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.