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).

The Feeling of it Being Real

These past few weeks I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel it when I went to San Francisco for a couple of days before my flight to Hong Kong. And for some reason I didn’t feel it while in the air for the 13 hours it took me to get to Hong Kong or during the 6 hour layover that I had before my flight to Haikou.

I’m not talking about the feeling that’s the magic of traveling. That’s different than this and happens much more often. The magic of traveling is something that comes along with going to a new place, many times knowing that you’re going to eventually come back. This feeling I’m talking about, on the other hand, is something a bit more. This feeling actually surprised me.

The final flight to Haikou — this was happening

It actually didn’t even hit me after I had waited in line for 15 minutes while someone checked my passport and stamped my boarding pass. Or when a smiling and well-dressed woman working for Cathay Pacific scanned my boarding pass and handed it back with a very friendly “Thank you.”

But, as I walked toward the opening of the gate that would lead me to my final flight to Haikou it happened like some sort of subconscious reflex. It’s what I’m calling the feeling of it being real. I was moving. To China. Also, with me being one of three non-Chinese people getting on a plane taking off from a small, satellite terminal that required a shuttle to get to, I also realized that I wasn’t going to one of the usual places.

I wasn’t headed to Beijing, Shanghai, or any of the other cities that most foreigners travel to. Nope, I’m going to a city on an island off the southern coast of China that I’ve never been to or not really even known existed until just a few weeks ago. My mind had gone from calm to freaking out in just a short walk from getting my boarding pass scanned to walking through the jet bridge and stepping on the plane.

Landing in Haikou with a couple I couldn’t talk to – time to get used to it

This feeling is an interesting mix of “Oh shit, what am I doing?” with “Oh my god, I’m actually going through with this thing I’ve been talking about.” It popped up when I least expected it and I guess it’s there to let me know I’m doing something that’s not normal and that this is my last chance to back out.

I can remember this moment also happening during my first flight to Manila as well as the first time I walked off a plane onto the tarmac of a different island in the Philippines. I also felt the same thing the first time I stayed in a hostel with my man Calvin over in Singapore just a week or so after I moved to the Philippines. I even experienced it the first time I walked onto a Greyhound bus in Indianapolis to kick off a 12-hour overnight adventure into the south.

The first time I felt this I thought I might have made a huge mistake, but at this point in my life I know this feeling is telling me that I’m exactly where I need to be. As I now lay here in my new bed, in my new home, and with so many unknowns around me, my mind has now realized that this is happening. Soon Haikou will be my new normal, but getting to that point for me is one of the best parts of the adventure. Goodnight, Haikou — I’ll see you in the morning.

Hello, Haikou — it’s nice to finally meet you

Also, on a side note, I’m currently listening to Moby’s memoir on Audible (it’s so good) and this post reminds me one of his songs called ‘Feeling So Real’.

How I Make Long Flights More Comfortable (and Even Enjoyable)

One of my goals when it comes to traveling is somehow getting my parents to come visit me while I’m living in another country. In their 70+ years living on Earth they’ve never ventured outside of the U.S. and it would make me so happy to give them the experience of taking in another culture, no matter where that might be. I’ve talked to them multiple times about how we can actually make this happen and nearly every time they ask me the same thing, “How long is that flight?”

They’re not the only ones though, for some reason flying over the ocean is not only a little scary, but spending that many hours on a plane seems to be a lot of people’s worst nightmare. I could see why spending 14 hours on one flight might seem like too much to handle, but for me it’s not as bad as it sounds and if you know how to handle the longer flight time it can actually be enjoyable.

Flying economy vs. first class

When you’re flying to a destination that’s across the world like Hong Kong or Manila it’s much different than any experience you’ve had on a domestic flight – especially in the U.S. First of all, these planes are huge and can seat several hundred people, with the economy class having rows of 9 people across with two aisles and tons of overhead storage. There are also several other levels of seats that range from getting a little more leg room to being able to lay down flat inside of your own little first class pod of expensive awesomeness.

Even on economy flights there are two tasty meals — this was a traditional Chinese chicken porridge breakfast 

Most of the time I fly economy since I feel like spending $4,000 for a flight is a little crazy, but I’ve had a chance to fly in some of the upgraded seats and I’ve also had the nearly mind-blowing experience of practically laying on a bed while flying my way over the Pacific Ocean. Not only was I able to sleep like a baby, but the food and drinks were non-stop to a level that I found to be a little overwhelming. I don’t need to have access to that much excess — I’m cool with the two meals I get in economy and the free beers that come along with them. With all that being said, flying first class did make me feel like a badass as the rest of the economy chumps walked by me to their seats.

How to minimize jet lag and handle long flights

Another thing I get asked about a lot about long flights is jet lag and how I feel once I land in one place or another. At this point I don’t really have an issue with jet lag, but there are still ways that I try to avoid it as much as possible.

First, and most importantly, I try to line up with the time zone of where I’m flying to regardless of the time zone I’m leaving. For example, my latest flight left San Francisco super late at 1am and landed in Hong Kong bright and early at 8am and it’s a 13 hour flight to get there. While most people give into the late night and end up sleeping as soon as they can after eating their first meal on the plane, I do it a little differently so I can feel better when I land.

So many movies, so little time

I stay up intentionally for the first half of the flight usually writing and watching movies, then drink a few beers, and after that with about 7 or 8 hours left in the flight I do my best to get in at least 4 hours before staying up for good. As long as I hit the coffee once I land and then stay up for the full day, I’m usually all good and don’t have any jet lag.

How to make longs flight more comfortable

If you’re like me and end up in economy for the long haul, you’re going to be sitting in a regular seat that barely leans back. This means the long hours you’ll be sitting in it aren’t going be comfortable, but there are ways to make it bearable. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

  • Keep an eye on the exit rows because on most international flights they cost more to buy initially, but are for the taking if they go unsold and end up empty. As the doors are about to close, ask the flight attendant nicely if you can move into one of those seats and most likely you’ll be stretching out your legs in no time.
  • Move around every couple of hours so you don’t get stiff. I used to see people doing this on my first couple of flights and I thought they were weird, but now I get up and move around multiple times every time I travel over a few hours. Once you’re in the air there’s plenty of room to stand up, walk up and down the aisles, and even stretch a little bit back by the bathrooms. Don’t worry about looking stupid, getting up out of your seat for a few minutes is totally worth it.
  • A sleep mask should be standard on long flights and adding in some ear plugs is next level. Once again, I once thought that sleep masks were stupid, but now it’s crazy to think about getting any sleep in the economy section without one. Some people use earplugs, too but I usually just put in my headphones and listen to some chilled out tunes.
  • Get to know your flight attendants. You’re going to be on the flight for a long time and the flight attendants are your key to not only getting a better seat, but also unlimited beer and anything else you might want along the way. Flight attendants on international flights are usually amazing and super easy to talk to, so introduce yourself and let them know thankful you are for the work they’re putting in during the flight.
  • Introduce yourself to your seat mates. I’m also a believer in introducing myself to the people sitting around me, especially on these longer flights. You’re going to be hanging out with them for a while, so the friendlier you can be, the better things will be during the flight.

It was hard not to say hello to this flight attendant. This is how we took off and landed 🙂

The traveling is all part of the fun

I’ll close with this — don’t be afraid of a longer flight or get annoyed with it once you’re up in the air. Until we figure out how to beam humans from place to place these long flights are all part of traveling to far away places so they’re here to stay for a while. For me, I actually enjoy the time I’m in the air and it’s a good way for me to chill out a bit and reflect on my upcoming trip before landing in a completely new place. At this point I’ve come to appreciate the traveling just as much as the arriving and it’s helped me turn even the roughest trips into something fun and enjoyable.

The Magic of Traveling

The feeling I get when I’m finally saying goodbye to wherever I’ve been and traveling to where I’m going is magical. I don’t know how to call it anything else and it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. For me, it’s a mix of feeling giddy and having butterflies in my stomach like when I’m about to kiss a girl for the first time mixed with the excitement that I used to feel right before playing a basketball game during warmups. Like I said, magical.

Just like when I’ve taken off from San Francisco other times, this time is unique. This time around I’m not traveling over to Manila to start working overseas for the first time. I can still remember how I felt during that first long flight over the Pacific and how I knew my life would never be the same. I had always wanted to travel over to another country and having the opportunity to work while I did it was like a dream come true. I had no idea what to expect and I packed way too much stuff due to the unknown, but I soon figured things out and learned to love the Philippines and the people there.

The first time I traveled to Manila I only thought that I would be there for a little over two months, so I pushed it hard and traveled every, single weekend that I could while I was living there. Of course, those couple months ended up turning into a couple years of living my life over in Manila and the traveling I’ve done both in and outside of the Philippines has been an experience that has changed my life in so many ways.

With my limited exposure to the world, I used to see myself as just a guy from Indiana. Then, after living in San Francisco for nearly 8 years and being exposed to so many different types of people I saw myself as a fairly well-rounded American who had a decent understanding of several different cultures and lifestyles. Now, after traveling around to so many countries and having had the opportunity to spend a good amount of time with different types of people in their own countries, the borders of being just an American have opened up and expanded to the world.

This new outlook on my place in this big world comes with a different type of excitement when I travel. The way I’m feeling this time around when compared to my first trip is totally different, but it’s still magical. I’m no longer a first-time, long-term international traveler and all of the time I’ve spent flying and riding from one place to the next has prepared me for this next chapter. This time around there’s no job and no major restrictions on my time will take away from getting the most out of where I’m living. My goal is simple, learn Mandarin and as much as possible become part of the local community in Haikou.

I’m excited to get started and to once again feel the magic of stepping on a plane in San Francisco and walking off of the plane in another world that I have yet to experience. Speaking of my flight, it’s boarding already and if I don’t get moving I won’t be experiencing anything. Next stop, Hong Kong.