When ‘Pick Me Ups’ Don’t Work

I present, from the archive and in the raw, the answer to “Why didn’t you just punch John?” …because sometimes you just need to punch something, and you understand the that there is no answer to “Why didn’t you just punch John?”

Happy Thursday Everybody.

To Boston!

Still a Draft!

Wednesday Kira and I arrived into Boston’s Logan Airport and viola! the sun comes out.

Thursday we set out on our walking tour of the city.  Around the Cambridge/Harvard area, down through MIT, past Washington Park, and across the bridge into the Back Bay.  We walked past Boston University and then down to Berklee School of Music.  Here is where I’d perviously found my ukulele.


Alas, times change, and the Boston music store where Dan and I had previously found our $40 uke’s no longer carried them.  Instead we found a Horner brand that was a bit more dough and I opted out.  Sadly, we walked out of the store with no ukulele.  Purposeless, we wandered down to the Prudential building and sat to watch folks walk by.  The sun set and the wind picked up and the concrete beneath our seats became a block of ice.  We bought some chocolate covered almonds and then hurried home with sore feet.

Friday the sky was a bit grey and the sun tried, to no avail to peek through.  We woke up and scurried downtown to meet Stephanie.  Finding her among a crowd of Harvard band members striking up a tune, we walked to Boston Commons, enjoyed a short history from our friendly tour guide, popped into the Boston Library, and finally sought out and found the famous Freedom Trail.  A red line that courses through the streets of Boston and leads to a slew of remarkably historical places.


Friday night we came home a bit loosened by some collection of Bostonian elixars and via video chat demand Jon Clark to get on a plane the following morning and fly out here for the weekend.  He complies.  Saturday, a bit taxed by our engagements the previous night, we accomplished a little more than a brief tour of the Taza chocolate factory.  It was unique and delicious chocolate and we picked up a couple of bars, so perhaps if you’re nice we’ll share.

Saturday night we enjoyed the first snow of the winter here.  So, naturally, we woke up Sunday morning to run a 10 mi. qualifier for joining the Tufts Team for the Boston Marathon through the fresh wet snow and bitter morning frost.  Of ~250 I was able to run with a group that finished ~ top 20.  Not bad.  Sun is out now and its time for a nice post-snow walk to the bay.  Hoorah.

Then what happened….??…

Monday Jon, Kira, and I ventured out on the Orange Line and found the Saumel Adams Brewery.  It was informational, but they only served 3 tastes.  Boo.  From there Jon left for Kansas City and we two remaining returned to the apartment where we waited for Andrew’s plane to arrive.

Tuesday Andrew, Kira, and I ventured out south east to the Harpoon Brewery.  It was not very informational, but they had a full hour tasting session that included as many drinks as you could put down, within reason.


Wednesday through Friday we were in Philly!
300 miles of driving straight through NYC. I think I’d like to never make that drive again unless we spent some time enjoying the bright new-spring days that we were driving through. As it was a timed drive and in the beginning of the New England winter, it was just a chore. However, we arrived comfortably and were warmly greeted by Christopher.

The following day we woke up to start our one day tour of the city. Starting with a visit to our favorite chocolate factory, John&Kira’s.  However good their chocolate it, it’s very good, their factory was reminiscent of our visit to Dogoba in southern Oregon several years ago, except this time it excluded the illegal invitation in to see the working machines and chocolate lined up.  Instead it was an awkward phone call wich led to a representative meeting us outside to hand us a catalogue and illicit an order (at a discounted price).  So we took our photo, bought some chocolates, and laughed as we drove away from their brown door in the frigid Philly air.

Then we ventured to the grandiose Philadelphia Art Museum and took refuge for many hours, gawking at the magnificence of the displays.  It was fantastic.

Cheese-steak, Home Made Dinner, Sleep, – School, Independence Hall, Drive East.

Saturday put’s us back in Boston again…and it’s really frigid… and thus Sunday is colder and comes with rain.

The Week in Review

Oh, what a week.   WELL…

Sunday, I woke up to Chat with Chris – expecting a casual ‘hey-o.’ I found myself quickly back on track, as if he’d rolled into Tucson for the night and my obligatory senses kicked on.  About 3 hours later I was beyond help and neither Dan nor Becci could help.  I spent the rest of the day sleeping off my early morning drinking binge.  Here’s a photo of what such an encounter can look like, when you’re video chatting with someone who is 12 hours opposite you.

Damage from a video chat with Chris
Damage from a morning video chat with Chris

Monday, we hit up the pool – YES!  and it was awesome.  YES! and I got to find out how my lungs are doing.  NO!  But impressed all of Hohhot with my ability to egg-beater my chest out of the water, float on my back, and jump into the water using the classic flying squirrel pose.  Dan and I also helped a couple of young wipper-snappers toss their buddy headlong into the pool, shirt, shoes, and all.  Becci gave a photo of herself to one of the pool cleaning staff, who proceeded to show it to all 400 people there.  The pool is awesome and except for an eye infection Dan may now have because of it, I’d recommend everyone visit.

Becci, Swim Cap, Style, Pool, Dan, Finger Point... Hilarity

Then, in the evening, in order to celebrate the weekend for those who still work regularly we went out for dinner, then drinks, and then KTV.  I don’t think I’ve had such an experience since my arrival to China, apparently this kind of all nighter is common.  However, by the looks of the photos I took.  I think I seriously progressed my age.  Fortunately I’ve been drinking green tea to reverse the effects.


On Wednesday morning, while Shanghai and the rest of the center of the country enjoyed what scientists have proven has no correlation with misfortune, we enjoyed a partial solar eclipse.  I woke up at about 8 AM and rode my bike over to the local city square where hundereds of folks had gathered with telescopes, large informational signs, and bundles of sharp looking shades.    After milling around for a bit in an attempt to find out who i should buy my killer moon watchers from I ran into a student who I had taught the Monday previous (this is a perfect time to tell you I’m moonlighting).   His friend handed me a pair of super lookers and I was set, now with a sense of confidence in the crowd of many I relaxed a bit.

John and David watching the solar eclipse

The student and I spoke casually while we both waited for the sun to peek out from behind the clouds.  However, once a foreigner starts talking with a local everyone starts talking to the foreigner.  It was fun.  I got to answer questions about all sorts of things and my words were authoritative.   I then took an interview with Inner Mongolia Television where I spoke about what was happening and then demonstrated the proper procedure for sporting the silver-solar-lookers, concluding with a “and that’s how it’s done.”  After the interview I enjoyed a series of photographers asking for various poses where I was to look either puzzled, or engrossed with the phenomenon and finally I enjoyed one last casual interview with a young reporter with the Hohhot Newspaper.  By this time the eclipse was about over and I was off.

John and Yan Xiaoyan watching the solar eclipse

I got home and my computer notified me of the GREAT news.  Dan and I had one week left before our plane departs for Shanghai.  I high-fived myself (Dan was at work), sent off a slew of email reminders for our expected hosts along the way and started packing my things.

Thursday I woke up early and said farewell to my good friend Lisa as she boarded her train home (44 hours away) as it is now the summer holiday for college students all across China.  Returning to the apartment, our internet was shut off so Dan and I shipped our bicycles to Shanghai via rail, and then proceeded to spend the better portion of the day (11:45-9:00) at a hotel sipping tea and researching our accommodations for Hong Kong (which now may include a balcony at the top of a tower looking over Kowloon Bay from the edge of a hot tub next to some good friends [identities will be release upon confirmation])  We’ll see.  During this all day internet festival Dan produced some excellent post-cards, see the following post.

Lisa and John after fish on our way to consume the worlds largest watermelon. Seriously HUGE!

Friday started in a fascinating way, with class at our local Mosque.  A student of mine had invited me to join her, so I attended a free class (classes offered throughout the summer to anyone) which was discussing modern Islam.  Today we discussed Islam in China.  The teacher was very passionate and reasonable.  She discussed the origins of the Muslim people in China, how they have been assimilated, distinct, troublesome, and integrated throughout history.  The discussion also include the observation of how other religions have also integrated, or disintegrated themselves in China.  We spoke after class about her beliefs and mine.  It was a delightful and encouraging conversation.  She finished, by describing her (and her community’s) goal to write and publish a series of Chinese children’s books based on the teachings of Islam, of which there exist only a few in print.  Her enthusiasm and motives for the project were, again, refreshing and encouraging.  A second class started soon after.  It was an Arabic language class, taught in Chinese.  While, initially I was not energetic about spending another two hours behind a man who routinely blew his nose into his hand and then waited while it slowly oozed off his hand and onto the floor, I stuck with it.  By the end, I was repeating sentences with the class.  Though I didn’t understand when the instructor asked me to do anything.  I felt like I had them all when it came to rolling my r’s.  A trick not many Chinese can preform.  Wo Shi XiaoChou.  I also found I could identify, or correlate, sounds with the script.  I was impressed with my progress in just two hours.  CIA here I come!

Now the water at the apartment is out, our kitchen sink drain broke, and our internet is still offline.  Irritated, I’ve escaped to another hotel lobby to sip tea and answer emails.  Plus I needed to debut what you might expect in your mail box in the very near future. – Dan just got a call.  Our bikes are in Shanghai – we are pumped!

Cycling on Monday

Couch surfers showed up promptly in the morning, four of them.  A bit surprised, I had confidence they’d turn out to be good ones.  So far, they are.  After getting them all settled Dan and I dawned our outfits and loaded our bags.  Today we’d make another test run, this time not for time or distance but for strength.  We loaded our bags to the brim and added a little for good measure and headed north, up the hills.  One and a half hours later (including a long break to take a photo) we were at the top comfortable and ready for more riding.  What a pleasant surprise.  25 minutes later we were back at the bottom with a top speed from John at 56.0 kph and a top speed from dan of 57.8 kph.

There is a reason we bought bikes early.  Primarily we wanted to train, but truthfully we’d be stronger if we trained on our mountain bikes.  The important part of having bikes a month early was to test the components, break the bikes in, and make changes to the set up.  Today, we were happy to have failures.  Once back in the city, Dan hit a small cut in the road from construction and his bike came to a dead stop.  The deralur (sp) hinge had snapped and threw the mechanism into his rear spokes stopping the bike.  The impact of another cyclist into the side of Dan didn’t help the situation either.  Confused with what had happened we pulled aside and righted the chain and deralur and limped back to the Giant store.  A bit of negotiating convinced them that less than 300 km shouldn’t have component failures and they agreed and replaced it.  We hope to not run into that issue again.

We also accomplished getting a good photograph for our friends here to keep and to pass out to friends along the route.

A Cultural Misfire

How I managed to lose 4 months of my experience in China to working instead of looking & listening.

I’ve recently rejuvenated my enthusiasm for China. One month ago I could have been coaxed onto an airplane for the United States so long as you made sure my things would be handled and shipped behind my departure with a promised delivery of at least 30%. However, today, it would perhaps take a candy bar or a bottle of gin to coax me onto that flight home. What changed? Well, in short… I was fired.

I’ve had a wonderful amount of time, vacation time, to evaluate my mood. Two weeks ago I did a similar evaluation, which ultimately, lead to my termination.

Two weeks ago, I decided I was distracted by a life of trivial frustrations and work. Frustrations with authority, frustrations with pride. I decided I was frustrated with the very same things I was frustrated with while working at home in the U.S. I decided I no longer wanted to meter my day with lists of faults, stories of intimidation, and levels of anger. I evaluated my situation and I meditated on that which could be changed, that which might be changed, and that which wouldn’t be changed. First, I accepted that which could not be changed. Second, I sat down with those things that could be changed and changed them, a great deal of which was my attitude. And third, I made steps to attempt to change that which sat in the middle. This worked. Discussions at lunch relaxed a bit, and my relationship with the people who surrounded me changed to. Some for the better, some for the worse.

Initially, people accepted these changes as an up for my mood swings, however, after some time, I was no longer perceived as happy-go-luck, but instead, disrespectful and untrustworthy (or so I perceived it). Still, my goals for ‘successful living’ were being met. While I still felt I was missing, I was feeling much better about my world. However, as people around me changed their attitude, it became more difficult to adjust my new senses to reflect those changes, and eventually I was back in a funk. I was miserable again.

Then came friday and I tell my boss I hate work. – The weekend happens and I’m fired.

Spring Flowers in Hohhot, China

Today I went to the park. Have you seen this park? Becci would be insulted if you came to Hohhot and you didn’t go to the park, or you went to the park and didn’t enjoy it. You have to see this park. It’s got two lakes, if not three, or four. It’s got duck boats, swan boats, submarine boats, 2 seaters or 4. It’s got a roller coaster, a log ride, carnival games, and a ferris wheel. And it’s got hammocks ice cream for sale around every corner. It’s quite the park.

Here in the park I found a great sense of renewal today. I found what I had been missing the last four months. The thing that was killing my sense of vitality. I signed up for a 6-month trip to China. I got a month at the beginning and then it ended. I began work and my world became a stew of English & American psudo-tradition wrapped up in a Chinese package. My world became a cultural mix-tape left on the side of the highway.

Why? How? When?

I’m sad it took so long to answer these questions.
It happened because I worked for a school that sells not only language, but culture. It sells a WHITE face. It sells promise. It just sells. And because it sells that culture, it’s attempted to take the culture of the ‘west’ and siphon off all things marketable about it, presumably all things good. Because it would be insane to represent all things bad in western culture, that is left out, and Chinese culture is used to handle the negative aspects of daily life, and this became my world. My adventure, hijacked, it was terrible.

I was indoctrinated into a western system, augmented by a Chinese system, that I was supposedly comfortable with. Every day I lived in a fake fantasy world that didn’t represent home, but was suppose to, and didn’t represent China, but was suppose to. I had all the worst parts of China mixed up with all the worst parts of being western, of being WHITE. It was terrible. I hated China. I hated life. I hated teaching. I hated children. I hated. Period.

Today I was in the park. Have I told you about this park? Today I was in the park and I was reminded of all the reasons I really liked China. All the reasons I really liked life, teaching, children. Period.

Outside of a silly institution are eager people, happy people, regular people, who go to parks on their weekends. Who work during the week, who have goals, and who are reaching for their goals. In the park, people approach me because I’m White but not because I’m WHITE. There’s mystery in a foreigner, just like there is mystery in a woman. But in order to figure that mystery out, you ask the cute girl next to you in 5th grade if you can borrow her eraser, you don’t visit the brothel. I’m approached by curious people, by people who tell me they’ve never spoken English with a native English speaker. I’m approached by people because they want to show me that they work for Amway, an American Company, and to ask if I know the CEO. (The answer is obviously, “Yes, of course. Peng You!”) I get to watch the fire works go off just because someone loves explosions. I get to smile at EVERY SINGLE PERSON I see on the street in order to elicit a smile back. I get to remember I’m in China! about once every 2 minutes. I go to lunch and eat noodles, again, and it’s great! I get to exchange QQ numbers with strangers and offer them help with any of their homework, call me anytime. I get invited to their home. I get to forget about every stranger I offered to help because they never ask. I get to go swimming for eight kuai and then play ping pong for five kuai. I get to live in China.

The difference is in the park I get to take all the BEST parts of China and set them in front of me in the grass next to the lake while watching swan boats and the ferris-wheel and I listen and look and touch and smell and smile. And at the end of the day, when I get home, I’ve forgotten about all the worst parts of the world and I only know the best parts… and that’s why I travel.

Independence Day 2009 – China

Independence Day is over, but the celebration could not have involved a more well rounded perspective.

We had planned a BBQ, not quite all-American, but darn close.  We contracted with a local ‘chuar’ guy, these are the guys who cook meat on a stick along the street, and he agreed to move it set up to our apartment complex where he’d cook for us and our party.  Sweet! and he’d bring the beer too, in little kegs.  Double Sweet!  He was going to bring three tiny kegs.  Triple Sweet!  I had spent my morning in a confused haze of sickness from the meal the night before.  Alexi’s going away meal.  Someone opened a bottle of “biegeio” (spelling) and then I ended up ordering something on the order of 5 more bottles.  Needless to say I was feeling very rotten the whole day after a long night of vomiting.  Plus I woke up in a different city… but that’s a different story.

Overcoming the sickness through sparse sleep, bits of food, and lots of water, at about 5 o’clock I was ready to start this shin-dig.  7 PM arrived and so did a grip of guests, but still no chuar man, unfortunately.  So I walked over to meet him and without much trouble he was at the apartment and cooking.  Once the beers were poured and the meat was on the table we felt invincible, it was wonderful.  Friends, BBQ, nice summer evening.  You couldn’t ask for more.  It was delightful!  It reminded me so much of what the 4th of July is like at home.  Problem free.  After folks were fed we debuted the American Flag and everyone toasted.  HOORAH!

Then, I was reminded why we celebrate the 4th.  We take time out to acknowledge our freedom to live different lives from our neighbors.  The freedom to not go to work on a monday.  The freedom to have a party and the freedom to get angry when someone else has a party.  And in the All-American sense of Freedom, we had our party and someone else got upset.  Expected.  Dan did a wonderful job of mitigating trouble early in the night and we moved ourselves along nicely, making sure not to make too much racket, avoiding loud songs and shouting, and we only played the national anthem 4 times, but it too was really soft.  However, at about 9:30 without our fireworks (Which are sadly still in the packaging) there was a massive explosion and it was all in Chinese.  Ting Bu Dong – I kept drinking my beer.  But it was impossible to ignore, so minutes later we were all (35 people) involved.

Neighbors, not happy with our trodding upon the grass-lands, not happy with our gathering of foreigners, not happy with our consumption of alcohol and pork, and not happy with the American flag set-up, made it their goal to relay their frustration.  The message came loud and clear as a tall chinese man wearing a very bright white suit, appeared in the dusk and began screaming at everyone present.  Because it was Chinese I felt the freedom to ignore most of it, however, the bulk of our friends are Chinese and they all understood.  A wide division surfaced and half the party made moves to ‘discuss’ the problem with the upset parties while the other half made a whole-hearted retreat.  The BBQ was over.  I was a bit sad.  I put the flag back upstairs into safety, and briefly contemplated securing the Chinese flag to the pole and unveiling it, but some sort of better sense came over me (I think here Dan would exclaim some sort of miracle occurred) and I left it alone.  Against my better judgement, but with the wishes of the majority of our friends we walked into the street, leaving our BBQ man behind to deal with our mess.  Behind our neighbor continued to yell and scream.  It was going on 10:30.  Out the front gates we enjoyed some ice cream, U.S.A. and a great deal of loitering, U.S.A. however it was eventually clear to each of our guests, that the party was over and one by one they hailed cabs and drove home.  Dan and I and a couple of close friends stayed to pick up the pieces, but were quite shocked when the pieces had turned into shards and smashed to bits.

After the party left, our BBQ man and his team (essentially his family) hurried to clean things up, they stacked chairs, put away food, and scurried as fast as they could, as the tall man in the white suit was becoming more and more irate.  Many of the neighbors and our friends relayed their fear.  I think in the states we call this assault.  A tricycle flatbed was called over to move the gear and before it was loaded up, tires were slashed and the family was chased out of the complex.  Their chairs and tables were then taken and locked away and the cool evening turned bitter cold.  It began to rain.  About half an hour later Dan and I were led back into the apartment complex with Arena, our friend from school who graciously helped to set the whole party up.  We found many police cars had arrived and there was still quite the argument boiling, this time, however, at the public fountain.  Dan and I took a seat behind some parked cars while Arena approached the trouble and began to sort through the mess.  Half hour later, the BBQ man’s brother, an individual we had drank with on a previous night when we had first contracted with the BBQ man, was there and he was a police officer.  SWEET!  It took him about five minutes to tell us he’d fixed the problem and things would be okay, the next half hour was spent publicly humiliating and disparaging the residents of our neighborhood as ignorant and evil people where only one third are honest and good.  I was embarrassed.  We paid our BBQ man 700 RMB for the event, apologized deeply, and said good night.  Dan and I walked up stairs, congratulated each other on the event and apologized to each other for the trouble then went to bed.

The next morning I read a slew of messages from friends thanking me for the party, celebrating the invitation to such an event, and in general hailing the Fourth of July as a wonderful holiday.  I feel it couldn’t be closer to the truth.  Friends and enemies gathered, we celebrated and shared our heritage with many people (including the Brits.) and we both accepted and refuted new ideas in a general sense of discussion and openness, like shouting.  I hope our friends and neighbors are bold enough to not hold the ‘culture’ responsible for the actions of the individuals within it and can wait to pass judgment.  I believe it’s possible.

– With that said, I’m a bit peeved the guy shouted so much, I would have offered him a beer, but I think that was part of the problem.  :)