Snow White and the Four Dwarfs

Its amazing to me the changes a year can wreak. In terms of job proficiency, I have skyrocketed. No longer is Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin my theme song, but instead Black Sabbath's Wheels of Confusion.

Wait, that doesn't sound better. I'll keep working on my metaphors.

I now have a pretty good formula for class: vocabulary and pronunciation practice, followed by work out of the student's text book. This usually takes up the first forty five minutes. During the second period, I like to have some sort of activity, and this changes on a week by week basis. Whatever I have them do, I like getting them to turn on their brains as well as exercise their mouths. One week we did a unit on poetry, another American folk tales. I also have one week where I make them invent and act out a skit.

The prompt for the skit making on this particular occasion was “weird family”. As the week went on, results varied wildly, mostly by class. Its weird, but classes tend to perform on the same level. If the first skit for the day is a dud, its pretty likely the rest will be bad as well. If the first skit is hilarious, you're in for a fun period.

There aren't a lot of skits that I remember, but some of them... well, they stick with you.

The period started off well. It was probably the first time I'd laughed out loud at anything the students had done. As the last group finished up, the next group got up to present. I wiped a few tears from my eyes. The class and I had burst a collective gut.

The group had nine members in it. Their spokesperson stepped forward and told us that they'd be performing Snow White and the Four Dwarfs. I was not amused. I'm usually unhappy when the students rip off their work from another source. But, I changed my mind pretty quickly.

The students went down the line and introduced themselves, first Snow White, the Four Dwarfs, the magic mirror, the queen, and the huntsman. One girl acted as the narrator. When they finished going down the line, I leaned back, expecting the skit to begin. Instead one more cast member was introduced.

“And Derek will be playing the Prince Charming.”

Before we continue, I should inform you that out of a group of seven girls and two guys, a dude had been chosen to play Snow White. I gave them all a suspicious eyebrow raise.

The story progressed as normal at first. Snow white lives in the castle with the queen, has to scrub the floors, boring, boring, yadda, yadda. Then comes the magic mirror scene.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most beautiful of all?” the student/queen asked. Mind you the queen is being played by the other dude in the group.

“You are, my queen. But although you are beautiful, there is one who is still more beautiful. It is Snow White, and you love Snow White!”

Wait, what?

Follow the scene where the queen orders the huntsman to take Snow White out into the woods and kill her/him. When he (one of the girl students, actually) comes back with the pig's heart (a crumpled up piece of paper), the queen once again quizzes the mirror about who is the most beautiful.

“Your love, Snow White, is the most beautiful!”

Now wait a minute. Is the queen trying to kill Snow White because she/he (gender was getting really ambiguous by this point) is beautiful, or because she (or is it supposed to be a he? You guys know a queen is a she right?) is in love with Snow White?

The queen kills the huntsman and goes to do the job herself. When she succeeds, the four dwarfs (played by the giggliest group of girls I have ever met) come skipping over to me, hoping I'll give Snow White a kiss to bring her back to life. The dwarfs looked at me expectantly, the class held its breath.

I totally kissed Snow White. Well, sort of.

Snow White was laying dead behind one of the tables where the class (except for the front row) couldn't see him/her. I leaned down, out of eyesight, and made the loudest, wettest kissing sound I could manage. After the howls of laughter had subsided, and Snow White had been revivified (that's right, my kisses can bring chicks/dudes back from the dead), the narrator continued.

“And then, the Prince took Snow White back to his castle.”

Without missing a beat, I grabbed Snow White, threw him/her over my shoulder, and marched triumphantly across the room to my castle. When we got there, I was in for a surprise. I set Snow White down, and he/she spoke to me.

“Thank you for saving my life. But I don't think you are my one, true love.” Snow White turned to look at the old hag who'd just poisoned him/her with an apple standing on the other side of the room. “I am really in love with the queen!” And Snow White rushed into the arms of her murderer. The treacherous harpy.

I still feel really confused. On multiple levels. A big part of this confusion stems from the question of Snow White's gender.

Option A) Snow White is a dude.

Ramification: I kissed a dude.

Option B) Snow White is a girl.

Ramification: My kiss drove Snow White, the mythic incarnation of beauty and love, to lesbianism. Maybe.

Really, this whole situation is a great metaphor for wider life in China.


I guess that wraps things up for this week. Life goes on. I have read a book and a fourth in the week that has passed. I devoured Eric Brown's Kings of Eternity (which was good), and I've started Stephen King's Eyes of the Dragon (which promises to be even better). Eyes of the Dragon is a fantasy novel no less, something that surprised me when I picked it up. Stephen writes it in a style that's somewhere between a children's fairytale and a campfire story with your grandfather. A change of pace from his usual approach.

Writing continues. My daily word counts are increasing, but not as quickly as I would like. I progress, but slowly. In fact, I still have yet to have begun today's work, and its nearly 5:30. Stupid teaching. It always seems to be getting in the way of things I'd rather be doing.

Only 366 days, 6 hours, and 21 minutes remain until the Hobbit premiers in theaters. Can you tell that I'm excited?

Oh, and by the way. I am now obsessed with the idea of learning the cello. I don't have any idea if this conviction will hold out until I get back to the States (or if it will survive the incredibly low income level I'll likely be living at), but right now, I'm pretty pumped. I found this awesome web video a few days back (shout out to Bethany Howell!), and by extension a really talented cello player whose music blew my mind. I may have gone out on iTunes and bought up everything he's ever done after-wards. I also might have a slight man crush on him. I'm still feeling confused after that skit, alright?

Hope life is treating you all well. (Really, this cello music is incredible. Steven Sharp Nelson. Learn who he be!)


The Return of the Writer and The Unexpected Journey

Hello everyone. I'm back. I apologize for being away. The good ship Derek hit a rough patch recently, but never fear. He's still afloat.

Yes, I have been reading/watching a great deal of Tolkien, as my title reflects. By the way, there are only 374 days left until The Hobbit comes out in theaters. I am not lying: I would come back to America just to watch that film on opening night. But don't worry. I'll be coming back because I miss you all too.

A lot of interesting things have happened to me this year, and I'd like to chronicle them, if for no other reason than the excuse to write. But so much time has passed. Where do I begin, how do I sort out all that has happened? I think its only fair that I start at the beginning.

It seems like a decade ago. Drew, a friend of mine since time out of mind, and I sat waiting in the Indianapolis airport. There's a feeling that I get when I sense change in the air. It balls up just below and around my heart, nestled there like a blanket on a cold winter evening when the windows are fogged up and steam rises off of hot drinks shared in good company. I would say that its indescribable, but isn't it my job to describe things? The feeling is that of high school graduations, of going away parties. Its the feeling of one last college get together before those years of bliss are finally up. Its how you feel when the road beckons and you must say goodbye.

Drew and I were on separate flights out to New York, so we parted ways each to our own terminals. I settled down in the empty waiting area and propped my feet up using my backpack. At the time, I believe I had just started reading IT. I pulled it out and thumbed through a few pages, but I didn't read much. I was feeling too restless.

Six hours or so later, I had landed in JFK and was making my way from the domestic to the international terminal. I had plenty of time, but I was nervous. Switching terminals involved rechecking bags. Drew and I were on the same flight going to China, but Drew was coming in two hours behind me. I've done a good deal of traveling. To that point, Drew had done none. The first time you go through one, a big international airport can feel a bit overwhelming. Add to that a short time schedule (It can sometimes take hours to get your bags checked if you're standing in a long and understaffed line)? It can be a bit much for your first trip.

I sat down in the waiting area for the China Eastern flight to Shanghai and I waited, watching. The hours ticked by and no sign of Drew.

This was when our troubles began.

Drew's flight had been delayed. Fortunately, so had the China Eastern flight to Shanghai. When Drew came sprinting into the waiting area, bags floundering behind him, I was relieved. This was the flight we needed to board most. If he hadn't shown up, I'm not sure what I would have done. There was a big storm coming into New York, and if we didn't get out, we could have been stuck there eating cheap airport food and sleeping on the cold airport floors for days. The good news was that he was here. The bad news was that they hadn't given him his boarding pass for the Wuhan flight. There was only a two hour layover in Shanghai, and we lost an hour and a half from the JFK to Shanghai flight delay. It was going to be close.

We didn't make it.

We landed in Shanghai and raced to get on our next flight. The check-in line for the flight had long since closed by the time we got to it and the men manning it refused to print Drew a boarding pass. We argued with them . We gestured angrily for effect. The check-in men were not impressed. They told us that we could pick up our bags at baggage claim number sixteen.

We waited for a while, watching bags come down the conveyer belt and get drug off by various travel weary Chinese. My bags came and I loaded them on a cart. Slowly, the crowd died away leaving Drew and I to watch the near empty conveyer continue spinning.

“Where are my bags?” Drew asked. Because this is a family friendly blog, this comment has undergone some editing. It was originally a bit longer.

We watched and waited. No bags came. Drew stood there, tired, mandolin case in hand and backpack over his shoulder. My bags sat next to me on a pushcart. It was over twelve hours until the next flight to Wuhan.

If you've ever missed a flight, you know that there is often a complimentary hotel room given out if you have to wait until the next day to catch another. It was here that I made a bit of a dumb.

“Should we ask them for a room?” Drew asked me.

I debated internally for a while. If you know me, you know I don't have that much of a problem with sleeping on floors.

“Nah. Who knows how far away the thing is. It could be an hour into Shanghai. I don't really want to be away from the airport. If we had bad luck coming back we could miss another flight.”

In my defense, Drew never argued this point with me until much later. A lot of things make sense when you haven't slept in a day or two.

We wandered around the airport looking for somewhere to get some food. There were none considering it was after ten o'clock local time. Next, we tried to find a good place to lay down and sleep. That also proved impossible. For some bizarre reason a group of Chinese men had brought a jackhammer into the airport and were in the process of digging up the floor on the eastern side of the building. Since the airport was one giant room, their work followed us where ever we went. Eventually we gave up and went outside. Drew wanted to have a smoke and I was tired of listening to the jackhammer.

We sat for a while. Drew talking, me listening. Drew talks a lot, and more often than not I tend to be quiet. It makes for a good relationship. As we sat our eyes wandered the skyline of Shanghai. I don't remember who saw it first.

“Oh crap.”

If someone said oh crap, then it was probably me who saw it first.

There, across from us, sitting directly opposite from our terminal, was a big shiny building labled in clear white English letters: Airport Hotel. There was a lovely sky bridge that passed between the two buildings, connecting them. You wouldn't even have to go down to the street to get over there.

We went down to the help desk for China Eastern, hoping to get some help, but the people manning the desk were gone. We even went over to the hotel, hoping to bluff our way into a few hours of sleep, but it was not to be. They wanted a piece of paper. No amount of charm, wit, persuasiveness, or anger will convince a Chinese person to do something in the face of an all-powerful, omnipresent directive of a piece of paper.

So we slept in the airport. Well, Drew slept. I just sort of laid there for a few hours and then wandered around. When I was in high school, I could sleep at any hour of the day, and do so on any surface. That ability is now gone. In fact, I'm starting to turn into a bit of an insomniac. I blame China.


Its December here. Believe it or not, its still fairly warm outside. Cold weather, real cold weather, only arrived just this week, and was gone again just as quickly. Life as it ever has, goes on. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

I've not gotten much reading done since I've been here, and in the last few weeks, I've been trying to make up for it. Recently, I polished off A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, and Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. I'm currently reading both the Silmarillion (for the humpteenth time) and The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown. Next up, either Foundation by Issac Asimov or something by Stephen King.

On the writing front, things go.... okay. I have gotten some writing done. But it hasn't been as much as I would like. That's part of the reason for the return of the blog. I'm having trouble on the fiction front, and writing non-fiction always seems to help smooth out the kinks. I have been having a good time at it though.

I've also been doing a lot of looking to the future lately, and I've decided that I've had my fill of China. I'll be coming home this summer to stay for a while. How long, or where I will go in America? Who knows. The thought of getting a job is a bit depressing, but I guess I've always had good luck in that department. Hopefully I can get something that doesn't involve flipping hamburgers. I think I'd rather go back to construction.

I hope life is treating you well. Until next time.


Back in the Saddle

I never believed the old people in my life when they'd talk about time slipping away on them: the shpeels on such illustrious topics as “Don't worry, you'll grow up soon enough” or “You'll wonder where the time has gone.” I've never been in a hurry to get to the next big thing, and as such, assumed that time would continue to seem to stretch on forever thanks to my ever youthful and laid back mind.

Summer came and went in the blink of an eye.

Old people and their preternaturally accurate forecasts of the future. *sigh

I'm already back in China. In fact, as some of you who keep pestering me about my blog are well aware, I've been back for nearly a month.

Life changes seem to keep rolling on down, whether I like them or not. Most of them have been for the better. We've got a pretty good group of new teachers; perhaps too good. I've been so busy that I don't think I've spent a weekend inside my apartment. For this, I mostly blame Julie (yes you), a girl who moved into the sixth floor next to my buddy Dan. My friend Andrew has come over here as well, and is my new neighbor. There are a slew of other cool teachers too (Walter- my heterosexual half-joking man crush, Hue- the Welshman with the wavy locks of downy brown hair, and his snarky girlfriend Emily.) You'll hear some about them in the due course of time.

Classes have started. Fall has already shown up. Students are buzzing around the campus. Awkward questions are being asked at English corner. But below all these surface concerns a more profound thought has tapped me on the shoulder: a year has slipped away on me. This has prompted all sorts of complicated internal monologues, most of which can be summed up with this one thought: living in China can be sort of scary.

Coming over here sort of felt like putting my life on hold. Things would enter this bizarre stasis state, and when I'm ready to head back home, life will resume, just like I left it (totally not true). China's a vacation, a holiday from the grind of higher education or future job seeking.

That sounds good, right? I mean China's pretty cool. I've been here a year already, had a good time. This year has started off well, and promises to be even better. I was talking with other teachers about their future plans, and we got to talking about how good we have it here, about how maybe another year would be good....

I came over here with two goals in mind: learn Chinese and cultivate my writing skills. Guess how much of either of those two activities happened?

The scary thing about China is this: its easy to assume the vacation mentality. I work, at most, 14 hours a week. I've got more money than I know what to do with, even after paying my college loans. There are enough cool people to hang with that its like being back in high school and college. I've got enough books, movies, and video games to keep me content till kingdom come.

And if I'm not careful I'm going to wake up in this apartment at the age of thirty with a collection of short story fragments on my hard drive, and still unsure of how to ask for the bathroom in Chinese.

This wasn't so much of a negative thought, as a sobering one. All this is not to say I might not stay over here yet another year. In fact, if a bunch of my cool teacher buddies (or even just a few key ones) decide to stay, I'll probably stay another year too. But it is to say that I'm no longer on extended vacation.

It's sort of an exciting thought.

Public Service Announcement:

I'm beginning to really enjoy my blog, and as a result there will be a number of changes this year. First and foremost, I've hired some staff. In the past my posts have been hastily banged out in the course of an hour on a Sunday afternoon. No longer! I've hired an editor (myself) to keep me in line and grammatically correct, an advertising specialist (also myself) to increase my readership, and potentially an art director (also also myself, but we're still in negotiations) to post lovely pictures. These new staff members will begin their assignments next week.

As ever, life will go on. I've read many books since the last time I talked to you, faithful readers. Right now I'm reading It by Stephen King. It is good, but It needs to end soon so I can move on to something else.

I'll catch you next week.

Stay groovy.


Derek, International Man of Mystery

I am the sort of person that wonders about things. If I read a book about baking, I wonder what it would be like to run a bakery. If I see a TV show about astronauts, I try to imagine what it would be like to float in space. I am by nature, a curious person.

When I watch movies or read about my favorite authors I consider celebrity, and as a result I've always wondered what it would be like to be famous. China has given me the chance to find out. And its been a sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing ride.

On Tuesdays I attend a school function called English corner. Students from around Jiang Han Uni and surrounding schools come to chat up the twenty something of us that speak English. For every one of us English teachers, there are usually twenty Chinese students crowded around, staring and asking awkward questions. And most of these students are girls.

Now I said that China has taught me what it would be like to be a celebrity. I think it would be more accurate to say its taught me what it would be like to be a prey animal.

"Do you have a girlfriend?" one girl asks me. I smile. There is one of these every week.


The response is a chorus of giggles and exchanged glances.

I usually try to change the subject when that question gets asked. I'll ask something like, what's your major, random student, or what kind of movies do you guys like?

"What do you think about Chinese girls?" someone ventures, ignoring whatever it is I've said.

So the dance goes. Chinese girls are aggressive.

One week, a girl, one of my students no less, shot this question at me.

"How do Americans flirt with one another?"

"Well..." I tried to give her a straight answer. Most of you know I'm not exactly the expert on romance.

"If someone was flirting with you, and you liked it, what would you do?"

For all the talk about how subtle the Chinese are supposed to be, I think some people missed the memo on their own culture.

Another girl cut in with "What qualities do you find attractive in girls?"

When I go to English corner I tend to try to find a wall I can place my back to. It gives a false sense of security. I have a fear that one week I'm going to come to English corner and have a net thrown over my head. And I'm not the one who gets it the worst (or best depending on how one looks at things). My friend Dan sort of encourages (to a limited extent) this flirtatious behavior. I kid you not, five girls (who refer to themselves as the Five Flowers of Wuhan) took Dan out on what we have interpreted as a joint date. All of them flirting with him, and playfully vieing for his attention.

You know, as awkward as it can be sometimes, there are some wonderful things about Chinese culture. It'll do wonders for a person's ego.

I'd like to think its the Derek brand appeal that generates this reaction, but that doesn't account for it all. There's something appealing about all foreign guys to Chinese women, and I can't really explain to you what it is. Maybe we're exotic. Maybe we seem adventurous. More than once I've had students remark that they couldn't imagine a more exciting life than the traveling lifestyle many foreign teachers have adopted.

Regardless of the reasons I continue to enjoy/endure the endless torrent of questions about my love life that I receive at English corner.

"What was your first girlfriend like?"

"Do you like long hair?"

"Are you a virgin?"



Life goes on. I've been sitting on my butt doing nothing for the last couple of weeks. As regular readers are aware, I've been up to my eyeballs in work, at least up to a couple of weeks ago. After I got done with work, I decided to sit around and do nothing for a while. Its been nice. I've gotten a little bit of reading done. I can't recall what I mentioned last, so I'll throw the last few at you. Feast for Crows by George Martin, 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea by Jules Vern (which was fantastic), and Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy have been my recent reads. I'm still reading Clancy. Next up.... something else. I bought a bunch of fantasy novels recently, so I'll probably start in on one of them. I've never really read much Fantasy (relatively speaking).

If you've got any recommendations ( I really need to start reading more non fiction btw) feel free to leave them in the comments section.

My plan was to start my regular writing cycle back up today, but that was a bust. Hopefully tomorrow.

Oh, fun fact: George Martin, one of my favorite authors is going to be doing a book signing in Indianapolis while I'm home. That was cool to find out today.

Anyway. Hope life is treating you all well. Peace out.


Technical Difficulties

Dear faithful readers,

I apologize for the lack of posting for both last Sunday and next Sunday. My parents have come into town on top of my busy work schedule. As you can imagine, I'd rather spend time with my parents than writing my blog.

I will resume posting a little over a week from now on a Sunday. I hope you'll tune back in then.

Till then.


Bringing in the New Year with a Banger

Back in February I was knocking about southern China with my friends Henry and Dan. We had gone to three cities and the Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was our last full day in the south, before we flew home out of the city of Kunming.

This last bash coincided with Chinese new years, so we'd decided to go to a few different places in the city during the day. We hit up an English style pub, a park, and a huge youth hostel/pub situated in the middle of the city. Lots of neat cultural things go on during new years eve, and we wanted to try and experience some of them.

The park was a complete blowout, but we met a traveling Englishman there and he joined our group for part of the night.

Next we went to this pub. The pub was small but well furnished in blues and browns. Comfortable seating was to be had inside and out. We staked out a table on the street and drank a few beers with our new friend and some Germans. Down near the door was a sign that read in both English and Chinese: Free dumplings between 6:00 and 9:00.

We watched the sun go down.

"What do you think they're doing there?" Henry said, pointing into the pub. It was getting near six o'clock and we were keeping our eyes peeled for the free dumplings.

"I think those are the free dumplings," said Dan.

Sure enough, seated around an inside table, a group of expats were watching the Chinese pub owner as he instructed them in proper dumpling stuffing and sealing technique. Not only were the dumplings free, but we got to make them. We finished our beers by the time the first round of dumplings came. After we put them away, we decided to go in and lend a hand.

The art of dumpling making is very simple. There are two primary materials: a circular piece of thin dough, and some sort of stuffing, in this case a pork mix and a vegetarian mix. You take just the right pinch of mix -- too little and there's nothing to eat, too much and the dumpling bursts while its cooking -- and pack it into the dough. Wet the edge of the dough with some water and press it together into a crescent shape. Presto. You've made a dumpling.

There are, of course, levels to any art. A group of Chinese people joined us and showed us how to make stylish dumplings, with different patterns along the edges of the dumplings. I invented my own technique and showed it off to the watching Chinese. They shook their heads. Nobody in this country appreciates innovation.

We made dumplings for a while and ate them, and chatted with Chinese and expats. Eventually it was time to move on. The pub we were in was at the edge of the city, and we wanted to be near the center for what was coming next. The fireworks. We went out into the street and started wandering around, looking for a taxi. When we found one we gave the driver the Chinese address for our destination: The Hump youth hostel.

The Hump is situated at the top of a five story building near the center of Kunming. Not only did the hostel serve food and drink, but it had an awesome balcony where we could sit out under the stars and wait for midnight to come around. English, Americans, Australians, and Germans mingled on the roof, waiting for the light show.

I can understand why fireworks are illegal in China now. When midnight rolled around, you'd have thought you were in the middle of a war zone. Any body who can afford them buys up fireworks and shoots them off right in the middle of the city, in and amongst the buildings. We're talking about big fireworks here, the giant multicolored explosions in the sky. Air bursts of green, silver, and gold materialized around the sides of sky scrappers. In a nearby apartment building two groups of people were having a roman candle war. Instead of shooting the roman candles up in the air, two adjacent apartments were spraying them back and forth at each other. Down below people lit off smaller fireworks, especially, what Henry called bangers.

The first time Henry mentioned the word banger, Dan and I gave him looks. Bangers are a Britishism. They're firecrackers for you Americans who are reading.

While the fireworks in the sky were interesting, and pretty, the evolving banger war down below was more so. A group of police officers were camped out at the entrance tunnel to an underground karaoke bar, and they had loads of bangers. Any time people walked through the entrance, the cops would start throwing bangers at them. At some point the stopped throwing them at passers by and started lobbing them at each other.

"Awww, man." This was Henry. "I wonder if they'd give us some bangers."

By this point, Dan was fairly drunk, so he was up for anything. I had no excuse for the ensuing adventure. I said : "We could find out."

Going downstairs and out onto the street, we crept close to where the cops were still pitching firecrackers at each other and at passers by. We watched them for a while before we approached. One of the police officers spotted us right off, and tossed a banger our way. Henry and I scattered, while Dan took a few seconds to process that he was about to explode.

We wandered around amongst the cops dodging bangers they threw at us, both sides laughing at the mayhem. The cops also would toss a banger at any girl who walked through, getting a good shriek and dash out of them. Henry eventually approached one of the cops and asked him for some bangers. I can't imagine why we thought they would arm their easy targets. They turned us down and we wandered off into the night, our ears still ringing.

"We've got to be able to buy some around here," Henry said. "We can't just let them toss off at us like that. Western honor is at stake." So resolved, we started looking around.

Leave it to the Muslims to arm the Lao Wai. If you need something in this country, go find a Muslim street vendor. They're the most friendly, and the most useful. We found a group only two hundred feet away and bought six packs of bangers off them along with a couple of lighters. So armed we turned back towards the police.

"We'll just toss one near them first and see what they do," Henry said. "If that goes well...." He didn't need to finish.

We tossed one down near the entrance of the tunnel, ready to run if the need arose. It didn't even explode before the cops returned fire.

So the banger war had begun. The cops retreated into the entrance of the tunnel and pitched out bangers any time they spotted us. We threw them in. Henry and I served as a distraction while slightly drunken Dan snuck up towards the entrance of the tunnel and hid just outside its lip. He lit a banger and tossed it inside without looking.

Just past the entrance of the tunnel there was a podium and a couch. The podium had a large bundle of balloons tied to it. Dan's first banger missed the balloons and landed on the couch. After it exploded, a few of the cops walked up to it, probably worried that it might have been damaged. The soon went back to throwing bangers at us.

Dan lit another one and tossed it in blind. By this point I was standing next to him so I didn't see what happened around the corner.

All I saw was a massive explosion. Fire came belching out of the mouth of the tunnel.

"Oh crap," I said. Dan was laughing hysterically. I got ready to grab him. "Dan, we might need to get out of here"

I glanced around the corner. In the middle of the tunnel stood one singed police officer, some of his hair still smoking. The look on his face was one that nearly set me on the floor laughing, had I not been half worried about going to red Chinese prison. Fortunately, his buddies also thought whatever had happened was hilarious, and they were walking up to him, brushing him off and making sure he was okay.

I pulled Dan along until we got back near Henry.

"What the heck happened?" I asked.

"I think Dan hit one of those balloons," Henry said. Dan was still laughing. Little did we know that the Chinese still fill their balloons with hydrogen. We waved a sheepish goodbye to the police officers and were off into the darkness before the smoke cleared.

There were, of course, other adventures that we had during those two weeks. I'll tell you about them sometime. Meanwhile, life goes on. I've read yet another book: George Martin's A Feast For Crows. I haven't decided what I'll read next, probably Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea. I've finally settled in as far as work goes, and I've carved out just enough spare time to do a little writing and a good deal of reading, so I'm content.

My parents are showing up sometime in the next couple of weeks, though I'm not sure when. Should be a good time while they're here.

I'll catch you later.


Madness, Brought to You by Bureaucracies Inc.

Hello again. Your favorite wayward scribbler has finally put his blog writing hat back on for the new year.

What, you might ask, has kept me away?

I'm glad you asked.

There are those moments in time that prove to be pivotal to the future, things that can't help themselves but shape what lies ahead; moments like eating mystery food from a random street vendor; moments like stumbling into a bathroom on a half naked friend or relative; tiny moments like that half second when you're trying to decide between the nachos supreme or the steak fajitas at a Mexican joint.

Moments like telling your superiors that you happen to have a hobby like writing.

It was early in the teaching term of last year. I was still getting my footing as far as teaching oral English went. I was going slightly crazy. As is often the case, when I do start something, I am a bit of perfectionist. I didn't just want to teach oral English, I wanted to transform students from bumbling half decipherable cretins to neigh superhuman masters of the English language. These expectation were obviously too high. I kept saying to myself,

"I don't have the wildest idea what a "real" oral English teacher (that old thought still cracks me up) would be covering in classes like mine. I don't have any real qualifications for teaching these blasted classes. How am I going to survive this semester, not to mention getting through the next one?"

It didn't help very much that I was also getting bombarded with a dash of culture shock here and a sprinkle of missing family and friends there. I look back on those first three or four weeks as a period of half insanity, brought on by the overwhelming number of things I had to learn in a very short period of time. If China has taught me anything, one is a new respect for all those poor people who had to teach me in high school and college.

There I was, with my delusionally high expectations, and the science section of my brain couldn't help itself but try to solve the problem.

There was, of course, the option of sitting in the library and pouring over the stacks of English as a second language books. Basically trying to give myself a Masters education with books written in the 1950s. But at that point I was really beginning to hate oral English. So my brain grabbed onto something else. "What about writing?" my brain asked.

"Of course!" I thought. "I know something about writing! Its not exactly an avalanche of knowledge, but its certainly more than I know about teaching oral English." I also knew that some of my friends were teaching basic writing courses. "There," my brain told itself, "lies my salvation." So, I set about my new task: worming my way into teaching some basic writing courses. I asked around the university about writing and dropped a few hints that I have some writing experience. Got my name out there. It was about half way through the semester when I got my first nibble.

Half way through the semester marks the end of the first round of Oral English classes and the beginning of the first golden age of my life in China (all my lesson planning was done, since the next round of classes were repeats). When classes end, the students offer up reviews of the teachers. Getting a bad review isn't that big of a deal. You have to work at it to get fired around here, but good reviews can open up doors around the university. In my case, I should have felt the handle of the door to check for fire. Or listened in case there were any gibbering monsters hiding on the other side.

I got a good review, of course. My students liked me, partially because I was entertaining, but also because I worked hard to make the class valuable, yet not overbearing. This brought me to the attention of the Dean of the English department, the man who is in charge of assigning teachers to the basic writing course.

We met a few times and chatted. I mentioned my interest in teaching writing classes, and he sized me up. He mentioned that there might be some business writing classes that would open up next year, and that if I was interested, he could give those classes to me. This didn't set off any of those nifty little warning bells in my head. Warning bells that might have said things like "Derek, business writing is a subject taught at the upper levels of university," or "Derek, you don't know anything about business writing," or "Derek, run away now, while you still have a chance." All my warning bells were still a bit discombobulated. I smiled and nodded at the nice Dean of the English department.

Time passed. I became exceptionally lazy. With my lesson plans all finished I worked something like fourteen hours a week. The rest of my time was spend doing things like sitting on my couch, watching movies, reading books, and playing video games. I did do a few things that were more productive here and there. I did some writing. But mostly I vegged out.

When the semester was winding down I received my schedule for the next year. Business Writing + two oral English classes, my schedule said. No biggie I thought. I'll just take the book for the class and study up over the break. I can get some other stuff from the library and it'll be all good.

Then, I got the first hint that something bad was coming down the pipe.

A few days after I got my schedule the Dean of the English department, Mr. Zhao, gave me a call and told me he'd like to talk to me over lunch. "S'okay, no problamo," I told him.

When I sat down at the table, there was another man there that I'd never seen before, nor have I since. I want to say his English name was Henry. Large guy, thick set with a bull haircut and bifocals. I was informed that he was in charge of a new group of students I'd be teaching, a group of graduate chemistry students.

Huh, that's funny, my half asleep warning bells slurred.

"Oh yeah? What am I going to teach them?"

They looked at each other.

"We're not really sure."

Huh, that's funny.

What I dragged out of them over the next half hour is that they wanted me to teach the students "science writing" so they could publish some articles in a science journal, or write some reviews for a magazine. Science writing concerning chemistry. Graduate level chemistry.

I asked them how much English these students would know.

"We're not really sure."

"What previous writing experience do they have?"

They weren't really sure.

I got that answer a lot.

Basically what they told me, was that I should walk into class the first day, and ask the students all the questions that I was asking them right now. And then plan a course based on that designed to improve my student's writing skills. Basically, they wanted me to make a little magic.

My warning bells had once again fallen asleep. Long periods of inactivity seem to do that to the little guys.

"Sure," I said.

The next day I was walking around campus, getting food, enjoying the sunshine, and thinking about how I'd teach this goofy science writing course. I decided while I was out I'd head over to the English department and see if I could get the book for my Business English class.

I got over there, and found my co-teacher. I asked her about the book.

"Oh, we don't have that book yet."

"Oh yeah? When do you think it will get in?" I was assuming they were ordering more to stock up for the next semester. I wasn't really that worried. I figured they surely would have one laying around for little old me, the teacher.

"I'm not sure." She got on her phone for a half a minute. "I'll call you when we get it," she said, smiling.

"You don't have just one? That I could have?"

"Oh, no," she said. She was still smiling, but she seemed a bit puzzled.

Huh, thats funny.

I didn't worry about it. I probably should have, but I didn't I had found a business writing book in the library that I was glancing through. I figured, I'll take care of all this when I get back from vacation.

Vacation came and went. It was awesome by the way. I'll tell you about it sometime.

Eventually I got back. I'd planned out what I wanted to do for my science kids. Now I just needed to get that business writing book so I could sit down and figure out what was going on with that. I went and visited my co-teacher again. I like to do things face to face. I found her in the English department.

"You get the book in yet?"

The rest of the world needs to make sure the Chinese never get the ability to spontaneously vanish, because if they ever do, we'll never get an answer out of any of them again. They hate to be the bearers of bad news. So much so they'd rather just not tell you anything. Even if that makes things worse.

"Oh, the book. It won't be in until a few days before the class starts. Maybe that Friday or Saturday." She never would have told me that if I hadn't asked again. And that was not even the truth.

I went away beginning to feel a bit anxious. Its a little unnerving to be told you need to teach a class, a real university level class, but not be told what subject matter you'll be covering. Time passed. I didn't do much in the way of lesson planning. It was sorta hard, under the circumstances.

I went by the office again, about a week before classes, to check on the book.

"Oh, there won't be one."

"What?" The lady almost met angry Derek. It probably wasn't her fault, so I let it go.


"Wait, there won't be a book for the class? How am I supposed to teach a class if I don't know what you want me to teach them?"

"Maybe I have misunderstood. Hold there please." She marched away. She came back about twenty minutes later.

"Oh, the dean of the foreign language school is still in the process of choosing a book. The book will arrive sometime two weeks from now." She obviously felt really bad. "Will you be okay to teach the first week?"

I gave her my patented smile.

"Yes, I'll be fine."

You see, by now my brain was back on full alert, and I'd been half expecting this.

I waited until the first day of school came around. It was a Monday, and thankfully I have those days off. I went in and grabbed every technical and business English writing book I could get my hands on and flew back out the door. The next day rolled around and I did an introduction day for my Tuesday business writing students, which translates into tell the class about myself and keep them laughing till the bell rings. The funniest moment of the class was when I told them I didn't have the book yet, and one of the students held up a copy. I borrowed it from him. It turned out to be a complete pile of trash. It covers the formatting guidelines (and does so very poorly) of most of the basic business documents. The sort of things you can find using google. It doesn't do much in the way of suggesting how to write them.

Ever since then I've been studying or writing lesson plans. I write my science class's lesson plans, my business English lesson plans. I sometimes have a few spare moments where I sit on my couch and try not to think too hard. When I lay down at night to go to sleep I have to tell my brain to shut its cake hole. Information keeps swirling around in there from earlier in the day.

And all this is completely normal modus operandi for China. At least as far as I can tell. I could give enough examples to fill a book at this point. Maybe I will someday.

Things I've learned from this experience:

Lesson number one: Don't teach anything besides oral English. (Which is super crazy easy to teach once you get the hang of it.)

Lesson number two: Never trust Chinese bureaucracies to do things that make sense.

Lesson number three: Make sure to lessen any impressions of competence that you give. The more competent you seem, the more outrageous things your bosses will ask you to do.

Its not really stressed me out that much. I figure the school will reap the rewards of its own decisions. I'll meanwhile do my best by myself and my students.

But anyway. Now you know where I've been. I hope this excuse will suffice, faithful readers. Its a pretty good one, I think. I hope you'll think so too, and forgive my lack of posting.

As I've always said, life goes on. I'm chugging along. I should have all my lesson plans done for my science writers and my business writers in the next three weeks. At least if I keep on task. I can then evaluate their overall merits, and readjust them to be even better. I'm not quiet as busy as I've made myself out to be. I've read several books since the last time I posted, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, Duma Key by Stephen King, and Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card. I think there was another one in there, but I can't latch onto it in mah brain. Writing hasn't completely ground to a halt either, but it's come close. I've stopped work on el Novel, but I managed to write a short story and this blog post. I'm going to try to write another short story in the next week or two. When lesson plans end, novel will once more begin.

Oh, and I'll be coming home this summer, I've decided. I'll get back into the States on June the 26th at around one in the morning. I hope I'll get a chance to run into old friends. Make an excuse to come see me if I can't come see you, won't you?

Catch ya later.


Very Superstitious. Writing's On The Wall.

A few days ago my friends and I were at the gym getting in our last workout before we take off for the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We stood around, flexed for the mirror, and talking about our respective plans for the future. We'd stop every so often and go do another lift. I'd gotten to the gym first, so I was done first. I messed with the other guys while they were trying to finish their workouts. Dan was trying to do some nearly vertical sit-ups. I put my finger on his forehead and pushed him every time he tried to come up. Henry found some little two pound weights and started setting them on Dan's chest when he came up.

While we were finishing up, Jackie came into the room. The gym is virtually empty now that all the students have gone home for spring holiday. There isn't anybody around who needs help with training so Jackie has two options: sit in his office, or come talk to us.

"So," he said. "Where are you going?"

It took us a minute to process that he meant for vacation.

"We're going to go to the Tiger Leaping Gorge," Dan told him.

"Ah, very beautiful. Be safe," he told us. "What are your years?" he asked. He was referring to the years of the Chinese calendar, like pig, rabbit, tiger, and the like.

"I'm a Tiger," I told him.

"Rabbit," Dan said.

"Dragon or pig, I can't remeber," said Henry.

"Oh, you must be very careful," Jackie said, looking at me and Dan.

Right now it's the year of the tiger in China. Chinese new year is on February the third, and after that it will be the year of the Rabbit. (I think it changes every year because of the lunar calendar the Chinese use) From what I've heard, it's bad luck for it to be your year. I still haven't figured out why.

"Yeah," I said. "I've heard it's bad if it's your year. We figure that I'm going to slip and fall down into the gorge and that Dan will die in a plane crash on the way back from the trip." Henry and Dan chuckled, but Jackie remained somewhat serious.

"In Hunan province this year there is a story; three police man died. They go to pull over a car. The men they pull over were very bad, and had guns. They turn around when policemen behind them like this, and bang,bang bang to the police car. Three out of the four policemen died. The first one born in 1972, and the other two born in 1986."

"They were all tigers," I said, knowing my own birth year.

"Yes. The policeman who got away, he was not a tiger, so he was safe."

We made a few more jokes about how Dan and I were going die tragically on the trip, when Jackie broke in again.

"Ah, but there is a way to protect from bad luck."

"Oh?" I said.

"In your country you have superman? What you call these? He wear them here." He pointed down to his hips.


"Yes. Like superman, you need to get these. Red ones will protect you from the bad luck."

I've talked to some of my students about this. You'll notice that during Chinese holidays red comes out everywhere. Red is also a popular color on old buildings and in certain social situations. There is an old story that in ancient China there was a town that was plagued by a powerful monster or evil spirit. To frighten the monster away the townspeople hung red paper on their gate which protected them from the monster. That is why red is considered to be a protective color, and a color of good fortune.

Lesson learned:

Remember horror movie fans. If you're ever chased down by some slathering, mewling horror from the black gulfs between space and time, you just need to whip down your trousers and flash him with your red underpants.

Welp, I've got to go. It's 5:07 on Sunday afternoon here in China. Henry, Dan, and I are leaving for the airport at six. We'll be on our plane at around ten. I've packed my I pod and a few books for the trip. I'm going to spend the next week and a half hiking through the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and hopefully visiting Shangri La. I'll not be back till sometime in early February, so I'll catch you all then.


Don't Worry, I Know A Guy

If you spend any length of time in China, there is one fact of life that you'll quickly pick up on: China is a land of relationships. Credentials are nice, but the Chinese don't care what degree you've got or what company you're the head of, if they don't know you, they won't deal with you. If you want to get anything done, you've got to know a guy.

Daniel and I were at the gym the other day, standing around in our rather thin fall jackets. Winter is coming on in earnest here in China, and very few buildings have central heating. Needless to say we were shivering, and lamenting our lack of winter wear. (I may have packed one of my bags full of books when I moved over here rather than warm winter jackets and hats.) We were about to go back to our workouts when Jackie Chan, the gym's owner and fitness guru walked in sporting a brand new winter jacket. Drawn like boyscouts to a campfire, we crowded around Jackie with a group of Chinese people to marvel at his new coat.

"Holy crap," Dan said. "That's made by Arc-teryx."

"Yeah? So?" You'd think I'd know more about outdoor equipment brands considering all the camping I've done.

"Those things are really expensive at home. Like two to six hundred dollars."

Two to six hundred dollars is a lot of money in the States, but it's nothing compared to how much that sort of money is worth here. I don't even make a full six hundred in a month.

After some of the other people cleared out we asked Jackie about his new coat; it was obvious he wanted to show it off. Chinese people love to have the best cloths and to let other people know they've got the best cloths.

"You like it?" He looked down at himself and turned back and forth a bit. "I got it from a friend at good price," he told us. "Three hundred fifty yuan."

That's about fifty dollars.

For the last several weeks we've been planning a trip to a place in the south of China called Tiger Leaping Gorge. It may be in the south, but a lot of the terrain we'll be walking through is up in the mountains where it will be cold. None of us have the equipment we'll need, and we've been talking about how we might go about getting it. We've been looking at coat prices for a while, and you can't even get cheap coats for that price.

"Ah," Daniel said. "That is a very good price." (Daniel assumes his "talking with Chinese people" voice. It's very clear, and a little slower.) "We," he points at the two of us, "have been thinking about winter coats like that one. We don't have coats yet and it is getting very cold outside."

Another pointer for dealing with Chinese people. Chinese people speak in implication; many do not say what they are really thinking outright. I think it's considered a bit boorish. We, as foreigners aren't that good at implication yet, but we're getting better. Notice how we didn't ask him if he could help us out. You imply that you would like help rather than asking for it, as a refusal would cause you to loose face.

But Jackie, being Jackie, wouldn't refuse us help.

"Ah," he told us. "I will bring you to my friend. Maybe I could take you sometime..."

We were all over that.

The next week we met him at the gym. We waited for a while, letting him finish up some last minute errands before we went down and piled into his little white car. I had to control my laughter when I saw the interior seat covers, Micky and Mini mouse. Very Jackie. Soon we were out on the street heading into Hankou, a subsector of Wuhan.

"Chinese driver... many bad habit..." Jackie told us.

"The always do this...." He held up as hand as if to smoke.

"And this," he said while he mimed talking on a cell phone.

"And this..." He stuck some imaginary food in his mouth. With his imaginary third arm.

"Don't worry, you be okay. I have good habit."

I think he knows westerners are a bit afraid of Chinese drivers.

A while later he pulled the car up and parked along a street lined with food shops.

"First, we eat."

Jackie treated Daniel and I to what he called a "Wuhan breakfast". This consisted of some amazing fried bread and a cup of dumpling like things called Tsao Mai. It's a dumpling about the size of your palm filled with a rice/meat sauce. The closest thing I can compare the filling to is beef straugenove (spelling?) The sauce was increadibly sticky, and I was afraid that if I let the things cool off they'd turn into little cement balls.

"The breakfast of the emperor," Jackie told us. "Only rich people eat these in the ancient China."

After breakfast we drove further into Hankou's back streets where the traffic became thick and congested. Eventually we pulled up on a street corner and got out. Jackie led us into what looked like a computer store. Imagine a massive rectangular room filled with desks pilled high with new or salvaged computer equipment. I have no doubt Steven is salavating while reading this. Dark booths lined the walls around the central area and it seemed like you could buy anything. Anything computer related anyway.

"Okay, wait here a moment." Jackie stalked off to a nearby booth and spoke to a person for a few moments. Then he moved to another booth and spoke again. He led us to several other booths deeper in the store where he spoke to a few more people.

"Okay, this way," he told us.

In the back of the store there was a doorway covered in those clear plastic flaps they normally hang over the back warehouses in stores. The sort of flaps that say without saying "employees only." Jackie, heedless, went right on through them. Daniel and I followed, like the two Spaniards on the heels of Indiana Jones in Raiders.

Jackie led us up a fight of stairs and out onto an open air hallway on the back side of the second floor. We could see other parts of the dense city around us, and have clambered out onto the roof of the adjacent building if we'd wished. Eventually we arrived at a set of rooms. Inside, the rooms were filled with boxes and a Chinese man sat on a chair next to the door. He and Jackie greeted each other when they met.

"This is my friend," Jackie said. "The price he give me will be the price he give for you."

When we reached the back room, Daniel and I stood gawking, turning round and round while in the background the Hallelujah chorus sang. There were shelves and tables covered in camping equipment. Stacked literally from floor to ceiling were various brands of hiking boots, coats, sleeping bags, camping stoves, gloves, and socks. There were also an assortment of used power tools, which was a little odd.

"Sometimes the factories will make too much. When they have to much sometimes they give things to people like him. They can sell for cheaper price and not pay taxes on the goods. The things you pay high price in your country for, we can get for very cheap."

Dan and I spent the next three hours picking through the pile, trying things on, checking ourselves out in the mirror outside. I now have some idea of what it must be like for girls when you guys go cloths shopping. I've just never found the right kind of cloths.

After it was all done and said, I bought two coats. One was a green and grey Arc-teryx that I paid about fifty dollars for. It's made lightweight and waterproof for hiking up in the mountains. I also bought a bright orange coat made by a Swedish company called Outventure. They make the coats exclusively to be sold in Russia apparently. The orange coat is crazy warm. I could survive a Siberian blizzard in that thing. And for only fifty four dollars.

I also bought a pair of Arc-teryx hiking gloves, which are very nice, and four pairs of hiking socks. The socks are glorious. I want to go back and buy twenty more pairs. They are easily the most comfortable socks I have ever worn.

My last buy was a pair of hiking boots made by CAT. They're nice brown shoes that have kept my feet a lot warmer in the winter weather.

Jackie also found something for himself.

"What you think?" he asked. He turned back and forth again, looking down at his shoes. They were bright blue, the kind with the white bottoms and end. The sort you often see skater kids or arsty kids wearing.

"I like them," he said. "But if my wife was here, she would say no."

"Why?" I asked him.

"I like to buy these kind of things. She doesn't like it. She always want to have the power." He smirked. "Always Jackie this, Jackie that. I like these shoes."

When I reminded him that his wife wasn't here Jackie's smirk became a broad toothy smile.

In total I think I spent a little over a hundred and twenty dollars on some very expensive stuff. All because Jackie knew a guy. To sweeten the deal Jackie got the guy to kick in some tiger balm, which is supposedly some sort of Chinese herbal healing remedy for aches and pains. So far all I know about it is that it smells funny. If I ever mess myself up, I'll try it out. Jackie also walked away with his new shoes.

Dan and I agree that if we weren't so poor we'd have bought out that entire back room. What was funny was that we ended up buying the same cloths. He also got the orange jacket and the green coat, though thankfully he bought a different pair of hiking boots. It's hilarious when he goes out on campus. Although we look nothing alike physically, Chinese people have a hard time telling Westerners apart. Some of my students have come up to him to say hello to me, recognizing the bright orange jacket. The looks he's described on their faces have been hilarious.

I could tell you a dozen other stories about how I've gotten something because I knew a guy. I got my xbox fixed because I knew a guy. I got a really cheap dvd player because I knew a guy. I can get almost any English movie or television series because I know a guy. Now I just need to find a book guy.

That's about all for today. I started writing this post weeks ago, and finished it up today. I'm feeling pretty bush-wacked since I got back from the gym. What's been amazing to me is how fast I'm putting on muscle mass. I am almost more cut now than I ever was in high school, and I can't even lift half the weight I used to. It's weird. It's probably all the vegetables I'm eating.

I've not read much more of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I'm hoping to bite in a bit more tonight. I've also put aside other writing projects in favor of a short story competition I spotted on the net. I've been brainstorming for it the last few days, but I've got nothing so far. I've got plenty of time though. The deadline isn't till February the 14th. Wish me luck. Catch you all later.


Come And Gone

I would apologize for the following ramble, but it really doesn't bother me at one in the morning.

It's Tuesday here in China. I've sat in my apartment all day and I've done absolutely nothing constructive. (That translates to playing video games all day, something I haven't regularly done for years.) It's been wonderful. I've just finished class; I handed all of the final grades in on Monday. I never thought that I'd be the man some day, but there I was, deciding people's fate from the tip of a ball point pen. At least so far as their fate can be decided by their grade in an Oral English class.

I hope the new year finds you doing well. I hope you've met your resolutions for last year and have laid down some new ones. Things are great here, and I'm in my more usual high spirits.I've been hanging out with friends, Henry, Dan, and Ben. Playing Chess, eating food, watching movies, playing video games. Chris, if you're reading this, we need to watch some more Battlestar. I'm going to text you.

I kid you guys not, I've watched more T.V. over here than I'd watched in the states in years. I've been watching a show called Dexter, a black, sometimes comedic show about a lovable serial killer. Sounds weird, but I mostly like it. I've also caught the beginning of a few other shows; the West Wing, and Battlestar Galactica. I'm eagerly anticipating the premier of HBO's new series A Game of Thrones.

I'm really not sure what to put on the blog next, but now I'll have gobs of time to post. I'm off until February 21st. I'll probably keep busy, but it won't be work busy. I have about a bigillion ideas. (Which is Derek speech for three or four.)Don't be surprised to see a few posts in the next week.

I've blown through Light finally, the last book I was reading. I just sat down one day and ate that thing. It was a weird book, but worth the read for all you sci-fi fans out there. I'm starting The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte next. I'm not sure that I'm in the mood for that either, but I think I'm just going to sit down soon and power into the beginning of it. Once I'm into a book I'm usually fine. I've got lots more books on the list to read, but I'm getting nervous. At my current pace, I'm going to run out of books long before I return to the states, even with the occasional books mailed by family members. If that happens, I'll probably start twitching and scratching myself like a recovering dope fiend who'd like to relapse but can't remember where he put the number for his old dealer.

Other tasks, besides starting on another Bronte book, include finding a way not to starve to death, (The campus cafiteria will close down at the beginning of the next week, as will the night market. There's no money to be made when the campus is empty.) washing my cloths, and getting a hair cut. The stuff is hanging down in my eyes.

I've also come up with a few new years resolutions.

The first is to keep going to the gym.

I know that seems strange, but I've been in the gym on and off for the last two years. I've been three times a week for the last month and I aim to keep going at least twice a week, preferably three times.

The second is to resume jogging.

I was jogging three times a week, but I messed up my ankles and that broke that habit. Le sigh.

The next is to get a short story published. I'm really not that far off from beginning my venture into the short story market. I've got four short stories that could be ready in a month if I'd get my lazy butt in gear. I also know they are better than some of the garbage I've seen published out there. It's go time.

My next goal is to sit down and do a serious review of grammar and punctuation. My grammar is fine, but my punctuation is horrible. Abysmally horrible. Catastrophically horrible. Projectile vomit all over the side of your head from a screaming sick child while on a fourteen hour airplane flight horrible. I really need to get my act together in this department.

The next goal is to fast forward through this boring section of a song I'm listening to.

The last goal is to get better at chess. I'm terrible and my friend Dan is killing me here.

All of these goals are a bit short term, I know, but I've never really been a long term plans kind of guy.

That about sums things up. I think I've also satisfied my desire to ramble. Catch you all later, I'm going to go to bed.