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.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I must admit.

Often times, when I am sitting around with people, we will talk about our favorite movies.  Eventually, the focus is on me and what my favorite movie is... of all time!  Talk about pressure.  Some people  take this seriously and, like me, spend days in thought.  Meetings will be cancelled.  Schedules will be adjusted so that I can take this question seriously.  In the end, it's a dead end.  There is no real answer to this, is there?  Like "can you hear a tree fall on a house at midnight?", it is a question that cannot be answered; a mystery.

With movies, your answer is always judged by a bunch of different types of people.  If your answer is an indie film, then you'll get a bunch of people who have never seen it and will judge you as "hipster trash".  For the same film, you will get a bunch of other "hipster trash" people who will dismiss your answer as silliness and make you feel unworthy of their company.

If you're answer is something like The Shawshank Redemption then you just feel cheap, like you didn't think hard enough.

In my film course, we were asked what our favorite movie was a few different times by a few different people.  Kind of like keeping you on your toes, I guess.  I didn't want to answer because I knew that no matter what I said it would be a lie.  In the end, I said Unforgiven.  The director of the school misheard me and thought that I said Armageddon.  I quickly corrected this situation and promised myself that I would never answer that question again.

Later on, the producer of Spiderman 3 asked us the same question.  I was going to joke and say Spiderman 3, but then I thought that maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea.  He might have thought that I was kidding, or worse, telling the truth.  In the end I said No Country for Old Men.

These days, if you ask me, I will just say The Shining just to add more confusion.  It is a great movie, but can it be some one's favorite?

With music, the haze lifts a bit.  I have stood by my Wilco answer for quite some time now.  Their latest album solidifies my view.  However, I must admit that...

Feist could very much be my favorite artist.  There, I said it.

The other day I was on a long bus ride to the other side of town, listening to her latest work called Metals.  Have you heard that one?  Come on... stop reading a go listen to it.  I'll stop typing and we'll meet back here in the future.

Welcome back.  If you didn't really listen to it then go now.  If you still are not going now then I don't really know what to do with you.

The key is the headphones.  I haven't been listening to music that much lately for some reason.  Well, the main reason has been that has been lacking in interesting quality lately.  I'm talking about the Canadian version.  The American one, as usual, is way awesome.  Anyways, I had picked up the Feist album a while ago, but this was to be the first time that I would listen to it with headphones on.

The truth is that this album changed the projection of my week.  I had been feeling pretty wiped out emotionally.  Partly because of jet lag and partly because of watching my kids.  My kids take a lot out of me, and they take a lot of time away from the writing and editing that I like to do.  I am caught in babysitter mode for the moment, which is fine, but it can leave you feeling drained.

And, as you will know, when one of your walls gets knocked down, it compromises the whole structure.  I started feeling pretty useless, and frustrated at my circumstance.  Being in China has always been a challenge for me, and when I get frustrated in one area of my life I will come back to my anger at my discombobulated functional situation here.  In short, I have a hard time functioning here.  I can, but it all piles up and then I lose focus.

So basically, I was needing some "me time".  I boarded the #86 and took it all the way to the computer market to change up a cord that I had accidentally bought for the one that I really wanted to buy (which ended up not being there, but I got it online so I'm okay).

The whole album is solid.  Feist can sing.  People think that there are too many people sounding like her these days, but I disagree. She's unique, and other people can't hit the emotion like she can.  The band is great, the sound is a full sound.  Sometimes she's just a guitar and a skirt, but this album pulls out all of the tricks.

That all being said, let me be a little more honest.  I listened to one song on repeat for about 10 listens on the bus.  The song is The Circle Married the Line.  I was reminded of this song at my brother's wedding a few weeks ago.  It was in the slide show and I got a little emotional.  On the bus I remembered that I got emotional, and thinking that I would be okay on the bus, I put it on.

Well, I got a little emotional; but just so much that my eyes watered in a way that people might have thought that I just had a cold.  I was emotional, but I wasn't sad. I was actually quite happy while listening.  I think that it's because I connected with the lyrics.  I don't really know what she was thinking about with them, but they meant something to me at that time.

There's something in there about the good and the bad.  Something about being grateful.  Though, the way she puts it, it transcends these simple observations.

I got off the bus and walked right back into China with a hop in my step.  The cord wasn't there and I felt fine.  It wasn't their fault.  I got back on the bus and listened to Feist and some other songs that I remember feeling inspired from.

Roll away your Stone - the only Mumford and Sons song that I like.

Misunderstood and At least that's what you said by Wilco

The Hours by Beach House

And, Feist some more.  The scenery on the way home was beautified by it's soundtrack.  I had been reborn, in a way.  Thus, the healing power of music.

Shots of the week.

It was cold and rainy all day.. until!... the sun came out to warm us all up.  Hence, we took the boys outside to play and such.  Here's a look.  Click on them to see them in larger forms (recommended):

The climbing tree.  Popular among foreigner and local alike.

I like this photo because he looks like a teenager in it.

Miles and his skates.

One of our neighbours.  She is chalk drawing.

The new family soccer ball.  We've played with it
every day since we got in.

Up close and personal.

 Earlier this week, Jonas got busy with the dish washing.  No pants required.

While Jonas did the dishes, Miles sat in a 'timeout'.

As usual, there are more photos to be seen on Flickr.  Just click here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

First week Back

This week is our second week back in Xining.  Let's give you a little glimpse of what happened last week.

Firstly, we have more or less recovered from our crazy trip back.  Jetlag hits me a little later than others, so when we were at our friend's house last Thursday I was not really there at all.  Now that it's Tuesday, I feel pretty much up to par.

Barbara started working full time this week, so she doesn't really have a choice in the jetlag matter.  She was able to hire her second (and final) foreign teacher in preparation for the Fall semester, so that is wonderful.  Now, they are working on advertising.  They have all of the foreign student spots filled, so they just need more locals.  Today she found out about 2 new prospective students, so that's nice.

Jonas and Miles are under my rule for the time being.  Jonas is his usual self.  He is one of those types that sleeps hard and parties hard.  When he's awake, he's always going.  He thinks it's funny to talk gibberish to us.  This is difficult for us as he already spoke another form of gibberish to us for most of his life up until this point.  Now, instead of translating for people, we just need to tell them that he's not really saying anything.

Miles is a little bit of drama right now; a lot of crying and a lot of laziness.  He still might be feeling the effects of the traveling more than any of us.  On top of that, Jonas likes to wallop him in the face with many things.  Today's menu was a bucket and a badminton racket.  Miles appetite also seems to be lacking.  It's hard to feed him anything right now.  Tough transition for this fellow.

For any father who's ever put on of these copters
together, you know that it's no picnic.

So, for this month anyways, I am in charge of the boys.  Today we went out and bought a soccer ball.  I figured that I'd take this opportunity to continue to woo their mediocre interest in sport.  Today we kicked it around and in went pretty well.  Their favorite move is kicking at it, stepping on it, and pretending to fall over.  Typical soccer players.

As for me, I am setting up quite a comfortable office for myself.  My new computer is very fun to hang out with.  I also bought a new mouse before we came back.

I got it because it was 80% off at Zellers crazy bargain blow-out.  I justify this purchase for the reason that I have a sort of "hockey theme" in my office in certain corners.  In that sense, I am open to any and everything hockey that will make my work space more efficient, nostalgic, or just plain useful.  That being said, I apologize to anyone offended by this.

The Kindergarten will get going around the 3rd of September.  Until then, I am Mr. Mom and I have no problem with that.  Playing with my kids is something that gets me out of my isolated sadness, if ever I am in it.  These days, the summer is raining through August.  The mud builds up on the face of the sidewalks.  The garbage pileis there to remind me that sometimes life stinks.

This year will be an interesting one.  If you didn't know already, it is a prime opportunity for myself.  I will have a lot of time on my hands, a great computer, a million ideas in my harddrives and in my head. It's all there for the creating.  Come September, I will dig into it all for real.  I am very excited about this, and very grateful for the opportunity while my wife makes a Kindergarten happen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Edmonton Baseball

As I've said in the past, I am a huge baseball fan.  I have fantasy baseball to thank for this.  I'm a big fan.

Being from Edmonton, I have no home town team to cheer for.  I don't mind the Blue Jays, but I was an Expos fan for the most part.  As  result, the Washington Nationals are interesting to me.  Though, I hate their name and their jerseys and the fact that they're not in Canada anymore.

My team is the San Francisco Giants.  My mom gave me a book about a pitcher named Dave Dravecky. It was a good book and the guy was a very inspiring fellow.  So, sometime back in the '90's, I decided to like the Giants, Dave's former team.

The cherry on top is that, on our most recent trip back to Canada, I found a Giants hat that actually fits my large head.

In a recent post, I talked a little bit about the history of baseball in Edmonton.  From my findings, and from my own experiences when I was a young fellow, I know that baseball used to be a big deal in Edmonton.  I would go to Edmonton Trapper games all of the time.  At one point, we watched Devon White just before his jump to the big league.  We watched the legend Fernando Valenzuela on a rehab assignment.  It was nice to see some famous players from time to time.

Baseball was big in the city.  Not hockey big, and not even CFL big, but it had it's fans.  In fact:

Edmonton was the most successful, longest running, and second last triple A team in Canada which gave the city of Edmonton the name Baseball City of Canada[

Eventually, the team was sold to Nolan Ryan and moved to Texas, where I am sure they had more than enough teams at the time.  The rest of the sad ending is summed up here:

The last home game, a sizeable crowd filled the stadium to give the Trappers a final sendoff against the Las Vegas 51s. The game, however, was rained out after only one inning.

And that was that.

Fast forward a few years, and Oilers owner Daryl Katz buys the weakly supported, poorly named Edmonton Cracker-cats.  He changes their name to the equally horrible name "Capitals" (think "Nationals", but more local) and the team played a few years in the low ranks known as The Golden League.  The team, and league suspended play for the 2012 season when some of the owners of other teams couldn't pay the rent or something. It's that kind of league.

So, it was to my delight when I drove past Telus Field a few weeks ago to see that people were parking their cars to go to the Edmonton Prospects game.  I was plunged back into disappointment when I noticed that there were about 200 people in the stadium for the game, a stadium that used to house the Trappers, a team that would draw a few thousand fans for each game.

A few weeks later I found out that The Prospects forfeited their final few games of the year because... well, I don't know.  The confusing details are here.

Hopefully the city gets something sorted out.  That stadium is beautiful, and yet it just sits there.  They need a team.  Maybe the Capitals will be back and Katz and the gang can save the day yet again.

But let's back up to my original post.  I talked about the old days.  The days dating back before places like Fenway park in Boston and Tiger Stadium in Detroit were even existed. Yes, I talked about their older brother Diamond Park in Edmonton.

Diamond Park was built 2 years before the above mentioned legends.  It was home to the Edmonton Eskimos before WWI.  Pretty cool stuff.

Though Diamond Park is long gone now, I found out that there is still a ball park on the original site.  I searched the Internet but could not find a photo of it.  So, of course, I drove down there last month and snapped one off myself.

Original site of Diamond Park, Edmonton

What's the point?  Well, it's sad to see baseball fall to such a low level.  It has such a rich history in the city.  Old men took their grand kids to the games and now those grand kids are sitting around without a baseball game to take their grand kids too.  It's kind of sad.  Hopefully things get straightened out sooner than later.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Thursday morning in Canada.  Barbara is making some scrabbled eggs as Grandma and Grandpa McClelland spend some last minute quality time with the boys.  As I am organizing our luggage for the day's trip back to China I overhear the following conversation:

"So, when do you get there?"

"Well, we have about 3 and a half hours of lay-overs in total, so we should be there Friday evening China time.  A total of 18 hours from start to finish."

"Oh?  That's pretty good."

"Yeah, it will be nice."

Well, we made it.  We got in on Sunday morning.  Instead of 18 hours the trip ended up taking over 36 hours.

There are so many things to consider when evaluating our latest trip back from Canada.  So many little, seemingly minute details that would have, if things had worked out smoothly, already been long forgotten.  But as the dominoes of the trip fell, I couldn't help but let my thoughts linger on a lot of these simple, little things.  Here are a few:

- We booked through a travel agent.  The agent gave us flights with Air China and Air Canada.  We have had problems with multiple airline itineraries in the past (the infamous Delta/ANA fiasco of 2010) so when I first realized that we'd be dealing with different airlines, I caution flag rose up in my brain.

SIDE NOTE:  Both Air Canada and Air China being part of the Star Alliance means nothing to me.  There might be something about earning points, but as far as them "working together", this is not true.  In the Delta/ANA incident, these 2 airlines were apart of some sort of alliance, but in the end the familiar claim rang true:  "Sorry, we are not connected to Delta so we can't look up your infant's ticket in our computers.  You'll have to work that out with them.  For now, re-purchasing the ticket will be 500 dollars."

-  As I said, our trip should have taken 18 hours.  This was because of the short layovers we were to have in Vancouver and Beijing.  I called the travel agent out on this.  We were supposed to arrive in Beijing, get off the plane, go through customs, get our bags, go out and back up to check-in, go through security and make it in time before our gate would close, all within an hour.  She said that it was legally enough time and that if we didn't make the flight then the insurance would cover it.  I had no problem with the insurance covering it.  I did have a problem with booking a flight that I knew almost for certain we would miss.  I did not want to spend a night in Beijing.

Short layovers seem great, but they are not.  In theory, they are awesome, but when the theory is tested it falls apart at the slightest delay.

Add up all of the signs and I was uneasy going into this trip.

Day 1

Thursday morning went smoothly until we got to the airport.  Flight delayed.  The whole trip messed up.  We would be 2 hours late getting into Vancouver, thus missing our Beijing flight, thus missing our Xining flight.  Game over.  We lose.

SIDE NOTE:  The kiosks at the check in are cool if you are flying to Ottawa, but when your itinerary has 2 different airlines taking you to the middle of Nowhere, China you want to talk to a human being to make sure things are right.  I tried using the Kiosk once, swiped the passports, and after typing in a bunch of info the screen told me to go see an agent.

There are 8 or 9 Kiosks at the Edmonton Airport for Air Canada.  When we arrived they were all empty.  The line up to talk to an actual person was 30 or 40 people deep.  We waited with everyone else while we were slowly filters through the 3 check in agents that were working that busy morning.  Every so often I would look over my shoulder at the empty kiosks and cuss under my breathe.

We made it to the front of the line to tell the lady that our trip was screwed and we needed to know what to do next.  She dug into the computer, scratched her head, squinted here and there, walked away at one point, and finally returned to tell us to go to the Air Canada Ticket desk to figure things out.

We got to the desk, I handed the man our passports, and he said, "Ah, yes."  turned to the worker next to him and asked, "what are we doing about the Gitzels?"

We had already been talked about as "The Gitzels".  This made me feel good.  Things were happening.  They knew about us.  We were being worked on.

In the end, he "re-booked" us for the next day.  The whole trip was ruined because our layovers were so short and our first flight was delayed by 2 hours because of "crew rest".  It seemed like a good idea to just try it all again the next day.  He typed things up in the computer and printed us off a paper that had the same flights the next day.  He being and Air Canada guy, I asked if the Air China people knew about these changes and he reassured me that they did.  I took the paper, we called up Uncle Barry to pick us up, and we were all smiles knowing that the next day we would begin our swift trip back to Xining.

The End.

Just kidding.

Day 2

The next morning at check in the man had no idea who we were.  After sorting a few things out, he whittled together some computer voodoo and got us tickets for the flight to Vancouver.  We were happy until we saw him put "stand-by" tags on our bags.  We were on standby.  Just for the Vancouver flight, we figured.

At the gate, we waited.  The lady, once again, pulled a rabbit out of a hat by offering a first class ticket on the next flight, a 200 dollar food voucher, and 500 dollar coupon for their next flight to a volunteer who would give up their seat for us.  I wish I could have volunteered for that.

SIDE NOTE:  Does this ever happen to anyone?  You are slightly inconvenienced (the next flight for Vancouver was leaving at noon, two hours later) and the airline offers you a basket full of goodies for your troubles.  My response to that is WHAT ABOUT ME?!!!  I paid for my ticket, the airline said come back tomorrow, and now I'm back.  That is the definition of inconvenience.  But what do I get?  Standby!  Standby?  With a 3 and 4 year old on our way to the plateau in Western China?  Where's my 500 dollar voucher?  Reimburse me!  Give me something for my troubles!

As we will see, this story if far from over.  It turns out that they did give me a voucher, but instead of 500 dollars it was a metaphorical kick to the crotch.  "Thank you for flying Air Canada/Air China/ Star Alliance/ Whoever you think we are."

We arrived in Vancouver.  After waiting around we finally got to talk to someone at our gate.  They were Air Canada people working at the Air China gate.  They clicked on the ol' computer to tell us that we were not in their record.  They said that the ticket guy in Edmonton just "passed the buck" on to them.  We went from being "The Gitzels" to "The Buck".

They were very helpful for as much help as they could offer.  We were on standby yet again.  They got us 4 seats, all in different places.  I said that my 3 and 4 year old will love sitting alone for 11 and a half hours.  I hope the people sitting next to them can feed them their meals and wipe their bums when they poop.  They said that they would work on shifting things around so that we could all sit together.  In the end, they got us 2 and 2.

I raised my frustrations with them, saying how this Air Canada ticket guy really screwed us over.  They responded with the ol' "Were not connected to the Air China computers, so his change in the itinerary never would have went through.  Plus, this flight has been sold out for months so it's miraculous that we could get on at all."  This coming from the Air Canada people working at the Air China gate in Vancouver.

Miraculous?  maybe.  Want to know another kind of miracle?  How about the one were a family of 4 pays for 4 tickets to fly to China and gets screwed over the entire way.  What are the odds of that happening?  With the Crotch Kick goodie bag to boot!

We get on the flight.  The first 5 or 6 hours are manageable.  It's the last 5 or  6 hours that really get you.  Horrible flight.  You feel awful at the end of it.  Add to that the fact that we didn't have tickets to Xining yet.  The people in Vancouver said that the earliest they could get us Xining tickets for was the 7th.  The 7th of August.  We would once again be on standby when we got to Beijing, maybe for days.  That uneasiness settled down in my stomach.  No sleep.  knowing that Miles and Jonas would be hard to deal with after an 11 hour flight.  It was a tough time.

Day 3

We get to Beijing at 530pm.  We're wiped.  Customs goes fine, but one of our bags didn't show up.  So, I spend abut 45 minutes at the lost baggage office.  We work it our for the bag to get sent to Xining when it shows up.

We worked our way back to Air China's ticket counter and I explain the situation for the 4th time that day.  The guy says there are no flights.  I ask about getting a flight to Lanzhou, a city close to Xining, and he finds one for 1400 kuai each.  I tell him that I'm not paying anything.

"You want to change your ticket for free?"

"Yes.  I already paid for it, so you lose zero dollars."

He scratches his head and gets to work on it.  I stand in line for about an hour.  Finally, he says that he's got us 4 tickets to Xining for later that night.  I tell him that I'll buy him a coffee.  A few minutes later and he says that those tickets are no longer available.  I take back my coffee offer.

Finally, another guy comes over to work on it and he gets us tickets for the next morning, complete with a free hotel stay.  Not too bad.  It's better than a crotch kick anyways.

Day 4

The hotel was kind of nice.  We got up early and waited for the bus.  The bus came and it was full over people and luggage stuffed into the seats.  As Barbara and the boys are sitting up front I am busy stuffing our bags into some seats into the back.  Suddenly, I hear those golden words of wonder:

"Brett, Jonas just threw up all over me."

I get over there to see Jonas and Barbara covered in the watery puke that Jonas just hurled up.  Thankfully, it was mostly water.  We wiped it up as best we could and the bus started off.  A few minutes later and more watery puke.  We were running out of wipes.

Finally, we make it to terminal 2. I get Miles off and stand him next to our bags as I rush on to get the rest of our bags.  Barbara carries Jonas off of the bus just in time to see Miles puke chunks all over the pavement.  I get the bags and we're off.

Terminal 2 in Beijing is a nightmare.  It's hot and crowded all of the time.  We locate our flight and go to check in.  I hand the lady my stamped paper, on which says MU 8567, Terminal 2, 4 people.  She looked at it, typed a bit in her computer, stood up and said:

"Sorry sir, but this flight is not with China Eastern (MU) but with China Southern (HU) in terminal 1."

"No, you're wrong.  It says "MU" not "HU" and "terminal 2" not "terminal 1".  I just saw it on the screen over there.  Look again."

She looks again and discovers that I am right.  That the paper I gave her actually meant what it said on it.  After another 20 minutes of typing and Jonas tossing up another bucket full into a plant pot nearby, we get our boarding passes.  The miracle upon miracle.  Success!

As we are waiting at the security check Miles tosses once more into a garbage can.  We make it through with plenty of time to spare, so we stop for some noodles.  Miles eats a bunch, and from that point on he was fine.

Jonas had to puke again so I took him out of the restaurant and stood him next to another plant that sat right next to the walkway.  Jonas exploded with 3 good waterings.  The plants were real, so I bet he was good for them.  During his first deposit the water dripped off of the leaves and back onto his shorts and shoes.  So each time he tossed I moved him to a new leave to puke on.  People passed by on the walkway all the while.

I think that they were puking out of pure exhaustion.

For some reason, I have no problem with my kid puking all over the Bejing airport.  Seems normal to me.  I mean, the people are already staring at my kids, so he might as well put on a show for them.

I wonder how long it will take them to figure out that there is watery puke in 2 of their plants.  Weeks?  Months?

We got on board the flight and made it back to Xining on Sunday morning at 11am.

There is something to be said about how happy we were when it was all over.  We were tired, sick, and very happy.

I'll never forget the face of the guy in Edmonton.  The one who put us on standby all the way to Xining.  I understand that he was busy that day.  I know that he can make mistakes.  I just don't understand how you can knowingly send a couple with 2 small children on such a dreadful trip.  Does he realize how awful his quick fix worked?  Could there have been a better way to handle the situation?  Maybe offer to rebook when actual tickets become available?  I understand that he's just a guy trying to do his job.  And hopefully my anger and annoyance with him wears down by the time I return to Edmonton so that I don't have to kick him in the junk.  Boy, would I love to let him have it right about now.

All things considered, the boys did amazing on the trip.  At the end of the Vancouver flight the stewardess gave her usual announcements followed by, "We hope that you enjoyed your flight."  Miles turned to Barbara and said, "I did enjoy my flight because they had good kid shows to watch."

And just now, I noticed that Jonas had fallen asleep on the couch.  After a month of traveling around Canada and 3 days of traveling around the world, he's tuckered out.  I took him to bed and he stirred as I took off his shirt for him.  He sat up, eyes glazed over and said, "Where are we going?"

"Nowhere, buddy.  We don't have to go anywhere for a while.  You just get some sleep."

My math was way off.  Thursday morning to Saturday night Canada time is a total of over 60 hours or travel, not 36.  Forgot about that extra day.