Friday, September 29, 2006

Hong Kong Swan Song

...And so it comes to a close. My first trip to Asia will end tomorrow when I board a plane in Hong Kong for my return to the U.S. It's been fun, but I'll be a happy man when we touchdown in Chicago.

Today we walked around Hong Kong until my feet bled (seriously). This place is amazing, and it's such a stark contrast to mainland China. Getting off the ferry in Hong Kong this afternoon felt like we had stepped into New York when compared with Shenzhen. I knew very little about Hong Kong prior to this trip, but it is truly an amazing place. I have never seen such a vertical city. All of the buildings are stacked right on the coastlines of the various islands, and there are massive skyscrapers in view everywhere. I took loads of pictures, but I only will be able to post a few tonight.

Additionally, I'd like to treat everyone to a ride in a Shenzhen taxi from my office back toward the hotel. This was just a small snippet of what we experienced riding back and forth to work each day. I read an article in a Chinese paper which said that Shenzhen has installed traffic cameras to catch traffic offenses, and the most common offense was driving into oncoming traffic. Check out the video, and keep in mind that actually this was a very calm ride compared to others. Take note of the lack of stoplights at major intersections, as well as the way people just pull out in front of each other. This is just the norm... (You'll probably have to click on the big button in the center of the video twice for it to play.)

The rest of these are just a few of my pictures from walking around the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. I realize my ability to take a picture of a city scene at night is lacking, but I post it simply to give you an idea of how majestic Hong Kong really looks. It was truly striking at night.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Uh, does she belong to somebody?"

Tonight as we were walking to dinner, a small child ran up to my coworker and started begging for money. "You give me money." She said it over and over. Then she grabbed the waistband of his pants. Then she started smacking him on the rear end. It was the strangest thing. And when he finally shook her lose (English teacher correction from the states... loose), she sort of growled at him. I caught a picture of the event as it happened.

We went out to do a little shopping Shenzhen style before dinner, and in trying to find an area that was suggested by a co-worker as having some nice shops, we walked through what in my mind was a classic Asian cityscape.

The wonderfully friendly Lily helped us find some great Chinese merchandise. I agreed to come back to her shop after she accused me of "killing her" and "taking her dinner" by haggling with her.

A manager at our company over here took us to lunch at this little local place. We had a full meal featuring duck (with head!), lamb, Kung Pow chicken, vegetables, cucumber, watermelon, and various other things. It came to $30 for six of us, and we left a lot of food. Apparently over here it is proper to leave some food, as it suggests you left the restaurant full, whereas if you leave with an empty plate, you obviously left still wanting more. Here's a picture of the restaurant exterior.

There are a couple of primary schools nearby, so it's a kick at lunch to see all the kids in their school uniforms wandering around. They dig their popsicles in the heat.

Tomorrow night it's Hong Kong and the conclusion of my first trip to Asia. It's been an experience beyond words.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"I need some help in here..."

This is the one thing in China that I simply cannot understand. I risked being beaten senseless to take this picture, but I feel that this is a topic that warrants some discussion.

First off, while I was taking this, there was a gentleman in the next, er, squatting area who was obviously having a bad morning. If it were me in Indianapolis, I would simply sit down with a copy of the morning paper and let nature take its course. But in this scenario, how does one relax? How can I possible spend the time to make this an enjoyable experience when I'm doing some kind of Johnny Bench style squat? My knees couldn't take it.

The whole time I've been over here, I've been debating whether to give this thing a run (har har). My coworkers and I have decided that it's not a good idea. I guess my biggest question lies in what to do with my pants. I looked around for some sort of hook, thinking perhaps you were supposed to strip down before using this thing, but it doesn't exist. I can't imagine how I would really use this without having some sort of incident where I'd spend the rest of the day explaining to people "No, really, it's chocolate. I spilled cocoa." Plus based on the cleanliness of the majority of the facilities I've seen over here, I'm not thinking I want to be scooting around this thing in my socks.

There is exactly one bathroom in our whole building at work here which has a "western" style toilet. One of my coworkers used it yesterday and discovered that if he sat on it, his knees were against the door of the stall such that he couldn't even close the door. Someone needs to show these folks how to build a proper facility.

I suggested on multiple occasions this week that I needed a demo by an Asian to show me how to use this thing. I suppose it would be a fairly unpleasant experience, but I really would like to know. Until I see a demo, I'm convinced that these folks have an extra muscle or something that I don't have, because it doesn't appear to me that there's any way I would use this without ending up with either a leg or an arm in the drink.

And trust me, after a week of eating the local cuisine, I greatly fear the inevitable scenario which finds me out and about with only a "squatty potty" in sight.


I realize that I've been in China for approximately 3 days, but I'm already homesick. I miss Erin, but the longer I'm here, the more I also miss the U.S. Everything here is just a little crazy, and it makes you sort of miss the ordered world that is America.

This evening we went to a little restaurant called The Seagull, which is right around the corner from our hotel. It has a huge, nice outdoor patio, so we decided to just sit and enjoy the sweltering heat of a southeast Asia evening. About 15 minutes into our Tsingtaos, we hear what sounds like a waitress dropping a glass. But in this case, it was a patron hurling a glass across the restaurant. This was followed by much screaming and shouting and the hurling of about 5 more glasses and plates. At this point an employee of the restaurant came out to calm the man down. He turned his screaming at a waitress over to punching a waiter, and then he threw some more stuff. I'm not talking about throwing it down at the ground, I'm talking we were watching in part to make sure we didn't get hit 30 feet away. The whole episode went on for about 10 minutes, and at the end, the guy, still ranting, sat down, had another beer, and finished his cigarette (don't even get me started on the smoking...nothing wakes you up in the morning like a nice breakfast buffet and 30 Asian businessmen smoking). In the U.S., this dude would have been shown the door, but here, the restaurant accomodated him. It was wild.

I also experienced several cab rides of terror today. It appears that the basic premise is that they just assume that other cars will avoid you, so if you're approaching a speeding delivery truck head on, the cabbie assumes that the truck will eventually hit the brakes or the curb. Pedestrians are speed bumps. Women frequently carry umbrellas to keep the sun off while riding bicycles, and nobody even slows down for them. It's intense. Renting a car over here seems like a very, very bad idea. I spent 10 minutes trying to hail a cab after work, and finally a car pulls over with a smiling Chinese kid screaming something at me out the passenger window. I politely declined his offer for a ride, but he kept hassling me. I kept imagining waking up missing an arm in a basement in Mongolia. Finally a real cab picked me up, and after driving for several city blocks in rush hour traffic up the wrong side of the street, I was dropped safely back at my hotel. I'm sure Tide will get the urine out of my boxers.

Here are some more pics for your enjoyment. The Chinese sign would say something like "Pictures for you to like."

This is a row of bars right behind our hotel. Frequently there are some cute girls hanging around them. Hmm...

This is the House of the Flying Beer Mug...better known as the Seagull...

This is "The Sea World" which is basically a dry docked boat with a hotel on it. It's also surrounded by restaurants and shops. It's quite the tourist attraction...

The Sea World features the Overpriced Coffee Shop like everywhere else in the world...

More shops at The Sea World...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Picture pages

Ok, as promised, here is the first batch of pictures... Remember that you can click on a picture to get a bigger version. I'll try and explain them as I go...

The hotel lobby...

My lovely Shenzhen hotel room..."5 star" everyone keeps telling me....

A picture of the building where I'm working...

The second floor is where I had "chop stick wars" at lunch...

An engineering workplace...I miss my cube walls...

Huh...a small child in a bamboo, er, cage?

I'll post more of these tomorrow...

"You like spicy?

These three words signalled my first lunch experience here in China. "The boys" here in Shenzhen took me out for Hunan cuisine at a little local place. They ordered a chicken dish, a beef dish, a tofu dish, and some vegetables. When the plates hit the table, there was a snapping of chop sticks like I've never seen. I wondered where my plate was before the food arrived, and I quickly discovered that I don't get my own plate. Everyone eats right out of the serving plates. All my OCD had to go right out the window, as I had to stab my own food right out of the dish with my chop sticks like everyone else. And the slurping...oh the slurping. The other interesting point was that the chicken dish, while tasty, seemed like a whole chicken had been pretty much ground up for the food. Much time was spent spitting out shards of bone. Oh yes, the spitting. That was the other great thing. You spit out bones, you spit out seeds from the watermelon. If you need to unload it, you just spit it.

This place is pretty intense. I took a couple of pictures on the way to the restaurant, so I'll post those tonight. In the mean time, I've got to fight this Hunan food off long enough to avoid having to use the "squatty potty" down the hall. That's an experience for another day.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back on the ground

I left Indy at around 11:30am and arrived in Shenzhen at around 8:00am the next day (that's 8:00pm in least you don't have to reset your watch!) The flight wasn't as bad as I expected. You sort of get lulled into a place where time stops meaning anything. Given the usual content of these pages, I maintained a list of what I have eaten thus far:

Courtesy of United Airlines:
spicy pretzel/nut mix
ginger ale
chicken and rice (more like salt and rice), roll, salad, banana bread, fruit cup
Diet Coke
2004 Canepa Cabernet Sauvignon (icky Chilean red wine drunk only to induce sleep)
bowl of Chinese (read...Ramen) Noodles. Again with the salt.
an almond cookie
2 Luna bars, packed by my wife. "Nutrition for women" it says on the wrapper. I'll let you know if I'm a C cup in the morning.

While flying, I took lots of notes and observations. It gave me something to do. Here's a pretty much unedited list of my thoughts while airborn between Chicago and Hong Kong:

Man there's lots of Chinese people on here.
I sure wish these guys would stop sitting on and playing with the exit door.
The guy at the end of my row squeezed his plastic wrapped dinner roll and treated it as though it smelled rotten, yet he ate McDonalds an hour into the flight from under his seat.
The line for the toilets is at Disney World levels after the chicken/rice lunch.
I changed seats before takeoff, because the guy next to me had, what I consider to be, a disturbing cough. I saw "Outbreak."
Oooh...I'll get to see "Nacho Libre" finally.
(At this point, I wrote "13 hrs to go!")
Glass of wine didn't help me sleep. 10.5 hrs to go.
The ice over the arctic circle looks unbelieveable out the window. Too bad my picture didn't really turn out.
Listening to My Brightest Diamond on the iPod. Makes me miss Erin.
8 hrs left. This isn't so bad. I'm getting hungry.
Slept through the beginning of "Inside Man." Looks like film watching is a bust on this trip.
SNACK!!!!!! Oh, for joy!
Why are they serving me Ramen soup with chop sticks. Soup with sticks?!

Well if you read this far, you're a trooper. If you're interested, check out a globe for my route. We flew north from Chicago to a city called Churchill on the Hudson Bay in Canada. The next indicator I saw had us approaching the Verkhoyanskiy Mountains of Siberia. Next stop was Hong Kong.

I'm beat. I'll try and get some pictures tomorrow of the area around the hotel and work. We had a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant tonight. I had fried rice with shrimp and pork in it. I couldn't bear to eat a cheeseburger as my first meal in Asia. Looks like the week will be an adventure...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

An Evening With Sufjan

One last post before I get airborne... :)

Last night, Erin and I had dinner at the Bosphorus Cafe, which is a Turkish restaurant in downtown Indy. The food was great, and the guy that ran the place was friends with you the minute you came in the door. We both ate until we were miserable, but we'd highly recommend this place if you're looking for something different.

After dinner, we went to the Murat to see Sufjan Stevens. Sufjan (pronounced Soof-Yahn) has become a personal favorite of mine over the past couple of years. He's gone from being completely unknown to being played in Starbucks and as the theme music to the film "Little Miss Sunshine" recently. Click here to hear his song in the trailer for the movie (the song comes in about half way through the trailer). Anyway, he puts on a great show, and last night he had strings and horns to compliment the mix. It was a great evening of music that even Erin enjoyed. The only problem with the whole event was that apparently the Murat is staffed by arctic sea monkeys or polar bears, as the air conditioning blew on us all night, and by the end of the show, it was about 55 degrees in the venue. It was ridiculous. Erin and I actually gave up our seats at the end of the show to stand in the back huddled together for warmth. But we still had a great time.

I'm all packed and ready to go. I'll post again when I get to Hong Kong...

Friday, September 22, 2006

I'm leaving, on a jet plane...

...but I dang well know when I better be back again.

Sorry for the lack of updates this week, but it's been very hectic. Next week this blog will be turned into "Mr. Bret Goes To Hong Kong. Follow the adventures of a 31 year old software engineer, dropped off in Hong Kong for a week to work on a project with his Chinese counterparts...and eat everything he can find that doesn't include feet."

Every time I say, "They're sending me to Hong Kong" it sounds like a childhood threat. "If you don't stop that, we'll send you to Hong Kong." In any case, I'm looking forward to the trip, and I intend to take scads of pictures of Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I plan to wander through all city parks echoing "Grace, where are you?"

Be sure to check often next week, starting probably Tuesday for my travelogue.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Weekend Pics

So here are the promised pictures from our weekend at McCormick's Creek and the Apple Butter Festival.

First off, here are a couple of yours truly and his lovely wife...

Here are some of those "it's easier to climb 400 stairs than hike up a hill" stairs that the DNR has installed...

Here's another view of one of the stairways as you approach it on the trail...

Here are a couple of random shots of a decaying southern Indiana town with little sign of apple butter...Plus two final reasons to love Indiana...

Birthdays and Apple Butter

This weekend was a blur of birthday celebrations and, as always, over eating. It all started with my birthday on Friday. Erin and I had a wonderful lunch at the best Thai restaurant in Indy -- Sawasdee. This place is a jewel of a restaurant, with every dish being reasonably priced at lunch and offering the same portions as the dinners. The owner is a very nice gentleman named, humorously, Ty. During lunch Erin reminded me that I would be spending my birthday evening at a tailgate before her school's football game. Erin has a knack for becoming the moderator of most every club at her school at one point or another, so this year she is performing these duties for the Junior class. In addition to having to organize prom, she also got to organize this tailgate. The star attraction of the evening was one of those giant inflatable jumping rooms, only this was no ordinary jumping, er, room. Instead it was a giant cow turned on it's back so that 6 foot tall high school boys could engage their hormones in a disturbing way by jumping around on its udders, slamming into each other in the process. They dang near killed the poor thing. At one point, a kid fell into the udders and his body weight propelled him to the ground. Erin immediately assumed the kid was suffocating in the inflatable udder (some sentences you never expect to write) and leaped into the cow to save him. He was fine, without her assistance, but I've never seen Erin move so quickly unless trying to get her hands around my throat (usually following a blog entry...My wife is actually a very calm, mild person. I only occasionally drive her to madness.) Anyway, the kids seemed to love stomping on the udders, and they politely wished me a happy birthday before retreating to their friends to say "Did you see Mrs. Hawkins' husband? It must, like, totally suck to be like, so old." Responded to with an appropriate "Fo shizzle."

On Saturday we had a birthday celebration for all of the September birthdays in our family at my parent's house. My dad, grandfather, sister, several cousins, an aunt here or there, and myself all have September birthdays in my family, and it didn't occur to me until sometime during high school that this, coupled with the fact that most of the people in my family are teachers, probably means that everyone in my family for several generations now has looked forward with great delight to Christmas vacation. I'll say no more. I'd like to thank everyone for the gifts that I received. My dad and I were both given large quantities of candy by various unnamed mother-in-laws who are apparently somewhat interested in hastening the process of both tooth decay and heart disease in their son-in-laws. Thanks again for a wonderful birthday.

On Sunday morning, we arose to beautiful weather, so after church Erin and I headed for the Oliver Winery in Bloomington. We did a brief tasting, and since my palette for wines is as finely tuned as a Ford Pinto, I had to at least once spit a large volume of wine out into the little, er, wine spittoon crying out, "You call this wine? I wouldn't wash down a White Castle with this swill!" just to look like I knew what I was talking about. Actually I politely swished each glass, as though I knew it needed to be properly swished before consumption in one large gulp, and asked for the next one on the list. It was fun.

After leaving Oliver, we headed over to McCormick's Creek State Park, just west of Bloomington. As we approached the entrance to the park, I spied a sign at the side of the road for the Apple Butter Festival in Spencer, just a few miles up the road. Given our love of a weekly elephant ear, I could tell that this sign had effectively derailed our day of hiking that we had planned. Forging ahead, we entered the park and took off on a trail. I'll post some pictures of some of this stuff this evening. What we discovered is that the DNR has chosen to build massive rickity stair cases, rather than clear good trails up and down the hills in McCormick's Creek. After hiking for a while, checking out an abandoned quarry (a common occurence in southern Indiana), and climbing approximately 400 stairs, we packed ourselves into the car for a cool, refreshing glass of Apple Butter.

The one thing you cannot get, ironically, at Owen County's Apple Butter Festival is apple butter. After walking through a handful of booths surrounding the court house offering various homemade baked goods and an occasionally obscene T-shirt, we headed for the lineup of food trailers that occupies space at every good festival. We found only one offering ANY kind of apple butter, and they were selling fried biscuits and apple butter for $1. After offering up a single, the woman behind the counter pulled out 4 greasy looking biscuits from a fryer, and then opened up a half empty jar of ValuRite Apple Butter from the nearest Aldi. I was incensed. Store bought apple butter didn't stop us from eating the fried biscuits, but it definitely put a damper on the festivities. After seeing my second or third "Heaven, Yeah! Hell NO" T-shirt, we retreated to the car for dinner at Gray's. As we left Owen County, I considered that perhaps there really are places where there is nothing for kids to do but sleep with each other and do drugs.

Pictures of the weekend festivities are forthcoming, but until then, it's back to life as a 31 year old engineer working for the Chinese man. In preparation for busines travel to China, I'm learning a few key phrases in Cantonese:

"Lei ho." -- "Hello."

"Ngoh ho hoi sum gin lei." -- "Nice to meet you."

"M goi." -- "Thank you."

"Doi m juu." -- "Excuse me..."

"Si soh hai bin do?" -- "Where is the toilet?"

"Joi gin." -- "Good bye."

This pretty well covers most of my conversations. Have a great day!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"The Obliterati" by Mission of Burma (2006)

The story of Mission of Burma is a unique one in that rarely does a band return after a 20 year absence and put out albums that best their earlier work. But such is the case with Mission of Burma, and the two albums released since their 2002 reunion are two of my favorites of the past ten years.

I picked up The Obliterati while in Athens, Georgia this past summer, and my wife quickly deemed it unacceptable road trip music given it's volume. Perhaps the theme for this little biweekly review should be "albums I love but Erin doesn't."

Every instrument on The Obliterati sounds like it was recorded at full volume, and every instrument sounds like it sits right at the top of the mix making for an album that simply sounds aggresive. Plus the album was recorded to sound very "live" which, as those of us who've spent years going to concerts know, is not an easy feat to reproduce in the studio. I like albums that demand your attention and provide enough interesting dynamics to make me want to go back and listen to them over and over, and The Obliterati does just that. The album also contains one of my favorite refrains in recent memory on a song called "Nancy Reagan's Head" -- "no way that thing came with that body." Classic.

I've never seen Burma live, but Roger Miller (no, not the "King of the Road" Roger Miller...) wears a giant set of headphones on stage to protect severely damaged ears from any further injury. Every time I see a picture of this, it reminds me of wearing a very similar pair of headphones when I was a little kid. Except his are to protect his ears, while mine were the beginning of a lifetime love affair with tinnitus.

"Donna Sumeria"
"Main In Decline"

Mission of Burma website link
Allmusic Guide link

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Roughing Up Libby Lu

Friday night we ventured down to a new Jamaican restaurant called Da Blue Lagoon. When we were on our cruise last year, the stop in Jamaica was a highlight for a couple of reasons. First off, when we got off the boat, my mom asked a cabbie to take us to "someplace we can do some shopping." In my mom's mind, I'm sure this meant "someplace with an indoor food court and a Christopher and Banks." (Christopher and Banks looks and even SMELLS like my mom inside. I told Erin that going to Aeropostale makes me feel like an old man, but Christopher and Banks has the opposite effect.) In any case, we ended up in a sea of huts selling mostly junk, and I'm relatively sure I saw at least one hut that didn't have rodents. Mom was a little mortified by the whole experience. The other highlight was eating piles of jerk chicken at a resort down there. Anxious to eat piles of anything Friday night, Da Blue Lagoon didn't disappoint. We got a variety of jerked meats (these seem to be a theme in my life right now) and appetizers, all at reasonable prices. My favorite items were the fried plaintains and jerk chicken, but everything was great. Definitely makes the list of places to which we'll return...

Saturday morning, Erin and I ventured out to the mall to do a little Christmas shopping. As we hiked between the cell phone dealers (apparently this is all that sells in malls these days) we passed what appeared to be a den of 8-12 year old hookers. Erin informed me that this was merely Club Libby Lu. Apparently little girls like to have birthday parties at this place and get made over for duty on the Sunset Strip. It was mortifying. Their website offers makeovers which include "Rock Star," "Tween Idol," "Priceless Princess," and "Pop Star." The "Rock Star" makeover even includes one of those goofy little headsets that Britney has made famous. As Erin and I were discussing how this place promotes, in our opinion, all the wrong values, Erin commented that "boy, isn't it going to stink for her when we won't let poor Grace set foot in that place." I couldn't agree more. The last thing I need is a "Tween Idol" parading around the house. Later in the day while still shopping, we were nearly run over by a pack of "Rock Stars" from Club Libby Lu, and one of them had on that stupid headset. I realize it's not her fault, and I realize that people have differing opinions on the validity of Club Libby Lu, but every part of me wanted to punch the poor thing. Right in the mouth. Not give her a talking to or try to explain that there's nothing noble in looking like a prostitute. Punch her. And then break her little headset microphone. I refrained, instead choosing to channel my energy into dreaming about what I would eat next.

On that front, Erin had a work party at a co-worker's house which acted as a "pre-Greek Fest" event. Greek Fest is held each year at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, and unlike the Germans from a week ago, the Greeks know how to feed you for your dollar. Or fifty. I still managed to spend a fortune on food, but at least I came away absolutely full AND with leftover baklava. At one point I had powdered sugar on the front of my shirt from some nameless, faceless cookie I ate, and the hair on my left arm was matted down with honey from an unfortunate incident with a honey puff. I looked homeless. In addition to eating everything in sight, we took in a brief cooking demonstration and an interesting discussion with the priest, primarily on the differences between Catholicism and the Greek Orthodox church. I'm highly uneducated in this regard. When asked if anyone knew what the differences were, I replied "different pointy hats" which apparently is not the correct answer. So in addition to being well fed, I was educated by the Greeks. And escorted out of their church.

Since I'm returning to my fat man status that I worked so hard to lose last year, this will need to be our last festival for a while. Unfortunately (not really) my birthday and the Middle Eastern Festival are right around the corner. I'm going to have to run on the treadmill until I'm bleeding from the eyes to keep up with this. Now where did I put that baklava??

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Chinese Television Debut!

So I'm sitting here quietly working (depending on your definition) when my grand-boss (the name given to my boss's boss) shows up and tells me that a film crew from a Chinese TV show will be around in a few minutes taking some shots of "the faces of engineering" within our company. In the two groups which sit next to each other, we have American, Chinese, Indian, Korean, Kentuckian, and Russian backgrounds represented, so they wanted shots of all of us working, happily, as a team. I thought it sounded interesting, so I sort of cleaned up my cubicle for the big event. About 30 seconds before they arrive, the grand-boss comes back to tell me he's going to stop specifically in my cube, so be prepared. No sweat. I took drama in high school, I'll be fine. I quickly moved a picture of Erin and me on our wedding day into a position where I knew it would be seen...(see honey, I'm trying to make you a star too.)

About 30 seconds later, he comes waltzing into my cube and starts asking questions, Chinese film crew in tow. I didn't know I'd be doing an interview. Oy.

"So, what are you doing?"

"Uh, I'm merging some code from (insert other manufacturers name here)."

(First gaffe...I don't suppose we were speaking loud enough for the audio to be used, but saying another manufacturers name during a special on OUR company was probably not high on the grand-boss's list of things to do.)

"So are you enjoying that?"

"Sure...It keeps me busy."

"How quickly can you finish?"

"Pretty quickly. I've done it a bunch of times."

After they finished with me, they did another segment with one of my coworkers. I thought I was off the hook until they returned and shot about 2 minutes of me busily doing nothing on my PC. They said afterwards that this is for a "very famous program in China" which is doing a special on our company. I expect my royalties to be arriving in the mail shortly.

Are we that boring?

Here's a quote (and a link!) to a current story in Wired:

"Creating your own blog is about as easy as creating your own urine, and you're about as likely to find someone else interested in it."


Anyway, speaking of bodily fluids, Erin and I have resurrected going to the gym every night to make ourselves miserable (and hopefully eventually thinner) by running on the elliptical machines. We usually end up going at about the same time each night, and there's another gentlemen, who I'd guess to be in his early 60's, who also frequently is present at this same hour. Now I sweat when I workout, but it's a modest volume of perspiration, and the situation is easily remedied with a few gentle pats of a paper towel to my delicate features. This poor dude sweats like his skin is on fire and his glands are trying to put it out. It's ridiculous. He runs on the treadmills which are positioned directly in front of the elliptical machines, and I purposely avoid using the machine directly behind this guy because as he runs, there is sweat actually slinging off of his body, into the air, and eventually onto the machines behind him. He runs for a few minutes, then he hops off, heads for the paper towels, wipes himself down, and repeats. The machine is soaking wet, the carpet behind him is soaking wet, and most importantly, the poor dude on the elliptical machine behind him is, to some degree, soaking wet...IN HIS SWEAT. I can't take it. I'm absolutely sure that he's got SOMETHING in that sweat which is communicable. In any case, when he's done running, he spends about 20 minutes drying off the treadmill he uses, which I guess is a polite gesture. I wonder if this guy pees in bucketfulls as well? Or spits continuously? If I sweat as much as he does during a workout, I'd be shriveled up tighter than Maria Shriver's face by the end of the workout...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Grace Wait

I'm going to show you how all questions regarding our adoption of our dear daughter Grace can be answered in three simple phrases.

Phrase 1: Nope, not yet.
Phrase 2: Not soon enough
Phrase 3: Make it a double

Here's how it plays out:
Friend/Co-Worker/Family: "Have you heard anything from China?"
Us: with a sigh, "Nope, not yet."
Friend/Co-Worker/Family: now with empathy, "When will you know something?"
Us: with another sigh, "Not soon enough."
Friend/Co-Worker/Family: trying to be supportive, "Well, do you at least have her picture?"
Us: with yet another sigh, "Nope, not yet."
Friend/Co-Worker/Family: with a new found defeatism, "When will you have some information?"
Us: with the final sigh, "Not soon enough."
Friend/Co-Worker/Family: sensing the meltdown, "Can I buy you a drink?"
Us: with a smile, "Make it a double."

Who knew that all questions regarding our adoption could be condensed down into three simple responses. Truth be told, though, the process is long and hard and, sometimes, painful and lonely, but we trust, beyond all hope, that God has a beautiful plan where we will someday be united with the heart of our heart--Grace Hawkins.

So, here's the best and the worst of it:
Best case scenario: Travel to get Grace in late May/early June 2007. I know many of you had hoped for earlier, but this really is the best, best case scenario (not even the realistic one).
Realistic scenario: Travel to get Grace in fall of 2007.
Worst case scenario: Travel to get Grace in May of 2008.

Where do I get these projections? History. We have been researching the referral rates for babies for quite a while, and the CCAA (the Chinese Center for Adoption Affairs) is slowing down... way down. When we started, the referral timeline was 6 months. Now, the referral timeline is inching towards 18 months. There are lots of factors for the slow down, and if you really want an earful, buy me a drink and ask... two or three hours later... you'll have the history of the CCAA referral timeline to date.

So, there it is... the hard truth in print. For now, we're simply in line. And it's a long, long line. And there's never any news in the long, long line. And unfortunately, they don't even serve lo mein in the line... or dim sum... or chicken feet... or anything... in fact, we have to pay to be in the line. Do you know what we call this in the English world? Irony.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Oktoberfest and Erin's Nuts

Shew. What a busy holiday weekend. Lots of stuff going on this weekend, so I'll try not to make this too too long. Saturday night found Erin's parents, my parents, and Erin and I all headed to the southside for Oktoberfest at the German American Klub (I guess all it takes to convert a word from English to German is to replace all the C's with K's...and spit a lot while speaking them.) We were really excited about this festival, but we found ourselves a little bit dismayed pretty early in the festivities. First of all, it was $6 each just to get into the park, which is basically a few picnic tables and a shelterhouse. Based on the price of food and booze once inside the park, apparently the German American Klub is saving up to build themselves a new, more spektakular park komplete with the finest amenities. I hiked immediately upon arrival up to an 18 wheeler with about 10 taps on the side of the trailer. The price listing showed 12 ounces of German bier for $5, or a 24 ounce mug for around $7. I ordered the mug and was told that they didn't have those. I politely pointed to the sign, and the old German guy manning the keg politely ignored me and started pouring me a 12 oz plastic cup. I kould tell he wasn't to be pushed. Oh well. After this, we headed for the food tents and ordered a variety of knockwurst's and brat's, along with German potato salad and some fried apples. I know I had at least $60 in my wallet before we got there, and I left with about $10, so between the admission price, a couple of beers, a couple of sausages, and a cream puff for dessert, I ended up down about $50. My dad got hustled into buying a raffle ticket from a very polite little old German lady. I'm sure he could have told her to scram, but she had a look in her eye which suggested that she knew which car you had driven into the Klub, so he caved and bought a ticket. In the end, we all agreed that had the food been a little bit cheaper and the beer steins a little bit larger, people could have a much more enjoyable time at the Oktoberfest. Perhaps next year Erin and I will try to host our own little Oktoberfest in our backyard. If we can combine it with a NASCAR event, the whole neighborhood will show up.

Yesterday we went to Bedford to see my grandparents, which was nice. Erin took my grandmother a box containing 10 puzzles based on the work's of Thomas Kinkade (a German, perhaps?) which has sort of become a tradition. On one visit, we took a 5000 piece puzzle to her which took her several months and coworkers to complete. Upon our next visit, she threatened Erin with thumbscrews if we brought anything that complex again, so we take great care in making our puzzle selections.

Today we did a little shopping at the Edinburgh outlets in preparation for the holiday season. While perusing the various shops, I discovered that my only goal when we shop at this place is to chain together visits to each of the cooking and/or food stores that offer free samples. Erin went to the OshKosh store, where she not only bought little Grace some more clothes, but she also scared a poor Japanese couple into giving their lovely 2 year old daughter a lecture on not talking to crazy American ladies who scream "Asian baby!" at the drop of a hat. Grace, at this point, has a larger wardrobe than I do. The child will not want for clothes (or attention, or food, or anything else, I suspect, for that matter.) While Erin scared toddlers, I started making my way toward the various sampling stations at the cookware stores. I tried about 10 different types of pretzel dip at one store and got an orange truffle and some kind of cream cheese and salsa concoction at Harry and David. After exhausting the food possibilities in the outlet mall, we headed for Nashville, Indiana.

Now Nashville, for those not in the know, is sort of a Gatlinburg in miniature. The only differences are that it sits in southern Indiana and has more Harley riders than teeth within the city limits. Luckily for us, it wasn't terribly crowded, so we were able to get in and out of the stores without having to whisper "Man do I have to pee" while gridlocked behind people. Since we'd only eaten 2000 calories worth of samples at the outlet mall, we immediately headed for lunch at the Hob Knob Restaurant. Our dining experiences in Nashville during past visits have been less than overwhelming, but this place turned out to be very good. Erin had a lovely turkey melt, while I had an equally wonderful tuna melt, all served by a delightful stoned Nashville artisan. We ate these well portioned meals in under 10 minutes and headed back out to do more shopping.

The most delightful store we found on this visit to Nashville was called, simply, The House of Jerky. The House of Jerky featured a bevy of different foods which had been dried out and turned into jerky. They had everything from beef to buffalo to venison to salmon...all jerkied. Apparently they're in cahoots with the German American Klub, as a package with 4 pieces of salmon jerky ran around $12. I'll tell you what's jerky about that. In any case, I found it fascinating that such a store existed and even more fascinating that anyone would pay $3 for a single piece of jerky.

After sniffing the jerky, I got a Pumpkin Sundae from Fearrin's Ice Cream. It was a great combination of pumpkin ice cream and caramel. Erin held out and got a package of almonds covered with cinammon and sugar at a different store, the name of which escapes me. After I finished my ice cream, we strolled up the street to one of what I refer to as "the crap shops" in Nashville. There are some very nice stores in Nashville which cater to very specific tastes, the House of Jerky being a prime example. There are stores featuring thousands of varieties of salsa, or perhaps a variety of leather goods. Virtually all of the other stores feature piles of stuff which falls into the "home decor" category. There are piles of candles, bird feeders, coasters, plates, new stuff made to look old, shirts with funny religious sayings, music played on the pan flute, etc in each of these stores. All of them look alike to me (and smell like a mixture of vanilla, cinammon, apples, cookies, and whatever other scent you can stuff in a candle), and every part of me wants to run through each of them with my arms extended, knocking every "bless this house" knick knack onto the ground as I go. Well upon entering one of these stores, Erin was eyeing several items and commenting aloud on how interested she was to spend our hard earned cash on some of their wares. About this time a friendly, 50-something employee approached her and said, "We'd appreciate it if you'd put your nuts away while you're in the store." At this point, after puzzling for a moment and trying to recall if I'd been to the restroom recently, I realized that Erin was still working through the bag of almonds she'd purchased earlier. Erin quickly complied with the warden's request, but for whatever reason, quickly lost interest in purchasing anything from the store. I can understand wanting to shew out kids with ice cream cones, but an adult with a bag of almonds? It seemed a little strange to me, but rather than make a scene, we complied and immediately left the store...nuts in tow.

All in all we had a wonderful Labor Day weekend, and the best part is that I don't have to fly out to China in the morning. Rather than packing, I can spend this evening adding a room onto the Chateau du Siding for Grace's wardrobe.