Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For the man who has everything...

This is by far the most disturbing thing I have seen in a very, very long time - Burger King's new body spray, Flame... mmmm

Keep clicking on the "spray" button.. it just gets more frightening. Mmm... spray it! hahaha

Very clever little hoax... it is a hoax, right?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cold weather conspiracy

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but it seems like the Chinese government has a magic weather switch. Yesterday was the first official day of winter, and like clockwork, this morning I woke up to sub-freezing temperatures and icy winds whipping at my frailly paned bedroom windows. Yesterday, I hardly had to wear a jacket. Tonight, I'm sitting in my bathroom to write because there are heat lamps and it's the warmest place in my house. My other option was crawling up next to my oven, but that would mean sitting on the cold tile floor. Eek. The weather in this place is crazier than Texas.

This is not a new phenomenon. April 1, seemingly 10 degrees warmer than March 30th... July 1st, another jump... and with all too perfect timing, September 1st began the cool down from the summer swelter, then October 1st it dropped 10 degrees again and fall was here. It was shorts weather one day and sweater weather the next. Seriously, I think the whole change of seasons thing has been genetically engineered somehow. I heard stories that they put something in the clouds over Beijing for the Olympics to guarantee blue skies, why not a little temperature tampering too?

Or maybe we all live in a bubble and there really is a light switch somewhere. Then again, I would hate to think that global warming has been brought about by some jackass who watched too many late night infomercials in the mid-eighties or has a penchant for the Home Shopping Network... clap on (clap clap)... clap off (clap clap)... and I have lost my mind once again...

Adventures in Christmas cooking

I bought a turkey this week to roast up for Christmas dinner for all us orphans stranded in Shanghai for the holidays. I am praying that I don't have another repeat of the India incident - I'm not sure I could handle that again. (For those who didn't have the pleasure of hearing this story the first time around... I picked my frozen-solid bird up at the butcher with head, feet and innards intact. I didn't realize the innards were still there until about 1 am the night before the bird was supposed to go in the oven. I spent the next three hours elbow deep up a turkey's ass trying to wrangle his organs loose from the walls of his body cavity. Then an additional hour removing the rest of the feathers with a pair of pliers. I heard rumors that the turkey was delicious, but I couldn't bring myself to eat any of it, as we had been just a little too intimate.) Anway, I have hope this year, as this bird came wrapped in plastic with no signs of additional appendages. I won't know for sure, however, until his little butt flap of skin thaws and I can do a little spelunking in search of the giblets. If they are still attached on the inside, then I am forever giving up turkey-roasting. Not kidding.

I've already started cooking for the feast. At the moment I'm waiting for the first batch of cornbread for the dressing to come out of the oven. I'll make one more before I go to bed. This is my absolute favorite part of Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners. The dressing. None of this white bread stuffing crap for me. It's all about day old cornbread, tons of celery and onions, lots of sage, salt and pepper... mmm. I'm making lots of extra so I can freeze a little for the rest of the year.

Tomorrow night will be for making pies and the dressing, and then I'll take a half-day off on Wednesday to cook the bird. We've got about 10 people coming over for dinner and I can't wait. We managed to finagle Thursday and Friday off work, even though they aren't Chinese holidays. I guess since the entire team threatened to call in sick, they decided to make a little concession for us. Aw. Isn't that nice?

I have also been knitting up a storm, finishing a baby blanket for Mama Mia's little one, two Christmas tree hats for my nephews, and a couple of other secret projects that I probably won't get mailed out until after the New Year... but it's the thought that counts!!

And on a completely different note.. I have posted photos of my trip up Kilimanjaro here, but have yet to write anything about it. The whole experience was so intense and challenging and excrutiatingly personal that I'm not sure I could ever do it justice in words. I hope you'll enjoy the imagery though. It's pretty amazing how the scenery changed from day to day - from rain forest to desert plains to moonscape. Simply beautiful. *sigh*

Anyway, I've got to go get the cornbread out of the oven. I wish the Merriest of Merries to you and all your loved ones. Ho ho ho!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rules, schmules

DsChTrip 044
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.

Damn ragamuffins and psychopaths. I had to actually look up the word effluvium (a slight or invisible exhalation or vapor, esp. one that is disagreeable or noxious) and I'm still not sure what this sign means. No BO? No farting? Anyone care to venture a guess?

What does still amaze me, is that in a city like Shanghai, with a sizable foreign population and millions of tourists that come through a year, the government still cannot find one single native speaker to proofread public notices. Then again, I would be so less frequently entertained if they did so.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Catching up

I'm so far behind in posting photos and stories, its ridiculous. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't post any pictures from my recent trip to Africa before I posted the photos of my sister's trip to visit me here in China.... in July. After enough harassment from Mamma Mia (like your new nickname, dear?) in New Braunfels, I decided that I had better get off my behind and do something about the situation. And so we're off... (I'm only posting a few here, you can click on the title of this post and go see them all... all 300).

D was here for 2 weeks at the beginning of July and we really did make the most of it... touristed like crazy. First we took the overnight train to Beijing, were picked up straight from the train station and headed for a tour of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.

Temple of Heaven

The photo below is from our hike along an unrestored portion of the Great Wall between Jinshanling and Simatai - about 12 km or 4 miles. Fortunately/unfortunately it was hazy like this for the whole hike. Fortunately, because we would have died of heat stroke otherwise... unfortunately, all of my photos are grey like this.

Me & D on the Great Wall

From this photo it looks like we were walking alone the whole time, but that wasn't really the case. Along the way, you wind up with "guides", local farmers who supplement their living by selling souvenirs, water, even beer, to the tourists along the way. They also show you the shortcut paths around the more dangerous sections (thank you!) of the unrestored towers. Some of them spoke pretty good English and were really gracious about asking you to buy stuff at the end. Others, well, were your typical harassing street sellers that made you kinda want to push them off the Wall. We had the good favor of two very gracious farmers with us for the first half of the journey who warded off all the others.

We tooled around Beijing another day and a half with some friends of mine that live there then took off on another overnight train to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors of fame.

Not THE Terra Cotta Warriers.... but SOME terra cotta figurines at the museum.
Mostly just me having fun with the depth of field on my camera.

You'll have to click through if you want to see the actual Warriors. I will however, share this other gem, just because I think my sister will probably kill me for it...

We were only in Xi'an about 48 hours, but while there we did the whole Terra Cotta warrior thing, went to the National History Museum, the Drum Tower, the Bell Tower, and the Great Mosque. I've been to many a mosque from Spain to Kosovo to Turkey, and some pretty spectacular ones at that, but this one was so strikingly different that it will always remain one of my favorites.

While the actual prayer pagoda was closed to the public, only practicing Muslim men were allowed inside, the peaceful courtyards and gardens were at our disposal. With a twist on a theme, it was a typical mosque with the outer courtyards and inner sanctum, but with a Chinese twist. Instead of minarets, you had towering pagodas, the water features were capped with lotus blossoms, and the carvings on the wall were of Chinese themes, but with Arabic writing. I loved it and could have stayed for hours.

From Xi'an we hopped a plane to Guilin where we literally saw absolutely nothing because we jumped on a boat the very next morning and took a lovely cruise down the River Li to Yangshuo. The scenery in this part of the world is pretty famous. There's actually a spot along the cruise where you can take a photo of the image that is on the back of the 20 RMB bill. I, of course, was in the toilet when we passed this historic spot. Typical.

Along the Li River cruise

Becuase not all hostels are created equal, now's the part where I do a little free advertising for a place I really enjoyed. On a recommendation from a friend, we stayed out in the middlle of farm country in a really phenomenal hostel called the Giggling Tree. It's a restored farmhouse run by a Dutch family about 3 km outside of Yangshuo proper.

The Giggling Tree

The food is good, the accommodations clean and spacious, the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing, and your hosts are friendly and super knowledgeable about the area.

Align Center
Farmland around Yangshuo

We rented bikes from our hostel and rode through the rice paddies and farming villages until we were utterly exhausted. Then we loaded our bikes up onto a little bamboo raft and floated back down river to whence we came. An amazing day. It was at this point that my sister said to me, "I hate you. This sucks. It's ugly here. I want to go home." We both burst into giggles.

From Yangshuo, we began the long journey back to Shanghai via train - twenty six hours. Here's a picture of our home away from home....

We got really lucky, as our upstairs neighbors got off the train somewhere in the middle of the night. We had the cabin to ourselves for most of the trip.

Once back in Shanghai, we did the usual touristy things here - Bund Tourist tunnel, a cheesy delight for those who appreciate the cheese (D had such fondness that she videoed the entire experience), the Oriental Pearl Tower, and of course the ever overcrowded Bund. But we did get a nice night shot...

D left the next day, exhausted, well-traveled, and wondering if she should have trained more for this vacation. I did kind of walk her to death... and hike her and bike her... yeah, ok... so I see where she's coming from. It was fun though, right D?

And so we have come to the end of a journey. I hope you enjoyed your tour. Next stop... Kilimanjaro.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More TCM

I experienced yet another first in my journey through TCM... yesterday the doctor tried out cupping. Basically what happens is the doctor heats the air inside a glass jar quickly (with, and then the jar is placed against the skin, creating a vacuum and sucking the skin and muscle up into the jar. This is to release the toxins and congestion in an area. This process has a tendency to leave some pretty nasty hickeys on your person. Supposedly, the darker the bruising, the more toxins there are in the area. If my "love bites" are any indication of this, then I would have to say this is true. I had cups all along my spine, from my neck to my tailbone, but the only ones that seriously bruised were over my lower lungs.

I've been having some pretty serious coughing/breathing difficulties for the past 4 weeks. After this treatment yesterday, I figured I'd better rule out pneumonia. So off Iwent to the hospital to get a chest x-ray. Good news, no pneumonia. Bad news, all this living in heavily polluted countries (Kosovo, India, China) is doing a real number on my asthma, which used to only pop up for an hour or so twice a year. It seems that what I thought was a cold, was actually a 4-week long asthma attack. Oops. I'm on an assortment of 8 different steroids, antibiotics, inhalers, antihistimines and anti-asthma crap. I may be feeling a bit tweaky, but man, after one dose of the steroids, I slept through the night for the first time in weeks, and I only coughed twice today!! You have absolutely no idea how exciting that it for me right now.

I feel a little like I cheated, and didn't give the TCM a chance to really do it's thing. But I'm sorry, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was ready to do anything to make it stop. I say attack the thing from all directions!!


As defined on dictionary.com:
vin·di·cate Audio Help [vin-di-keyt] Pronunciation Key –verb (used with object), -cat·ed, -cat·ing.
1.to clear, as from an accusation, imputation, suspicion, or the like: to vindicate someone's honor.
2.to afford justification for; justify: Subsequent events vindicated his policy.
3.to uphold or justify by argument or evidence: to vindicate a claim.
4.to assert, maintain, or defend (a right, cause, etc.) against opposition.
5.to claim for oneself or another.
6.Roman and Civil Law. to regain possession, under claim of title of property through legal procedure, or to assert one's right to possession.
7.to get revenge for; avenge.
8.Obsolete. to deliver from; liberate.
9.Obsolete. to punish.
So... could someone please tell me what this poor machine could possibly be expecting??

Ticket machine in the metro stop near my office

Saturday, September 06, 2008

TCM to the rescue

I had my first acupuncture experience today. I've been struggling with asthma/bronchitis/I-can't-freakin'-breathe issues for the past 3 and a half weeks. Countless sleepless nights, one trip to the emergency room and 200 tissues later, I decided it was time to try something new. The old inhaler/alergy meds just werent doing the trick this time. I opted for a highly recommended Traditional Chinese Medicine doctore.

Dr. Zhang, who speaks absolutely perfect English, operates out of an old Chinese hotel in one of the few parts of town that doesn't look like it gets spit shined every morning. It still has a little bit of character and you actually feel like you're in China. The building itself is over 100 years old and has that old building smell, even though it has been renovated a bit. After she felt my pulse in both arms and looked at the coating on my tongue (both things are very important to a TCM diagnosis), we chatted for a little bit about my general health, the kinds of things I do, what my diet is like (I deliberately downplayed the role McDonald's has taken in my world these days), general stuff. So, from all that she gathered that I have a complicated constitution (which still means absolutely nothing to me.) I needed acupuncture to help my lungs and sinuses. Three sessions and I should be good to go.

Now, I'm not one who gets terribly squeamish around needles, but the only images I've ever seen of acupncture have been with these gigantic things shoved way under the skin sticking out all over the place where you end up looking like a human pin cushion. I was a hair nervous when I laid down on the table. She placed me on my side so she could put needles both in my backside and my front. The needles in actuality were only about an inch and a half long, including the handle bit. I didn't even feel it when she inserted them, and she placed exactly six on my back, three on my neck and chest, and two on each arm. Then I took a nap for twenty minutes. She came back, took them out, gave me some herbal goodies to help clear out my congestion, and that was that. Easy peasy!

Oh, right, and she taped some sort of seeds to the back of my ear to help with the quitting smoking. I'm supposed to rub them a couple of times a day to stimulate the pressure points. Honestly, the damn seeds hurt 20 times worse than the acupuncture. It's ridiculous.

I'm really hoping this does the trick, because frankly, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. I want to get back into the gym... I've got 3 weeks left to train for my big trip (which I am still teasing you all about... buuuahahahahahahahaha).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I'm back!!

Thailand 003
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.

So I got chastised today, and rightly so, for not having written in my blog in ages. I keep telling myself that the last thing I want to do after sitting and staring at my computer all day at work that the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit down in front of my computer. But that's not really it. I have just been lazy. I've got about 6 months worth of pictures that I haven't posted, tons of stories that haven't been told, and loads of news to tell. I have avoided doing any of this so that I can watch any number of TV series on DVD (purchased for a mere $1 per disc). I have a floor to ceiling bookshelf full of box sets of dvds. Oops.

Anyway, the photo... it's from Koh Samui, Thailand. I met up with Captain Canadian, who was on a little well-deserved R&R from Afghanistan, to raise a little hell in heaven. I wasn't in the country for more than half an hour before I went for a massage. Bless Thai massage. It's the greatest thing in the world. We rented slcooters, zip lined through tree tops, rode elephants, went sea kayaking and snorkeling, took yoga classes, saw drag shows, laid on the beach and did nothing, ate amazing food, took a cooking class, and most of all just hung out as if it had been a week or two since we'd seen each other. In reality, it had been well over a year, but it felt like no time at all. We had such an amazing adventure. Click on the photo above to see the rest of the pictures.

And i don't want to spoil it yet, but there's a new adventure afoot... coming up in only a few weeks. It deserves it's own post, so for now, I'll just tease you a little... tease tease... mock mock... tease tease

Monday, May 12, 2008

Yes, there was an earthquake... 1000 miles away...

Yes, there was a strong earthquake in China today. Yes, we felt it. And yes, I'm fine. There's not much news about damage done to the western province where the earthquake hit, but as for here it was pretty minor. We were evacuated from our office building and have just been allowed back in. I didn't even notice the building swaying until one of my trainees pointed it out. Then we began the march down 25 flights of stairs. Fun! We stood outside for about an hour and a half, and then were allowed back upstairs. Most people here have never felt an earthquake before and there was a lot of nervous chatter in the stairwells. All and all made for an interesting afternoon.

Now reality strikes, and it's back to work. Boo.

Update: What a tragedy. I've been watching the news all evening and I'm just so saddened by the magnitude of it all. I am, however, impressed with the government's swift response. Within an hour of the quake, the president was on a plane to Sichuan and 5,000 troops had been deployed to help with the disaster efforts.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Put it on a stick

BJMar 085
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.

I was not kidding about the "if it'll go on a stick you can grill it and eat it" mentality around here. My recent trip to Beijing proved that whole heartedly. Along with the usual fare of squid, beef, lamb, and veggies, we also saw starfish, cockroaches, grasshoppers, seahorses, and well, I was chased halfway down an alley by a man with a handful of scorpions-on-a-stick, still wriggling. He thought my screams of terror were just delightful. As did everyone else. But me.

We also saw the Dodgers play the Padres, went to the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and all kinds of other touristy things. I've posted about 500 new photos if you want to check them out.

But the scorpions. That is the memory that will stick with me for a while. (ouch, did I really just make that bad of a joke?? I did, I did.)

Monday, March 31, 2008

I am a genius

In the ultimate of bonehead moves, I managed to drop my house keys down the elevator shaft of my apartment building this evening. In full slow-motion glory I watched them slide out of my hand and drift peacefully towards the one inch gap between the elevator car and the hallway. I could feel myself tense up, hoping against hope that they would take a soft bounce and make it across the chasm. But no. T'was not meant to be. There was a quiet clackity clang as they hit the ground and then deafening silence as they slipped over the edge and into the abyss.

Oh great. Now how the hell am I supposed to explain this to anyone in Chinese when my vocabulary basically consists of "turn left," "go straight," and "please stop here." Thank god my cell phone decided to stay in my pocket and not join my keys in their little sojourn into the darkness. I called my Chinese teacher and she managed to explain to the front desk clerk of my building (who kept eying me sideways and shaking her head while talking to my teacher).

And in the way that things work in China (they either work incredibly efficiently or not at all - there really is no in between), we walked around the side of the building, knocked on a small metal door, from which emerged a little man with a piece of metal shaped like a letter T. He proceeded to wedge this between the elevator doors to open them, then wedged it under the door to keep them propped open while he shimmied down the ladder on the side of the shaft. Nifty little tool. Within second he emerged with my key chain, mangled, but with keys intact. Joy! Happiness!

So as I rode the elevator up to my floor, I contemplated holding my keys in my hand so that I could save that extra two seconds and be in my apartment just that much quicker. Then I remembered what happened the last time I did that and shoved my hands as deep in my pockets as they would go. Genius.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Universal Weirdness

This was forwarded to me today, and it made me laugh. Thought I'd share...

"There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened." - Douglas Adams

Friday, February 08, 2008

Welcoming the Year of the Rat

Chinese New Year is upon us, and although I didn't shoot this video, I felt the need to share. The whole of Shanghai has pretty much been like this for 3 days. It's insane!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Very Snowy Shanghai

SHJan 035
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.

...and an even more frozen Mich.

I swore I'd never do serious winter again after Kosovo, yet somehow I find myself a little bit delighted with the snow that's been falling here for 3 days straight. I stopped in the park on the way to work this morning to snap a few pictures of the pristine landscape. A passing policeman was kind enough to offer to take a picture of me bundled up in all my glory.

Supposedly this is the worst snowstorm Shanghai has seen in 24 years. Oddly enough, after 3 days of snow, we only had about 3 inches on the ground this morning, and by the time I left work this evening, most of that was gone.

I have to admit, even though I'm enjoying the scenery, I'd be much happier if it was sunny and warm (and I was on a beach with some sort of fruity rum cocktail in a coconut shell in my sunbaked hand).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Thor and the girls
Originally uploaded by mgaston123.

The little protective bubble that I live in, where news is something that happens to other people, where wars are distant things, and terrorists attacks don't really affect my daily life, was horribly and irreparably shattered yesterday.

My dear friend Thor Hesla, who has been mentioned a multitude of times in this blog as the Thorganizer or the God of Thunder, was killed in a terrorist attack on a hotel in Afghanistan on Monday.

I've spent the past two days whirling through stages of grief all melded together - denial, anger, sorrow - but still cannot find acceptance for this. It's too soon, and my emotions are way too raw. A multitude of websites have gone up and a great collective effort has gone into paying homage to the man that touched so many lives.

I have also spent a great deal of time remembering. Remembering Thor making me laugh so hard that tears were running down my face and I felt like I was going to throw up. Remembering being so frustrated with him I wanted to choke him when trying to argue an opinion with him. Remembering how he always subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) took care of those around him. Remembering how he loved to make you feel good about yourself, and how much fun he had at poking fun at you too. Remembering that some people were put on this planet to make it a better place. And remembering that life is short - we should always live it to it's fullest, as did Thor.

I'll miss you a great deal, my friend, but I'll never forget you. Thank you for making my world a better place.