32 Things for Turning 32

Going to concerts is a huge part of my life, and it has been for 15 years now. Way back in the summer of 2002, I piled in my minivan with six friends and drove to see moe. and Widespread Panic. I had been to other concerts, but this was my first live encounter with jambands.

From the wild party scene in the lot to the 3+ hours of improvisational goodness, I was hooked. A decade and a half later, I’ve been to hundreds of shows and dozens of festivals. Since it all started with a moe. show in high school, it was a bummer to hear that the band is going on an indefinite hiatus after their bassist was diagnosed with cancer.

As I approach another birthday – one which will be spent at a Phish concert, naturally – the news is a reminder to be grateful for every day and every show. To honor the band that helped set me on this course in life, here are 32 things for turning 32.

1. I don’t have a “real job,” and come to think of it, I never have.

I’ve been working since I was 15 (caddied and worked at a pizza joint that summer), but I really have never had what would be considered a “real job.” And if all goes well, I never will. If I’ve ever worked 40 hours in a week, it’s been at multiple jobs or with added freelance work. The closest I’ve come to a “real job” was my part-time gig teaching English in China, and that was actually tons of fun.

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Playing beer pong at the closest thing to a “real job” I’ve had.

2. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

I was never good at answering that question back in grade school. I am and always have been interested in far too many things to want to do something 40 hours a week for the rest of my life. At the moment, I’m teaching, studying, writing, managing social media, and editing videos.

3. I don’t have kids, a house, or a car, and I don’t particularly want any of them.

If you have all of the above, good for you. Somebody has to make babies and keep the car companies and banks in business. That somebody just isn’t me.

4. I don’t even have a suit.

Having traveled to Thailand several times, you’d think I would have bought one by now. I’m just not the biggest fan of dressing up, especially not with a coat and tie. Most days you can find me wearing a silly tank top and shorts. Hell, I wore shorts and a Polo in my wedding.

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Me: “Wow! You look amazing!” Rachel: “And you look… like you.”

5. I plan my life around tour dates.

Whenever my mom can’t get ahold of me, she checks Phish’s tour dates to see where they’re playing. It’s true that we make a lot of our travel plans based on one silly band’s concert schedule. As I write this, we’re packing up to fly to NYC for the last three nights of their already-legendary Baker’s Dozen run.

6. I’ve seen two bands a combined 200 times.

Speaking of the Phish from Vermont, when you add the times I’ve seen them to the times I’ve seen Umphrey’s McGee, it tallies just under 200. Had I not moved to China back in 2008, that number would certainly be way higher. If Phish hadn’t quit for 5 years, who knows if I even would have graduated.

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Nothing beats the Gorge!

7. I met Rachel at a music festival. We got engaged at Phish New Year’s and went on our “hippie moon” to the GD50 shows. We like to party, sorry if you don’t.

We’ve been living for live music since long before it was a website, and we plan to continue for as long as we’re able to. Whether it’s catching our favorite bands back home or experiencing a festival in another country, we’re always down to boogie.

8. I’ve been to all three Phish NYE runs in Miami (fingers crossed for a 4th).

Flying to Miami by myself at 18 to stay with dudes I met on the internet so I could see Phish four nights in a row was a transformative experience, to say the least. I brought some friends, brothers, and Rachel along in 2009 for one of the best runs yet. As I mentioned, I popped the question at the NYE show in ’14. Here’s hoping we find ourselves in southern Florida again in a few months!

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Phish NYE ’09

9. Speaking of New Year’s… I’ve celebrated four different ones – Chinese, Thai, and Balinese in addition to good ole’ 12/31.

We stayed in a tiny mountainous village in Yunnan province to ring in Chinese New Year. It was a blur of bai jiu, fireworks, and far too many cigarettes and tables full of day-old meat. We got wet and wild during Songkran on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, and I celebrated it the Chinese way the next year with the biggest water fight you’ve ever seen. Last year we saw the terrifying ogoh-ogoh parade through the streets during the Balinese New Year called Nyepi.

10. I once met Jesus on a mountain in West Virginia. It was weird. I later high-fived him on the beach in Jamaica and all was well.

I’ll let you use your imagination to figure these two out. Here’s a hint – both were music festivals and there were lots of hippies around.

11. I quit my job to travel for a year, and haven’t looked back since.

We left our cushy teaching jobs and nice apartment in Beijing way back on July 31st, 2013. From traveling non-stop on a 14-month gap year, to studying in Bali, to our most recent home of Puerto Vallarta, it’s been one helluva ride.

12. I’ve lived in three foreign countries and am about to move to my 4th.

When I moved to China after graduating, I thought it would be a year-long fling and that I’d return to the “real world.” I ended up spending around 6 years in China. Since moving out of the Middle Kingdom, we’ve called Indonesia and Mexico home. Next up is Colombia, where we plan to base ourselves for at least 4-5 months.

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White Russians in a bathrobe at 1AM at a resort. Mexico rules.

13. I’ve been to 18 countries (20 if you count Hong Kong and Macau separate from China) and 30 states.

At this point, I kind of hoped to have visited more countries. That being said, I appreciate how we’ve managed to spend such long chunks of time in places – a year in Kunming, nine months in Bali, and now six here in PV. Moving every few days is exhausting and you never get to know a place. That being said, we’re looking forward to crossing at least 2-3 more countries off the list this year and several more in 2018. As for shitty states like Nebraska and Arkansas – let’s just say there’s no hurry.

13. I’ve slept on the Great Wall.

There have been tons of memorable experiences in my years living and traveling abroad, but it’s hard to beat camping out on the Great Freaking Wall of China. My first time was a bit of a fail, but it was still pretty amazing. The second time around was perfect. We slept in a watchtower and saw absolutely zero people on the wall for a good 12 hours.

14. I’m half Russian, but I don’t speak the language and I’ve never even been there.

Many people who know me don’t know that Sasha isn’t even my real name. It’s just a Russian nickname I got from my dad when I was a few years old. It may seem odd that despite having a Russian father I can’t speak the language nor have I visited the country. Well, to quote the man himself – “I spent my entire life trying to get out of Russia. Why would I go back?!” As I once told Russian girls in Beijing who accused me of being a “fake Russian” – “I’m not a fake Russian, I’m just a real American.”

15. I still watch wrestling.

I’m not talking about the kind of wrestling you win a gold medal for. I’m talkin’ ’bout rassling! I mean steel cages and ladder matches here, people. I’m talkin’ ’bout pounding PBRs in the trailer park kinda wrestling. I’ve been a fan since my uncles took me to a show when I was a wee lad. We even had a backyard wrestling league back in middle school (GPW! GPW!). Not surprisingly, watching lucha libre has been one of my highlights of half a year in Mexico.

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3rd row at Arena Mexico – highlight of a week in Mexico City for me.

16. I’ve been to a ping pong show.

If you’ve been to Bangkok, you know precisely what I’m talking about.

If you haven’t, Google it.

On second thought, don’t.

Just forget I ever mentioned it.

17. I once dropped my pants in a KTV (karaoke) joint in rural China. Rachel laughed and cried.

Once upon a time, we were searching for a music festival in the Middle of Nowhere, China. A friend and I decided it would be wise to drink beers all day long as we navigated Chinese trains, buses, and cabs. When we eventually gave up and took shelter at a KTV, I passed out on the couch, woke up, bounced around like a boxer, and dropped my pants… all in front of the poor woman running the place.

18. I’ve let countless strangers sleep in my apartment. I’ve even stayed with some in other cities.

Many folks are weirded out by the concept of Couchsurfing, but it’s been quite good to us. We haven’t surfed with that many people – only in Tokyo, Milwaukee, and Boston – but we have probably had upwards of 100 guests between our two apartments in China. We haven’t been murdered yet, but we have met tons of cool people along the way, many of whom we still keep in touch with today.

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Meeting the legendary couple behind NOMADasaurus because they slept on our couch.

19. I don’t have any subscriptions. No Netflix, Spotify, cable, or cell phone contract. I don’t even have the WWE network (but I use Eric’s. Thanks, Eric!)

I’m often asked how we afford to do what we do, at which point I often ask people how they afford to do what they do. It’s amazing how much money you can have to travel or live in cheap places when you cut out those extra expenses. I pay about $20 a month for my phone and that’s about it.

20. I got my mom to slap a bag of wine – twice!

At my going away party before moving to China, it was a huge accomplishment getting my mom to slap a bag of wine. As a real classy lady, she had often derided us for our derelict ways. “Boxed wine?! At least drink it out of a damn bottle!” When we got her to reprise the bag-slapping at our wedding, it was the stuff of legends.

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Best. Photo. Ever.

21. Speaking of moms, I crawled onto the air mattress with my soon-to-be-mother-in-law the night of my bachelor party on an urban duck farm. It’s a long story. Whoops.

Thanks to the tight schedule of our wedding festivities, we ended up cramming our engagement party and my bachelor party into the same weekend. We also rented an urban duck farm on Airbnb so we could stay with Rachel’s family, who were visiting the D for the first time. You knew something reality TV-worthy was going to come of that situation.

22. I’d rather have a macro-brew than a micro-brew most days.

Like most people, I started out drinking crappy beer. A friend’s brother would buy us a 6-pack of High Life and a bottle of Jim Beam and say “That’s all they had!” Going to hippie shows, I eventually got big into the craft beer. I still love a good IPA, but at this point I’d rather just have a few cold, easy-drinking beers than something that’s 10% and makes me feel like I just ate a double cheeseburger.

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Give me a Pacifico con limon any day!

23. I still smoke flower.

I was still living in China when all you kids got into your dabs and your vapes. When the stuff really took off, I was living in Indonesia. You know, the country where you get death by firing squad for selling drugs. Ya’ll can free-base your THC all you want. I’ll sit right here and pack my bong.

24. I still can’t roll a joint.

As Metallica proclaims, “You know it’s sad but true!” Back in the day, I always had friends who could twist one up way better than me. Now it’s my wife who’s on the doobie-rolling duty. Maybe one of these days I’ll figure it out… probably not, though.

25. I’ve been bungee jumping and sky diving.

These are two of the things that always come up in “Have you ever…?” discussions, so I figured they were worthy of a mention. Bungee jumping was fun and all, but sky diving is where it’s at. We took our first and only jump in Moab, Utah – high above two of the country’s most stunning national parks. I’d go again, but it’ll have to be somewhere equally as beautiful.

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Bungee jumping in China.

26. I’m still freaked out by needles and blood.

My dad is a doctor and my mom is a nurse. Growing up, people always asked me if I was going to be a doctor, too. I’m a grown-ass man and I still get absolutely terrified when I have to get a shot of any kind, or when I see excessive amounts of blood. Yeah, no doctor-ing for this guy…

27. I’ve never been to a funeral.

This one has to come with an asterisk, because technically I guess I have. My teacher in Bali invited me to a cremation ceremony in his village, but it’s honestly more of a social thing there. Plus, he knew I would find it interesting and want to mention it on the Indonesian language & culture blog I run. There were even meatball soup and ice cream vendors there. Believe it or not, I have not been to an actual funeral in the US.

28. I once took a train across China dressed like Santa.

On a lighter note, this was one of the dumbest and best things I’ve ever done, all rolled into one. What started as a drunken idea one night at the local Irish pub turned into a hilarious, nearly 3,000 km journey and one incredibly silly video. See for yourself:

29. I feel more comfortable sitting on a plastic stool eating street food than I do in a fancy restaurant.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy going out for a nice meal – far from it. It’s just that, after nearly a decade of living and traveling in Asia – mostly as a backpacker – I’m far more used to chowing down in the street for a few bucks than I am dressing up to go to some Michelin star joint and shelling out $200 on a meal.

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A cheap Indonesian night market – my kinda place!

30. I still have the stuffed pig I carried around as a toddler.

If you’re a fan of the book Charlotte’s Web, you probably remember the pig named Wilbur. My parents got me a stuffed pig that we called Wilbur when I was probably a few months shy of two, and I carried the damn thing everywhere. He has somehow survived the test of time, and he kicks it with my stuff in storage.

31. I’ve been to the World Cup, the Olympics, and WrestleMania, and I hope to go to two of them again next year.

My pops took me to a World Cup game way back in ’94. I later took my brothers to WrestleMania 23 at Ford Field in 2007. I moved to Beijing the next year the day before the Olympics. While I had hoped to make it to Brazil for one of those in the last few years, it didn’t pan out. If all goes well, we’ll catch WM in the Big Easy in April before jetting over to Mother Russia for some footie in June.

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Showing Commie China what’s up in my freedom pants.

32. I’m such a lucky dude, and I know it.

I grew up with both parents around and a big, awesome family. I’ve always had a roof over my head and have never gone hungry. I went to good schools and was always encouraged to chase my dreams, no matter how absurd they have been. I’ve got incredible friends in all corners of the world. I met the girl of my dreams, married her, and moved to paradise. I work from home and make my own hours. I’ve been able to travel extensively and live in several countries. I get to see my favorite bands with the people that I love. Life is good, and I don’t take one second of it for granted. My first 31 years on this earth have been fantastic. Here’s to hoping the next 31 are just as good!

In case you were wondering where I got the idea for the title, there is in fact a moe. song called “32 Things.” We’re wishing Rob a speedy recovery, and hope to see the band back on stage at Summer Camp as usual next May!

6 thoughts on “32 Things for Turning 32”

  1. Great story and fun points. This is the sort of living that inspires! No need to sit at a desk all your life and let life pass you by. Love it.


    1. Thanks, Joe! I can barely sit at a desk all day let alone for most of my adult life. Doing the unconventional thing isn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  2. Happy birthday Sasha!! Sounds like you’ve lived 6 lives already, here’s to another 6 or more.
    P.S. Charlotte’s Web is the best!

  3. Loved reading this! What a great way to celebrate your Birthday. I gotta say, you shouldn’t brush off Arkansas as a boring state. We spent our honeymoon on Mulberry Mountain. The Ozarks are pretty amazing!

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yeah I’m sure there are nice places in Arkansas. I was just thinking of random states I hadn’t been to yet. I’m definitely more focused on crossing new countries off my list than states at the moment, though. US road trips can wait til my 40s because I might not be too keen on backpacking South America then!

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