A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Istanbul: Hardly "Nobody's Business but the Turks"

Arriving at the uber-modern Ataturk airport in Istanbul last night, any preconceptions I had about the place were shattered.

I suppose that I didn't really know what to expect. Probably something along the lines of Marrakesh or Casablanca (though Istanbul is significantly bigger than either), but my visit to Delhi (with the international airport shielded by a corrugated tin roof!) has taught me not to set my expectations too high.

If anything, upon arriving I felt a strange mixture of China (with recently developed infrastructure such as the lovely airport and the light rail train that I took into the centre of the city) and France, of which the old town (Constantinople proper) is highly reminiscent. Really, Istanbul feels like it could just be any other city in Europe with ubiquitous mosques substituting for churches. Perhaps the Ikea adverts add to this ambiance.

In any case, I spent most of yesterday and today exploring. Last night, after finding a place to stay the night, I wandered down to the Galata bridge to see the sea. I have never in my life seen such a bridge though, with restaurants tucked neatly underneath,presumably floating or somehow attached to the undergirdings of the bridge. I was fascinated, so decided to eat there.

I found a place playing almost haunting (but very enjoyable!) live music, and sat outside to enjoy the view despite the chill. I supped on a rather plain (and worryingly chewy) steak baguette chased down with a beer as I was transported by the music and the scenery. Occasionally, one of the fisherpeople (who were fishing from on top of the bridge, so their lines basically went down into the water right in front of me) would haul up their catch: fish the size of an adult finger. Seemed to me a rather fruitless (or at least highly labour intensive!) task for a Saturday night, but they didn't seem to mind and the fish were plentiful if small.

Today I made it to the Hagia Sofia church/mosque/museum and saw the underground cistern. Tomorrow we'll try crossing the bridge and making a triumphant return to Asia before I head off to Cairo! Three continents in one day wouldn't be too bad for a day's non-work, would it?

Now let's see if I can get out of here before the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, returns from the US and decides it's time to invade Iraq... Last night as I was wandering around Istanbul I stumbled across a rail yard and saw lines of army trucks sitting as cargo on a train. Don't know where it was headed for sure, but it doesn't take much of an imagination to guess!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Recent Discoveries

A few recent discoveries that have helped me through the week:

  1. Vodafone’s new mobile Internet devices. These snappy USB modems plug right in to give you Internet on your computer whenever, wherever. With speeds up to 7.2mbs (as fast as you can realistically get broadband over a landline in London) and sans the hassle of BT and Orange’s ineptitude, I don’t see what’s stopping people (with perhaps the exception of the somewhat small 3GB monthly fair usage policy…). Of course, I just lost my last post, so maybe I speak a bit too soon.

  2. Robert DeNiro’s character in Stardust. It basically makes the movie. See it if you’re up for a good laugh, and remember, it’s all about reputation.

  3. Yahoo Pipes. A colleague turned me on to this AMAZING service by Yahoo that can help you manipulate incoming RSS feeds to produce your own bespoke feeds. See for example my friends feed that compiles the feeds from all my friends’ blogs and sorts them by most recent post to keep me up-to-date with their news.

  4. Coffee-rubbed salmon. Tonight I decided to take inspiration from a recipe I had seen for a coffee rub for chicken breasts. I added about 2 tablespoons of freshly ground Peet’s coffee (yes I have it imported), ½ teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon of garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon of herbs de provence, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. I rubbed it over two fillets of salmon and grilled in the oven for about 20 minutes. Divine!

  5. MiKA. You might recognise their songs from various Ugly Betty promotions (including the Season 2 promo with "Big Girl You Are Beautiful"), but they're so much more. I downloaded Life in Cartoon Motion last week and haven't been able to turn it off. I actually think it's becoming a problem.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

I Heart Ulrich Beck

Ever since I first started reading "Cosmopolitan Vision" by Ulrich Beck, I knew I was obsessed. His view of the world is so enlightened, informed, grounded, and generally positive. His public lecture at the LSE sealed the deal.

Which is why I thought I should give his book 'What is Globalization?' a look for my dissertation that has to do with globalization.

I saw this quote, which he gives tongue in cheek, in his introduction, and I couldn't help but smile:

"Businessmen [sic] have discovered the road to riches. The new magic formula is: capitalism without work plus capitalism without taxes" (5).

He then goes on to elaborate on how globalization is allowing big businesses to be incorporated somewhere with low corporate taxes, employ people where pay is lowest, and yet still receive government benefits in their socially responsible countries in which they reside. A situation where ironically "the very losers of globalization will in future have to pay for everything--from the welfare state to a functioning democracy--while the winners of globalization post dream profits and steal away from their responsibility for future democracy" (6).

Ok, so that's less funny, but the man isn't afraid to call it as he sees it!


Friday, June 22, 2007

Paris or Bust

I don't think I've ever been more exhausted. I spent Monday-Wednesday moving flats and then was up again early the next day for a train to Paris. It's been worth it, and I'm recovering well, but I really don't remember being so physically exhausted in ages! Maybe I'm just getting old...

The really exciting news is that I moved to a great new place in London just one neighbourhood over in Vauxhall. For those of you who don't know London, it's actually only 2 bridges south of parliament on the other side of the river, so really a great location. And the flat is beautiful. It's in an old Victorian apartment building on the top floor with original wooden floors, a huge kitchen, and a view of a park on one side and Victorian chimneys on the other. It's much too expensive, but I don't think I could be more excited...which is good, because I think I'm done moving.

Naively, I thought that I would be able move everything in two trips of two large suitcases and a backpack. It, of course, ended up taking double that. Because it was a close move, I decided to move by actually walking my bags between the flats--what is normally at 10-15-minute walk became 30 minutes at best. And the looks, my god the looks. At least it only started raining on my second to last trip just after I had arrived at my new place. Of course, once there I had to lug everything up four flights of stairs to the top floor. I guess it's better than when I lived in a seventh-floor walk-up in China, but at least then I could pay people to help me move!

All this was on top of cleaning at my old place (which, it turns out, it desperately needed). Under the close guidance of one of my old flatmates we got it spick and span for inspection though. If I never have to clean an oven again in my life, it will be too soon. :o)

And if I didn't have enough to do settling in, I decided to take advantage of the fact that a friend is in Paris for the next couple of days to go and visit. That meant a 5:20AM departure on the Eurostar and the ensuing sleep deprivation.

But it's been worth it really. Yesterday was the Fête de la Musique in downtown Paris, and there were performers of all sorts in every square and on every corner. It was like one giant block party and was really enjoyable. I even stopped to watch some capoeira which made me realise how much I missed participating! Now I'm going to have to find a new club in London, assuming my foot gets better.

Today it was crepes and the Musée D'Orsay (I had never been before! It's a great museum that certainly is worth a stop on any visit to Paris!!) and the monument that was constructed in honour of the deportation of the French Jews during WWII. It's a discrete stone structure that sits on the Isle de la Cité just behind Notre Dame de Paris and is also worth a quick look. The architecture is imposing and the quotes carved on the wall moving.

If all goes well, tomorrow it's off to Giverny, Monet's gardens, which I think is appropriate since we just saw some of the water lily paintings at the Musée D'Orsay today. Then it's back to London on Sunday.

All in all, a busy week. It's been well worth it, but I'm actually quite looking forward to just settling back into a normal rhythm back in London. That and sleeeeeeep!

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Much Needed Breath of Fresh Air

Well, I’ve been a bad blog updater of late, but what’s new, right? It probably has had something to do with the season, my work, and my foul mood, but times, they are a changing! Spring is in the air, and things are looking up.

I just got back from a week-long visit to the US where I returned to my alma mater, Whitman College, to help with a training program for the future Whitties that are going to China on the same program that I did. It was great to see everybody, especially since it was a couple of old school friends that will be going to Kunming where I was.

But more importantly, Walla Walla was a much needed breath of fresh air for me on several counts. I’m sure most of the people in Walla Walla got tired of me going on and on about this, but I couldn’t get over how fresh the air there is!!!! Descending into Walla Walla, the lights seemed brighter than usual (apparently there have been a few expansions at the state penitentiary), but it could have to do with the mist/rain that we were coming down into. The second I stepped off the plane though, I couldn’t get over how beautiful and clean the air smelled. After living in China, I just got used to the pollution. San Jose and London might be better than Kunming, which is probably why I hadn’t noticed how polluted it was until now, but nothing compares to good ole' Walla Walla!

More than the literal fresh air, though, the US was good for me in that it helped get me excited about life again. I think London has just been slowly but surely wearing me down, and I’m sure the fact that I can’t walk anywhere STILL because of my foot is part of the problem. I also think that it has a lot to do with the school, which doesn’t inspire creativity or exploration like Whitman. Back in the US, people seemed excited about life! I missed that feeling most of all, but I’ve gotten it back and am looking forward to taking on London in that new light.

Plus, I have a string of visitors starting tomorrow, so it should be a good change of pace here.

Also, if you’re looking for some inspiration, I’d highly recommend checking out the TED talks website to see what the movers and shakers are doing in this world!


Sunday, February 25, 2007


I went and saw Babel (the British have had too much influence on me, I keep calling it bay-bul in my head instead of baa-bul like it should be) tonight after much waiting. I’ve been desperate to see it since it first came out in London during the London Film Festival in October or November but hadn’t had the chance until now. I enjoyed it so very much, though it left me in a mood.

One of the main criticisms I’ve heard of the movie was that the apparently disparate stories that it tries to weave together into one overarching tale had tenuous links at best. And while I agree that the stories could have happened unrelated to each other, it made me appreciate the connections even more. That’s what our globalizing world is all about after all, innit? The small ways in which we are inextricably linked to each other.

I also thought that it made an important point about how people (in this case the Americans were the evil perpetuators, though they are not alone in this I assure you) approach the Other and how that affects those relationships at a fundamental level. ‘We did something wrong because they think we did something wrong’, explained one of the main characters, for example.

Which was possibly why the guy next to me made me so angry. I’m not sure where he’s ‘from’, but he was speaking a mixture of Spanish and English throughout the film. And as if the fact that he was talking throughout the film wasn’t annoying enough, when it came to a part where an older gentleman in the film was freaking out about all the ‘terrorists’ in a Moroccan village, the guy turned to his girlfriend (or whatever), whose hand he kept slurpily kissing throughout the film, and said something like, ‘oh those stupid Americans, they’re always like that, worried about terrorists’. Which I suppose was more or less what I was thinking too, but I was frustrated a) with the fact that he didn’t recognize that he had an American sitting right next to him in the theatre (I was decked out in jeans and a Yale hoodie and everything), but more importantly b) that the guy in the film to whom he was referring had a markedly British accent. I just fumed, thinking, ‘fine, generalize about Americans, but at least do it based on actual Americans, not characters in movies, and especially not British ones!’

The story of the ‘lead’ Japanese character probably attracted me most, and I particularly enjoyed the cuts between her perspective that had no sound and the raucous club around her. And the end really tied it up for me, though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. You’ll just have to go see it to know what I’m talking about.

I know I don’t usually do film reviews here on my blog, but all in all, I would highly recommend this one, and thanks for indulging me this once.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Blogging Backlog

Oh my my my, I've been a bad blogger these past couple of weeks. I suppose it's partly because I've recently gained two new outlets for my world wide webbing pleasure: Facebook, and an online discussion forum for one of my classes.

Facebook is simply one of my new sins, and I'm probably on it much too much. I can update my 'current status', which is a great way to share little thoughts without bothering the blogosphere. I can share random music videos of some of my favorite artists from around the world so that everybody can share in the fun, and I can do all this while keeping tabs on what other people are up to. How fun is that?! So, if you're on Facebook and you haven't already, you should friend me!

As for all of my global frustrations, I'm taking them out on the online discussion forum for my Media and Globalisation class. I'm sure they don't really appreciate my rants either, and I noticed that as one person in a class of at least 50, I had about 10% of the content posts on the forum, so I've decided to try to curtail that for a while. We'll see how long I last.

But in the honour of the good ole' blog, I thought I'd share some randomness with all you non-Facebook folk.

First, I must mention this article that I just saw on the IHT. Apparently Harvard researchers have linked an afternoon nap to lower risk of heart disease. I think I'm going to have to move back to Kunming so I can take me a siesta every lunch, it makes so much more sense than the American system!!

Though speaking of heart disease, I did finally get up the nerve to register with the National Health Service (NHS, the nationalised healthcare system over here in Britain) yesterday. Yes, I made an appointment last week to register (that's how bureaucratic the system is), and finally had an appointment after months of a terribly hurting foot. I went in, and they told me I had excellent blood pressure, and that I had Morton's neuroma on my foot. In other words, my nerve has been pinched between two bones at the joint that connects my middle toe to the rest of my foot. This has caused the nerve ending to become irritated and inflamed, and thus painful. The solution in the US is a simple surgery to cut out the nerve ending, but the doctor here suggested that by the time I got done with all my paperwork etc., that the swelling would probably go down. The doctor instead suggested I try new shoes with an air cushion and not walk as much. Thank you doc, that's very helpful.

And in other health related news, I've now gone 8 days since last ingesting or in any way consuming a chocolate digestive biscuit (cookie). I knew I had a problem when I realised I was spending roughly US$20 a week on the biscuits. More than a week, it's a step in the right direction, innit!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Purge Anyone?

*Disclaimer: Please note, the following post is not for the faint of heart. If bodily functions gross you out, stop reading now.*

Ok, so every morning at 6:30AM sharp, my upstairs neighbor, um, purges. Vomits, pukes, spews, throws up: call it what you will, it's grosses me out a little each time. It's fairly loud, so even though it is usually finished within a minute, it creates a lasting impression. I was hearing it last week every so often because my schedule was a complete mess--I was busy writing 15,000 words worth of papers to turn in (which I did last Friday. Yay, freedom!). Today however, it was just loud enough that it actually woke me up. Some alarm clock, ay?

My question is, why does s/he do this? I was discussing it with friends the other night, and the first guess was morning sickness. This is a good possibility, especially since I was hearing a screaming baby at about 8 or 8:30 several mornings after I heard the 'purging'. Perhaps, then, a second one is on the way? But why 6:30 exactly then? Is it just because that's right after she gets up every morning?

The next guess is that this person is bulimic. But, I wonder about this one because: a) they've just gotten up, so what has s/he eaten by 6:30AM to throw up? b) I only hear it once every morning at 6:30AM. Certainly, if this person were bulimic, s/he would be throwing up several times throughout the day.

And the final guess was that it was a chronic binge drinker who was just coming home for the night. I doubt this one strongly because s/he purges at 6:30AM almost on the dot every morning. Drunks don't follow schedules to a T.

And so it seems to me that it is part of this person's daily ritual. Right after s/he wakes up, s/he clears him/herself of any remaining food to start the day afresh. It therefore seems to me that this might be more of a cultural thing. My question, then to anybody who's reading this is: have you ever heard of or experienced a culture that this is part of the daily routine? I've been asking around, and so far people don't know, so I thought I'd throw the question to a wider audience. Personally, I vaguely remember one of the characters in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (if I remember his name correctly), an excellent book set in India, doing so, so perhaps it's some regional/ethnic tradition in India?

I probably won't ever know the real answer, but trying to figure out why this person purges at 6:30 every morning is driving me crazy! Any help?

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Christmas, etc.

It’s all in the details they say, and it seems to hold for Christmas in England as compared with the States. Taking a general picture, they’re very similar—they’re both out to ostensibly celebrate the birth of Jesus but have actually turned into gift orgies, families are at the center, and there are lots of movies on the tele.

But like I said, it’s all in the details. In England, the potatoes tend to be roasted, not mashed; brussel sprouts take center stage in the Christmas dinner (and there is much debate as to whether or not to criss-cross the bottoms of the sprouts before cooking. No cross = crisp center but will offer little protection from vampires if such an eventuality were to arise); ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ has a different tune (not to mention that they pronounce it Beth-lee-hem and not Beth-le-hem); and ribbon to tie up presents is surprisingly scarce (though apparently I was just looking in the wrong places. I was told to try a haberdashery instead of my local supermarket).

Differences or not, I did very much enjoy my Christmas and Boxing Day which I spent this year with a British friend who I knew from China and her family.

On the 23rd, we “got the religious stuff out of the way” so we could have a clear conscience for all the drinking that was about to ensue. We did so by going to THE Canterbury Cathedral (yes, of Chaucerian fame) for the carol service. It was quite spectacular, and the building itself is awe-inspiring. My friend’s dad pointed out that it was nice to actually see the church in use instead of just touring the building, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

Then, for Christmas Eve, we trekked over to Leeds Castle where my friend is going to get married as soon as she finds a rich husband with whom to do so. Again, a lovely experience that involved a magnificent library that left me drooling (and angry with a couple of Chinese tourists who were actually taking down the books and posing with them for pictures. If I only knew how to say ‘greasy paws’ in Chinese, I might have said something), a trip through the estate maze and grotto, and a watching such interesting birds as an English Eagle Owl and some black swans.

Christmas Day rolled around, and my friend and her dad headed up to London to pick up her sister while I stayed behind with her mom and another friend to finish the Christmas meal. When they came back it was presents, presents, presents then onto drinking and the meal. They had the British-style crackers that contained scratch cards inside (I even won £10!), and whistles for all so that we could play Christmas carols. It was all good fun, and we even sat around the piano and sang a few just for good measure.

We also, of course, celebrated Boxing Day (no I still don’t know what that is), whereby we went to Knole Estate (another of Henry VII’s haunts with Leeds Castle) for a walk around the park. We got sufficiently muddy and saw the most adorable Bambi bounding around the park. Then it was home to fall asleep in front of “Bed Knobs and Broomsticks,” before another dinner with more relatives. We got on the subject of the veil, and we went at it, which is all good fun. Leave it to me or my friends to actually have opinions! Or maybe it was the wine…

Happy holidays to you, my faithful(?) readers. And best wishes in the new year!!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Best Laid Plans

Arriving in Essaouira (as-suira, or 'the well drawn/designed') one can't help but feel the presence of antiquity. That's not to say it's not a modern town--indeed, the beach is lit at night with acerbic floodlights that flicker in the harsh sea wind. But standing on the flushed white ramparts that encircle the medina watching the waves crash up against the rocks, one gets the impression that it's a city past its prime. Rising from the sea-mist it sits regally, like a queen who has lost her kingdom but retains her dignity.

And so it is a welcome change from England, or even St. Malo, France, of which it is vaguely reminiscent. In the medina, motorized vehicles are not allowed, making it a real breath of fresh air. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, and in that sense could just as easily be Lijiang or Luang Prabang, but I'm here during the winter, at the nadir or tourist season, and so it's doable. The beach is mostly empty with the exception of small groups of boys playing football.

But it's the history that's interesting here. Essaouira is situated just on the NW coast of Africa (see map above) facing out to the Atlantic ocean and the Canary Islands. There are small islands just off the coast (just like St. Malo), but the port is more like Marseille, with an island housing not the famous Chateau D'If (of The Count of Monte Christo fame) but a prison just the same. Ironically though, the prison sits next to a mosque, whose minaret stands proud as a monument to ancient Arabic expansion into the west through North Africa.

These islands are known as the "Iles Purpres," or the Purple Islands, and it's here that we can begin to see the links to antiquity. During the time of Caesar, it was on these isles that the mollusks used to make the purple dye for the royal robes were collected. But the "height" of Essouira came much later, as an important port along the slave trade.

And walking along the port, now used to support a fairly minor fishing economy, I couldn't help but think about the trade that used to take place here. And suddenly the ramparts became opressive.

But beyond its history, Essaouira is a beautiful city. Today, as I was walking down the beach, a man approached me with the idea of taking a horse over to "Jimi Hendrix's Castle" (note, Jimi Hendrix, and many other hippies, stationed out here in Essaouira during the 70s apparently). I thought, why not, and we were off with me riding Che Guevara (what a name for a horse!).

We did go over to the little village of Diabat, after fording a river whose stone bridge had collapsed long ago. After a ride through the brush, we came upon Hendrix's "chateau," again, long since in disrepair. The best part was trotting over to the dunes and then over to the beach, where we set out in a full gallop through the shallows. I felt like I was either in Hidalgo, with the sea appearing from behind the dunes, or some Bond film, racing down the beach on a horse. In any case, it was the best experience I've had all trip, and is one I'd recommend highly.

If you have the time, Ranch Mogador even does 6-day horse treks from Essaouira to Agadir, following the coast. It's something I'll definitely have to keep in mind for next time, as riding horses is soooo much nicer than riding camels!

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Soyez le bienvenue

First, my apologies if there are a lot of mistakes in this post. I'm trying to be careful with my typing, but I'm using a Moroccan keyboard whose Roman character input is in the French-AZERTY style. Of course, this is made more difficult by the fact that most of the keys are so well used that I can't read the letters, so I'm trying to use AZERTY from memory, and that's just a touch difficult.

But at least I'm here in Marrakech, just meters from the central square, Djemma al-fenah listening to the afternoon prayers. I was looking at flights several months ago (which is how I ended up in France) and thought to myself: 'at the end of term, I'm going to want to escape from London's cold grey skies to some place vaguely warm and sunny.' And so, Morocco!

The funny thing is though, that it's actually warmer in London at the moment. That's not to say that it wasn't damn cold last night when I left (I spent forever waiting for a bus in 35 degree Farenheit weather...grrr), it's just not that much warmer here, and to top it off, it's raining en plus! It's supposed to clear up (and warm up!) by Tuesday, but it still makes me sad, especially since I don't have indoor heating.

But despite all this, I'm really enjoying myself already. I've been taking Arabic classes at the LSE this term, and upon arrival here in al-Maghreb (Morocco) have had a sense of instant gratification. Now, all we've spent the first six weeks doing is learning the Arabic alphabet, but it's so refreshing to study a language with an alphabet again! I'm just going around Marrakech like a little child sounding out letter by letter the words. But it works, and I could read 'Marrakech Menera Airport' in Arabic when I arrived. It's so different than in Chinese where even if I can understand what the word means, I might not be able to pronounce it unless I've memorized how to do so. Now my problem is that I can read some words, but I have absolutely no clue what they actually mean. Details, right? I also don't know how to say anything in Arabic yet, with the exception of "Peace be upon you," so that's a little less than helpful when trying to get around. Next time, next time!

And in a truly bizarre, small world moment, I was walking down the street here, when all of a sudden I heard: "Jeff! Is that you?" Travelling by myself, I was a little taken aback. And then I recognized her--it was a fellow Whittie named Molly who is just returning to the US from Senegal after her two-year Peace Corps stint there. Apparently with Air Maroc you can stay over in Casablanca for up to a month when flying between Dakar and JFK, so she thought she'd take advantage of that fact to explore a new country. She's even already started to catch me up on all the gossip about the other Whitties and people I know from my study abroad program in Nantes, France who were doing Peace Corps in Western, Sub-Saharan Africa. After just having met another friend, Mags, who was passing through London last Wednesday, I can't help but think that us Whitties are everywhere!

Now to see if I can't find a hammam (bath house) to go warm up and get a massage in...

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Two Years and Counting

I just got confirmation that my subscription to knezzy.com has been renewed, which means that knezzy.com is officially two years old! Hard to imagine no?

In honor of this momentous occasion I thought I’d try to give FunFacts for wHeNeVeR a bit of a facelift. It all started with a migration to Blogger beta a couple of weeks ago, which has been a persnickety transition at best. My posts aren’t always posting properly, and I still can’t use all the new features with my blog for whatever reason, but we’re managing (I think).

But it has allowed me to start putting labels on my blog posts, and in honor of the 2nd year, I’ve created a Top 10 label so that I could share some of my favorite posts from the last two years. I also created a Favorites label, which is, ahem, slightly, ahem, more inclusive.

In addition, I decided to go back and retrieve some of my blog posts from the pre-knezzy era and have recently posted them as well. The archives from July-November 2004 contain all those posts, mostly from Taiwan.

We’ve also got an IHT news feed in the sidebar, so you’ll never be too out of the loop again…or so I hope. :o)

As soon as Blogger Beta starts functioning properly, you’ll see even more changes. But until then, enjoy!

Also, I’ve added a few photos up on Fun Fotos for whenever. Check ‘em out!


Friday, November 24, 2006

Sexy Goodness

Beyond being thankful for all my friends, family, and that the turkey came out well, I had one more thing to be thankful for yesterday: my new MacBook finally arrived! I couldn't have been more excited as I had been waiting ages for it to arrive. I ordered it on the 6th of November, just before Apple came out with a new MacBook, and being the kind people that they are, they replaced my order of their suddenly out-of-date computer with their new model. I would have been angry otherwise, but it did mean a horrible delay however when it came time to finally getting my computer. I mean, three weeks, what'd they do, put it on the slow boat from Malaysia (or wherever they manufacture)?!

But now it's here, and it's sooooooo sexy. I love it, love it, love it. It's sleek, compact, has a built-in video camera (with which you can play photo booth, my roommates and I quickly discovered), and the battery lasts like three hours.

Now I need to come up with a good name for it. Usually my computers have male names, but perhaps this one should break that trend? We've had such fun names before as Balthasar and Micarême, but now what? Both of those names were reminiscent of French, as that was the language I was involved with at that time. But now we're getting into Arabic, so I think I should try an Arabic name.

And yet, I can't decide on one so let's try a new fangled approach to this process: an online poll! I've selected ten names and given you their meanings below (Note: the first six are feminine names, the last four are masculine). You have till December 1st to place your vote.

What should I name my computer?
Qubilah - Concord
Habibah - Beloved, sweetheart, darling
Salihah - Correct, agreeable
Mayyadah - To walk with a proud, swinging gait
Khalidah - Immortal
Faridah - Unique, matchless, precious pearl or gem
Irfan - Thankfulness
Shakir - Thankful
Karif - Born in Autumn
Karim - Generous, noble, friendly, precious and distinguished

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Friday, October 20, 2006


It's currently 3:15PM on Friday the 20th of October, and I'm sitting in the park in front of my flat enjoying the BEAUTIFUL weather. I didn't expect to be here now!

You see, my first paper of the school year was due today at 4. And those of you who know me know how I like to push things to the deadline. I was fully expecting to be sitting in the library right now, frantically trying to come up with something to say. I'm happy to report that it was handed in just after noon today though. It's a miracle! I suppose, to be fair, it was only a 1500 word book review--not the most complex paper I've ever written in my life.

The novelty of London, of new places and people, is starting to wear off as the reality of the school year is starting to kick in. I've somehow managed to get really busy, but I'm not so sure when that happened (which is why there have been fewer posts of late). I think it's the reading. The British system is feeling as hands off as the French or Chinese system (though at least we have dedicated seminars here), and I've been finding myself asking why I'm paying so much to simply get told what to go read on my own.

And yet, I've been fairly engrossed. The one really nice feature of our program is that it's very flexible, and so I can focus on things that interest me. They're not offering the class on the Consumer Society this year, which was THE course I came here to take, so I've decided to focus more on globalisation (yes, that's an 's') and the media. Being in London, I find myself everyday confronted with the realities of an "intensification" of international relations. London is a global city, and that's why I love it. Ironically, I'm beginning to think that I should stop learning other languages though. It's so boring understanding the banalities of conversation that seem otherwise exciting when you have no idea what the people are talking about. Maybe I just miss China and having to try to actually think to figure out what was being said to me. It was an everyday challenge...though I suppose I only understand people here half the time as it is, and that's when talking to the native English speakers.

Overall, I have a very mixed view of the LSE at the moment. I'm very impressed with some of my teachers, and find others very lackluster. The newish library pales in comparison to Whitman's Penrose Library. Penrose was so warm and inviting: comfy couches surrounding a fireplace. The LSE library is so very institutional, so cold. The library is designed as a functional space, but to me, the approach to books should be as friends, not as tools. Indeed, all of the facilities at the LSE seem to be quite institutional. As they are right in the heart of London, the LSE is understandably facing a space crunch, but couldn't they add a few padded reading chairs in the hallway? I've learned to take refuge at a cafeteria on the fourth floor that has outdoor seating on top of one of the buildings. Of course, if it's spitting out, I'm screwed.

In addition to reading, I've been slowly progressing down the path of becoming a chocolate-making workshop instructor. I teach my first class next week. If you're interested in finding out more about the company, you can check out their website at MyChocolate.co.uk. And for those of you worried that you missed out on all my fine chocolate-making abilities, don't worry, you didn't. I've started learning the basics now, but the job is more about teaching, about making chocolate entertaining, and that I can do. Plus I get to eat yummy, yummy fudge. Thank god I walk an hour each way to work, otherwise I'm sure I'd be putting on the pounds!

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Video of New Flat

My last post for today, I promise. Having just posted another YouTube film, I thought I'd go all high tech and post a video tour of my new flat in London. Mind you, it's nothing special (neither the flat nor the video), and I sound like a complete arse, but at least it gives you an idea of where I am now...since I'm sure you cared. Notice the desk in the closet. That's my personal favorite...

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Disaster in the Kitchen

Why is it that some of life’s lessons can only be learned the hard way?

No matter how many times I’ve heard the advice “don’t try to serve something you’ve never made before to important guests,” it really takes a disaster to let that message sink in. Stupid malai kofta.

To inaugurate my new London flat, I decided to have a few friends over for dinner yesterday evening. After several calls and several people undecided, I opted for an Indian dinner that would be flexible on how many it could serve. I had paneer (a simple, plain, white Indian cheese used in most of their vegetarian dishes), so I decided on palak (spinach) paneer as one dish. I had potatoes, so malai (cream) kofta (potatoes) seemed an obvious choice too. I even had a tikka masala (a red tomato curry) sauce in my fridge ready to go for a spicy chicken tikka masala. Then, all that was left was a nice biriyani rice (think pilaf) and some naan to round out the meal. Well, and a vegan chocolate/orange cake for dessert of course.

Simple enough, right?

I started with the vegan chocolate cake, and for the first time in a while it came out really well, but that’s what you get with a real oven instead of trying to improvise with a toaster oven. And the palak paneer even came out alright (although I had a terrifying moment when I dumped more than a tablespoon of cumin seeds in the pan by accident at the outset), and the chicken tikka masala was a cinch thanks to the pre-made sauce. My water to rice ratio wasn’t quite right for the biriyani, and it came out a bit mushy, but certainly still edible.

And then came the malai kofta. The dish sounded complex, but still doable. Basically, the recipe is: boil some potatoes, mash them, make them into little balls, stuff something in the center (I chose dried cranberries and cashews for a spin on Kashmiri malai kofta which calls for raisins), deep fry them, and cover them in a creamy sauce.

I made my preparations meticulously. While the potatoes were boiling away, I finely chopped my onion, counted out five black pepper corns, two kernels of green cardamom, two cloves, made a cashew powder and prepared cashews and cranberries for stuffing. After a quick skin and a mash, I started forming the mix into balls and stuffing them with cranberries and cashews.

Just as I had finished that step, guests started arriving; in the end, we were seven in all.

My problem came with the next step: deep frying. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever in my entire life seen my mom deep fry anything. It just wasn’t and isn’t something done in my household, ever. And with the exception of the South where fried pickles seem to be the norm, most American households are probably in a similar situation. Deep frying is the ugly duckling of cooking methods in the US. It is shunned to the nth degree. When talking about it, one practically must turn three times, throw salt over the shoulder, say ten Hail Maries and spit twice just to cleanse the soul. Fair or not, deep frying is perceived as bad as eating a clod of butter.

In China, however, it’s just considered another way to cook things, and so I saw it done on several occasions while I was there. I even tried it by myself a couple of times, both in China and before when I was cooking at Casablanca (the house I lived in my senior year at Whitman), but I had never been super-josu (skilled) at it.

Well, just as all my guests were arriving, I made a fatal mistake: I took all of my carefully prepared potato balls, and I put them all in the gurgling oil at the same time. Instead of turning into golden brown, crispy delicacies, they just disintegrated, turning into a greasy potato, cashew, and cranberry mush. :o( By adding too many at the same time, the oil cooled down too much to be able to fry effectively, and as it was heating back up, the potato balls just mushed into each other. The result was that I was out a dish, and a vegetarian dish at that (which was important as almost half the people coming were of the vegetarian ilk).

Frustrated, I turned to the naan. I have made naan before, and I have made chappati (an even flatter bread than naan) before, but not this particular recipe which came from a cooking class I took with my friend Chesa in Udaipur. I added the flour and an egg, then some water. The recipe called for three cups…by which it must have meant little tiny Indian cups, because I added two, thinking it was more than enough and my batter was still runny. I added flour, and added flour, and added flour until it started to become malleable but then I realized that I didn’t even have a rolling pin and I just gave up.

What a disappointment it all was! It is nearly impossible to have every exploit in the kitchen work out perfectly, and I know I’ve had my share of complete screw ups—the sheer mention of the words “lentil loaf” to any of the former Casa crew will most certainly elicit a round of uproarious laughter. But that was basically in front of family, not at a special event with new friends.

I guess all that I can say at this point is lesson learned. On Saturday both of my new flatmates officially move in and I think they’re expecting me to cook dinner for them (I told them I enjoy cooking and they latched onto that right away). I think spaghetti sounds like a good plan.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

London: Center of the World

In my experience, Londoners often ask me why I chose to come here. "Simple," I tell them, "because London is the center of the world." They always laugh and think I'm a bit off for thinking such things, but each day I become more convinced.

Take something as basic as airfare. To fly from Denver to Istanbul, Turkey would be horribly expensive. In fact, I doubt there are any direct flights. From London, 30 pounds return. Not bad, ay? And it's the same for other places around Europe, Africa, the middle East, Asia, and even America. Australia is in a price category of its own, but that's always been the case.

But that's just the beginning. I love walking down the street and hearing language upon language. They say there are over 200 languages spoken in London, and just in my experience, I have heard: English (British), English (American), French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, Hindi, Cantonese, Mandarin, Polish, Italian, German, Dutch, some Scandinavian language, and several other unidentifiable languages. It really seems more diverse than even San Francisco, which just seemed such the height of diversity this summer.

Then there are the infinite opportunities. I've been here just a little over one week now, and so far, I've gone out three times to very different bars and pubs, have seen two wonderful movies, Volver (Almodovar's latest, which is getting great reviews from the critics, but I found predictable, and not as over the top as I would expect of his films), and This Film Has Not Been Rated (a movie about the MPAA's film rating system. The mother of the friend I'm staying with now works for the British equivalent, the BBFC, and so we've had quite interesting discussions about rating films and how it changes with time.), have gone to two museums (the Victoria and Albert for their recent Islamic Art Exhibition, and the Tate Modern for its Kandinsky Exhibition), and the Thames festival (which had live swing dancing lessons right across the Thames from St. Paul's, as well as a puppet show and free flying trapeze lessons). I've even managed to get a haircut from a Turkish Cypriot, and all that on top of finding a place to live--it's been a good week.

I keep looking at all the ads in the tube for different theatre performances, and I've already started making a list. Now I just need my student ID so i can get significantly reduced prices. Then it's off to Avenue Q, Wicked, Spamalot, Mary Poppins, and many more.

I hope my studies don't interfere with all this exploring!

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The next step: London

Amazingly, for my third consecutive trip to the airport in two months, I have managed to leave my house exactly on time—now we’re not talking Jeff on time (15-30 minutes late), but actual real on time. You can be impressed. I know I am.

And after a few hassles at SFO (one of my bags was over the overweight bag limit, and I couldn’t stuff anything else in my smaller one not to mention that they screwed up my seat assignment) and a 10-hour flight later, I arrived in London.

I sat next to an interesting gentleman on the flight with whom I shared my copies of the International Herald Tribune (best paper ever!). He was of Iranian origin, and was heading back to Iran later that day, but has lived in California for the last 20 years and even graduated from Berkeley. He was an electrical engineer, and I couldn’t help but ask him what he thought of Ahmedinejad (yeah, any thoughts on how the Iranian president’s name is spelled). It was his opinion that Ahmedinejad represented only a small minority of the Iranian population, and that it had come down to a choice of “which guy do I hate least” in the last election.

I don’t know much about that election, but it reminds me a bit of the 2000 French election wherein Chirac went up against the far-right Jean Marie Le Pen (whose brilliant idea is to give all the immigrant families 1000Euros for making it this far, then sending them back on their way) in the second round of elections because Lionel Jospin’s socialist party didn’t bother to get out the vote in the first round. Jospin could have won handily in the second round, but it came down to, who do we hate less: a corrupt Chirac or the really crazy guy?

Perhaps there was something similar in Iran?

In any case, the flight was mostly uneventful. It was the first long-haul flight I was on that had the full self-selected seat-back entertainment. They had lots of interesting choices and so I rewatched part of an Indian movie that I had seen in Mumbai, Rang de Basanti, but this time with English subtitles. It made soooo much more sense! I then switched between Chinese TV, the Simpsons, and Little Britain while I was awake, and interesting music while I was trying to sleep. Heck, they even had an interactive trivia game. All in all, not a bad deal.

London was under beautiful weather yesterday, and jetlagged or not, I took advantage of it to walk around the city a bit. It is raining now, and is supposed to keep doing so for the rest of the week. Welcome to London, I guess. I even made it to the London School of Economics campus for my first time ever. It’s a very interesting mix of classical architecture and modern sleek buildings with a few 50’s-style, post-war buildings tucked into corners. The people I met there have been very friendly and helpful, but I still don’t feel any closer to finding a place to actually live.

And in a rather absurd development, I can’t get an apartment without a phone to call people from, I can’t get a bank account without a local address, and I can’t get a mobile without a bank account… talk about a convoluted catch 22. Luckily, LSE has land lines available for students looking for housing to use. The cycle has to stop somewhere, right?

Rain or shine, I must now go find a place to live. Wish me luck!

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Busy Weeks and Busier Weekends

These past couple of months in California have actually been quite enjoyable.

I have grown into new responsibilities at work that have given me a chance to really make me feel like I belong. Beyond answering phones, I’ve been proofing reports and press releases, helping coordinate their release, and leading the production of our state reports. We release Measuring Up this Thursday, and so now I’ll be fielding reporter calls. It should be interesting. I think we have C-SPAN lined up for the release on Thursday morning EDT if you’re that interested. Otherwise, just know that if you hear things like “such and such a state receives an F in affordability,” that’s us!

But beyond work, the weekends have been lots of fun too.

Four weekends ago, one of my friends from Whitman, Harrison, came down to show his French “brother” (from the family who hosted him while he was in France) the Bay Area. We had a really fun time going down to Santa Cruz (my third weekend in a row, by chance) and visiting its famous boardwalk. While standing in line to buy tickets for the old-fashioned roller coaster, François ran into a Parisian whom he had met on the flight from Paris to Chicago. It truly is a small world! They started speaking in French and were so involved that they started to hold up the line. They eventually noticed and stepped over so that others could continue forward in line. The guys behind them came up behind us and scoffed. “Why can’t they just speak English?” he questioned disparagingly. Yes, we were showing François America.

The weekend after was spent with my mom, her brother (yes, that’d be my uncle), and his two younger sons on an excursion up to the Sacramento Valley and, more specifically, the ranch where my mom grew up. It was interesting to see just how isolated she had been growing up, and it was certainly good to finely have a clear picture to go with the numerous stories.

The old house had been long-since demolished, the farm having been bought at some point by a large farming conglomerate. The area where the house had been was so overgrown that we could only skirt the perimeter, staring through the spider webs. The sheep barn was still standing.

On my trip, I garnered a real appreciation for what my granddad accomplished when he was younger—raising five kids on a ranch thirty miles from the nearest quasi-town, working the fields, all while commuting in almost daily to Davis to get his PhD in Plant Pathology. To be fair, his mother did much of the managing of the farm, and my grandmother raised the five children, but it couldn’t have been an easy life. I began to understand better how it all fell apart.

At dinner that night, we got to talking with my uncle, and it was decided that we would come up to Napa (where he lives) to see him and go wine tasting the next weekend. He is the lead on-site supervisor for the construction company that has been working with Francis Ford Copolla on various projects around his vineyard, Rubicon.

We started down at the vineyard proper, and got to go briefly through the whole history of the grapes at this particular vineyard, see some movie memorabilia, and finally get on to the actual tasting. They mainly make reds at the vineyard, and the flagship wine, the Rubicon, was deep and full-bodied cabernet. That vineyard is not all talk!

My uncle then took the lead and showed us up to the project he is currently working on, the Copollas’ retirement home on a hill behind the vineyard overlooking the valley. It is an interesting house made entirely of cement. They had lined the concrete forms with cedar planks, giving the concrete a very interesting, wood-like texture. It is absolutely a piece of art, as my uncle doesn’t hesitate to mention, but I worry at how practical some of its spaces are.

After an afternoon of touring, we were ready for some of Napa’s famous foods. We actually stayed right by the Rubicon Estate, and went to the Rutherford Bar and Grille. I can honestly say that I haven’t had a better meal in a very long time. There was good wine, amazing corn bread, and a delicious ostrich steak, all topped off with a incredibly knowledgeable waitress. Having lived in China for the last couple of years, I have grown accustomed to not tipping, and find it almost absurd in most cases here in the US, but this waitress was so outstanding that I made sure she got a good tip.

And for this long weekend, it was a whirlwind (or a world-wind, as I kept accidentally saying) trip to the PacNW. I flew from San Jose to Seattle on Friday evening. In total, I saw 21 friends/family members on my three-day trip somewhere in and between Seattle, Portland, and San Jose. We even managed to have a mini Whitman reunion on Saturday night, and I enjoyed two (count ‘em two!) happy hours that evening. Apparently 5-7PM isn’t long enough anymore, now we must also have 11PM-1AM as an excuse to drink more. I’m really not complaining!

It was REALLY good to see all that I did, and I’m sorry if I missed others of you! Now, we hope that my British student visa comes through so that I can get to London next Sunday…

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Well, it had to happen sometime—I finally got a job. It couldn’t have happened soon enough! They Bay Area has been seeing record high temperatures for the last four or five days now, and the little place I’m in here in San Jose doesn’t have AC. Now, I’ve never had AC before, but it was over 100 degrees (over 40 degrees Celsius) and the place where I live could best be referred to as a cottage. The sun bakes it and there is no insulation or anything. Maybe it is best referred to as an oven…

So, in addition to actually getting paid to do stuff (yay, money!), I also get to spend my days in the comfort of air conditioning. I could have used that last week…

I’m working as an administrative assistant at a non-profit called The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. I could deal with less filing, but the organization itself is actually quite interesting. It feels like I might really have a chance to put my sociological skills to use and help in producing their annual report, Measuring Up!, which measures each state on how accessible higher education is for students, and the quality of said education. It comes out on my birthday (September 7th), so I’ll have to have an extra large party.

In other news, I’ve managed to get my act together and post some much belated pics to my photo blog, Fun Fotos for wHeNeVeR. There are some from my medevac flight of my friend as well as more recent ones if you scroll all the way to the bottom.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Capoeira Video

Well, many of you have asked me what the heck this capoeira business that I've been going on about is. Well, I hesitate to show this to you all, but on the last night I had capoeira in Kunming, one of my friends recorded my last roda. On nights when people in the group go through significant life events (leaving, getting married, having a kid, etc.) during the roda everyone must take their turn going against that person. Since I was leaving, it was my turn to defend myself against everyone else. And let me tell you, capoeira is exhausting, and going against person after person really takes it out of you! So, I start out ok, flag in the middle, and finish alright against my teacher. I say that only to prepare you for if I look too lame...

And so I share this video with you, and ask that you please don't laugh...too hard! I might note that the sound is horrible, so if you choose to go watch it, be sure to mute your speakers! Also, if you want to see what capoeira should actually look like, you could see other people's videos on the bottom-right side of the page.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Good Couple of Days

Well, I’ve been here just under a week, but I’m starting already to get my groove on. I mean, I slept in all the way until 8 this morning, and believe me, that’s an improvement over the 5AM internal wake up calls I was getting last week!

Yesterday I took my mom up to San Francisco proper as she has a big convention up there this entire week that she will be staying up there for. I took advantage of the opportunity to wander around town a little bit while my mom and her boss went to the salon. I was trying to head downtown to H&M (where else?!) but ended up going the very wrong direction and ended up first in China town (yay!) and then in Little Italy. As Italy had just won the World Cup (vive la France…and head-butts), it was an exciting time to be in that neighborhood. People inebriated on spirits and spirit waved Italian flags on the street, hooted and hollered, honked their horns, and generally had a good time. My favorite, if discomforting, image of the day: a really drunk guy standing somewhat in the road wobbling back and forth talking to his hand after he had just hung up his cell phone and put it in his pocket asking for the “person” on the other end to pick up mangoes and other items at the supermarket. “Yeah, that’s all,” he confirmed to his hand as he slouched onto the back of a parked car. Mind you this was maybe three in the afternoon.

After a taro flavoured 珍珠奶茶 (bubble tea) ordered in Chinese (“Wa, you spea-ka Chinese?”), I managed to orient myself and get to H&M, Old Navy, and Borders. Hooray for beautiful, beautiful bookstores! Though I can’t believe how expensive books are these days. $14 for a paperback?! Who are they kidding? I topped off the evening with a sushi dinner with my mom and friends and drove back to San Jose listening to Audio Theatre and a reenactment of the Rosenburg spy trial of the 50s. Berkeley radio is fun!

Today was even better. It was a full day that started with a run. After that, I went into downtown San Jose to continue applying for jobs. I love radio in the Bay Area as I was listening to an advice talk show in Chinese on my way up. I looked for a Kinko’s for roughly forever in order that I might print out some copies of my résumés. I got so frustrated that I couldn’t find one that I finally just got out of the car and started walking around. I finally broke down and asked a postal worker who pointed me back in the direction I had just come. It turns out I had driven past the Kinko’s about five times but had not noticed it, and I had even walked right by it. D’oh! Of course, as I pulled up to the agency I also noticed a copy shop right next to that…the joys of learning a new place!

But today I went to two employment agencies, and I think I have good prospects. I’m apparently a master user of both Word and Excel, so that’s good to know.

The most exciting part of the day, though, was probably my discovery of a capoeira center not too far away from my house. I had gone out for an evening bike ride to find the “local” YMCA gym and found capoeira instead. I was in jeans and a t-shirt but decided to participate anyway, and was glad I did! I really miss the comfort of making a fool of myself in front of a small group of friends, but I think this will be a really good way to meet people. Plus, they have two classes every night Monday through Friday, so that’s a lot of opportunities to work out…which I need, believe you me!


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Triumphant Return

Just wanted to let all y'all in China know that I made it safely back to the US this morning after only, ahem, a few delays and disturbances.

For probably the first time in my entire life, I was out the door and ready to go well before it was time to actually head to the airport. I know, I was amazed too. Kunming clearly didn't want me to leave, as Wenlin Jie took at least 10 minutes to travel down. Ugh! I did make it to the airport barely on time to get bags check (and argue with the attendant about my overweight luggage), jump the security line, and board the plane directly. Sitting behind me was a row of mid-40's Chinese men in their polyester polos, reaking of baijiu and mumbling loudly in their local dialect. Though the girls sitting next to me were quite nice, the men behind me were obnoxious the whole flight. The one directly behind me argued with the flight attendant about having to actually fasten his seatbelt... He then proceded to lean forward and grab my chair for almost the whole flight, stroking my hair on more the one occasion. He was also physically pulling my chair back on several occasions, especially during landing.

I did eventually arrive in Beijing relatively unscathed, though I had forgotten to write down my friend Yam Ki's address in Beijing, and I had no mobile phone with which to call him. The pay phones at the Beijing Airport only take IC cards, and the smallest denomination they had was 50Y cards in the vending machines. Finally, someone offered to let me use their card for 10Y. I bargained with him, thought to myself how greedy Chinese are, and finally settled at 10Y (he walked away, what can I say). So, after calling Yam Ki and confirming his address, I hopped a cab...unfortunately there was some miscommunication and I ended up at _ _ yuan (garden) instead of _ _ gong yuan (park), and ended up spending about 45Y more than I was originally intending (total of a 115Y cab ride, yikes!).

I did finally arrive, and I had a lovely evening chatting with Yam Ki, Shan, and Laura and admiring his ridiculously HUGE apartment (it's two stories and has five bathrooms and several patios!). After a quick night's sleep on his couch, it was back to the airport.

Things went well and we taxied away from the gate several minutes before our scheduled departure... That is, until, as we sat on the runway in line to take off, the women directly across the aisle from started vomiting profusely. She had a pain in her stomach and was utterly uncomfortable, which she, of course, had every right to be. She moved back to the toilet, and we turned around and headed back to the gate so that she could get medical assistance and disembark the airplane. They wheeled her off and removed her luggage for security reasons, and we ended up leaving an hour late.

But I made it, I'm here, and now it's time for the obligatory 4th of July BBQ! Happy fourth to all, may you have a good day no matter where you are!


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Gods Must Be Crazy II

Life is irony. At least that’s what last week taught me.

I arrived back in Kunming early on April 6th after delivering Jean to the US. I was exhausted but tried desperately to sleep on the plane because I knew I had to hit the ground running. I had to teach on Thursday, make up a class on Friday, and there were two fundraisers for Jean that weekend. On Friday there was a “Foreigner’s Ball” at a Chinese bar in town, and on Saturday a Pub Crawl. The Foreigner’s Ball was designed as a show put on by westerners for a Chinese audience, whereas the Pub Crawl was mostly for foreigners at ex-pat bars to go drink.

One of my (and Jean’s) friends Jen was organizing the Foreigner’s Ball, another friend Aaliyah the Pub Crawl. Jen had been running around all week getting acts together for the show, finding people for the date auction, fitting clothes for the fashion show, and drinking with the male strippers until they agreed to the show. It’s a tough life, I know.

Friday night came around, and my roll was selling myself in the date auction, so I decided to go through my standard Friday routine. That meant going to capoeira from 6:30-8:30PM and then to a friend’s house in the neighborhood to shower and change.

The group that I had gone to capoeira with and I arrived late at the actual event, 9:30ish for a performance that was to start at 10. To our surprise, we arrived before the event planner/coordinator, Jen. She did arrive shortly after us, but it was obvious she was in a bad way. We heard from one of her co-workers at the bar that she had been out drinking late the previous night, and we were infuriated at the thought that she was too hung over to run the show.

As she lay on the couch, little sympathy was sent in her direction, as we were too worried about getting through the show, and saw her as dropping the ball. Not having much else to do, I tried to coordinate the behind-the-scenes work as best I could with absolutely no preparation to do so.

We muddled through the show, and all in all, things went ok. The worst part was a horribly long break in the middle as the Italian band took forever to set up (whoops!). We ended up going much longer than we had hoped for, and the date auction, which had been scheduled for the end wasn’t exactly the success we had been hoping for.

The next morning, my anger and frustration at Jen melted to guilt as I got a call from Aaliyah saying she had helped Jen to the hospital, and she was currently in the ER. Aaliyah needed to go finish prepping the Pub Crawl, so I volunteered to take over for her as Jen’s advocate at the hospital. I dragged my friend Matt (who works at an AIDS-prevention NGO and was thus more conversant in medical Chinese than I) along with, and thank the gods I did!

We arrived to chaos in the ER. Jen was writhing in pain, hand clutched on her stomach. They had performed an ultrasound, but still weren’t sure what was going on. Aaliyah was still convinced that it was just Jen being hung over, so she didn’t seem to be treating it too seriously. Also, her Chinese is not bad, but medical Chinese is a whole new realm, and Chinese hospitals are hell. Aaliyah was alone and overwhelmed. We weren’t much better, but we were reinforcements, and we knew who to call.

After Aaliyah left, Matt and I took over. I called Ben (Jean’s boyfriend who is also a Chinese doctor who was at work in Eastern China), who called his “friends” in the ICU to come take a look at Jen. Matt called a Chinese co-worker who could help us translate and work the system.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Chinese hospitals are infuriating (and I’m being generous). It is set up so that you MUST have at least one other person with you (if not two) in order to get anything done. Treatment is withheld until payment is received, damned if procedure is an actual emergency! That means that if they want to do a blood test, for example, they give you a piece of paper, you run to the rows of cashiers on the other side of the building, and bring back the receipt before they ever stick the patient with the needle. Matt became the designated receipt runner.

I was there to try to comfort Jen as best I could while Ms. Yu became our quasi-guide. Next to Jen was a man who obviously had a broken neck and was hurting profusely. Ever couple of minutes he would let out a long, loud, ghostly moan that made me shutter every time. By Jen’s feet was a young child with the skin scraped or burned off his belly. When the nurse would go to given him a shot he would start shrieking. His mother spanked him to shut him up. That was the first time I almost lost it that day.

Jen’s pain became more intense but the doctors refused to give her any pain medicine. It is vaguely logical to not give someone pain medication until s/he has been diagnosed, but it’s hard to watch. Each new doctor (including the “friends” from the ICU who I recognized immediately…you know something is wrong when you recognize your local ICU staff) would ask her what hurt, then press her stomach just to make sure. We took her for a CT scan and once they heard she had been drinking the night before, they were convinced that Jen had pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas caused almost only by heavy drinking where the amylase and lipase, digestive proteins produced in the pancreas, are activated before they leave the pancreas). The CT showed liquid around the pancreas that supported such a conclusion, but they did not find increased levels of amylase in her blood samples. A disconnect.

Since there is no real cure for pancreatits they decided to move her from the ER to the In-Patient Building for further treatment. Matt and I scoped out our two In-Patient options, and decided that the “old one” for 30 yuan per night (US$3.75) was just too shoddy compared to the new one at 40 yuan per night (US$5). They still refused to give her pain killers until she was moved there (so that doctor could poke her in the stomach three times…). Of course, they said it would take about half an hour since there weren’t any free beds (never mind we had just seen them), and when that time did finally roll around they decided that it was shift change and that we had to wait another half an hour. The volume of Jen’s screams only increased.

We finally got the go ahead, and wheeled her away, heading to the In-Patient Building. We went in the door to the gods-forsaken ICU that I knew too well because of Jean, and I assumed we were going up the back elevator that I had used once before to the In-Patient Building. When they wheeled her into the same spot in the ICU as Jean had been in, I was simultaneously furious at the doctors for moving her to the over-expensive ICU (I still hold they just wanted the foreigner’s money) and just about lost it for the second time that day. It had been bad enough the night before when Matt, our emcee for the evening, kept on confusing Jean and Jen’s names on stage.

An American doctor friend who had been helping with Jean came after Jen arrived in the ICU. He talked with the doctors, who were still firmly convinced it was pancreatitis, and pointed out that without increased levels of amylase, it simply could not be. The diagnosis changed to pancreatitis or appendicitis, with blood tests to be done through the night.

The next morning we were back, and they discovered that she had an increased white blood cell count, so they suspected it was appendicitis. She was thus scheduled for an appendectomy that afternoon. We came back for the surgery, and waited for several hours without hearing anything until finally the surgeon came out with her appendix in a ziplock bag and gave it to us (weird!!!). We just stood there wondering where in the heck Jen was…

Jen came out eventually, and we helped her settle in as an in patient in the Digestive Problems Ward. Under heavy medication she threatened to “kick you ni**as” as I tried to get her to breathe with me and take deeper, longer breaths. I just rolled my eyes and backed off a bit.

As opposed to Jean, Jen has been recovering slowly. The hospital, which is a teaching hospital, was torture in that the doctors kept on trying to show off the laowai in a very degrading manner. Besides one doctor first asking Jen if she still hurt the day after the surgery and then announcing that it was because he had had to cut so deep because she was so fat (talk about bedside manner), she had another doctor who tried to show off her privates to his students on several occasions. God damn China! I’ve seen foreigners treated as animals before, but that just crossed the line in my mind.

Her condition continued to improve, but on Sunday we found out that Jean had passed away in the US earlier that morning. Jen was alone in the hospital when she found out. Her reaction was something like: “I can’t believe it. It can’t fucking be true! What makes ME so fucking special that I survived this death-trap and not her? What is this, just fucking LUCK? Chinese roulette? I AM SO ANGRY! What a waste of a beautiful, sweet, loving life!”

I couldn’t agree with her last statement more.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

My Life in Texto

The following are text messages I've saved on my cell phone inbox. I would have included more messages from my new cell phone stalker, but I've had to delete those 20 messages a day so I have room for anything else! China, or at least Kunming, is F*CKED up! I'm not going to attribute the various authors here, as they might not appreciate that, but some are more obvious than others.

My life in texto:

"Why life is so cruel? I feel so painful now? When can I see my sweetheart again? When will the fucking God get me?"

"Do I have ALL your keys?"

"Good night, huh? Where r u?"

"No, today it was "look at the fat lazy foreigner's shaved pussy, everyone!" I swear I will rape and murder that doctor as soon as I can get out of here."

"Thanks everyone for helping Jean and me. We will miss all of u!"

"Hey, being violated has become part of my morning routine here. Kindof like breakfast. Don't worry, I screamed "fuck you" at him in front of all his precious proteges when he tried to take my hand away from covering myself. "class" was over at that point. I think some of his students understood."

"You rudeness makes me attract!"

"They will take off the respirator the last time tomorrow morning. Please pary for her with me. PLEASE!"

"Can u help me to find someone who can take care of Boris and patty or put them down? Can u pack Jean's staff and deliver to US? Just throw my staff away. Thanks!"

"I don't know. I don't want to know! I won't go back Kunming so please help us!"

"I love life! That is all."

[Professor Kang (that's me). I have returned. But I am going to get married. I have had trouble accepting this emotionally. I need to think about many things. I cannot come anymore. Sorry, Professor Kang.]

And finally a rough translation from memory of a recent text from my stalker:
"We're walking along the beach at sunset. The waves are lapping at the shore. A breeze is blowing, and we walk up to the highest rock. And you fall into the ocean!"

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The Gods Must Be Crazy

I haven't been posting to my blog of late because I've frankly been very busy pissing off the gods. I don't know what I've done to anger them, but apparently something really bad, otherwise how does one explain how shit my last two months have been?

Since I haven't posted it a while, let me first update y'all as to my friend Jean's condition. After she slipped back into a coma towards the beginning of February, some of her other friends and I worked hard to get her transferred out of her horrible hospital here in Kunming. We originally were trying to get her to Thailand as the medical facilities there are close, cheap, and on par with US standards. I will remind you that Jean had no medical or evacuation insurance which made this a tricky situation. We got a bid from SOS to get her to Thailand that was over US$50,000. Luckily we started talking with a Bangkok hospital directly who does their own medical evacuations--their quoted price was only about US$34,000. We tried desperately to scrape the money together. I spent a day with the head of the Foreign Affairs Office at our university trying to convince them to loan us the money and to negotiate terms of the loan. Of course, that whole plan came crashing down when the university came back saying they would only loan us about US$20,000—not an insignificant amount, but not enough for us to get her out of here.

Meanwhile, Jean festered in the ICU. Her condition remained stable, but it was obvious she was in a deeper coma this time than before. Jean's boyfriend, Ben, works for the Clinton Foundation, and they agreed to send some of their doctors to take a look at Jean. I stood there in the room as they performed the reaction tests to see how deep of a coma she was in. Watching them scrape a q-tip across her eye and seeing absolutely no reaction was one of the hardest things I've witnessed in these last months. Given her incredibly limited responsiveness, those doctors feared that she had serious brain damage but couldn't be sure without an EEG, a CT scan with contrast, and an MRI. There was also a concern that she was in status epilepticus (a constant state of seizure) without motor response (in other words, she wasn’t shaking). Of course, the hospital couldn't perform a bedside EEG (so they couldn't confirm or deny if she was seizing), the MRI couldn't be done because we didn't have a portable respirator (which meant we had to use a handbag attached to a metal oxygen canister. No metal is allowed in the MRI room because it works based on magnetism.), which meant that we had to try for the CT scan. We had been asking for a CT with contrast for over a month and a half, but the doctors kept refusing because the contrast, which I assume is some sort of radioactive isotope, could potentially cause kidney failure (her kidneys were just starting to recover as it was). But, with lots of pressure we convinced them to do it.

The CT scan found four potential abscesses in her abdomen (something likely caused by her original disease) and a potential thrombosis (blood clot that travelled from somewhere else) in her brain. It was not good news, but at least we couldn't see any structural damage at that point. The severity of the case convinced the Clinton Foundation doctors that she did indeed need to get out of Kunming, and so they started talking with their principle financier to see if he could help with a loan. Meanwhile, the decision was made to have Jean evacuated to the US instead of Thailand. It was a risky move due to the length of transit, but in terms of long-term expenses, we hoped it would be better. Now that she potentially needed brain surgery, going to Thailand, where we would have to pay all medical expenses, was no longer an option. In the US she would qualify for Medicaid, so we decided to take her back to Albuquerque in her home state.

I started contacting medevac companies again and got a quote from SOS of almost US$190k! Luckily we were able to shop around and found a company that would do it for only US$120k (still an enormous sum). We secured funding through the Clinton Foundation (for which we are eternally grateful. Vote Hillary 2008! :o) ), and the evac was set for the 28th of March. I would be accompanying her.

Of course, I got a call that morning saying the plane had technical difficulties, and that they were sending a new plane, but there would be a further delay of about 24 hours. It was a bigger plane though, a Hawker 800 as opposed to a Lear Jet, which meant that Chesa could come along as well. We arrived at the hospital at about 4:30 in the afternoon on the 29th. The medevac team arrived and the Chinese staff jumped to life, there was an energy, an almost grotesque festivity, in the ICU as they wheeled her to the ambulance. Because the Chinese doctors from the hospital wanted to see the plane, there was no room in the ambulance for Chesa or me. We were "banished" to follow behind in a taxi. As we got in the taxi, I stressed the importance of following the ambulance to the airport very closely, as otherwise we wouldn't be able to get in to the airport. Of course, the first instant the ambulance did something "illegal," like driving in the bus lane, the taxi driver stopped following closely. I started to yell at him, but it was too late. He was caught behind another car, and the ambulance ran a red light in front of us. I sat there yelling at the driver as the ambulance siren's blare died away. I apparently put the fear of God in him, as he finally started driving at full speeds with reckless abandon to rush us to the airport. We actually arrived before the ambulance, which amused me to no end, and I tipped the taxi driver well.

At that point, the Chinese doctors were kicked out of the ambulance, and the airport doctors took over. We drove to the side entrance of the airfield only to be stopped short. The guard wouldn't let us in because we needed to pass through security. The airport doctors were trying to assure them that security was waiting for us at the plane. He wouldn't let us pass, so we just sat there for almost twenty minutes as the calls got made and he finally let us through so that we could get to security that was indeed waiting for us by the plane. Ben had to leave us as we entered the airport as he would not be accompanying us on our trip, so Chesa and I became the official translators between the American evacuation crew and the Chinese doctors, security personnel, etc. We lifted Jean on to the plane, loaded supplies...and sat there for another hour waiting for clearance from Japan. Due to the long distance, we needed to make three stops during our journey: Osaka, Japan, Petropavlovsk, Russia, and Anchorage, Alaska. Japan is very strict about its landing policy and we couldn't take off because they hadn't cleared us for landing. We departed about two hours behind schedule, but due to a 215mph tailwind (the fastest our pilot had ever seen) we arrived in Osaka just about on time in a mere 3.5 hours.

The rest of the journey was mostly uneventful. Arriving in Petropavlovsk, a city tucked away in far-eastern Siberia, was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We arrived just around dawn, so the sun cast a rosy hue over the snow covered hills that broke from the barren Siberian plane. As we landed we circled around the city and got a fabulous view of the nearby active volcano puffing steam into the morning haze. Petropavlovsk being next to water, we also caught a glimpse of the jig-saw of ice blocks as they freed themselves from the shore.

The landing itself was a bit bumpy as the airport was originally a military base converted for public use. We taxied past several MIGs and were presented with a most stereotypical picture of Russia. We were greeted with large, beefy military types with shaved heads and large coats shouting at us for oxygen tubes and passports. Our “handler” sauntered over in her fur-lined parka to escort us to a Communist-era bus not unlike some I’ve seen in China which made it’s way carefully over the icy ground to the “terminal,” and toilets without lids/seats (though they were not squat pots) and paper that disintegrated when you touched it. I loved it so much, and can’t wait until I have the opportunity to actually visit Siberia. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life.

Then it was on to Anchorage and finally Albuquerque. Again, there was not enough room in the ambulance for either Chesa or me, but luckily there was a wonderful man who worked at the private terminal for the Albuquerque airport who drove us to the hospital. We, again, arrived before the ambulance, and made our way to the ER. Of course, they didn’t know anything about it and were under lock-down due to a security breech, so we waited there for a bit until they told us Jean was being taken up to the ICU.

That is where she has remained ever since. They effectively started from scratch trying to diagnose and treat her. We finally got the much-needed EEG and discovered that she had indeed been in status epilepticus for probably a long period of time. Suffice it to say that this was not really good news, as it indicated massive brain damage again. She got a CT scan, an MRI, a lumbar puncture (to see if she had an infection of the spinal fluid), and a whole battery of tests. We had to wear masks, gloves, and scrubs to go in and see her, which I can understand, but which I thought ridiculous at that point considering I had been in an enclosed space with her for almost 24 hours, and had seen on countless occasions before when she was in the ICU in Kunming without taking such precautions.

They think they discovered an e-coli infection more serious than they had ever seen in the US before, and have been giving her experimental drugs to help control that. But really, that’s not the problem with her. The doctors in the US strongly think that she has diffuse brain damage caused by the hypoglycemic shock that the stupid, incompetent nurses here in Kunming accidentally sent her into when they stopped her food but not her insulin. To think there is basically no likelihood for repercussion for such an abhorrent mistake makes me sick.

In the end, the doctors have decided that there is effectively no chance for a meaningful recovery given the severity of her brain damage. Her family thus made the difficult, but necessary, decision to step her off the respirator last week. She has mostly been breathing by herself, but goes through short periods when she stops breathing. This is likely either caused by a) the brain damage itself, or b) the anti-convulsant medication that she must take to stop her seizures. They spent this week building up her strength for yesterday when they took her off the respirator for the last time. At this point, if she stops breathing, that will be the end. And so, now begins the waiting.

As for me, after we dropped her off in Albuquerque, and assured a smooth transition, got her son to come visit her in the hospital, and whatnot, we left for Colorado. We left Alburquerque around 1:30AM one morning and a friend’s mother (who had also just gotten back from Kunming the weekend prior) insisted that no matter what time we were there, that we must stop at her house in Santa Fe for chili, which we did at 2:30 that morning. It was good chili, and an interesting conversation—I learned for the first time about Germans who think they are Native Americans and spend their lives recreating the Native American way of life there. I mean, after all Sioux are Aryan too…

We made it fairly uneventfully to my hometown of Fort Collins, where I got to see my half-demolished house (we’re in the process of renovating the kitchen and dining room), got to see family and even surprise one of my best friends for her birthday. The next day it was off to the Bay Area to visit my mother who has recently moved there for work. We spent Monday eating sushi and wandering the Union Square area shopping. Yay for H&M! I even found some really good clothes which I was in desperate need of. Then my mom and I met up with Chesa and her mom and family for dinner at a lovely Moroccon restaurant.

I got back to Kunming early Thursday morning, just in time to… take another friend to the hospital (the topic of my next post, considering the length of this one). Seriously, what’d I do to deserve this?!

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


China is trying to kick me while I'm down, but they underestimate me! But then, nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquestition!!

Today we woke to discover google.com and gmail.com on the new list of unaccessible sites on our home internet. Presumably, we should be using google.com.cn in order to do our searching from now on...it being censored and all. Well, so, I played their game. I went to google.com.cn, googled "proxy servers out of China" and got a link that directed me to many public proxy servers that help me scoot around China's firewall!

Take that Chinese government!

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Just one of those weeks…

Nothing seemed to go right yesterday, or really much at all this week. I suppose it’s inevitable to have weeks (months? Please not!) like this, but knowing that doesn’t seem to make things any better.

Yesterday my friend slipped back into a rather deep coma here in Kunming. We’re really unsure as to what caused this most recent relapse (heck, we’re still trying to figure out what caused her last downturn…oh wait, we still don’t even know for sure what caused her original problem!), and it could be anything. One of the potential causes could have been the fact that the Chinese nurses last night stopped feeding her due to bad diarrhea but forgot to stop giving her insulin…in case she didn’t have enough problems, they thought sending her into hypoglycemic shock might be fun apparently. Unfortunately, if this were the only cause, she should have pulled back out of a coma as her blood sugar levels increased to normal levels. This did not happen.

Regardless of whether that was the cause, it seems like the only realistic option at this point if we want to keep her alive is to get her out of this poor facility (the best hospital in the province, btw). That meant that yesterday was spent for me mainly on the phone with people anywhere and everywhere. I talked with her family back in the US, called hospitals in the US and Thailand, talked with the evacuation service, etc, etc. Thank goodness for Skype!

After that, it was off to the hospital to actually see how she is doing. She looked like she was sleeping peacefully, and I remember when seeing her in this state seemed like an improvement, but she was so active on Sunday and Monday. We had not just smiles, but full facial expressions including raised eyebrows. Seeing her so good and suddenly so bad is, to use and already over-used cliché, quite the roller coaster ride! I feel like there should be a point where she just gets better, but we’re clearly not there yet.

After the hospital, I came home and tried going to my local pub for a happy hour, 5 元 (US$0.75) Gin and Tonic. As I ordered, I thought to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be just about right if for some reason this wasn’t on special today like it has been for the last year?’ I turned to pay, handed them a fifty and got forty back. “Shouldn’t it be 45元?” I questioned. “Oh, normally it is, but because Dali beer is on special today, nothing else is. Sorry I forgot to tell you…”

So now we sit, wait, and grumble through. SOS (the evacuation company) is supposed to be contacting us with a plan soon, so there isn’t much we can do until then. Let me tell you though, this has been a logistical and financial nightmare. If there is any lesson I get from this experience, it’s that you MUST MUST MUST get insurance! Seriously! Get it if you don’t have it!

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Sunday, December 18, 2005


It was destined. The first time that my friend played this song for me, the only thing I could think was, “Oy, turn it off! It’s only the beginning of November, Christmas season won’t start for a while.”

“This song might have reference to Christmas,” my friend argued, “but that’s not what it’s about. Listen to the lyrics!”

And so I did, and so I have, and so it has become the song that, ironically enough, has come to epitomize this Christmas season for me. And so I share it with you all: “圣诞节,” or “Christmas.”

If you care to listen to the song, you can do so here.

#Merry, merry Christmas
Lonely, lonely Christmas
Lonely, lonely Christmas
Merry, merry Christmas
repeat *#
repeat ##

Which, since it is the lyrics that I want to share with you all, would translate as follows (note, this is my translation, and therefore might be inaccurate. I still don’t have lots and lots of practice with translating Chinese to English. If any of you Chinese speakers out there who read my blog—yes, I know you’re out there—want to offer any suggestions, please do. I’m especially confused by the “眼眶的泪温热冻结望著电视里的无聊节目” line.):

It never snows in the city I live in.
However, I can’t remember ever feeling so cold.
I miss the neon and crowds of people swept along the street by the busy season,
Taking happiness far away.

*Lovers who suddenly find themselves alone are most scared of holidays.
They can only celebrate alone by getting as drunk as possible.
Of all of the people I’ve loved, not one remains by my side.
Only loneliness accompanies me tonight.

#Merry, merry Christmas,
Lonely, lonely Christmas.
To whom can I send the Christmas cards I’ve written?
A heart shattered like the scraps of paper on the street.

I’m not answering the phone so that others won’t realize that I’ve spent the whole night locked in my room.
A gush of laughter sounds like grief’s music.
The warm tears streaming from my eyes are frozen by the senseless TV program.
I’m paralyzed on the sofa having become a non-feeling plant.

Who will come celebrate Christmas with me?

Now, having shared that, please don’t worry about me. Holidays are always the hardest time of the year when living abroad. One finds oneself in a battle of cultures where, even if there is some understanding of the fact that this is an important time of the year to most Westerners, life is supposed to continue like normal. Classes this week. Finals next. We must wait for Chinese New Year to truly celebrate.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Swing Cabs

Monday, September 19, 2005

Fêtes galore

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Higher than Ever

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Time Warp Baby

As you might recall, since I did mention it on this site a while back, my mother and two of her friends (who also happen to be colleagues) came and visited here in China. My mom was here for almost three full weeks. One of her friends, Sherry, for two, and her other, Ever, for just under one. It was a good trip, of course, and I really enjoyed introducing different parts of China to them.

Much to my mother's chagrin, the only thing that I really posted about the trip on my blog was that I was relieved it was over. Now, I know that she took it in the way I meant it, that I was relieved to be able to relax after being "on" for three weeks, and not that I was either a) happy she was gone, or b) didn't enjoy the trip. But nevertheless, I felt it is only right to add some more about our trip on my blog.

Rather conveniently, at about the same time I decided this, Sherry e-mailed me a great PowerPoint presentation of her/our (we weren't together the whole time) trip to Asia. I think it's well worth sharing, and I think it's particularly interesting to have "fresh eyes" on China (actually, that was one of my favorite parts about having my mom and friends here, is that I got to see China for the first time again). And so, I'm happy to invite a "guest blogger" to my blog to help me describe my mom's China trip. I hope you enjoy!

I have linked to the presentation here for a download. Note that it's a fairly large file, and will therefore take a while to download. You might not want to risk it if you're not on high speed, unless it's really worth it to ya!

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Ramblings

Well, it’s kinda hard for me to pick out a real thread to write about this week other than that it seemed really busy. I don’t know, I thought that with only teaching 10 hours per week, I would not feel busy, and yet somehow I’m managing to do so. I think I mainly feel like that when I have lots of grading to do, as was the case this week, but also it seems like there has just been a lot of stuff going on. Between studying for two tests (the Foreign Service Written Examination, FSWE and the 汉语水平考试, Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, HSK, Chinese Level Test), trying to sort what I’m going to do next year, looking after Maurice, planning my mother’s trip to China in late April, and keeping up with various social engagements, it makes for a full week!

I started seriously studying for the FSWE this week. I downloaded the study guide, and I’ve been doing some outside research as what I saw in the study guide scared me a little bit. It actually looks like an interesting test, but the job knowledge section is just so incredibly broad that it’s just plain intimidating. One question you’re asked to whom such and such a bureau reports, and the next one is about the pampas of Peru and you just sit there wondering ‘where did that one come from?’ There are some bright spots though, as the English usage section is pretty much a snap. Little did I know that being an English teacher actually had practical applications in the world! And because of my studies, I now know the difference between GDP and GNP, which I’m probably too excited about, but I never knew before.

In other news, Maurice and I are getting along swimmingly. I’ve more or less got him paper trained, which I’m happy about, and he understands “guolai” (which is Chinese for “come”) when he wants to (which is most of the time). Next we’re going to have to work on sit and stay because I can barely get the food in his dish before he’s all over it. We’ve been visiting Cuihu (Green Lake) a lot, and he seems to enjoy himself there. He’s found a best friend called DuoDuo with whom he plays often. He’s getting a lot more self-confident than before, and now actually fights back whereas before he would just rollover when another dog approached. Of course, on the flip side, that means that he took on a husky puppy the other day which was totally out of his league, but that’s a detail. My other favorite part is that he still has yet to figure out that his hind end is attached to his front end, which means that he still tends to fall off things like curbs and couches on a fairly frequent basis. Hopefully he’ll find his balance soon. :o)

Yesterday evening we all went out karaokeing (how in the world might one spell that word?) which is quickly becoming one of my favorite pastimes, and is always an experience. The thing that kept frustrating me last night is that workers at the KTV joint kept on turning to my friends “Australian Geoff” (whose parents are both of Chinese origin) and Salvador (who is Mexican, and really looks more Lao than Chinese) and talking with them quickly in Chinese because they look remotely Chinese. Of course, neither of them can really speak Chinese. I guess it’s a normal reaction to assume that in a group of foreigners, the people who look Chinese are maybe actually Chinese acting as guides, but you’d think that if that were the case they would actually approach the staff and start talking and not one of the laowai. The one time that really frustrated me though, was when we were walking in and they started talking to me because I was the first person in the door, and the second Geoff walked in they stopped talking to me and turned to him instead and I had to explain that “No, in fact he doesn’t speak Chinese, talk with me.” I mean, we were in the middle of a conversation for Pete’s sake!

As for today, after getting home from karaokeing at like 2AM and spending another hour in my room eating popcorn, we decided upon an 11:30AM brunch in celebration of Easter. People managed to drag themselves out of bed in time, and we actually had a very large turnout and had a quite enjoyable brunch spurned on by good weather (as opposed to the rest of the week which has been quite cold and gray :o( ).

I guess that’s it for this week. Sorry it’s a touch disorganized and doesn’t necessarily flow that well, but it’s just been one of those kinds of weeks! Happy Easter everybody.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Most Selfish and Irresponsible Thing I've Done EVER

I took him home with me:

But damned if he wasn't worth it!

I know, I know. Before y'all start yelling at me, I just want to let you know that it looks like I'll be staying here for another year, and I already have a potential host family lined up for after that. So maybe I'm not as horribly irresponsible as I feel.

His English name is Maurice, his Chinese name 小熊 or Xiao Xiong, which means Little Bear.

I got him last Sunday at the Bird and Flower Market in downtown Kunming. I often go there and am usually am emotionally prepared to walk by the dog vendors, but this time was different. I had just witnessed the police chasing down the "illegal" vendors (illegal in that they haven't bought exorbitantly priced permits that they can't afford) and confiscating their goods. One was an older woman, obviously a peasant, with a baby on her back pushing a cart of cabbages. She couldn't run fast enough with the baby, so she got caught. It made me want to cry (although I've heard worse stories). Anyway, directly after that we walked by a dog stand, and this one and I just sort of bonded. I left and went to Carrefour for like an hour and a half before deciding to run back and get him.

The first week has been pretty good. He no longer whines at night when he's not sleeping on the bed with me. We've also managed to get rid of his fleas. One unexpected benefit is that he's a real ice breaker! When we're out for walks, Chinese will come up to me and start talking about him, and that's just great. I've spoken more Chinese because of him than I would have ever thought. And he's just so cute and cuddly. We've fallen asleep together on the couch several times.

And in case getting a dog wasn't impulsive enough for one week, I've also managed to sign myself up for the Foreign Service Written Examination in Shanghai for late April. I also just got a new job at Mars Corp. (like the candy maker) here in Kunming teaching some of their employees English for quite good pay. It's been quite a week!

And in other news, I did want to wish Becca a very happy birthday, even if I am a little late (it was on Monday).

Also, some people (read my mom) didn’t appreciate some of my editorial comments in my last post. Although I agree with her to some extent, I just would like to defend my position on why the China Daily is unworthy of the title of newspaper by directing your attention to an article in the New York Times regarding how the China Propaganda Office May Be Censoring the Premier. Oh, so Chinese!

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Hey Look, It’s Snowing!

Somehow I can never get the image out of my head of when I was in fourth grade (if I’m not mistaken) and in the choir and we sang an arrangement of two festive pieces combined together. One of which was “Let it Snow.” The other one escapes my memory. In any case, I will never forget how it started, with different people gleefully calling out “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” and right before we started to sing, one of my good friends shouting out at the top of her lungs “Hey look, it’s snowing!!” Honestly, from that day, every time I see snow, I can’t help but think “Hey look, it’s snowing!” and chuckle to myself.

Well, today was no exception. I finally arose this morning after refusing to get out of bed for roughly an hour because it was too cold out. Finally I motivated enough to make the dash for my green velour robe, the heater in my living room, and a steaming cup of coffee and hot porridge. Throwing back the curtains I saw a gray, drizzly day—or rather a gray, sleety day. The kids in the classrooms across the square didn’t look so happy taking a smoke break while hiding under drab umbrellas. I started to think twice about how important it really was for me to do my errands.

However, the night before I had discussed with Joelle having a gathering at my place during the afternoon, as all the teachers have Friday afternoons off. Noting the cold from the previous day, we thought that it would be best to have a snuggly warm hot cocoa and card party. Joelle remarked “it’ll be just like having a snow day at home!” The invitations were out, but we needed cocoa and some basic ingredients for treats that afternoon. So grudgingly, I changed into my clothes (huddling next to the heater while so doing), and walked out the door with my umbrella, ready for the worst.

Miracle of miracles, as I stepped out the door I noticed that, in fact, it was not sleet, but snow! Without fail, my first thoughts were “Hey look, it’s snowing!” Smiling, I went about my errands without umbrella, giddy enough to skip, but I thought better of it—I was already getting enough strange looks for not using my umbrella like all the Chinese were. It feels like such a long time since I’ve actually seen snow, and having been in the tropics during January and February, I was sure that I had missed my snow opportunities for this season. A pleasant surprise I must say, for I have always maintained that it’s no use getting cold if it’s not going to snow!

The party itself was warm and fragrant (to use an expression which our Chinese students seem to like to use. It’s obviously a direct translation of a Chinese expression. We’ve been told it means something like “cozy.”), which continued to brighten the day. I had my first go at making pineapple upside down cake (as pineapples, despite the very recent cold snap, seem to be in season), and churros to accompany the hot chocolate. The pineapple cake was quite good (almost too sweet in my opinion), so good so that Ben, a Chinese friend of another teacher here, actually enjoyed it so much he ate two and a half pieces! I know that might not sound amazing to you, but you have to realize that this was a great leap forward! Chinese don’t tend to eat really sweet things, so finding an actual dessert that one of them likes, and likes a lot, is truly a marvel. So as to assert his Chineseness though, he did accompany it with beer; the world isn’t coming to an end after all!

The conversation was also good, as it was the first time that some of the teachers had seen each other since the return from vacation. We also broke out Uno, and I got to find out that behind some calm exteriors, there are some ferociously competitive Unoers here! I never did win a round, though I don’t think I ever lost one either, so I was happy.

And as a happy ending to a happy day, Ben decided to clean up for me in the kitchen, bless his heart! Talk about a keeper!

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Week to be Reckoned With

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Thanksgiving Madness!


Well, I know this might be old news to those of you who have been checking out my photoblog (Fun Fotos for wHeNeVeR), but to those who were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find things to do for Thanksgiving here in Omaha, China (ok, Kunming, China but I think I’ve figured out the city in the US that is most comparable to Kunming: Omaha, Nebraska…or at least that’s my new theory), you may assuage your fears. I was actually able to celebrate it two nights in a row, which is probably actually more than those of you in the US can say—and it was generally sunny and mild on both days. Take that Mr. 9-inches-of-snow-in-Chicago-stuck-in-the-airport-for-hours-upon-hours!

On Thanksgiving Day itself it was off to another American friend’s apartment to celebrate. There were thirty odd people there (okay, only like 20 were odd, the other 10 or so were fairly normal—myself not included of course) which made for a good time although I don’t know that we would have fit had it not been for her huge balcony. But surprisingly enough, I digress. It was really quite a fun evening with Thanksgiving à la “Nueva Latina” (not that such a cuisine exists…except maybe in California). The hostess, who is actually from Cali, had her parents visiting for the week, and they helped out quite a bit. Her father quite enjoys cooking and recently came from a cooking class somewhere in the Yucatan Peninsula which meant that we had some wild stuffing. I really can’t complain—I think it was the first time I’ve eaten turkey in I think four years or so, and it was a wonderfully good way to start.

I, as I have wont to do, decided to go against the trend of “Latin” food and brought a HUGE plate of veggie sushi. I cannot begin to tell you how spectacular this plate of sushi was. It was really a work of art to the extent I don’t think I’ve managed in food preparation before (and that is saying somewhat a lot I think). One roll was actually three tiny rolls stuffed inside a bigger one. It looked a little bit like a panda I was told. That being the point, I was pleased. Now I realize that the Japanese are still much more jozu (or skilled) at the sushi making than I am, but it was definitely my best sushi effort to date. I also made a pumpkin pie as practice, for I said I would make some for the following evening as well and I hadn’t ever really made them myself. Not to mention the fact that I always screw up crusts. It actually turned out halfway decent, which I wasn’t expecting since I had burnt the pumpkin while boiling it (it’s a long story, and I blame it entirely upon Whoopi Goldberg). It was a bit heavy on the cloves (it was masking the burnt), but at least cloves don’t taste bad!

Besides the food, the party itself was also quite enjoyable. All the other English teachers from the compound were there as well as various other friends from around town. We talked, we danced, and of course, we shared what we were thankful for. By that point I was slightly inebriated which made for, well, an interesting speech.

T-day Numero Dos was celebrated at the brand-spanking-new apartment of my Chinese teacher and her husband. I’ve actually known this woman for quite some time as she was also my Chinese teacher at Whitman. Her husband, Hong Kongese by birth, has lived in the US (L.A. and Walla Walla) for the last thirty some years and just retired with his new wife to China at the beginning of this summer. Let me just say that retiring to China is a good plan—your money really goes a lot further here! Their apartment is super-posh and I was really excited to see it. It’s in the suburbs a bit, so it’s kind of far away, but it’s well worth the long bus or taxi ride. Their complex is brand new and simply astonishing. The apartment itself is a two-story penthouse with patio roof access. There is a view of another development with a wonderful fountain, garden, swimming pool (!), and tennis courts—most of which are rarities in China (it was actually the first pool I’d seen in the mainland). Originally a six bedroom apartment, it now (only) has four and is quite well decorated. The TV in the living room is actually a big screen projector that comes down from the ceiling!

The party itself was not bad. The guest list mainly included people from Yunnan University that were somehow associated with Whitman, two Whitties who came down from Beijing for the occasion, a family from Wazu (which they were happy to remind us is now officially called Washington State University), the husband’s son (who had his 50th birthday on Thanksgiving but actually looks 27) and some of his friends. The food was good (though more Chinese than the previous night) and best of all we had actual French wine. I won some hearts with some homemade biscuits (originally the Chinese planners of the event were not planning any bread type things so I had to step in), though my friend Aaliyah, who is another teacher here really deserves the credit for a great recipe. A Bordeaux to be specific. The craziest part was the desserts, for I had brought two pumpkin pies, the Whitties from Beijing had made 4 apple pies, AND the Chinese had bought a birthday cake. I really do think that I’m not going to be able to fit out the door the way these holidays are going!

Saturday the same group from the night before took a van the two hours out to visit the Stone Forest. It hasn’t changed much in the last two years (shock, surprise, amazement), but it was cool to see again. I’m sure though that it won’t be my last. Sunday I spent showing the parents of the Thursday night hostess around Kunming with another friend, which was actually quite enjoyable. I particularly liked watching them argue at the flower market. Made me miss home :o).

Anyway, this is a terribly long entry, so I shall end it here with a few fun facts (I mean, could I really start my new Fun Facts blog without them?). Once again, I wish you all a most wonderful Thanksgiving and a happy December (aaack! Time marches on!).

  • www.knezzy.com- The web address of my new website!

  • 2- The number of times that the carving of the words “Stone Forest” was carved into the rocks there after the first carving was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution…obviously it was much to offensive of propaganda for the Commie’s tastes.

  • 8 & 11- The story that each of the penthouse apartments were on. I’ll tell you what though, 8 flights is a lot to climb, especially when you’re carrying 25kilos (about 50 lbs) of coal. Don’t ask.

  • 1936- The year there was a great earthquake at the Stone Forest that made several stones fall down. One is now wedged precariously in between two stones making a somewhat dangerous arch. Legend has it that as long as you haven’t committed any sins recently it wont fall on you as you’re walking underneath.

  • 16- The number of yuan (about $2) it cost for me to by Windows XP Professional SP2, Microsoft Office XP SP3, Microsoft SQL, Adobe Illustrator CS11, and Adobe Photoshop CS8.01 at my local DVD store. Of course they’re in Chinese, but these countries wonder why their not making any money here…

  • PS: Look closer at that Mao print (originally done by Andy Warhol of course). :o)

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Thursday, October 07, 2004

I’m baaaack!

That’s right, I’m back from my five or so day vacation to the SiChuan (pronounced something like se-chwan) province, and I’ve made it back relatively unscathed. Actually, we were golden until the train ride home, but that’s a different story.

What I ended up doing was taking a good long (19 hours!..and the person that bought the tickets for us thought it would only be 9!!!) train ride up from Kunming to the capital of SiChuan province, ChengDu (pronounced more like ch-ung-doo) to meet two other Whitman in China folk who are teaching in Xi’an (pronounced she-on). During the train ride I got to play the main attraction for a number of Chinese youngsters who thought that seeing a foreigner was just about the coolest thing they could imagine. It was exhausting, but at least they were pretty cute, and I even taught one how to sing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Anyway, despite my longer-than-expected train ride, we all arrived in ChengDu at about the same time, so it worked out.

After a night wandering around ChengDu and getting thoroughly lost, we got up early the next morning to catch a bus to KangDing (pronounced k-awng-ding), a small town up in Western SiChuan. It was an eight-hour ride, but at least the scenery was gorgeous. The town itself lies at about 13,200 feet and has a large Tibetan population as it is actually not very far from Tibet. Since the new highway from ChengDu to KangDing is mainly finished, KangDing has suddenly become quite the tourist spot for the Chinese themselves. The problem is that KangDing is a pretty small town that isn’t really used to seeing so many visitors, so they weren’t exactly ready for all the people. What that meant was that we could not find a hotel room for the life of us. While wandering from hotel to hotel we happened to run across a Danish couple from Copenhagen that was in the same situation. So, working together we were able to get one hotel to clear out a room in a neighboring tea house of its mahjong table and they laid some mats on the floor for us. Actually, the mats were probably the most comfortable thing that I’ve slept on since my arrival in China; for some reason the Chinese prefer their mattresses hard.

Having secured a place to stay, we went exploring. The town was quite interesting, and the surroundings beautiful. We had some good meals, took a hike up to a Tibetan “stupa” (although I think stupas are actually Indian things, I don’t know what else to call it—it’s essentially a big statue/temple with no opening designed to hold relics…check out my photo album for a better idea of what I’m talking about.), relaxed in some hot springs, and traded drinking games with our new Danish friends.

Our bus ride back down to ChengDu turned out to be about 10 hours…a few more than expected. The problem was that we got stuck behind a construction zone. As we found out when we finally got to go through, the zone itself that was blocked off took us 45 minutes to get through. What this meant was that since it took so long to get through, they blocked off the road for about FOUR HOURS at a time!!! Yep, we got to just sit there for about 3 hours and 45 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! Alas, it’s the Chinese way.

Back in ChengDu we decided to take a trip out to ChengDu’s famous Panda Breeding and Research Station. It was great getting to see so many pandas up close and personal. I can’t figure out why they are so cute, but I think it must be the black circles around their eyes. They really make them look like they’re just looking at you with those big, round, puppy dog eyes.

Anyway, after all that fun and excitement, it was back to Kunming for me. Coming back I didn’t get mobbed by children (although they did try once), but it was mainly because I wasn’t feeling so well. Then, right as I was going to bed, it hit me. I ran to the bathroom and threw up dinner and maybe even lunch. It continued that way about every two hours or so. At least after the second time it was mainly just dry heaves. I’m assuming I caught some sort of stomach thing, but I’m not exactly sure where I got it from. It has meant that I’ve been awfully tired though because I haven’t really been able to eat anything (although I was able to keep down crackers this morning for lunch, so hopefully that means I’m on the mend). I start teaching tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll be feeling even better by then.

Anyway, here’re some fun facts for Thursday:

0- The number of pandas that were born in captivity outside of China that have survived.
40- The percent of time I spent in a train or bus on my vacation.
2- The number of weeks it’s been since I last did laundry. The fuwuyuan (worker people) here said my laundry basket was particularly heavy today.
<1000- The number of calories I've consumed in the last 48 hours I think.
9- The number of new photos I have up in my photo album, so go check it out!

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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

It’s been a long week…

Really, it has. I just feel exhausted and I don’t really know why. Part of it is that I got sick over the weekend which is never good. Actually, I don’t technically remember the last time I was sick—I think it was right after I turned in my thesis though, or something like that I think—so I guess it was time. Deserved or not, it has done a good job at sucking all my energy.

It doesn’t help that my students haven’t exactly been in a hard-working kind of mood. Yesterday was the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival and Friday is National Day. I’m still not entirely positive what one is supposed to do to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival outside of eating moon cakes and staring at the full moon. However, given some of the hung-over students I had today… I remember reading about the Mid-Autumn Festival one day in my Chinese class last year and was like “yeah, like people really just sit there and stare at the moon.” But lo and behold, people were out en force yesterday to look at the full moon.

For National Day we get a seven-day vacation. Well, actually we get a five day vacation and they’ve moved the following weekend to butt up against it. You’ll love this schedule: National Day (October 1st—Mao founded the P.R.C. on October 1, 1949 which would make us 55 years old this year) is on Friday, so we get Friday through next Tuesday off. Then they moved the weekend from Saturday and Sunday to Wednesday and Thursday. We then pick up on Friday the 8th with our Friday classes. Saturday and Sunday then become Wednesday and Thursday. Crazy, huh?!

Anyway, for vacation I will be meeting up with Afton and Erin (two other Whitties who have been teaching up at Xi’an) in Chengdu (the capital city of the Sichuan province). After we get there we’re hoping to travel around Sichuan a little bit. It’s apparently a horrible time to travel, but it should be an adventure at the least. Actually, I’m excited because it will be the first time that I will actually go traveling independently in China (unless, of course, one considers Taiwan as part of China).

Now I just have to make it to this Friday!

Also, I have signed up for one of those help me remember your birthday services, so pop over to Birthday Alert and enter your birthday, and if you’re really lucky, I’ll remember to send you something!

And finally, I just got my computer back from the repair shop this afternoon, so I have some photos of my apartment and whatnot to share with y’all. Just head over to: HPphoto, and click on the album "Kunming 1."

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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

It's official

I'm a big dork. That's right, I just got done reading a grammar book...FOR FUN! What is this world coming to?! Speaking of which, did you know that the grammatical symbol '?!' is known as the interrobang and was invented in the 1960s? Bet you didn't. I think the lowest point was when I actually laughed at grammar jokes. The name of the book is, in fact, Eats, Shoots and Leaves--which is the punchline of a joke. With the extra comma there, it becomes a list, and therefore is about panda bears that walk into a bar, eats a meal, shoots the waiter, and takes off. uggh!

To make up for it, I watched almost 5 hours of the television program 24 today. That should kill enough brain cells to make up for all that knowledge gained while reading the book I hope.

Also, I finally have my photos up from Hong Kong, the official most pedestrian unfriendly city in the world. My digital camera was (and still is) brokeded. Sad! But it means that I have some good photos that I took with my real actual manual old-fashioned camera on film (b&w film even). They can be found at the following address:


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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Relaxed to the Point of Exhaustion

Well, it seems a little early to update, but for the first time in a while, I feel like I’ve actually done stuff worth talking about, instead of just ranting on about various topics selected at my leisure. I’ve actually found myself starting to finally get settled into my life here in Taiwan…of course I leave in just three weeks. I suppose it always seems to happen like that, you get comfortable right before you have to leave.

If you thought I indulged myself last weekend with cake, as I’m sure you must have because I sure felt like I did, and are in any way jealous (*cough* Thothmuffin, *cough*), then you might not want to read on. If last weekend was indulgent, this weekend was overindulgent. For the sake of argument (and more stories), we’re going to say that my weekend started last Thursday night, the night of one of my friends’ (Zhunhao, a Korean studying abroad here) birthdays.

So, instead of studying, as would have been proper for a Thursday night, we spent the evening eating, drinking, and generally being merry. The night started with dinner at a really good Sichuan place right next to campus, then continued over to one of my favorite “haunts” on campus, Fan Square (as the name implies, it is a square [place if you will] in the shape of a fan) for drinking Taiwanese beer and eating Taiwanese cake. Good times were had by all, and I got to hear two different Korean songs sung by two different friends. I love how I came to Taiwan and am learning more about Korea than either Taiwan or China…that’s what you get when like have your friends are Korean though, and I’m really not complaining. I realized that I don’t really know any Koreans in the US (that are real honest to goodness Koreans that follow traditional Korean ways), so being exposed to a new culture is fun and exciting.

As for Friday, after class and lunch I had to take care of administrative business and get my visa renewed for the next 30 days so I can finish out the term. But really it went quite smoothly, and I just spent most of the time reading anyway. Then it was off to meet friends for a decent Indian style dinner. After we came back to the dorm, Nick and I just hung out and talked for a good long while and played cards. I probably shouldn’t say, but thanks to all the practice I got at Casablanca, I keep beating him pretty handily at Rummy.

Saturday was a day of rest (as opposed to Friday…). I spent the morning in a café reading, went to lunch, and spent the afternoon in the park reading, eating that ice dessert I described in my last entry, and taking a nap in the hot hot sun (it reached a high of 37.7 [100] that day!). I met up with Nick in the early evening, and spent time with him exploring parts of Taibei that were fairly new to me. I swear I’ve done more interesting stuff than eating, but I have to mention that we went to Sushi Express for dinner (that’s the place where sushi comes around on little conveyor belts, and you just pick up the plates as you go), and we stuffed ourselves silly. Then it was off to Snake Alley, where we watched demonstrations of snakes being drained of their blood and whatnot, and tactfully avoided drinking any of it. As my back has been giving me some troubles, I thought it would be a good time for a massage, so I went in for a 40-minute half body massage. Good, but not the best I’ve had in Taiwan. For comparison’s sake, the cost of that massage was NT$500, or just about US$15.

And today? It was off to the beach with friends. We went to Fulong (foo-l-oh-ng) beach in eastern Taiwan, and really had a good time. It’s only the second time that I’ve actually ever swam in the ocean (the first being in the English channel), so I feel like it’s somewhat of a big deal. I managed to get slightly sunburned, but I certainly wasn’t as red as my compatriot from Byelorussia. The beach itself was quite beautiful, and the water much warmer than in the English Channel, that’s for certain! The only interesting “cultural” thing about Taiwanese beach culture is that they seem to be somewhat scared of the ocean. It was mostly (though not entirely) foreigners that ventured out far enough to really get their full body underwater. I’ve heard rumors that the Taiwanese don’t know how to swim as a general rule, which seems daft to me if you’re living on an island, but that’s only part of the explanation. I think that just the other month a group of college students went out to that beach, and one of the students was whisked away with the undertow, and a professor that went out to save him ended up drowning. So maybe the fears are justified.

For such a relaxing weekend though, I’m simply exhausted. It amazes me how much laying around in the sun (and swimming a good deal I suppose) takes out of you.

Next weekend will probably be just as exciting, but not as relaxing, as we’re planning a trip down to one of Taiwan’s National Parks to see Tailuge (thai-lou-ga), a really famous marble gorge, and do some hiking. It should be fun.

Also, for those of you who’ve made it this far, I have some more pics up of campus and some of my adventures. You can get to them by heading to:


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Monday, July 05, 2004

Quatre juillet à la taiwanaise

When in doubt, revert to French, that's what I always say! Besides, I was inspired: people are busy setting off fireworks as we speak (late is better than never, right?).

Anyway, I'm back for another round of my parallel universe blast-o-grams. Hopefully it will be as good for you as it is for me ;o). These past couple of weeks have been minorly eventful in their own right. Actually, and I swear this is not typical of my life in Taiwan no matter how much you might believe, the most fun stories have involved alcohol.

Story 1- Why bringing beer on hikes is the worst idea ever (future MCAT question, I assure you): A couple of weekends ago Nick, me, and a few other acquaintances here in Taiwan (including a professor of British origin) went on a hike in the hills behind campus. The British professor, being British, suggested that we bring beer to have for lunch on this journey. Me, being a lush, thought it wasn’t a horribly bad idea. A bad idea maybe, but not horribly bad. I sat through enough biology to know that alcohol is a diuretic, or as my biology teacher (also of the British persuasion as a matter of fact) called it back in high school, a “wee.” But it was only going to be one beer, right? Well, that was fine for me, but when it came to Nick, who appeared to already be dehydrated, it wasn’t the best of all ideas, especially since we were busy climbing up what were effectively cliffs using ropes. But with minor injuries—okay fine, no injuries but it sounds more exciting that way—we made our way all the way up and around. It was actually an absolutely beautiful hike, and you could see for miles (or kilometers, your preference) despite the omnipresent Taiwan mist.

Story 2- A friend from Whitman and I have two personal traditions that we hold near and dear to our hearts. Hers: throwing up the day after drinking too much. Mine? Throwing up in capital cities after drinking too much. That’s right, such fortunate cities as London, Paris, Walla Walla (capital of my heart?), and now Taibei have been blessed with my, umm, upheavals. But, in what is quite the twist of fate, I’ve now apparently also joined her club, not throwing up until the morning after. It was a great way to start the 4th. I really don’t think that I had had that much to drink the night before, at least not comparatively, but I blame it on some crazy Korean alcohol and the fact that it was the first time I had really drunk in almost a month. At least I can say I’m in a new club, right?

As for the fourth, Nick and I fêted it up for us Americans by bowing to the whims of the Hollywood hegemony and seeing Shrek 2. We wanted to see Spiderman 2 since his suit is red, white, and blue, but it was all sold out. Then it was off to a Japanese department store to watch the diffusion/cooption/integration of American culture in other ones. Okay, so really we went to eat Korean kim chee. We figured that since it was red and white, it could pass as patriotic? Hey, when you’re abroad for the 4th, as I often am, you’ve gotta make do with whatcha got!

Besides my weird morning this morning I feel as though there is not much else to report, with the distinct exception of my Titillating Taiwanese Tidbits for Tuesday! So here goes nothing:

3- The number of times my glasses have fogged up after exiting an air conditioned building/bus into the sultry Taiwan weather.
NT$250- The cost of a student ticket to the movies here in Taibei (approximately US$7.50). And for comparison:
NT$50- The cost of a cheap lunch here (approximately US$1.50, or 1/5th the cost of a movie...)
5- The number of days it took for the “typhoon” Mindulle to finally hit Taibei.
20-30- The wind speed in MPH of said typhoon by the time it hit Taibei…I’ve seen stronger storms in Colorado. But to be fair…
18- The number of people killed by the same typhoon in Southern Taiwan

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

Taibei 102

Taibei 101

Well, again I find myself in a foreign country with limited access to the internet, and you know what that means: time for my patented blast-o-grams of course. I was hoping to avoid them this time around, but it just seems like the most obvious thing to do. If, however, you'd prefer not to get these fun mailings, just let me know. Also, if you'd prefer that I use a different e-mail address, that would be good to know as well. Now onto the good stuff...

I've been in Taiwan for almost two days now. The flight went generally well, though the movie selection and the four hour layover in Tokyo left something to be desired. But then my friend Nick picked me up at the airport here in Taibei, and we went for an hour long taxi ride back to the dorms, where I promptly had to go buy a "mattress" for my dorm bed. It might could use a little bit more padding, but oh well. I have three roommates, all of which seem quite nice. Two of them appear to be Taiwanese and just graduated the other day with journalism degrees. The other is a Japanese student in the same language program that I am in here at the university.

As for Taibei itself, it a quite extraordinary city. Chengda (pronounced more like zhengda-the Taiwanese have had some trouble with their transliterations...), the university that I'm at, is actually a bit outside the city center and up on a hill. In fact, it's a 20/30 minute MRT ride in (don't ask me what MRT stands for, but picture an elevated version of the trains they have at DIA or SEA-TAC and you're on the right track). It means that we've got a great view of the city-center, and the feeling of being right next to a forest, but the 15-minute hike up the hill to the dorm is going to be a bitch in the midsummer heat.

Yesterday I did venture into the downtown area a bit. It reminds me a lot of Tokyo-at least the part that I toured around yesterday. Taiwan is now home to the tallest building in the world (which I just found out the other day) called 101 (pronounced yi-ling-yi in Chinese). At the base they have a crazy big mall with all the name brands you could ever want. Prada, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Sisley, Mango, and even The North Face! I guess I'm not quite sure how the Taiwanese can afford these stores, but maybe I just have a grand misperception of the Taiwanese. Needless to say, the pink, striped, pre-wrinkled Tommy Hilfiger shirt I bought at the Bon in Pasco for around 20 bucks (or less, I don't exactly remember) was priced on sale here at around NT$1500, or roughly $45!

My favorite part of yesterday was, while walking back to the MRT station from 101, I stumbled across a Swenson's Ice Cream Shop. For all of you not "in the know," Swenson's is originally a San Francisco ice cream shop, that we used to have in Fort Collins as well. Anyway, when I was young, my parents would take me out for ice cream there, and I would get a Mr. Clown. A Mr. Clown is an ice cream cone turned upside down on a plate with a cheery put on top, a ring of whipped cream around where the cone meets the ice cream, and two gumballs jammed into the ice cream for eyes. Although they didn't have a Mr. Clown at the store in Taibei, it still brought me back.

Anyway, since this letter already seems awfully long, I'll sign off here with my contact information and by bringing back the Fun Facts-I don't care if it isn't Friday.

Kim-chee topped raw squid: the most "interesting" thing I've eaten since my arrival that I haven't liked Blood rice/octopus ink dyed sausage: the most "interesting" thing I've eaten since my arrival that I have liked (it's a tie) 101-the number of stories (I think) as well as the address and name of the tallest building in the world. 2.65 million- the population of Taibei
7-11- the most popular, or at least most abundant, store I've seen in Taibei

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