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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.

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

A. Toilet

B. Sink

C. Water fountain

D. Navy sailor

Twins

Twins

A. Models for No Neck Magazine.

B. Members of the world-famous Chunky Unicyclists

C. Players of the North Dakota Woodticks football team

D. My “little” brothers – plump with nachos, ribs, and cheesecake.

I’m hanging out in Fargo this week. I’m not doing anything too exciting – just meeting with family and friends and relaxing a bit. My list of activities have included buying A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain and spending three hours reading it in a coffeehouse, meeting my brother Bo and his girlfriend at a diner in West Fargo (they had really good rhubarb pie!), and watching countless episodes of Friends with Beka. My brother Brandon and I are grilling tonight and then we’re going to watch the opening ceremonies. I also bought Jillian (my god-daughter) Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, so I’ll probably read that to her. Tomorrow I’m going to see Pineapple Express with some friends.

I’ll post some pictures from my summer abroad when I get back to Harvey Sunday.