten Me

I’m starting to feel like I don’t like the United States or even most of modern society any more.  Please tell me why I should, tell me I’m wrong. Mindless consumerism, buying junk we don’t need while people live in tents on the streets.  Basic human kindness being labeled ‘political correctness’ and made light of and dismissed. Vicious divisiveness where no one even tries to find common ground. “I’m right and so you are wrong and I just have to beat you up on social media. I’ve stopped even listening to you and there’s no way I can agree on anything you say or believe in”.  Fierce, blind devotion to faith without question, which to me seems like giving up intelligence, wisdom and open-mindedness.

I feel like we’re giving up basic human kindness and thoughtful intelligence and wisdom for instant gratification and thoughtless pride. Where is the compassion?  Where is the desire to work together, to help each other?  Why don’t we want to build communities that nurture all of us, all life!?

Do we really not have enough faith in basic human compassion and kindness to want to run toward paranoia and mistrust?  Are we doomed to live in growing fear of each other simply because we can’t seem to communicate with each other without resorting to violence?

Are we really still separating ourselves and each other because of the color of our skin, gender identity, sexual preference or some unique concept of “God”?  Are we really still trying to preserve some culture that doesn’t match someone else’s?  Couldn’t we benefit from learning each other’s culture, faith and history?

Can’t we just fucking be kind to each other?!?!

Please, enlighten me.

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I Keep Going

I don’t think I’m in denial so much now but I still can’t fathom it, wrap my head around you being gone. I’m still not quite sure how to proceed. So I’m just proceeding the best I can.

I want to share things with you and hear what you think. I want you to tell me I’m putting too much salt on my food. I want to talk about Game of Thrones and Rick and Morty with you. I want to float on the river with you and Pumpkin and drink Tecates.

But I know I cannot.

I’ve been filling my time with work, music, friends and family. I’ve been taking care of myself, Max, Pumpkin and the houses (the best I can under the circumstances).

I think of you all the time and I really miss visiting you at the salon. I miss you picking me up at the MacArthur BART station. I miss driving up to the river house with you and our whiskey shots when we arrive on Friday nights. I miss being greeted by Pumpkin when you’re home first, or her greeting you when I’m home first.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, I’m having a hard time caring since it was supposed to include you. All I can do is keep going, honor you and the memories we had and take care of my family and yours. That will be plenty but it will also be difficult and empty without you.