I spent my last day in Spain in Barcelona. I went nuts in the Picasso museum my eyes eating up his sketch pad drawings like tapas. But the real art is not in the museums, but on the streets. Here is just a taste of what my camera devoured.
“I know. I guess I forgot to tell my mom about the topless beaches.”
Nude beaches, legal prostitution and gourmet brown bag lunches. Just a few minor details that my nephew left out of his letters home from his term studying abroad.
I stopped to visit David in Alicante, on my way home from the flipside. This hoity toity resort town is on the Mediterranean, about a two hour train from Madrid and light years from what I imagined his “grueling term abroad” to be.
We consumed all five of the Spanish food groups; wine, ham, sausage, seafood and olives. The tapas were insane, including things not featured in a college dorm cafeteria.
Chorizo sausage, super sized prawns.
And that famous Spanish ham.
The good stuff is from a wild black footed pig that only dines on acorns. I ate until my stomach cried uncle. So I guess foods can be foodies, too.
Yes, there was a lot of fresh fish pulled in from the Mediterranean.
And crazy desserts.
But to my nephew, it’s peanut butter and jelly. No Kraft mac and cheese from the blue box. He gets home made paella every Tuesday and lunches packed by his host mother with chorizo .
Instead of climbing up to the tenth century castle, we did the college thing: we drank beer.
Then afterwards, we repented at the smallest church in Spain.
No thank you.
What is the best way to say Goodbye?
With chicken feet, water fights, and waterproof mascara.
The 8th grade class organized a lock-in, inviting a few teachers as chaperones and about thirteen thousand mosquitoes.
Activities included the normal: chicken feet eating contests, Zombie dancing with the Chinese old folks and watching the sunrise on the school roof.
And oh yes, checking out the guys john.
While it was fun, it was awfully tough. Amd I’m not just talking about the lack of sleep.
While the kids were playing games, I’d sneak in the bathroom, latched the door and sobbed. Half the tears were for me, half were for them, since many of the students come from stoic cultures where crying is not acceptable. So I had to cry their tears, too.
Students, I want you to finish this sentence.
“This I believe…”
It was a writing prompt based on an NPR program of the same name.
My students eagerly completed the sentence, writing essays on everything from “I believe a turtle can change your faith” to “I Believe in Rice” to “I believe Homework can rot your Brain”.
But one student’s essay took me by delightful surprise. It was entitled, “I Believe in Questioning”.
It was written by a student who had the guts to admit he questioned his faith.
Before attending a faith based school he blindly believed in stories of a man being swallowed by a fish and a God created the cosmos in less days it would take him to write a social studies report. But after attending a school full of students who know more about Justin Beiber’s life than the God they profess to follow, he called it quits.
“It’s important to question your faith,” I told this student. “It’s my job as a teacher to help you explore your questions.”
“Really? So you won’t flunk me for writing this essay?”
“I will flunk you for leaving candy wrappers in your desk.” I laughed and continued, “A person who has never doubted their faith has never believed. That is a piece of advice I received from a pastor.”
He pondered my words of wisdom, “Well then, I’m going to be an atheist as soon as I throw out this Skittles bag.”
I am taking my student’s atheist declaration with the same weight I take any 8th grader’s vow to vegetarianism. It’s probably just a phase. But, if one were to question their faith, South East Asia is the place to do it. Below is a handful of my favorite deities in Bangkok.
The God of Stolen Office Supplies
Some of you might remember back in my college days
how I built a Buddha out of foam rubber,
and had a massive party that almost got me kicked out of MSU. Then that
Buddha landed me my first job. Well, you could say, I’m sorta enthralled with Buddhas.
So needless to say, when I go to Bangkok, visiting Buddha statues is on the top
of my list. Here are a few that tickled my spiritual fancy this trip.
Typical Gold Buddha
Peace Out Buddha
Miniature Plastic Tchotchke Buddha
Under Construction Buddha
Caped Superhero Buddha
Ring Around the Collar Buddha
While many of these marvels were made of gold or marble, only mind was
made of foam rubber.
If you are wondering the fate of Tyrone, after he got me a job at Leo Burnett, he was my roomie in Chicago. One day, I took a knife to him, stabbed him to death and created many wonderful throw pillows. All that remains is his belly button.
of all fears.
I love shows like Locked Up Abroad but I never want to star on them.
Yesterday, on my way to Thailand for a medical checkup, I came close. I was at Kunming
Airport, with no known contraband other than a specimen cup.
But while standing in line at Border Control, the official saw something
suspicious on my passport. He got his supervisor took one look at me and then
confiscated my passport.
Yes, my passport.
Jeff and I gulped.
It would be freaky enough if the officials spoke English; but add to it the
language barrier, a loaded colon and a plane to catch, I was leaving in my
shorts what I wanted to drop off at Bumrungrad.
The officials took my passport and disappeared. Every 15 minutes, one would
come out and say, “It will be another 7 minutes. No worry, you no miss
I speed-dialed my employer’s school’s on-call translator (who is available for
emergencies like this and for when I need help finding shoe strings at
I dialed her, handed the phone to the Border Control Official and then said my
Crazy thoughts went through my mind.
Was there a problem with my VISA?
Did someone steal my passport number?
Was a Chinese national trying to pass herself off as a platinum haired
The numbers of entry date stamp were transposed,what should have been the year
2012 was stamped 2021.
This took about 45 minutes and for the officials to correct, two years after
the initial mistake.
Which, will probably cause more airport delays in my future.
As for now, I won’t be making a guest appearance on my favorite show.
You’ve probably heard the adage, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
But what about butt beans?
It seems as if someone in the cosmos lately has been poking a voodoo doll of me. But instead of moping over my bad cosmic karma, I went to Cafe Laku, a SW Asian coffee chain that sells the infamous brew made with beans excreted from a civet’s rear.
The coffee goes for over forty bucks a pop, a little bit more than the styro-foam cups you can get at Citgo.
Instead of getting a cup of Butthole-Joe, I talked the barista out of a bean.
Meanwhile, at the other end of things, you’ll get fined at the same place for your droppings.
So, finish the adage please.
When life gives you butt beans…
Tired of your job? These Chinese workers are tired on their job.
Hey! Wake up! There’s a clean up in the soy cause aisle!
This looks about as comfie as a middle seat on a fifteen hour flight.
This looks like business class.
Why not just sleep on the sidewalk?
Here’s my favorite seamstress. He definitely doesn’t work in a sweat shop.
In China, there are supposedly two rats for every person and one bike guy for every bike.
This is mine.
He keeps my bike tuned up so I can ride the 45 second commute to my school without a hitch.
I don’t know his name or if he has ever hear of Lance Armstrong, but this guy knows his stuff.
He can tighten spokes and straighten out a bent tire for about the price of a Power Bar.
And he does it all while wearing a designer sports coat and screamin’ yellow baseball cap.
His bike shop isn’t as swank as Johnny Sockets in Chi-town. No bike helmets or bike apparel.
But you can get bike locks, breaks, spokes a chain, or tire tubing, most likely already with a few patches on it.
If you look real close, you can see the bike guy’s ancient oil bottle. It looks like its wrapped in the swaddling clothing that Jesus wore in the manger.
The cash register is a cardboard box, which is also very typical.
When it’s closing time, he packs it up and drives away.
The bike guys is usually open for weekends by the back gate of entrance one to Hu Pan Zhi Meng Xiao Qu on the weekends.
Here’s the three wheeler tricyle also know as the re-cycle. This model is popular with the junk men .
Along for just the fun of it, the Chinese will fly kites
to honor their ancestors, tying messages of hope to the tails.
the students at Kunming International Academy decided
to honor the
twenty nine lives that were lost at the March 3rd
Train Station Massacre
by making kites.
Bethany Birch, an imaginative teacher lead project “Shine On”.
figured out how to make the kites, where to get the material and even
orchestrated a kite ceremony with the neighboring Hu Pan Zhe Meng
Students from both schools wrote messages of love and hope on the kites.
If you look closely, you can see laundry hanging on the enclosed deck of the top floor apartment behind the town houses.
That’s where I live.
The shiny kites are a lot more fun to look at. Or to use as a hat.
So what does the Chinese word Feng Zheng for kite mean?
Feng means wind.
To break wind, as in fart, is fàngpì 放 屁.
That is also a Chinese tradition.
Before March 1st, or 3-0-1, no one had ever heard of Kunming. But that night, I got calls and emails from people I have never heard of.
On Sunday, the city mourned over the brutal attacks at the Kunming Train station or “Zhan”, leaving twenty eight dead and millions speechless. It was a ghost town as the government as well as common sense kept people at home.
Many businesses were still closed Monday. There is still extra police protection surrounding schools.
Most people I know weren’t directly affected, but many had friends or knew someone who was.
The local coverage of the event was brutal. Keep in mind, in China, news stories routinely include footage of suicide victims, street brawls and construction workers getting a metal poles removed from their arms.
I can’t even imagine what was included in the footage that was censored.
More saddening than the graphic footage were the faces of those who had lost loved ones. One that I can erase from my mind is of a sixty year old wife who lost her husband and life- long friend that day, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
All she had left was his ID card.
Though the stories were broadcasted in Mandarin, I understood them completely.
The language of the heart needs no translation.
Since we had a “lock-down” on Sunday, I took the opportunity to binge watch three complete seasons of Showtime’s“the L word”.
I think I’m now officially a lesbian.
Don’t expect me posting pictures of that, either.
I saw–or heard–these music students practicing in one of the music stores near the old stinky walmart in Kunming.
The harp thing is called a Guzheng. Most kids learn how to play a musical instrument, other than air guitar.
It is very common to hear musicians play traditional Chinese instruments in the parks.
Or, just play checkers.
If Christmas is supposed to be Jesus’ birthday and our calendar year is based on his birth, why aren’t the two celebrated on same day?
It’s probably a marketing ploy to get us to buy more crap.
Well, the Chinese New Year actually does have a reason for the season. It’s actually better known to the billion people who live here as Spring festival or Chunjie (春节).
Chunjie kicks off a two week long celebration sponsored by the Bell-tone Hearing Aids guys.
It’s loud, colorful and full of ear-drum puncturing tradition.
Let me cram thousands of years of noisy tradition into one short peaceful post.
Anyway, Chunjie is one of those holidays that day changes each year, since it revolves around a new lunar moon. This year, it was January 31st.
The country of China literally shut down. Guang Fu Lu is usally flooded with busses, the sidewalks overtaken with cars.
Hundreds of millions clog train and bus stations. The internet gets sluggish due to the other half a billion purchasing their tickets on
And everyone else? They head to the parks.
Each Chinese New Year is based on one of the animals of their zodiac. Last year, it was the snake. But the slithering creature was replaced by the speedy and strong horse, unlike the one on display at the Old Kunming, who looks about a day away from the glue factory.
Fireworks were popped all night long, the sounds and like that are never seen in the USA.
This heart was made of a 7,000 finger sized firecrackers, each containing enough gun powder to blow my pinky all the way to Toledo. It took about five minutes to blow up.
This roll of 7,000 firecrackers, bigger than a bike tire, set me back about $40, more than the cost of this classic “flying pigeon” Chinese bicycle.
So what’s the reason for the season?
The firework tradition started with Nian (年兽), a legendary Chinese monster. He wasn’t born in a manger and doesn’t deliver toys down a chimney. The loud noises and the color red supposedly scare Nian and his evil spirits away.
Along with fireworks, the releasing of turtles, goldfish and birds is supposed to bring good luck. Cages like this are seen everywhere.
Dinner is a traditional meal called a nianyefan (年夜饭), literally meaning the first meal of the year. Some dine on long noodles for longevity. Others devour a Chinese Turkey, AKA a pig, and enjoy the leftovers for days after. They also indulge in traditional desserts like this “Good Luck” rice cake, which really means, good luck eating it.
It tastes like honey topped Styrofoam.
Finally, about two weeks and two billion firecrackers later, the holiday ends with the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.
The lanterns are actually floats.
I went to the festival during the day to avoid the crowd. Ya know, lanterns just aren’t as cool in the daylight.
No Horsing Around.
If you were born in is that of the horse, you got to be on your hooves or toes. It’s important to wear red underwear, red socks or a red stringed pendant for the next 365 days to bring you good luck.
But if your luck is in the dirty clothes pile, you could find yourself in a real bind worse than a day-old wedgie.
Also, you’re supposed sto avoid getting married, having babies and changing jobs during this “your lunar year”. Things will likely go wrong, like Murphy’s law.
A little bad luck gift from the Irish.
What do you say when someone sneezes in Chinese? That’s easy. It’s Yi Bai sui (pronounced “you bye see”). It means may you live to be a hundred years.
But what do you say to the Chinese pharmacist when you need your fix of VICKS? That’s when it gets tricky.
The Chinese have their own ways of dealing with the common cold, which are anything but common in the land of Pepto-Bismol.
Let’s Start With The Nose Tampon
(only slightly less ridiculous looking than this outfit.)
It’s customary for Chinese to roll a small piece of tissue into a plug and shove it up a runny nostril on those heavy flow days. Actually, the “Notex” is a lot less distracting than wiping one’s nose all of the time, keeping the germs inside where they can’t be spread. So if you see Kleenex clogging a snot faucet, don’t stare. You might even give it a try.
Cough Syrup and Chicken Soup
If you got a cough, take a swig of Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa. This Chinese style Robitussin is made from a blend funky herbs including milkwort root, pomelo root, and bitter apricot peel. It actually sorta tastes good…not good enough to drizzle on your pancakes, but a whole lot better than the stuff you swigged in middle school to get a little buzz.
Ji Tang or chicken soup, is a universal remedy. Just forego the face and toes.
Did you know that most honey in the states doesn’t even qualify as honey by FDA standards? In China, honey is definitely the real deal. You don’t buy it in a bear shaped bottles but from a specialized shop. The varieties vary from a golden lard to a thin amber liquid. And when you sip a spoonful, you can actually taste pollen. The Chinese value honey for its medicinal qualities, curing everything from allergies to the squirts.
Freshly Squeezed Michigan Orange Juice
Yeah, I doubt if it’s really made from oranges grown on the Great Lakes, but a glass a day will keep the sore throat away.
The Chinese are big on OJ, especially around New Years. The shelves at Carrefour were depleted of the premiere bootleg brands. You can also get aloe juice, walnut juice, banana juice and mango juice.
This cure came up at a message board at GoKunming.com when I was searching for remedies for local allergies. Amaroli isn’t a dish from an Italian restaurant, it’s an ancient Eastern practice of drinking your own pee. I’d rather gag on the chicken foot.
New Years in one of the Chinese traditions that is still around. The country seems to be on a fault line between western consumerism and ancient traditions. But Chinese New Years is still as traditional.
If you are wondering what all of the noise is about… it all deals with the mythical monster nian (the same word as year). Loud sounds, red envelopes of money and the color red keep him–and bad luck away.
For good luck, a wheel of firecrackers will be ignited by your doorstep at the crack of dawn to keep evil spirits from entering your home. The wheel is slightly smaller in size than the one Vanna spins.
Eveyone is in on the fun, even the pets. I wonder if this lady got her dog ear plugs or a few doggie downers.
The year of the horse is chasing out the year of the snake. So if you are a Mr. Ed, you need to wear red underwear all year long for good luck. You can find your chinese horoscope character at this link. http://chinese.horoscope.com/
But while Chinese New Years is still old style, other traditions are slowly changing.
Traditional baby wraps …
are being replaced with this contraption.
Scary unidentified street foods are being replaced with…
Scary Unidentified Imports. Hey Russian Bootleggers, America spells cheese K-R-A-F-T, not K-R-F-O-A.
Even the most traditional prefer their i-phriends to whoever is sitting next to them.
And chickens that used to cross the road?
They now take an e-bike. What is this world coming to.
Today, again my eating habits went off the beaten Mc-path. I went to a jiaozi making party. Spring Festival AKA Chun Jie AKA the Chinese new Years is just around the corner and making jiaozi is as traditional as green jello and bananas at Thanksgiving. You dab a little of the filling on a piece of rice dough, use a little water to seal the edges, pulling the edges to the middle then crimping. This thousand year old recipe sounds simple enough for a two year old to do…
…or an American.
Here are instructions from Chef Jacob.
First, play a little patty cake.
Squish it into your hand and be tempted to lick the raw pork off your fingers until your Mom stops you.
Then you show her your masterpiece…
Jiaozi got their named because they are supposed to be horn shaped. The Chinese word for “horn” is jiao. Well, here are the ones made by mom….
And Mom’s mom…
Now here are the ones made by guess who.
Afterwards, we indulged in stuffing ourselves with the dumplings, some of the steamed, some fried, along with slices of beef dipped into a peanut sauce (very similar to the satay sauce you get an a Thai restaurant).
The stuffing for jiaozi varies in different regions of China. Mostly, it’s a mixture of ground pork and chopped chives hidden inside a transluscent rice flour dough.
Or with Jacob, maybe a bit of lint.
I don’t think Jacob will win an appearance of the Next Top Chef.
But hey, you never know.
I usually am not excited to listen to elevator music. But when Kenny G announced that Kunming would be on his world tour, I snatched up two smooth tickets at a pretty price.
When you live on the flip side, you just crave hearing anything that reminds you of “back home”, even if it’s what you hear in dentist offices.
I was tempted to bring a sign that read, “I CAME ALL THE WAY FROM DETROIT TO HEAR YOU!”
But instead, I brought my friend DouDou.
She enjoyed it, but she enjoys anything that allows her to practice English.
The concert was in the Kunming Sport’s arena.
The place wasn’t packed. Still, the crowds ate up his saxophone playing and Men’s Hair Club “I’m too old for this hair style locks”.
Our top dollar seats were located in the nosebleed section.
I took pictures but my camera was stolen.
Kenny offered an autograph session after his concert.
And just how do you say elevator music in chinese?
So we went to Bangkok for Thanksgiving to gobble up padthai
and durian instead of choking down green jello.
It was warm and
Well sort of.
That’s because Thai citizens made international news over the holiday weekend due to a
peaceful demonstration about their govt.
About a gazillion and a half Thai men, women, and he-shes were
blowing a gazillion and a half whistles, like the ones you used to get out of cracker jack boxes.
Now was the Thai demonstration non-violent?
Now our hotel pool was peaceful.
This anatomically correct sculpture was peaceful.
Street Gods were peaceful, probably because they were
appeased by refreshing bottles of strawberry fanta.
Anyway, I didn’t stay around for the news cameras. I boarded
the subway and made my way to the world’s largest gold Buddha, which was peaceful.
…and saw the world’s largest solid gold butt crack.
So, what’s your idea of a peaceful holiday, or is “a peaceful holiday” the ultimate oxymoron?
I love blind massage. It’s the best thing to come out of China since the bootleg DVD. OK, their signage sucks, probably because they are blind and don’t speak English. But for less than a tube of BenGay, these young guys can give you a ninety minute rub down and work out every kink in your body.
There’s a Blind Massage near our home that we visit frequenly. But lately, the blind boys’s fingers have been wandering in the off limits zone.
I’m not sure if it’s because they’re blind or because they are boys.
Anyway, I picked up a few helpful phrases to help naviagate these guys.
The first is, tòng, which means, that hurts
The second is Bu tòng, which means, that doesn’t hurt
And finally, Qù nǐ shǒuzhǐ chī dòu fu, which means, watch your hands you little pervert.
Chī dòu fu , the Chinese slang for pervert, literally means eating tofu. And selling tofu can mean a lot more than peddling bean curds.
I didn’t learn that huài yǔ (bad word) phrase in Chinese class or from my students, but from an irrate old lady selling stinky fried soy at the wet market.
I think you can fill in the blanks.