Monday, December 31, 2012

Posts of the year.

As the year comes to a close I thought that it would be helpful for my blog, and for the readers, to sort things and give them a chance to read some of the better posts from the past 12 months.

So if you want to read up on the past year in blog form, then take a look at the links.  (mouse over each one to click and view.)

The Contact Lens epidemic.  The back story is that a lot of Chinese women have started to wear the most ridiculous contact lenses I have ever seen as a fashion statement.

The medium is the message.  Thoughts taken from a book by Shane Hipps.

Sport quotes that don't make any sense.

Jeremy Lin pun fun.

China things.

Grandpa Jack.

Sci Fi thoughts.

Shoe garden.

The dissection of a Hercules cartoon.

Back in Canada realization of shame.

That's about it.  These were some of the ones that I tend to like reading over again.  Take a look at one our two if you want.

Happy New Year from all of us here at my blog.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Worthy?

It's Christmas Day and I am here on my new phone, typing away a blog post for the first time on such tiny keys.

Today most of us woke up to messages, texts, Facebook statuses and tweets telling us to have a merry Christmas or some sort of similarly warm greeting.

Some tell of the importance of family, friends, and being happy and thankful for the things we have. Others will direct that "thanks" to God sending his son to save us. Jesus was born in humbled state, to say the least. We all marvel at how amazing it was to have the creator of the world humble himself in such a way.

For me, I am reminded of the familiar Christmas hymn that proclaims that "the soul felt its worth". Do we know what our souls are worth?

I hope that this season will remind you that you are worth it. You are worth it for him that loves you and sent his son so that you could feel even a fraction of your worth. He did not come to make you worth it, he came simply because, by his love and the way that it grows, you are worth it and he wants you to feel it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The servant who lived

In the spirit of Peter Rollins book, I have decided to write my own "orthodox heresy" parable.  Writing this does not mean that I disagree with the original.  I am not trying to alter anything, I merely want to share some of the thoughts that the original parable had pointed out to me.

Along those lines, I want say that if you haven't had a chance to read Peter Rollins' book The Orthodox Heretic, then you really should take the time to do that.

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Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour.  For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them.  There were 4 servants in all.  To one he gave ten talents, to another five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.  The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more.  In the same way, the one who had two gained two more.  But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it.  Finally, the one who received ten talents went out and invested some in a friend's business, used some for travelling, and yet more was given to a charity, and the rest he gave to his sick mother.  In the end, the investment fell through and he was left with nothing.

After a long time, the master of those servants came and settled his accounts with them.  The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'  His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’  The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’  His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’  Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’  But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter?  Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest!  Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten.  For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  And throw that worthless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’

Finally, the one who had spent and lost all of the money said, "Sir, I have been faithful to you for all these many years.  We all have.  Once you gave me this money I decided that it would be a good opportunity to go out and try out a few things for myself.  I was able to travel across the country to visit an old friend.  It was amazing to see another part of the world!  The beauty of the trees and the splendor of the mountains was almost too much for these old eyes to take in.  Yet, since I am getting on in years, I knew that I was running out of time to get a chance to go out and enjoy God's wonderful creation.  Such wonders!  Also, I had heard about an orphanage down the road and the financial troubles they were having.  Since you were not around, I took it upon myself to donate some money to their cause.  They were very thankful and used the money for new linens a few new beds.  I invested some of the money in a friend's business.  I really believe in him, but in the end it did not work out.  He lost all of the money, yet I do not blame him for it for I know that he tried his best.  To tell you the truth, it was rather exciting to see him working on his little shop; building the oven, stocking the supplies.  His bakery did not last, but I was proud of him for trying and I know that he will try again if another opportunity ever arises.  After travelling and giving money to the orphanage and my friend's business I realized that there was not that much left, so I gave the rest to my sick mother.  She can use it to buy a comfortable bed, some nutritious food to enjoy, and a warm blanket to cuddle up in as she lives out the rest of her days in pain from a sickness that cannot be cured.  I visit her whenever I can.  So, I am sorry sir, but I went out and spent all of the money, some for my own pleasures and some for others.  It was a joy to go out and explore, and a great honor to give to others.  That being said,  I have no way to pay you back, but I can promise you that I am very thankful to you and I will continue to be faithful to you.'

The master looked upon his servant, a faithful one for all of these years, and all at once he fell down at his feet and wept.  For the master had realized that he had held his love of money above all else; above his friends, who he no longer spent any time with, above his family, as the servant's words of his sick mother reminded him of his own family, which has hadn't seen for many years.  He put money above his faithful servants; servants who sacrificed their own dreams to help him live out his own.  

'What have I become?' he called out, above the roof tops, to no one in particular.

Stay alert, for you do not know the day or the hour...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Teachers in China

This is my first stab at a little bit of journalism.  After hearing so many stories I felt like I had to share the view from where I stood in China.


It’s a familiar story.  Apple releases new product, everyone wants one, and then, yes of course, the factory conditions are called into question.  The iPhone 5 is here, and with it yet more articles criticizing Apple for not doing anything about the unfair working conditions in their factories in China.  Though I am sure that there is a lot of truth to these critical allegations, I believe that this narrow focus on one particular company falls short of the main issue, which is that, in fact, Chinese people work really, really hard.  Not just in the factories and not just the fields.  I have observed that even teachers in China have been pressed and stretched to their limits just as much as anyone else.

While living most of the last 7 years of my life in China, I’ve spent my fair share of time sitting in a classroom.  One particular semester, a small group of us would gather early every morning for Chinese class.  Most days, Teacher Li was right on time, but one particular week she had been coming to class at least 10 minutes late each day.  On the Friday, she arrived on time, but as usual, she seemed flustered. 

“Sorry.”  She announces with a smile. 

“Are you okay, teacher?  Is something wrong?”  I ask.

“Oh, everything’s fine.   I just slept in.  Very embarrassing.”  Seeing the room so attentive, a group of friendly foreigners concerned for their cute, petit little teacher, she decides to elaborate.  “This week, I have been getting so many phone calls from my students.  They call all the time.  They always need something.  They want to ask questions about homework, they want me to tell them what they should do.  Some of them are homesick.  Yesterday I needed to take one of them to the hospital.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing serious.  Just a tummy ache.”

We all looked around in wonder.  These were, after all, independent Chinese university students. “Why did you have to go with them to the hospital?”

Teacher Li smiled shyly.  “It’s part of my job.”

It turns out that most Chinese teachers work an insane amount of overtime.  The longer I’ve been in China the more I find out, and the uglier it gets.  The teacher’s job goes far beyond planning lessons and grading papers. 

“This week, my coworker went on maternity leave,” relayed Mr. Guang, a friend of mine who teaches in a primary school down the road.  He continued, “So I need to cover her work for her.”

“But you get paid extra for that, right?” 

“Nope.”

From my view, it’s an amazing injustice.  Mr. Guang, a family man, has to stay late at the school to cover a coworker’s maternity leave.  I see the weariness in his eyes.  I understand why he doesn’t have any free time to just relax.  He’s just too busy for anything else.  The fact that this situation will go on until March is a tough thing for a foreigner like me to think about.  For Mr. Guang, it’s just a part of life.  There is no place for arguing with his employer.  The thought doesn’t even cross his mind.  He will work overtime for nothing because that’s just the way things work around here.  It’s not about being poor, or even necessarily having no other options.  These teachers work a ridiculous amount of hours because that’s the way it’s always been for them.

Chinese children go to Kindergarten starting at the age of 3, though some schools will accept 2 year olds as well.  Deborah runs a newly opened Kindergarten and some of the parents were initially asking if it would be running an “all week” program.  This means that they would drop off their child on Monday morning and then pick them up on Friday night. 

“I could not imagine leaving my 3 year old son at school all week.”  She told me.  I agreed.  Toddlers are for playing with, not for boarding school.   What kind of mindset do these children develop when they are parentless all week?  What does this say about their value?  It’s no wonder these people grow up to be such hard workers; they start the hard work as 2 year olds. 

Mrs. Bai is a counselor at the University.  In fact, she is the only counselor for the entire school, a school with a population close to 10 000 students.  With high rates of depression, loneliness, isolation, and in some cases suicide, it is clear that these teachers need to keep working as hard as they do in order to help these college kids survive their University careers.  In many cases, they are entirely responsible for every aspect of their students’ lives.

I talk to Teacher Li again about the situation at the University.   She teaches full time, and on top of that, she is in charge of looking after hundreds of students.  Many of these students are away from home for the first time in their lives.  They don’t know how to clean their clothes, cook meals, manage their money, etc.  And, when something goes wrong, it is usually people like Teacher Li who shoulder the blame. 

“I’ve had parents call me from other provinces.  When they find out their child’s grades are not good, they call me and yell at me.  Last semester, one of my classes had a final exam, but only half of the students showed up for it.  It turns out that the rest of them were either sleeping in their dorms or playing at the Internet bar.”

When she tells me these things, I can see her frustration.  She is kind, so she has patience with the students, but you can see that motherly look in her eyes.  She wants to help the students, but she’s run out of ideas.  And simply put, she’s just too tired to do anything about it.

“Wednesdays is the worst for me.”  She tells me.  “I have a break in the afternoon, but Wednesdays are busy time for the students in my department, so I get a lot of phone calls.  The phone does not stop ringing.  I want to turn it off, but that is not an option.  They give me 100 yuan a month for my phone bill, but it ends up costing 400.  The rest comes out of my pocket.”

It’s easy to want to point fingers in these situations.  Yet, the bosses, the teachers, the parents, and the children are all products of the environment.  The knots that have been tied over the years are not easily loosened.   With 1.3 billion people, competition is tough.   Threatening suicide at the Apple factory echoes across the country, even all the way into the classroom of Teacher Li.  They are raised to work hard, and when hard work isn’t enough to pay the bills, things get complicated and stressful for everyone.

Of course, there will always be millions of students in need of good teachers.  The teachers will continue to work hard if only for the simple reason that they are needed.  The country functions this way, and the system depends on the people functioning this way.  China’s success goes as far as its people can carry it, and whether they’re building Apple products or teaching children how to read, the pressure is always on.



Friday, November 23, 2012

Cultural moments.

I've been back in Canada for about 4 days now.  The snow and temperature are quick ways of adapting and telling me that I am somewhere else.  The cold and smoke seep through my coat.  I try to get out there and just breath it in.

Now I am sitting in a coffee shop typing away at a computer, which is surely to be considered a very North American thing to do.  Hey, I'm just trying to ease myself into this culture again.  Back off!

Next to me is the door.  It's cold outside, so there's two of them.  Both of them have one of those buttons with the wheelchairs on them.  The people who are in wheelchairs, with walkers, canes, or just plain lazy, can push those buttons to enter.

A moment ago, two elderly ladies came to the door.  They both had their own walkers, and I watched as the first lady struggled to reach out and touch the magic button that allows them to enter.  I watched while they did this, tossing around the idea of getting up and actually holding the door for them.  Why did I need to get up?  There's a button there for them.  They made their way in, and I returned to typing.

If no one's around, then the button is there for them.  Yet, the button is not only there for them when others are not.  The button is there so that we can continue to distance ourselves from each other.  You don't look at me, I won't look at you.  You need help?  Well, I didn't notice, plus there is a button that is supposed to help you, so don't expect me to do anything anyways.

And in this world, this world of people, we have buttons.  Buttons for those unable to enter doors to push, so that electricity can help them out, can be a gentleman for them.  Here I am, near the door, watching two old ladies struggle to come inside for a coffee, and my instincts are already telling me that to help them is someone else's job.

Lord heal me.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

One month

A month from today we will be on our way out of Xining.  We've called this place home for almost 7 years, and every time we've left we've always come back.  This time, we will not be coming back.  At least, we have no plans to come back.

Today I am organizing 7 years worth of stuff.  Stuff sucks.  I look through things here that date back to our pre-China days, things like notebooks full of notes, clothes that I should have gotten rid of a long time ago, and iPod mini cases and cords.  What do I do with all of this stuff?

Just some of our stuff


More stuff.  How about a bunch of CDs?  When we moved here it was pretty normal to have a big case full of CDs, but these days people don't buy those things anymore.  People can still copy them to their computer, of course, but all that leaves us with is a big pile of disks.  Not to mention all of the books we have.  What do you do with books when the Kindle is all you need?  Or, even further still, what does one do with all of their bookshelves once all of their books are gone?  More stuff.

A lot of our stuff is useful.  The books and CDs are quality, and can be used.  We have some sporting equipment, some tools for fixing things around the apartment.  We have some chairs, an iron, and a humidifier.  We have useful stuff, stuff that people can use.  It's just amazing how much of it there is.  We have over 25 bags and suitcases.  Wow!

I mean, what do I do with this tooth
that I got pulled 6 years ago?


One month from leaving, and you want to know what I've been thinking?  You want to know what it's like?  Well, it's like walking down the road with an arm full of stuff.  And not just material stuff, but also experiences, familiar restaurants and shops, places that remind me of good memories and bad memories, and most importantly, friendships.  It's like walking down the road with all of that "stuff" in my hands and then suddenly just dropping it on the ground and walking  away from it.  At least, that's how I feel about it right now.

In our living room I have piled up all of our stuff for the sale we are having later this week.  For now, it is kind of sad to get rid of it all.  Though, I know that later on it will feel good to get the burden that stuff can be off of our backs.

The same can't be said for the friendships we've made here.  That's the tough thing to let go of.  We'll keep in touch with a few of them, but if I'm honest, most of the people here we will never see again.  The people that we've had so much in common with.  People from far away places that have come here to Xining to try to do some good.  In that way, we will always have a bond with the people that live here.  And for the local friends, it will be tough to say goodbye to them forever.  Yet, that's the way life goes sometimes.  All I can take away from it is the satisfaction of getting to know them for this time and wishing them the best in the future.

I told Barbara how I felt about all of our "stuff", about how it feels like I'm just dropping it on the ground and walking away.  She said that she feels the same way, only that she's looking for a good place to drop it, so it has a soft landing and will be okay when we are gone.  I like it when she talks.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

More Father and Sons...

INT. - DAY

Open on BRETT and MILES standing near the kitchen table.  Miles is wearing his BATMAN CAPE over his shirt. Brett is wearing his burgundy sweat pants and black guitar shirt.  His eyes are puffy as he searches the nearby cabinet for a ripe ORANGE to eat.

MILES
Hey, Dad.  My favorite animal is Grover.

BRETT
Really?  Wait, Grover isn't an animal, he's a monster.

Miles takes a moment to scratch his chin, looking down at the floor.

BEAT

MILES
Oh, yeah.  I know that.  I know he's a monster.  Also, that guy
that eats all the cookies.  He's a monster, too.

Brett smiles down at Miles, pats him on the head, picks an orange, and goes into the kitchen to peel it.


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Jonas, concerned about the horror of not being in character 24-7, decides that his rubber boots are good enough to simulate Kitty Soft Paws' boots from the movie Puss in Boots.  In a week where the weather has been sunny and mild, Jonas has been seen wearing his rubber boots to school every single day.  What people passing by will fail to notice, as it is quite impossible to see, if that Jonas is also wearing a black cape under that big, blue winter coat.  This cape is identical to the one his brother wore in the above scene.

On the weekend, Jonas wanted to wear pants with big enough belt loops to accommodate his toy sword.  When he "sheathed" his weapon, he noticed that the loops made the front of his sword droop.  He did not like this and demanded from his father that the problem be solved.  His father, not knowing were to purchase a pair of magic pants like this, told Jonas that nothing could be done.  Screaming, whining, falling down on the ground, spankings, and a time out for the sword quickly followed for the young Kitty Soft Paws fan.

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Today, I dusted off the ol' low-tops for a game of basketball down at Min Yuan.  It was the first time that I participated in a basketball game at the school in well over a year.  I felt like the brisk air would do some good for my sore throat for some reason.  I do not know why. 

The competition was surprisingly good.  I whiffed on a few shots, though most of my time was spent setting up my teammates (just like Gretzky).  Compared to the other local guys on the other 3 on 3 teams, my team was not very good.  They were very good at fakes and traveling and calling fouls on the other team.  I would find myself open near the net, calling for the ball, and in the next moment I would be watching a ballet performance towards the net followed by a no-looker right into the other team's hands.  Opportunity lost.

In the end, my stat line would look something like this:

1 for 3 from the field (it was a 3 pointer!)
5 rebounds
11 blocks

I am pretty tall compared to most people here, so it's nice to know that after a year away from the courts I can still stuff the ball back into my opponent's face.

Playing basketball with Tibetans (and my Canadian friend, Arlin) is a very unique thing.  If you've ever ran the Min Yuan courts then you would know what I'm talking about.  It's a good time.  Fouls abound.  Imaginary fouls abound.  When someone gets swatted on the wrist, everyone laughs, including the guy being slapped.

My throat does not feel any better.  I was hoping for sort of a "reverse psychology" with it.  You know, heal a sore throat with cold air.  It's been done before, I bet.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Few Thoughts: Father and Sons


Jonas:

I shower at night, after the boys are asleep.  Barbara showers in the morning, after the boys are up.  Jonas asked Barbara the other day, "Mom, why do moms take showers but dads don't?"  This is an honest question based purely on this boy's life experience.  To him, the world goes to sleep at 8pm.  I mean, what interesting thing could possibly happen while Jonas Gitzel is asleep?

Jonas has a small Batman tattoo on his arm that he got from a birthday party.  It's almost rubbed off now so he coloured it in with a few markers.  Today, while on the bus, Jonas looked over from his seat to notice an old man looking over at him.  Jonas proceeded to roll up his sleeve and show off his cool red and green coloured Batman tattoo to the man.  In fact, 2 days ago he did the same thing in the elevator for an old lady.

Remember when you were young and cheap little things like tattoos and bubble gum were so cool you thought that everyone around you would be jealous?  That's Jonas' world right now.

Miles:

Miles runs everywhere.  When we are going to school he runs ahead to predetermined "pitstops" that I have pointed out so that he does not run all the way to school without us.  One time, at one of the stops, Miles was breathing very hard, and curiously he asked, 'Dad, why am I breathing like this?"  I told him it was because he just finished running 100 meters.  At that moment he realized that, every time he breathes hard like this, it is not that there is something wrong with him, it is that it is a product of running.  Ever since then I've noticed that, when he's tired, he is much more calm about it.  I realized that, for quite some time, he didn't know why he couldn't just run forever and it seemed to really bug him.

Miles figured out that he is a human being.

Brett:

My problem with the NHL lockout is that, while they talk about who gets the money, nobody gets the money.  I don't get it.  I read today that there were some more meetings this week between the two sides, yet the conclusion was that they remain far apart and the entire season might be lost.  You know what that means?  These guys lose approximately 3 billion dollars by not working something out.

Can we mere mortals fathom a billion dollars?  Can we imagine being in meetings discussing 3 billions dollars and how to split it up, then leaving the meeting with our hands raised with a, "Well, let's talk about this again in the next week or two."?  These guys should have one of those giant digital counters drilled to the wall in the meeting room.  The counter just keeps ticking up and up, minute by minute, the amount of money they are throwing away every single day.  How much has it been so far?  One report figure that the league has lost over 200 million dollars already.  That clock would just keep ticking up and up.

Now, if you have a job and your job is to make a deal with someone, and every week you don't have a deal in place you lose over 100 million dollars, would you not think that taking a "break from talks" would be more than silly?  To me, this whole thing is psychotic.  If, in the end, the owners end up winning and get a bigger chunk of the money, then someone still needs to answer that age-old question:

When you already have a billion dollar income, why risk losing it just to get 1.5 billion dollars?  In other words (and I have trouble understanding because I don't make money) what can you buy with a whole lot of money that you couldn't already buy with a whole lot of money?




Sunday, October 7, 2012

Canadian Thanksgiving



Today is Thanksgiving in Canada.  Here is a brief glimpse at the history:

Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday back in 1879 but back then it was celebrated in November, around the same time as our American neighbours.  However, they officially changed the date to the 2nd Monday of October in 1957.  I'm not sure why they changed it, but it's been that way ever since.  Maybe the Canadians were just being polite about it.

Yet, the history of being thankful in Canada goes back, back, waaaay back.

In 1578, on explorer Michael Frobisher's 3rd voyage in search of the Northwest Passage, the fleet of 15 ships had a lot of troubles with ice and storms, often times causing them to split up.  Along the way, they lost the ships that held most of the materials for them to start a settlement in the area, which ended up being near what is now the territory of Nunavut.

From wikipedia:
on meeting together again at their anchorage in Frobisher Bay, “..Mayster Wolfall, [ Robert Wolfall ] a learned man, appointed by her Majesties Councell to be their minister and preacher, made unto them a godly sermon, exhorting them especially to be thankefull to God for their strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places,…” .
Years later, the French settlers also celebrated a feast of thanks.  On these occasions they held "The Order of Good Cheer" and shared their feast with their First Nations' neighbours.

There are many other stories of thankful Canadians, as many of you know, but I will leave the history lesson at that.

Personally, I am a very thankful person.  Today, it rained buckets and buckets of rain down on this desert town.  The streets were roaring with water, water that sustains life of plants, animals, and people like me.  I am thankful that it rained today.

I have had a massive stomach ache for the last 2 days.  I am thankful for it, in a way, as it reminds me to pray for healing and to remember those who deal with health issues every day of their lives.

I am thankful for my family and friends, both here and far away.

I am most thankful for Barbara, Miles and Jonas.  I have good people.  I am thankful that Barbara and I have grown closer over almost 7 years of living in China.  I am thankful that Miles and Jonas are growing up strong, smart and funny (just like their old man).

Though, once again, I am most thankful for Barbara.



Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kindergarten... 1 month into it.

It has been one whole month since the Kindergarten's official start.  Here are a few things that have been happening since then:



1.  There are approximately 35 kids in the school now, split up into 2 classes.  I say "approximately" because there are new recruits trickling in every few days.  The capacity would be 42 kids, so there is still a little bit of room for anyone else that shows up.

The goal for next semester is 3 classes, at least.  That would be 63 students, as each class has a 21 count limit.

2.  The playground is open.  It was built by the school, and will function as a playground for the kids in the school and the kids that live in the complex.  It is the only public playground around.  The kids love it.



3.  There are 4 teachers at the school, 2 helpers and Barbara.  This month, all of the teachers have been sick at one point or another.  Also, one of the teachers is away at meetings in another province.  Thus, it has been a busy month for everyone.  China has the October holiday next week, so the teachers will get a well deserved break.

This next point is from my point of view, which is of a dad and husband that comes in every so often to steal photos and videos of the kids:

4.  Most of the kids seem to be adapting well.  The older kids all seem comfortable with their classes, both English and Chinese, and are up to the challenge of learning the languages.  The younger kids are a little more shy and sometimes have a hard time leaving their moms and dads for the day, which is understandable because they are 3 years old.  Yet, they sing their songs together and play their games together, so they're slowly getting comfortable, too.

Seeing all of the kids together is a great thing to see.  I have been working on a video of the whole thing, which I will hopefully have up for viewing by the end of next week.  So, look out for that in the near future.









Sunday, September 16, 2012

Deconstructing Hercy


It's Sunday afternoon and I'm not really motivated to do anything else.  In this time my brother has posted a clip from the old Hercules cartoons.  He reminded us all of what we loved so much about that show:  in 5 minutes the story was told with a lot of action and a lot of awesomeness.  A great show.

That being said, it sure is a fun show to pick apart.  And thus, I thought that I would pick apart an episode for the fun of it.  It is a lot of fun.

So, here is the most memorable episode for me.  It stars Hercules and the dangerous Hydra.  Watch the episode first here:




1.  The Hydra eats the bulls, the wagon, and the grain in about 10 seconds.  Certainly, a beast to be feared.

2.  The guy at the 20 second mark actually looks like my brother Bryce; the very brother who reminded me of the Hercules cartoon.

3.  The sword:  A few things about this scene: 

Firstly, when Herc's like "let me get ready" do you think that some of the villagers are like, "Hey, maybe if I had a ring like that then I would be as strong as Herc?"  I feel like Herc could have done better for his cred if he would have put the ring on before he came into the hut.

Secondly, while Herc is yanking at the sword I imagine the ripped blacksmith going to the back of the shop to get the keys or screw driver to unlock the chains.  When he gets back and sees that Herc broke his chain set, he would say, "What, you couldn't have waited a few seconds for me to get the key?"

Finally, Newton asks Herc if he needs a hand breaking the sword from the chains?  Whatever, Newton.

4.  In the woods, Newton gets tangled by some branches. Herc is carrying the strongest sword in the world and he doesn't use it to cut the branches away?  Yeah, you set that sword, that took the blacksmith a whole year to make, down by a rock and use your fingers to untangle your useless friend.

5.  I'll admit that the Hydra displays some sweet skills, most notably being able to pick up the sword with it's teeth and tossing it a mile away into a pond that melts really strong swords.

6.  At 2:41 is the inspiration for every awesome Arnold Schwarzenegger line.

7.  How come the breath from the 2nd head didn't put itself to sleep for 1000 years when Herc sent it back on itself?

8.  Herc's most notable power is being able to fall down from great heights (as falling down into the hole) without having his little skirt flipping up on him.

10.  As I mentioned earlier, the sword was supposedly the strongest every made, and it gets flung into a puddle of mud and melts?!  That blacksmith is a fraud and, in the end, deserved to have his chains broken.

11.  It takes 10 seconds of screen time for the Hydra to fall down the hole.  That is a big hole.

12.  And what really gets the Hydra in the end?  The fire head?  Well, okay.  

Herc's anger about the whole sword issue is explained by the fact that he was too angry to return to the blacksmith's hut to whip him with whatever was left of it.  Seriously, that was the worst made sword of all time.

That's about it.  Thanks for reading and have a great Sunday afternoon.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cold Koreans kicking films


It's cold here in Xining.  The lights of Summer have been snuffed out.  I wore a toque today.  I swear it was 30 degrees Celsius 3 days ago.  The heat will not be turned on in our apartment until October 15th. That's the way it goes, I guess.

The water guy just arrived with our delivery.  He asks, "Are you American or Korean?"  All I could do was stare at him.  Finally, I ask, "You think I look like a Korean?"  He shrugs his shoulders and waits, apparently for me to answer.  I say that I'm Canadian, he ignores my response and asks if he can have an apple.  At this point I know that he's messing with me.  He walks out of the door and I say, "Goodbye, my Korean friend."  He turns and tells me he's not Korean, but Chinese.  I shake my head and close the door behind him.

I played soccer yesterday.  It had been one of my goals this fall to get out there and play that game.  It had also been probably around 18 or 19 years since I last played an official soccer game.  The Tibetan team had me first and put me in the middle on defence.  I marked my man and cleared the ball out of danger's way a few times.  In the end, I don't think that they trusted me with the ball, so I didn't really get too much of a chance to kick it.  Eventually, one of their other guys showed up and I was "traded" to the Korean team.   They put me on the left side on defence.  It went pretty well, and I got to kick it around a few times.

Overall, I enjoyed it.  A lot of running, and it's surprisingly difficult to get control of the ball and kick it to where you want it to go.  I'll continue to enjoy playing it, but it will be a while before I get used to implementing all of the lingo that goes a long with it.  As in, I will not say "the pitch" for at least a while.

For you cinephiles, I have done it again; I am trying to watch 8 1/2 again.   That famous Fellini film that they told me to watch before my film school.  This movie is always on the Top 10 lists of filmmakers and directors, so I've put a lot of work into giving it a fair shake.  This is my 4th viewing.  The first 3 times went right over my head and out of the door.  For some people I would pretend that I loved the movie, but when it comes down to it, it did not make a lot of sense to me.  It is a beautiful movie, but the story did not add up to me.



Within my readings of late I have discovered that 8 1/2 is an "antiplot" story.  These types of films reverse the classical tones of story.  So, when watching a movie like this, I need to keep in mind that this film will not flow like most films.  The basic theme of it is the internal struggle and contemplation of the protagonist.  With that in mind, this 4th viewing has gone well so far.  I will watch the final 30 minutes tonight.

Some parts that confused me before because they seemed funny and comedic are actually funny to me now that the confusion is gone.  It's actually are really funny movie, I just didn't know it was supposed to be.

Guido, the main character, is also the coolest looking dude in film.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Snack time

I climbed aboard the bus outside of Min Yuan.  The bus rolled ahead a few feet and stopped at the red light.  And that's when I saw him; standing there on the sidewalk.  It was amazing and looking back on it now, it is very difficult for me to put it into the proper words to enable the depth of the humor to shine through.

He was a monk, standing there on the side of the road; waiting for a friend, perhaps.  In his hands he had a box of crackers.  The crackers were the cheap kind that local people would probably feed to their teething babies.  At least, that would probably be a good reason for buying them.  This monk had them in his hands.  He picked one of them up and proceeded to stuff it into his mouth.  Then, he repeated the action two, three, even four times before the first cracker had gone down his throat.  To put it another way, he was "going to town" on that box of crackers.  By the time the light had turned green he had eaten half of the box.  Crumbs were caked on his face.  He was in the "cracker zone", unaware of anything else around him.  It was him and that box and nothing else.  I was tempted to jump off of the bus to buy him a water.  I was sure that he was going to need it.

Not sure why this scene was so interesting to me.  More than interesting, it was bizarre.  I've heard many stories of monks pushing their physical limits in a number of different areas, including fasting from food.  Something in me figured that monks only ate once a day, and only because they had to.  Then, today, I have the cookie monster crunching up a storm on the side of the road.

I'm not judging him at all.  Heck, when you're hungry, you're hungry.  For some strange, arbitrary reason, this scene was completely hilarious to me.

Monday, September 3, 2012

An olympian ignored



The man stood up from his stool and stared out blankly at the street in front of him.  His mind wandered in and out of itself as the leaves on the trees flickered back and forth between themselves.  The wind picked up that time of day and the sun was shining just enough for the leaves to dance their shadows onto the pavement.  His daughter shook him from his gaze as she shouted a food order into his ear.  He nodded, sat back down on the stool, reached under the glass case, and pulled out 15 metal sticks loaded with lamb meat.  He hoisted them over the fire, dusting them with the spice and salt of the region, and life went on.

Students walk by the sizzling meat, and through the door for lunch.  Noodles cooked fat, thin, long, and in pieces.  Everyone orders them differently, but generally, it's all the same.  They live off of flour and water and spice.  Over the last few years the noodles have doubled in price, making things difficult for everyone, as they are these days.  You could add some meat to them, or a boiled egg if you could afford it.

The man on the stool disappears in a sea of the noon-hour rush.  Down the steps, towards the street, the crowd thins out.  Near the alley stand a row of trees, all painted red and white for whichever reason you might think that they would be.  To prevent the bugs from eating them?  To prevent the drunks from crashing into them?  Some sort of hidden message or political statement?  Painting trees is a job for people?  They stand tall in the autumn air.  Their leaves will be gone soon, but for a short time anyways, they are proud and beautiful.

Below a tree, in it's well, squat two small children.  They are no more than 2 years old, yet young enough to waddle around in their split pants.  The boy scrapes at the dirt in the well with a stick.  This is his playground.  The girl picks up a littered piece of used toilet paper and mimics (as her mother had taught her) how to wipe herself in the opening of her pants.  When she had finished, and being polite, she offers it to the boy, who repeats the action.  Both are very proud that they can wipe themselves with this piece of dirty paper.  "So grown up", they think.

On the road, the students continue to flood the area.  Groups of girls clunk by on their high heals.  Groups of boys pass by the other way with wavy hair and skinny jeans.  Their hairless chests poke out of the top of their unbuttoned shirts.  They are Justin Beiber.  They are Justin Beiber.

At the bus stop, The People wait in their blue uniforms for the #28 so they can go with their heavy tools to the end of the line and beyond; to the place where they work doing whatever they do that pays them money to buy things to eat.  An old lady holds two bags full of vegetables in her hands.  The cloth stretches and pinches over her arthritic fingers.  She spent 3 hours getting the food for the evening's dinner, though the market is only a block away.

The #28 is close to arriving, but stops at the red light just before the bus stop.  The people cross the street as the bus waits.  They cross as motorcycles ignore the light.  They cross as a police car drives through the red, driven by some police officer's friend.  The car is full of some more friends smoking their cigarettes inside the tinted window of the back seat.  An old man curses at the police car under his breath.  A foreigner kicks the car with his left foot, and the pain makes him quickly regret this foolishness.  Yet, the car drives through.

The main gate of the school is serving fast food.  They lady stands at her cart while the students eagerly line up for a box of cold rice, some potato strips and perhaps a piece or two of beef.  The lady must be making a killing.  No rent, no electric bills.  She must have strong legs to peddle that bike, with the gas stove, glass case, and food on it, all the way from the market.  An Olympian ignored.

Other students stream by the cart, up the broken sidewalk back towards the noodle shop, where the man has just put the finishing touches on the lamb kabobs.  His daughter takes them from him and places them on a metal plate to serve to a cuddly couple sitting by the window.  She is in love.  He's not so sure about it.

The man gets another order for kabobs and starts the routine off all over again.  He glances up to see his grand daughter digging in the dirty tree well with her cousin.  He takes a moment, within the noise that is there, to smile and think about what a beautiful young woman she will soon grow up to be.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The boys this week.

The "right leg kick-out": perfect toy playing form.


 - Barbara was showing the boys a story on the iPad: Little Red Riding Hood.  Upon hearing the title, Jonas exclaimed:  "Meter Maid Riding Bird?!"




- After weeks of valiant attempts, Miles finally makes up his own rhyme for "Down By the Bay".  His ends with  "... did you ever see a person without any blood or skin, down by the bay."

- The boys were brave this week.  They had to get heath checks for their kindergarten registrations.  Jonas screamed as they drew his blood.  Miles did not.  I love them both.  I was the coward who stayed home while Barbara went to the hospital with them.  She's the real hero.  I love her, too.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Shoe Garden

From the looks of it, the tree area behind our apartment and beside the river used to be a landfill.  Or, more specifically, a garbage dump for shoes.  There are seriously hundreds of shoes sticking out of the dirt and muck.  They'll all old, broken, and (at least to me) interesting.  A while back I decided to take some pictures of a few of my favorites.






To me, the blue-heeled shoe looks like it's really something that died.  Notice the blue tongue protruding from it's "mouth".

That's about it.