The question I get asked most when I say I lived in China for over two years is, "Do you speak Chinese?"
The answer is always "no". Though I love the culture, history, some of the food as well as the spiritual side of the country, Chinese is a difficult language to learn. From the different tones and what Chinese characters mean and how to use them, I was never disciplined enough for that be a goal.
However, not knowing the language never swayed me from traveling around China. I'm an adventurous person by nature, and most places I visited -- Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Guilin -- English was spoken. Sometimes in small amounts but spoken, nonetheless.
So, why was I in China? I was an English teacher at a private international language center from 2016 to 2018. For nearly two and a half years, I taught kids and teens basic conversational English skills, and I loved it.
I also loved my tiny apartments.
I lived in three separate places during my time in Beijing. My first apartment in Yizhuang was probably the U.S. square-foot equivalent of maybe 75-square feet. It included a shower, toilet, kitchenette; full-size bed with two large closets; a small seating area and built-in desk. Wi-Fi included. It was cute and comfortable. And I was only a 10-minute bus ride from work.
After my first year though, I wanted to live in the city center. In a trendy area called Gulou. There were popular cafes, restaurants, music venues and the like. I moved into a hutong house with a lovely Chinese roommate who spoke great English and was super helpful. Hutongs are winding alleyways and streets that surround courtyards; they have tons of history and culture in Beijing. It's a very traditional way of living.
Our place was quite charming, modern and renovated. It was maybe 150-square feet with one bedroom, one bath, living room and a kitchen. We had a small bedroom area upstairs aka my loft and writing space. In actuality, the living room and loft were my combined spaces, and my roommate occupied the bedroom. I had a huge mural rendered on the wall (see the photo below) leading up to the loft that tied everything together. I really loved that apartment.
James Sserwadda - Ugandan ArtistCourtesy of ND McCray
What worked well for us was that we had opposite schedules and she traveled to Shanghai two or three weeks out of the month so, I usually had the place to myself. My third apartment was easily a combination of the first two, except it was in a three-story walk up.
I've been back in the U.S. for six months now, but when I moved back, I quickly realized again how much I loved tiny spaces and the minimalism it requires. I also wanted to travel around the U.S. without the confines of an apartment lease.
Therefore, when I came back stateside -- I mostly sought out tiny homes via Airbnb in Austin, Texas. There's a huge tiny house movement in the city. To date, I have stayed in tiny houses, tiny rooms, cottages, an Airstream trailer as well as a converted school bus; any space that allowed me to continue living a simple lifestyle.
Living in a Van. The sleeping area and bed are on the left. Underneath are cupboards and storage space. On the right are cabinets and a kitchen counter. The walls and ceilings are wood panels.Getty Images
That's when I decided to be about that van life.
When it comes to living in a van, converted or otherwise, being a minimalist definitely helps. I want my van to be comfortable with modern amenities like a bathroom and a shower. Some van lifers do without these things and that's cool for them. I'm taking a full year to plan everything, from the van build to the route. (Check out Forbes.com's "What You Need To Know If You Want To Join The Van Life Movement.")
What appeals to me about RV or van life is the freedom to travel where I want, anytime I want for however long I want. I want to hit up national parks and museums, maybe a festival or two. I'm also starting a blog to document my journey. With that, I'm taking the time to build a financial cushion and freelance schedule that will allow me to work remotely for a specified amount of time. I simply want to fuse my love of traveling with my passion for writing and performing poetry. Every van lifer has their reason for choosing the lifestyle.
I've been to 45 states including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Haiti, Japan and China, and I know that living small in a big way is the life that works best for me.
Featured image by Getty Images
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Russell and Nina Westbrook are one of those low-key, unproblematic couples we don’t talk about enough. They met in college and got married in 2015. They also have a beautiful family with three kids. While Russell is an NBA star, Nina is a licensed family and marriage therapist and a mental health advocate.
She recently launched the podcast The Relationship Chronicles with Nina Westbrook, and in the latest episode, she had none other than her husband on as a guest. The college sweethearts dived into important topics from marriage to children and how they navigate it all.
One of the topics they touched on was dealing with resentment in your relationship. The former MVP highlighted the sacrifices his wife has had to make in order for him to pursue a career in the NBA, and that’s why it’s also important for him to support his wife whenever he can.
“For me is respecting and understanding what your partner do and the time it takes,” Russell said. “Not kind of downplaying what they do, understanding the time and energy and effort they're doing to make sure whether it’s their job or making sure home is taken care of, and understanding that, I think that is the challenge of not being resentful.”
Nina agreed and also shared her thoughts on resentment. According to her, one of the best things couples should do is have their own identity and passions outside of the relationship in an effort to be fulfilled.
“I also think that when you’re in a relationship, that’s why it’s so important that each individual kinda pursue their own passions and follow their own dreams as I feel like it only becomes or leads to resentment when one person is not feeling fulfilled in what they're doing in their lives,” she explained.
“And so, they will start to look at the other partner who’s happy or excelling or promoting or moving along in their journey, then they’re left feeling stuck like they sacrificed themselves, their happiness, their career, their future and have not pursued it in the name of the relationship or their partner. So, it’s so much easier to avoid those feelings of resentment when you’re each equally pursuing your passions.”
The couple has many passions that they work on together and separately. Outside of basketball and his family, Russell has become known for his eclectic style and started the fashion brand Honor The Gift. Nina has her podcast, and she also started the mental health website Bene. Together, they run the Why Not? Foundation, which works with kids in underserved communities.
“I’m a firm believer that one person can’t be everything to you, so you have to sort of seek out those different friendships or groups or hobbies or activities that help to fulfill you,” Nina concluded.
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Feature image by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Religion of Sports