Saturday, March 28, 2009

So far

I've got some time on my hands, so I'll do a little recap of some of the main events that have happened for me in 2009 so far:

  • The first school semester came to an end -- with it was a dinner that the department paid for to reward it's employees for their hard work. Wisely, I brought a camera.

The biggest table I've sat at so far. Before everyone sat down, they made a huge deal out of me and Michael sitting down first, and made sure that we sat facing the door. The location of your seat and the order in which you sit is apparently a sign of respect. We just wanted some grub.

Michael knew what he was getting into. He's done this before. Me.... I sorta had an inkling, but it was made immediately clear as soon as I tasted a microscopic amount of bai jiu (white wine). The bai jiu they make in China fucks you up.

A dinner like this isn't really a dinner. I mean, for me it is. I calmly sit down, taking as much of the food in as I could, drinkin a little bai jiu here and there... This dinner started with a table-wide toast, then some more toasting between certain employees at the table, and then everyone sat down, which was my cue to eat. Mostly everyone else, though, walks around the table with the glass of bai jiu in their hand, toasting each other for a job well done.

It takes about 30 minutes before everyone's wasted. The older guys from my office who can't speak a word of English start to give me cigarettes, which there's no way for me to refuse politely, so I take them and try to not look like a joker. The little girl in this picture definitely made a toast with me, which was not fair at all cuz I had this monstrously alcoholic drink, and she had orange juice or something. Michael and I enjoy a good drinking time, so this kinda thing only boosts our image in the eyes of our coworkers. Drinking is always a great way to bond with the people you associate with.

  • New foods -- I was able to scratch many different items off of the "things I have never eaten" list. My ballpark guess is around ten. I am also becoming a big fan of "huo guo" style restaurants. Huo guo means "hot pot." You get this sesame paste on the side as a dipping sauce... it kinda tastes like peanut butter except it's a bit more liquid. My bosses took me to a huo guo place before the holiday where I ate a bunch of really crazy crap.

It's probably pretty obvious how this works. They give you a plate of some ingredient, e.g. potatoes, lotus root, thin slices of meat, cabbage, tofu, etc., and then you let the ingredient settle in the hot pot for an amount of time of your choosing. Root vegetables stay in the pot for 5-10 minutes, while the meat and leafy vegetables usually only takes about 30 seconds to cook (the meat is in very thin slices). Remember though, this place was pretty fancy, so there were more unusual ingredients being offered. First, beef lung. Really wish Mr. Dong hadn't told me what that was. This actually isn't that fancy of an ingredient, but in some places in China it is a delicacy. Second, Hard boiled quail egg. I've always wanted to try these and they were good! I mean, they were basically just like normal eggs, but smaller. Third, and most disgustingly, duck blood. I know, it doesn't make sense. It was explained to me by Steven as duck blood, I checked to see if he knew what blood meant, and he definitely knew. I don't know what to say about this. It actually wasn't bad. I'm never eating it again, but not bad.

Oh yeah and that's sea cucumber. Pretty special thing to eat apparently, but disturbing as hell to eat an entire animal, let alone one that looks like that. When you eat it, you can feel every detail... it's smooth exterior, thick gelatinous skin, and "ambrulacal feet" covered underbelly.

  • Gym -- I've gained about 7 pounds since the beginning of the year, and am about 7 pounds away from my arbitrarily chosen target weight of 77 kg (170 lbs). I've been pretty true to my new year's resolution so far, going to the gym at least 4 times a week since early February. Though I'm still drinking more coke than I want... baby steps I guess.

  • Poker -- I play poker about once a week. I haven't lost money in a long time. In fact, I haven't needed to go to an ATM for cash in about a month. I don't joke around when I'm playin. I mean I joke around, just, I like winning.

  • Chinese -- I have a tutor, she's been teaching me a ton of stuff, not only about the language, but also about the geography, culture, etc. I think it's a good investment at this point, cuz I really think my speaking is coming along quickly. The language has a bunch of hard words to memorize, but a lot of words are just simple combinations of other words. For example, Cell phone = shǒu jī = "hand machine." That's a pretty logical connection. Another example, bread = miàn bāo = "noodle bag". Bread can easily be seen as a noodle bag. For some reason I am pretty good at memorizing sounds (probably a result of my line-memorizing days in theater class), so I'm at the point now where I can talk to people for extended periods. Of course I sound like a clown, but they're very tolerant of my inability.

  • And finally, I decided to stay in China for another year. The why would take too long to explain...I guess simply put, I like it here. I want to find out how I can use what I know, what the long term plan should be for me, and how best to go about doing that. But nowadays, these things revolve around my head with another idea -- finding out how I can do all that in a place like this. I don't know what I'll find out, but these days, I'm starting to feel strangely confident about how my future is starting to shape out. Very odd indeed hehe

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wuda making news

The big news around campus is about a mother and daughter, who recently visited the campus to have their pictures taken under the cherry blossoms. Perfectly normal -- the only problem was that these Chinese women were sporting Japanese Kimonos (which, btw, are hot as hell if you ask me). They were verbally harassed to a harsh extent, enough that my boss (Mr. Dong) felt ashamed on behalf of the university.

The event really brings to light the awkwardness of these trees. I guess I'd never really thought about the context that much... I mean they're so beautiful, people pay to get into the university to visit them. The university advertises them in their brochures and website. And yet, they can be seen as a symbol for a very dark period in China's history, one which has certainly not been forgotten. Many older Chinese people still feel a strong bitterness towards the Japanese, and the relationship is certainly awkward to say the least.

Mr. Dong tried to explain the situation to me. He read an article which wondered if the students took it one step further. These trees, like Kimonos, symbolize Japan. So the article raised the issue: if it's ok to harass people wearing Kimono's, it suggests that what has happened in the past between Japan and China should be eschewed, in which case the cherry blossoms should be cut down from the campus. Although the trees serve as a beautiful, although disturbing, reminder of what occured, I'm sure most people agree that what happened should not be forgotten, and that their patriotism can be more displayed in more respectful ways. After all, that's what the article told them to think... :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

You know it's Spring in Wuhan when...

Small history lesson: In 1938, the Japanese and Chinese were in the middle of the second Sino-Japanese War. As both Beijing and Nanjing had been taken by Japan, Wuhan became the wartime capital of China because it was a hub of industry and transportation (having both the Yangtze River and several important railways). The Japanese predicted that the fall of Wuhan would be too harsh a blow to the Chinese, who had already succumbed much of their country to Japanese control. Thus gave way to the battle of Wuhan, a major battle which ended in Japan victory. The Japanese military chose the most beautiful area of the city to set up shop -- Wuhan University.

So the school is pretty famous for its beauty -- The architecture has a unique style, the university is built around a mountain and next to a lake, and the plant life is as various as it is pretty. BUT, as if it wasn't beautiful enough, every year around this time, the cherry blossoms that the Japanese planted here begin to unfold. People from all over come to the campus to see them.

I took some photos cuz I told my dad I would as a way to do something for his birthday, so here are some of the highlights:

The rest are here

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just to get the wheels movin again...

It's been awhile... There is some good to it though -- I've been keeping myself pretty busy for the last few months.

The social life's changed a lot. I've met several expats through poker games, business dinners, and sometimes just an odd circumstance. The two guys I hang out most with are chris and johnny, because the three biggest ways I enjoy spending my free time here are also their favorite things to do -- poker, frisbee, and going to the gym. They also live very nearby.

They're both nice guys. Chris is from North Carolina, went to Haverford, and is teaching at a university like me. He's very charming and definitely a talker, but despite this, he finds himself getting people a little uncomfortable and sometimes angry at him. Johnny was born in China, moved to New York when he was seven, and came back to Wuhan after college for studying, though he still works as a teacher. Johnny is in great shape -- he goes to the gym very often and is really into frisbee and poker. He's definitely a smart guy and likes to control and set up things. Both of them have sortof been showing me the ropes of life around here.

It ain't all sunshine though. When my little sister got her first job, she was being shown around by her boss, a person whom she could immediately tell didn't respect her. She was introduced to a few of her coworkers, "Hey guys, this is Mimi. She's the new girl here, so she doesn't really know anything." Hehe. But it's kinda the same feeling when I'm with these guys. The conversations are usually more about them educating me about what impressions they have of life around here than anything else. That's fine, but the problem is that I'm not being perceived as a peer. If I try to talk about something else, it's quickly extinguished. If I try to tell a story, I get halfway through it.

I wish I was a clever writer. I'd probably try writing a book about living here and the relationships I've made. The clever part would come when I'd subtly indicate that my interactions with the Chinese people and with the Americans here are equal in the sense that a lot of what I say is falling on deaf ears. The Chinese, because they can't understand what I'm saying, and the Americans, because they don't really care. There's some strange common bond between the majority of people here that I'm still trying to figure out. Maybe it's because they're all teachers who, like me, spend the majority of their time preaching to a bunch of people who can't fully comprehend what they're saying. Or maybe it's because they're all americans, I mean I guess it used to be pretty hard to find people who listened well.

Don't worry though, there are exceptions. It's funny that the person whom I most enjoy talking to is still Ms. Han, who's command of English is, at best, basic. She still gets most of my social time, and deservedly so. She's a beam of energy, and is always smiling despite her shitty as hell job. I bring her flowers pretty regularly just to keep charming her for being such a great friend.

Other than all that drama, and teaching, the next biggest time-eater is that I'm getting tutored in Chinese. A girl, Li, comes over to my house twice a week for about 40 rmb/hour. My latest big accomplishment with Chinese -- talking with a cab driver for the entire ride to class.

Not sure what else to say. I'm still enjoying my time here very much. I guess I should say that I'll try very hard to get back to the pace of updating that I was goin at before. It's still pretty interesting to live here i guess :)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My year

When I was very little, I lived in North Carolina. Riding on the bus to West Lake Elementary School, I'd peel away at the duct tape covering a scar in the seat in front of me, then readhere it. There were better ways to pass the time. I would think to myself about the year 1997. It seemed so far in the future. Thinking beyond that year was a bit too scary, because I don't think I wanted to get any older than that. On the bus, I thought about what I'd look like in 1997, where I'd be, what kind of girls I could get, whether I'd be able to resist the temptation of smoking, how well I'd be doing in school, etc. I pictured myself as a pretty tall guy with natural blond hair, wearing sunglasses, a denim jacket and bright orange shorts with a dragon motif. I very much wanted to talk to him. I would be twelve in that year.

Summer of '97, I turned twelve. I had been living in Pittsburgh for about a year after five years of North Carolina. My golden hair had wilted into dirty blond. Much to my chagrin, I did not own a denim jacket or sunglasses. I was a little taller, but not much. That was the last time it was the year of the ox. The first time in my life it was the year of the ox, I was born. I probably figured that out sometime that year. We probably went to a Chinese place and put the pieces together with the help of one of those paper placemats. But the foresight I was able to access when riding on the bus to school in North Carolina was a gift that had been lost. What would I look like in the next year of the ox? The thought never occured. Again, probably because of fear, or at least the desire to be ignorant. I don't think I wanted to know... The weight of the world has always been a pretty scary thing. Was I wiser when I was younger? I've always thought so. But then again, I was also more ignorant...

Jan. 31, 2009, it is the year of the ox again. I started living in China after 12 years of living in Pittsburgh, and the weight of the world is still a very scary thing. Maybe it's better that I didn't waste time thinking of what could happen


The celebration for the year 2009 was complacent and uninspired. I was with four other people when it happened, and I felt like we were the only ones in Wuhan celebrating. Jan. 1, 2009 isn't really important to people here. On New Year's Eve, people are more concerned about writing "09" on their checks instead of "08". However, a few days ago was the Chinese New Year. For the past two weeks, hearing a loud explosion outside your window is something which occurs several times an hour. If you didn't know that you were in China, you'd guess that you were in Gaza. At night it's pretty interesting to look outside my window because at any given time you can probably find, somewhere in your field of view, fireworks exploding. Every small store is closed, except for convenience stores (which are really only in business to sell fireworks).

I guess that's interesting enough, but at midnight on the eve of the Chinese New Year, everyone who had been lighting fireworks all week consolidated their efforts into one giant eruption. It was amazing! I've never experienced anything like it. It was like the city was exploding.

Some hanging clothes that caught fire because someone lit a rocket off of a nearby rooftop.

I also took a video of midnight in Wuhan, but I can't get it to work online.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Four months

Been here four months. Notable accomplishment: I can speak a little chinese (still illiterate).

I made a list of chinese words that I know's the picture to the right. Pretty crazy how much of this alien language I've figured out. The best I can do these days is say VERY basic sentences. Most of the words on this list were written because I know the chinese character for them, but I wrote a few down so that I could practice recognizing the characters that are more complex. It's kinda funny...there are a few characters that I do recognize, but don't know the chinese word for. For example, the character for "entrance" looks like a box. Also note that all of these words that you see have a tone associated with each syllable. This is not indicated on the words to the right, I'm not sure how to write that on a computer yet.

As of yesterday, my vacation officially started. It took so long to finish grading all of the exams. There were 43 students, each with 9 total pages of tests to correct. Then there was the oral portion of the exam, and the essay part of the exam. The oral part was about an 8 minute session with each student, asking them simple questions where they'd have to use their brain to come up with a logical response to a question. I felt like a blade runner, asking ridiculous hypothetical questions to determine if my students were robots or humans. The written part was a 100 word paragraph about a basic topic. This shouldn't have been that hard, and for some it wasn't, but still. For some it was awful. UGH.

I caught three students cheating. They honestly must think I'm an idiot. Their tests were identical. Even the questions that asked for a short answer had word-for-word identical responses. They definitely weren't the only ones cheating either, just the most obvious. I guess it's unfair that because they were the suckiest cheaters, they get the shaft. When they come back, they're gettin a "stern talking to" by Mr. Jenkins. I have no idea how to address this problem. I really don't want to lose the friendly ambience I think my classroom has, but at the same time, this cheating crap is an insult. Sometimes I feel like my job is the ultimate fatherhood training job. Sidenote: only about 1/3 of my students answered the following question correctly: "What is a sentence?"

Enough about work. Right now in China is the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival is the equivalent of our Christmas break; people go home to their families and have big dinners to celebrate the coming of spring and the new year. By the way, the Chinese new year is in a little more than a week. Not sure what I'm doing yet, but I'll let you know. I don't have any plans for the break yet. I was going to go to Xi'an, because I really want to see the terra cotta warriors of qin shi huang di's tomb... but I need to go with someone who can speak chinese. I don't think I have enough of a rapport with anyone here yet to ask if they want to go somewhere like that.

It's ok. Wuhan is a kickass place that I want to explore a little more. Check out this place I found the other day. Nerd alert. I also haven't seen Huang He Lou, which is basically the symbol of Wuhan. I mean, the highest price and therefore best cigarettes are called "Huanghelou." There is also a theory going around that, because the number of unemployed migrant workers is increasing, there's a greater danger to people traveling around China (especially white people who are rich as hell). Right now is obviously a busy travel season, so I guess it makes sense. By now though, most people are home with their folks, eating big dinners and whatnot. Pretty funny that, two weeks ago during the Christmas break, everyone was throwing down in karaoke bars and nightclubs.

Only six months left. Still not really sure what my story is.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Miscellaneous pictures

I added a few more photos to my google picture sharing account. Here's the link: [ pictures ]

First, if you eat one of these....

Welcome to hell. I researched these, and they're called "Sichuan peppercorns," a necessary ingredient for any sichuan style food. Basically, any time you go to a market and get a rice dish, expect to find these in your food. The amount you see in this photo is the amount that an average rice dish with sichuan style food will have in it. The flavor these little things add is pretty unique...It's like a spicy, tingly, borderline numbing flavor. The first month here, I'd eat one of these during every meal by accident. Once you eat one, you immediately know it, and there's nothing you can do to change what'll happen next. You sense a "numbing hotness" from the spot where you made contact with the peppercorn, and the sensation slowly invades the rest of your mouth. The pain stays with you for hours. I've been told that in ancient China, they used to use these peppercorns whenever doctors were performing oral surgery. I usually cure my frustrations with....

YOU ZI! I'm still obsessed with these.

That last picture makes me want to get up and buy one immediately.

And here are some more pictures of my university:

I walk by this alley every day. One of my favorite views!

It's hard to tell...but these bushes are really beautiful. They're trimmed to about shin-high.

When I first saw this walkway from afar, I was convinced that someone was walking on water. In fact, they were walking on this thing.

Wuda's famous old library. Insanely beautiful.

The girl's dormitories, right in front of the old library. Mind-blowingly gorgeous.

Street level view of the girl's dorms. I won't use another combination of hyperbole and a synonym for beautiful, but you get the idea.

When the snow starts sticking, I'll take more photos. The first snow was only a few days ago.

New Year's with pictures

For the last three or so years, I've spent New Year's at a friend's house and we just played poker all night until about 15 minutes until the last moments of the year. That's definitely my idea of a fun way to spend New Year's Eve. This time around was also entertaining, but obviously different than the norm. I took a ton of photos this night because of the lack of photos taken during X-mas week. Here's the cast of characters:

Left to right: Han Jie (aka Ms. Han), me, Michael, his girlfriend, and Ms. Ding

Not too many details.
  • Michael did his thing; talked about hangin out with the Eagles (the band), the books he wrote, conversations he's had with Milton Friedman, and so forth. Ms. Han innocently made fun of him the whole time, it was pretty funny.
  • The best quote of the night was some totally jerk thing she said. Before we made New Year's resolutions, Michael and I were having a fascinating "conversation" (which is pretty one-way if you know what I mean) about the property he owned. Anyway to change the subject, I asked everyone what their New Year's resolutions were. So everyone explained what they intended to do that year... When we got to Michael, I asked him, "What's your New Year's resolution, Michael?"
    Then Ms. Han immediately interrupts sarcastically, "Maybe you can buy another house!" Everyone lost it.. he wasn't a fan of hers that night I think.
  • What was my New Year's resolution? Get into better shape, even though I think that's my resolution every year.
  • There were frickin cheese and crackers! Michael found a place that sells cheddar, so this was the first time since I arrived here that I ate some. I savored the hell out of this.

  • We tried to watch a DVD, but only one worked: The Eagles - live in concert. I guess it was better than watching Hu Jintao giving some official address to the nation about the coming year.
  • I wore my Penguins jersey as a gesture of hope for a better year (especially given their performance in recent weeks). Plus it looks cool, and I haven't worn it in a while.

  • And here's a few more general pictures from the night:

Friday, January 2, 2009

X-mas week (part 3)

'Twas the fight before Christmas....what was Tim Allen thinking. Don't worry I'm not gonna start off with a similar play on words with that poem. Its become a bit trite these days, don't you think?

Thursday (25th) -- Christmas Day. A creature was stirring in the morning, namely me (Didn't see that one coming did ya!) I didn't have to work, but I did need to play the role of Santa. I put the presents in a bag, grabbed it and the mini bamboo plant that I had bought on Christmas Eve, and headed out the door. 8:30 am. On the way to the office, I bought a newspaper and a small role of tape for wrapping purposes. I had only had a limited amount of time to shop (due to the "illness" I suffered over the last few days), but I was able to get a few good presents for my bosses. I gave the plant to Steven and a foreign bottle of wine to Mr. Dong. All I was able to buy for Han Jie was a box of foreign chocolates and a few DVDs. I wanted to get more, but I told myself I'd get something else later in the day. I met Han Jie at around 9:30 so that I could get the presents into the office, and then made plans to have dinner with her later that night. The plan wasn't set, but I wanted to make her something delicious (I make good sandwiches), have a bottle of decent wine, and watch a DVD that we could both understand (i.e. something American with Chinese subtitles).

11 am. I had taken a taxi back home and was back in my bed. Four hours later, I woke up. I had to clean the place, buy food, and maybe buy another nice present for the babe coming over. I cleaned the place a little bit before I left.

4 pm. I headed over to the DVD store to buy something appropriate. While I was looking around, the phone rang. Han Jie. She was calling to tell me that she had invited her friend and her friend's sister to come over. Sick! ... So, new plan, I had to buy a ton more food, and clean up the place way more than I'd originally thought. I bought another Will Smith movie, "the pursuit of happyness," cuz it seemed like a good chic flick and the dude at the DVD store recommended it for the situation that I explained to him in very broken Chinese but expertly executed body language.

Now I was in the supermarket buying food for the get together. I scrapped the idea of getting her another present cuz I wasn't really pleased about the surprise party she just pulled on me. You might be wondering why I'm explaining all of this. She called me again. She explained that her friend actually wasn't coming, so instead it was now just her that was coming over. Why do chics do this.

So, back to the original plan. The only problem is that the original plan needed a lot more time than I had to work with, time which had been cut into thanks to her skullduggery. I bought potatoes and sandwich stuff, went home, and started prepping everything. I was definitely not pleased with the whole situation.

8 pm. She arrived, it took me about five minutes to get over it. Btw, she loves the sandwiches and fries I make. You can't really go wrong with bacon and cheese in a sandwich. We opened up the bottle of wine, and then watched, yeah, "Brokeback Mountain." I mean, it was the only movie I had which was enough of a balance of chic flick and understandability. I also didn't really need to translate much; the movie isn't exactly centered around dialogue. I'm not sure how good of a job I did translating though, she still insists that Jack Swift (Jake Gyllenhall's character) is straight. Sidenote: Anne Hathaway slept with someone to be in that movie. Overall though, a fun way to spend Christmas Day. It was the last day we could hang out for a few days; she had weekend plans, and I had plans for Friday.

Friday (26th) -- Had to teach again. It went ok...I showed them the Simpsons Christmas episode I was in the middle of downloading when I had to leave my place on Christmas Eve.. you know, the one I was originally planning on showing them instead of Toy Story. Anyway, I showed them the episode, we went over a few vocabulary words that popped up during the episode, and then we practiced speaking a little more. Afterwards, I went home and slept. I had plans for the evening.

Remember Justin from Canada? I had gotten a text from him on Wednesday, before I went to the KTV, asking if I wanted to hang out on Friday night. I was down. It's not often that I get to speak English at the normal rate, and he also seemed like a cool guy. I woke up from my nap at around 3 pm and told him I could meet him in Hankou district, which is far as hell away.

Hankou is across the Yangtze river, which is a big ass river. Thus, there's a big ass bridge that was built to cross it. As you might imagine, traffic gets nuts on this bridge because, uhh, there's like 9 million people living here. As a result, the government issued a rule to control the traffic on the bridge. If your license plate number ends in an odd number, you can cross on, say, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of that week. If it's even, then you can cross on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I'm not sure about the exact days, but the day you can cross it depends on your license plate number. So when I was trying to meet Justin in Hankou, I had to find a cab with an even license plate number. In Wuchang, the district I live in, it was a rare commodity to find an unoccupied cab that could cross the bridge. At 5:30 pm, I started trying to find a cab, and I got one at 7 pm with an incredible stroke of luck.

I was dropped off in Hankou at 7:30 pm. Hankou district is the place to go for the good parties, bars, restaurants, and so forth in Wuhan. The taxi left me at the base of a large, commercial-looking, glass building. Justin met me at the door and took me up to whatever we were doing. I realized quickly that I had no idea what was going on, so I asked, "So, what's going on?"
"It wouldn't be fair if I told you."

The music became louder as we approached a dimly lit room. There was a lot of light coming from the right side of the room, and we headed through a sea of people towards it. I looked into the room. It was a fairly small theater, probably only meant for private parties or small shows. A dance crew was dancing on the stage to a very, very loud track. The place was filled to the brim. Justin yelled as loud as he could but I could barely hear him, "Wait here, I'm going to see if I can find seats since we got here a little late." He walked ahead while I watched the performance from an obstructed view. A little later, he waved me on.

We started walking to the other side of the room, but we crossed over the front row. Then he sat down in a seat, "OK here we are." I sat down in a seat, and then I leaned forward and touched the stage with my hand. He laughed, "See, it wouldn't have been fair if I told you." The show was a holiday talent show put on by his ex-employers, a private ESL training company, and he was a special guest. I guess he just wanted to freak me out a little. The performers actually were a mix of staff, faculty, and students. For example, the dancers were the girls that worked at the reception desk. It's a job which hires based on a few qualities, most notably appearance. They were hot.

In the middle of the show, they were going to select two tickets from a box to give a prize to. Guess who the special guests to choose the prize were? I went onto the stage and captured the audiences' hearts with a grab bag selection so dramatic it reduced many audience members to tears. "200438." Screams, followed by Chinese gibberish from the MC. Apparently, my hand guided an audience member's fate towards good health, as I won her a one year membership to the gym downstairs.

After the show, I met people! Three guys from the US, one from Australia, and one from New Zealand, all teachers at the ESL place that was hosting the show. We went to dinner at a kickass expat restaurant. The owner is a jolly but also very dangerous looking man from Maastricht, Belgium. After the meal, Justin, Louanne, the owner and I talked over a shot of Jenever. That took a while to finish. I was over the sickness from the hangover, but the after effects had lingered longer than normal. I still had trouble eating food and drinking alcohol like normal. I was already knee deep in a glass of Duvel, a famous Belgian beer with about double the alcohol of a normal beer, so my brain was already pulsating.

We talked for a while. He told a bunch of hilarious stories, like the Belgian version of Santa Claus, St. Nicklas, who beats children if they're bad. The best was about the shot of Jenever that we were "enjoying." His Grandmother drank a shot every night before bed for thirty years. He also said that in Belgium, if someone comes over to your house, you must offer them a drink. Usually it's Jenever. So, when it was payday in Belgium, if you wanted your mail to be delivered earlier, you'd offer the mailman several shots before you sent him on his way. The more shots you offered, the earlier he'd come. You can guess how that story ends.

At the end of the day, I'd made five new friends, saw a crazy Chinese talent show, gave someone a free one year gym membership, and had a new favorite restaurant. On the taxi ride back, I was able to find out more about the people I'd just met. I had explained the whole Michael situation, so we talked a little about Michael. The guy from New Zealand asked, "What's his story?"
"Well, come on. Everybody's got a story." What a thing to say. It'd never really occured to me to ask it, but thinking back, it was pretty obvious. What was his story, indeed... Suddenly, I felt a little more at home than I had before.