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Previously on Boots to Blogs:

The last time we saw your hero he was stranded in the great, wide north of China with six boxes of Junior Mints, a pocket-gnome named Gnomy, five bottles of hand sanitizer, and a dozen paperback books. As our hero sidestepped loggies left and right, he marched off into Shenyang to teach youngsters how to write.

What you’ve missed:

Our hero survived his first semester as a full-time writing faculty. He was both pleasantly surprised and shocked by his students’ writing. He passed a lot of students, and failed seven, before catching the first train out of Shenyang for tropical southern Asia. He spent two months traveling around Vietnam, southern China, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and returned to northern China refreshed and ready for another set of challenges.

What’s to come:

Stay tuned to find out if our hero finally finds a decent carton of milk at the local grocery store, if he doesn’t kill a handful of his students as they attempt to write arguments and find research for their writing, and news on his nearly complete (!) memoir.

It seems kind of early to take a vacation – after all, I’ve only been on the job four weeks – but this week is a national holiday in China so the school has given us the entire week off. Technically we were supposed to work Monday and Tuesday, but rather than giving us the weekend off and then making us teach for two days before giving us another three days off, the school made us teach over the weekend. It wasn’t bad. I don’t have Monday classes, so I didn’t have to teach Saturday. But I taught all day Sunday. It didn’t even feel like a Sunday; it felt like a Tuesday.

Which brings me to the subject of this post: days of the week. Jessica has some really nice posts on how we all get into these patterns in our life and we have rituals we associate with days of the week. When we were living together, Jess and I would cook for each other on Sunday nights. We’d take turns cooking – I gravitated toward spicy, Asian inspired dishes with lots of Five Spice – and then we’d run into our salt-box blue living room and make fun of Andy Rooney and cheer for our favorite Amazing Race teams.

My Sundays are much different now. I sleep late. I bum around the apartment doing laundry and other various household things. Sometimes I’ll read a book or spend time writing. In the late afternoon, I’ll wander outside and down near campus where the street vendors will be in full force dishing out food to the hungry college students milling around. If he isn’t busy, I’ll stop at the vendor making spinach pancakes right beside the north gate. That’s usually my dinner. I usually wander past campus and down the main street, where techno music is blaring from the half-dozen different hair salons. I’ll eventually cross the street without being run down by a three-wheeled taxi or the dozens of bicyclists, and I’ll wander by the cage full of pigeons outside one of the restaurants. One night, when I was with other teachers, we stopped at the outdoor tables of one of the small Chinese restaurants and watched this twentysomething Chinese guy butcher a couple pigeons right on the street and then slide the gray meat onto skewers before grilling them over hot coals. I have yet to get up the courage to try pigeon, but I probably will before I leave.

After the pigeons, I usually turn into the night market and just mosey down the alley, admiring the books, second-hand clothes, meat butchers, and fruit vendors. I almost always stop at the outdoor bakery case to look at the sweets, but I rarely buy anything (I’m trying to cut back these days!). When I do buy something, it’s usually home-made potato chips on a stick or candy-glazed fruit on a skewer (Those are my new favorite! It’s usually grapes, small apples, and a tomato on a skewer, all coated with a light candy glaze. And they’re only 1 yuan!). Then I’ll sit and watch the three wheeled taxis of various bright colors lined up near the Frigga Shopping Mart. Some nights I’ll play the carnival games (Ten rings for 1 yuan!) and other nights I’ll stop by my favorite coffee house: Movaci’s. Sunday nights are never dull in Shenyang, but when I tire of the people I wander back home, stopping to watch the group of men playing mahjongg on a make-shift table on the side walk.

It’s not the same as by Sundays before China, but I kind of like it.

Well, I’m off to Beijing tomorrow. I’ll post when I get back.

-B

I rode the Chinese train for the first time Saturday. It is everything you’ve ever heard about it – loud, crowded, hot. We couldn’t get seats so we had the stand in the aisles while a woman selling ice cream bustled up and down the train cars. She wasn’t selling any ice cream and I wanted to punch her in the face after the fourth time she went by.

We rode the train to Benxi, south of Shenyang. Once in Benxi, we caught a taxi to the water caves. I expected the caves to be this tiny attraction with some pretty cool stalactites. Instead, there was this whole amusement park build around the caves.

The caves themselves were pretty cool. We rode this boat down the river and ohhed and ahhed at all the stalactites. What I liked best were the signs with the names of the stalactites on them – Animals Playing With Water, Dipping Sword, Seal Playing With Pearl, Three Fairies Palace. It was like playing "Can You See It?" with Natalie all over again! (Natalie – you would have loved it!)

After the caves, we rode the golf cart-van thingy down to what we thought was an alligator show. There were certainly alligators – and a bit with a guy wrestling an alligator in wet socks – but when we arrived and looked down into the caged alligator pit there was a white-faced drag queen belting out some Chinese ballad. At first it was very puzzling – Drag queens sharing the stage with alligators? WTF! But, slowly I warmed to it. It took some balls to sing with alligators (Granted, the alligators were probably heavily drugged, but still!) It took drag performing to a whole new level!

I’ve posted some pictures on Facebook if anyone’s interested.

Next week is a major Chinese holiday so I don’t have to work. I’m planning a trip to Beijing (four hours by fast train) with some other teachers, but I’ll probably post again before I leave.

First off, let me tell you about some new foods. One of the best things about living in a foreign country is trying all the new foods. I was served roasted green peas on the flight over to China. That’s right – green peas. Like peanuts … except not. They were surprisingly good. But, the grand taste-testing of Chinese foods didn’t stop there. I am of the theory that I’ll try everything once. So I did. One of the local delicacies is called hot pot. This is basically a large pot of boiling broth in the middle of the table. People then drop in whatever they’d like – thin strips of beef, delicious slices of mutton, sprouts, cabbage, these excellent long mushrooms, and, of course, fish balls. They love there fish balls over here, and so do I. I think my favorite part of hot pot are the fishballs. More on the food to come.

Secondly, some statistics. I am technically employed by Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, but I work at the College of International Business at Shenyang Normal University (pronounced Shenyang Shifan Duxue in China – the x sounds like a ch) in northeast China. The town has a little over 7 million people. Let’s break this down a bit. Here are the town I’ve lived and there populations:

Harvey, North Dakota = 1,989
Fargo, North Dakota = 90,599
Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo = 7,000
Balad Airbase, Iraq = 25,000
Mankato, Minnesota = 32,427
Shenyang, China = 7 million +

So, technically, I’m living in a city. The university is in the way northern part of city, so it’s a bit of a trek into the city, but not too bad.

Thirdly, the people are great. I have roughly 100 students divided up into four classes. There are two types of students at Shenyang Normal – planned and unplanned. The planned students passed their college entrance exam and can attend university. The unplanned did not pass, but they can still attend the College of International Business. I have one class of unplanned students. I have to explain things a bit more for them, but overall they aren’t bad. Honestly, the students are typical college students. Most of them put the time into the class and they get something from it, but there are also a few slackers who don’t pay attention.

What I really like about the students is that when I see them outside of class, they will often wave and smile and say hello. I usually stand by the door so I can say goodbye to them when they leave, which I get a kick out of. I also really enjoy the campus environment. The best time of the day is early evening, when the students are done with classes. There are food stands all around the north gate (the gate I usually walk out of to get to my apartment), and just down the street is a night market where vendors sell clothes, food, and other items. And there are games. I paid 1 yuan (1 yuan = $7 roughly) to play a ring game where I tried to throw these rings around a tower of beer cans. I had ten throws and I missed each one.

Well this is getting long so I better wrap up. Tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival which is also called Moon Cake Day. There’s this really cool legend about a man passing out moon cakes to villagers and inside each cake was a message to overthrown the current ruler. So today people hand out these little cakes – which are shaped like the moon – sans revolutionary message.

Finally, I don’t think I’ll be able to post every day. I just have too much to do. I’m trying to lose some weight, finish the memoir, plan my four classes, and take six hours of Chinese language class a week. So I’ll try and post as much as possible. I’m posting on Facebook and on my blog, so check it out if you get the chance. More to come on my apartment, my classes, the Moon Cake Festival, and food in China.

Stay tuned.

Last Sunday, I embarked on a weeklong road trip across North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. I drove straight through N.D. and Minnesota and arrived in Madison, Wis. around midnight, where Bryan and Emily welcomed me with a bottle of Spotted Cow.

Here’s some pics from the trip:

This is the Big Looming Jesus statue near Bryan and Emily’s apartment complex. The statue inspired a “Big Scary Jesus” song, complete with hand-claps and car-seat dancing.

The cheese head makes it official folks: he’s a Wisconsinite!

After feeding the ducks and bastard-cheese-stealing pigieons near campus, we posed for a pic.

Bryan and Emily know me well. They know I love bars named after mythical creatures, so they took me to the Madison suburb Mt. Horeb, the troll capital of the world. Here I’m outside The Grumpy Troll. That damn open flag kind of screwed up the pic, but we didn’t let that stop visiting the brewery and restaurant.

Ummmm, beer. We tried all of the bar’s brews. My favorite was the Erik the Red (on the far left here). I bought a growler of the Red, which we downed over pizza the following evening.

After The Grumpy Troll, we wandered down Mt. Horeb’s Main Street. The shops (including an independant book store and a mustard museum) were closed, but there were trolls everywhere.

This troll was my favorite. He was holding a camera and an ice cream cone. I stole a lick.

I liked this guy’s squeeze-box.

Doesn’t this look like a senior picture? I think I’ll print this one and give it to my mother.

I even found a few gnomes in Mt. Horeb, including this buddy, who was being put to work as a gardener.

Overall, I had a great time in Wisconsin. I’m definately returning next summer and I’m headed back to Mt. Horeb. There are more trolls to see.

Picture 1: Contact solution, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, soap, extra toothbrush, deodorant, hand sanitizer, mini-notebooks, North Dakota postcards, North Dakota pencils, and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds.

Picture 2: Magazines, eight boxes of Junior Mints, and the following books: What Was Asked of Us: Oral Histories, Not That You Asked, Blue Highways, Walden, Heaven’s Coast, a China travel Guide, and Lost on Planet China.

Picture 3: Umbrella, Post-it notes, gum, phone cards, a lock, battery charger, gnome, converter, shaving kit, coffee-bean grinder, French press, measuring cups, traveling coffee mug, and external hard drive.

I’m a little nervous about fitting it all into two suitcases and one carry-on (along with clothes and shoes), so if you have any tips let me know.

Here are some pics from the World’s Largest Seated Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Click on the photo for a larger view:

Remind me to tell you a story about Clisbee. While I was in Kansas, I met a couple who know Clisbee and they told me stories.

I’m traveling this week. I’m currently in Madison, Wis., visiting Bryan and Emily. We walked around State Street and the U of W yesterday. Last night, we went to Mount Horeb, the troll capital of the world. I took a lot of pictures so I’ll post those when I get the chance.

On Wednesday I’ll be driving to Mankato and then on to Minneapolis before making my way home. Hopefully I’ll see everyone sometime during the trip.

A. Canada

B. Ande’s mom’s house (Everyone calls her Al!)

C. Diana’s old stomping ground!

D. Hays, Kansas