Thanksgiving Abroad

I know it’s an American holiday, and mostly its purpose is to put way too much food into you face hole. (That’s my favorite part at least!) but the point of Thanksgiving is to take a moment to talk about the things that you are thankful for that normally get taken for granted. Being abroad instead of at home with my family, has been both great and terrible at the same time. I get to appreciate so many things so much more than I would if I were home, but I miss those things even more because I’m here. In my classes on Thursday we went around the room explaining things that we were thankful for. So I thought I would do the same thing here.

-I’m thankful for my good health. Despite China’s best efforts to kill me with wild traffic, and pollution.

-I’m thankful for the supportive family and friends that talk with me every week so I don’t get depressed and homesick. These peeps are keeping my mind off being really bummed out when I want to go to home brew beer with my dad, eat a burrito and play with dogs.

-I’m thankful for the awesome staff at the university for always taking care of us even when they don’t always understand why we do what we do. They are so helpful and I wouldn’t be able to survive here without them. They’re the reason I get to do 80% of the cool stuff I get to do. This is Vivian KILLING IT with her skillful selfies.IMG_0220[1]

-I’m thankful that I have some of the best students ever and that I have the best times in the classroom. These dudes and ladies are by and large the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. It’s like having 100 children of my own but they haven’t grown to resent me yet. I know I will miss them so bad when I go home.

IMG_0360-Most of all I’m thankful that I could have the opportunity to come to China and to have it blow my mind with new ideas and a new understanding of the world and how it works. It’s been a wild experience and I can’t believe I’ll be going home in a little over two months.

IMGP3111I’m also pretty darn thankful for Katie and that she was crazy enough to do this with me. She’s been such a trooper. She helps me out with damn near everything and makes sure I don’t accidentally kill myself 24/7. mad props, boo.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Trapped! Tale of an Escape Room Survivor

I remember loading up these flash games about 10-ish years ago, wherein you the nameless/faceless protagonist are trapped within a room of a certain color.  These games are fun in a really creepy sort of way. The object of the game is to escape from the room but this can only be accomplished by completing a series of puzzles. Usually this involves several weird seemingly unconnected objects and a lot of lateral thinking. At times, they may seem impossible, but you know that you have been given the tools to save yourself, it’s just your dumb brain that’s keeping you away from that sweet, sweet freedom.

Crimson Room by Toshimitsu Takagi

Crimson Room by Toshimitsu Takagi

Yesterday, my students told me we were going to play this game together but in real life. If you’ve ever played one of these games, you know the kind of headache-inducing anxiety these games can bring even when you have the ability to close out a window any point.

Four of my students and I arrived at this apartment complex on middle street, which is the main shopping area in Shenyang. We went up the 16th floor and down a tiny narrow hallway. I was really excited but still nervous because I have no idea what I’ve signed up for. The proprietor of the business shows us into this tiny space, tells us that we have 1 hour to get out. The blue numbers on the clock slowly ticking down doesn’t help. After a few minutes, the stress of being in this room evaporates and we start having a lot of fun. Everyone is grabbing everything in the room and basically yelling “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!” in both English and in Chinese.

To give you an idea of how this puzzle worked, I’ll give you the steps for this room in particular. Disclaimer: This was not figured out so simply and there was lots of backtracking and trying so many things while freaking out and shouting ideas.

First, there is a dictionary on a bookshelf. Inside of the dictionary there is a safe with a key. We moved around another cabinet on the other side of the room and found the key hanging on a hook behind it. Second, inside the book safe there is a pencil, eraser and paper with a math equation written very heavily on it. The math problem doesn’t add up correctly. When examined more closely, there was pen writing inside the numbers that gave us 3 numbers that opened a lockbox inside the cabinet mentioned earlier. Inside the lockbox was a #1 pool ball, and a Rubiks cube that didn’t move. There were 5 paintings on the walls, a big black light and loads of strange things. All of the weird objects in the room corresponded with the paintings. Pool player painting = Billards ball, Munch’s “The Scream” = Scream mask, Eiffel Tower Painting = Figurine of Eiffel tower. Each of these things had a color on them. Third(I guess?), the if the colors on the Rubiks cube were counted, you could put the paintings in order based on the objects with their color. Fourth, once the paintings were in order, four switches needed to be pressed in the room at the same time and the black lights would come on, revealing hidden numbers on the back of the paintings. This code opened the door… to another room just like this.

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This is Jack and Nick trying to figure out why the lights have letters on them.

We were so close! We ended up running out of time. We solved everything in the second room except for the very last thing. The room’s owner told us we needed to flip our keycode over because the whole room was upside down. (OF COURSE!) We laughed a lot and it feels really good when your suggestion gets you to the next step. By the end, our brains were throbbing out of skulls and I demanded coffee or beer. The boys agreed and we settled on some delicious milk tea before heading to the arcade. At the arcade, I ran into some more of my students and they told us they just escaped from a room too! But, it seems it was a different one. There are apparently a lot of these in Shenyang and they’re pretty popular.

Which makes me wonder if people would get a kick out of escape room games in America or if this something that would only fly in Asia. If anything I think it’d be perfect for Halloween. I can’t wait to go back.

Counter-Strike Laser Tag

School is back in full swing. It started up around 3 weeks ago. I now have 2 more classes than I had last semester. So needless to say things are really busy around these here parts. I have mostly different students but luckily managed to retain one class from last semester.  That would be Class 122 and they are my real buds. Their English level is great, they work really hard, but most importantly they got the memo that I’m a real cool dude that somehow most of the world managed to misplace. Because they’re really cooperative in class, we do lots of fun activities and sometimes hang out outside of class. We’ve gone to the movies, ate pizza and most recently we played laser tag.

Except my students don’t call it “laser tag,” they call it CS, which I’m assuming “Counter-Strike” because video games are pretty prevalent here. It’s also probably a safe bet on account of all the equipment required and the amount of times I shamelessly shouted “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” (That last part may or may not be false.)

My students and I bussed about an hour north of Shenyang to this little place… I don’t know where to begin when describing it, so I’ll do what I normally do and explain an elaborate story that a much more eloquent man than I could summarize in a few words. Imagine if some rather industrious people stumbled upon an abandoned warehouse complete with broken glass, rusty nails and overturned…everything in the middle of overgrown field. These industrious people then say “Yo, let’s build some little cinder block forts and get people to PAY US to come here.” This place is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and would never fly in America, but it’s a still a great time.

We arrive around 9am and strap on a few pounds of military surplus equipment (huge surprise there) in the little plaza area that this rickety ol’ business has established as its headquarters. We got split into two teams and became mortal enemies for the rest of the day. As we fought our friends, our little camouflage vests and helmets blinked, vibrated, beeped and screamed depending on our current state of marksmanship and mortality. I was an American terror on that battlefield.

Speaking of America and its terrors, I met a little boy around 10 years old while we were playing who, unlike the majority of Chinese folks, was more than unimpressed that I was from the US of A.  My brother-in-laser-arms and student, Fred, mentioned that he was around the age that kids join the Young Pioneers of China or “red scarves”. From what I can tell is like a Chinese nationalist version of the boy scouts. Fred went on to mention that many kids join this group, and when they grow up they realize we live in a world where no one country is perfect.  Eventually, this little boy grew to really like me. He always was huddled in my fort yelling “LAOWAI!” or “WAIGUOREN!” telling me to do stuff that I can only half understand.  Like I’m an idiot because I don’t know the Chinese for “move this cinderblock over here so I can stand on it and see over the wall.” He did speak a little bit of English though, and flipped out when I said his laser rifle was cool.

To be fair, it was pretty cool.

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Routine

It’s kind of crazy to think that I just handed in my grades for the first semester teaching English in China. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been here THAT long, but on the other hand it kind of does. My friend Melville once said that it doesn’t really matter where you go in the world, eventually you’ll fall into a routine and things will feel normal. While I don’t think he was trying to be particularly philosophical, that idea stuck with me.

While growing up, I thought it would be so exotic to live in a foreign country and see the world. I still feel a little bit this way or else I wouldn’t be here. But, I’ve realized that, like Mel said, once you buckle down and start living somewhere it’s all kind of the same. You still have to pay rent, you still need to think about what you’re going to eat for dinner and you still have to work. Even if no one can understand a word you’re saying.

When I first moved to Shenyang back in February, I was constantly bewildered by how different everything is from my home. From the flashy night signs, delicious fruit and other fried food street vendors to the psychopathic street crossings and above all ENORMOUS crowds of people.

20130710-234408.jpg5AM Morning Drills

It’s funny when I think back on it and how those things are a part of my everyday life now. I love street vendor food health codes be damned. I still love business signs wildly illuminating the streets. I’m even fearless in the face of oncoming traffic rolling 2+ wide in the wrong lane. Hell, crammed what feels like 100 people over capacity on the metro doesn’t even make me flinch.

20130710-234717.jpg Metro Friends!

Of course I still have to pay rent(kind of), of course I have to wonder what’s for dinner, and obviously I’m working. But it’s not boring. Life is really weird here and it doesn’t stop. Once you teach yourself to embrace the weird, life gets a lot easier here.

Things are finally settling in and China feels more like home now. Life isn’t nearly as exotic as I imagined growing up, but I’ll never look at my life the same way before I left.

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Go SWIBS!

I’m currently employed at Liaoning University teaching a ragtag group of go-getters. Like many universities, our school is comprised of numerous colleges. The college department I work in is called Sun Wah International Business School. It’s more commonly known by the name “S.W.I.B.S.” Twice a week, I invite four different groups of said enterprising youth to journey along with me as we explore the the wild and wonderful landscape that is business English. blegh. Though, they’re really good sports about it.

A week or two ago sometime, a few of my older students came to class wearing really nice matching jerseys asking to leave class early because they had a game. Turns out each college at the Liao Da (the Chinese abbreviation) has it’s own soccer team. After missing the first game because I wasn’t feeling so hot, I was able to join up with some of my sophomores and Gareth to head over to the field. We were able to snag a pretty good spot on the sideline amongst the team as we played the deadly fierce and aptly cut-throat economics department.

After an fairly uneventful first half with a score of 0-0, SWIBS put away 2 goals at the start of second half. But those damn economists scored two pretty great goals leveling it out to a solid 2-2 at the end of regulation. The game goes into sudden death overtime. Pressure was bearing down on our valiant footballers, but SWIBS squeaked by with really tricky goal ending the game 3-2. According to Parker, #10 on SWIBS, they’ll be advancing to the finals match which is this Wednesday. In my whole dang life, I never thought I’d be excited to see soccer. But I can’t wait for us to win the Liao Da Cup (or whatever they’re calling it.)

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I’ve never tried shooting sports photos before, so this was definitely a challenge. I’ve never wanted a telephoto lens more in my life. I managed to get a few decent shots. But, I now have crazy amount of respect for sports photographers after this. Especially, those that shoot in REALLY BIG arenas. Anticipating that key moment is so difficult!