Sunday, December 31, 2017

That Was 2017

When the Calendar turned to 2017 and I found myself in Tehucan Mexico. Jan 1, 2016 it was Leon Nicaragua and now in 2018, Xi'an China. I am finding that the years are clicking by as fast as the kilometers. That is a reality observation not a melancholy and the infinite sadness statement.

2018 ended with a school Christmas party. A Christian celebration using pagan customs and fantasy characters in an atheist country. I love waking up in the morning. I was elected to be Santa because I am "charming and kind" when in reality it was because I was the oldest and chubbiest of the teachers. Plus the costume only fit me.

My role was as simple as it was fun. I greeted the families at the door and posed with all the kids for pictures in front of our tree. We had activities planned and near the end "Santa" charged into the main room with bags of presents to deliver gifts to each student. Then Santa drank beer with the parents. I was up for the challenge.

We have a great crew at the school. Beibei, Ella and Ting are the school administrators. Irene and Ciscola are the tutors and Nick, Owen and myself are the foreign teachers. We have one adult class with Cindy, Peter, Lee and Lee who join us for these activities.

Fun fact. Many Chinese give themselves English names. For example Peter, or Big Peter as he likes to be called is Pan Bin. Names can be random but usually are well thought out. Names that rhyme or sound similar to their Chinese name. Names are researched for meaning such as strong, beautiful, careful or other adjectives. Names that are not common or names that are just fun. Rabbit, Echo, Star, Dora, Miracle and Angel. More times than not new students will ask you to give them an English name and this is not to be taken lightly. I recently gave a student the name Henry which I think is a great handle.

I have Sophia, Annie, Angel, Carrie, Zoey, Hilary, Miracle, Cindy, Peter, Lee, Lee, Henry, Anna, Billy, Jason, Wendy, Gordon (Zhan Ke) and Peng to keep me busy during the week. Starting in the new year I will be heading out to a different school to teach 3, 45 minute kindergarten classes of 20 students each. The school is expanding so I better start getting creative with English names. Maybe I will use the Western Tribal naming conventions. Pees a Lot, Screaming Short Hair, Running Nose, Happy Face, Sit In The Hall, Cries For Mommy, Always Eating, Throwing Pencil, Writes on Wall, Speaks Quiet, Scared Eyes.

The crew in top and bottome picture on the right.
Front row: Ting, Ciscola, Cindy, Ella, Beibei, Irene
Back row: Ken, Owen, Lee, Lee, Nick, Peter

 I have some travel plans/goals for 2018. I will go to Cambodia for 2 weeks during the Chinese Spring Festival in February. April brings the Nepal Trek to Mt. Everest. In China I plan to visit, in no particular order, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. There are also lots of smaller day and weekend trips available from Xi'an. Being a major transportation hub has it's advantages. There is a town on the North Korean border that I would like to visit, Dandong but it would need time some time and effort. Heading into North Korea peaks my interest but even my open attitude of the world is stunted towards the DPRK right now.

What I plan to do in 2018
Rise to the challenge, no matter the size
Exercise more
Start every day with good energy by doing something positive
Only focus on the good
Love every day.
Use my time properly and stop wasting it. There is no "time well wasted"
Think before speaking
Instill a positive attitudes and good routines
Open any door to all possibilities
Never stop believing in what is possible
See the whole field and avoid tunnel vision

What I will do in 2018
Roll over and hit the snooze button multiple times
Exer....ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
See "R" above
Oh hell. The world is falling apart.
Lose my shit when I can't find my keys.
Use Netflix as much as possible
Talk about anything I want, when I want
I think this list is stupid
Only open the door when the food delivery guy arrives
Never run out of coffee again
Stop at the eye doctor and get a check up

Make this the year that don't believe everything your read or hear. Use your experiences to form your opinions especially if they go against the common view. Read more, Anti-Social Media less, put down the mobile device and look around, get out in the natural world, ignite a passion, find a creative outlet, rediscover the joy in music, learn a new language, ride a bike, drink tap water, don't use retail as therapy, say Fu** off more, be generous, do something good and forget about it.

Make 2018 the year you discover kindness. One that does not require a photograph.

Did You Eat Today?

For all it's history, politics and brand replication the heart of China is all about food. Nǐ jīntiān chī le ma or chī le ma? Did you eat today or did you eat?  This is a standard greeting in China, as common as "how are you" in the West. It may sound a little bit odd but spend time here and you will come to realize that everything in China revolves around food.

If you spend a little time observing you will see that people are either eating food and usually it is while they are walking and staring at their mobile device. They going to buy food, buying food, carrying food home, ordering food online for delivery or talking about what they will eat for their next meal. Food is everywhere. The food delivery service in Xi'an is massive. In 2015 food delivery in China topped 20 billion dollars. You want it delivered. Anything from local family run restaurant to Starbucks, KFC and yes even Dairy Queen. Naturally I had to challenge the DQ delivery. Sure enough they showed up and the ice cream was perfect having been delivered in micro freezers. The competition for the food delivery dollar is huge with both delivery services and mobile apps in competition with each other. Hell, even most restaurants have apps that will give you 10 to 15% off your bill if you order from the app.... while sitting at your table looking at the hard copy of the menu.

A few days before Christmas my friend Candy Bao asked me if I would like to go out and Christmas day for lunch. She wanted to make sure I celebrated Christmas knowing it was a big holiday in the West. It is virtually non existent here and she was very curious about the traditions. We spent 3 days talking about what we would eat. Finally we decided on roasted duck. It was the better part of the next day, chatting through WeChat that we needed to decided where to go. First what neighborhood was the best and finally what restaurant. They take this sh** seriously here.

Something that should be mentioned. No, I have not eaten dog or cat. and Yes there is a dog festival in n Yulin, Guangxi called the The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival. This is a minuscule fraction of the people in China. Not all Chinese people eat dog meat and most have dogs as pets, usually small yappy little bastards. They are loved and treated like we treat dogs in the west. Let's get one thing clear and that is I do not advocate the eating of dog nor do most Chinese. However in this rural area this celebration has been going on for over 400 years, well before dogs became household pets in our world.

Then there are the domesticated pigs, cows, chickens, sheep and other animals that we devour  without a second thought. Watch a video of any factory farm and you may not eat meat again. Sadly we are all fully aware of the brutal existence young calves but we continue to dig into our veal cutlet and our only thought during this meal is topping up our red wine. Cows are kept perpetually pregnant in order to increase milk production. You think a pig is not aware when it is about to die, guess again. How about the Seal Hunt in Canada. Sure there is outrage every few year but it still goes on. Why? It is a tradition that dates back hundreds of year and is vital for the survival of the people of the region both for food and revenue,. That is exactly what the Yulin Dog festival is.


It is not a popular thing for us in the West to imagine people eating dog, but it is actually extremely common in Asia and in the South Pacific. Dogs are a good source of nourishment and they are far larger than rats – thus feeding more people. We all feel awful about the thought of people eating dog, and it really is no worse (sentimentality aside) than someone eating beef (cows). Everyone knows that in China, Vietnam, South Korea and other Asian countries, dogs are eaten commonly. Turns out doggies were recorded as being eaten in ancient Rome, ancient Mexico and ancient China as well. Today, it’s common in Switzerland, and even President Obama has eaten dog meat. Again I am not advocating it. I am looking at it logically and not emotionally.

OK, back off that tangent. What do we usually consumer here? You guessed it. Beef, chicken, pork, duck, fish, tofu, fruits, vegetables, rice, bread and everything else you find at your local market. There are insects and spiders (which were delicious in Mexico), seaweed and in some back alley restaurants you can find snake, turtle and rat. Here in China, It's all about the street food.

Sitting on small plastic chairs eating on small plastic tables surrounded by smiling people doing the same at 2 am, 10 am or 4 pm. It does not matter. Its China, its food and people are happy.

Did you eat today? Go ahead and ask someone that. At first they may look at you strange but slowly a smile should come to their face. Ok, they are probably smiling because they think you have lost your mind but sometimes that can be fun.

We think about food all the time but its is usually a passing notion. In China they embrace it for the life force that it is.

Monday, December 11, 2017

China Until 2020

I have been back and forth as to what to do come March of 2018 which is when my contract ends here in China. I have had the great fortune of time and options in which to have my mind wander.

My first thoughts were about where I wanted to work next. Vietnam, Cambodia, Russia, Mongolia were all high on my list of "next destinations". Staying in China was an option but for the last 7 years I have focused on "the next place".
Second was travel. There is a 6 month gap between the end of my current contract the start of new school years and the hiring "season" in many places. My list of locations and itineraries changed on a weekly basis. One minute I would head down through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar and enjoy the mysteries of South East Asia. Then I thought it would be brilliant to trek in Nepal then wander through India and Sri Lanka. Finally Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan loomed in the distant, dark and mysterious. However, regardless of my "next great adventure" focus, China kept popping back into play.

I was all over the place and believe it or not you can have to many options. I was feeling oddly scattered until I had a great conversation with my amazing friend Lynne Edwards. After listening to me patiently she said in a direct and calm voice: "what do you always tell me?" "Make a decision and own it!" . I take it back, she was being mean because I hate when I have to eat my own advice from someone I will listen to. For the record those people are few and far between.

I thought about everything that presented itself and was just about to "own my decision", but as I have cosmically come to understand, the answers usually present themselves when they are ready. Knowing that China kept coming back into my thoughts meant something. Then I realized that I like it here. I like the school, I like the people and of course there was so much more I wanted to experience. I also wanted to get a really good handle on the language. After all my time in Latin American I can get by on Spanish, my French is passable but needs about a year of immersion (Africa anyone? ) and so having a fourth language under my belt really appealed to me for what lies ahead.

I arranged a meeting with the Teaching Supervisor to talk about my contract. He was a bit surprised as it a month earlier then expected but I wanted to get the ball rolling. My contract expires just after the Chinese New Year and I want to avoid as much hassle as possible, after all this is still China. I put forth what I thought were reasonable requests for staying. These requests were not what they were going to offer as a part of a normal second year contract so it was time for the "corporate negotiation skills" to appear. I had thought I put them to bed but all acquired skills help fill your apart of your

Now normal and me are rarely mentioned in the same sentence and I enjoyed that moment when I was told this was not a "normal request". Our conversation turned to an extended stay of 2 more years with a bit of give and take on contract details. After an hour we went to our separate corners and agreed to talk again in a few days.

Regrouping a few days later I was given great feedback and 10 minutes later we had an agreement. Amicable and no bull**it. So, Xi'an China will be home until at least March of 2020. Now that being said I do not have any government approval documents in my hands, there is no new work visa in my passport and I do not have my new residence card. Lets put it this way. In order to obtain these needed documents, think of yourself jumping in the front car or a giant roller coaster and the safety bar has just been lowered. You know what's going to happen and you know you will reach the end safely but the journey is going to make you scream and laugh at the same time.

Many of my choices in the past few years have been as spontaneous as combustion. Mexico was never on my radar but not only did I live and work there for 8 months it has become number 1 on my list of Final Destinations. No, I do not mean where I will get have a horrible death like the movies of the same name. My final destination list contains places where I will finally "stop" and relish in the history of my adventures. This does not mean I will stop traveling. It means I will find a place to use as a base from which to work and live my life. A bit less nomadic and more focused (..yeah I can not stop laughing to). As of now my top five are: 1. Mexico 2. Nicaragua 3. Uruguay 4. Ecuador 5. Panama but that list is in a constant state of flux

Of course, Canada is always an option but lets keep the Expat life dream alive for now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I Like The Word Holistic

I will center my thoughts today around 2 outstanding and insightful quotes. One from the inspiring stud that is Daryl Davis and the other by the intelligently supercharged Neil deGrasse Tyson
1. "We are living in space age times with stone age minds". - Daryl Davis
2 "One of the great challenges in life is knowing enough to think your right but not enough to know your wrong -- Neil deGrasse Tyson

I used to spend quite a bit of time online as it was how I made a career and decent living. Being online was exciting. I would spend hours reading news sites, wasting time on YouTube and Facebook, pursuing all available sports sites and during it's heyday chatting for hours on MSM Messenger. There was also hours of research, development and general interest which was fantastic. The good, the bad and the ugly so to speak.

I have to be as honest as I can here. I still go online but now I limit my time to one hour for non work related things. I actually use the timer on my phone. I am no better or worse than you and this is just my personal choice. The web, internet, interweb or whatever we will call it bores me to death. It is a long, slow lingering painful death. Evolved or devolved is a matter of personal perspective.

Recently I had a day off without any plans. The air quality here in China was a bad on this day so I figured a day of videos, music and maybe some reading was in order plus maybe even an afternoon nap, good times!. A real day of rest so off I went.

First it was Youtube. Trevor Noah, Bill Mahar and Stephen Colbert with John Oliver on Hiatus. Joe Rogan has some great guests and lively insights that are always great viewing. Keith Olbermann had his final commentary about the state of American Politics from the GQ channel.  I watched some movie trailers, a few music videos and finally some travel videos about Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. Epic fails, Darwin nominees and wild animal fights always entertain me.

Next up was sports. NHL, TSN, Sportsnet, Hockeybuzz, The Score, NFL and CBS Sports for my fill on American college football and basketball. Then the world news from various sites including my former local paper.

Finally down the rabbit hole I went. Facebook and Instagram which I can get here in China using a vpn. I use Psiphon which is free, Canadian and fast. I decided to click on various stories that people were posting and see where it would lead me after skipping past pics of food, animals and emotion/spiritual and motivational meme's. What an absolute shit show.  Here is what I have decided about the web and basically society at large.

Let me stress, I could not imaging a world with out the web. Travel, jobs, communication and yes entertainment.

Here are the results of my trip on the Webbernet
- I am tired of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Wechat, and every other anti-social media that the masses devour  on a daily basis.
- Biased opinion
- The endless cycle of hate, self preservation, self promotion and self aggrandizing.
- Religion. You must believe in my all loving, all caring god..or I will kill you
- Polluted water, polluted air, polluted soil and polluted attitudes
- Plastic oceans
- The stealing and selling of water and the obsession with bottled water
- People who continue to believe politicians and then get upset when that elected official lies
- Signing an online petition and calling yourself a radical activist
- The need for "shaming" about anything and everything
- Lying and the accepting of lying to avoid standing up for something and thus avoiding confrontation
- The constant screaming matches that is now regarded as the News
- Racism, ageism, sexism, feminism, religious zealots, homophobia, prejudice
- The phrase "I am not a racist because...
- Being offended by everything. Just because your offended does not mean I am wrong.
- Zombies staring at their mobile device.
- Texting and driving, drinking and driving
- Young adults constantly feeling threatened because they don't agree or can not process something
- People posting emotional, spiritual or motivational quotes and not living by those quotes
- Stupid being accepted as smart and smart being frowned upon as elitist
- I don't need it but want it now!
- IPhone, Ipad, Ipod, I, I, I, I...
- Justified war, war economies, invading countries to protect freedom
- Corruption and greed at every level of human activity
- Global starvation and food waste because the food is not cosmetically attractive for purchase
- Poverty being considered criminal and the war on poor people
- Mental health being used as a manipulative weapon.
- Sexual assault being used a destructive weapon.
- Reverse racism being used for agenda advancement.
- Advertising, marketing and consumerism
- No accountability for your actions.

I think my breaking point was a video from a person who had just purchased the new IPhone X during the obscenity that is Black Friday. In the video he was ranting against western consumerism and how it was destroying society.💣💣

Seriously. I love watching videos of animals and epic fails. I also like to see what is going on with other people's lives with the things that they choose to share, I really do. However the previous rant spewed out in about 10 minutes. After I read it I thought to myself, "self" the web actually controls your emotions, holy shit! How about you, does the web take over our emotions at times?

Let me point out, I honestly have...trying to learn to have, a holistic view of the world. I have experienced great kindness on this journey. I also read fantastic stories about people doing exceptional things for the betterment of the world (holistic). I wonder "how did we get to this point (pollution) and  I get confused why those incredible people and stories are usually just a footnote in a news report.

I did not want to be a ranting fool, but I had my own epic fail. I don't think you can not always write about the good things because that's easy. It is writing about difficult thoughts or events this are difficult, and I am still learning.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Lets Talk About Pollution

In Ontario, Canada the price of gasoline/fuel can and does fluctuate on a daily basis. As a result of taxes, greed and corporate collusion (that we simply ignore) prices will randomly increase or decrease from .01 cent to .15 cents a litre, usually overnight. Toss in world events, storms and anything else to scare the masses and checking gas prices with your morning coffee becomes a part of your day. The price of gas can literally control your emotions for the day and be the topic of conversation. My personal stress level disappeared when I sold off my truck.

Now, in China, I wake up every morning (thankfully), put on the kettle, turn on my phone and check my weather app. Not so much for temperature but to see what the AQI is, the Air Quality Index. Winter is coming and the air quality is about to deteriorate. Different routine, same results.

My weather app on my mobile phone has an AQI reading below the temperature. If the reading is good there is a little sunshine icon. If the number goes over 75 there is a diamond and if over 100 a skull. Seriously a death skull to announce the air to dangerous to be breathing. The solution of course are masks. They have become a mainstay and at times a bit of a fashion statement with different colours and patterns stylishly displayed on them.  I was told that I would need to buy them for the worst days That should be interesting to say the least.

The main reason there is so much pollution in the winter in the Northern part of China are the coal burning plants that are put into action to provide heat to the masses. They are slowly started up leading up to the colder weather and on November 15th the final 2000 factories are put into action, yes 2000 coal burning factories are started at the same time on the same day. Depending on the temperature November 16th starts the "mask wearing season".

It is estimated that over 1 million people die every year as a direct result of pollution in China. Th long term effects are staggering. Here is a web page with 23 gory pictures that will give you a good idea of the insanity that is happening here. The page has quite a bit of "click bait" and advertising but try and get past it. Otherwise you can put "China pollution" into Google and chose your poison. This list on Wikipedia has the  top 500 polluted cities in the world. Xi'an ranks 87th with an average of 70 PM 2.5 index (particulate matter) so I can not even imagine Zabol Iran with a pm of 217. As a comparative today Toronto's PM 2.5 ranges from 8 - 15. In August 2017 it reached a high of 25 and people were disgusted.

Sadly, this is not only a Chinese problem, it is global. Recently Delhi, India has just surpassed Beijing as having the worst air in the world. It is so bad that it is equated to smoking 44 cigarettes a day. China, India, Iran, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mongolia all are struggling with pollution and shitty winter air quality.

It is human nature to look at the worst of things, its a survival instinct dating back to our beginnings. China has been a rich and rewarding experience for me. I have really struggled with the debated of staying on for a second year, which could easily turn into a third, fourth and fifth year. I look at my app and the warning today was "close all windows and don't go outside" if you are old or sickly, and we are just starting, the bad days are still ahead of us.

As with the onset of winter in Canada that brings the first snows, they are just a harbinger of what lies ahead. Storms, cold, wind, drifts and sometimes the need to just stay indoors. I do not know why the decision is so difficult except that life here is easy for a Canadian and there is so much more of China to explore. That being said, it is always easy enough to return.

I have decided to make a concerted effort to get a job in Russia with my eyes on Moscow or St. Petersburg. If that does not happen then it is Mongolia, Vietnam or Cambodia. I have 120 days left on my contract then its off to trek in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka for a couple of months with my friend Caitlyn Tran. I have a goal of experiencing 100 countries and I am going to stay the course.

Tomorrows experience will be buying masks to protect me from pollution.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Rocking With Anvil

November 12th will be 8 months in China. I have weighed the pros and cons of staying as I like the school I work at and life in China for a Westerner is easy living so signing up for another year or two would be an easy decision. The choice is tough because I am getting more involved with the expat community here and socially things are great. The school is also doing well with new students weekly but oddly I have somehow taken on more responsibility, dammit. Responsibility just keeps finding me no matter how hard I try to hide from it.

I think the absolute final decision will be an easy one.  Winter is coming and with that the air quality is deteriorating daily, although today the skies are blue, and yes it is as bad as you see on TV. Starting November 15th the government will activate over 2000 more coal fired plants to supply heat to the masses making it a common site to wake up every day to the scene in the photo below. Easy living or not who wants to live like that? Yes it is true that you can not see across the street. Yesterday the pollution index was 212 where 30 means the air is clean, and it was terrible. I was told to expect  500 and even a few days of 1000 (photo below). The reality of things that are accepted as normal in the world can be disheartening. The 4 coal plants that Canada has shut down to "save the environment" means nothing. Anyways, that is my reality at the moment and as I said, will  determine my next move.... of me moving on to blue skies and clean air. Not a tough choice really.

This is an actual un-doctored photo of Xi'an last year
October ended with a fun school Halloween party and a trip back in rock and roll time when I had long hair, a flat belly and good eyesight.

Anvil! I had not thought about Anvil since the early 80’s. They were synonymous with heavy metal and were from Toronto. They were also the inspiration behind some of the biggest names in metal and toured with some of the greats, but much like the amazing Sixto Rodriguez of 60s and 70s glory, the never exploded to greatness.

Anvil were the metal leaders of the time and although I did not jump on their bandwagon I knew the music. Fast forward to about a month ago and one of the teachers here said to me “Do you know Anvil”? I thought for a second, jogged my foggy musical memory and said “if you mean the 80s metal band yeah, I remember them” My only logic for guessing music was we had talked about music for a couple of days while sitting around the office. “Well they are coming to Xi’an, want to go”? It was an obvious yes which was followed by the downloading of their catalogue to catch up. I was also directed  to a movie about the band from 2005, Anvil: The Story of Anvil that has been compared to a real life Spinal Tap. If you watch it you well understand why. I now find myself searching Pirate Bay for This is Spinal Tap.

I quickly got to work catching up on what has turned out to be an insane story of arguable one of the pioneers of Metal that never made it big. The movie will make you laugh and even cry a little bit but these boys never stopped believing. Now they were in China and it was time to hit the Apature club and rock with a mixture of Chinese and expat metal heads. What could possibly go wrong?

Anvil was tight and Rob Reiner is arguably one of the best unrecognized drummers in music (but that is changing) and it turns out he is an accomplished painter. Check out this drum solo from 2016. Listen to the double bass, his feet never stop and he never missed a beat. After 40 years these guys still give it everything they've got plus they were as down to earth as rock legends could be. We hung out with them for about an hour after the show drinking beer and taking photos. All the Chinese patrons left immediately as they do so the 30 or so foreigners had the band and the bar to ourselves.

Anvil revived my inner metal and thus I have been a torrent maniac lately. Metallica, Slayer, Motle Crue, Motorhead (Lemmieeee!), Sabbath, Iron Maiden and of course Anvil have been downloaded. It is going to be nothing but Metal for the foreseeable future in my apartment and I am sure the neighbors will love it. I suddenly have the urge to smoke a joint.

Halloween is not a holiday in China but everyone jumped on board knowing a bit of the western custom. Most of the Chinese could care less about what it was about and more about dressing up. We played games, danced, had a costume competition and just had fun as you should on Halloween. Most of the parents got dressed up as well and many of them brought their kids Halloween part. Some days Chinese culture could teach the world a thing or two.