Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ah, Unemployment

Mostly, I do my brother's homework:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Goodbye Ye Ye

James' 23rd birthday party in Taipei

I got the sad news James' grandfather passed away yesterday. He was 93. Thankfully, James' mom is in Taiwan now and she got to say goodbye. I'm glad James and I were able to see Ye Ye regularly when we lived there.

I have to admit, my interactions were limited: Originally from Canton, Ye Ye mostly spoke in Cantonese (I speak Mandarin). And his contributions to the lunchtime conversation were typically "you gave me too much rice" and "no more soup." When I first arrived, he did call me "beautiful" (in English) when James' grandma prompted.

Ye Ye fought for freedom in World War II/War of Resistance Against Japan (in Chinese). I don't know details, except that he was shot by the Japanese.

In 1949, Ye Ye came with Chiang Kai-shek's military to Taiwan. Things were tough. Ye Ye and Nai Nai (grandma) farmed for awhile. They were very poor. Again, I don't know many details, except that James' mom's idea of fun as a teenager was to split the cost of a watermelon with friends and take it to the beach, by bus.

Because of the hostility between China and Taiwan, Ye Ye couldn't contact his family for years. On the mainland, Communist Party officials would come around asking his family about him. His father always said he didn't know where his son was. Through a combination of luck and hometown connections, Ye Ye was able to send word he was alive and living in Taiwan before his father died.

That's a lot of hardship. But Ye Ye helped raise three successful children: An economics professor turned deputy minister in Taiwanese government; A small-business owner in Los Angeles; and James' mom - a Chinese teacher who has volunteered countless hours organizing cultural and educational events for the Alaska Chinese Association.

As Montgomery Gentry has sung in its cheesy country song: That's something to be proud of. And for us youngsters - that's something to be humbled by.

Goodbye, Ye Ye. You will be missed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Forbidden City

Mao Portrait
The People's Art
Seahorses and Scorpions - no I didn't eat any
Night Market

Marble Boat
Temple of Heaven
Snowy Canal

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Subject Line "Re: love~~"

An email update on class gossip from one of my 12-year-old English students:

Mandy told us that the skinny one boyfriend, is not love her.
The skinny one say Mandy's hair like the rank grass.
Mandy is so sad.
Our class is very good.

Context - Mandy, one of my most precocious students, had two boyfriends (her classmates told me) when I left Taiwan. One was "SO FAT, SO STUPID" her friends said, and one was "SKINNY, ALSO STUPID." FYI, teenage girls only talk in caps.

But "hair like the rank grass" - the kid knows how to cut. Ouch!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pic O' The Day

The kid can jump. And believe you me, he lords it over aaaaaall the white kids.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Return of 'Rents

Ma & Pa are back from the beach. My brothers were ... less manic than the last time I took care of them by myself, which was about four years ago.

Ricky managed to sneak past my watchful eyes wearing a muscle shirt to school once. Horror of horrors! Otherwise, they fell into line nicely. My most forceful reproaches were "What part of 'Stop yammering about the zit in your ear' don't you understand?" and the like.

Thursday I drove to Eugene and tossed Billy into a sea of band nerds at the Hilton. He was selected for All-State Choir. So funny how you can pick a brass geek (shaggy hair, slumpy shoulders) from a soprano (gold pendants, Hannah Montana-chic).

The rest of us drove up Friday to watch the concert, which was billed as starting at 4 p.m. It was a band, orchestra and choir deal. Expectedly, some people were only going to watch part of it. So the organizers - clever souls - had the supremely boring superintendant of schools give slightly varied keynotes before each performance. Triple the boredom!

She used her best "Everything-I-say-is-profound" voice to tell us about the poor children in Klamath and the beautiful poor-kid music they make ("It's a hard knock life for us...") thanks to public schools. Speech no. 2. was about the Beatles. Blessedly, I've forgotten speech 3.

Dragged my family to sushi afterward, and us kids got some three-part Eagles harmonies going on the long drive home.

And those are my unemployed blog highlights! Ha-Cha!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hurray for freedom, hurray for Google!

Google will no longer censor search results in China. The policy change came after Google discovered hackers tricking human rights activists into opening their email accounts to others, according to this AP article.

I expect the end result to be Chinese people will no longer be able to use Google, which is sad, but I love to see Google stick it to the Commies.

Twenty years after Tiananmen, China hasn't made much progress in the personal freedom department. And five weeks in-country left me with the impression, wow, this could go on for generations.

But perhaps there's a point where the government will have to say, hmm, this stifling of information is - not only a pain in the ass - but economically detrimental and intellectually stultifying. I mean, how much time would you lose at work if you couldn't Google stuff? On the other hand, Facebook isn't allowed in China either so the time not wasted there would probably cancel out the no-Google time loss...


From Great Wall
There it is folks. Getting out to the Wall was one of those special experiences that despite how many times I've seen it on TV and what not - it totally lived up to the hype. I got all tingly and excited as we climbed aboard.

From Great Wall
All these photos are from Simatai - which is usually one of the most crowded sections. But we had the incredible luck of going at the end of the season and on a snowy day. It's an ancient wall. There aren't any safety rails. I wound up crab-walking and scooting on my hiney as we wended our way down, so as to avoid toppling into the Barbarian lands and being scooped up by a Hun.
From Great Wall
From Great Wall

From Great Wall
The photo above was taken by a very smiley, very persistent hawker. I was a breath away from buying his sorta-lame postcards, but James had to be the strong one. After the guy followed us up and down the 9th tower, James told him - in Chinese - that we really weren't going to buy anything. And then he said he was a farmer and he was out of work. He walked all the way up the Wall that day for our little day-trip group. There was about one hawker for every two of us. I felt a little sad not buying anything, but it was still the beginning of our China trip, and James reminded me it would be the same all over. And it was -always people selling, pushing, begging. It's exhausting until you get tough about it. And then it's still exhausting. Honestly, when I think about it I still wish I would've bought his postcards.
From Great Wall
More pictures at my Picasa! Click on the link, yo.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Cool Bruise

There's nothing more disgusting than posting pictures of personal injuries online. Unless of course they're mine. I'm especially proud of this one. It's like my firstborn child. Except now it's gone. But I remember it fondly. Gone but not forgotten.

Anyways, I'll just link to it so you can go HERE and HERE to see my amazing bruise!

Obviously there's a story to go with that beauty (I know you looked): It happened a little over halfway through our gad about Mongolia.

The night before it was conceived, James and I stayed in a camp by a hot spring. The only other guest was Mark from Thailand/San Diego - one of those very loud, not very self aware, forever-expat types. In other circumstances Mark would have annoyed me. Probably any other circumstances.

But seeing one of my countrymen after five days without meeting anyone who spoke English or Chinese was refreshing. We talked SC football in the bath until our fingers shriveled. Mark sure was loud. And nasally. Our yurts were adjacent. So every time Mark lost a hand of cards to his guide - GOD DAMMIT, WE'RE SCREWED - we heard about it.

Mark's expletives became a running joke. For the duration of our trip, any lull in conversation was fair game for a Mark impression. Eventually a speech impediment was added and it became, GAD DAMMET, WUH SCWOOED!

But I digress - Mark from Thailand/San Diego informed us there was a town with a grocery store somewhere back toward the direction of civilization.

"I'll get my girl to tell your guy you want to go there."

See Mark, lucky bastard, had an English-speaking guide.

Some hours, hills and valleys, and prolonged nausea later, we arrived in town. Dasha stayed with the van. James and I started across the parking lot.

Maybe I was distracted by the slaughtered cow in a truck bed that people were gathering around. Probably I just didn't have my head in the game: After a week of Choco Pies and Mutton, I had groceries on my mind and wasn't paying attention. All I know is one minute I was walking across a parking lot in a Mongolian town I never learned the name for - and the next I was halfway underground.

My first thought was utter calm; the inner monologue kicked in: "It's okay. If you fall in they'll just have to get you out." My second thought was, "But I don't want to get shitty or wet."

Neither proved necessary. I only had one leg in the manhole and I pulled myself up before I had more time to contemplate what lie beneath.

The manhole cover slammed down on my right leg as I struggled upward. Those covers are heavy. But I wiggled on out.

James and I spent a second trying to fit the cover properly so the next poor soul would be spared my misfortune, but gave up. It was seriously heavy. Maybe that's why the first guy didn't put it on right.

I was in a "woah. the universe is crazy, man." mood for the rest of the day. One day you're minding your own business, going about your life, and the next you fall into the ground. In a manhole. In Mongolia.

That night I rolled up my pajamas for commemorative photos.

And that's my bruise story. THE END

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out and About, Mongolia

From Mongolia

For eight days James and I rode through Central Mongolia in this Russian van. It's hard to believe it's been two months since we left Mongolia. Actually, tomorrow marks a month I've been home. Looking through my pictures now it's almost surreal - that I was lucky enough to do and see the things we did.
Typical Yurt
Many nights we stayed in yurts just like this.
Waking up To Snow
They stay pretty cozy inside, as they all have a stove in the middle and the walls are heavily lined with carpets.
A family we stayed with
A couple nights we stayed with nomadic families. Our driver, Dasha, would bump around the desert until he found someone who was willing to put us up and feed us for $15. It never took long to find a place.
airag, fermented, alcoholic milk. tastes like creamy feta soda. (or I think it does)
tea and hard cheeses in yurt
We spent long hours driving. Sometimes we stopped into a yurt for tea or hard, sour cheeses. Often, Dasha would wave down whoever was passing by and they'd smoke and discuss directions. Besides "yak," "vodka" and "soup," Dasha didn't speak English. A finger pointed into the mouth meant food, eyes closed was find a place to sleep and he'd draw in the dirt to tell us how many kilometers we still had to go in a day.
typical town
The countryside was beautiful. It wasn't a very active part of our trip - as we spent a lot of time just sitting in the van, taking it in. But that was enough.
deer stone
Above is a deer stone, one of about 500 ancient stone carvings archaeologists have found around the country. No one really knows their purpose, says Wikipedia, but they're named for their illustrations of flying deer.
The rule in Mongolia is you most always pick up whoever needs a ride from one place to the next, and you always stop to help. A guy flagged us down to haul his teenage daughter into Ulan Bator. The country doesn't have many paved roads, and there are only about 3 million people. Mongolians don't make a big deal out of it, it's just the way it is.
James with chunky pony and guide
In Karakorum, ancient capital
More Karakorum
Flying a Kite in the Countryside
From Mongolia
Mongolians adopted the Cyrilic alphabet from Russia
Yak Skull
These stone mounds supposedly predate Buddhism. They're all over the countryside, still wrapped in blue sashes for worship.
From Mongolia

To see all my Mongolia countryside pictures, or to see these ones better, click on the Mongolia link below the first or last picture.

Sheesh, looking at these pictures gives me itchy feet!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Could Get Ugly

Today my parents leave for Hawaii. For the next ten days it's just my brothers and me. God help us all.

I think the picture above illustrates my deep-seated anxiety and sense of foreboding regarding being left alone with two stinky teenage boys who are gearing up for their brown belt karate test. I can't even think about tickling Billy without him twisting me into some sort of ninja-style submission.

The picture is also one from my Mongolia expedition. So it's a reminder to myself, and you dear readers, that I am posting my trip photos here!
Verrrrrrry soon!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Small Town Life

Billy: I'm bored. What should we do?

Me: Want to go look for the honeys?

Billy: Ugh, we live in the woods.

And the median age here is 56. What's a 13-year-old guy to do?

Friday, January 1, 2010

First Words of the Decade

"Well that was nice. Hopefully it wont all get destroyed in 2012."

That's the first thing my brother said after we watched the ball drop.

"Ricky! It's two years away, quit worrying!" was my dad's response.

My mom always puts quarters in the windows, a passed-down tradition that's supposed to bring prosperity in the coming year. So this year I put quarters in the garage windows too. Cuz that's where I live - albeit a pretty sweet garage with central heating, queen-size bed and indoor plumbing. Maybe I'll never leave. But that likely wouldn't be a very prosperous decision, even with the quarters trick.

Happy New Year, everybody!