Friday, December 26, 2008

A Day on the Plateau

As our Landcruiser roars down the Yu Shu highway I wonder if this winding stretch of road will ever take us anywhere. As mountain ranges rise and fall, and we keep moving west, there is a common theme. A feeling of isolation penetrates the souls of all who pass…

As the day breaks, I wake up to find the fog of my breath engulfing my vision. Shaking it off, I slip out of my sleeping bag, into my boots, and out the door of my tent. The sun greets me with a warm smile and I squint back at her. I hope that she will stay with us, for our plans will take us out into the mountains this crisp, September day.

Back at the tent, I kick at the opposite side, hoping to stir up my guide, Dorje, a local Tibetan.

“Rise and shine, beautiful!”

“Man, it’s too early. You got to let me sleep.”

The son of a Nomad, he had lived in this region his whole life before moving to the city of Xining to further his studies in English and Tibetan Medicine. His knowledge of the culture and nature of this barren place is why I have chosen him to accompany me on my trip.

It takes us just under an hour to pack up our things and gulp back some chunks of Tsamba, the local staple food consisting of a mixture of barley flour and butter tea. It bears some resemblance to little globs of cookie dough, though it’s sometimes hard to swallow down. In any event, we eat, pack up, and head out.

Anticipation speeds up my stride as I swiftly move through the rocky path, forging further into the hills.

“Let’s get going, bud. We only have one day and we have a lot of things to see.” I say, hoping to encourage a speedy pace.

“You foreigners always want to see everything all at once. You need patience, and I need more sleep!”, he jokes.

Dorje fights back thoughts of sleep as he struggles to keep up with my excitement. Today is a day that I have looked forward to for quite some time. After years of dreaming about it, I am finally out on the Plateau. This has been my hope for some time now, to hike through the middle of nowhere.

Being at an altitude well over 3000 meters, there isn’t much plant life. As we walk, marmots scurry back to their holes, burrowing their way through the ground. Their meals are few and far between. Some settle for the bush and brush that rests scattered across the ground, shivering in the wind.

We walk to the beat of two sounds: our footsteps and the swirling wind. There’s not much to see so far, yet I take in this rare silence as a blessing. Finally, in the distance I see a sight to behold: vultures circling the grey mountain tops, swooping in and out of my view as they dash to the ground and then back up into the sky.

“What are those birds doing way up here? Are they vultures? Man, they’re huge!”

“It’s a sky burial. A Tibetan funeral ritual. They carry the body up to a high place, chop it up, and lay it out for the birds. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. Just one of the many ways that the Tibetans connect with the Earth. It’s spiritual.”

“How so?”, I inquire.

“They believe that the birds will help take the deceased’s soul back up to heaven.”

“Wow, that’s really something.”

This is quite a difference from the funeral customs I had grown up with, yet similar in the slightest of ways; ashes to ashes and dust to dust. We give our dead to the ground and the Tibetans give theirs to the sky. I’m beginning to see that there is more to this vast land then just scattered plants and animals. It is also a home for people, and they have adapted to become a part of the scenery, at one with their surroundings.

As we walk further from the path and I look down on the crumbled ground a thought occurs to me; I could be the first person in history to ever take a step on the spot I am now standing. It’s hard to believe that a place like this could even exist. It is a land that seems to stand still in time, stirred up only ever so often by shepherds, yaks, sheep, and curious people like myself. Dorje tells me that when he was young he would come out here with his father’s sheep and just sit back and enjoy the silence. Only a rustling of weeds, or the bleat of a sheep would interrupt his perfectly quiet world.

“The sun will go down over those mountains in about half an hour. we should set up camp”, Dorje says.

While I scan the area for shelter from the wind, Dorje already has his pack off and is pounding tent pegs into the earth.

“We’re in the middle of an open valley, open and exposed to just about everything, and this is where you want to set up?!” I ask, half joking, yet half serious.

Dorje looks up and simply says, “What are you scared of? There’s nothing out here but the wind and the mountains. The best view is right smack dab in the middle of it!”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Short Story - The Wolves

By Brett Gitzel

Once there was a boy named Justin, who grew up without the kind of love and affection that most 12 year olds took for granted. His mother and father sustained him, but from a distance, in the least sense of the word. They lived in excess, unaware of this disinterest; perhaps in the same way desert sand is not aware of a lost, hopeless traveler. Busy with enhancing their own lives, they seemed to think that their son was self-sustainable, like a pet or a house plant, needing water and food only every once in a while.

Justin lived at home in silence. Faint glimpses of his parents happened so rarely that they seemed to be dreams. As his contact with people diminished and his connections with love and companionship continued to crumble, Justin slipped into an internal world. A world at first filled with all of the creativity and determination of a small boy, only later to fade into empty silliness bordering on insanity.

Justin’s mother made sure that the boy was always well dressed and proper. From his desolate frame hung a pre-determined wardrobe, swaying, like it would from a coat hanger. His food consisted of air sealed meats, cheeses and just about every other prepackaged snack a boy could want. His body wasted away from a lack of nutrients and substance, yet his blue eyes flowed like water. This was beauty unseen, value unknown.

His mother and father made no small secret of his accidental conception. His mother’s upbringing prohibited the possibility of an abortion, which disappointed his father.

“My mother would murder me! I just can’t.”

“Well, that is simply unacceptable. I will not allow our lives to be ruined.” he coldly stated.

“You think that is makes me happy?!” she swelled, fighting back in anger.

Justin had been their inconvenience from the beginning. The biggest relief to this stress was the money that they had been born into. Throwing money at Justin’s lonely childhood had been one of their only parenting tactics.

Being abandoned by his parents in his own home left scars too deep for healing. Something of an empty life consumed the boy. Hope and desire faded, leaving him too lonely and confused for a boy his age to maintain any resemblance of value or happiness.

Justin lived internally. Inability to socialize with the other students at school resulted in him being home schooled at the age of nine, though “school” would be a generous word. His mother was nowhere to be found.

“Justin, you do whatever you want. There are some books in the study. Just don’t bother me, I’m very busy.”

A whirlwind of books lay strewn across the study, but the only books not collecting dust were the ones his limited reading level allowed; about nature, about it’s animals and plants, the things that lay only a few hundred yards away from his bedroom window. His only interest left to cling to was in the backwoods. In a time when every feeling seemed to have left him, his curiosity remained.

Giant spruce and oak trees engulfed the property, enclosing a vast expanse of 3 acres of Kentucky blue. Yet mystery pushed Justin out beyond the property. His life was out in the wilderness, far beyond the land deeded to his father.

No one seemed to notice Justin spending so much time out in the forest, a forest that stretched from one county to the next. Critters of all shapes and sizes slithered, cooed, and crawled through this vast expanse. Day after day, Justin would move through the forest as a fly on the wall, watching birds gather near a puddle, squirrels quarrelling over an acorn, or deer slipping in between trees with the greatest of grace and ease. He knew which berries he could eat, and which ones to stay away from. Most days, he wouldn’t even pack a lunch.

One day, still as a stone, Justin’s finger made a perch for a sparrow.

“Oh, what kind of bird are you? I really like birds”, he whispered. “Are you a friendly bird? I once knew a boy in school that was friendly. He gave me some raisins from his lunch. That was the nicest thing anyone has every done for me. He was a good friend. Do you want to be friends with me?”

At that moment, the sparrow turned to Justin, kinking its neck in what seemed to be puzzled interest. Justin mimicked the sparrow, also intrigued by this creature settled only inches from his face. It seemed as though they were sharing a joke. Suddenly, Justin squawked,

“I like you Mr. Bird! You’re my best friend!”

With that, the sparrow was off, flailing its wings for its life, fleeing the noises coming from this strange boy. Justin’s finger dropped like a rock, his smile cracked like a broken window.

Nevertheless, Justin’s most satisfying discovery in the woods was, by far, the wolves. Every once in a while, in the evening as the sky faded dark, Justin would come across a family of wolves satisfying themselves with their latest catch. Justin knew to be as still as silence in these dangerous situations, yet there was one thing that kept drawing him back to these scenes; the young wolf pups were always well taken care of. While breaking through the flesh of a poor little mouse or squirrel, the older wolf was always sure to break off a nice fleshy piece for the youngster. At these times, for reasons unknown to him, Justin would salivate.

Back at home, Justin would sit and dream of the wolves. So wild and ignored by the world, the wolves lived lives full of love and companionship. He would spend time in the study drawing, the best that he could, pictures of the wolves. He gave them names and squealed at the thought of being able to meet these wolves. Those days, thinking about the wolves, seemed to breathe new life into his body.

On one particularly cloudy day, Justin set out into the woods. Leaving behind his home, his invisible parents, and his nature books, Justin set out to scratch his curiosity. With a desire for companionship and a lack of rationality, Justin went looking for the wolves.

After searching the woods for quite some time, Justin spotted the pack. He happened upon them cutting through some freshly killed rodents. The larger ones were sure to mouth some over to the pups. It seemed as though all of the adult wolves were responsibe for taking care of the pups. Fascinated by this interaction, Justin was intrigued by the ways of the wolves. He held great admiration for this community.

At this point, a new sensation rose inside of him; something so foreign to him that he almost forgot what it could mean. The feeling that rose within him was the feeling of desire, the desire to be a part of something. Seeing the wolves interact was a thing of beauty. He recalled his nature books with their mountains, forests, sunsets, lakes, rivers, and of course, their animals. None compared to the scene that played out before him. Justin came to an understanding that seemed to spark a flicker of hope inside his emptiness; the understanding that he was now home. He would leave his past behind. This dark place, this denseness of green, was a place of hope. The wolves had taught him that there is life beyond existence.

“When you go with the wolves,” he told himself, “you’ll have a new home.”

His experience in the woods had given him a place of refuge, and in the process, a place much more desirable than his past hope of a hug from his father, or a kiss from his mother. Those hopes had been dead and buried long ago.

In the thickness for the forest, Justin slowly exposed himself from the shadow of a tree and moved toward his new family, the wolves. In his mind, the wolves were his mother, father, sisters and brothers. With his face filling with dusty tears, salt poured down onto his shirt.

Looking down he thought,

“The wolves don’t wear clothes like me.”

At once, he stripped down, out of his mess of clothes. His body stood naked and free as knees knocked together and his dirty paws reached up to squeeze the salt silt from his eyes. Opening them, he felt reborn!

He thought of the wolves warm fur, the warmth he would feel in the night. He remembered a schoolmate, rolling and laughing with his pet retriever, and he thought of the wolf pups. The idea of rolling and playing out in the nature with his new brothers and sisters made the blood beneath his skin flow to places that had been dry for so, so long.

As he came out from the shadows, Justin stepped further away from his lonely past. The wolves turned to see his body tracing a silhouette in the moonlight. Moving away from their pile of bones, and still hungry, they slowly made their way towards the boy. Justin, with his hands raised in thankfulness and his mind as clear as the day he was born, naively entered into his fate.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Writing Course Projects.

I am taking an on-line writing course for the next while and I thought it would be good to post my projects up here. The first 2 weeks required us to write poems. One thing I learned through the critiquing of my poems was that my style is more prosaic than poetic or rhythmic. So I worked hard on getting my poems to act/be more like poems. Here they are:

Autumn Existence
by Brett Gitzel

Indoor, brittle, cold, and settled.
I shiver, throwing gazes at the wall.
Daily News in open hand,
lost thoughts in the mind.
Furnace clicks an empty, vague, moan.
Depth, distant, rattled tone.

Outside, brittle, cold, and settled
An oak tree, disappointed, slumped to fall.
Leafy hues slowly stripped,
the summer slipped.
Skin dry as death, tempting flame, smoke.
Bitter wind snakes a coiled clench, choke.

In between, rustling disrupts.
Whirl awakes, sweeps at it all.
Stormy brew of leaf, dust, and yard,
roaming near, far.
shaking, gathered, lazy, flown.
Hollow, distant, rattled tone.

Inside out or outside in.
tremble, shiver, we share the monotone.
Fingers carbon black,
limbs withered and meek.
Divided by glass, together, on our own.
Not distant, yet hollow, rattled tone.

Oath to a dying woman
by Brett Gitzel

Lonesome, busy with useless chores.
Closed doors.
Not to notice. Not to know you.
To forget, not forgive. I am not these,
lost in the bliss,
I promise you this.

You walk on, the world turns off.
Sunshine shattered, birds dirty noise.
your regret, your grief.
Love stolen by a thief,
replaced with a kiss,
I promise you this.

The night is cold, my heart is warm.
Your dreams are dark, brittle hands pressed together,
broken prayer.
I wait for you, and hope renew,
to not dismiss,
I promise you this.

How will they remember you?
photos, memories, thoughts?
Will they at all,
when you fall,
Out of touch, out of view?
Yes, my friend, I promise you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Final Verdict.- The Hockey Song(s)

After a lot of confusion, indecision, and maybe even fear mongering, Canadian fans can finally sit back and watch hockey. And I'm not talking about the actual game, I'm talking about the intro songs for both the CBC and TSN.

The facts are a little hazy, but from my understanding it went something like this:

Lady writes song, "leases" to the CBC.

"Lease" runs out.

Lady wants more money/ CBC wants more of the song on the cheap. Who Knows?

Lady says no and walks away to TSN/ CBC says no and gives it back to the lady.

CBC has a contest for a new song.

Alberta Teacher wins.

In the end, TSN remade the song and launched it this past week on its "NHL on TSN" broadcast. CBC went along with the teacher's winning song for it's "Hockey Night in Canada" coverage.

Now, the main thing I was looking forward to was the final product, on both sides. Earlier this week I had a chance to go to Youtube and watch the new Hockey Introductions for both the CBC and TSN. I really wanted to see how it all turned out. I was pretty confident that TSN's theme would steal my heart because of the history and awesomeness of the original song. Yet I was also curious to see what the CBC would end up doing. Judge for yourselves:

New CBC "Hockey Night in Canada" intro

New TSN "NHL on TSN" intro

Wow, could that TSN theme video be any worse! I can't believe how boring it was to watch. Were those players even real players or were they computer generated? And no crowd noise? Actually, there wasn't even a crowd in the arena. I don't think I could have imagined a worse video. They totally and completey relied on the legend of the song. The song is good, but after watching this, its clear that the CBC's old videos had just as much to do with tradition as the song, even after changing them multiple times over the years. Shame on TSN for shooting a blank on the video. You pay for the song and then ruin it with the video.

Meanwhile, the CBC lays down an instantly classic video. I'm not a big fan of the new song, but it has promise and the video makers at CBC tied it all togther like Pros. The biggest shock I had after watching this video was that I completely forgot about how much I love the "old" song. It was as though the 2 videos switched places and the CBC was actually the classic/beloved song while TSN's was just another publicity stunt.

In any event, its all over now. We can all keep on loving the classic "hockey theme", but I think that, with TSN, it lost a lot of its sparkle. In my opinion, CBC is still the place for classic/traditional/authentic hockey coverage.

But I live in China, so what do I know?

I thought that this was the new CBC intro:

CBC intro

Confusing, to say the least. Both CBC videos are miles ahead of TSN's. But for the record, this intro is the champion in my book... but do they still use it?

ps. This video also rules:

Opening Night Intro

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Our writing group is now 3. We should really come up with a witty name for it. Regardless, this month's theme is simply "Oath". Here's what I came up with:

-Oath to an old woman-

The night is cold.
My heart is warm.
Your dreams are dark
with your brittle hands pressed together into a broken prayer.
I wait for you
and promise truth,
to not dismiss,
I promise you this.

You are lonesome in the day.
The busy streets turn a cold shoulder
as you keep yourself busy with useless chores.
Not to notice.
Not to know you.
To forget, not forgive,
I am not these, lost in the bliss,
I promise you this.

As you walk on,
the sun shines its abandoned rays.
The birds croak out dirty noise.
The flowing river, your tears in solitude.
Yet you are still here,
carrying your purse and your grief.
Love stolen by a thief, replaced with a kiss,
I promise you this.

In your last days
your legs give way to a sturdy bed.
You’ve broken the bank.
Your kids don’t call.
Your love is in the ground
and you’ve said your distant plea.
Seems your leaving is nothing to miss.
Not so my friend,
I promise you this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New NHL Season: The Good, the Bad, and the Coffey

Coffee and Coffey are both tasty and compelling

Top 10 things to look forward to:

1. the prospect of Peter Fosberg’s career being over… dead, buried, in the ground with fresh flowers laid across the gravestone.

2. 2008-2009 World Championship Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey League! (only 1 spot left!)

3. Patrice Bergeron back in action after almost a year. If you don’t remember, he got his head rammed into the boards. It was a dirty hit from a dirty player, a Philadelphia Flyer. Those guys were all over the ice last year; swinging sticks, slamming bodies from behind into the boards, whining, dishing out cheap shots. Not a pretty sight. Not really hockey at all.

4. Jarret Stoll suiting up for the LA Kings. This is interesting because Stoll is now a heck of a lot closer to his girlfriend, former wife of Rod Stewart! I am not kidding! Jarrett Stoll, 26, had been dating Rachel Hunter, 38, for about 2 years and in August they got engaged. Crazy!

"She is engaged. She's never been happier," said the rep, Mike Heller. "She has been with Jarret for a long time and everyone is thrilled for them. He was recently traded to the L.A. Kings, so it's a really exciting time in their life together. He is an amazing guy and she is an amazing girl – they're truly meant to be."

From small town Canada to LA and a superstar wife! Sound familiar? This is in the top 10 because it is really funny and, according to rep Mike Heller, Rachel Hunter has finally found the right 26 year old father for her 16 and 14 year old children. Go Jarret!

The life of a hockey player in California

5. 46 year old Chris Chelios suits up for his 25th NHL season. He first hit the ice with the Montreal Canadiens back in 1984, when I was 3 and a half years old! I don’t really like the guy that much, but he is the only player still around from the first days that I started watching hockey. A faint memory of him on the Canadiens seems to reside in my mind. When he’s done playing I will officially feel a lot older than I think I am now. I count down my life in hockey years.

6. When the season starts there will be less time for the temptation of looking at Eklund’s crappy hockey rumor blog.

7. Erik Cole is on the Oilers! I love this guy. Ever since he played in the finals with a broken neck I’ve loved him! He’s fast, strong, and likes to score goals. That’s pretty much what we want. My modest Erik Cole prediction: GP 79 G 32 A 38. Watch this move.

8. Something a friend of mine pointed out to me last season. Watching Pierre McGuire of TSN pronounce the names of NHL players, my friend noticed that he usually says the player’s full name. “Steven Staios”, “Daniel Heatley”, “Joseph Thornton”, “Christopher Pronger”. Actually, its quite a fun game to play and its quite refreshing after hearing so many annoying nick-names that fans seem to make up for every single player in the league. Go Pierre!

"Should I call you Sidney or Sidonio?"

9. Joni Pitkanen will wander around the ice for another team far away on the other side of the continent. I hope someone over there can help him figure some things out. Maybe he’s depressed.

10. The Oilers have a good team. There is a lot of depth in case of injuries and it seems like the playoff expectations are well deserved.

I can’t watch the games at all, but I can listen to them on the radio. This helps me to use my imagination. It’s always good to use your imagination, so that’s why this is the #1 thing to look forward to. Imaginations rule!

Top 10 Things to Avoid:

1. Avoid Swedes with green/clear eyes. The possibility that Peter Forsberg will return to play for the Flyers/Aves/Preds/ sometime around January or February makes me a little sick. A few shifts into his comeback and we’ll expect him to injure himself one last time. This, hopefully, will result in his retirement. The worst thing is that the media will talk about him before, during, and after all of the above happens.

2. Avoid the CBC. Though it does not affect me much at all, listening to the “hockey theme song” before games on TSN instead of CBC will break many hearts. Is it just me or does it seem that TSN is trying to monopolize the Canadian sports industry? It seems as though CBC is getting ready to die or something.

I have heard it said: “A TV station cannot live on re-runs of The Littlest Hobo and Road to Avonlea alone, but must be sustained by the traditions of pucks, toothless grins, and skates.” Wise words.

I hate to say it, but by now the Littlest Hobo is most certainly dead! Tomorrow's settling down came and went a long time ago. He had so many chances.

. Avoid looking up Mike Comrie in People Magazine. He is reportedly still dating Hilary Duff. Some rumors even suggest that they are engaged. We Oiler fans remember all of the “interesting” controversy surrounding little Mikey. I find it funny that he continues to intrigue. She seems a little young for him. Isn’t she still on Disney? I guess not. Actually, good for Mike. I hope you grow a whole field of Comries.

4. Avoid Mats Sundin in your hockey pool, who, while I am writing this, is still “thinking” about his future. How long does it take for someone to figure out if they want to spend the rest of their life swinging a golf club or if they want to play professional hockey for one more year, while making a ridiculous amount of money?

“Make up your mind already! You are a great hockey player, but you don’t deserve all of this media attention. It is annoying to hear your agent say every couple of weeks that you are still “undecided”. You are hovering dangerously close to Forsberg territory. I am starting to not like you. Not as a hockey player but just for your decision making skills.”

UPDATE: after trashing the guy, I realized that he's on one of my fantasy teams!

5. Avoid Ryan Smyth. We must witness another awkward season with Ryan Smyth on the Colorado Avalanche. That was really awkward last season, wasn’t it? So awkward. If you see him at a party or some other function, walk to the other side of the room and sip your drink. You can stare back at him awkwardly, but don’t let him catch you doing it. Imagine if he did?! That would be awkward.

Sad, but also very awkward.

6. Stop thinking that Bertuzzi is finished. I don’t like the guy but he is a good hockey player and he makes less money than a lot of junk on a lot of other teams. I think he will light it up. This is not good for the Oilers, at all. My modest Bertuzzi prediction: GP 78 G 37 A 33. All that equals a pretty good deal for the Flames.

7. If they sell chicken wings at your hometown arena, you’re going to want to avoid them. They are too sticky and it is gross to imagine 10 000 fans with sticky chicken wing fingers. Yuck!

8. Avoid printing your own name on the back of your hometown jersey. Despite what you may think, the league will never have any players named “Gruggs” or “Horne” or “Platch”. If it ever does, it won’t be you!

9. Avoid wearing your home team’s jersey to anywhere but the game. Those jerseys are way too big for you to be taken seriously. I mean, they are meant to have a bunch of hockey equipment under them, not your thin, phuny, weak little body. They look too much like the nighties that women sometimes wear to bed. The only place that they actually look okay is on a professional hockey player’s body, or on a lot of people in one place. That place is the arena.

10. Avoid cheering for the Maple Leafs. They have a gazzilion dollars and with that they bought about 5 professional players and 18 minor leaguers pretending to be professionals, and some pucks. Probably nice pucks, but still.

And finally, Paul Coffey rules!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nomad Boarding School

In August, I had the privilege to travel to a boarding school in the southern part of Qing Hai Province to help distribute coats, hats, mitts, shoes, toys, and candy to needy nomad children. The money for the project was donated by children from a summer camp in Washington. Here are some of the highlights.

Tents and yak grazing could be seen at just about every turn.

A few days into the trip, a snow storm caught up with us and we needed to wait it out in a small town for a few hours. This was the first time I had seen snow in August. Snow at this time of year in this area, I am told, is quite common. I am mostly impressed by the amount of snow. Our Land Cruiser could handle the roads, but we passed a lot of people in cars whom I'm sure had a hard time making it to their destination.

Above are the children welcoming us as we arrive. In total, we had 325 traditional Tibetan coats to give out along with over 200 pairs of shoes. For most of these children, the thick coats arrived just in time as the snow seemed to follow us from the mountain pass. We left the next day with a few centimeters of the white stuff on the the ground.

Some of the girls waiting in line for their coats. We had quite a mess of a time trying to figure out which children needed the coats the most. There were only about 250 students there at the time, but many others would be arriving for classes in the following weeks and we wanted to make sure that we saved some of the supplies for them.

Showing off the new coats!

All of the kids were very shy at first, but after showing them a few photos they all decided to give me their most striking poses!

After we were finished handing out all of the clothing and toys, the kids wanted to sing some songs for us.

We were happy about that, of course.

These girls are very talented
To watch video go here

So, all in all, it was quite a memorable trip. Over the last 4 years I've been on a half dozen trips out to the countryside in Qing Hai and it is easy for me to say that this was, by far, the best trip I've been on. Just knowing that these kids will be warmer this year makes the whole thing worth while.

On our way back home to the capital city of Qing Hai, Xining, we ended up stopping at 2 other boarding schools. These schools were literally in the middle of nowhere. Even though these visits were not planned, the staff of the schools were very hospitable to us. They gave us all of the yak meat, fresh yogurt, and butter tea we could handle! It was also really nice to see how well these schools are kept. Though they still have many needs, the current living and studying situations are excellent. It was very nice to see. We hope that we will be able to work with these schools on similar projects in the near future.

Yak meat... it's what's for dinner!

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

I knew it would come to this.

As the cold air continues to choke the life out of another summer, I can’t help but get excited for the upcoming hockey season. Actually, the truth is, I’ve been taking looks at my favorite hockey websites (look to the left) every couple of days ever since the Red Wings hoisted the cup back in June. What was I looking for? What news did I expect to find? Not much, I guess. But every once in a while I found a tiny morsel or a small scrap of something lying on the floor of the hockey dining room. These sources of nutrients kept me alive all summer long, just barely, and now I can finally nurse myself back to health as the season is only a few weeks from dropping the puck on itself.

So, what to say? I live in China. Not much hockey going on over here. When I bring it up with the locals it usually takes a little bit of explaining for them to understand what I’m talking about. Hockey, in Chinese, is “Bing Qiu – 冰求”. The translation for that is “Ice Ball” so you know that, from the name, there is not much interest in the sport.

Yet every fall I actually set up a little bit of a schedule that allows me to listen to the Oiler games on the internet via 630 CHED radio station. I am very thankful for that. Live Oilers action at 7am with a cup of coffee and a few slices of toast is something one must get used to while living life over here.

Rumor has it that I might even be able to watch a few games this year. After openly criticizing TSN for quite a while (I wrote them a letter) I am actually quite thankful for them now. They have a Video on Demand section that enables people, like me, to watch entire CFL football games on the Internet. Though they aren’t live, it is often loaded only a few hours after the game ends. That is nice. I noticed an NHL section on there as well. I’m hoping that it will soon be full up with all kinds of hockey goodness.

Whenever I am needing to actually watch a hockey game and nothing is available on the internet, I always have my stash of Oiler games from “The Cup Run” on DVD. Thank you to my friend Phil for the DVDs!

Thus is my situation. Being one of the only Canadian men living in this city (there is another guy from Ontario, but he lets his son wear a Leafs jersey) I am usually left alone in a lot in my hockey conversations. The bulk of this void usually falls on my poor, yet understanding wife. The only other guys that can maintain a hockey conversation for more than 2 minutes are both from Texas and… well, you get the idea.

So, that is the background. Now I want to look into the future. What does it hold and how much of whatever it holds does it hold?

One of the answers to that is something called “fantasy sports”. Kind of sounds like a questionable activity, but I swear that it is actually quite respectable in some circles. The city in which I live, Xining, has a very large circle. To learn more about fantasy sports go here.

We stick to the basic food groups of fantasy sports: baseball and football. I follow along with the Americans. At first (3 years ago), I didn’t care much for either, but as the time went by baseball has actually turned out to be my favorite. Football is growing on me too.

But what about hockey?

Trying to find people for my fantasy hockey league is like trying to find some sort of ancient treasure. It’s a desert, nothing but sand and empty water canteens. One of the Texans signed up but that’s it.

Plan B? To search the free agent waters of facebook. So far, so good. It’s actually turning into quite a diverse league. People from Xining to California to Calgary to Edmonton to Montreal and all the way around to Eastern Europe. This league should be a lot of fun. 3 spots left. Let me know if you are interested.

On top of this league I am also apart of the Kateri Super League. This league is going into it’s 2nd season and things are looking really exciting there. Most of the teams in this league are either related to me or are related to or friends with the people that I’m related to.

So, if you were worried that Brett might be loosing interest in sports, fear not! Even though they may not be real sports, they are still real fantasy sports.

Stay tuned for the next hockey blog where I count down the top 10 things to look forward to and the bottom 10 things to avoid regarding the 08-09 NHL season.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Moustache Mayhem!

After not shaving for a good month and a half, I thought it time to start the school year off fresh. I decided to document the shave...

This was the basic style that I decided to work with throughout the shave. The "handle bar" look was something that I thought needed to be elaborated on. Most men tend to trim down the bars a little too early for my liking. I figured that, considering the length of the whiskers, I would let them hang down slightly lower to give things a little more of a creepy look. Upon further review, it is clear that this method is effective.(see below)

Those lower whiskers are reaching close to chin level.

The Creepy Look

The creepy look has been brought to completion in this next pose. Notice the contrast portrayed on both the left and right side of the face. Having the left eye squint along with a slight raise of a smirk gives the viewer a feeling that is both nauseating and fearful.

The look is completed by the knowledge that, in this photo, I am not wearing a shirt.

For a good look at a classic "creep stache" check this out.

Ineffective Creepy Look

The above image is a big moustache no-no. As I once again go for the "creepy" look it is evident that the smirk is much too large to be considered a decent attempt. The squint also gives off a slightly cross-eyed vibe. This is obviously a sorry attempt and something one must look back on when deciding exactly how much smirking and squinting is needed.

That's My Buddy!

Ahhh, the buddy look. This is one of the most difficult poses to pull off when utilizing the "handle bars" look. It takes a great deal of grit and determination in order to achieve such a high standard. I can only take a small amount of credit here. Most of it needs to go to the people that, though facing harsh scrutiny, still manage to keep the dream of moustaches and normalcy alive. In no particular order; Burt Reynolds, Jake Plummer, Adam Morrison, and, the master, Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap.

This is simply called the "eating pop-rocks with a moustache" look. Amazingly enough, there were no pop-rocks available and the whole thing was done ad lib.

Moving right along....

This next section gets a little tricky. It is something
I like to call "the invisible moustache" trick. Take a look to the right. Looks clean shaven, right? Keep in mind that these photos are all 100% genuine and there was no doctoring involved whatsoever.

Now take a look below...


"How the heck did he do that?... without any hidden cameras or stunt doubles? Invisible wires? Did he summon the mystics of the ancients? Is he dabbling in some sort of tribal craft?"

Settle down, settle down. There is a simple explanation posted below.

Now you see how it was done. It was quite simple, actually.

Saying goodbye, no matter what the situation, is always a tough thing to do.

A Shadow of a Man?

As you gaze upon this photo I know that a lot of you have a mixed bag of feelings sitting way down in the depths of your beings. Sadness. Confusion. Loss of the ability to taste food. The chills. Or maybe its something that you can't quite put your finger on. Fret not, brothers and sisters. In a mere 2 months or so, the moustache will be back!!!

That's right. No Shave November is right around the corner, followed by everyone's favorite, yet mostly unrecognized holiday, Moustache Day! Mark December 1st on your calender and start getting excited for a day full of joy, laughs, tears, and probably balloon animals. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Day Bob Dylan Stopped By.

He walked through the door, kicked off his boots, and gave me his hat. I put it on its very own hook. It smelled like horses and lake water. I told him to sit down and he agreed. He looked thirsty so I offered him some tea, to which he also agreed. We were hitting it off.

I placed the steamy cup of green tea in front of him. He tried to blow away the flecks of leaves so that he could take a sip but I told him that it was much too hot and that he should wait. He winked at that. We seemed to be tracking.

He wore a checkered shirt and a pair of black jeans. His chest pocket bulged from the pack of smokes that sat hiding. His face looked chewed up like an old deflated football. The wrinkles on his face nestled between sporadic whiskers. His moustache climbed to the peak of his lips and he spoke,

"Mind if I smoke?"

I blushed and waved my hands in a "do whatever the hell you want" fashion. He offered me my own and I took it from him like a US Olympian receiving a baton from his/her teammate. I picked it up, brushed it off on my jeans, and stuffed it firmly into my shirt pocket, right next to my beating heart.

The cigarette seemed to relax him a bit, and the tea had cooled by then, so he seemed to be enjoying himself as much as could be imagined given the absurd circumstances. I eased myself into the chair across from him and we sat.

After a few minutes he asked me about my family. I answered. I asked him about his flight. He asked me something about Airmiles, how they work, or something. I laughed. He wondered why. I reminded him of my son's name and told him that if there was an unexpected twin we could have called him "bonus Miles". He forced a grin... really forced it, and I mentally punched my brain in the crotch.

We sat.

He cracked his knuckles, one at a time, and squinted at the photos on the shelf. Up on the shelf were 3 photos in 3 wooden frames. One of me and my wife and kid, another of just me and my wife, and another of just the boy. He looked like he was going to say something about them but then stopped himself.

The guitar.

He asked about the guitar. I got up and gave it to him. I sat back down and prayed silently.

Out of tune. I am such a loser.

He twisted and pulled on the heads and plucked the strings until it hummed. I closed my eyes, just for a moment, to thank somebody.

I heard a song I've never heard before. He sang and he sang, just for me. Something about redemption or being out on the road or gambling or something like that. His yellow nails plucked on every string like rain on a sidewalk. His head swayed from side to side like a sobbing child. His foot tapped like a wristwatch.

A few minutes later it was over.

I refilled his tea cup. I might as well have had an apron on.

He got up, and as he placed the guitar back on it's stand, he got a better look at the photos on the shelf. He stood there for a moment. Then he chuckled, as if he suddenly remembered something, or as if whatever suspicions he had about whatever was in the photos was true.

He sat back down on the couch and sipped at his tea, grining. His cigarette lay smoldering on an old magazine cover. The cover was waxy so I wasn't worried about a fire.

I asked him which one of the photos he was looking at. Silence. Then he turned to me and gave me a look that seemed to portray respect.

My mind flashed and I thought to myself. I wondered what he liked about the photos. I wondered if he admired the fact that I was a "family man", or did he think that my wife was way too good looking for me. Maybe he was surprised to see that I only have one child.

Maybe it made him envy me. Being a "rambler and a gambler" his whole life, out roaming, looking for a home. I have the albums. I've seen the movies. This man was lonely.

Was this really happening? Was he going to open up to little ol' me? All because of some family photos? Were things really that bad for him?

I calmed down and relaxed my tention. Somehow I seemed to be up to the challenge. Talking about life with none other than Bob Dylan! I would dive in and prepare for any trail that came my way. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a box of tissue near the couch. Perfect, just perfect!

Once again, I asked about the photos. He simply replied,

"From far away it looked like you and your wife were in that picture with a puppet! Now I see that that's no puppet, that's a boy! Good for you, mister."

He got up, thanked me for the tea, and walked to the door. I got up, raced to his hat sitting on it's little hook, and handed it to him. He slipped on his boots, slid on his hat, and adjusted it in the mirror. He pulled another smoke from his pocket and lit it up like James Dean would.

The door opened and he walked out of it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Poem for Si Chuan

Chaos spills out from your beauty,
Your great trees, your soft earth.
It slips between fingers
and falls to it’s fate.

Time has sown and reaped your fields,
feeding your children and making them strong.
Yet now they boil over, in a cruel twist,
like an old friend gone cold.

Brick lay silently upon your dead.
The broken ground lets out a sigh of relief
workers, marching over the land
like ants would crawl over a dropped birthday cake.

I’ll call out for the weepers,
bring out your best.
The wailers and and mourners,
we need the professionals.

Your strong men who cry for your daughters.
Your weak ones who break for your sons,
in places where tents and sacks of rice
replace family.

A brick pile of a school, stooped in the grass,
sings the sorrow, sighs the story.

So this is what it’s like to grieve.
This is what it’s like to pray for the dead.
These are your tears, puddled together, in a pool over Mian Yang.
It’s murky waters rising higher still.

I saw your face this morning, it’s emptiness.
It was in my yahoo! account next to Angelina Jolie’s
pregnant belly and NBC’s Summer Schedule.
As I read your article a pop-up told me that
I could meet “sexy singles” anytime I wanted.

My mother Skyped me to tell me that she saved
$1.37 on laundry detergent.
“My coffee is cold”, I lamented, “and my fantasy
team sucks”, I complained to myself.
“That’s great, mom. We’re all so proud of you. I
need to go now, I love you”.

I had to close boxes and open the microwave
before I could find your article again.
You were still there,
waiting for a savior.

Your weepy lake had begun to drain,
down the mountain through cookie-cutter rivers.
The army had built them for you… so thoughtful.
And these rivers will carry your tears down the mountain
and through this Red Country to the ocean.

They will soon be washed away by waters from other
mountains, with other songs and stories,
far less heartbreaking.

This is the hope. This is the faith.

That these words may remain:

“I see you, Si Chuan.
I hear you, my love.
Breathe out, my sweet,
and breathe in once more.”

“You’re in my heart, Si Chuan.
You pump my blood.
All that is gone from you
I long to restore”.