Sunday, November 3, 2013

I visited a Native American burial site in Autumn

Autumn is the sublimation of the seasons.
I stood atop the remains of the centuries
when winds were high and colors flew
and their world changed slowly, as I looked through
bare branches exposing a swift harvest and endless summer
but it wasn't endless anymore, the way generations are...
My hand in my jacket pocket traced the plastic case of my cell phone
and I was a stranger.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I like the way you call me

I like the way you call me
from the road, I miss you
like I miss far off places
when I play a slideshow
reminiscing in three-second intervals
I get there quickly, to whatever
What I'm saying is
I like the way you call me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Afternoon instant coffee

Bistro 101 Jazz

I've been slacking on the blog updates, but here's a nifty little iPhone app I downloaded awhile back and have been playing with. You can create teensie little looping videos...

This was taken at Bisto 101, which is about the only halfway decent restaurant and music venue in my little hometown. This place is actually quite amazing, great food, great crowd, and I hope they can stick around for a long time (places tend to come 'n go quickly 'round these here parts).

Friday, April 12, 2013

April 12

You were quiet
as a church mouse
yeah I like to slip by
unnoticed, she said.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April 11

Rob's job.
And then he realized
I wasn't sober. Not like I had been
just a few minutes ago before
Richard perched behind the couch
and his head floated there
like a more lovable Cheshire Cat,
and then the ooga boogas came in waves
and my heart wanted to stop, but
I made my way to the carpet
where the room came alive and danced
real tiny like and that's when
the illumination held me captive.

Monday, April 8, 2013

April 8

Sometimes I'm too tired to do
much of anything after dark
when the day turns quiet
and my mind turns on a dime
to follow the day down country
roads that lead to a nearby farm
town not too near but not too far
where so many other lives happened
are happening
will happen
or maybe I will fall asleep
and forget
to remember.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

April 7

That's not beatboxing
What the heck
I'm not a stuffed animal
Can I sleep in your oven
I wish ham grew out of my ears
I would pull it out and eat it.
But nothing warms this heart
quite as much nor makes me want
to freeze time for awhile as when
he asks me to read to him
the introduction to Star Wars IV, V and VI
as the words scroll into outer space,
because soon he'll be able to read.

Moments with my nephew Justin

Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 6

Everything seemed to exist
within a cycle of falling
asleep and waking up.

Superman curtains in the front window
and a small dirt bike resting
upside down on its handlebars
on the wood plank porch.

Isn't that how it looked back then?
Have they continued breeding
in perpetuity? Does another family live
there now and just never bothered
to redecorate?

It all seemed so possible

Friday, April 5, 2013

April 5

Ginsberg's glasses
can you even fathom
what the world looked like
drawn on the loose
leaf side of a notebook
his thumb fanned
the lines flying away
from form,
from nickel-plated minds
resisting corrosion,
from his center
of gravity.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

April 4

like voice actors
sneaking up
alongside desert ants
with crinkly cellophane
skipping across the grain
as the sun glints
to signal a change of scene
and a pause for breath...

the writers reconvene
reviving wit from the wreckage
of the cutting room floor,
but salacious is too wet a word.

Für Elise

Just had a random thought that made me laugh. I haven't heard Für Elise in a couple months since returning from China, and I'm kind of missing it. It seems to be the go-to song for everything in music, alarms, alerts...even my Chinese washing machine played Für Elise when the cycle was complete. How weird.

Not Really A Sonnet

Second contribution to Tom’s Photo Tales project.

Not Really A Sonnet.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April 3

Today you were mostly outside yourself.

You found a journal from nineteen fifty nine.

I got my hair done.
     Today I was too tired for church.
          A little girl died.

But not in that order.

Things aren't
always so logical.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April 2

It civilizes me
to live in a furnished apartment, to exist
with lace curtains
as a proper backdrop to scattered movements
through carved out spaces.
I think I will plan to stub my toe
today, a sudden work of art appears
from nowhere the colors swirl
into vivid focus the day takes me
face to face with adoration
of speaking plainly through the weeds.
I think it takes a long time to appreciate

NaPoWriMo prompt. First line borrowed from Arda Collins' poem Over No Hills.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April 1

I love the smell of gunpowder on Easter like the way two things shouldn't go together and I don't think I'll ever understand how one month ends and another begins and we say their names in order as if it can never be another way like when early Spring smells of late Autumn and your memories get all confused but today I followed the light from east to west and orange to blue and orange to purple and that piece that stirred three quarters way through doesn't seem to do that anymore.

Happy National Poetry Month

Monday, March 25, 2013

All The Time In The World

is a kind of silly thing
when the world is not of time
and time is not of the world
so does the line between the grass and woods feel as if time is slipping away
when there lies the infinite

Samuel Gardner

A snippet from a poem from Spoon River Anthology, "Samuel Gardner" ...

Now I, an under-tenant of the earth, can see
That the branches of a tree
Spread no wider than its roots.
And how shall the soul of a man
Be larger than the life he has lived?

Davis Matlock

A poem from Spoon River Anthology, "Davis Matlock" ...

Suppose it is nothing but the hive:
That there are drones and workers
And queens, and nothing but storing honey--
(Material things as well as culture and wisdom)--
For the next generation, this generation never living,
Except as it swarms in the sun-light of youth,
Strengthening its wings on what has been gathered,
And tasting, on the way to the hive
From the clover field, the delicate spoil.
Suppose all this, and suppose the truth:
That the nature of man is greater
Than nature's need in the hive;
And you must bear the burden of life,
As well as the urge from your spirit's excess--
Well, I say to live it out like a god
Sure of immortal life, though you are in doubt,
Is the way to live it.
If that doesn't make God proud of you,
Then God is nothing but gravitation,
Or sleep is the golden goal.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lucinda Matlock

A snippet from a poem from Spoon River Anthology, "Lucinda Matlock" ...

What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you--
It takes life to love Life.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Like That The Birds

I like that the birds have so much to say before the sun comes up
to meet the day in that sort of way
like fissures in time that sometimes present themselves
between the trees and memories
like separations of parts of things and non-things
where we stretch out to dwell for awhile, sometimes
I like not to be able to put my finger on something.

A poetry prompt from:
the imaginary garden with real toads

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wordle 100

It’s just like that sometimes
the way places stretch
and streets march on
and words die...
and we train ourselves
to master things that should not be mastered
and we learn to be still, and listen
for the calls are faint...
...create, change, share...

A poetry prompt from The Sunday Whirl.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Happy birthday, Julie.

March 21, 2013

Today you would be
thirty-six, and I search my memories
of us two decades ago, did you think
and plan and dream this far
ahead through the years we fly
and stroll and crawl and sometimes sleep
until the world around us changed, in a way
too big to be tamed.

Is this what life is, a series of sparks
that sometimes ignite and sometimes die
up into the night between fire and light
and I know when I look in your daughter's eyes
that laugh and dance and sing your name, it's hard
to become slow and quiet, like the owl
who stands watch over the flames.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wordle 99

it’s like that one time when

you fell asleep

on the train, in the seat, next to me, you leaned

away is a window, overlooking the Spree’s course winding

where I was sure you dreamed, the trees made whooshing silhouettes

and what that must have done to your sleeping mind, like paint

drips and runs and forms a body of soft shapes

it’s pretty intimate, less fearsome

is the part that is written in the reserves

any use for the outsider

A poetry prompt from The Sunday Whirl.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Learning About Chinese Students

I visited my nephew's first grade class a few weeks ago to share with the kids my experiences living and teaching in China, and look!... it made the weekly classroom newsletter :)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


A friend sent me this and I think I fell in love with it, right after I died laughing.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, March 11, 2013

Crazy Crazy Crayons

My 11-year-old niece and I made this stop-motion video on her iPod this weekend using an app called...wait for it..."Stop Motion" and we had a blast. We need to add some background music. This version doesn't have sound.

She has made several other videos, both stop-motion and fan music videos, that are just mind-blowingly creative. And here's something pretty cool she showed me...a stop-motion video of some students re-creating a human Pac-Man game :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This Is No Wasteland

My friend, Tom, is a photographer and he started a project where he sends his photography to friends who have asked to participate in his project, and we friends write something to go along with the photo we receive. Here's my first attempt...

This Is No Wasteland

You can see the rest of his beautiful photography at Adventures of Photo Beard.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me

The Brakeman is letting off some steam,
This has to be the slowest train that I have ever seen
and the Sandman's waiting to deliver me my dream,
Guess I'll lay my head against my elbow and the window

Watch the wheels go,
Watch the wheels go

Roll on, roll on oh little train
Brakeman blow your whistle, throw your weight upon the chain

Make way, for whatever will be, will be
Between the Sandman, the Brakeman, and me.

And the Sandman's waiting to deliver me my dream, deliver me my dream, deliver me my dream,

Guess I'll lay my head against my elbow and the window
Let my wheels go, let my wheels go

(background)Let my wheels go

Roll on, roll on oh little train
Brakeman blow your whistle, throw your weight upon the chain

Now make way,
Whatever will be, will be,
Between the Sandman, the Brakeman, and me.

Roll on, roll on oh little train,
Brakeman blow your whistle, throw your weight upon the chain

Oh make way, whatever will be, will be
Between the Sandman, the Brakeman and me.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fresh meat

My brother's friend shot a couple of wild hogs this morning, then my brother and cousin skinned and prepared them, and then we ate pork burgers for dinner. Probably the freshest meat I've ever eaten (it was still oinking this morning!) ... And it dawned on me that I'm officially back in the Midwest when this is my Saturday night...and it was awesome.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Harold Arnett

A poem from Spoon River Anthology, "Harold Arnett" ...

I leaned against the mantel, sick, sick,
Thinking of my failure, looking into the abysm,
Weak from the noon-day heat.
A church bell sounded mournfully far away.
I heard the cry of a baby,
And the coughing of John Yarnell,
Bed-ridden, feverish, feverish, dying,
Then the violent voice of my wife:
"Watch out, the potatoes are burning!"
I smelled them...then there was irresistible disgust.
I pulled the trigger...blackness...light...
Unspeakable regret...fumbling for the world again.
Too late! Thus I came here,
With lungs for cannot breathe here with lungs,
Though one must breathe....Of what use is it
To rid one's self of the world,
When no soul may ever escape the eternal destiny of life?

Friday, February 22, 2013

The 3 F's

Family + Friends + Food = Happy. And Fat. Ok, 4 F's.

After a little over two weeks back home, I think it's allllllmost time to stop pigging out. Almost. It's been deliciously fun, but I'm seriously starting to feel it.

Well, let's see. The first week back home was pretty productive with buying a car and finding a place to live, but the second week was both productive and loads of fun. I moved into my apartment (easiest move in the history of all of my moves, of which there have been plenty), and I got a job with my old company in Denver, working mostly remotely from Illinois. Couldn't be happier about that. Plus I think my sleep is nearly back on track. Now I'm no longer waking up at 2, 3 and 4am because of the jet lag, but now I'm waking up at 2, 3 and 4am because my downstairs neighbor is playing music loudly at those hours. We've talked about it and exchanged numbers, so hopefully this is a temporary thing while she adjusts to finally having a neighbor upstairs. Apparently this apartment has been vacant awhile and she got used to living neighbor-free.

I love my new little apartment. It's furnished, clean, cute and the perfect size for all of my lack of belongings now that I've downsized my life. I have great cell service and super-fast internet, which are basically my only two requirements after living in China and totally reevaluating what living conditions I need in order to feel comfortable. Oh, and I have yet to see any mold or cockroaches. Bonus! And while we're on the topic, here are some other everyday things I'm totally appreciating now more than I ever did before…
  • A bed without springs poking into my spine and other random organs that shouldn't be poked by springs
  • A 4-burner stove top (now I can cook separate things at the same time!)
  • A fridge that cools my food-stuff
  • Being able to drink tap water
  • Not having to wear shower shoes
  • Not having to wear rubber flip-flops indoors (seriously, everyone in China does this…maybe because everyone has tile floors and they get dirty so fast? I really don't know why, but you just have to do this.)
  • Being able to flush toilet paper (hooray!)
  • Oh, and being able to go grocery shopping and buy terribly unhealthy things that taste oh so terribly good

Here are some highlights from the past week or so...

Last Wednesday I went to my niece Josie's school to speak to her 6th grade Social Studies class about China. Her teacher invited me in to speak because they just finished studying a unit on China, so it was perfect timing. They learned all about ancient China so I came in to speak about modern everyday China. I brought in lots of things to pass around, like books, money, Chinese New Year decorations, chopsticks, etc. etc. And I taught them some words, which seemed to be the thing they liked the most, well, besides the money. I was teaching them how Chinese people can count to ten on one hand by using unique finger gestures for each of the numbers, and one boy asked, "Do Chinese people have more than ten fingers?" He was completely serious. And I had to be the adult who doesn't laugh at such questions, and politely answer in a way that made him feel like it wasn't a silly question and also so the rest of the class wouldn't laugh at him. Most of the other kids, however, did groan and slap their palms against their foreheads.

Then on Thursday I went to East Peoria to speak to my other niece's 4th grade class. They had so many questions I could barely field them all quickly enough. I love how curious kids are, and how they ask questions that wouldn't occur to us to ask. I handed out candies I brought back from China, and the kids loved them. But then later during the discussion a boy raised his hand, and he looked pretty sad, and I called on him and he said, "That candy you gave us gave me really bad heartburn." Aww, he was too cute. I apologized.

While I was in East Peoria I got to hang out at my sister's house before heading to the school, so I force-cuddled her cute dachshund...

until she no longer wanted the forced cuddles...

Then on Friday I went to my nephew Justin's Valentine's Day party and helped out with the various activities. He's in first grade...

I even got to read a storybook to the class, which was always one of my favorite parts of teaching in China. There really is an art to reading to a group of kids, and it's more than just reading the words on a page.

Then on Friday night my nine-year-old niece, Emilia, spent the night and we had a blast ordering in yummy pizza, playing games, walking to the park and goofing off, and making rootbeer floats.

Then on Saturday I caught up with an old classmate I hadn't seen in about 18 years, since high school. And on Sunday I visited my brother, sis-in-law and 1.5 year old nephew Mason, and then my six-year-old nephew Justin and my eleven-year-old niece Josie spent the night since they didn't have school Monday for President's Day. We went out for pizza, played games, made more rootbeer floats, walked to breakfast the next day, walked to the park to play, made Jell-O in orange peels, made brownies, and watched the original 3 Star Wars movies back-to-back in the background while putting together a Star Wars puzzle and playing games. Here are the Jell-O treats we made, and then realized we should have made jigglers because the Jell-O seems to soak in and shrink more making it the original way. It's supposed to be flush with the edge of the peel so that you can then slice them into neat orange slices...

Then we mixed all four leftover flavors into a big bowl of Jell-O fruit punch. Here are some collages I made on my iPhone of pics of all four nieces and nephews (and a photo of confused birds flying north already) that we took over those few days...


Josie told me about the cool collage app for iPhone so I downloaded it and tried it out. It's a weird feeling when I was always the tech geek of the family, and now my little nieces and nephews are out tech-geeking me. I've been letting them download lots of apps and games to my iPhone and iPad and it's amazing how quick they are to pick up new technology. They're even teaching me new tips and tricks on my iPhone, a phone I've been using for two and a half years!

I came home the other day to a package at my door, and lookie lookie what was inside...

A huge thank you to my good friend Tom, who knows the way to this girl's heart. I never was a big drinker, but in my old(er) age I've grown away from the girly sweet drinks and now really enjoy a good beer, good wine and good American whiskey. The only fru fru drink I really enjoy nowadays is a really good Manhattan. So anyway, spending a year in China not drinking anything (I think I had watered down beer a couple of times while out karaoking with friends, and a glass of red wine on two occasions)...this is a much appreciated housewarming gift.

Yesterday I woke up and craved pancakes, which is one of the only foods I had yet to eat since returning to the states. So I made some from scratch. Not from a box mix, but from scratch scratch extra scratch (don't think I've ever done that before). And I added a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla extract, and holy cow they were good...

The only thing I truly miss from time to time from all my belongings that I left behind in Denver a year and a half ago is my big collection of poetry books. So I went to the library, got a card, and checked out a few. I've been reading the Spoon River Anthology this week, which is a book I had always heard about growing up here in the Spoon River Valley, but never took time to read.

The author grew up around here and wrote this really neat collection of poems that are spoken from real people (or characters based on real people he knew had lived in these parts) from their graves. It was such a uniquely creative idea for his time, and the poems have an air of brutal honesty about them, maybe because the voices of the dead can be completely honest. The poetry itself isn't mind-blowingly beautiful or anything, but the stories these voices tell seem a little more special because they are so specifically about a place that I am connected to. The poems are a bit pessimistic…or the voices of the speakers in the poems seem pessimistic. What's funny is that through the pessimistic tone, a subtle optimism emerges, like a hint of something lying just beneath the surface. Kind of like how we can sometimes infer something deeper by those things not said, precisely because they were not said. Things that lie in the contrast. Like reading between the lines.

Fresh snow

Woke up at 5am and remembered today is garbage day. It's been awhile since I lived somewhere where we set it out on the street on a certain day. Living in LA and Denver we had to put it in nearby dumpsters or the big garbage/recycling cans that are just always there in the same spot all week. I may need to set a weekly reminder. So I walked outside at 5am to fresh snow up to my ankles...I love the unique fresh smell in the air after a snowfall and how fresh snow sort of dampens all the sounds so you just sort of feel like you're transported out of time and space for a moment.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, February 11, 2013

Settling in

Well, I've been back in the states, back in my hometown, for one week. It was a productive yet relaxing week. I ate all of my favorite foods that I missed, not only for the past year of living out of the states but for the past seventeen or so years of not living in the midwest. I also purchased a used car, found an apartment, and started the job hunt. I also spent some time getting back in touch with family and catching up with their lives.

I even found a new hobby since I'm such an early riser. Each morning I go to a different diner, drink never-ending cups of coffee (I love how the diner staff keeps your mug full without even having to ask), and chat with all the old timers. When we get around to talking about families, they all seem to know my family members (everyone knows everyone here) and they tell me old stories about them. It's pretty awesome. I've gone to an old restaurant in town that my grandma used to take us kids to, and that place hasn't changed a bit since then. And I hope it never does.

I'm also trying to organize my China photos because I'm going to speak at my niece's school about what it was like living in China. It's funny that they just finished learning about China in their Social Studies class -- she's in 6th grade -- so it's perfect timing to come in and talk about what it's like experiencing the everyday modern China as a complement to all the history they just learned. And my other niece who is a couple of years younger has asked me to come speak to her class too. Should be lots of fun. You know what's crazy? My hometown is Canton and was named after Canton, China which is now named Guangzhou. I flew through Guangzhou a couple of times this past year. A nearby town named Pekin was named after Peking, China which is now named Beijing. Both founders thought these Chinese cities were exactly opposite side of the world from Canton and Pekin, Illinois. They were wrong, but hey, it was before Google Earth.

I also got my butt back to the gym yesterday to work off all the rice and noodles I ate this past year. Oh, and the cheeseburgers, taco salad, tenderloin, pizza, beef jerky, twizzlers and chips I've eaten this week. I'm so happy my hometown now has a gym. A real, state of the art gym. The town has had a pretty rocky history economically, but it seems to be on a slight upswing. Hooray!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Back in the 'ol USofA

And dang it's cold!

I arrived in Chicago on Monday around noon after leaving Hong Kong on Monday around noon. A fourteen hour time difference and a fourteen hour flight makes for a strange little time warp. I flew from Haikou to Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon and stayed over night at the airport hotel. I took advantage of being near good food again to eat a great big juicy cheeseburger, medium rare, with a delicious manhattan on the side.

The flight from Hong Kong to Chicago was great. I have a new favorite airline in Cathay Pacific. Unlimited drinks, snacks, good meals, good movies, enough leg room, comfy seats, free wine in economy class (which I didn't take advantage of for some silly reason) and great service.

They even checked my luggage all the way through from Haikou to Chicago so I didn't have to hassle with it during my night's stay in Hong Kong. That was the best part since I had two huge bags that are impossible to lug around without a trolly.

When I arrived in Chicago I got right through Customs in less than ten minutes and picked up luggage with only a few minutes of wait time. Talk about smooth all around. A+ gold star extra credit travel experience!


I took a shuttle from the airport to a nearby hotel where my mom and brother were waiting for me. And when I got off the shuttle I was so excited to see them that I ran right off to hug them and left my backpack on the shuttle. I didn't realize it was missing until the end of that day when I was three hours away in my hometown and taking my bags to my hotel room. Oopsie. I then remembered a missed call I received on the drive back from Chicago and thought oh crap, that was probably the hotel telling me about my bag. Why didn't I check my voice mail when I saw it? Who knows. So I listened to the message and yes, it was the shuttle driver telling me about my bag. So I called him back and they said they'd hold the bag for me.

On Tuesday my mom and I went car shopping. She took the day off work so we could spend some time together, how sweet. I was thiiiiiiiis close to buying a car from a dealer in a nearby town but it needed repairs and they wouldn't budge anymore on the price so it didn't work out, but my mom let me borrow her car the rest of the week to do more car hunting. Thanks, mom!

On Wednesday my sister-in-law and I drove up to Chicago to get my bag. It was great catching up with her on the road trip. We stopped in Bloomington on the way back and ate at Steak-n-Shake...Frisco Melt and chocolate malt milkshake. Heaven. I'm well on my way to gaining a good 20 pounds. And it will be the most delicious 20 pounds I've ever gained.

Speaking of my sis-in-law, she did something pretty awesome. I no longer have any cold weather clothing since I left Denver with wimpy clothing only. So when I arrived in Chicago to below freezing weather and snow and no heavy jacket or gloves, it was quite the shocker. But she had picked up a couple of my winter coats and a flannel shirt at my place in Denver after I left and they didn't fit her, so she gave them back to me. What a wonderful surprise. Thanks, sis!

I stayed in a hotel the first two nights and then moved over to my dad's house since he is down in Texas for the Winter. Seems like half my family moves down there for the Winter these past several years. I think they are in semi-retirement mode. I just had to flip on the heat and ask my brother to light up the water heater, and bam, I'm no longer homeless. I know I should be able to light a water heater, but when I read the instructions and it said in big letters to make sure there is no gas in the thingie before you light it, well, that was enough for me to back away from the heater and call my brother.

I'm looking at a few apartments this week and will probably make a decision this weekend. So I'll be extra extra no longer homeless by next week. One of the apartments is owned by my old high school boyfriend. And now he may be my landlord. Oh, life.

I was informed that the public library has free wifi, so I came over this morning to do some car hunting online and wow, it's extremely fast. Way to go, Canton. I'm back here again this evening to do some job hunting and catch up on emails. It's funny, I haven't been in this library for over 20 years and when I walked in and smelled the same 'ol library smell, it was like wham, flashback mode. I remember coming to the library in 4th grade to play Oregon Trail on the new Apple IIe computers. I also remember using the encyclopedias and microfiche readers (wha?!) to research school papers. I'm officially old.

This morning I stopped by a restaurant and sat at the counter to have some freshly brewed coffee (oh, how I've missed thee) and I ended up making chit-chat with some old locals. Again, I swear I'm a 70 year old man in a 35 year old woman's body. It's funny how everyone really does know everyone here. It's a town of around 14,000 people and nothing's a secret. It's interesting to be back after 17+ years and see things from a different perspective. It's also interesting to notice how friendly and chatty people are. People take time to make conversation. Small town life. Guess I spent too many years in big cities. Now these things surprise me…in a good way.

This afternoon my sister-in-law and I met my brother and his coworkers for lunch and had yummy tacos. I sure did miss Mexican food. And turns out my brother works with our cousin, so I got to see him as well. I'll be slowly getting back in touch with my sprawling family over the next few weeks or so.

After lunch I drove a car I was thinking of buying out to my mom's mechanic so he could give it a once over. He did this for me with another car on Tuesday, which turned out to be a huge help because he found some issues the dealership didn't mention. After he finished, he called a local used car lot to inquire if they had anything in my range, and they did, so we went over to test drive one of them. We took it back to his shop and he checked that one out as well. It's a great car for the price. The mechanic is going to call the car lot owner guy tomorrow to talk more details and try to get the price down even more, so keeping fingers crossed. Thanks, mechanic man!

I forgot how dry and static-y winter is here. All the humidity I stored up over the past year living on a tropical island left me within a day of arriving in the midwest. My hands look like the hands of a 70 year old man. Hmm.

Well that's enough brain dump for now. Library is closing soon!

Love always,
The Mooching Vagabond

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Neighbor lady strikes again

For months and months I have avoided turning the lights on when I go into the kitchen for fear my neighbor lady will see me from her kitchen window across the way (I have no curtain hangie things in the kitchen to block her view). Well tonight I chanced it, turned on the lights and went into my kitchen to peel an orange. Sure enough, five seconds later my neighbor lady appeared in her window and started her high pitched screaming. I've had a cold all week and can't raise my voice so I just stood there making exaggerated shrugging motions, palms face-up, head tilted to one side. I knew what came next by past experience...seconds later she was pounding on my apartment door. And again it wasn't normal knocking; it was walls-shaking, earth-shattering, thunderous pounding. I let her in and she started speaking a mile a minute, none of which I understood. Then she pointed to my water bottles I had set aside to take out for recycling, so I said ok here you go and handed them to her. Then she left. So I shut off all the lights and scurried to my bedroom to hide. Seconds later she was back at the door pounding like a maniac. I opened the door and this time she came into my apartment and flipped on my living room lights and nosed around a bit as she kept pointing to the ceiling and speaking too quickly. Btw she's the neighbor lady I can never understand even when I can understand my other neighbors just fine. Maybe it's an accent thing. Then the meter man appears in my doorway (it's 8pm btw, not cool guys) and then I understood. Tomorrow the 25th is our usual water meter reading day but since it lands on a Friday this month I guess he wanted to read them early, who knows. So meter man came in and read my meters while neighbor lady wandered around my apartment looking things over. I currently have all my belongings in neat piles all over the living room since I need to pack soon for my trip back to the states, so neighbor lady was sure to inspect it all thoroughly. As weird as it sounds, part of me will miss her and our odd encounters.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, January 7, 2013

What's in the box? Pain.

Know what I do on those rare occasions when I can't fall asleep right away and it's a school night and I absolutely need to sleep? I watch Dune (1984). Works like magic. Sleepy, sleepy magic. And each time, I start it from where I fell asleep the previous time. I'm still only 1:46 into it after all these years.

"He who controls the Spice, controls the universe!"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A year in review, part 3

Hopefully this is the third and final part to the 2012 review. Gotta get started living 2013 already!

First off, I just want to share something I did so it can serve as a warning to you to not do the same.

The other night I watched Rosemary's Baby right before bed.

Don't ever do that. Never ever never ever ever ever never. I had the most bizarre and vaguely frightening dreams. All night long. I woke up feeling like I never even slept. I also woke up feeling pretty sure the little blonde child in my nightmare was half mine and half Satan's spawn.

Speaking of slightly demonic children, yesterday was the first day back to work at the kindergarten after six wonderfully lazy days off for the new year holiday. And holy cow those kids were insane. They were all jacked up on six days of pent up energy.

There were a few times I wished I had my video camera handy to record their insanity. Some of them were sitting in their tiny chairs and literally vibrating/shaking, ready to explode if we didn't provide some sort of release. So I tried to make my classes extra active today so they could get up, jump around, be silly, whatever it took. Several of the kids turned into miniature tornadoes of fists and feet, and I'm pretty sure I'll have dozens of tiny bruises appear before the day's over.

So I think I left off last time with summarizing a bunch of things I was happy to have accomplished in 2012. Most of it was writing and language-learning related. I've had more free time in one year than I've probably ever had in all the years prior. One thing that I wished I had dedicated more time to was playing the harmonica. I played quite a bit, but not as much as I could have given all this free time.

I tried using some of the free time to take on some extra teaching. I started teaching Friday nights at the kindergarten. The school holds extra classes for older students who have already graduated the kindergarten, and they are held from 8-10pm on Friday nights. Not the greatest teaching schedule, but it was good experience and a little extra cash, so that's a plus. I was able to gain some experience teaching primary/elementary, middle and high school students this way. I learned some valuable lessons (some of which I've written about already)… 1) Never ever make kids go to school on Friday nights after being in school all week for 10+ hours per day…it's pure torture. It's torture for the kids and torture for the teacher. 2) All thirteen year olds should be locked away until they are fourteen.

I was really happy to have gotten that experience, especially when I came here thinking I would just be teaching three to five year olds. It was a great way to challenge myself. And it was interesting to see how different age groups require different sets of teaching skills. I mean yeah, that's obvious, but until you actually stand in front of each of those groups and have to perform, it's just theory. I found it fascinating to see the subtleties between the age groups…the subtle differences in the ability to grasp new material, different learning styles, personality development, the students social interactions, everything.

Oh, and then there was the experience I gained teaching at a university for about 5-6 weeks. I had the opportunity to fill in for another foreign teacher who was hired but had not yet arrived in China. I taught freshman, sophomore, junior and senior classes. The subjects ranged from basic ESL for each of those levels, to tourism English, to business English. That was a pretty intense trial-by-fire, sink-or-swim or what-have-you experience. And I think I did a pretty good job. The university administration informed me I received very good reviews from the students, and I had a blast with those kids…uhh young adults?

I also picked up some tutoring gigs on the side. I think tutoring a 4 year old little boy one-on-one for an hour at a time is the most challenging thing out of all the teaching I did. We mixed it up quite a bit so I could keep his attention and not have him get bored. I created my own materials, downloaded some from the web and went prepared with a variety of subjects, songs, games…and yes, stickers and treats for bribery. I'm not above such tactics.

I feel like throughout all of these experiences and all of these age groups I got a very well-rounded picture of the ESL teaching world. I went into it completely blind, not knowing what to expect, not knowing if I had what it takes, and coming out of it feeling like a champ, not quite a seasoned pro, but definitely a contender for Rookie of the Year.

In addition to all the free time throughout the school year (working only 4 hours per day is a beautiful thing…well, when cost of living is so low), we received 6 weeks off for summer holiday. I took the opportunity to do some traveling. I spent the first two weeks in Beijing visiting my long-time friend who moved there about 5-6 years ago, and the next four weeks traveling around Cambodia, a country I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember.

Hainan, where I live, is the southern-most province in China. It's the little island south of mainland China. So instead of flying to Beijing way way way up north, like a normal, sane, smart person would do, I thought hey, know what would be fun? Let's take the slow train, all 36 hours of it, and I'll get to see the entire countryside from south to north, won't that be fantastic? Well, it was pretty darn cool in some ways, but in other ways it was absolute hell. I've already written about it on this blog, but here's a list of words that summarize it nicely…

bloated, swollen ankles
baby-in-split-pants + 36 hour train ride = bad news for everyone
diarrhea baby poop all over the floor omg kill me now
friendly seat-mates to share munchies and pass the time with
beautiful countryside views

And now I can say I've traveled nearly the entire length of China south to north, no matter how miserable it was. It sure was an experience.

Beijing was amazing. I stayed with my friend and his fiancé for most of that time, and his son was visiting from the states so I got to spend time with all of them as a family, which was wonderful. Thank you, Charlie! I spent the first few days in a little guest house in the Hutong area on the north side of the city. The Hutongs is an older part of the city that has somehow managed to retain that old-style-Beijing-iness of single story buildings and narrow side streets that take you on awesome walking adventures. I felt like I had stepped into another world. I loved walking around that part of the city for hours on end.

I think I arrived in Beijing on a Monday afternoon, so I went straight to the guest house to lie horizontal for six hours straight to deflate my ankles (have you ever tried sitting for 36 hours straight with only 1 bathroom break?) and then I took the next day to explore the nearby neighborhoods on foot and do some sightseeing. Then on Wednesday I took a small group tour to the Great Wall. The small bus/van picked me up near my guest house early in the morning, and there were about 6 or 7 foreigners in total, and I think there were 3 of us Americans. The others were from Switzerland, Germany and somewhere else I forget. They stopped at a jade museum first, which was not on the itinerary, but the tour guides get a commission if their tourists buy anything, so it's a necessary evil of the group tour thing. It was actually pretty cool to learn about the jade, how important it is in Chinese society and how many different kinds of jade there are. We also got to see a workshop where the people were drilling, dremel-tooling, sanding, and polishing the jade into all sorts of things like bracelets, little statues, etc. I didn't buy anything. It seemed really expensive at the museum, and I had seen cheaper prices at little vendor stands while walking around the city. We also visited a pottery factory, and were able to see some of the workers during the many different phases of the process.

Then we rode another hour or so out to the Great Wall. My memory is terrible, but I think the name of the section we visited was Mutianyu. From what I learned, I think there are three main sections that are most popular to visit. Mutianyu is the middle one; it's not the closest to Beijing and it's not the farthest, but it's just far enough away to not be super flooded with tourists, and it has some of the best views. I'm finding it difficult to put into words the feeling that swept over me when we approached the wall, when I first stepped foot on it, and the next couple of hours of walking up and down its stones. I posted all of the photos to my Flickr account, probably way too many photos. Most of that section of the wall is a nice, easy walk, but there were parts of it that were a downright grueling workout. My leg muscles were shaking by the end of it. After the wall, we headed back toward the city and visited a tea house. It was nice to sit and relax while the lady poured us various teas to sample.

On Thursday I got another tattoo.

For the next week or so I stayed with my friend and had a great time hanging out with him and his family. We went to several great restaurants, had the famous Peking Duck, and had happy hour at his apartment almost everyday. He had some American whiskey he had brought from his recent trip to the states, so that was a very nice week. Since they were all busy during the days, I took that time to walk for hours and hours around Beijing's different districts. Each district has its own vibe, and I'm really happy I took the time to go by foot and get a good feel for each one. I also visited the 798 Art Zone a couple of times, which is a collection of art galleries all situated in the Chaoyang District, just a taxi ride to the northeast side of town. On one of those trips I got stuck in a massive downpour and was trudging through water up to my ankles until I finally gave up trying to find a legit taxi and ended up taking a "black" taxi back to town. It's apparently heavily frowned upon to take the black taxis, but I tried, I swear I did. Cross my heart.

Other highlights from my time in Beijing:

Tian'anmen Square
Forbidden City / Palace Museum
Antique market
Silk market
Temple of Heaven
and walked through several of the big, beautiful parks

If I ever decide to come back to China for an extended stay, I would like to stay in Beijing. It seems to be one of those places you could explore for years and still just scratch the surface.

Then I flew from Beijing to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I toured the Angkor Temples there for a couple of days (and posted a million photos to Flickr) and took a bus to Battambang. The only thing set in stone for my visit to Cambodia was a Vipassana meditation course from August 1-12th held on the outskirts of Battambang. I arrived a few days before the retreat, stayed at a wonderful little guest house, and explored the town by bicycle. I kind of fell in love with Battambang, kind of like the way I instantly fell in love with Cordoba. You know how you visit a place and you just sort of know right away whether it's your kind of place? Well that's why I didn't stay in Siem Reap any longer than it took to tour the temples. It's not my sort of town. Battambang was definitely my sort of town. It's less touristy and has a lot of great little restaurants and coffee shops, and is surrounded by the most beautiful countryside. The guest house where I stayed was on the very north side of town, right on the edge, and I was able to bicycle around the country roads for hours and still not be too far away from the town. I met a French tourist and we did some sightseeing together, and we bought some marbles ("klee" in Khmer, one of the only Khmer words I remember) and played marbles with children all over the outskirts of town. We also visited some temples, rode the bamboo train and visited the bat caves (I posted videos of that awhile back).

The Vipassana course was a 10-day course in learning how to meditate, and maintaining complete silence for 10 days straight. It was surprisingly easy once you're in that environment and mindset. The days were long, waking at 4:30am for our first 2-hour meditation of the day. It's amazing what happens to the mind in complete silence, surrounded by a hundred other people with the same goal, and situated in the beautiful Cambodian countryside. The first couple of days are challenging in reining in the mind and keeping it focused on meditation. It's like your mind goes through this process of finally getting around to thinking about things that have been back-burnered for so long because your daily life is so full of moving and talking and thinking about the immediate tasks. With all of that stuff out of the way, the back-burnered stuff comes to the forefront. Sometimes I let my mind wander for way too long before reining it in, but sometimes it felt like it had to be done, just to get stuff out of the way. I have not kept up with the daily meditation like they suggested doing in the mornings and evenings, but I have done it here and there over the past months since the retreat. Would like to make more time for this in the coming year(s).

Battambang was beautiful, and I wanted to move there and teach ESL in 2013. The guest house owner was extremely kind and introduced me to some of the universities in town, and I was offered a teaching gig on the spot. They wanted me to start immediately though. I guess they were spot on when they said it's easier to find a teaching job in Cambodia if you're already on the ground in Cambodia. The guest house owner also introduced me to some local business people in the micro-finance industry and had some good conversation. Then he set up a meeting for me in Phnom Penh with a venture capitalist who was in town for some more humanitarian-slanted work. He's looking for IT people to help him get some projects off the ground. So by the end of the trip I had several leads and connections for work, should I be moving there any time in the near future. Somewhere over the past couple of months, though, plans have changed and I'm returning to IL to spend some quality time with family. I hope to spend some more time in Cambodia in the not-too-distant future.

So anyway, I bussed down to Phnom Pehn for the meeting and spent a couple of days wandering around the city before bussing down to Kep, a small coastal town less touristy than Sihanoukville, which was the other beachy destination I was considering to chill out in for a few days. I stayed at a comfy guest house in Kep, did some swimming, ate some awesome food, and even rented a motorbike for a day and drove down to the Cambodian-Vietnam border. I wanted to ride into Vietnam for the afternoon, but it turned out to be way more expensive than planned. The border police played the game with me called "hmmm, what can we get away with charging the foreigner for another 30-day visa upon re-entry"… not cool, border police, not cool. So I said my thank yous, turned around, and rode back to Kep along a different route, basically making a big circle and getting to explore more of the back roads. It was one of the best little spur-of-the-moment, seat-of-my-pants adventures I have ever taken. I kept testing the limits of the bike and my fear by seeing how fast I could go and still manage to stay alive. And I forgot to put on sunscreen before setting off on the ride and burned the shit out of my arms and shoulders. August in Cambodia is pretty damn sunny. Who woulda thought.

I took a boat to Koh Tonsay ("Rabbit Island") the next day and chilled in a hammock on the beach under some palm trees. That's where I met the lovely older Siberian couple who introduced themselves and kindly shared their rum in mouthwash bottles with me. They also wanted to share some shrimp-in-a-ziploc-baggy with me but I politely declined. I wanted to move to Siberia and become their adopted daughter…part time anyway. The boat ride back to Kep was wet. Ridiculously wet. Because the drivers of the boats decided to race each other at top speeds against the waves, which had us all holding on for dear life. Everyone was completely drenched upon arrival. What a blast.

After a few days in Kep, I bussed back to Phnom Penh and did some more sightseeing for another day or two. I visited S-21, the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, and met one of the survivors who was there for book-signing and to speak about his experiences via interpreter. I bought his book and read it on the flight home. His story was tragic, and it's a miracle he survived. I also bought another book, When The War Was Over: Cambodia And The Khmer Rouge Revolution, and read it over the next couple of months. It's massive and packed full of Cambodia's rich history, as well as the more recent history surrounding the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam War. Mind blowing. After an amazing month in Cambodia, it was time to return to China and start the new school year. I packed a lot into those six weeks of summer vacation, the longest vacation of my life.

That's about it for all the big happenings of 2012. Some other random stuff that happened…

I went to KTV (karoaking) several times with various Chinese friends, which is a big deal for someone who has only ever karaoke'd (karaoked? karaokied?) once in her entire life. I sang one song a couple of years ago because I lost a bowling match. The loser had to karaoke in the bowling alley bar. It was excruciating…for everyone. Well here in China, your group of friends rents a small karaoke room where they can sing in private amongst themselves. It's way too loud and most people are drinking and talking and playing dice games while you sing anyway. My Chinese friends always make me sing the English songs, but I decided to finally learn a Chinese song, and I actually sang it one night, and didn't do too bad. Here's the song I learned…不得不爱 or Gotta Love You.

Another random thing that I did earlier in the year was join a boxing gym. A tall, dark and handsome Chinese guy taught me how to box. He even gave me those hand-wrappy straps that real live boxers wear, for free. He also made me run barefoot around the gym floor, which eventually resulted in a foot fracture, tear or sprain of some sort. I was hobbling around for…I don't remember how long...I lost count after six weeks of walking weird. Right before that happened is when I had planned to run the Danzhou Hainan 2012 International Marathon which was to take place mid-December. That left me plenty of training time to get back into marathon shape. But with the foot fiasco and then the long summer holiday full of no running, I gave up on that idea.

I didn't do too much exploring of the island while I've lived here. I went to Sanya once (famous-ish beachy resort destination on the south side of the island), and during that trip with the teachers from my school we also visited Yanoda (the "rainforest" near the middle of the island) and a town called Baoting, where we had a meal that was supposedly very nice.

This past year has felt like ten years, and I'm actually looking forward to returning to my tiny hometown after all these 17+ years away and laying low for awhile and catching up with family. Living in China has been an amazing, intense, and mind-altering/expanding experience, and I hope to return for another couple of years stint in the future. I will miss several things about living in China, even some of the more frustrating experiences, because if nothing else, they served as a sort of mirror. Every experience here makes you stop and think about things from a different perspective. I will miss how quick and easy it is to buy fresh fruits and veggies at the little produce vendors and get yummy soup from the soup man in the alley at all hours of the evening. I will miss trying to have conversations in a foreign language with whoever I meet while out and about, in a taxi or wherever. And as strange as it sounds, I will miss being an outsider. It really messes with your head, you know, in a good way. The number one thing I will miss, which I think I've written about previously, is that every single time I leave my apartment, I know I'm going to have an adventure. Something unexpected and surprising always happens.

And I keep thinking to myself that it's gotta be possible for life to be like this every single day no matter where you live. Maybe it's just a matter of keeping in that mindset, open to the world around you, saying yes more often than no, and the adventures and surprises will present themselves.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A year in review, part 2

Finally made my way out of bed, showered, taxied over to the Guamao district again, stopped for some sushi, and am now plopped down at Gusto coffee shop to continue start the review of 2012. Looks like I got here early enough to find one of the last comfy places to sit with a laptop.

Last night I watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and it quickly shot up to one of my top 5 favorite westerns. And not just because of the famous dialogue:

Dobbs: "If you're the police where are your badges?"
Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

Finally knowing the source of a quote that is so often quoted (or misquoted) makes me so stupidly, irrationally happy. To know that it didn't originate with Beavis & Butthead or Blazing Saddles or any of the other countless movies makes me feel like I solved a great mystery.

Just like earlier this year when I watched Raging Bull for the first time and saw the "I coulda been a contender" scene at the end and was like OH MY GOD now I know where that quote comes from! And then a friend was kind enough to inform me that De Niro in Raging Bull is simply quoting a line from another movie…On The Waterfront. It took the wind out of my sails, but I quickly downloaded the movie and watched it and felt much, much better.

Anyway TTOTSM is a great movie, and SPOILER ALERT Humphrey Bogart's character gets beheaded. But we don't get to see the beheading because the censors apparently made them remove the scene, so all we see is an extra whack of the machete and a splash in the water where the head supposedly rolled in. And that's not why it's such a good movie. It's got a whole lot more going for it than badges and beheadings. There's a pretty in-depth theme about human nature, trustworthiness, honesty, and conscience.

After The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was over (and that's another reason I know it was an awesome movie…I stayed awake for the whole thing) I watched Akira (1988). It's a new hobby I adopted this year: Watching old westerns and Japanese anime back to back. Give it a try, it's a whole new mind-expanding experience...

The Shootist to Cowboy Bepop
Red River to Ghost In The Shell
Shane to Princess Mononoke
Rio Bravo to Perfect Blue

Oh, and another thing I accomplished in 2012 (and you thought I would never get around to reviewing 2012…see, it's all related...) was watching (re-watching really) several of the old Akira Kurosawa samurai films and their western remakes back to back…

Seven Samurai to The Magnificent Seven
Rashomon to The Outrage
Yojimbo to A Fistful of Dollars

I've had a lot of free time on my hands this year. I think you'll agree that I put it to good use.

I watched the six-and-a-half-hour Lonesome Dove miniseries…..twice. I think I've mentioned how much I love Robert Duvall.

And since we're talking movies, another thing I accomplished this year is building up a pretty amazing movie collection. I…acquired…over 450 movies (and counting)…acquired OUTSIDE of the United States and for PERSONAL USE ONLY (necessary disclaimer).

Oh, and a few hundred albums of music, most of which I realized I had already purchased at some point in my life. And after acquiring all that awesome music, I finally got around to making some pretty respectable iTunes playlists. I know it may sound silly, but I've never found myself with enough free time to dedicate to cultivating a nice digital music collection. And I finally did it. And it feels good.

Another thing I'm pretty happy about is going a whole year without watching TV. Well, I haven't really watched TV in about 10+ years, but it's even easier to avoid it here in China where I've heard there's not much English-language programming on the basic access. And besides, the TV in my apartment broke months ago.

The "part 1" of the review was pretty linear, so this "part 2" is going to be extra jumpy-aroundy.

Anyway, building up such a massive digital library necessitated buying external storage since this laptop is already maxed out. Building up such a huge iTunes library on the local disk will do that. So I purchased a couple of 500GB external drives here in China, one of which crapped out recently (damn you, Toshiba…what was I thinking…) but the other one was Seagate and still works perfectly fine. So after the crapout, I went back to DC Cheng (I've mentioned this electronics mega-warehouse place recently in another post) and purchased a 1TB Seagate external drive. The prices are pretty good here. I'm pretty much in love with my new hard drive. It can be used on Mac and PC…simul-freaking-taneously. Yes, without reformatting. The next goal is to backup all of the many photos and videos I've taken on all my adventures over the past year.

Speaking of photos and videos, I'm going to have to wait until I return to the states before I upload and share most of them since I let my VPN expire and I can't get to Flickr or any other halfway decent social networking or photo-sharing site on the whole dang internet while here in China behind The Great Firewall.

I have some serious love for China (maybe not Haikou, per se) but if there was one thing that would keep me from living here again in the future it would be the restricted internet access. To have to pay for a VPN service (the more reliable ones aren't free) just to access the regular 'ol internet is not cool, not cool at all, China. Anyway...

Picking up where I left off yesterday, I flew from Madrid to Kathmandu by way of London and Delhi. The flight from London to Delhi was an overnight flight, and since I can sleep anywhere, any time, in any situation, I slept a big chunk of the long flight. Until…

The Indian man sitting next to me started making out with me in my sleep. That pretty much woke me up.

I'm not sure in what world it's totally normal and acceptable to make out with a stranger while they're sleeping, but it certainly isn't cool in my world. I snapped awake, stunned, unable to think of something to say. And what do you say in that situation anyway? There was still a lot of flight left to go. I realized my head had sunk down pretty far onto my right shoulder, which was pretty close to his left shoulder, but I know I wasn't sleeping on his shoulder, so I don't think he could have mistaken me trying to put the moves on him first.

We sat there in the dead-quiet of the cabin looking at each other for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably just a few seconds. It was pretty dark, but I think my look was something like "what the f*** are you doing?! Omg gross my lips are kinda wet" and his look was something like "uhhhmmm la la la oh no oh no oh no is she going to freak out??"

I didn't freak out, mostly because I was still half-stunned and also because I didn't want to wake anyone. The entire cabin was asleep. It was a packed flight and I couldn't move anywhere else, so I didn't want to cause a scene and still have to sit next to the make-out king for however many hours. But I did give him thee most intense laser death eyes I've ever given, and I think my kill-kill-kill stare got the point across. I turned all the way to the left, to the aisle, and tried to fall back to sleep. And you know what? It's pretty difficult to fall back to sleep after something like that.

I arrived in Delhi pretty darn tired, but thankfully it was a short layover and I was off to Nepal. I got bumped to first class since it was a mostly-empty flight. The flight into Kathmandu was amazingly gorgeous. Bright blue skies with snow-covered mountains in the distance. I took a photo of one of the peaks far off in the distance thinking it was probably Mt. Everest. I'll never forget those sights.

I spent six weeks in Nepal, four of which were dedicated to the TEFL course. I settled into a guest house, and stayed there for the entire six weeks. I had a small room with two single beds and a private bathroom. It was freezing cold in Kathmandu in January despite there being no snow. And I had hot water in the shower most of the time, but there were several morning showers that were painful, bordering on torturous. Kathmandu was under (and may still be experiencing) planned power outages for up to 14 hours per day. To stay warm, the guests would huddle around the space heater in the guest house lounge, when the power was on anyway. Thankfully the guest house had a generator that they were generous in running for their guests. So we had power more often than many of the surrounding guest houses, restaurants and shops. By the way, friends have asked me what a guest house is. From what I've experienced in Nepal, China and Cambodia, it's basically just a term used for smaller hotels, or privately-run hotels that sometimes have fewer rooms and often times offer better rates for extended stays. The ones I stayed in this past year were mostly run by families instead of big corporations. Anyway, I enjoyed my stay at the Tibet Guest House and even made a couple of friends while staying there. I spent the first week walking around the city, getting lost and getting found again, and even got scammed once or twice. Despite the scamming (which I treated as a naive traveller initiation or rite of passage), I found Nepal to be an extremely open and welcoming place for foreigners. I plan to return in the future and do some of that famous trekking since I didn't get the opportunity to do it last year.

The TEFL course was basically 40 hours per week, Mon-Fri and really homework-heavy. We had to prepare all of our own teaching materials since we were taken to several villages to teach real classes in real schools with real students. I think we had to teach 8 classes over the course of the month. Those were some of the best experiences of my life to date. It seems most of the people, especially younger people, in Nepal know some English and know it pretty well. So communicating with everyone was easy. I think it was easier communicating in Nepal than it was in Spain. I had forgotten way too much of my high school Spanish. In hindsight, spending time in Spain and Nepal was a good transition period before landing in China…moving slowly from all-English, to some-English, to absolutely-no-English. It probably gave my brain time to adjust and not freak out so much.

During my short stay in Nepal I had some unfortunate health-related things happen…

- Not one, but two sinus infections.
- One case of food poisoning.
- One case of oops-I-drank-too-much sickness (in my defense, the leaders of the TEFL course took us all out to celebrate the completion of the course and mucho mucho rice wine was forced on me…forced in a friendly way)

About halfway through January is when I started searching online for teaching positions in Asia. My first choice was Cambodia but quickly realized how difficult it was to find teaching positions online. And from everything I had read, it sounded like the best way to find work in Cambodia was to already be on the ground in Cambodia. Long story short, I narrowed it down to a position at a high school in Beijing and this position at the kindergarten here in Haikou. I weighed all of the factors and decided to try Haikou, mostly because it wasn't a top tier city. My friend lives in Beijing and I figured I could go visit him later and experience Beijing, so why not experience a lesser-known area of China? Well, this year was both awesome and miserable. Awesome because China is completely opposite to the US, and miserable because Hainan (the province where I live) is completely the same as hell…same temperature anyway. More on China later.

So I secured the teaching position, booked a flight to China for February 3rd since the semester was to begin on February 7th, finished the TEFL course, and then spent the next week in Nepal doing some sightseeing, mostly visiting several of the temples. I rented a car/driver to take me to a city outside of Kathmandu way up in the mountains and stayed at a beautiful cliffside hotel. The fog rolled in and out and when the skies were clear enough, I was surrounded by the most amazing views of snow-covered peaks with a lush green valley far below. Also during those few days of free time in Nepal I was invited to volunteer at an orphanage in one of the small villages way outside of Kathmandu for a day. It was an amazing experience. I sure wish I knew of a few more words besides amazing to describe my time in Nepal. I have so many vivid, inspiring memories from my short time there. The vibe of that place is completely unique and full of love and respect for life.

I think I'll stop there and let the love vibe linger before jumping into China. No offense, China.

To summarize some other happenings of 2012…

I read a lot of books in all this luscious free time. I learned that I can't control myself in a bookstore, even when I know I need to travel lightly, and ended up picking up several books at this wonderful tiny bookstore in Kathmandu. I downloaded and read a lot of other books, and read some books borrowed by new friends here in China. It was a good year for reading.

I also did a lot of writing, which is something I've always struggled to allow more time for. The two big writing-related things I accomplished in 2012, that I have wanted to do for years but never had time for, were…

NaPoWriMo - National Poetry Writing Month. The goal was to write a poem a day for the entire month of April. I think I wrote double or triple that many, most of which can be found on this blog under the April archive. It was a good opportunity to write a bunch of crap so the better stuff can start coming to the surface. Still waiting on that better stuff to start surfacing. Any day now. ::foot-tapping / finger-drumming motions:: I guess one of the shining moments of the month was when one of my poems was stumbled upon by someone at the Best American Poetry blog and they featured my poem on their blog (mine is called A Lecture From Heidegger). That was a very nice surprise.


NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. The goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. It was tough, even with all of this free time, but I did it. It's done. I may never do it again. And it is something I most definitely won't be posting on this here blog.

Another writing-related thing I did was keep a dream journal, where I tried to jot down all of my crazy dreams. I ended up writing all of them down between February and May-ish and then got lazy and just started posting them on Facebook, and posted some of them to this blog. A huge apology to all you Facebook friends who I bored (or freaked out) with all of my crazy dreams. Some of them were real doozies.

I also started writing a children's book. I have lots of ideas for children's books that I'd like to work on over the next year, and maybe even try submitting them for publication. I started researching the ins and outs of the children's book publishing industry and it doesn't seem so bad if you go into it with a lot of patience, thick skin and not a whole lot of grand expectations. Check, check and double-check. I am the queen of setting low expectations. And some say that's a bad thing.

Another big accomplishment of 2012 was becoming a real, live teacher. I may not have the degree in education or the many years of experience, but I got certified for a specific type of teaching, found a job, started teaching, and gradually improved over the course of the year. And throughout that process I learned that I have an amazing, seemingly unlimited capacity for love of other people's children. I really surprised myself with how much I love kids, love teaching them, love playing with them, love being around them, love comforting them, and love just being there to experience the world through their eyes. It's such a beautiful thing. My respect for teachers and parents quadrupled this year.

Let's see, what else…

Oh, another big thing for 2012 was getting to speak so many different languages all within one year: Spanish, Nepali, Chinese, Khmer, American Sign Language and English of course. I only learned a teensie bit of some of those, but it was so neat to be able to experience so many different cultures and dabble in their languages in such a short timeframe.

The one I'm really happy about is Chinese. I studied fairly consistently on my own and got to a point where I can understand quite a bit of what's going on around me. I can't hold in-depth conversations, especially about politics or literature, but I can navigate my daily Chinese life pretty well. I've also become a good eavesdropper and can understand when people are talking about me (not too many foreigners in these here parts, so we get talked about often)…and then I flash them a knowing glance and a big 'ol smile. Fun times.

So yeah, the sign language thing…that was unexpected. I watched a couple of movies where one of the main characters was deaf, and the movies did a great job of putting the viewer in their shoes. I found some great websites for learning ASL and started practicing. It's either surprisingly easy to pick up, or I have finally found something I have a natural knack for learning and retaining. Going to keep practicing.

Well, it's break time again. I think too much happened in 2012, and I guess brevity is not my middle name.

Random fact: Tomorrow (January 3rd) is my mom's 59th birthday!

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

If this week was a fortune in a cookie it would simply say "Vacationing." (in bed)

This has been such a wonderfully lazy vacation, waking up early and staying in bed until god-knows-what-time-o-clock. This morning's laze consisted of back-to-back listenings of Patti Smith's first album (Horses 1975) and latest album (Banga 2012) while reading the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. I don't ever want to go back to the real world.

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A year in review, part 1

I figure it's a good idea to reflect upon the last year or so on the first day of the new year, especially since I have nothing better going on today. Haikou isn't the most happenin' place in Asia. I'll probably focus mostly on the good things since you can read my blog posts detailing the various states of culture shock I went through this past year for the more negative things. Which, now that I think about it, wasn't all that bad. Besides having more colds in one year than I've ever had in my entire life, I can't really think of too many negative things that happened during the past year. I'm a pretty fortunate human being, and I'm more and more grateful for that.

I think I'll start with December 17th, 2011. The day that turned my life upside down and inside out and a little more awesomer than it had been prior to December 17th, 2011.

I could turn the story of that weekend into a novel but I'll keep it short and sweet since there's a whole year to review, but I think that day is a good starting point, because without it, I wouldn't be sitting in this coffee shop in China thinking how completely bizarre and wonderful the year 2012 was.

On Saturday, December 17th, 2011 I was sitting on my living room floor wrapping the last of the Christmas gifts for friends and family. It was a beautiful, sunny wintery day in Denver, Colorado and the bright sun was flooding my living room making it especially cozy. I loved that apartment, with its hardwood floors and unique cutesy touches. I had gone out with a friend the night before to see a favorite local blues band perform at Lincoln's Roadhouse, a great bar for blues watchin' and whiskey drinkin'. It was a great night. I think we enjoyed some Knob Creek and good conversation with several other blues fans and harmonica players. And on Saturday my friend and I were planning to go to Colorado Springs to attend a holiday party. So I finished wrapping presents and hopped in the shower to get ready for the party. And I still can't fully describe what happened in any way that makes any sort of logical sense, but at some point during that shower (I think it was during the hair-washing portion) something clicked, or snapped, or what some of my friends and family would probably more accurately describe as short-circuited…and I thought to myself, "I'm done. And I'm going to leave."

I was happy. I was happy in that moment, the moments leading up to the shower, the night before, and the days, weeks and months before that. So when people have asked me, "What's wrong? Are you okay?" when they learned of what I did, it's a difficult thing to answer because the answer I give people is not the answer they expect which means it's not the answer they want which means it's not an answer they believe which means it's not an answer they react positively to. Such is the human condition I suppose. But I've long since stopped worrying about what others think of my actions, so long as I know my actions aren't hurting anyone. If nothing else, 2012 was the year for purging and shedding, and along with everything else that was purged and shed, so was any lingering self-consciousness, insecurities, or worrying about what anyone else thinks of lil 'ol me. T'was a good year.

Where was I? Oh yes, the happy parts. What is happy anyway? I had a good job, good friends, was living fabulously alone and independent, was taking poetry writing courses, harmonica lessons, mountain biking on the weekends, taking camping trips into the beautiful Rockies, the list of happy-inducing things goes on and on. I was even on the tippy-tippy-verge of buying my first house on my own, meaning I had the loan stuff lined up and was meeting with my real estate agent to go hunting. Closing in on the American Dream. So why would I leave all that? I still ask myself that question, even though I know it had to be that way, even if I can't describe why.

Oops, this is turning out to not be short and sweet as promised. Anyway, I stood in the shower, hands in my shampoo-filled hair, asking myself, "Am I really going to do this?" to which I answered, "Yes, I'm really going to do this." I knew I was going to up and leave the country.

So I got ready for the party, rode with my friend the hour+ drive to Colorado Springs, enjoyed the holiday party, and rode the hour+ drive back to Denver. And during those drives I half-assed tried to talk myself out of doing what I was about to do even though I damn-well knew I was going to do it. But it felt like I had to go through the motions of talking myself out of doing it since it was by far the most spontaneous and absurd, logic-defying thing I had ever done in my life. I got home from the party, got online and started looking for a place to land. Where was I going to go? I didn't really care…the factors that were most important to me at the time were the best combination of cost+location+convenience-of-where-to-go-from-there-should-I-feel-like-moving-on-shortly-thereafter. So I searched and searched and decided upon Barcelona. I had always wanted to visit Spain, and it seemed like a great jumping off point for wherever I decided to go next. I booked the flight at 1am on Sunday, December 18th, and my flight was set to leave at 8am…just seven hours later.

It's hard to describe what it felt like clicking the purchase button on the airline website. But immediately after clicking the button and letting out a huge breath, I said out loud to my quiet apartment, "Holy crap, I'm doing it."

And then in my typical, procrastinatey, works-best-under-a-crazy-deadline self, I scurried around my apartment surveying all of my many belongings, deciding what to do with everything. Long story a little less long, I gathered everything I had ever borrowed from anyone (books mostly) and started making piles so the things could be picked up later by friends. I put a sticky note on each pile with the friend's name and phone number on it and stacked the piles neatly in my dining room. For everything else, I was either going to have it shipped back home to my family in Illinois or have it donated to the Salvation Army. Once I got settled in Barcelona, I would contact a moving company to come in and pack up the sentimental family keepsakes and ship them home. And then I would contact the Salvation Army to come pick up the rest. Which is why I wrote a check for an extra month's rent and slipped it under management's door before I headed to the airport. I knew I needed some buffer time to tie up loose ends.

Then I packed a backpack with the bare necessities. My favorite, trusty 'ol Camelback backpack that I have had for ten years or more. It's been everywhere with me and has never let me down. It's not even a back-packer's backpack…just a simple hiking pack. I packed some clothing that seemed okay for whatever type of weather I might encounter (short of blizzards), some toiletries, three harmonicas and two books of poetry I knew I couldn't live without.

I set my 2nd set of keys to my truck, as well as my only set of apartment keys, on the little table just inside my apartment entryway, locked the door from the inside and shut it behind me, but not before standing in the doorway and taking one last look around to say farewell to all my favorite stuff. I drove to the airport, parked, and said a fond farewell to my Toyota Tacoma. I loved that truck. I hadn't really planned out what I was going to do with the truck, but I figured parking it in the most expensive airport parking area was the wise thing to do. Or maybe not. Regardless, things worked out and I gave the truck back to Toyota after unsuccessfully trying to quickly get rid of it on Craigslist. And a huge thanks to a good friend insisting that she go pick it up from the airport to avoid racking up astronomical airport parking fees. That was really nice of her.

I landed in Barcelona, by way of New Jersey and Dublin, settled into a nice hotel, emailed my closest family and friends to let them know where I was and that I was okay (I didn't tell a single person I was leaving the states, not even my own mother (still sorry about that, mom!) and not even my employer (still sorry about that too, guys!)), got some rest, and then asked myself, "Okay, now what?"

I had no plans beyond landing in Barcelona. I had no idea how long I planned on being away from the states. I had no idea how long my cash would last me, or when it would be wise to try to find a job again. And just how difficult would it be to find a job in another country? I didn't consider any of these things when I made the decision to leave. And strangely enough, I wasn't worried about it.

I only spent a day (and two nights in that hotel) in Barcelona before getting the itch to move on. Barcelona's a great city and all, but I wasn't feeling it. Part of the answer to the "now what?" question was arrived at on that second night in the hotel. A few quick Google searches later and I found myself signing up for a 4-week intensive course in how to teach English as a second language. I figured an ESL teaching certification (TESOL/TEFL) was a good thing to have in your back pocket if you're out skipping around the world for an indefinite period of time. From the little online research I did that night, it seemed like the easiest job to get as a foreigner should I need one. There are TEFL courses all over the world. And like the weirdo that I am, I didn't choose any of the many courses held in Spain, in the country where I currently found myself. Instead, I chose a course in Kathmandu, Nepal, which was starting on January 2nd, 2012. And since it was December 20th, I had a week and a half or so to play in Spain before needing to be in Nepal for the start of the course.

Believe it or not, I had a somewhat logical reason for choosing the course in Nepal. From those few Google searches that night, it seemed like the most exciting/challenging teaching jobs were in Asia, and I had been wanting to visit China for several years. Side note, I had started learning conversational Chinese about six years ago while living in Los Angeles and having plenty of time to kill on the parking lots they call freeways on all my hours per day driving between home, the office and clients. And I also quickly realized that I was not a person who liked to hop, skip and jump through countries in rapid succession, but would like to try living somewhere and immersing myself in the culture for awhile. I didn't know at that time that I would end up in China, but thought I'd end up somewhere in Asia, and figured Nepal was the most interesting and convenient place to stay for awhile before settling in Asia for a year of teaching. I booked a flight from Madrid to Kathmandu, by way of London and Delhi, for December 25th. Yep, Christmas day. I figured I would arrive in Kathmandu a week before the course was to begin so I could settle in and sightsee a bit. The course schedule was to be very demanding and I thought I may not have time to sightsee once the course began. So that left me with about five more days to see Spain. The same good friend who picked up my truck also gave me the idea to rent a car and drive around Spain. I can't thank her enough for putting that idea into my head. I sure do love to drive (just ask the Colorado police…they probably all received a raise last year from my speeding tickets alone…not even joking…pretty sure my license is suspended, should I ever return to CO).

So I hopped online and reserved a rental car, and then hopped a taxi to the Barcelona airport to pick up the car. It was there in the airport that I was in touch with a few family members by phone for some very emotional conversations. I still feel bad for the worry I caused my family and friends. I didn't leave in the most graceful way, and definitely didn't take their feelings into consideration. It was a very selfish act. It would probably be the socially polite and correct thing to say "if I had to do it over again, I would do it differently" but I can't say that. I would do it exactly the same way. But I will say that I'm so grateful for everyone in my life who supported me after I caused so much worry.

I rented the car and drove straight to Madrid, arriving pretty late and without having made hotel accommodations, so I got tired of driving and pulled over and google-mapped the nearest hotel on my phone. I should probably start picking up the speed here or this post will turn into the novel I promised it wouldn't. Anyway, I wasn't feeling Madrid either. It just seemed like yet another big city, and at that time I was feeling like being in a smaller town, maybe more rural. I would love to return to Madrid and Barcelona someday and experience them in a different way, when I'm feeling more big-city-sightsee-y. I booked a hotel in Cordoba and hit the road.

I just want to pause here and say holy cow, how I loved those four or five days of driving around Spain. And I was driving a stick! I never knew I had it in me. I learned how to drive a stick as a teenager, but never actually had a manual transmission car, so never really drove one since. Well, there was this one time I had to drive my friend's stick because she was drunk, and it was a VW and I got "stuck" in a driveway unable to back out because I couldn't figure out how to put it in reverse because the reverse wasn't working the way I remembered it working from all those years ago when I learned how to drive a stick and finally I gave up and was stranded at a friend's house until my drunk friend was less drunk and able to tell me how to put it in reverse by pushing down on the stick shift and then moving it into the reverse position. Don't even laugh and tell me that all sticks are like that these days. I don't want to hear it. I was trapped, stranded and anxious and having mini-heart-attacks because I couldn't figure it out and needed to get my butt home. It was not a good time.

Anyway, that week in Spain was one of the best in my life. The weather was awesome. The skies were bright and there was a hint of a chill in the fresh air. I drove at top speeds with the windows down. I wanted to drive forever. I drove to Cordoba and I think it was love at first sight. This is where I wanted to be. So I settled into a hotel for the next four nights or so until I knew I needed to head back up to Madrid for the flight out. I loved zipping around Cordoba in my little stick-shifty car through all those narrow, cobblestone roads. And then I walked forever around the city trying to get lost and trying to get found again. I left a piece of my heart in Cordoba and hope to visit it again someday.

I took a day and drove down to Seville (Sevilla?) but it didn't grab me like Cordoba had, so I moved on and drove around and then drove back up to Cordoba. The next day (hmm, I may be getting these days out of order, oh well) I drove down to Malaga. It's a town way down on the southern coast of Spain. I fell a teensie bit in love with Malaga, nowhere near the amount of love I had for Cordoba, but enough that I was ear to ear smiles the entire day. I drove up and down the coast (or east and west, rather) looking for a quiet little spot to enjoy some tapas. I found the perfect little place (because it was named after me. No really, my name was on the sign. I have a picture around here somewhere) and I settled in for some delicious olives and beer and other yummy treats, all while overlooking the ocean as the sun sank lower and lower in the sky turning everything a beautiful orange. I loved the food in Spain. And I love the way people live…full of siestas and wine.

I drove back up to Cordoba while the sun was setting, and that is one of the best drives of my life. The skies, the air, the music, the freedom. The only other one that compares is one of the drives deep into the Rocky mountains back in the Autumn of 2011, just a few months prior to the Spain drive. Or maybe that drive up the 1 (California coast) to San Francisco a couple years ago. Or maybe that drive through the desert around Ensenada Mexico when we got lost trying to find the wineries (I love the dry, desert air). Or maybe… nevermind, too many to count. I do love to drive.

Okay, this is ridiculous. I had planned to recap all of 2012 by now, and I'm still in 2011. Jumping ahead a bit, I drove to Madrid and arrived at the airport late on Christmas Eve. I made the decision to sleep in the airport until my flight the next day instead of staying in a hotel for just a few hours. In hindsight, that was dumb. And wonderful. All at once. There's nothing like testing the limits of your ability to find comfort for over 18 hours in an airport that has nowhere to lie down because all of the bench seating has metal arm rests between each and every dang seat. And the airport was deserted. It was completely deserted (except for the floor-sweepers and garbage-can-changers) all the way up to my 5pm flight on Christmas day. Do you know how boring and uncomfortable it is in a brightly lit airport on Christmas day with no one around for people-watching? I was lit-ruh-lly the only traveler there. Longest day of my life. No, scratch that. The train ride from H-E-doublehockeysticks was the longest day (two days) of my life.

I need to stop here and have dinner and rest my fingers. And someone just lit up a cigarette in this little coffee shop room (so much for what I said in the last post about being a smoke-free coffee shop...this is China after all), so it's time to be moving on. More later...

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Hello, first blog post of 2013, you're looking well-rested.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop called Coffee Time because my first choice, Gusto, was packed with no good seating left. But I didn't notice the no-seating-left situation until I had already ordered my latte. So after scanning the place I quickly called to the barista, "Oops, dǎbāo!" which means "Oops, I made a mistake thinking there was going to be a comfy place to sit and plug in my laptop and I would be ever so grateful if you could put my coffee in a to-go cup, please and thanks." I love the simplicity of Chinese sentences.

So I took a long walk, sipping my latte and contemplating all the goings-ons of the last year. And once I had finished -- the sipping part not the contemplating part -- I found the nearest coffee shop and popped inside and ordered an iced tea…because I had worked up a sweat with all the sipping and walking. And it just so happens that I walked a big 'ol circle and ended up just across the street from Gusto.

I'm also wearing a flannel shirt and beanie and finally feeling completely comfortable here in Hainan. Why couldn't the weather the last ten months be this wonderfully chilly? The last couple of days have also seemed a little drier, which is a nice break from the moldy humidity. And my washed clothes are drying faster! (We hang dry our clothes here in China, and during the winter it can take a couple of days to dry even the thinnest of clothes, and sometimes I've had to wash them twice because they didn't dry fast enough and started smelling mildewy. Anyway...)

I woke up at 9am, with no hangover and after a decent night's sleep (I call that a huge new year's success story), and watched almost two full seasons of The IT Crowd (the seasons are very short) before finally guilting myself into getting up and showered and out the door. By the way, for those of you not in-the-know, The IT Crowd is only the best show to ever grace your eyeballs with its wit and the best, most lovable characters in TV history, so please do yourself a favor and check it out. Then I took a taxi over to the Guamao district since my neighborhood has no decent coffee shops that aren't also so full of smoke that my lovely flannel shirt wouldn't end up smelling like an ashtray the rest of the day. There are plenty of smoke-free coffee shops in this district, but only a few that have what I would call comfy seating for sitting and writing big long blathery blog posts. This is one of them…I mean one of the coffee shops…and yeah I suppose it's also one of the big long blathery blog posts.

And since I'm wearing a flannel shirt and enjoying the gloomy chilly day, I decided to blast some nineties grunge while I write. Blast it into my headphones that is. I've been on an especially heavy grunge kick lately. It's always a favorite and reminds me of those angsty teenage years, but also reminds me what awesome, minimalist (in words, not in meaning or feeling) poets those guys were. I recently downloaded and watched two of the best MTV Unplugged shows…Alice In Chains (1996) and Nirvana (recorded in 1993 just a few months before Kurt's death, released posthumously in 1994). I really don't have any words to describe the feelings those shows elicit, especially the Nirvana show.

And then I wonder, is that what the music of one's youth does to each and every one of us, no matter what era or type of music it is? Does any music reach us the way the music of our teenage years does?

And then I think of the popular music of today and think, nahhhhh.

Ok ok, maybe it does. I'm sure my parents thought the same of Nirvana (they better not have!) I'll have to ask next time I see them.

I just realized that this is the third year in a row where I've rung in the new year outside of the United States.

2010-2011: Scotland

2011-2012: Nepal

2012-2013: China

Not bad for someone who had never traveled outside of the US until she was 30 years old (besides Canada and Mexico). I think I'd like to ring in 2014 in the states, with family and friends. Speaking of friends and family, I bought my plane ticket to Illinois last month. I fly home February 4th to Chicago and then plan to take a bus from Chicago to Peoria where my wonderful mother will be waiting for me to drive us to my lil hometown of Canton just 35ish miles away. It was ridiculously more expensive to fly from Chicago to Peoria so I said what the heck, I've done that bus ride before, not by choice, but because a flight was canceled due to bad winter weather. So far IL is having a mild winter, and I'm hoping it stays that way so it's not such a shock to my system after living in the depths of the most humid hell for the past year.

So I decided to ring in this new year alone because this has been a year of firsts and I had never rung in a new year alone. By the way, is it rung or rang? I'm not an English teacher or anything. So I bought a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels (not my first choice but it's the only American whiskey they seem to import here, besides Jim Beam) and had myself a glass while watching The Godfather I and II back to freaking back, bam.

Oh, and Cheetos. I splurged and bought a bag of Cheetos.

And you know what happened? Something really weird and wonderful happened. And I didn't even plan it this way. But…

it turned from 11:59pm on December 31st, 2012 to 12:00am on January 1st, 2013 during The Godfather II at the exact moment that they ring in the new year at the big party in Cuba in the movie…! ! ! ! I know! Isn't it crazy? Even if I tried to plan it out and time it out just right, I could never line that up again, ever, not in a million new years. And then Al Pacino kisses John Cazale on the mouth and says, "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart."

And that, my friends, is how I rung/rang in the new year, with the sweet taste of American whiskey and Cheetos on my lips. Could it have been more perfect?

I think I'll end the first blog post of 2013 right here, take a 洗手间休息 (Xǐshǒujiān xiūxí / bathroom break), and come back with another iced tea, some more grunge and a 2012-In-Review post.

新年快乐! (Xīnnián kuàilè! / Happy New Year!)

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