Monday, April 30, 2018

Z - Zoo Fun

When my children were younger, (by younger I mean young enough that they still appreciated their father and hadn't learned how to talk back yet) we would take weekly road trips. I had a job where I worked long hours and didn't see the family much during the week, but I always had weekends off and we liked to spend it on the road. Every Saturday, we would load up the car, head to Huck's to grab some gas station road trip food (mini tacos, egg rolls, sodas, etc.) and hit the road.

Some days, we ended up in a state park. A few times we stumbled onto a small town festival. Other times, we would drive into a big city. Often, we didn't even have a destination in mind when we left the house. We would just pick a direction and start driving. I loved these trips.

One particular Saturday, we decided to head to the zoo. When it comes to zoo trips, we are really lucky. We live in southern Illinois and the St. Louis Zoo is less than 90 minutes away. This is the zoo I grew up going to and it spoiled me for other zoos. It is ranked as one of the best zoos in the entire country, so I always end up disappointed when I am visiting someone in another part of the country and we end up at a lesser zoo. Our zoo is awesome. Suck it, Cleveland.

I was particularly excited for this trip because my kids were at that magical age. Kirsten was two and Christian was six. They would think the animals were the coolest things in the world to get to see. Plus, it was springtime and we had been looking forward to getting out of the house after the long winter.

Once we got there, we headed to the exhibit I always insist that we visit first. THE PENGUINS! I love penguins. I always have. This practice of seeing the penguins as soon as we get there first started when I was a child and I still do it when I go back to visit. After I see the penguins, I don't care where we go. I am happy.

I couldn't wait to share these magnificent birds with the kids and hurried them into the penguin house. As soon as we got inside, I unstrapped Kirsten from her stroller, put her up on my shoulders and turned around to see this:

"OK, let's see what's happening on the other side of the enclosure."

We moved further down to get away from the happy couple and were met with another public penguin porn performance. However, this time it was more like a penguin orgy. There were at least half a dozen penguin couples getting an early jump on the day…and each other. As much as I love penguins, I decided that maybe we should come back later. I don't allow guests in my bedroom to watch without paying admission and since the St. Louis Zoo is free, this just didn't feel right. Plus, I had my kids with me.

We worked our way up the hill to Big Cat Country to take in the jungle cats. My kids lost interest in the leopard pretty quickly because it just sat there.  The panther couldn't be seen, but the tigers were much more playful.

In the very next enclosure, the lions were up to the same thing. My wife commented that the animals seem to be enjoying the springtime weather as much as we were.

About 20 minutes later, we learned that the monkey house was not the place to be right now either. I will spare you the pictures. They are much more graphic.

We left the zoo after being there less than two hours, but in that time we got to see elephants, buffalo, three different species of bear, antelopes and even snakes getting it on. We decided that in future years, we would wait until later in the season to visit the zoo.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Y - Yoga

I don't do yoga. My wife does yoga. She does all the yoga. The doggy style pose, the missionary position, the sexy lotus. I don't really know the names very well, but she did talk me into doing yoga with her once. It didn't go well. I got bored pretty quickly and the instructor kept expecting me to move (like, over and over again). Not really my thing.

However, I am very happy that she does yoga. She really seems to enjoy it, which makes her happy and I like her to be happy. Plus, she wears tiny outfits to do it and she isn't self-conscious knowing that I am watching. This makes me happy. It's good for all the people involved. I just don't want to actually participate.

Here's a list of other activities I do NOT partake in:
  • Aerobics
  • Zumba
  • Speed walking
  • Resistance training 
  • Tae-Bo
  • P90X
  • Spin classes 
  • Any sports
  • Free weights 
  • Failing to SuperSize it
  • Crossfit
  • Adult coloring books
  • Jogging
  • Anything requiring a FitBit 
  • Sweat to the Oldies 
  • Logging out of Twitter
  • Eat things not covered in cheese
Now, I don't want to give the impression that I avoid all physical activity. I do get physical when the need arises. Here are some examples:
  • Answering the door when the pizza arrives
  • Searching for the TV remote
  • Charging my phone
  • Active listening when my wife speaks
  • Covering food with cheese
  • Digging to the back of the fridge 
  • Numerous daily instances of exaggerated eye rolls
Now, that I live in China, I am surrounded by people doing Tai Chi. In fact, there are tons of people in the park and on street corners every morning doing Tai Chi.

I don't do Tai Chi either.

Friday, April 27, 2018

X - Xenoglossophobia

     noun - fear of foreign languages

Pictures don't do it justice
Several years ago, I took a trip to New York City with my daughter to see the Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. We came into town a few days early to take in the sites. We arrived at Times Square about midnight on a Thursday. The place was packed.

In addition to all the amazing billboards, I was fascinated by the number of languages I could hear spoken around us. Standing in one spot I heard German, Russian, Czech, French, Thai, and something that I believe was Klingon, but I couldn't be sure.

I love language. (I am not scared of it as the title suggests, but you come up with a topic starting with 'X'.) I loved learning Spanish and trying to communicate when I lived in San Juan. I currently live in Beijing and am surrounded by Mandarin speakers all day every day. My wife and I have taken lessons to better our communications here, but she is much further advanced than I am. I get excited talking to people from other countries, getting to know them and hearing their stories.

The college I went to had a foreign students night once a year. They encouraged all students from other countries to cook something from their homeland and bring it to a big fellowship dinner. I had some neighbors from Thailand and Burma who decided to collaborate and make a dish both families enjoyed. I was helping them with this meal and found myself left out of their conversation as they all spoke their common language of Lisu. I had no idea what they were saying and did my best not to mess up the food. They spent so much time laughing at me, I am sure I did it wrong.

Since getting my Master's degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), I have the opportunity to be surrounded by other languages at all times. It can be overwhelming occasionally, but I love it.

Language is fascinating.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

W - Water

Every time I see someone on Facebook or Twitter make some sort of remark about the Flint Michigan water situation, it irks me a little. Not because that situation isn't wrong, but because I live in a city of 28 million (Beijing) and the water here isn't safe either and no one says anything.

Now, the situation in Flint is a little different because it had something to do with some shady, behind-the-scenes deals and the public was not told about what was being done. That sucks and I am not defending it in any way, so please don't attack me over that in the comments.

However, stating that the people of Flint to not have access to clean drinking water is not true.

It's not.

If it were true, they would all be dead by now.

It is true that they cannot drink water straight out of the tap, but that doesn't mean they don't have access to clean water.

And this HUGE problem is just the way things are in much of the world.

I've lived in Beijing for the last 18 months and know that we cannot drink the water. In this huge city, the water is unsafe and there are no protests about it. The water is not only full of bacteria that could make you very very sick, but it has high metal content from the deteriorating pipes.

This problem is not just in Beijing. I have traveled around China and it is the same in every city I've been in.

I was in Ankara, Turkey a few years ago and we were warned do not drink the tap water. It must be filtered first.

I was in Vietnam a few weeks ago and was given the same warning. Do not drink. It's unsafe.

Now, in all of these places (Beijing, Ankara, Danang, Flint), a person has access to bottled water and various filtration systems. It is not ideal, but there is clean water to drink. It is only in Flint where it seems to be inexcusable.

In large parts of the world, people don't have clean water at all. They don't have access to clean bottled water and just have to make due with the dirty stuff. And their health suffers because of it.

Once again, I am not excusing the actions of the bureaucrats who created the Flint situation. However, I am suggesting that people having a situation the same as most of the rest of the planet is not the end of the world.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

V - Violin

I do not play the violin nor have I ever wanted to, but I bet I'd be a pretty hard-core fiddler.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

U - Uppity

My wife and I are both doing this challenge and for S she wrote about snobbery and the few things that she believes she is a bit snobbish about. Her top two were coffee and grammar.

A few days ago we were out walking and we tried to think about what I am snobbish (uppity) about. The first few she mentioned, I didn't agree with. Liking things a certain way (steaks) or a particular type of something (Harleys) just means you know what you like. I think you can even be picky without being snobbish. But she did mention one I couldn't argue away.


Whether in a TV show, a book or a movie, I demand a cohesive storyline. I have a tendency to pick plots apart. I've always done this. As a kid, I used to count how many times the boom mike dipped into view in a movie. (It happens over two dozen times in the 80's movie 9 to 5.) I cringe when a computer tech character makes a computer do something that computers can't do or uses nonsense lingo because the writers didn't take the time to look up the proper term. I find it difficult to believe in a character when he makes choices that may further the plot, but are inconsistent with his character.

I've always had this tendency, but it has grown much worse in the last couple of years. I have been working on a novel and have been reading tons of books on character and plot development, creating dialogue, world-building, and setting a scene. I read these books to help me hone my skills, but it has also helped me to see the faults in other writing much more clearly.

This doesn't mean that I think I am better than these other writers, but the inconsistencies and plotholes I see are often so glaring that I can't even enjoy the movie or book. I do feel pretty snobbish about it.

Now, I just need to learn to keep these thoughts to myself because I am not sure that they are appreciated.

Actually, I'm pretty sure they're not appreciated.

Monday, April 23, 2018

T - Traveling Entertainment

Several years ago, I had a job as a courier (which is just a fancy word for deliveryman). I mostly delivered office supplies, but I had a few contracts that involved me delivering blood for the Red Cross and the occasional biopsy sample for a medical firm. The office supplies were always delivered around town, but when I had medical deliveries, I was on the road for a while.

He quit talking to me
for some reason.
I usually had to deliver to St. Louis (90 miles from my house), but I didn't always make the pick-up in my hometown. Sometimes, I had to drive for a few hours to even get the product. These trips varied from 180 to 450 miles round trip. In addition to these trips being long, they were always done in the evenings after I had already gotten off my regular route. For this reason, I was usually tired before I even started the trip and often needed help staying awake. And as much as I love caffeine and its glorious side effects, there is only so much coffee and Mt Dew a person can drink before it begins to revolt against your system.

Apparently, it is illegal to talk on the phone while driving and my Candy Crush scores tend to suffer when I can't give the game my full attention, so I was always looking for ways to pass the time. On road trips, this is not an issue because I can pull over at any time to look at anything that catches my eye. When making deliveries, I was on a schedule. It didn't take me long to learn that texting passed the time fairly quickly.

NOTE: My phone was voice activated and the texts were read to me over my stereo system. So, I was not looking at my phone. My eyes were on the road. Sometimes I drove with my feet to entertain myself, but I was always looking at the road.

Recently, while going through my phone, I found one of those texting conversations. It was getting late and I needed someone to talk to. So, I shot a text to my brother Kyle. It turned out he was on the road also and even had other people in the vehicle with him, but I was not deterred. Despite the fact that he didn't stay in the conversation for very long, I tried to keep it going since I had an audience.

That conversation is included on the right.
I didn't feel bad about it. Kyle has a long history of trying to tie up people's time on the phone. Back in the 80's when answering machines still used miniature cassette tapes, Kyle would talk long enough to use up the entire tape. If the machine had a 30-second cutoff, he would just keep calling back until it was used up. He still does this today, but in today's digital world, there is an almost unlimited amount of time. I have received many voicemail messages from him that lasted longer than the Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended versions).

Now that I don't have that job anymore, I have to find new ways to be annoying. 

Kyle's actually pretty good
at being annoying himself.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

S - Separate

Living on the other side of the world has its difficulties, but a person can grow accustomed to almost anything. After a while, it just becomes your life. However, things happen now and then to remind you that you are very far away. My grandmother died earlier this month and there was no way I could get home. It was alright. I didn't need to go home, but it made me reflect on how difficult it would be if I needed to make a last minute trip.

If one of my kids (now adults) got grievously injured, how quickly could I get there?

I warned both my kids when I left the country that if either of them ever decides to get married, they better give me sufficient notice. That's not something I would want to miss.

In addition to important family events, there are all the small things that we just miss out on:
  • The latest thing Trump said or did
  • Major news events (school shootings, political scandals, celebrity gossip, etc)
  • Newest hit TV shows or movies
  • The latest book everyone is reading
Not being up-to-date on these things is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I don't even miss it or realize that I've missed something significant. It's not until I'm talking from someone back home and they'll start to mention the new law that went into effect that has everyone up in arms and I have no idea what they are talking about.

Last month, my brother mentioned a piece of new information that had come about concerning one of the mass shootings and I wasn't even aware that it had happened.

When I first got here, I made a point to keep up with the news, but to really know what is going on when you aren't constantly being bombarded with it all the time by television, radio, internet, and work conversations, it's a real chore to keep up with. Plus, I had this entirely new culture that I needed to start learning about and figuring out. It didn't take long before I started paying attention to the news over here because there were things that were much more pertinent to my current situation.

Unless it's your job, it's very difficult to be up on what is going on all over the world all the time. Years ago, a group of us had gone out to eat after a late-night work meeting and we were all sitting around joking when one of the group said something that caused us all to roar with laughter. Except for one guy.

He had a big smile on his face, but said: "I don't get it."

Now, I don't remember the joke specifically, but it made a vague reference to the Wizard of Oz. This is a movie that is so ingrained in our culture, that any reference to flying monkeys, a house falling on a witch, the Yellow Brick Road, ruby slippers, or Munchkins should be immediately understood. The problem with this man understanding the joke was that he was from Turkey and had only lived in the States for about six years. This movie was not part of his cultural heritage and no amount of explaining what had just been said would help him to see why it was funny.

Similar situations happen in our house now and then. I married a woman who spent a lot of years overseas as a kid. In fact, a large portion of the 80's (my decade), she was absent for. Much of the music, movies and major news events of that time that people my age all have vivid memories of, she never experienced. And, now and then, a conversation will happen which showcases that hole in her American cultural experience.

One day, we will be back in the States. I have no idea how far in the future that day will be, but I do know that we will be quite ignorant of everything that has happened in America from 2016 up to that day. If we end living near you, please be understanding when you mention the latest episode of that great show you love and we just stare at you blankly. Not only have we not watched it, but we may not even know what you're talking about.

Friday, April 20, 2018

R - Roam

I grew up a country boy. I lived between two small towns in southern Illinois. Waltonville had a population of 400 and Scheller had less than 50 people. Waltonville had a funeral home/hardware store and the Scheller post office was also the tavern. Neither of these statements are meant to be jokes. This is true.

I knew every person within miles of my home and every nook and cranny of the woods, paths, backyards, creeks, roads, and railroad tracks around. That whole area was our playground and we used it well.

Now, I live in Beijing, a city of 28 MILLION.

There are more people who live in my apartment building than lived in those two towns combined. I will never get to know everyone even if I do master Chinese.

One of the great things about living in a city this big is knowing that I will never get to see all of it. My wife and I love to explore and there is plenty to see. There are always new restaurants, tourist attractions, museums, foods, parks, etc. We'll never experience all of it even after wandering the streets for years.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q - Quilts

For a good portion of my life, my grandmother lived right in our backyard. Not literally in the backyard. I mean, she had a house back there. My mother's mother (Mary Jane) lived behind us when I was very young until I was about 8 or 9.

In my teen years, my father's mother (Margaret) lived behind us. I have many memories of being able to walk out of the house and be in one of their homes within seconds. It's great to have grandparents so close.

Grandma Margaret was a quilter. Most of the time, when you walked into her house, she would be working on a quilt. I have no idea how many she made, but those quilts are everywhere. Every family member has several of her quilts. Looking around, I have two in this room right now.

Quilting is not something I have ever particularly cared about, but I was always very interested in Grandma's quilts. I can remember many times upon walking into her house, she would want to show me her latest pattern. She would be trying something new and wanted to show it off. The only pattern name I can remember today is the log cabin pattern, but I used to know several more.

She's been gone seven or eight years now, but I always think of her every time I see one of her quilts. I have several I even brought to China with me, so I see them often. Hopefully, they will last forever.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P - Pickles and Popcorn

I have written about China much more during this challenge than I had intended to, but it's always on my mind so, it is what it is.

The first few months of us being here resulted in me losing 40 pounds. FORTY POUNDS! I felt pretty good not carrying around that extra weight. That's like six or seven newborn babies and I don't even like to hold even one of those.

The reason for this radical weight loss was because of the sudden change of diet we experienced when moving here. Now, I love the food here. I really do. Although, it in no way resembles what we have been told in the States is Chinese food.

Now, however much I may like the food here, sometimes a person wants food from their home country. And for the most part, we can track down the things we crave. But sometimes it's a real challenge…if not totally impossible.

It took a while for us to find a decent pizza and even longer to track down cheese (most Chinese are lactose intolerant). Bread is basically nonexistent here and their interpretations of some of our foods are enough to make you cry.

Pickles is one of the items we have never really seen. It's just not a Chinese thing and in the few few few Western restaurants that serve a sandwich that may have pickles on it, the pickles are very obviously made locally and they only loosely fit that definition. Especially since Chinese cucumbers look more like a zucchini than the vegetable we are familiar with.

Next is the popcorn. We can find popcorn, but they prepare it very differently here. ALL popcorn here is served sweet. It's covered in several varieties of flavored sugar. It's not bad, but sometimes you want salted buttery popcorn and that does not exist here.

We finally tracked down plain popcorn and started making it for ourselves.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O - Orlando

I have never been there.

Monday, April 16, 2018

N - Nope

Living in China has definitely had its challenges. I have written about many of them several times, but I'm not going to get into those again here. It has also had many advantages and my wife and I can both say that we have learned a lot.

One of the areas where I feel like I have grown has been developing the ability to say "NO".

As long as I can remember, I have been what many would call a people-pleaser. I just want everyone to be happy. I accept invitations to things I really don't want to go to. I get roped into helping people move. I take on projects at work that are not my job or sometimes even beyond my expertise. I join clubs I'm not really interested in. I agree to many things that I would never come up with or do on my own.

Being willing to help out in general sounds like a good trait to have and it definitely has its perks while scoring you lots of points with friends and employers. However, it has a major disadvantage if not kept in check.

I often find myself stretched way too thin and over-stressed.

This is something I have been aware of for years and have been actively trying to combat it, but since coming to China, I've really gotten a handle on it. Here's how it came about.

As a brand-new foreigner in a strange country, I often had no idea what was going on. Plus, I was always trying to be super-aware and sensitive to cultural differences. And there are plenty. The most difficult for me to adjust to was the method of communication. Without getting into all the nuances of how this works, let me just give my early perception.

Chinese people don't like to tell you anything.

Now, this is not true, but it certainly seemed that way. Especially at work. My boss would withhold information that I felt I needed to know. For example:
  • my work schedule
  • holidays
  • changes in pay
  • corporate policies
  • upcoming commitments
  • class cancellations
The list could go on and on. All of these issues are rarely problems today, but when I first got here, it was maddening. Basically, this breaks down to a difference in cultural expectations. These are all things that I felt I needed to know. However, the typical Chinese employee would never demand these things of their boss. They just do what they're told.

When I first arrived, huge projects would be dumped on me with no advance notice and I would just do it while complaining only to my wife. I would get up early to go to work only to discover upon arrival that it was a holiday. Not being Chinese, I'm not familiar with their holidays and no one ever informed me of anything.

Part of the reason I did this was because I am a people-pleaser. I wanted to be a good little employee. But I was also a little terrified. I'm clear on the other side of the world with very little money. I just couldn't afford to rock the boat and possibly lose my job and get deported.

After a few months, I began to realize that finding work as a white-faced, native English speaker in China is as easy as getting wet when it rains. Jobs just fall into your lap. Seriously, I am offered three or four jobs a week every week.

Once I realized that I could have another job within hours if I lost the one I had, the fear was gone and I started to speak up. When my boss told me that I had to do a presentation to the Chinese English teachers at another school the next morning, I told her I couldn't do it.

This concept was very difficult for her to understand. We talked for over twenty minutes with her wording it in different ways before she finally realized that I was flat refusing and would not budge. I told her that the magnitude of what she wanted done required at least a week's notice if she wanted anything of quality. I was tired of doing crappy work that I hadn't had time to prepare for.

She was dumbfounded because she was not accustomed to employees telling her no, but I stuck to my guns. Soon, I started refusing to go to extra meetings. I did this because the meetings were all in Chinese and I do not speak Chinese. There was no point in me being there, especially since nothing being discussed pertained to me anyway.

I started saying no to going to their extra events just so they could show off their foreign teacher. Unless they wanted to pay me extra (which they didn't).

I studied my contract and learned exactly what my responsibilities were and I did them well, but if they wanted extra I had some conditions.
  • I had to agree to it
  • I had to have proper advance notice
  • They had to pay for it
Since making these changes,  my life has become so much better and less stressful. I've even started carrying these practices over into my personal life. When Christmas time rolled around and the invitations started coming from everywhere, I didn't just accept every invitation. I turned down the ones I didn't want to go to and made sure not to do too many in one week. Added stress is not fun.

And I've learned that it is perfectly okay to say no. People don't really even get upset. I know I feel a lot better.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

M - Minor

My name is Brett Minor and has been for as long as I can remember.

For the most part, a name is just a name. It is one of the ways that you are identified to the world, but anytime you have a name that is also a common word it becomes a joke that takes on a life of its own.

Growing up, my father was a coal miner. I know the spelling is different, but Mike Minor the Miner tickled a lot of people.

"Mike, you were born for this job."

I do see the humor in the joke and enjoy a clever pun, but for some reason, every person who told this joke seemed to think they were the first person to think of it. In reality, they were the 378th person to think of it that day. The jokes never stopped coming. I've heard thousands over the course of my life. However, it was actually only about three jokes told over and over and over and over again.

I can't ever walk past one of these signs
without it being pointed out to me.

I don't think I have ever been in a bar without someone pointing out, "Hey, you're not supposed to be in here."

Back in the days when I would still get carded, the occasional bartender would say, "Sorry. Can't serve minors" and then laugh himself half to death as he showed my ID around.

Every new girl I ever dated would be warned, "You know he's a minor, right? Don't get yourself in trouble." Everybody within earshot would laugh and laugh as I smiled and nodded my head to play along.

Now, I love a good joke and understand that it is just good-natured ribbing. It's what guys do to each other. The only reason I have a problem with these jokes is because I have been hearing them for almost 50 years now and they haven't changed at all. For me, they are so old. Everybody groans at the guy who says, "Working hard or hardly working?" because the joke has been played into the ground and the person telling it should know better. However, with my name, they haven't all heard it thousands of times. It's new to them, so I just play along.

It wasn't until I got married to Red that I heard a new take on my name. She comes from a very musically inclined family, so their jokes are based on minor keys or chords. It was refreshing to hear new jokes about my name finally.

For the first year.

Friday, April 13, 2018

L - Loss

A couple of years ago, I had to have periodontal surgery. It's not fun. My front bottom teeth are compacted together. They are very very tight, which makes it very difficult to get them cleaned properly since dental floss doesn't even like to get in between some of them.

Throughout the rest of my mouth, everything is fine. but the bottom front has always been difficult. I have one tooth in particular that has been especially troublesome. And about two months ago, it became very very loose.

It's loose enough that sometimes if I bite into something wrong it puts pressure on the tooth and presses it in an uncomfortable direction. I eventually could noticably wiggle it with my tongue.

But this morning, I had enough and ventured out to see what Beijing has to offer in the world of dentistry.

After trying a few places that couldn't fit me in today, I met a guy on the subway who recommended a place at the next stop. It was on the second floor of a hotel, but he suggested I go since they were rarely busy.

It was great. I was in and out of there in under and hour and only paid about $165 for an X-ray, teeth cleaning and a tooth extraction. It's times like this that I love China.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

K - Kelso

I'm sitting here watching That 70's Show and enjoying the exploits of everyone's favorite idiot Micheal Kelso.

Kelso may have been the moron on that show, but one of his endearing qualities was his willingness to do just about anything someone dared him to do. Every time I watch this show, I am reminded of the guy we had in our group who had that same quality.

His name was John and was never one to turn down a challenge. Although, he was no idiot. He just enjoyed a good time and usually made us pass the hat around before doing whatever he was about to do.

John would be the one to walk out on the ice when the pond froze over to test it for the rest of us. He would climb to the top of a tree so we could cut it down while he was in it. He would eat the stuff we found in the back of the fridge that didn't look like it could be trusted. He would sit in a port-o-potty when we tipped it over so we could see what happened. John was great to have around. He was always good for entertainment.

Of course, anything would have worked. We were usually pretty drunk when we came up with this stuff.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

J - Jokes

If you know me personally, then you know that I like to be the funny guy. I love making people laugh. But it's more than that. I need it. I'm almost like an addict. If I haven't gotten a good laugh out of someone in a while, I tend to get a little stupid in public going for the cheap chuckles. This was not something I took into consideration when I moved to China.

The people here do not find me funny.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you are well aware that just about everything I post is jokes. I make fun of everything and try to see the humor in any situation and figure out how to laugh at it. I am especially skilled at sarcasm. Unfortunately, sarcasm almost never translates well into Chinese. It is just not part of their culture.

My first week in China was mostly filled with meetings and training on the expectations of my job as an English teacher to small children. After a particularly lengthy speech from my trainer, I raised my hand and asked: "How many children are we allowed to choke each week?"

She looked confused, so I mimicked choking the person next to me to help her understand. She whispered something to her boss who shook her head and whispered something back. She then lowered her voice and looked me dead in the eye. "We don't do that here."

In the States, I'm used to laughter around me almost all the time, but here I almost never get it.

The Chinese do have senses of humor and love a good joke, but their jokes are very different from ours. Most of their humor seems to be based on puns. They love words that sound similar to other words. And since Chinese has a limited number of sound combinations, there are many many many words that are very similar if not exactly identical. And since my Chinese isn't strong enough to make the jokes they like, I generally just get a lot of awkward looks.

So, I put my jokes on social media. Now, China does not have Facebook or Twitter. They have other apps. The one I use is called WeChat. I thought having the written words in front of them would help, but it did not. Here are some screenshots.

I'm going to hire her to be my dietician.

I have tried many times to explain to my students what happened here.
The semantics of language sometimes cause confusion.
They understand that but fail to see why it's funny.

At least she has my best interests at heart.

Yeah, Peggy. We all do.

Violetta will not be fooled.

I have a Ukranian friend who takes my jokes and sends them to his Chinese friends and then sends me screenshots of their responses.

Her sense of justice has been triggered.

Yeah, Peggy, that's kind of the point.

Well, pretty much everything,
but that's not the point.

Are you sure? Maybe you need to meet more people.

As you may have already guessed,
Irving is not much fun at parties.

Violetta's a little girl,
so laughing at her makes me feel bad.

Well, technically no…that's where the joke part comes in.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I - Income Tax (as an American in China)

My wife and I just finished doing our taxes last week. Just like many of other people all across the States. However, ours were a little different this year.

No part of our income came from America. We live in China and were here for the entire 2017 calendar year. Nevertheless, we still have to file taxes in the States.

Didn't know that, did you?

I didn't.

Apparently, there are only two countries in the entire world that make you pay taxes to your home country even if you aren't living there.

The United States and Eritrea.

Eritrea is not one of the lands of Middle Earth or a planet from the Star Wars universe. It's a real place that agrees with America on bleeding its citizens regardless of where they live. For many expats around the world, this means double taxation since we are already paying taxes in the country we reside in.

Luckily, we do not fall in the double taxation group because of the FEIE (Foreign Earned Income Exclusion). It can get a little complicated, but if you qualify and we do it means you don't have to pay any taxes for money earned abroad unless your income is over $101,300. And I didn't even come close. But you still have to file. Income has to be reported regardless.

There are two ways to qualify to get this exclusion. There is the Physical Presence Test which typically applies to those people who are jumping from country to country all the time and don't really have a home base, but the paperwork can get quite complex. For us, we passed the Bona Fide Residence Test. This was easier because we were able to establish that we had been in China for most of the year. However, it took some proving that we weren't just traveling. Here's some things the U.S. looks favorably on when trying to get out of paying taxes:
  • Establishment of a temporary home in a foreign country for an indefinite period (ie. by having a long term lease or owning a home there).
  • General assimilation; participation in communities on the social and cultural level. So go ahead and get that library card and gym membership.
  • Physical presence in the foreign country, meaning that you do have to be living there.
  • Marital status and residence of the family — if you have a local spouse or family members there, it helps.
  • Assumption of economic burdens and payment of local taxes.
  • Other documentation such as health insurance, local bank account info or a drivers license.
 Since we could provide documentation for all of this except for the gym membership, we were good to go. No taxes to be paid to the U.S. The amount we paid here were plenty high enough. I was grateful to get out of paying more.

Monday, April 9, 2018

H - Hibernation

Spring is finally starting to raise its sexy beautiful head. I am so happy to see it. Living in China, the government decided when you do or do not need heat and this year there was a cold snap a week after the March 15 date of cutting the Beijing heat supply. It was a long week of being bundled up and wearing two pairs of wool socks. Luckily, the temperature has gotten above freezing today. I think the worst of it is behind us.

I'm not just happy to see spring because I live in the midst of communism and am not allowed to make my own personal care decisions. I have always been this way. I despise cold weather. Hate it. In fact, I'm not sure there is a strong enough word in the English language to accurately describe the way I feel about being cold.

I have written about this (click here) on numerous occasions. I hate it and react to it the same way every winter. I hole up inside my apartment and basically refuse to come out unless I have to go to work or my wife tricks me with food.

Plus, now I have gotten older which seems to make the cold even more difficult to tolerate and I have developed rheumatoid arthritis throughout most of the joints in my body and the cold really makes them ache. It also takes much longer in the morning to get my joints to loosen up each morning when it is cold. Getting old sucks. But the cold sucks anyway. Old or not.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

G - Grandma

I got a message earlier this week that my grandmother had died. She was 97 years old and had been sick for a while, so it didn't come as a big surprise. However, it made me feel a little helpless being all the way on the other side of the world in China.

Grandma Mary Jane was my mother's mother. When I was very young, she lived in a mobile home behind our house. This was awesome because grandma (the lady with the cookies, the cool games, and the always running air conditioning) lived right next door. My father had a crippling fear of using any appliance that might raise the electric bill, so her house was a favorite in the summertime.

About the time I turned 10, she moved from behind our house in Illinois to Arizona. Like many old people, she felt the call to a warmer climate. However, instead of Florida, she opted for the desert. After that move, she really wasn't a part of my life anymore. I might see her once a year when she would come back to the Midwest in the wintertime to see all her kids, but that was about it.

Once she got significantly older, my mother and her siblings made the decision that grandma needed to come back to the Midwest to be closer to the family. She didn't want to come back, but there had been several medical scares and it was getting more and more difficult for her to care for herself.

She was in and out of the hospital and various nursing homes over the years. There were several years when we were told we needed to go to Missouri to spend Christmas with Grandma because this will be our last holiday with her, but somehow she always held on.

One year I came home from college to visit the family for the weekend and Mom suggested we all take a trip to see Grandma since I was home. My eyes got wide and I turned to my brother, "Grandma's still alive?!" I thought it was funny.

For a little more perspective on how this joke works let me mention that this happened in the mid-90's and we were already joking about how grandma would never die. She had been on her deathbed dozens of times and somehow always got well enough to even go back to her own home.

Look at that date again. The mid-90's!

That's over 20 years ago.

So, if we were already noticing the pattern back then, try to take a guess at how many more times this happened since then.

I know this sounds jaded, but she was a loved woman. She was just really good at teasing everyone, but 5 days ago the teasing came to an end. She met her end due to pneumonia that she just couldn't beat this time.

Fortunately, the last time I was in the States, I was flying out of St. Louis which is where my grandmother was in a nursing home. So, I got to see her last August.

She stomped me at cards.
Always did.

I'm glad I was able to get that last visit in. It was great to know that her mind stayed sharp right up until the end.

Friday, April 6, 2018

F - Firewall

I love the internet. LOVE IT! All those statistics about how much time people spend on their computers every day that sound so depressing can be tripled when applied to me. I read blogs, check the news, post on social media, watch YouTube videos, download movies, do my banking and tons of other stuff.

When I lived in the States, I used it for most of my shopping, booking tickets to anywhere, finding coupons, ordering food, etc. I love love love the internet and fully believe in using it to its full potential.

However, my usage of it has changed drastically in the last couple of years.

Now, I live in China and the internet is a totally different animal over here. It is highly restricted. Whereas using the internet in the States is like a massive orgy in the mud at a rock concert, the internet in China is like doing it with a comatose patient and you're triple wrapped with condoms.

The Chinese government is very proud of what they call the 'Golden Firewall.' The people of China cannot access any non-Chinese social media. Here are just a few of the banned sites:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • tumblr
  • Instagram
They also don't allow most non-Chinese news sites:
  • Fox News
  • CNN
  • TIME
  • Al Jazeera
  • Huffington Post 
They don't allow anything Google:
  • Google maps
  • Blogger
  • YouTube
  • Gmail
And no streaming video sites:
  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Amazon Prime
  • HBO Go
All of these services have their own Chinese version. However, they are all heavily monitored. Saying the wrong thing can get you in a lot of trouble. Don't ever say anything against the government or the Communist Party and as certain events happen they often add to the list of even specific words you cannot use. Here's a link to an article of new restrictions from the last month.

Click the picture to read the article

To even be able to access sites like this (or even my blog) a person in China needs to use a VPN which basically fools the internet provider into thinking you are accessing the internet from a server in another country. It's not legal, but it's the only way to get news from outside China. New laws are passed all the time to penalize people who are caught using them and people who provide them.

For those of you who are reading this and screaming at their screen "YOU IDIOT. YOU ARE POSTING RIGHT NOW ABOUT HOW YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW!!!" You can relax.

I am not breaking the law. I am writing this up in a Microsoft Word document and emailing it to my brother for him to upload to Blogspot since I do not have access to it.

I really miss Netflix.