Saturday, October 31, 2009

Road Trip

Well it seems that I just can't sit still. Being back for only about six weeks I talked to a couple of my friends and we decided to go on a road trip down south with the last ten days or so. Actually it was really close to the end. I ran so much out of time that in the last two weeks or so I went up with my Dad to see a Yankees Boston game, driving home late at night. Early the next morning I got up and went on this road trip. The day after I got back from that I was off to China with my parents. There were a couple different ideas about where we should go on this trip. At first I was thinking of Las Vegas but it turned out to be a much longer drive than I had imagined. In the end we settled on going to New Orleans with a few stops along the way. Me Harry and Mike, we were never able to find a fourth person all arranged to go. We've all actually been friends since early in Elementary School and Harry and Mike who grew up within a few blocks of me are two of my very oldest friends. Harry works in politics for Senator Kohl of Wisconsin and Mike is a bartender at a Hilton near where he lives. A big expensive of the trip came in renting a car for while Mike owns a car it a two seater sports car which really wouldn't work for the trip. We were originally going to have all three of us on the car so we could take turns driving it but it turned out to be really expensive since me and Harry are under 25 which kicks in a big price jump on the insurance. I'll start writing about the trip next time. Unlike some of the earlier trips I've taken I think I'm just going to divide this one up into four or five parts not exactly corresponding to days.

This is a cartoon that I probably should have posted a few days ago but is just too funny and too on the nose not to post here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

200 and Counting

Well since I believe that multiples of 100 are important it's time to stop and take stock again at this my 200th post. I really had no idea I'd ever get to this many when I started. I've had just short of 8,000 hits from just under 800 visitors. I've had visitors from 48 countries the top being: The US, China, South Africa, The UK, Canada, Greece, Australia, South Korea, and Germany. I've made just under $287 from AdSense, thanks to everyone. I've enjoyed every minute of it, and I hope to have a lot more posts for you in the future.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Best so Far

Here is a collection of my favorite photos from my first year in China. I was going to try to copy them into the blog directly but Flickr made some moronic changes recently and it's just too hard to copy 40 photos. But here's the link to a slide show version of my favorites so far:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

The last big thing I noticed when I came home to America was just how clean everything is. China is basically a giant construction sight. Everything is being built or torn down all the time. Imagine the dirt noise and chaos of the area surrounding and big construction project in a major city in the US than multiply it by 1,300,000,000 people and again by the general chaos that is even the calmest moments in China. I'd become so accustom to it that I wondered what my parents were talking about when they commented on how noisy everyone in China was. I've long noted that the people on cell phones seem to shout every word, but my parents felt like everyone was shouting all the time. I've just sort of gotten used to the craziness. But back in the US everything seems so calm, so neat and organized. Even the busiest places lack anything near the hubbub of China and the pushiest people I've ever met in the US wouldn't be able to hold their own again a Chinese grandma. Dirt wafting up with each breeze is just a fact of life in China and there is this distressing habit of wandering into a really weird smell with no apparent source. It seems silly to clean the outsides of buildings in China since the air will just dirty them again before a year has passed. In the US though even living in a city, it's all just so clean and organized. Even the worst drivers drive pretty much were they should. I see trash but never a pile that would overwhelm a whole street. Construction zones exist but so do parts that are done. People yell but some people are quite. And no really likes to drive on the sidewalk.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Food Glorious Food (Revisited)

When I first got to China I really couldn't stomach most of the food I found around. I had really bad stomach pains for a few weeks. For about my first week in Changzhou I ate very little besides Oreos and chicken sandwiches. But after a few months in China my stomach started to adjust and I started to like the food I found in China. I sometimes got bored with the lack of variety, the Chinese pretty much only eat Chinese food, but it was still good. But when I came home there were so many different foods I missed. Mexican food, steak, sandwiches, besides the PB&J I make all the time, salads, Indian food, Italian food, hell even American Chinese food was a nice change. Chinese food is good but there just isn't that much variety. I mean there's variety within it but imagine being only able to eat Italian food all day every day, after a while you'd want a burrito or something different. There's a store in Changzhou called Metro which is supposed to have far more American food but I think that would just encourage me to eat more junk food so I largely stay away. Since I've been back I've been eating more at the cafeteria which is pretty good. There's more stuff to get there than I realized last year and the prices are pretty good also. I still go to Wal-Mart to get bread and what not, the other supermarket I was going to takes too long to get to now with all the construction that's going on outside the school. I can get some decent food in Changzhou but I just miss the variety.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The More Things Change

One of the biggest changes I noticed in being home was that everyone had a job. This is partially surprising because of the economic downturn but mostly since being in China sort of feels like being on extended vacation. It's really wired to come back and have everyone talk about the things they do at work and what not. It has sort of a Peter Pan effect, returning from Never Never Land and seeing the real world again. I'm not sure I want to grow up but it sort of seems that most people have. All my old friends have real jobs and 9 to 5 hours that just are so alien to me. Being on vacation back in the US felt a lot like being home from college except that I was the only one. There was a lot of time just sitting around since I was the only one not working during the week. Sure there were still parties and stuff but things had a much more grown up air. It feels like at some point everyone just decided to be an adult and I never really went along. I'm not saying that growing up, or getting a real job is actually what I want, but it seems to be what everyone else is doing. Actually I think the most interesting thing about being back was just how little had changes fro the most part. I wondered if I would miss all the people staring at me, but it was nice not to always be the center of attention. Maybe the biggest change for me was that it felt like going on vacation to be in the US, not coming back from one. It's hard to say exactly how or if I've changed over my year in China and I don't really know what the answer is. I think the only thing I can say with any certainty is that I liked what I found living abroad and I want more of it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life On Mars

OK again this is something from now not when I returned to the US but I have to give this paper back to one of my students and it's just too funny and interesting not to post. After talking a lot about early America and the colonists I had the students write up a story where they are a colonist on Mars. I got everything for the mundane to the totally wacky but I think this one by a student of mine, who's also one of the more inquisitive students in my class, takes the cake. I should first explain that during class I had groups brainstorm who they'd take with them and this students group wanted to take Niel Armstrong and President Obama:

When our spaceship landed on Mars, everything I saw was extreme surprised. Numerous majestic architecture, fancy cars running in an incredible speed on the street, what's more, people here was gorgeous.

It seems to be a big mistake to bring Mr. Armstrong with us. As his experience were totally useless.

After wandering aimlessly for a while, I felt something weird, but I could not tell why. At this time, what we encountered was completely unbelievable!

The fabled king if pop - Michael Jackson, just walking to us.

"Oh my holy Jesus..." I said to myself, and couldn't believe it's true.

Apparently, Obama was too shocked there. I never saw the president of the U.S. had been so speechless.

Even though I was wondering if the guy standing in front of us was the real Michael Jackson whose pass-away broke numerous fans' hearts including me. I just couldn't wait to give him a hug, and asked:

"Are you that Michael Jackson?"

"Yes, it's me. 100% real," he answered with his distinct smile,

"Nice to meet you again, Mr. President!"

O-M-G, he was so gentle.

"Nice to meet you again, Mr. Jackson. Sorry, I didn't attend your funeral."

Mr. President replied with regrets.

"But, how ... how could you ... I mean ... be here?" Curiosity may be the biggest weakness of mine.

"Here's heaven, good people died, then come to Mars."

"What? H...eaven? I don't wanna die right now, I mean I love you Michael. I love your stunning dance. I love your beautiful songs, but ... I hate that stupid ship brought me here!"

"Don't be made, young lady. You guys are visitors, you don't have to die!"

Oh, thanks god!

Then, I started to wondering who I am gonna to meet, my grandma? Shakespeare? John Kennedy? ... Wait a minute, was Mr. Kennedy here or hell?

Anyway, so many celebrities I wanna meet, how busy I'm gonna be!

The end.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Fan

I'm not sure how widely know this is but the term fan actually started out as short for fanatic, and when it comes to the Yankees I'm certainly that. Last year was the final year for the storied Yankee Stadium. It was only one of the three remaining pre World War II ballparks in America, the other two being in Boston and Chicago. But Yankee Stadium wasn't what it once was. A renovation in the 70's stripped out a lot of life and left much of the stadium looking bland and generic. But it was never the architecture that made me love Yankee Stadium it was the history. Seeing the ballplayers of today stand were Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantel stood was always what made it special. When I got back to the US me and my dad drove up to New York to see a game at the new stadium. Built right across the street from the old one. While the old one is scheduled for demolition, it will become a park, right now both stadiums are right next to each other. The new stadium may lack the history, former Yankee coach Joe Torrie had the great line that he wasn't worried about the spirits of Yankee Stadium the team had enough money to bus them over, the new stadium is beautiful. It looks sort of like a monument like one of the buildings along Constitution.

Inside it's just as nice with light colored stone replacing a lot of the ominous concrete of the last stadium. It's also much wider inside and the whole thing seems better designed to deal with the crowds. There are even funnily enough a group of workers there who stand around with signs asking if they can help you, certainly not what you expect to see in New York. The food is also much improved. It's still the amazing outrageous baseball prices, but to be far even the awful Nationals are charging near nine dollars a beer these days. New York law requires the calories be posted for all fast food and knowing that the nachos have 1500 calories doesn't exactly wet your appetite. The best food we found was actually sushi, and while sushi from a baseball park doesn't necessarily sound like a good idea it was made right in front of us and actually pretty good. The game was a lot of fun too as the Yankees have been playing really well all season. Back in China now that the playoffs are going on I've been getting up really early to listen to all the games online. The wired sleep schedule this has put me on is playing a little havoc with my mood but at least so far they've been winning. The games have been really great also with the last one lasting 5 hours and 13 innings. Unfortunately the next game starts at 4:15am my time, well at least the playoffs won't last forever.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Photo Credit

Well this is something more recent again but I just wanted to share it while it was fresh. When my parents came to visit we went to a city called Chengdu, I'll talk about it later on the blog, but while we were there my Dad did a little travel piece for the Journal and used one of my photos for it so I now have a photo credit, that's my name beside my photo, in the Wall Street Journal. The story is HERE and it's in the print paper as well, though I don't know the date. The picture is apparently in the print version too though in black and white.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Back in the USA!

I never seem to have good luck with getting through immigration and customs quickly I can't count the number of times I've been almost the last person from my flight to get through the check in stuff. I was wondering if they were going to ask me anything at customs since they ask on the forms how much in terms of gifts are you bringing into the country and that was almost my entire bag. Basically I just had gifts and about five changes of cloths. But it wasn't a problem in the end and I eventually got out into the airport. I flew into Dulles which can be annoyingly difficult to get back into the city from as the taxis are expensive and the public transportation sucks. One of my neighbors offered to pick me up and met me at the airport. We walked out to her car and I put my bag in the trunk. Immediately upon closing the trunk she realized that she had just put her keys in there and we were now both stuck at the airport. In the end we took a cab back into DC where she got her keys and than took another cab back out to get her car. I came back while my sister and parents were still in South Africa so I had the whole house to myself. The cat made herself quite scares as I, like everything else in the world, scared her.

Even though I was exhausted from the long flight the first thing I did was to get into the car and drive over to Bethesda for some bagels. Bagels are maybe one of the most regional foods I've ever known. Not only can you not find them internationally at all, it's actually pretty hard to find them outside a few parts of the the North East. Even in DC most of the bagels are pretty bad that's why I drove over to Bethesda Bagel which I know is good. I'll talk more next time about things that I noticed coming back to the US but the first one was definitly the roads. Besides being less crowded and crazy that China it was remarkable how much wider they are and how much bigger the cars are. In China street parking is basically unheard of so even in the US a two lane street is bigger than most four lane ones in China since the lanes tend to be a little wider in the US. Also people just drive so much more defensibly in the US plus you have the lack of crazy bicycle and moto traffic which account for a big chunk of all the stuff on the roads in China. Whatever the case it was nice to be back in the US with a bagel in my hand.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Short Stop in Japan

When I came over to China I used a company called STA to book the ticket. I've used STA in the past and while they haven't necessarily gotten me a ticket cheaper than what I could have gotten myself they do tend to be able to get as good a price on a better airline. That's how I ended up flying the Japanese airline ANA instead of one of the usual Delta or United types. ANA was a really nice airline. It was sort of like flying back before they took out everything even resembling an amenity. The food was pretty good, the stewardesses were helpful and pretty, they even gave everyone a cup of Häagen-Dazs for desert. Oddly though on the way back from China I had to stop in Japan for one day. Now it wasn't a problem as Japan doesn't require a Visa for people from the US but it was just weird. I was hoping when I heard this that I would be able to go into Tokyo. I was thinking that I could go into Tokyo and spend all night wandering around then just come back out the next morning for the plane. The problem with this was that by the time I got into Japan and cleared customs it was already getting late and there were limited trains in and out of the city. Japan isn't like most places in Asia the costs were high even for the first world and a taxi into Tokyo would cost more than a hundred dollars.

So with the trains how they were even if I didn't sleep I would only get three or four hours in Tokyo at a pretty high cost.I decided instead just to skip it and stay at the hotel they brought us to which was not far from the airport in an area with a small forest that ironically looked like a lot of stuff outside of Dulles. The hotel was nice, the toilet had so many buttons on it that I was afraid to use it least I get sucked in or some such thing. The hotel had a nice little restaurant also and while I'm sure the Japanese food there was good to me the most exotic thing on the menu was the turkey club which was good. Even though I didn't get to see Tokyo the stopover was nice because since I basically just woke up and went to the plane I wasn't really very tired for the flight which works out better for me since I can't sleep in planes anyways.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Please Don't Run Over Me

Well that brings me to the end of my first year in China. I can't really seem to decide if the time went slow or fast. It seems so soon for a whole year to be over but on the other hand all the things I did I don't know how I fit that much in. In the end I'm mostly just glad that I did come to China. I didn't have any idea at all what to expect before I came here and it's been such a wonderful experience. The people have all been so friendly and interesting there have been so many trips and things to do, and I may have the single best job in the world. I don't know why anyone would want to run away and join the circus. People need to run away and teach in China. I don't have much work I get along great with the students and they pay me a lot for where I am. I almost couldn't imagine being back in the US this whole time I've been able to go and do so many crazy and fun things that being back where things make sense just seems sort of boring. Around school my favorite things have all been about the students. Things like the Halloween party or any of the random things that go on around campus have all been so much fun. Even just teaching the classes and getting to know the students has been a blast. Traveling my favorite thing I think was just laying out on the beeches in Vietnam in the middle of the coldest part of the winter.

I mostly just love how odd things are here. There are just innumerable examples of things just being crazy. From walking around a stadium while people clapped to judging a speech competition that was entirely in Chinese it seems like every day things are just more and more strange. I'd also like to thank everyone who's been reading my blog. I know I'm not always regular but I love to hear all the comments and just to know people are sharing in what I'm doing and keeping tabs on me. It was a great year and this year has started off great as well. I can't recommend enough to anyone with a year or so to kill the fun of coming to China. I loved it, and despite some close calls, I still haven't been run over.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Just Like Milwaukee's Best

Before I came back one of the last things I did was to go on a brewery tour with Dave and Carrie. Apparently they do this every year in connection with some local newspaper and there was a reporter hanging around. The long and short of this all was that me and Dave got our pictures all over this local paper since the reporter mostly just hung around talking to us. Carrie acted as the translator most of the time. I'm not sure if any thing I said actually made it in the paper. I kept trying to compare the beer to Milwaukee's Best, aka The Beast, but I don't think that made it in. Snow, whose Changzhou brewery we went to, is now the most popular beer in the world despite it, A not tasting good, and B not being sold outside of China. The brewery tour itself was pretty boring and entirely in Chinese we went around and looked at a lot of vats which were apparently doing something. My main question was how could they rearrange all the vats and pipes to make the beer taste good. The best part of the tour was when they showed us the bottling place. It was about 100 degrees in there from steam cleaning the bottles and all the huge machines but it was really cool. Just seeing those huge machines whiz around putting tops and labels on everything was great. The amazing thing is that the rate at which the beer is being drunk has to match the amazing output of those machines and that's just from one brewery.

At the end of the tour was a tasting, which was interesting since I didn't know that snow made so many different types of beer, though honestly there wasn't too much difference between them. After that we had to sit through an annoying long video about the company before they finally started to play some drinking games. Most of these though were also pretty boring though there was a chugging contest that Dave won even though he threw up about ten seconds later about five steps short of the bathroom. The real fun came later when after sitting there for a while sort of regretting coming all the way out for this I decided that we needed to get the people together to play flip cup. Something else sort of boring was going on but I got up and just started to put out cups and call people over. I got a big crowd watching me than I had Carrie explain the game to them. For the uninitiated flip cup involves a line of people one at a time drinking a cup of beer and then having to flip it over. The flipping can take several tries so it takes longer for some people than others. The next person is only allowed to start drinking once the previous person is done and it forms a sort of race. We eventually corralled enough people into making two teams with me and Dave both playing. People understood the rules and the game was a lot of fun with Dave's team slightly winning. After the game we noticed a full but unattended cup on Dave's side of the table though so he may have had one less person. I got a great video of it and I'd like to note for the record that I got it on one flip.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Changzhou Fashion Week

I had heard rumors that there was a sort of fashion week around the school where the kids from the art school would show off some of the fashion stuff they’d done with a runway and a few of the students acting as models. In some ways I guess it makes sense Chinese girls could make perfect models. Super thin is there body goal already, they think exercise is a bad idea, and even though most are still fairly short with 1.3 billion people there are going to be enough tall people around for a show. I had heard about this all though so I wasn’t so surprised when one day passing the basketball courts I noticed a lot of commotion going on. There was a big stage set up with a runway right in the middle of where the courts usually where and a ton of students were standing around. The students had gotten up on stairs and exercise equipment and anything else they could find to get a better view at what was going on. Now there are actually a fairly large number of things that go on at the school from week to week but no one ever sees fit to tell us, and there isn’t exactly a calendar of events so I end up missing a lot of them if I don’t happen to stumble into the middle of it. But this time I was in the right place so I sent Dave and Ken some text messages and continued to watch.

They were playing music just like you’d expect from a real run fashion show and they even had a pair of hosts. The hosts, one girl and one boy, would come out and say something, I don’t know what exactly. Then the models would come out and walk around for a while before they started the whole thing over. There were about eight models so a few would be on stage at a time while the others would by changing in a tent they had erected in back of the stage. The other big commotion was that they were giving away bags filled with fashion accessories to all the girls who came by. With all the going on it was mobbed around the stage. I talked to one of Dave’s students who had a bag and took a picture of her with it. The really funny thing that you can see on the first video is that there are basketball games going on still during this all. Every once in a while you’d see a ball flying around in the background. I was just waiting for one of the models to get hit with a ball. I think the students doing the announcing were from the school but there was some debate as to if the models were. The whole thing seemed to be put on by a cosmetics or fashion company of some kind.

Toward the end they had all the models come out and then they had a bunch of boys from the crowd go up and give a flower to whichever one they liked the most. This was of course done just in case the whole thing wasn’t sexist enough to begin with, patriarchy doesn’t just happen you have to put some work into it. The other odd thing about that is of the two or three girls to get the most flowers, me Dave and Ken all though that the one with I think the most flowers wasn’t that pretty and mostly just looked like she was twelve. Some parts of attraction are genetic and immutable but clearly some stuff is cultural also since I just couldn’t see why so many of these Chinese guys thought this girl was pretty. On the other hand most of the girls who got a lot of flowers were the ones that I thought were better looking also. They also did a thing, it’s in the second video, where they had a bunch of the guys come up and try to walk along the runway. That wasn’t really as funny as it might sound though since most of the guys were too nervous to do much of anything. While fashion week in Changzhou may have only lasted about three hours I’m willing to call it a success.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What a Beard

Well some people were wondering just how big my beard got so here's the final picture taken at home not long before I cut it off. I started growing it just to mess with the students and I think I can say mission accomplished. Just to fill people in on what I'm going to be covering on this blog in the next few weeks since while the semester has started here I'm still way, way, behind. First I have about 4-5 more posts for stuff from the end of last semester. Than I've got one or two about being home and a number on my road trip down to New Orleans. After that I have some on my trip in China when I got back. After all of that I'll do stuff from this semester which means with any luck I'll be caught up by Christmas.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chinese Graduation

At the end of last semester the senior students, including friends of mine like Carrie and Qin Chen, graduated from the school. I didn't go to the ceremony, actually I don't know exactly when it was but besides the fact that the school never tells me these things I think I was in Korea at the time. From what I hear the ceremony was pretty short only one person from each school comes up to receive a diploma, symbolizing all the rest. For a place where celebrations are so big and where graduating from college is still a pretty new thing, a good number of our students are the first person in their family to go to college, it's pretty interesting that graduation isn't really a big deal. Parent's don't really come down for it or anything. In fact student's don't even really dress up. The whole cap and gown thing is only done in these little rentals where people dress up for about five minutes take some pictures and then give them back. Literally the whole school might be wearing the same cap and gown in their pictures. In China they always seem to go for appearances even when the reality is lacking. It's OK that they didn't really walk down in cap and gown because there picture shows they did. Some couples even go for the big fancy wedding pictures when they just go for a quick marriage at the court house.

The students also have a graduation banquet which I'm told was pretty fun, I'm actually sad that I missed that one since I only arrived back just after it was finished. Banquets can be the most important part of some traditions in China, a wedding for example is pretty much just a big banquet. The students though had to pay for the banquet themselves. Since I didn't get to go to any of this stuff and since I wanted to congratulate my friends who were graduating I asked Carrie to invite some of her friends and me and the other foreign teachers would take them out to dinner. We went to this nice Thai place which while being good was not really that expensive. The funny thing they did at this restaurant was that from time to time a few people would come around singing songs at different tables. I didn't know all of the songs but some, like the one they sang at our table, were quite familiar. I got this great video of some of the people dancing with them. From left to right in the video you can see Carrie, Zhao Min, and Amy dancing. Qin Chen is sitting at the table. Not on camera were me, Dave, Ken and Peter, who now teaches here.