An Open Letter to 2014

Dear 2014,

You were a year full of surprises!

Sending Chinese lantern into the sky
Katie sends a wish into the sky during the Lantern Festival. February 2014.

We imagined spending Spring Festival in Thailand. Then come summer exploring China’s Tianzi mountains. Eventually returning to the United States for the next adventure: reverse culture shock, reverse homesickness, and getting back to our lives.

Surprise! Those things didn’t happen…

In January 2014 our Thailand travel itinerary changed. Something was stabbing at Katie’s insides. It couldn’t be a baby. Babies don’t come with knives.

We rush to the hospital in Zibo. But the doctors aren’t doctors like you’d want them to be doctors. I keep expecting the physician to say, “I’m not a doctor, I only play one in China.” *Rimshot* Instead he says, “Women’s troubles. Drink more warm water.”

In search of a second opinion we board a bullet train to Beijing. In China’s capital city we discover United Family Healthcare. A beacon of hope for expats with medical needs.

The hospital is clean!* They have specialists! The specialists speak English†!?

We learn Katie doesn’t have babies with knives or mere women’s troubles. Her pain is identified and treated. Finally, answers to questions!

Unfortunately, we blew our Thailand travel cash and most of our savings. A week later we’re back in Zibo, broke and on bed rest.

Overall, a frustrating start to the year, 2014. We couldn’t travel. We were bitter. You would’ve been, too!

To free up our weekends we quit our part-time teaching gigs. Our employers weren’t happy about our decision and threatened us.

The boss says, “Michael, I am like your sister. And I have to tell you the honest thing. You do something to the school, the school do something to you.”

Overlooking Forbidden City
Exploring Jingshan Park, with the Forbidden City in the background, during Tomb Sweeping Festival. April 2014.

Being threatened while living in a foreign country isn’t pleasant.

Thankfully, the school only fucked with Katie’s‡ teaching schedule. Instead of being off Friday afternoon through Tuesday morning, now she had to work late Friday and early Monday. And due to its size, 48 hours are not enough time to explore all of China.

So we waited. Until April. To take our first real vacation during China’s Tomb Sweeping Festival.

The first three months, 2014, were rough. But I finally noticed — with Katie’s help — our Chinese employer, Zibo Century Talents Foreign Languages School, was being a Chinese employer.

During my first year in China I did whatever• the school requested. I was in China for an experience. Turns out my experience was working a lot.

expat drinking out of coconut with a colorful hat
An idiot on vacation in Xi’an, China, during Labor Day. May 2014.

Sure, I’ll judge your English speaking competition! Yes, I’ll record voiceovers. You bet I’ll pose for your marketing blitz! Fun! I always wanted to tutor all of your friends’ kids! Do I really get to proofread and edit all these personal letters to your friends in Canada? Thanks! I’m so honored that you chose me to forge a letter of recommendation and falsify next years foreign teacher’s credentials! Yes, of course, I’d love too! We’re friends!

Apparently I set a bad precedent during year one. Though the precedent wouldn’t have mattered if I left China as I originally planned… But I’m an idiot and fell in love with a woman on the other side of the world. Whom, as it turned out, was interested in teaching in China.

She signed a contract, I re-signed mine. Then bad precedents bit us in the ass.

With Katie in-country I wasn’t the school’s lapdog anymore. Our relationship was the focus of our time abroad, not work. We’d decline requests beyond of the scope of our contracts and suddenly we were the bad guys. The school didn’t like being told no.

At the end of the year when we tried to make the school year special** for our students the school shut us down. Revenge!

We couldn’t win. But we’re not supposed to. We’re foreigners.

School photo ZBCT Zibo China
Staff and graduating students of Zibo Century Talents Foreign Languages School. June 2014.

By the time June rolled around I was so happy! After two years abroad I was ready to come home. The end of our Chinese adventure was in sight! And there was no way in hell I was going to stay another year…

Unless…the person I love wants to stay.

Katie received a job offer to teach English literature at the Shandong Zibo Experimental High School. Not only was she excited about a bump in salary, but also the opportunity to teach what she was passionate about. We both knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

We decided to stay. Because we had each other.

Foreigners in China holding their Chinese marriage license
On July 1, 2013, Katie picked me up at the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport and we said, “I love you.” One year later we were married in Zibo, China, and said “I love you, forever.”

 

And as long as we have each other we’re golden. So we made it official and got married.

We got married. In China!

MARRIED! CHINA!

We were the first foreigners to ever be married in Zibo, Shandong, China! Which is pretty awesome†† considering there’s 4.5 million people living in the area.

After our courthouse wedding the summer dragged.

We couldn’t travel — again — because this time we didn’t have our passports. The Chinese government needed the passports to update our visas. Which is just fine, 2014, because really — who wants to travel over summer vacation anyway…

Despite being stuck in Zibo, we did have our own little adventures. We moved apartments. Twice. We bought ebikes. Later, Katie was hit by a taxi on hers. I was nearly decapitated on mine. We even met a Mexican tequila salesman who helped us get wasted for free!

We did venture to the outskirts of town once. Our friends Danielle and Nikki brought us to a fascinating place they called “an amusement park.” Though it looked like the setting to a horror movie.

Swings ride at the Chinese amusement park
Enjoying the dog days of summer at an amusement park outside Zibo, China. August 2014.

There was even a horror house! We were told by the barkers it was very scary inside. After bartering on price — because you pay cash at every ride, there are no tickets — we paid and were led inside.

We were ushered onto a 10′ x 10′ mechanical platform in a dark room. Hanging in front of us were large photos of buildings on plywood sheets. Then the floor began to shake. The Chinese teenagers behind us screamed. The plywood sheets fell forward a few inches. Par cans flashed red and blue across the buildings. Sounds of screams, sirens, and crumbling buildings blared through the PA.

The entire exhibit was devoted to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed 69,197 and left 18,222 people missing. The dozen tableaux throughout were horrific and crude. We couldn’t help but imagine someone deciding to make a “9/11 ride.”

Then summer was over!

As the school year started things kicked into high gear. Katie was busy designing curriculum for her new students at her new job. And as we learned, Katie’s new school hasn’t been particularly awesome.

Her school is very concerned with face and status, but the school doesn’t seem to care about other things like teaching students in a way that would benefit them. The students have checked out. Because they’ve got wealthy parents who’ll take care of them.

But what are these kids planning to do? Go to the United States, attend college, plagiarize essays, and hope to be okay? Because that’s what they’re doing in Katie’s classes. Okay, not all the students, but most of them couldn’t give a fuck.

Michael officiates wedding between Courtney and MJ
Officiating Courtney and MJ’s wedding. September 2014.

And as soon as school started for Katie, I flew back to the United States to officiate a wedding. And in a lot of ways, it was torture. We’re not sure how couples can be apart for any amount of time — short or longer — because we just need each other. We need to see each other and make each other laugh. We have to. We’re each other’s biggest fans. And we just need to be close.

When I think about adventure, I can’t complain too loudly. In terms of concrete adventure I did fly over 15,000 miles this year. I got to see the Detroit Airport for the first time. (I wasn’t impressed.) I started working out. I re-read Allen Carr and stopped smoking…again. Katie and I bought ebikes. I bought a bike.

New bike
Purchased a new bike to help me get in shape. November 2014.

We hosted our first Thanksgiving in China! If we can host Thanksgiving in China, we can host Thanksgiving anywhere. Katie and I can do anything, so long as we’re together. I suppose that’s what you meant to teach us, 2014. Right?

small oven big turkey
Hosting our first Thanksgiving in China. November 2014.

The year has been bittersweet. There’s been highs and lows. Certainly.
In the last few months Grandma Venske’s health has sharply declined. Now Katie’s dad is experiencing a health scare. Our families aren’t in perfect health and it’s a thought neither Katie or I can shake. We don’t want to live with the regret of being away from family should anyone take a turn for the worst.

And we’ve been lucky. I’ve been lucky. In the 2.5 years I’ve been here everyone’s maintained their health. The grandparents and their health situations have ebbed and flowed, but they’re still here.

That doesn’t change the fact we’re on the other side of the planet twiddling our thumbs. Waiting for the next bit of bad news. If we needed to leave we could though. The only thing separating us is a Chinese contract, 6,800 miles, and 28 hours of nonstop travel. Then we’d be home.

Family is more important. Not something you realize until you haven’t felt part of your family for a couple years. I’ve been wanting to come home for a while…

We’ve got a decision to make now. Do we stay or do we go? If we stay we’d be able to continue to save money — because let’s be honest, the cost of living in China is cheap. But if we had to, we could be back in the states in two weeks. Granted, we’d have no money. We wouldn’t have jobs or a place to live. And that’s scary. But we’d be with our families. Again, that’s the important thing.

Anyway, enough of this stream-of-consciousness. Back to the matter at hand!

New Years photo Katie and Michael
Celebrating New Years in Qingdao, China. December 2014.

Thank you, 2014, for the understated adventures we’ve brought into our lives. We’ll never forget how you’ve changed our lives and will be part of them forever. You get to live on in us! That’s a little heavy handed, but you get my meaning.

Thank you for safe journeys across China, flying over the world, and back briefly in the States.

Thank you for a great visit with family and friends this fall.

Thank you for aligning the stars and bringing Courtney and MJ together. I’m lucky to call them friends, but forever honored they asked me to officiate their wedding ceremony.

The only wish we have for 2015 — please pass it along — is when we return to the United States to be employed. It’s difficult to say when and where we’ll be on American soil, but start sending leads and offers. We’re open.

Thank you, 2014, for the laughter and love and magic moments!

Sending you this message from the seaside city of Qingdao. Enjoying the luxurious king-sized bed, western movie channels, and more or less recuperating from all you’ve brought us, 2014. Thank you, again!

Alright, 2015 — let’s dance!

(Click here to send job leads!)

wave washing away 2014 in sand

* = and no one’s smoking!

† = many of UFH’s specialists speak multiple languages!

‡ = by changing Katie’s schedule, the school also changed the schedules for a handful of Chinese teachers

• = the exception

** = times we weren’t shut down: serving 300 students homemade mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, making 140 milkshakes for seventh graders, buying candy for 600 students on Halloween, water balloon fights for grade four in 2013

†† = “how to get married in China” is covered in the upcoming solo show

Begin Transmission…

Wow, a lot’s happened in the past six months! Here’s a quick recap…


To sidestep bad Chinese haircuts I shaved my head.
Michael's shaved head

Katie and I headed west toward Xi’an to check out the Terracotta Army.
Terracotta Army

AND buy this hat and coconut drink.
Idiot Abroad

Pretty soon it was June and picture day!
Stoic Students and Staff

Then the school year was over!
Bye, Henry

It was difficult to say goodbye to students. I wanted to leave them with a song that always comforts me. At the end of our last class we all joined hands and sang:

 

“Go now in peace, go now in peace
May the Spirit of Love surround you
Everywhere, everywhere
You may go.”

 

Katie and I packed our bags and started looking for apartments in Minneapolis. Then she was offered a job teaching English literature at the best high school in Zibo!
Excited for golden opportunities

Well, crap. Do we stay or go?
Difficult decisions

We decided to stay in China another year so we can dress like this every day.
One year anniversary couple
We also celebrated our one year anniversary!
the happy couple


Had you asked me in July 2012, “Do you want to come to China for three years?” The answer would’ve been no. I didn’t plan to come to China. It just happened… A lot like falling in love with Katie while she was 6,000+ miles away in America. And now she’s here and we’re together.

None of this fit into either of our “plans.” We’re flexible though so we’ll go with it.

I would like to take a moment to reassure you that we’re not going to live in China forever. Just one more year. I promise.

Of course I miss you, too!

I’ll be coming back to Minnesota for a short visit in September. Maybe we could go for a walk around the Lakes or crash Courtney & MJ’s wedding?

Or you could come and visit us in Zibo, Shandong, China!

That is always an option.

Or you could wait until February 2015 when Katie and I return to the USA for winter vacation.

Or if you’re really really patient let’s just plan to get a drink on a patio in the summer of 2015 when China officially kicks us back to America.

Deal? Deal.

As for myself, I’m doing well. I just started tutoring a lovely Chinese woman. I’m on two wheels again in the form of an ebike. I’ve got a bunch of material for my next solo show and I’d like to write a book in the coming year.

We’ll see. Anything can happen and usually does.

4 Phrases to Help You In China

Last year I was asked how I overcame the language barrier in China.
Tiananmen Square Beijing China
If you remember correctly, I haven’t.

I don’t know a lot of Mandarin, but what I do know should help you if you decide to come to China.

Here are four simple Mandarin phrases and an extra tip that have helped me immensely since I landed in China in 2012.

Click on the card below to hear the Mandarin or English and and use the arrows to navigate between phrases.

1. Hello.

It may seem simple, but saying hello in Mandarin is a sturdy bridge between the cultural divide.

2. Thank you.

Gratitude never goes out of style! A thank you goes a long in anyone’s day.

3. I don’t understand.

Be honest, you don’t know what the hell anyone’s saying. Save everyone time and just speak your truth.

4. I’m sorry.

This is one of the most powerful phrases in the world. It’s humbling and humanizing. Apologize for your foolishness and…

Smile

If you’ve mastered “hello,” but can’t get further into the language: smile. Mother Teresa said it best, “Peace begins with a smile.”

6 Things That Happen When You Do What You Love

BACKSTORY


Something Something Juliet
In November I was asked to help with the school’s Christmas pageant on December 24th. Each grade, sixth through eighth, would present two 10-minute plays: one in Chinese, the other in English.

Sixth graders were doing a scene from Pride and Prejudice, seventh graders were rocking Hamlet, and eighth grade wanted to do a comedy. They also wanted the comedy to be Romeo and Juliet.

Huh.

As you may have guessed I was unable to find comedy gold in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Instead I wrote a short about a group of eighth graders rehearsing R & J for the first time, specifically the balcony scene. The short featured a Romeo completely unfamiliar with the play, a Juliet uninterested in Romeo, miscast understudies, an overbearing director, and a stage manager close to a nervous breakdown.

Maybe a week or two before the performance the eighth grader playing the director decided the play wasn’t for him. This happened the same day our play needed to be previewed for the leaders of the school. With no student familiar with the part I jumped at the opportunity to be an over-the-top overbearing director!

The reason I’m telling you this so late after the fact is because last week I was trolling the school’s website and found this article about the Christmas pageant performances. (You can use Google Chrome to translate their site for free.)

Unbeknownst to me the short play I wrote, “Something Something Juliet,” won two awards: best performance and most creative. Three of the students in the play won awards for being the best and outstanding actors. I won a “best actor” award too!

Teacher Michael personally appeared in “Something Something Juliet,” winning the scene bursts of applause.

Throughout the rehearsal process an increase in hours were spent at school working on each play. The casts would meet over lunch and we’d run their show. We’d meet before dinner and run their show. We’d walk through it, run it, and run it again. The students worked really hard!

Though the other teachers worried I was working too hard without much rest or an increase in compensation. What I had to continually explain to my Chinese friends was:

WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU LOVE…

  1. Money doesn’t matter
  2. Awards don’t matter
  3. It’s invigorating
  4. Time always passes quickly
  5. Excitement is contagious
  6. It never feels like work

Whenever I return to the United States I’m going to focus more on the above. Not just these six things, but continuing to work with kids on stage. The process of developing new work collaboratively with student actors rocks!

What is it that you love? What are you pretty damn great at?

Little Sweet Victories

NoThere is a boy in sixth grade that knows how to say one word well.

He wouldn’t answer questions. He wouldn’t read. He wouldn’t stand in front of the class. He wouldn’t play games. He wouldn’t open his book. Had this boy not been so insistent about not participating I may have overlooked him entirely.

The harder I’d try, the more he’d resist. The more I’d engage, the more he’d shut me out. This kid was officially driving me crazy.

Then a Chinese teacher told me to stop worrying about the boy.

“He never tries. All the teachers give up on him. We don’t want him at our school. His parents have money. He can be at this school and we just ignore him.”

Everyone else had given up on the boy. Would you?

I met with my boss and she listened empathetically. The next day she met with the boy and learned he’s afraid of trying and failing. He thinks other students will laugh at him if he says words incorrectly.

For the next two weeks this boy’s fear of failure inspired our lessons. Over 600 students learned about failure and that we’ve all tried and failed in some way. Then the following week we learned about success. All the while reenforcing that if we never try, we never fail (or succeed). It’s okay to fail. When we fail, we learn and grow.

I can happily report that almost a month later this boy is doing great! By simply trying he discovered a good set of pronunciation skills and a new sense of confidence. He’s participating in class, smiling and talking to me around campus. I feel like I’ve won the lottery!

We’re here to help in any way we can and encourage each other to be our best selves. To let people know you’ve got their back if they try and fail. And it’s these little sweet victories that ultimately give our lives purpose, fuel us with passion, and prepare us for the next challenge.

What are some of your little sweet victories?

An Absent Boy Taught Us

Thomas

On Wednesdays and Fridays I teach fourth graders. Since the beginning of school a boy named Thomas would meet me at the classroom door. Thomas takes my hand and escorts me to the next class. His class.

Thomas is always excitable, curious, helpful, and friendly. Every time I see Thomas he has a huge grin stretching across his face. Thomas has become a welcome touchstone for Wednesday afternoons.

Except this week.

He wasn’t there to greet me at the door. He wasn’t there to help me between periods. He wasn’t at his desk. His books weren’t out. His name card wasn’t displayed.

Pointing at the empty desk I asked, “Where’s Thomas?”

The Chinese teacher looked up from her cellphone, “He had an accident. He broke his leg.” She explained another boy in class played “a trick” on Thomas by tripping him.

Almost a year ago — to the day — I broke my hand acting. I empathize with Thomas. If you’ve ever broken a bone you know the shit he’ll have to put up with for the next two months.

You should also know that Thomas isn’t like the other kids. He falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. It takes him twice as long to understand a concept and he’s usually a few minutes behind class discussions. And Thomas has a spirit as big as the Rock of Gibraltar. He always tries and gives his best. He always participates. He’s always happy. 

Yet I sense the other students are embarrassed to have this boy in their class. The students roll their eyes at his answers. They tolerate him. He’s beneath them because he’s not like them.

Their reactions break my heart. I felt angry and sad thinking of all the times the kids have been mean to him. For all the times Thomas tried and other people laughed in his face. For all the times Thomas felt alone without a friend in class. For all the time he’ll be spending without social interaction and wondering what his classmates are doing and if he’s missed or thought of…

Fuck the lesson!

Today everyone’s making cards to send to Thomas!

The Chinese teacher left to get some construction paper and came back with two 12″ x 18″ sheets. “Which one do you want? Red. Orange.” 

“Both.” I sent another student to get reinforcements of green and blue.

We learned ‘we miss you,’ ‘get well soon,’ ‘feel better,’ ‘best wishes,’ and so on. And every student decorated their own card creatively. I made a card too!

Class card project

Yesterday the Chinese teachers went to Thomas’ home to give a lesson and brought all of the cards. I wish I could’ve seen his reaction!

A card from Dora

The world needs more people like Thomas. We’d all be better off if we took a note from his book.

Thomas recovering at home

Miss You While You’re With Me

Michael in BeijingIt’s scary missing people, places, and things.

Scary to be without the people you love, trust, and depend on. Scary to be so far from home. Scary to not have the comforts of home.

But no matter where you go the people, places, and things of your past are always with you. They’re a part of you. They’ve changed you and shaped you.

Friends, family, and even that shitty apartment with the radiators that never worked remain in your heart and mind. If you listen you can hear their laughter and see them smiling back at you beaming with pride.

It’s comforting to know wherever you roam you’ll always have company.

But I miss you, even while you’re with me.

Overcoming Language Barriers in China

Occasionally in China I meet a language barrier I can’t get around. The best advice I can offer is to keep calm and just go with it.

For example, tonight I ordered a glass of wine…
red-wine-bottle-and-wine-glass
And they brought me the bottle.

As a man of faith, I know this is a sign. A gift. A moment to savor.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Where Are You Going?

Still a few kilometers from the Forbidden City I stood at a crossroads.
Rickshaw
As I was looking down at the map a wiry middle-aged Chinese man approached and asked, “Forbidden City?”

“Yes. Forbidden City,” I said.

He pointed across the street and said, “Rickshaw. Two yuan.” The U.S. equivalent of 32¢.

I declined.

He insisted, “Too far!” He produced a map from his pocket and showed me it was — indeed — too far for any one person to ever walk unassisted.

Smiling I said, “I like walking.” I pointed to the map and showed him the hotel I walked from. We both knew I was at the halfway point in the journey.

He saw my resolve. “Okay. Bye bye.”

After touring the Forbidden City another man at the exit wanted to give me a ride in his rickshaw. I again said no. He asked, “Where you going?”

I slowly exhaled, “I don’t know.”

And I still don’t.

My Apartment In China Looks Like

My First 24-Hours in China

I lived in Zibo, Shandong, China, from 2012 to 2015.

Exploring the many hutongs in Beijing, China, 2013.

The first 24 hours in China unfolded as follows:

11:30PM: Landed in Beijing, China.
11:40PM: Made my first Chinese person laugh while speed-walking next to the moving sidewalk.
11:45PM: Visited customs with passport and cleared for entry into China.
11:50PM: Retrieved luggage.
12:01AM: Met Kellen (dean of the school’s Foreign Affairs Office) and Tiger (a jack-of-all-trades) at the concourse.
12:34AM: Before going to the hotel we stopped to enjoy our first meal in China…at McDonald’s.
12:35AM: I chuckle to myself as I remember a question Dad asked me before I decided to go to China, “How are you going to order a hamburger at McDonald’s?”
12:36AM: Sidestepping the hamburger issue at the counter of the fast food chain giant I attempt to order a spicy chicken sandwich. Kellen informs me that the sandwich is too spicy for me. She tells me to order a regular chicken sandwich. I decline her suggestion and order the spicy chicken sandwich.
12:38AM: The sandwich arrives and like all fast food experiences I’ve ever had I’m disappointed. The sandwich isn’t nearly as spicy as Kellen’s warning would have suggested.
1:06AM: We arrive at a hotel in Beijing that we will spend the night at in lieu of driving the 5+ hours to Zibo. The exterior of the hotel is dark. There isn’t any giant fluorescent sign indicating this building to be anything but a closed office building. There is a small sign over a revolving doorway that says hotel. A guard comes out of the building to welcome us.
1:15AM: We check-in and I’m shown to the room I’ll be sharing with Tiger for the night. The light switches are different than in America. The electrical sockets are different than in America. However, I’m relieved to find that the food in the mini-fridge is similarly overpriced as it is in America. China isn’t so different after all!
1:40AM: I prepare to sleep. I brush my teeth and wash my face. I make certain not to get any tap water in my mouth. Apparently, the tap water in China is full of poison.
1:50AM: Noticing a scale on the floor next to the in-room washing machine, I climb on to see my current weight. After the dial spins to it’s appropriate number I begin silently freaking out: how can I weigh that much?! I look closer at the scale and realize the unit of measurement is in kilograms. I immediately feel better.
2:00AM: …making notes…
2:05AM: After an exhaustive day I climb onto the board-like bed and attempt to sleep.
6:00AM: Unable to stay asleep any longer I wake-up and discover Beijing illuminated with the new day’s sun.
6:15AM: I email my family to let them know the plane didn’t Donnie Darko.
7:20AM: My first Chinese shower. Thought that may sound like a despicable sex-act, it wasn’t. Yes — I’m sad, too!
8:10AM-8:40AM: Breakfast at the hotel with Kellen, Tiger, and Emily. The meal is served buffet-style along two walls and the food ranges from standard breakfast fare (eggs, bacon, sausage) to more interesting options like mushroom caps, dumpling soup, and kelp. Breakfast was incredibly filling and delicious from beginning to end. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the scrambled eggs were some of the best this IBEC-member has ever had. However, it’s at breakfast that I begin to notice two things: 1) I’m one of only two caucasians in the room, 2) an undeniable feeling that other diners are watching me.
8:37AM:I see a server sneeze. Normally a sneeze isn’t a big deal; hardly worth mentioning when dealt with appropriately. However, the server didn’t cover her mouth to block the sneeze. Instead she turned her head to the left and sneezed directly over an open coffee pot.
9:00AM: I withdraw 500 yuan from an ATM, the equivalent of $78. Before I finish the transaction the ATM asks, “Do you want to print advice?” Seeing this question on the screen caused me to laugh out loud. In my haste though, I failed to press ‘yes.’ I wonder what Chinese ATM advice is like…
9:10AM: Hotel check-out.
9:12AM: Exiting the hotel I see a guard and say “Ni hao.” He smiles at my firm grasp of the language. Kellen, Tiger, Emily, and I pack up the van and leave for the market to buy lunch for our journey to Zibo.
9:20AM: At the market I buy a spicy barbecue sandwich that looks like it has carpet on it, and a sandwich prominently featuring a hot dog.
9:40AM: We begin our commute in rush hour traffic in Beijing, China. It’s as fun as you assume it is.
10:30AM: We drive past a gas station named “Easy Joy.” This makes me smile.
11:45AM: Somewhere between Beijing and Zibo, we stop for a “toilet break.” Upon entering the stall I have my first experience with a Chinese sunken toilet. Taking this picture was the extent of business conducted on this visit.
1:30PM: We stop make another pitstop for lunch. My spicy barbecue sandwich has the texture of cotton candy without any of the promised spiciness.
2:53PM: We cross a bridge over the Yellow River.
4:00PM: We arrive at the school and our apartments.
4:45PM: Begin unpacking.
6:00PM: A enjoy a solitary lukewarm beer in my sun/drying room.
6:20PM: A quick shower before dinner.
6:30PM: Dinner with Kellen, Emily, and Judy, at Hot Pot. I regret not taking any pictures because this was an interesting place.
8:30PM: At the conclusion of dinner we’re all presented with ice cream. Apparently this is customary in China. Welcome to heaven!
9:00PM: Back at the apartment now full of food and exhausted from a day full of travel I send another email to family and prepare for bed.
9:30PM: Heeding the advice received along the road, I head to bed before crashing. Sleep overcomes the desire to organize this new space and this I welcome gladly.