Which side are you on?

Or: International Driving for the Uninitiated

Or: I have a horrible unkept secret announcement

It needs to be made plainly clear that until January 10, I had not seen snow since probably January 2017 when I was still in Victoria. I flew back from Ontario to snow on the ground on BC’s island–which just isn’t right. I emphasize this before I also make available the following facts:

  1. I did not fall on my ass once. Experience told me that I needed better footwear than I originally had. I rectified that with some CAT shoes with decent treads–which was no easy find here in China. I have one size larger than what most retailers carry in the southern Middle Kingdom.
  2. Being in the snow felt warmer than in Tokyo. Maybe it provides a blanket?
  3. Shovelling snow is an acquired skill, and I was able to demonstrate my prowess in a way that should make all snow-habituated people proud.
  4. Re-learning how to drive with three others in the vehicle, the steering wheel on the right side, and having to drive on the left side of the road, all the while the roads are all covered in snow and ice, makes for one of the most stressfully intense experiences I’ve had in quite some time.
    But I took it like a champ. I owned ‘dem roads. It took me at last 20-30 minutes, and I never had the chance to get 100% comfortable with them, but they were mine. It also helped that nowhere that I was driving had posted limits above 50km/h. And I travelled for hours.
    I know many of you commute. Imagine having to drive through a mirror (at least for my North American friends). This really messes with your driving perspective. I can go long periods with driving and go back to zombie-ing behind the wheel with ease. Not this time. If you ever intend on travelling to Europe or East Asia (or wherever else they drive on the wrong side), make sure you’re prepared mentally. It’s just messed up.
Otaru

My friend that I was travelling with actually bought a house in Japan. In the town of Otaru, to be specific. It’s a small touristy port town on the island of Hokkaido.
He’d been to his house only once, and he wanted to show it to me.
Only, he couldn’t find it.
Japanese addresses are weird. They’re broken up into city, ward, area, block, sub-block, and house number. Main streets have names, but all the side streets and alleyways.. forget it. It’s SO easy to get lost. Even with maps. We searched, even with the help of different mapping apps, but couldn’t find the place. So, we did as we had done since we first arrived and asked for directions. The first girl tried. She really did. She pulled out her own phone after we showed her the address, but she was obviously was confused and couldn’t find it. Bows and thank yous and more bows and we relieved her of her cultural obligation. We found a second passerby who also had no clue, but she demonstrated problem-solving skills. Good initiative. She looked at building numbers and deduced that we were close. She then turned her eyes to a shop owner who appeared to be prepping for close. Not sure exactly what he did. Home reno? Honey-doo? Our second helper explained the situation to the shopkeeper, and he went old school. He went to his shelves and pulled out some actual maps. Having passed the burden to the shopkeeper, our second helper bowed and apologized, and we bowed and apologized, and she went on her way. The shopkeeper knew his stuff. To hell with technology. He pointed out where the house was on his map, drew a little map, and went over it with us three times to be sure we understood. We took the map. I took photos. I compared it to I could with Google Maps, and we were off. Before we did, of course, we apologized, and bowed, and offered thanks, and apologized again. As we walked, it all started coming back to my friend. Things were looking familiar. And just as we were approaching the last corner which we needed to turn at, we heard a vehicle approaching from the rear. As we moved to the side of the road, the window rolled down to reveal the shopkeeper behind the wheel. He had actually followed up to make sure we were going the right way.
Holy shit. Seriously. This is what you can expect when you visit that country. It’s a big old reminder to pay it forward, folks.

Oh yeah. The super un-kept secret announcement. I’ve already talked to a few people about this. No more than 10. Maybe. So the reason why we had to go see this house, is because that’s where I will be living come July.
What?
Fer reelz.
More details on this later.

It’s a beauti-bidet in the neighbourhood

Or: Oh yeah, put your squirt right there!

Before you stop dropping your drawers or panties or whatever, a few comments about Akiba. I mentioned earlier, more than once, about Akihabara being the geek mecca of Japan. It really was a sight to behold. A sight that I’d rather have wished to have experienced alone. This was my element, but I was with a family. Not that I’m ashamed of my geek heritage, but there are some things I’d rather keep to myself, or at least with people who were absolutely like-minded. There were four SEGA buildings to investigate. FOUR! How do you bring an uninterested mother/daughter duo to something like that? How do you bring them to a palace of anime otaku treasures like which have never been seen by the majority of western fanboys? I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. And so, while I enjoyed Akiba, I think I could have easily spent two or three days exploring the treasures which that place holds. 25-year-old me would be broke if he lived in Japan. All past-me would be spending all of his hard earned English teaching dollars there. I’m sure of it.

So. Off to Hokkaido, with our first stop being Sapporo. We first had to take the train back to Narita airport, which I didn’t mind. It wasn’t a short trip, but what made it worthwhile was being able to see the infamous Tokyo Tower! A tower, which has been destroyed and obviously rebuilt numerous times after many attacks from monsters, aliens, and random wars that have occurred according to pop-culture mediums. It was during the day in which I saw it, so I missed it’s evening-lit-up-splendor, but it was still exciting to see. Sure, it’s not the Eiffel or CN tower, but it’s culturally significant for the lifelong otaku. I will see this tower again, and I promise to provide pictures next time.

The first obvious difference when landing in Sapporo, was the snow. And there was a lot of it. But what was interesting was that despite the snow, it really didn’t feel that cold. Maybe I had already gotten used to the cold thanks to my first couple of days in Tokyo, but I somehow don’t think so. In some ways, Sapporo felt almost warmer in comparison to Japan’s capital. Perhaps I’m forgetting some of my Canadian history about snow. I mean, I haven’t lived through a traditional Canadian winter since 2012/2013, after which I lived in B.C., so maybe that’s clouded my perceptions a bit. All I know is that despite the snow, there were times I walked down streets with my jacket open.

Since before we left, my friend had been promising me to take to take me to the BEST ramen place, ever. I was actually confused for a while, because he kept calling it by its Chinese term, la-mein (like chicken chow-mein). It’s a small chain of ramen shops called Tesumiki Ramen. The one we went to was tiny. Seating for eight. The owner/operator was more-or-less shewing people away. The location is on Trip Advisor and Michelin rated, which is kind of cray. We just happened to get there a little early, and the keeper knew my friend. He has a tendency to leave an impression with people (super-outgoing, friendly, and talkative).
So, if you’ll remember, vending machines really are a thing here in Japan. To order food at this ramen place, there was a ticket vending machine to order what you wanted. If you didn’t have proper change, the owner had an envelope of paper yen to help you out.

This is what I ordered.

The owner was certainly a friendly guy with enough English language skills to serve you. Hugs were shared between my friend and he. The owner also had an affinity for the Beatles, as that’s all that was playing in his small establishment. He loved them, yeah, yeah, yeah.
The raman itself was certainly tasty. But like most Japanese food, make sure you have plenty of water handy. I was thirsty afterward.

Back at the hotel, I had to drop the kids off at the pool. Yes. That’s a euphemism for having to take a dump. Which is also euphemism for having to defecate into a toilet bowl.
The time had come.
The toilet and the shower were in the same room, but were divided by a sliding door. Both areas were spacious. And the toilet itself had a strange looking lid upon it. Beside the toilet was a digital control mechanism. A mechanism with images that were pretty self explanatory. I dropped my pants and took a seat, and I was met with one of the strangest feelings in the world. The first idea that popped in my head was that somehow that within that toilet bowl there was a rip in fabric of space/time, and somehow down had become up and I was now urinating onto the toilet seat upon which I sat. It was similar to that sensation when you first sit onto the heated seats of an automobile. Warm and comforting, but completely unnatural feeling. It was nice not sitting down onto a cold seat. For once, having to drop a load in the winter was forgiving instead of harsh, albeit quick punishment.
Afterwards, after my duty had been completed, I wrestled with idea of using the bidet function. I somehow felt that by using such a device, I was breaking some sort of manly/social code. One of the people does not have the luxury of a bidet. For some reason, in my mind, it was elitest. Despite my reservations, my curiosity got the best of me. I hit the button for the narrow spray. There was a button for wide spray with the icon for a female as its support, so putting two-and-two together, I knew the first option was the one for me.
And it was.
And it was amazing.

An extreme example of possible toilet seat/bidet sets. This one is more than $500CAD. But HELLO KITTY!

Where did my anti-bidet bias come from? This was awesome. The ultimate solution to s**t-stains in my undies! A clean sphincter after every deuce! Not only that, but this also created less use for toilet tissue. This was a land where Charmin Ultra-Soft didn’t exist. So if you can’t treat you ass like royalty that way, this was the next best, if not far superior option. Add this to a list of lifestyle choices. I’m not overexaggerating when I say that the heated seat/bidet combo is life-altering.

So this experience is probably the most.. colourful.. of my trip (it’s the little things), more is forthcoming. Next time– Otaru and the Left Hand, Right Seated driving experience.

Vs. Battle – Japanese Transit

Or How the Whole of Japan Will Make Sure You Get There

TL:DR
Japanese Transit requires a decoder ring and the Japanese are super polite and helpful.

With most people I know suffering through the first deep freeze of the winter, I am reminded that it was cold in Tokyo and that I have more things to share.
Before anyone calls out wuss, I might remind you that while it doesn’t freeze here in Guangzhou, there’s no respite from the cold either. If it’s cold out there, it’s cold in here (in my apartment). Maybe it was concrete or maybe it was the wind, but despite the positive single-digit temperatures, it felt a lot colder than I think it should have. However, we were all travellers and we had things to see! Like a hot bowl of ramen. We parted the wind like– no. We didn’t part the wind. It blasted us with all its arctic ferocity which only made the ramen that much better.

After our meal, we continued our blistery stroll to the nearest light rail station. When we all arrived in Tokyo, I assumed I would be able to pick up a transit card anywhere, and figured I’d be able to get one at any transit station. I also figured I’d get cash from an ATM. At this moment, it wasn’t easy to do either of those things. My friends and I searched the station for someone that offered cards for sale but found nothing but ticket dispensers and recharge stations. Similarly, there were no ATMs that would accept international cards. Luckily my friend was prepared and purchased a ticket for me. He and his fam had cards from their previous trip, which they picked up at kiosks at the airport.

So somewhat defeated, we made our way to Hondo-ji temple in the Matsudo area. It was only two or three stops from our station and was easy to find (Google Maps FTW). I’m assuming that some of you are at least vaguely aware of Japan’s love affair with vending machines. They are everywhere. I won’t say they are on every street corner, but there’s always one close by. Depending on the area, you will find a range of different beverages available. I will state now that I didn’t see any of the weird or taboo machines that you may have heard of (like the one for used panties). But within a couple of minutes of anywhere, guaranteed you’d be able to score yourself a can of hot coffee, or any other type of soft beverage. In the more late night oriented districts, tall cans of Asahi Special Dry or Sapporo Beer could also be found. Hondo-ji only had soft beverages, and the can of hot coffee that was purchased for me was more than welcomed. It served as warmth for my hands for a few moments before I cracked it open.

After the temple, we made our way back, stopping at a Lawsons Station (a rival convenience store to 7-Eleven, which are also everywhere) as well as a bank. Finally money. Again, we searched for a place for transit cards but still nothing. The only thing that ran through my mind was how can a country SO reliant on transit not have these cards in every store? Purchasing my own ticket this time, we arrived back to our point of departure. It was decided that it was too far and too cold to walk home by half of our party. Taxi’s are ridiculously expensive, so it would be by bus that we would return to our AirBnB. Google and whatever apps my companions were using were useless in determining what bus to take, and where to get on. We tried asking some people outside, but communication wasn’t happening. One person led us to Koban, a police-box, where an officer and receptionist helped us out. The officer went so far as to walk us back to the bus-stop and wish us luck on our journey home. Eventually, our bus came, and we got on.
And started moving.
In the wrong direction.
A retired looking gentleman sitting at the rear of the bus overheard our conversation and in near perfect English (SHOCK) offered to help us out. We not only were travelling in the wrong direction, but we were also using the wrong bus system. We were to get on a much larger bus and wait at a different stop a few steps away. He brought our plight to the attention of the bus driver, explaining our situation to him on our behalf. At the next stop, the bus driver guided us out of the bus following right behind, foregoing our payment (you pay by a per-stop/distance system) and showed us exactly where we needed to stand for the return bus. We all gracefully bowed and arigato-s were exchanged. Sure enough, the return bus came along, we boarded back to the station and got on the right bus the next time around.

Upon returning home, I looked up where the hell I was supposed to get a transit card. I was looking at retailers the entire time I was at every station I had been at. The card charging machines are also dispensers. They will spit out a new card for ¥500, plus whatever amount you put on it. Later that night we took in the sights and many, many sounds of Akihabara (the geek mecca of Japan). After successfully using the charging machines to procure my transit card, we stared up the transit maps on the walls. Looking at hieroglyphs would have been easier to decipher than the maps. Trying to make sense of what we were seeing, and what Google had to say, was like trying to put the square shape through the circle hole. Again, we asked for help from a random commuter. In utmost politeness and courtesy, the brought us to the correct gate and told us how many stops, before going in a completely different direction.

This willingness to help repeated numerous times throughout our week-long trip. It was never an answer of “over there,” but a detour being made by the one helping us, offering us as much help that they can give stopping short of going with us the entire way–at least almost. That’s a different story. Canadians are generally know for being the friendly and polite ones. Sorry my fellow Canucks– we need to step our game.

Next time, Sapporo and the heated toilet seats. Best. Band. Ever.

Land of the Rising Snow

Things photos couldn’t tell you about my trip to Japan – Part 1

If you’ve been following me on your choice of social media (can we call them ‘So-Me’ for short.. let’s make that a thing), you may have noticed a change in programming, as the content switched to Japanese. True story.

I arrived at Narita International Airport on January 8, with nothing but a backpack filled with clothes, an iPad, headphones, and a phone. Oh, and a couple of friends. Fun fact: discount airlines really like to nickel and dime you. We had a 7kg max weight for our carry-on luggage– and they check. If you plan on travelling discount airlines you should probably invest in a luggage jacket of some sort, and opt for a light-weight backpack instead of a suitcase, as backpacks have more give. A not-so-fun fact: there is no über or crowdsourced taxi-services. And they are expensive. Narita is far removed from everything, so if on a budget, you’ll need to get a transit pass and take the subway. This is another reason just to bring a backpack. So either take transit or if you’re fortunate enough as we were, have someone come pick you up. And then have them take you out for dinner. We were treated to some food at what I’m guessing was an Izakaya (居酒屋) which is probably best described as a Japanese pub. Dinner was a series of small dishes comprised of tempura fried delicacies (maybe not delicacies), barbecued and deep fried chicken, seaweed salad, and other deep fried and battered meats. A heart attacks wet dream, and also very delicious.

We returned to our AirBnB shortly afterwards, but it wasn’t without making a couple of observations. First, was how cold it was. While there was no snow, the weather was windy and bone chilling. Perhaps it was a mix of the wind and the cold radiating from the concrete jungle of Tokyo, but I was freezing, despite it being above zero. The second observation was how foreign I was there. It wasn’t because of the colour of my skin, but more that I kept walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk, or any where else for that matter. It’s not just driving that’s done on the left side. This began my brain reprogramming to walk on the left side. It’s harder than it sounds.

The AirBnB itself was decent and a good size. I’d hate to try and estimate the cost. It was a single bedroom flat, with the living room turned into a second bedroom/living space. Something I had forgotten about the Japanese, is that they separate bath and toilet. The washroom was felt like a tiny closet and would cause a claustrophobic’s panic attack. What was missing from the bathroom was the fabled heated toilet seat / bidet. That would have to wait for a couple of days. What the bathroom did have, was kind of genius. Instead of having an individual sink and toilet, the toilet reservoir had a faucet and sink on top. Instead of wasting water, you could wash your hands with the same water that filled the well. Water conservation for the win.

All this was just the first 7 hours after my arrival. Keep watching this space for next time it will be Us vs. Transit!

Goosebumps in sub-tropical weather.

Like many, I enjoy a pleasant surprise.  I’ll back up a little bit.

I was trying an exercise with my students where an audience benefits from watching an actor practice while giving them chances to make suggestions, meanwhile the actor gets the chance to have someone see them perform and receive feedback.  My approach was a bit of a flop.  And by a bit, I mean that if I had been sitting in that class, I would have spent my time been trying to memorize pi to two hundred decimal places.  It was brutal.  After the break, I altered the approach, and it made the process much less… painful.  That’s not the pleasant surprise part.
After the exercises, they were to apply everything that the exercises covered and apply it to a monologue–and perform it.  Specifically, they were applying changes of pace in movement, speech, and change in vocal tone to create emphasis and meaning.
And they performed.
Despite the fact that these were second language learners; despite having a drama class twice in one day; despite the fact that this was their last class on a Saturday afternoon; the performers nailed it.  Even Brad (an alias), who although has a solid technical knowledge of English, has some fairly significant pronunciation issues.  The performance of his monologue was entirely unexpected, as he completely changed the direction of what we had discussed.  I had goosebumps.  It was probably one of my happiest moments in teaching.

I gots paid this week.  Why so early?  I’m guessing because October 1 is the beginning of the Chinese national holiday.  A holiday where I will have no classes for eleven days.
Yes, I said eleven.
Now, it’s not the fact that I got paid or that I wanted to gloat about a holiday after only one month of teaching that I want to get into.  It’s more about what happened after the fact.  I am now officially hooked on mobile payment systems.  I’ve talked about them before.  There are two her, WeChat Wallet, and Alipay (a service provided by Alibaba).  With money in the account, I figured it would be appropriate that I give TheWife™ some cash.  My first instinct was to go to a bank machine.  We both headed out to a local supermarket and I figured I’d stop by an ATM on the way back.  We were wandering around the store when it dawned on me that a trip to the ATM was no longer necessary.  First, from my phone, I topped up my Alipay account with some cash.  I then asked TheWife™ for her phone.  “Why?” she asked.  “Just give me your phone,” I replied.  I opened up her Alipay app, scanned her QR code with my phone, and passed the money over to her account.  Mission accomplished.  I gave her back her phone which happily displayed a more significant balance then the zero in which it was just moments before.
While there are certain aspects of mobile payment systems that creep me the F out, I must admit, the convenience of it is just too easy to ignore.  I hope Canada catches up soon–I’m officially over pulling out my bank card for all my transactions.  That’s so 1994 (yes, that’s when using Interac debit transactions became a thing).

I up ‘n gots me a new Johnny

Well, not quite yet.  The plumbers are installing it now.  I actually had no idea this was coming.  You see, earlier in the week, the toilet kept running on and the stopper wouldn’t seal in the reservoir.  I contacted, for lack of a better term, our property manager, and someone was sent the following day.  TheWife™ was out and about when he arrived, and I thought we communicated okay.  The problem appeared to be solved, except for a small, but constant flow of water into the bowl.  This has always been the case and thought it was intentional, as it was happening from the moment I moved in.  There were also a couple cracks in the ceramic, but I thought nothing of it.  This morning, the plumbing people show up with a new toilet.  Surprise!  The porcelain God decided that a new altar was be bestowed onto us, for delivery if its sacrificial sacrament.  There’s a downside to our shiny turd collector; it can’t collect golden showers or chocolate hostages for a couple of days.  If I need to go, I now have to run to the public toilet in my building– which is down a flight of stairs, and a half-way across the building.  I’d call this a first world problem, but for some reason, I don’t feel as though I can classify this as one of those.

Oh yeah, I also started teaching this week after a 12-year hiatus.
And yes, it went well.  I commented earlier this week that it was like riding a bike, and I still stand by that.  I fell back into the process with relative ease.  The only issues I’m having is timing vs content.  Each class is two periods of 45-minutes each.  Under and overfilling that time slot is a bit of challenge.  Class sizes vary from 12 to 22, which means that the length it takes to finish an activity can drastically change from one class to another.  I’ll get it figured out, I’m sure.
Something else I kind of forgot about was the charge to the ego that teaching can bring–which I think I’m far more aware of this time around.  I think I can thank time and experience, and over a decade of self-reflection for this.  I’ve noted before that there’s a fairly strong reverence towards teachers here, and it really demonstrated itself on Friday.
Before my classes started, a couple of classes got moved, with on being changed to 4:30 on Friday.  Fine.  Come Friday, I show up for my class thirty minutes early.  I was surprised to find one of my student’s waiting for me outside of the classroom.  We chit-chatted a little, and she told me that a lot of students might not show because of the change.  Not everyone got the message.  Apparently, they did get the message, but the messages were different by two hours.  The coordinator gave me the wrong schedule.  The interesting part about this is that not a single one of the students who eventually showed up (only eight of what should have been close to twenty), every said anything about.  Just assumed my time was right, and their time was wrong, or just didn’t want to speak up about it.  If this had been a class back in Canada, there’d at the very least be questions of what happened.  Not here.

Oh, and one last thing.  The new Foo Fighters dropped this week, and it is awesome.

 

We all eventually get to where we’re going…eventually.

As you may have probably guessed, the past two weeks have been somewhat chaotic.  And by somewhat, I mean it has been.  Just yesterday I finally managed to feed some Interwebz™ into my abode.  It’s the standard campus internet and the speeds, while not third-world, are less than lightning fast.  I get faster speeds off of my 4G connection.

So let’s rewind a little bit.

As time wound down from visiting TheWife’s™ family, it was time to pack things up and first head to Shenzhen, and then to Hong Kong to obtain or Z Visa’s.  Of course, things are never that easy.  Because of limited trips, getting a direct train to Shenzhen was off the table (i.e. we were too late to get tickets).  Instead, we got tickets to Guangzhou, as there are trains between Guangzhou and Shenzhen that leave every twenty minutes.
At least usually.
You see, a typhoon was on its way to the mainland on our departure day.  Instead of killing us all, the train came to a stop when the first torrential pour came.  After an hour, when we started moving again, the train moved at a bit of a crawl compared to its normal pace, making our arrival two hours late.
No problem.
At least it shouldn’t have been.
When we arrived in Guangzhou, we began our search for the ticketing booth to get our tickets.  It was packed.  Of course, I thought nothing of it, since it was China after all.  TheWife™ had the smarts to ask, and discovered that those lines for refunds and rebookings.  All trains out of Guangzhou had been cancelled for the rest of the day.  However, there were some shuttle buses capitalizing on the shutdown, that would take us to Shenzhen.  It would be slower, but at least we’d get there.  No problem.
Well, at least almost.
We are guided for a few minutes until we reach the small shuttle.  It was going to be a cramped ride, but it wouldn’t be the first time.  TheWife and I, along with about six other passengers hop on.  Then we saw the cherries flash and the mini-bus is prevented from leaving.  TheWife™ begins to panic a little, worried that for some reason we may lose all our luggage.  As we all continue to wait in the hot, crowded bus, the operators get out and begin to discuss things with Police officer.  One puts his hand on his shoulder, as the China 5-0 speaks into his walkie-talkie.  There was some negotiating I’m sure, and after about twenty minutes, we were finally on our way.  We discovered that all this noise was because the mini-bus was illegally parked.  It was too large to be parking where it was.  Fine.  Okay.  On our way.  No problem.
And it was not a problem to Shenzhen after that– except for some traffic.  I could deal with that though.  It’s not like I didn’t have experience with that.
We had planned to arrive in Shenzhen around noon.  Noon turned into about 6 p.m.  All this, and we weren’t even in Hong Kong yet.  But I’ll save that for next time.

I’m big in China

For those who are not familiar with the mainland education system, the high school years are super stressful as the students prepare for their gaokao, or university entrance exams.  High school lives in North America is like play time in comparison.  My wife’s nephew has a very very common surname, which I will say is Wong, and is especially common in his home town.  Every year, those of the same lineage celebrate the year’s new university entrants.  It’s a celebration of pomp and circumstance, primarily for the parents.  Today was TheNephew’s turn, and so we tagged along.

In the southern small towns of China, a lot of areas look strikingly similar, in the same way a lot of suburbs in Canada and the US do.  We parked around the corner from the event, but it was clear that we were heading in the right direction with the sounds of symbols and pipe flutes clashing and chirping their songs.  We wandered further in and enjoyed some traditional Chinese snacks.  It wasn’t long, though, until the cameras started coming out.  My nerd-tan only helps to exacerbate my inability blend in with the locals.  In small towns, a foreign presence is quickly recognized and is a complete novelty.  When we finished our snacks we continued to wander around, stopping for a few more posed photos, until we were cornered by a more well-to-do Wong invited me to sit down.  I graciously accepted and as I began to sit, he called over his university bound daughter.  He pushed her forward, strongly encouraging her to speak to me.  I figured she would have some basic English fluency, and I prepared myself as such.  She introduced herself as Marjorie and asked a couple of questions.  My assumptions were smashed when she kept talking.  She had been going to high school in Ohio with a sponsor family.  She was pleasant enough and we chatted for a bit.  Her father, very pleased with her daughter’s ability to speak English, then asked me to give a few words when the ceremonies began.
I thought, ‘why not.’  I had forgotten how much celebrity gets thrown at white guys in small town China.  By agreeing to participate, I was also giving “face” to those in charge–and by extension, my nephew.

I really didn’t know what to say, and what’s more, I knew the entrants really wouldn’t want some random white guy to drone on about things.  So I kept it short, exiting stage right, thinking that my responsibilities were concluded.
Wrong.  It was group photo time.  I was lead to the back row with all the organizers and such–which was fine.  I wasn’t there for very long, though, as I was then lead to the front row between an entrant to Qinghua University (very prestigious here), and Marjorie, who got accepted into Virginia Tech.

Some white guy became a special guest for a university entrants celebration.

I think this is a problem I faced the last time I was here.  I’m not saying the false celebrity was the problem, but its effects on perceived self-worth.  Events like this can quickly go to your head if it happens frequently enough.  I will have to be sure to keep myself in check this second time around.  Gotsta stay humble.

Second book in the series.

The early morning sun is shining on the deck outside my mother’s rear patio doors.  It’s Sunday morning and all three of us are quiet, TheWife™, TheMom™, and myself.  TW gazes on taps away on her phone, likely sending messages back and forth to her sister using WeChat, and TM is probably falling through the click-bait rabbit holes.  I am sitting in front of my laptop, clacking at its keyboard and sipping away at my weekend morning coffee treat.  It’s the same routine that we have gone through every weekend since I arrived back in June.  The only difference is that in 17 hours, TW and I will be on my flight to Newold City (my new pseudonym for where I’m living–check the Cast and Errata page for a list of other pseudonyms I am using) via Guangzhou.

Of course, by the time you read this, I will have already been in the air for presumably six hours or more, flying for a total of fifteen hours and twenty minutes for the first leg.

So it’s finally here.  Any sense of anxiety I had is pretty much gone, which to me is indicative that I’m ready.  It’s a long list that I really don’t want to create new names for, so instead I will give a blanket, yet earnest thank you to everyone who took time out of their daily lives over the past seven weeks (SEVEN WEEKS!?!) to spend time with TheWife™ and I.

Preparing for Book Two!

I know, given our penchant for vagabonding, that being our nearest and dearest requires extra effort and while maybe not heartbreak, a certain sense of melancholy every time we show up and then leave again.  This is not lost on us, and for these efforts, I am truly grateful.
I was out with Lyle (see Cast) yesterday, discussing this very topic.  And while it sucks being away from each other, it is also demonstrative of the strength of the bonds that have developed between us.  During college, after we completed the taping of our last class project, I was feeling a little down knowing that this may be the last time I would see these people as we were now free to go out into the world.  I expressed these thoughts to a classmate of mine.  He had a different perspective which has carried with me ever since.  He said, “Andy, those who really truly matter will always continue to be in contact with you.”  He was right, of course.  And to me, these people who have been with me over these past 15-20 years are my family.  Whether biological or not, these bonds are far more important to me than any blood that runs through our veins.

Thank you, with all the love and appreciation that you rightfully deserve.

With that, I think it’s time to cap off this chapter.  For that matter, I think I’ll leave this as a cliffhanger for my first book.  Book Two: Version 2.0 begins…

Misfires and bad shots

Bureaucracy is a bane to all of our existences.  It’s a bi-product of government and corporate processes that permeates through the crevices of society.  My journey into China this year is far different than thirteen years ago.  In 2003 all I needed to do was to show up in the country with a tourist visa, and everything else would be handled by my employer once I got there.  When I first landed in the country, I was shocked to find how much work was still done on paper.  Electronic records had just started to canvas the Middle Kingdom at the time, and I was residing in a backwoods province.  Apparently, it’s not just the cities that expand at lightning speed there.  From what I’ve seen through short trips there, and what I’ve been dealing with during my process this time, the technological pervasiveness may have very well surpassed what we have here in Canada.  It is with all these new technologies in place that a whole new layer of paperwork has become concomitant with the work permit application apparatus.

Government proposes, bureaucracy disposes. And the bureaucracy must dispose of government proposals by dumping them on us.

-P. J. O’Rourke

New, just this year, are requirements for notarized and authenticated documents that are re-authenticated by the Chinese consulate.  This top heavy process is supposed to make further applications a lot smoother and expedited.  I can deal with that.  However, given that these processes are new, hiccups and confusions are bound to come up.  I have already gone through some new hurdles in the process, and I ran into new ones yesterday.  I received notification that I was not to arrive in China until August 28th.  The first stage of my work permit expires after 30 days, and those days would be needed to get my residency papers, updated permits, and other important documents.  I leave on August 14 at 1:30am.  tickets are purchased, and rebooking would be.. expensive.  The solution is to arrive on a tourist visa (which I already have from my previous trip, though TheWife™ will need to reacquire), have my documents sent to China instead of here in Canada, and then at the end of August, I am to journey into Hong Kong to get my proper Z visa.

This change also brought about a new issue– since I am to arrive on a tourist visa, I’ll need to show that I have a flight booked out of the country.  I only have one-way tickets purchased because I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be coming home next summer.  An inquiry told me that to upgrade my tickets to leave next July would add an additional $1200 to my ticket price.  I poured myself a bowl full of NOPE!  Research led me to a service for flying nomads called FlyOnward which will purchase a ticket for you, for a small fee, and will then cancel the ticket after 48 hours.  They purchase the ticket on their own dime, which limits the expense of buying full-return.  Genius.  This is what the internet has done for us.

International travel is never easy, and work permits are requiring increasingly complicated maneuvers to get them.  Good thing I learned a long time ago to let the red tape and other things roll off my shoulders.  Besides, it’s not like back in June, the day before I moved back to Ontario when I lost my passport.  Oh.  I haven’t told you that story yet.  I’ll save that one for next time.