The Pain of Running Into My Late 30s

If you know me at all, then you probably already know that I go running on the daily. Well, almost (6 days/week). Running for me is more than just going out and getting some exercise in, it’s become part of the fabric of my being. As I get older I’ve had to get used to what running nearly every day does to my body — and realize what all it takes to keep putting in miles.

Why do I run?

There are so many ways to get a workout in theses days, so why do I choose to do something that’s so high-impact like running? There are a few reasons for this and I’ll try to make this quick by bringing up the main ones.

I can do it anywhere. This is very, very important to me since I love traveling around a lot. Running only requires a pair of shoes and some time — that’s it. This is also why I love living somewhere with warm weather. Being able to walk outside and run everyday is very important to me.

It’s a great workout that doesn’t require a lot of time. Running is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories and to work up a good sweat. The only things that are close to it require snow, pools, or other equipment so for me, this puts running into a category of its own.

Running is an amazing way to explore new places. There are very few things that I love to do more than getting to a new place, throwing in my headphones, lacing up my shoes, and running around a new place that I don’t know anything about. I put some money in my pocket, make sure my phone is charged, and just roll out to who-knows-where. I’ve met so many people and found many interesting places by doing this.

Running gets my mind right. Of course running is good for me physically as far as a workout goes, but most people don’t realize the mental benefits it gives as well. For me, a day doesn’t really even start until I get my run in, which is why I try to do it in the morning as much as possible. After running my mind is clearer, my mood is better, and I’m ready to take on the world. For real, this is a thing.

Running while getting older is a real bitch

I don’t know any other way to say it, but for someone like me who’s 37 years old and has put some serious miles, basketball games, hikes, and everything else on my body, it’s only a matter of time before it starts to complain. I can remember running in my 20s and even in my early 30s and how it was totally different. No stretching, no prep, no worry about my form or my shoes or anything else. I would just go run and that was it. Ah, the good ol’ days.

Now it’s a lot different and things that used to not matter have become very, very important. You know, things like running technique, stretching, strengthening, and let’s not forget flexibility and mobility. Those two might be the most important of them all, but when I was younger they weren’t even on my radar. Now I think about them every day and usually spend as much time stretching before/after running than I do actually during my run.

Also, if I need to, I’ll ice my knees or other parts of my body that seem to be hurting more than they should (see above photo of me icing my knee at KFC). This is my new reality and something I’ve gotten used to at this point — honestly, if I want to keep on running I don’t really have a choice.

Something is always going to hurt

Like I said before, running is hard on your body and it’s high-impact, so if you continue to do it as you get older you’re going to have some pain. In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll most likely always have smaller pains here and there that you’ll constantly be dealing with. Awesome!

It’s always good to listen to your body when it comes to pain, but the really important thing that I’ve noticed is that many of the things that start hurting are just your body’s way of telling you that you might want to change something up a bit. Also, what hurts is almost always not the main problem, but just a result of something like tight calves, heel striking, or some other detail you’ve overlooked.

From what I can tell, if you’re like me and well on your way to being 40 and still running, something is always going to hurt, but the key is knowing why and whether of not it’s a big deal. When to rest and when to keep running, this is always going through a runner’s mind when something hurts and for me it’s a regular thing.

Importance of mobility and flexibility

I don’t want to end this post without emphasizing this one more time — from my experience, having good mobility and flexibility is the key to being able to run longer term with the least amount of pain or problems. I’ve just focused on these when I’ve had to over the past few years, but if I would have done it earlier I have no doubt that my body would be in much better shape now.

Sure, good running technique is also important (foot strike, etc.), but if you have good mobility and flexibility you can usually overcome these others problem pretty easily. So, if you’re a runner it’s probably time to take a look at these two things and take it from me — the earlier you can get them under control, the better.

Americans Don’t Understand World Traveling

I get these questions a lot – how am I traveling so much, what am I doing to make money, and don’t I like the good ol’ U.S. of A? I get it, these are all legit questions, but unfortunately many of you Americans who are living in the U.S. don’t really understand the world you’re living in now compared to the world that’s outside of your border. This is something that I think about a lot, so I figured what the hell – why not start writing again. Here goes.

Americans Buy So Much Shit

I’m just going to start off with something that could be a little controversial, but it’s the truth. How do I know? Because I lived it for many, many years while calling some of the most expensive cities in the world home. Also, don’t take this personal, people— it’s just something I want to point out (along with other things).

After living outside of the U.S. for a good amount of time, when I come back I quickly realize one thing that more than anything makes the U.S. a global powerhouse — we buy sooooo much shit (usually too much). Seriously, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in any other country — Europe, Asia, Africa, and everywhere else I’ve been there is no place that even comes close to the consumption of the land of the free and the home of the brave (and avid users of credit cards).

You think I’m wrong? Take a look in your garage. Go downstairs into your basement. Or, if you’re on another level, go open your storage garage that you’re paying to hold all of the shit you’ve bought. It’s both powerful and incredibly debilitating at the same time.

If you have this much stuff, you’re never going to be able to travel longer-term — you’re handcuffed to the stuff you’ve accumulated until you find a way to get rid of it.

Americans don’t fully understand the power of the dollar

The American dollar is the thing that dreams are made of. While in the U.S. I throw around enough dollars on enough Lyft rides, Starbucks drinks, and gas station snacks to pay for my living expenses here in China for a couple of months.

Depending on your style, you usually don’t need a lot of money to travel around the world and for what I would have paid for one month of rent in San Francisco I can pay for an entire year of Chinese language classes here in Hainan. Yeah, your first flight will cost some cash to get over to the other side of the planet, but once you’re there and aren’t in too much of a hurry, the rest is going to be soooo much cheaper than you could have ever imagined.

Now, don’t get me wrong — even in Asia you can burn through money just like if you were in NYC, but if you can live more like a local, deal with a little bit of discomfort, and understand the culture – your dollars will last a ridiculous amount of time.

An American passport is way too good not to use

One other thing that I never realized before traveling is just how amazing the American passport is and how easy it is to move around the world if you have one. For now, the beautiful, little blue book of ready-to-be-stamped pages is the key to landing in nearly any country without having to worry about getting a visa beforehand.

If you do have to get a visa beforehand, it’s usually a really, really good one that will be well worth the price. For example, I paid $150 for my Chinese visa, but it’s a 10-year, 60-day, multiple entry visa which means that for the next 10 years I can go in and out of China as many times as I want and stay for up to 60 days each time. That’s insanity compared to most other countries and for now it seems like it will stay that way (but you never know).

Plus, besides the passport, traveling as an American is really fun due to most other countries interest in our culture, politics, and people. So, it’s never too hard to find new friends and the usual American friendliness and ability to chat it up with strangers goes a long way while hanging in another country.

Is it time for you to travel?

I don’t know if it’s the right time for you to travel and who knows what your current situation is like, but if you’ve been thinking about adventuring out into the world for more than just two weeks at a Mexican resort (that’s not really traveling), it might be the time to do it (or start planning it). This is something I love to talk about, so if you need any help with coming up with a plan or need some additional motivation to make a move, hit me up and I’ll help out however I can.

I personally believe that seeing other parts of the world, especially if you’re an American, is important (and really fun), so it’s something I’m more than happy to spend some of my time on. Yee haw! 🇺🇸✈️

The Importance of Talking to Strangers When Learning a New Language

At some point in your life you were probably told to not talk to strangers. “Stanger! Danger!” is how it was marketed to kids . I mean, I get that the young’uns probably shouldn’t be hopping into creepy full-size vans with no windows, but come on – most people aren’t out to hurt other people. Also, don’t hate on full-size vans — I used to own one and it was a-mazing.

Oh, just me, some friends, and a big, brown van. Those were the days. 

In fact, from what I’ve experienced it’s just the opposite. Most people want to help, be empathetic, and are there to point you in the right direction if you need it. This is the world I’m living in and while others live paralyzed in fear of what someone might to do to them I’m out proving every single one of them wrong.

Are there bad people out there? Sure, I’ve met some of them and I’m sure I interact with less than most thanks to the fact that I’m a male and 6’7”. But, I’ve talked to plenty of solo female travelers who feel the same way I do. It’s worth the risk to trust and to reach out to those who might be outside of your comfort zone and for me it’s how I’m living on a day-to-day basis.

Talking to strangers is part of learning another language

There’s only so much I can learn inside of a classroom, which is why I’m currently living on an island that most people don’t even know about just south of mainland China. I’m here because I want to learn Chinese and to do that I need to be reliant on the language to feel comfortable and must have a goal of being able communicate things for myself as soon as possible. And do this I need to talk to strangers. Lots of them.

I’m learning a lot in the classroom, but it’s not enough

Sure, I know some great locals here, but even the nicest people are going to get sick of me asking for their help when I need to buy a bus ticket or order something online. I have to be able to do it on my own, and the only way to do that is by talking to as many people as I can, making plenty of mistake along the way all while learning how to really speak Chinese.

It actually makes daily life really fun and interesting as I intentionally try out new words, phrases, or pronunciations whenever I go back to the same coffee shop or dumpling restaurant. It’s like I’m leveling up, one small win at a time and over time it’s all going to add up into me actually knowing what the hell I’m saying most of the time. Or, at least that’s the goal.

Talking to little kids is actually good or learning, too

I’m already picking up so much of the Chinese language and it’s only been a couple days, which makes me really excited for learning more. Today in class we started looking at characters for the first time, finished going over all of the initials, finals, and tones and also started talking in some simple conversation. Sweet.

It’s exciting for me to continue to gain a level of comfort and understanding in the language and I can’t wait to see what I can do in a couple weeks, months, or a year. It’s going to be so awesome.

But, for now I’ll keep on learning, day-by-day, as well as talking to strangers as long as they’ll still listen to me.

What I Learned My First Day of Beginner Chinese Language Classes

Well, today was the day. The day that I’ve been anticipating for over a month now since I decided to move to China and learn Mandarin Chinese. Now that it’s here I feel great about the decision and even though it took a good amount of digging to find the Hainan Premier Language school in Haikou, it was totally worth it.

Having some structure is important for me

I was looking forward to having classes in the morning during the week for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that I’m going to learn the Chinese language, which is super bad ass and I’m totally excited about it. The other reason is a little more nuanced as it has more to do with getting me on a regular schedule, which I haven’t been on for a while now.

If you asked people if they like to be forced into some sort of structure during their workday many would respond that no, they don’t. But, take them out of that structure and they won’t know what the heck to do with their time and energy. I’ve realized that I’m one of these people and having just a little bit of structure to get me up and ready to roll in the morning is super important.

What I learned on the first day of class

So this morning I got up, worked out, and was in the classroom by 9:30am where my teacher and one other student were waiting to get the party started. For the next few hours we dove straight into some of the basics of the Chinese language that will build the foundation for everything else to come.

Here are some of the things that we went over in the first class. It was a lot to take in, but the pace was good and I already feel a lot more comfortable with the Chinese language.

Pīnyīn, Initials, and Finals

We started off the lesson with learning Pīnyīn (peen-yeen), which is the method of spelling out Chinese Mandarin in Roman letters and tones. If you ever see someone typing in Chinese characters on their phone, they find them by using Pinyin on a traditional Roman letter keyboard.

Pinyin is split up into the Chinese version of vowels and consonants, which are called initials (the beginning of words that are like consonants) and finals (the end of words that are like vowels and include the tones).

An example of initials and finals for nǐ hǎo (hello) are below, where the first letters are the initials and the rest of the letters in the words are finals. You can see the tone symbols above the i and a in both of them as well.

The initials are split up into different groups depending on how they’re pronounced. Some are very similar to how consonants are pronounced in English, like the letters b, p, m, and f. These are called labial initials.

Others, like z, c, and s are sounds that we don’t use in the English alphabet and are pronounced by keeping your tongue on your teeth while talking. I’m guessing that’s why these are called dental initials. These initials are going to take a lot of practice for me to get used to, but I’m already starting to feel more comfortable saying them and it’s only been a few hours. I was cracking up while practicing them today because I felt like a complete idiot, which was a lot of fun. I’m sure they will feel normal here soon.

The last thing that we learned were tones, which are what everyone brings up as the hardest part of learning Mandarin Chinese. I definitely agree that they’re going to be tricky, but I also think they’re kinda cool.

There are 5 tones if you include when you don’t use a tone, which is a little confusing, but that’s how it works. The other 4 tones are pretty easy to understand and I picked up on them pretty quick. It feels like learning a programing language to me — all I need to do is figure out the patterns and then apply it to other situations. Yep, I’m a nerd.

A good start and excited to learn more

I know, I know — it’s only been one day, but there’s something about learning new languages that I really love. I think it has something to do with my fascination of understanding other cultures because a language is at the core of each one.

Anyway, I really like the school so far and I’ve also met some other students, which makes this place feel more like home and not just somewhere I’ve been living over the past couple of weeks.

Now, onto day number two. ✌️️

A Tour of my Room at the Hainan Premier Language School in Haikou

I’ve lived in some pretty interesting places over the last couple years. In Manila I went from staying in a 4-star hotel with a butler to crashing in a dorm room in a hostel. I also slept in a nipa hut for 3 weeks while in Bohol, which is still one of my favorite spots in the Philippines.

Living simply in a nipa hut at Coco Farm in Bohol, Philippines

When I’m back in the U.S. I’m all over the place when it comes to where I end up sleeping. Sometimes that’s on a Greyhound bus and other times it’s at a friend’s house, with one of my brothers or sisters, or at my mom and dad’s.

In Atlanta I slept on a futon in my buddy Scotty’s dining room for 2 weeks

Here in Haikou at the Hainan Premier Language School I’ve actually got a really cool setup that has everything I need. It’s minimal, which I like, and over time if I need something I’ll get it But, I like to start off with less and see what I need along the way.

My Current Setup

Here are some photos and quick descriptions of how my room is setup right now. I’m up on the third floor of a 4-story building and there are probably another 10-12 students and teachers who are also staying in here with me. I’ve met a few of them, but with the holiday just finishing up not many have been hanging around.

When you first walk in the door there’s so much room for activities. There is also a TV that I’ll never watch, along with a desk that I’m currently typing this on. Next to that is a little mini fridge and an air conditioner that I’m sure will come in handy once the summer heat hits.

This little nook by the window serves two very important purposes. First, it’s where I hang my wet clothes (Chinese people don’t use dryers, ever) and second, it’s my gym. Well, by gym I mean some dumbbells someone gave me that are sitting on top of a doormat. It’s simple, but way better than lifting my bag every day.

Moving right along, here you can see where I put my massive wardrobe. There are some wooden things that work great as little shelves for my t-shirts and other things and next to that is an empty closet that I’m sure I’ll never use. But hey, you never know.

My bed is big, which is a bonus, and the mattress is just hard enough to where I don’t want to sleep in it all day long (even though I have a few times already). I have a little nightstand next to it, which is nice and the LED reading light that’s hooked to the bed is something I would never buy, but is really handy to have now that I own one. There’s also a little chair that I can chill in, which I’ve used once. It’s pretty comfy.

The shower has hot water, which is something I never had at the hostel in the Philippines, but the water pressure sucks and the drain is a little iffy, but nothing I can’t handle. The little squeegee/mop thing is to push the water that doesn’t go down the drain by itself and to dry off the floor of the shower. I also keep the window open next to it when I shower to give it the “I’m showering outside” feeling even though I’m sure the neighbors can see me, but whatevs.

Last, but definitely not least, here’s the sink and the toilet. There are mirrors all around it, which is a little weird, but it has allowed me to send my first ever toilet selfies. If you haven’t gotten one, just wait — I’m sure it’s coming soon. 🚽 📷

My New Home

Well, that’s my new spot here on Hainan Island, I hope you enjoyed the little tour and if any of you reading this want to check out the place for yourself, I’m always up for hosting visitors. Like I said, it’s not the most amazing place, but it’s got everything I need and is already starting to feel like home.

I’ve Seen the Future

The other day my friend Emma and I were walking down the street in Qionghai, which is a city on the eastern coast of Hainan island. We had to catch a train to head back to Haikou in a little while and had a just under an hour to burn before heading to the station.

As we were both wondering about what to do before catching the bus we passed by a random sign on the street that simply said “VR”. In most Chinese cities, a lot of the stores and restaurants are up sets of stairs that make it hard to figure out what’s up there so neither of us really knew what it was.

“Want to go check it out?” Emma asked while giving me a face that told me she was totally in.

“Hell yeah, let’s do it,” I said as we walked towards the weird set of stairs leading to who-knows-where.

At the top of the stairs was a small, single room with a sign next to its door that also just said “VR” in big, black letters. Inside was a guy wearing casual clothes and sandals as well as a serious looking VR setup surrounded by soundproofing.

After being surprised by the size of the place, the guy tried to make me feel better by offering a few free minutes of VR so I could see what it was like. I accepted and before I knew it I was underwater hanging out with all different types of sea creatures. Virtual reality was awesome and I wanted more.

It’s crazy how real this VR felt

Now that I was hooked I asked him for the craziest game I could play and he suggested one where I get attacked by random zombies. It had lots of shooting and as I figured it out and capped some of the living dead while his speakers blared I felt like I was really living it.

Those damn zombies come out of nowhere

The VR was so immersive that there were moments when I was really scared and freaked out a little bit when a zombie popped up out of nowhere. I haven’t played with VR in a long time and was super impressed with how real it’s getting.

Next it was Emma’s turn to give the VR a shot

Next up, Emma gave it a shot and since she wasn’t really into the zombies and how crazy that game was, she went with a different game. The goal was to catch each colored blob as it came up to you in rhythm with music she selected.

It was almost like a workout as she moved her arms back and forth to the song that was blasting through the speakers behind her and looked really fun.

Not a bad workout, right?

The guy seemed to really enjoy watching us play the games and this little business of his seemed like more of a hobby or passion project than something serious. While we were chatting he told us he owns a gaming company in Beijing and that his wife ran the salon that was across the hall from the room we were standing in.

They had moved to Hainan because the weather and pollution in Beijing is so bad. I can’t say that I blame them, Hainan is really starting to grow on me. 🌴 ☀️️

After we finished up chatting we grabbed our bags, hopped on the bus, and headed to the bus station. Playing those VR games was really incredible and I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

For a few minutes I feel like I stepped into the future and I’m sure over the next few years his type of setup is going to be all over the place. It’s just too cool not to catch on – especially once the price drops to something more reasonable.

Creating a Digital 8-Bit Pixel Art Save the Date Design

Over the past few months I’ve spent a good amount of time working on pixel art designs and animations with my buddy Otep. We’ve gotten a good amount of orders and it’s been a lot of fun to see the evolution of the different types of 8-bit pixel art designs people have asked us to create.

Save the Date Pixel Art

One of the latest requests we got was to create an 8-bit pixel art save the date card for a couple from Malta who is planning on getting married in October. They initially messaged me with some design ideas and thoughts on how they wanted it to be laid out.

Mark and Chiara decided to go digital with their save the date design

Mark was my main contact for the design and I could tell that he had already put a good amount of thought into it. He sent me his hand-drawn concept, examples of other designs he liked, and plenty of shots of him and his fiancé Chiara.

Save the date design

Mark sent me a very detailed design of what he wanted

This is the floppy disk he wanted to have in the save the date design

Going Digital with a Save the Date Announcement

After talking to Mark I thought that it was interesting that he wasn’t planning on printing out his save the date design, but instead was going to post it on Facebook to a select set of people who he was going to invite to his wedding in October.

Traditionally most couples go old school and decide to print out and mail their save the date cards, but doing it this way on Facebook is much easier and saves some time and money. Plus, at this point everyone’s friends are on Facebook, so if you post it only to the people who are invited, it’s an efficient way to get the job done.

Also, I’m sure they’re going to physically mail out their standard wedding invitations at some point, so this is a way to get the word out about saving the date without having to ship one more thing to a few hundred people.

Design Options

As I’m sure you can tell, Mark knew the type of design that he wanted for his save the date pixel art, but it still took some back and forth to really nail it. I wanted to make sure it was exactly how he wanted since I knew this was really important to him and Chiara.

It took a few revisions, but eventually we landed on a great design that he was happy with and I could tell that he was excited to send it out to his friends and family. Here are a few of the designs that eventually led us to getting to the final version.

Version 1 – all blue pixel letters and Chiara in pants/shirt


Version 2 – blue disk, Chiara in a dress, and a heart with cursive writing


Version 3 – blue disk, magenta heading, Chiara in dress, and pixel writing

Posting the Save the Date on Facebook

Once we locked down the final design, Mark posted it on Facebook to the people he wanted to invite to his wedding. I had him tag me in the post as well so I could see how everyone reacted to it, which was a lot of fun to watch.

It’s Facebook official — let the likes begin!

From what I can tell, everyone really liked it and I’m super happy with how it all came out. I also learned that awguri means “best wishes” or “good luck” in Maltese (which you can see in the screenshot of the Facebook post). In the end, this design took some work, but the look is fun and 8-bit pixel art save the date designs are really unique. Who knows, now that I’ve done one, maybe someone else will come along and want one, too.

I guess the only question now is if I’ll be helping design their wedding invitations? 💒

The Language of Basketball and Power of Being Playful

There are few things that I’ve spent more time doing in my life than playing basketball. It’s a Hupfer thing and as I travel around I’ve found my love of hoops to be a great way to meet people, even when we can’t speak the same language.

This basketball court in Palawan, Philippines certainly didn’t suck

In the Philippines I used to play ball all the time and if there was any possible way to put a basketball court somewhere, even if that somewhere was on a palm tree in the middle of a remote island, someone would. I played in sand, on dirt, on top of mountains, inside of schools, on roofs of shopping malls, and right next to oceans.

One of my favorite things to do while in the Philippines was riding a motorbike around aimlessly on one of the islands when the sun was going down until I found a game I could join. It usually didn’t take long and before I knew it I’d be running up and down the court alongside 9 other Filipinos, playing the game we all love.

Just playing some hoops on a mountain filled with rice terraces, no big deal

I haven’t quite scoped out the basketball scene here in Haikou, but hopefully there are some games happening around my hood. Over the past few days I traveled around Hainan during the Chinese New Year holiday and while in Bo’oa I was walking back to town and saw some guys hooping it up.

As I walked up and gave the usual “Can I play with you guys?” signal of me pointing to myself and then pretending to shoot a ball towards the goal, they all shook their heads yes, said something in Chinese and before I knew it we were playing some two-on-two while I broke a good sweat in my jeans.

Basketball has always brought me closer to all different types of people, no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what language they speak. Once we’re all on the court, it’s all good and everyone understands each other. I really love it.

Being Playful

After playing basketball with the guys in Bo’ao my friend Emma who was traveling with me mentioned something interesting that stuck with me. She said “You’re so playful with the people you meet,” and I think that sense of playfulness is what allows me to have so many awesome adventures while traveling. It’s also helped me out in other ways (in work, relationships, etc.), but having a playful attitude while meeting new people, especially new people who are really different from me, seems to make life much better.

Obviously playing basketball with a random group of strangers is a good example of this, but so is singing along with the 7 year-old son of the woman who was cooking our street food last night. It made everyone feel comfortable with each other, allowed us all to drop our guard a bit, and helped us realize that even though we’re very different from each other, there are still many things about us that are the same.

Stay playful my friends, I know I will.

Family, Food, and Fireworks – What Chinese New Year is Really Like in China

When I first decided to go to school in Haikou to learn Chinese, I thought about flying over to Vietnam first so I could eat all of their noodles and swim in pools full of fish sauce, but in the end it seemed too complicated. To be honest, I had only talked to the family who owned the school a few times and booked some flights to get there, but that’s about it.

So this time around, instead of squeezing in one more thing like I usually do, I decided to take a more conservative route for once which gave me a few more days in the U.S. and also got me into Haikou with plenty of time to get settled in before the Chinese New Year. I was excited to celebrate my second new years of the year, this time on the other side of the world, and had no idea what to expect. But, I’ve heard nothing but good things about the holiday of all holidays in China and was ready to see how it all went down.

What is Chinese New Year?

The Chinese New Year, which is also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year in China, is a celebration of the end of the lunar calendar, which this year ended on January 27th (new year’s eve) and turned over to the new year on January 28th (new year’s day). Every lunar year is named after an animal and this year it’s the year of the rooster, which is one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac. So, while we have aquarius, gemini, and taurus, the Chinese have animals like rooster, monkey, and pig. Basically same-same, but different.

How is Chinese New Year Celebrated?

Going into this year’s Chinese New Year I had no idea what to expect. From what my friends told me it’s like the Christmas of the Chinese culture, which to me meant that it was going to be more family-oriented than party-heavy. So, instead of raging and waiting for the ball to drop, for people here in China it’s a time of the year when they leave their cities and travel to the towns where they grew up to hang with their family.

All of the families also hang up banners and lanterns around their homes, which is super cool. I even saw a guy who was painting and selling them in an older section of Haikou.

This guy was hand painting some of the new year banners like a boss

The banners are hung up on doorways outside of homes and businesses

To me, now that I’ve been through a Chinese New Year, I feel like it’s more of a Thanksgiving that’s filled with more fireworks than you could ever imagine. It’s all about being with family, eating as much food as possible, and then doing everything you can to explode the entire country, one string of firecrackers at a time. Seriously, I can’t even put into words the amount of fireworks I’ve heard over the past couple of days. It’s incredible.

Fireworks and Chinese New Year’s Eve

My plan on new year’s eve was pretty simple since I didn’t really know anyone in Haikou and haven’t started my school yet. I was going to get up, get in a workout, find some good food, and then figure out a way to light off some fireworks with complete strangers. Seemed like a solid plan to me.

The one thing I didn’t expect is how many fireworks I would be hearing over the next 48 hours. I thought there would be some going off, but hot damn — it started early on new year’s eve and only got crazier as the clock got closer to midnight. The first fireworks I heard were around 10am and there were so many going off in a row that I thought it was just raining really hard outside. But, when I looked out the window all I saw was sunshine and soon realized that it was just a ton of fireworks going off in the distance.

Here’s what they sounded like out of my window around noon on new year’s eve:

These fireworks weren’t like anything I’ve heard before. Here’s how they went down, or at least how they went down in my mind. First, someone would fire up one of these huge boxes of firecrackers that would go off for like a minute straight, non-stop. I’ve heard strings of fireworks that went on for a few seconds, but these went for much, much longer than I’ve ever heard before. Also, as they would finish up they’d get really, really loud for the last few seconds, which I’m guessing let other people know that they were done. Then, someone else would light their big ass box of firecrackers and let theirs go off for the next couple of minutes. This literally went on all day long, one right after another. Amazing.

Then, as it started to get dark outside the strings of firecrackers started to overlap each other and then eventually the real fireworks came out to play. With all of these explosions happening around me, I wanted to get into the action so I took a quick shower and headed out to see if I could light some of these bad boys off myself.

Fireworks with a Local Family

After wandering around my neighborhood and not being able to find any of the fireworks that seemed to be all around me, I saw one restaurant that was open and that seemed to have some beer. So, after walking over to it and seeing that there was at least one family eating inside, I walked in and attempted to figure out how to at least order a few beers. Luckily I know the word for beer (it’s one of the few things I already know in Chinese) and after getting that taken care of they also took me over to a big pot that was filled with different types of soups. I didn’t know what was in any of them, so I just pointed at one option on the wall and they fished it out for me.

I pointed at a number, they pulled out a pot of soup, and I ate it

As I ate the mystery soup and drank my tasty Tsingtao beer there were some fireworks going off just outside of the restaurant. As I walked outside to check them out there were several kids who were starting to light up their own fireworks.

Some random fireworks on the sidewalk, no big deal

The little kids ran around with sparklers and the older ones helped light them while also lighting the bigger, louder, and more dangerous options in their arsenal. Initially I just stood by, laughing as the fireworks exploded close to them while they ran away, but eventually one of the older kids gave me a lighter and a sparkler as a way to tell me to join in on the fun. Don’t mind if I do.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that everyone loves sparklers

It didn’t take long before I was digging into the rest of their stash and at one point I nearly blew up one of the little kids, but no one was hurt and the added danger seemed to make it all that much funnier as we all laughed and started lighting the next ones.

It’s not fun unless someone almost gets blown up

I was surprised at how the parents let their kids run around with lighters and hold their own fireworks even if they were super young, but I guess the kids are used to it.

Even the little kids got some sparklers

The Clock Strikes Midnight

After hanging out with the kids and after I thought it was a good idea to light off an entire box of spinners at once (it was epic, but nearly caught a kid on fire) I decided it was time to buy two more beers and head back to my place for the rest of the night. So, for the next couple of hours I chatted with some of my Chinese friends who were home with their families while we all watched the new years special on CCTV (the Chinese version of the ball dropping in NYC).

Of course, the fireworks just kept on going — this is what they sounded like around 9pm as I watched CCTV on my laptop. Notice the big explosions at the end:

I actually fell asleep before midnight, even with all of the fireworks happening outside of my window. But, just a few minutes before the clock struck midnight I was woken up due to the fact that every household in Haikou was lighting off whatever fireworks they had left. Some were just a few feet from my window, which I’m sure also played a part in me waking up before bringing in the year of the rooster.

Here’s what the fireworks sounded (and looked) like at midnight — now you see how they woke me up (WWIII, anyone?):

Happy Chinese New Year!

Overall, my second new years of 2017 ended up being a really unique experience and one that I’m sure I’ll always remember no matter how long I end up staying in China. So, happy new years to all of my Chinese homies out there and thanks for showing this American a good time!


Furniture Shopping with Warren

“Are you traveling for the holiday?”

After hearing this I looked over and saw an older looking Chinese man in a blue hat, sport coat, and dark pants who was looking up at me enthusiastically. I was wearing my normal running gear – some short-shorts, t-shirt, and gray hat. I had intentionally taken out my headphones I was wearing so I could soak in some of the sounds of the local scene. I also do this so if someone feels comfortable enough to walk up to me and say hello I can hear them loud and clear. I guess it works.

So, back to the guy in the hat. He was waiting for me to answer, but considering that no one else all morning had been able to speak English to me, it took a few seconds for me to find the words. I told him that I had just moved to Haikou to learn Chinese and with very impressive English he told me how he was in Hainan for the holiday (Chinese New Year) and that he ran a school that taught English in the northern part of mainland China. He told me where, but I had no clue where it was as I nodded my head in a way that said otherwise. I mean, I know the general area, but come on — China’s a big place.

One of the local markets near where I live

His English name was Warren and when I told him that I was searching for mantou, which is my favorite kind of bread in China, he amazingly told me that he was also on his way to go buy some. Mantou, which is white, fluffy, and super delicious bread from the Chinese gods, is very common in most places I’ve visited in China, but apparently in Haikou there are just a few people who sell it.

So, I followed him to the spot and we bought some mantou together. They only cost 1 CNY each (around $0.15 USD) so I loaded up on a bag-full. Next, Warren took me for a quick tour through a market that was packed with people who were chopping up meat and selling fish. He bought himself a couple of the fish he liked and we headed out of the building with no real destination in mind.

The mantou motherload — I’ll definitely be back here again

We exchanged WeChat accounts (the chat app that everyone uses here) so that we can stay in touch and then, as I thought I was going to head back to my place, he offered other plans.

“I need to buy some furniture”, he said to me as we were figuring out our next moves. “Want to go with me?”

“Sure”, I said and off I went down the street to go furniture shopping with Warren. I don’t start my Chinese classes until February 6th, so my schedule was wide open and as usual, I’m always up for something a little bit different. I’ve never gone furniture shopping in China before and Warren seemed like a nice guy, so why not?

So, for the next hour or so I walked around with Warren and a woman at the furniture store who showed him around. Every now and then Warren would ask me some advice on things like a pull-out sleeper couch and if it would be good to sleep on long-term. He also pointed out a few chairs detailed with intricate bamboo designs that his wife really liked and told me how the wood that they made the pull-out sleeper sofa out of was very strong and could last a long time. I tried to help out as much as possible, but I’m not exactly an expert on furniture these days.

Looks like a solid couch to me, Warren

Eventually he finished his inspections and as the woman started writing an order down on her pad of paper I realized that Warren had decided to go with the couch we spent so much time talking about. I’m sure my deep and insightful thoughts on it’s practicality sealed the deal for him.

After the woman wrote up the order he pulled up his WeChat app, scanned a QR code that was taped to the counter, and sent over 3,800 CNY for the couch (around $550 USD). It was quick, easy, and as we walked out of the store I looked over at him, smiled, and said “Well Warren, you’ve got yourself a new couch.” while patting him on the back.

This is how you buy a couch in China — WeChat makes it super easy

Before we parted ways he invited me to a dinner later on this week with his family (which I quickly accepted) and pointed me in the right direction to get back home. I ended up having a lot of fun hanging out with Warren while he was buying furniture and I can’t wait to see him again — especially if he’s cooking food for us.

These are the types of things that I really enjoy and look forward to while exploring new places — getting to know local people and experiencing the city from their perspective. It also makes me really excited to start learning Chinese so I can start having these types of interactions with all of the other people living here who can’t speak English like Warren (which is pretty much everyone).