Tuesday, December 1, 2009

faking it.

Some thoughts from a month ago:

I have had many tedious filled days lately. For the last 3 months I have been cleaning bathrooms and bedrooms, washing dishes, serving, food, decorating trees, moping floors and more. Working at camp can be a pretty tedious venture. Though we all get to work in a great environment with amazing people, it is true that things can get frustrating at times.

I often will catch myself in a grumpy mood. "Oh, that lady needs another fork? What's wrong with the one she has?" or "Take off your muddy shoes before you come into the kitchen to dirty another cup with your 11th cup of coffee today!". Thoughts like these can often overwhelm me. I find myself criticizing anything and everything done by everyone else but myself. "Oh, if only they'd do it THIS way things would be a lot easier around here."

I imagine that a lot of people could relate to this. Most all of us have things in our lives that drain us at times, or friends that act in ways that make you want to take a that friendship and end it. I imagine that most people don't do anything about this. I mean, what can you do about an annoying person? Shoot them?

I think that most of us just put up with stuff like this. Actually, I think that the way we survive the days is by creating these little dialogs within our own heads. "They are so dumb." "I can't believe they did that."

These dialogs are like pills or something. Take one to numb the pain of frustration a little bit.

But the thing I've been thinking about is how these little day dreams are actually hurting me more than the other people. They may help me justify my feelings but in this way they only contribute to furthering the establishment of a false reality in my mind. These false realities embed themselves in my subconsciousness and, soon enough, they become what I believe to be truth. Let me explain if your patience would allow for a few more seconds of time.

This lady with the muddy shoes and dirty coffee cups is probably a very nice lady. She came to this camp to enjoy a weekend after a busy week at work or with the kids. Obviously, I don't know anything about her and all I can do is speculate. But the one thing I know she is not is a sneaky lady who roams around the province looking for camps to dirty their floors and cups. The problem is that its my job to clean up after her mess and I have chosen to clean it up, and in my mind I am justifying my feelings and thoughts about her with lies.

This is pretty simple stuff, but I think the breakthrough I've had recently is that I am only hurting myself with these lies that I tell myself, or Satan tells me, whichever you prefer. The key to this is the garbage dump that I am stocking up in my mind and heart. I have so much garbage in there and its all bagged and ready for any situation that I might want to "dump" on.

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce. There is a part in there where Napoleon is in "Hell" still trying to figure out who is to blame for the mistakes his army made during his life. I shudder to think of what my thoughts might be like 40 years or so from now. Will I be sitting in a chair all day yelling at everyone around me (out loud or in my mind)? Wrapped up in my own thoughts and lies?

How long will all of our problems continue to be the fault of everyone else? I often think of how easy it is for me to choose good. When I choose good, evil loses and reality sets in, the real one, if you will. Reality is that we are all loved and that we all matter. Somebody cares for everyone. Choosing to reject the the lies is a choice for truth. I choose not to judge that person (out loud or in my mind) because I want to see them as they really are, not in my twistedness. It is in these moments that I can begin to see myself as I really am as well. Only in the light can I point out areas of darkness. If its complete darkness then how will I see anything true? Its scary to think how many of us are already so far down this road. So many of us continue to feed these thoughts. So many of us settle on to fake it because it gives us temporary satisfaction.


Finally, I don't think it's about smacking myself over the head and forcing myself to be good. Its about building a foundation for my thoughts and feelings. If it's forced, then how am I any better than I was before? No, its about a foundation of knowing that we are all special, as corny as that may sound I still believe that so many of us refuse to believe it. We are all loved. We may not know love. We may see love and experience love and not know what it is that makes it happen. I love my 2 sons in a way that is different in the way I love anyone else. I can't explain it, I can only tell other people to have kids because its great. But do I always believe that I am loved this way, the way that I love Miles and Jonas?

"No way. I've got better ideas. I've got lies that I can tell myself to make the day seem brighter and to make my lazy ways a little more credible." That's what I settle on much of the time.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

That guy in the zip line

I am running the zip line at camp this fall.

So, the other day there's this guy...

We had a school group at the zipline and I was giving the safety talk; "this is the harness, that is the zip line, climb up over there, we're at the top to let you zip down, blah blah blah." The last thing I am always sure to remind them of is to not hang upside down in the harness. It doesn't go over the shoulders so going upside down, though most definitely still safe, is not 100% safe, and 100% is what we're all about at Camp. "Don't hang upside down!"

So, the guy...

The guy is actually the teacher supervisor for the school children. Well into his forties I had all the confidence in the world that he still had his hearing. He heard the rules. He was standing right beside me. So close that I noticed we both had the same pair of shoes.

You can see where this is going. After the kids are all through we usually give the teachers and parents a turn. So, up climbs "the guy". As we transfer him from the ladder to the line this dialog tumbles down...

"Hey, we were thinking that it would be funny to put the harness on backwards and zip down like Superman," he says.

Noticing that his harness is done up correctly and that he is just joking around I say, "Yeah, you could try that at a different camp."

We both chuckle and then he says, "yeah, like at a camp for people with mental problems."

After that comment I was all business. I just wanted to get this guy down the line, into the building for lunch, on the bus and back to the city. So, I hook him up and off he goes. Almost immediately he flips upside down, making "Wooo Whoooo" sounds as he goes. In the shock of the moment (breaking the rules and loving it) I stand there for a moment in silence. Then Curtis, who is working with me up there says, "Man, I hope he cans himself on the tire." The tire is the bumper that keeps the rider from smashing into the pole at the other end. After he says this I realize that I should start letting him down so that he slows up and doesn't hit the tire too hard. As I lower him he continues to pick up speed toward the tire, completely vertically upside down, and now with his legs spread open for some reason. Curtis and I brace for what could possibly be the best "tire hit" in the history of the Nakamun Zip line.

You can be sure that the words I type cannot express the experience of the moment. Curtis and I laughing it up as this guy smacks his crotch into the Goodyear! The best hit we've both seen. A guilty feeling of pure joy rises up in my chest. I smile as I wind the line back up for the next rider. The guy slowly walked back up the hill to return his trolley and harness. He didn't say anything to us about the hit because we all knew that it was his fault. He eventually got on that bus and we went away a funny story to tell.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Edmonton Folk Fest Review

Nestled behind the pyramids of the Muttart Conservatories lies a little place I (and others) like to call the sight of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. The site is actually a ski hill and at times can feel a little uncomfortable on the backside, but after a while you get used to it and the view is actually pretty decent.

Though the side stages were pretty fun, the place to be in the evenings was at the main stage, or the big ski hill if you will. I only have time to tell you about the evenings... when the magic happens!


Thursday Night gave us Kathleen Edwards. Our spot on the hill was perfect. We sat almost directly behind the big screen in the middle of the hill, but Kathleen made sure she stood near the left center side of the stage so that I could still see her out of the side of the big blue tarp draped over the screen. "Thanks, Kathleen! I'll give you a call sometime this week".

Miss. Edwards brought the sultry soaked sound of her voice for us this weekend. Her sets on the main and side stages were enjoyable, though she seemed to only play a few of my favorites. She belted out lovelies such as Cheapest Key, Asking For Flowers, and Six O'clock News on the main stage and then seemed to play them all over again the next day on the side stage. That might be my only complaint, along with that her set wasn't 6 hours long.

Steve Earle
also played on Thursday night. Steve Earle is Steve Earle. He talked a lot of stuff about being from the South and having a lot of wives. I ignored most of the jabber. His music is pretty enjoyable and definitely belongs at the folk fest. The tribute to Townes is nice.

Apparently, Boz Scaggs played after Steve Earle. I don't know this guy at all and we wanted to get home to rest up for the next day. I also had to drop off Barbara and Jonas at the in-laws then drive across town to take the garbage out at the place we were house-sitting at, then drive an hour back to camp to work the next morning. Sorry Mr. Scaggs. Cool name.


Friday... the party started! The Wailers opened up the night concert. The Wailers, being a bunch of young people dancing around singing Bob Marley songs with Bob Marley's bass player. It was pretty awesome. All the hits, except for No Woman No Cry. That's okay because I have a woman and I still cry sometimes.

Next was Neko Case. She seems like a fun little lady. She had a friend on stage whose humor made me laugh inside and out. She referred to her tall and skinny band mates as a "sexy bag of golf clubs". That is something that I think is pretty funny.

I must pause here and say that both Kathleen Edwards and Neko Case have 2 of the best voices my ears have ever met. Soft, soothing... a great thing to listen to while sitting on a ski hill with 20 thousand other people. I'm not too familiar with most of Neko's stuff, just her contributions to the New Pornographer albums I own. Though after this night I will be sure to get my hands on a few more downloads.

Raul Malo played after Neko Case. His band was cool, with a South Beach Miami kind of sound, but I wasn't really into his voice. It was also nice to get home a little early to prepare for Saturday. We were pretty sure that they put these Malo/Scaggs types at the end of the evening so that people could go home a little earlier.


Saturday was a great day. Miles came out during the day performances. It was fun to have him up on the hills. He liked dancing,smiling, slurping sugary lemonade, and meeting new people. He also had a great cowboy hat borrowed from one of the Ranch workers at Nakamun. Thanks, Heather!

We sent Miles home before the evening show so that he could go to bed. The evening was packed.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit were first up. Johnny is a 25 year old hot-stuff of a man and his band can really pull it all together. Lovely lyrics and a nice little Rufus/Buckley type voice. I am checking out his album A Larum right now!

Bring on Patty Griffin! It was nice to see her sing. A real professional, it seemed. Julie Edgely has a big crush on Patty and I could see why. Another great voice to enjoy.

Iron and Wine came on after Patty. Can it get any better than this Saturday night?! Sam Beam came out band-less but still great. He got Such Great Heights out of the way and kept on with a lot of lovely tunes. My favorite, Naked as We Came, was a highlight. His beard is great! I wasn't aware of it before but Sam was once a cinematographer and taught Film Studies at Miami College before his music took off. He also was writing songs for 7 years before he ever recorded anything. A successfully bearded man he is!

Rodney Crowell was pretty boring. Sorry fans, but when he started talking about imagining if his imaginary twin brother had imaginary HIV and that he wrote an actual song about it, I started to wonder what was going on. Was I still on the hill? Was I still me? What?

Top Highlight of the Festival:

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

This was the night we would not go home early! After a classy introduction here the band warmed up and Sharon swiggled out onto the stage. "Swiggle" might not be a word, but I'm sorry, that's what she did! The dance crowd spilled out from the "dancing" section onto the whole hill. The spill actually went UP the hill! We were all on our feet for most of the show. Miss Sharon brought on a couple of funny dudes from the crowd to dance with and one freaky one. She took us through the evolution of the "shout dance" that apparently is a combination of her African and Native American roots.

It was simple energy. She danced and sang late into the night and about 45 minutes into the morning. We all went home happy. Some of our friends who volunteered at the festival got to meet Sharon later that night at a party. Lucky!


Sunday was good, but it was no Saturday. There were some notable names playing in the evening but we decided to leave before then. We caught a small Jill Barber concert in the morning and then a free Pitcher of beer from our Auntie in the beer gardens (Thanks, Kathie!) before we headed up the hill to see Arrested Development (the band not the show) in the sunny afternoon. Miles danced and we all sang along. Some of the folks went up close to the stage to dance and they thought it was a good time. Speech and the gang sang all the hits and their new stuff wasn't that bad either.

Some other performers who were nice to hear throughout the weekend; Joel Plaskett, The Heritage Gospel Choir, Hang Gai from China, Fred Eaglesmith, Danny Michel, Ashley MacIssiac, and some of the Under 22 performers. One of them was overly dramatic and kind of silly to watch, which was also a highlight of entertainment.

That might be all I have to say about the music. The food seemed to be normally priced. You could even buy a can of soda pop for a dollar from the "Nut Man". The weather was too perfect. The friends and loved ones were plentiful. Thanks for the great weekend!

Jonas had a great time, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just so you know

- I have to admit that I like the CFL. I like it for it's tradition, it's excitement, and that I grew up with it roaming around the hallways of my heart.


The 2 things that I don't like about the CFL are the "3 minute warnings" instead of the NFL's "2 minute warning" and that the MVP of the league is actually called the MOP for "Most Outstanding Player". That is silly. That is unnecessary. It is something that makes me laugh and cringe at the same time when I hear it being said.

- The TV show "The Dragon's Den" is entertaining and informative.

- In the previous sentence I accidentally typed "nad" instead of "and".

- CBC radio 1 is great to listen to while you hammer wood and screw in nails.

- The shallowness of the world is a sickness that we are to shallow to admit exists.

- Still waiting on an e-mail from Kona.

- I weigh 221 pounds. It must be from all of the things weighing on my mind.

- Something interesting...

John 5:22 "...the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.

John 3:17 "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

Something to remember the next time you hear someone say that "God will be your judge" or that "God will get him in the end" or something along those lines. What's my point? Not too sure exactly what. I'm still working on it. But it is these kinds of things that I read in the Good Book that make me think that a lot of us are looking at things the wrong way.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Biking down the road from camp.

I've got a bike. Well, my mom's got a bike and I get to borrow it, free of haggling, bartering or charge. I rode that bike every day a half mile down the road and back. This went on for about a week and then my son was born. I still ride that bike, now and then, though not as much as I used to, before my son was born. Here is a little picture in words for your mind to imagine with:

The tall grass raises up to applaud me and my mom's bike while the temperature drops as a bend in the road lowers me down level with the lake water.

"No need, my friends. The pleasure is all mine," I respond.

The buzzing of power lines and mosquitoes rings in my ear in a confusingly therapeutic way. And as I come up toward the Henkelmen's,
the pink sun sets the trees on fire. It's 10pm. I'm wearing my glasses. My ankle itches. The hand grips are white. The spokes have been spoken for. They...

Clack their way over gravel stones creating snakes in the dust. The air is crisp. It restores me as I breathe it all into my lungs with a religious commitment. My eyes are shocked, stinging from the freshness. A few tears drop down in all the excitement and newness.

Through a cloud of bugs, one goes into my mouth and, after a bit of fighting, I give in and swallow him down to his grave.
I stop in the middle of the road and sound ceases.

A moment, a dog bark. A moment, the call of a loon. A moment... and yet another still.

A truck passes and I watch as it's dust floats over the fields. A minute or so goes by with the remnant still falling into agricultural history.

"Blessings, sweet earth, blessings to you and your ancestors," proclaims the dust. "I greet you with a kiss."

"Welcome home," she responds.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Plaskett Basket

We went to the Joel Plaskett show a few nights ago. I'll give a full review from the church pew real soon. (The concert was at a church).

"You be Israel, I will be Palestine."


Here it is, 3 weeks later. It was a great show. If you ever have a chance to go see a performance at McDougal United Church then I suggest that you go. Heck, why not check out the service on Sunday morning?

This was the second show I had been to at this particular venue. The first was Hayden, and we took baby Miles to that one. It was very cold out so Barbara and Miles got ushered to the front of the line while the rest of us waited in the cold. That was a good show. But this one outdid the last one, in my opinion.

It was a nice night. No bitter Hayden-type cold this time. Also, there was no opening band, which I really liked. Plaskett was touring without his rock band The Emergency. His new album seems more like a solo effort, so he brought along his back-up singers and his Dad, naturally. If I was touring and had a chance to bring along Dad I'd do it. And I hope Miles would do the same.

Anyways, it was a nice evening. Kind of like a sing-a-long, clap-clap fest, really. The crowd was into it from the beginning. If I remember right, the song True Patriot Love was the first song he did. Now, for me, after being out of country for a year, coming to a show and hearing a song about Canada and Patriot Love (Not the War kind of patriot love, but the nice hockey/beavers kind) I got a little misty in the eyes. It was a moment, that's for sure. Here's a link to the song performed at a different time, but it's also great.

During the intermission I was talking to a friend and he asked what I missed about living in Canada, or something to that extent, and I said that I missed stuff like this Joel Plaskett show. Being out in this city and being around all of these people is something that seems to restore some sort of dry roots inside my heart. The songs are the water and the neighbors, strangers, and friends sitting around me in the crowd are the soil. I can't really explain what the Sun is, but I can feel it.

Later on, Joel brought out his Dad and his back-up singers. They brought an acoustic, clangy sound to the stage, driven home by Joel's voice. It was a great time. A great 'welcome back to your homeland' show. Leonard Cohen and Joel Plaskett, all in the same month. Good times. La la la la la...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Early Playoff Beard Curse?

Something I've noticed these playoffs:

Exhibit A...

Above is St. Louis Goaltender Chris Mason. It seems as though that beard has been growing for a long time. Should he have shaved fresh for round 1? His team got swept by Vancouver. What is with the massive beard?

Exhibit B...

Ranger's defenseman Paul Mara with the bushy beard. I watched him in game 7 against the Caps last night and it almost seemed like the beard was impairing his judgment. Maybe wind was a factor. The Rangers lost game 7 after his team had built a 3-1 series lead.

It seems that these 2 men dared to challenge the playoff tradition of growing a beard during the playoffs by growing them BEFORE the playoffs. The evidence suggests that in the future, players better come clean shaven to the first round. I mean, seriously, what would these beards have looked like if these 2 teams made it to the finals? Insanity, my friends, insanity. Know your limits.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Perfect Storm - Leonard Cohen Live

What an interesting night I woke up from this morning. Barbara and Miles were staying over at a friend's house and I had no where to go and nothing to do. After tossing the idea around in my head, I decided I'd fork over the 50 bucks it cost to pay for a nose bleeder seat at the hockey rink to see Leonard Cohen's first performance in Edmonton in over 15 years.

If you're wondering who Leonard Cohen is, he's most notably known for writing the song Hallelujah. To say that's all he's ever amounted to is the understatement of the hour. He's given the world numerous hits and timeless classics all plucked out of his books of poetry and brought to fulfillment with his gravel truck of a voice. I went into this concert expecting to enjoy it. I didn't know I'd be so emotionally affected by this man, coming close to tears and breaking into laughter so many times during the performance.

The show was to start at 8pm. Leonard and his band came out at about 8:01. Dressed in a dark suit with a lazy fedora perched atop his gray head, Leonard Cohen stood humbly, bowing ever chance he could in honor of the nearly sold-out crowd that showed up. Aside from a 10 minute break at 9 and about 4 or 5 encores at the end, He didn't leave the stage until 11:20pm. Some of the highlights:

His interaction with the crowd was humorous and humble. He exclaimed how great it was for them to be performing in this building where "The Spirit of the Great One hovers".

Another great quote was when he mentioned that it had been over 15 years since he had performed in Edmonton: "That was when I was 60 years old... just a crazy kid with a dream."

He introduced his band in a way that I'm sure made them all feel like treasures. "And on the drums, Diego.... our time keeper." "Our bass player, the glue to this whole ensemble."

The thing that I enjoyed most, along with the songs, was the performance. In the song "The Future" after he sang the line "and the white man dancin'" he did a little shuffle for a moment or two. Later in the song he replaced that line with "and the white women dancin'" and 2 of his back-up singers turned around and did cartwheels! It was just a bunch of subtle little stuff that really made the performance. He also spent a long time down on one knee serenading his guitar player.

There were 3 women singing backup. At one point they kept singing a "ba da ba" line over and over at the end of the song at Leonard's prompting. "Please, don't stop. Such a beautiful sound. Please, comfort me just three more times." And then, at the end proclaiming, "I am healed."

I sat next to a nice couple from Saskatchewan, Kevin and Judy. They told me stories of seeing Leonard some 20 years earlier and how his passion and humility hasn't changed a bit. They told me about how he's touring again because he needs the money. Something about a crooked manager stealing all his money while we was living in a monastery on the top of some hill in California. Judy mentioned that the last time they were in Rexall Place was about 15 years ago when they came to see Bob Dylan. They said that his performance was okay, but his opening act stole the show. The opening act was some lady named Tracy Chapman.

My favorite performances of the night were The Future, In My Secret Life, Hallelujah, I'm Your Man, First We Take Manhattan, Bird on a Wire, Dance Me to the end of Love. Basically, it was all amazing.

After three hours of songs I could still think of a handful of songs he didn't sing. The Traitor, That's no Way to Say Good-bye, and That don't make it Junk were all left off of the set list. I could be disappointed, but really, it's an embarrassment of riches and I feel pretty lucky to be apart of what could be his last ever performance in Edmonton.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

At First Glance.

We're back in Canada. It's been about 4 days. Jet lag has won me over. I went napless for the first 3 days, but today I slept from noon until 5:30pm. I figured that it was important to get some sleep since I drive a car now.

A few observations on the flight...

Air Canada flight 30 from Beijing to Vancouver. English announcements are followed by French with the occasional Chinese thrown in in the end. I thought it funny that, on a flight with 80% Chinese speaking people, they would still put French ahead of Chinese. I guess that's the way us Canadians do things.

Holding my 25 pound child on my lap for 10 hours is something I never want to do again. We might need to buy him a ticket next time.

The movie "Yes Man" is pretty funny. Murray from Flight of the Conchords plays the exact same type of character in this movie, but its still very funny.


It's colder here than in Xining. The air is crisp and new. Spring is just around the corner, but the city seems quiet and slouchy. It probably has something to do with the Oilers not making it to the playoffs for the 3rd straight year. I've got optimisim because the coach got fired the day we arrived.

I start work at camp in May, but I got a jump start on things this week by helping out with the dishes. I first worked at camp about 14 years ago doing dishes for my 9th grade work experience. I've come full circle. They bought a new washing machine this winter, so I guess I'm not the only one.

Saturday Night...

I drove around around the North Side of Edmonton tonight. Explosions in the Sky was playing on the ipod and I was sort of pretending that I was on "Friday Night Lights." I drove by 3 new Starbucks coffee shops. I ended up stoping at a Second Cup, but I'm thinking that Starbucks probably owns Second Cup anyways. You just can't win on the North Side.

I'll throw some pictures up here sometime soon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

24 hours and counting...


Controversial and slightly infamous rock group "Dai Zou" takes the stage tomorrow night for a quick 6 song set. A ONE TIME ONLY EVENT! Dance party to follow. Be there and be there with your friends and your friends' friends' childrens' friends.

"When you got nothing you got nothing to lose."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


By this time next week my family and I will be on our way from our hotel to the National Airport in Beijing. From there we depart at 430pm on a flight via Vancouver to Edmonton, arriving at 4pm, a half hour before we left. We'll be in Edmonton for 6 months, quite a long time, and the first time I've been in Edmonton in the summer time in 4 years. Edmonton in the summer is dandy.

It hasn't been the easiest last few months here in Xining, though it feels as though this city is buzzing with reality and a lot of good things are happening here. That being said, we're sad to be leaving this place yet happy to go home with the restored desire to grow. We are happy to say that we are not going home weary, but renewed.


This weekend is our friend Carrianne's 32nd birthday party. I say 32 not to embarase her but because that is the name of the party being held in her honor. It will be at a local bar, whose English name is "Material Life". It's actually "Material & Life" but us foreigners seem to think that "Material Life" has a nicer ring to it. Most of us just call it "That bar by Jeff and Carrianne's house". They put the English sign up backwards.

This party will have a live band playing at it and that live band will have me in it. It's going to be a lot of fun. Our band includes Myself, Jeff and Carrianne, Ashok from Nepal, and Hua Sheng from Xining. We're playing a half dozen songs that we've been practicing for about a month now. Here's the list:

Undone (The sweater song) by Weezer
Zombie by The Cranberries
Autumn Existence Words from my poem put to music by Jeff and Carrianne
Diamond Ring by Jeff
Tears on my Guitar by Taylor Swift
Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan

As you can see, its quite an eclectic mix. I'm hoping to video a bunch of it and turn it into a birthday gift for Carrianne.

It's pretty funny some of the stuff foreigners can get away with in this country. We made friends with some of these people that hang out at this bar and now they're letting us perform and throw a birthday party there!


The Oilers lost to the L.A. Kings last night, 2-1, eliminating them from playoff contention. I hope they find a way to clean up this mess of a team in the summer. Too many mistakes. (see photo below)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Falling Apart

The week that was was a week of falling apart...


First I must talk about the Xining Art Society meeting. It is a meeting of people who like to share in the enjoyment of creating, critiquing, and appreciating all kinds of art. The rules of the Art Society:

1. You do not talk about Art Society.
2. You do not talk about Art Society!

Just kidding... talk away!

3. You can come and check it out without bringing any of your own art.
4. After that, if you want to attend, you must bring your own art.

This month, Barbara and I were the hosts. 5 women showed up, and after trying in vain to convince Joel to get his lazy self over to help even out the male/female ratio, I realized that I was on my own.

It was a good time, though. There were 5 pieces. 3 paintings, one birdcage display, and a song. We spent a good while talking about each piece and it seemed as though we all learned a little more about art and a little more about the artists themselves.

The proof the the good times is as follows:

To the right is the first piece, Amy G's birdcage/painting/notebook layout. Is it a mind? A brain? The universe? Another world above the stars?

On the right, Barbara takes a long look at Heather's tree painting. The orange sky had us all wondering if the tree was breaking free from the blackness, or settling in.

Above is everyone taking a good, long look at Heather's piece after moving it to a different wall.

To the left is Sarah's piece. The "tape cassette with sneakers" is quite an interesting work. This was Sarah's first time at the meeting and we're all very amazed by what she brought to the table.

And finally, the painting from the short film that Carrianne made. Quite an amazing painting for a first time oil painter. Check out the film on Facebook.

To understand the theme of "falling apart" you kind of needed to be there. So, be there next time! I won't be there, but you should. In all, we've had 7 or 8 meetings and this one was definitely in the top 2.

#2 of falling apart...

Is it too much for a guy to ask that his hockey team make the playoffs so that he can watch a few games when he gets home? I didn't think so.

The Oilers continue to climb the monumental ladder into mediocrity. After today's loss to the Wild, the Oilers sit 2 points out of the playoffs. With all of the other teams reaching for a playoff spot literally playing their best hockey of the season, one has to wonder; what happened to the Oilers?

Even with a little bit more 'bite' in their game over the past 2 weeks, we could be talking about them challenging Vancouver and Calgary for the division. Yet, here we are. Same old same old.

There are a lot of fingers to point in this situation and a lot of faces to point them at. But the main thing is that when a team plays on home ice they should be good. The Oilers are not. They are bad.

Flash Back...

Last year I bought a half price ticket to an Oilers-Sharks game for 90 dollars. I went by myself because they only had single seats available and I don't know anyone else who's stupid enough to buy anything for 90 dollars at half price to go with me.

The weather was particularly bitter that day, my friends. I beleive it was February. I parked at the Clairview LRT and boarded the train hoping that my car would start when I returned. At the game, the Oilers produced 13 shots on goal and lost 4 to 0. I boarded the train back to clairview and, thankfully, my car started.

As I waited for my cold car to warm up I couldn't help but think about something:

"What was Ethan Moreau doing at that moment?"

He was probably eating his post-game meal from a catering company, or soaking in a hot bath. Or maybe he was spending some of his salary on a new house or small country.

And there I sat, 90 dollars poorer and feeling like I just got ripped off by some sort of scam.

Fast forward to a year later...

and the Oilers continue to refuse to reward their fans. They have 20 shiny wins on the road and only 16 at home. Maybe they need to hurry up on building that new arena. This current team is tainting all of the great memories people have of that building before it was called Rexall Place. If Wayne Gretzky were dead he'd probably roll over in his grave.

#3 in falling apart...

We've had a leak in the upstairs bathroom for a few months now. I tried to get the maintenance guys to fix it but they failed at that. So I ripped the tub out with my hands and saw that it was indeed leaking. After about a month of no leaks the leaks returned. I was convinced that the new problem was in the heating pipes that run under the floor. Sure enough, after smuggling the only maintenance guy I like up to our apartment, and after about 3 hours of digging in the floor, we found the leak! He is repairing it as I type. Lets hope it works!

UPDATE: It appears as though the leak is fixed!

Thus, the week of falling apart.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A bunch of idiots doing nothing constructive

This week was the 3rd Annual 老 外 (Foreigner) Fantasy Baseball Keeper League Draft. If your not familiar with fantasy baseball then you've never really lived....... in the self-realised fantasy of owning a baseball team sort of way. Everyone picks real players to be on their own team through the MLB season and the guy with the best statistics at the end is the champ. This year, since most of the guys are in town, we decided to do a real-live draft in person instead of the on-line thing we usually do.

One guy in our league has been into fantasy sports since the AOL days back in the 90's and probably even before internet. He's always wanted to do the draft with a "Big Board" where everyone selects their team by pinning up the player's names on the board. I figured that I'd throw something together and make the dream a reality! I also made cookies. Thus, the following recap:

Above is the Big Board. The draft took place in Jeff's basement and lasted just over 3 hours. Way too long! That's something we need to work on for next year. Maybe next year we can start in the morning or something.

The league has 12 teams in it. 7 people showed up and the others either sent in their lists or took part via the internet super highway. To the right is Brian. He woke up at "The butt crack of dawn" (his words) in Arkansas to partake in the draft selections. I know, I know, I've never heard of Arkansas either. Probably near Guam or something.

Some more of the highlights:

To the right we have Aaron, the one who's been waiting for at least 15 years for a fantasy sports Big Board. There are probably some tears of joy rolling down the other side of that Gordon jersey as he looks up at the Big Board. In this picture, Aaron is in deep thought, wondering how Jeff's team got so much better than his own over the course of only one full season.

side note: I drafted Alex Gordon. I'm not expecting great things, but I have hope that he'll be able to take a few more steps towards a useful career.

To the left is Kane. He is a school teacher so you'd think that he's probably marking some homework in this picture. That's what I thought too, but we're both wrong! He's actually got a pretty good spread sheet of baseball players in that folder. His commitment to the league is further verified by the fact that he had to miss/cut short an important meeting to be at the draft. "Well done good and faithful servant."

Above where you are reading right now is Jeff, defending Champion and Alex Rodriguezless. He is very proud of selecting marginal starter Adam Wainwright. He is also very proud of his moustache*.

* apparently moustache is spelled without the "o" but I am defiant in spelling it that way.

To the left is Commissioner Jamin and his moustache. He is new to the job this year but he is up to the challenge. Jamin is a statistical genius and will do well to keep us all updated on all the latest numbers.

No one knows how these moustaches will affect the play of their respective teams, but Jeff and Jamin seem to be seeking advice from some sort of alternative "insiders" site. In this keeper league Jamin kept Jhonny Peralta, and missed out on his crush Mike Aviles in the first round. Lets hope this moustache has a few tricks up it's sleeve, for Jamin's sake.

To the right is my can of PBR. PBR is the only beer in this town that I can stomach these days. The Chinese beer just doesn't seem to have any flavor anymore.

Apparently I didn't get the memo that nobody else was going to drink beer at the draft. I only had 2 cans so, luckily for me, it didn't affect my drafting ability. All of my idiot moves I can blame fully on stupidity.

In the end I am pretty happy with my team. I have a lot of proven guys (Pujols, Sizemore, Magglio) and some young guys that could raise a few eyebrows (Gordon, Joba, Zimmermann). The season starts in a week!

Monday, March 16, 2009

A strange filmy substance on films.

Paul and I making a movie. A local guy with interest.

This week I had the experience of watching someones favorite movie. The movie is the 1992 release Pure Country, starring none other than George Strait. At it's conclusion I came to my own conclusion that it wasn't a very good movie. I figured that it was my friend's favorite movie for reasons other than it's quality. It turns out that my friend likes this movie because she's seen it a bunch of times. Growing up she'd watch it all the time with her brother and, to this day, they both love it.

All of this talk about good movies made me think that, until recently, I hadn't seen a really good movie for at least a year or so. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a really good movie. It is a great idea and the writers let it play out very nicely. Brad Pitt is great in it, and Cate Blanchett is better. The relationships that Benjamin develop are genuine and interesting and the people that love him are of the utmost character. Kind of like Forrest Gump but not as sugary or predictable. I strongly recommend taking the time for this one.

Which brings me to my next thought. What are my favorite movies? Should I make a list? Yes, I believe that I will! Here they are, in order of their release into the world, with a little bit of my thoughts:

1. Citizen Kane 1941

This is a movie I have watched 5 times in the last 2 years, and twice with the historian's commentary on. I suggest that you do the same. It is a trailblazer; camera shots, no name actors, a 25 year old star and director with all sorts of creative control. This was made all before Pearl Harbor got bombed. Also, an epic/timeless story.

2. Dr. Strangelove 1964

This, to me, is a prophetic movie. Well, I guess with the cold war and the Cuban Missile Crisis, it isn't that prophetic. The story of the Doomsday Device, a war crazy general, and, of course, Dr. Strangelove himself. Also, hilarious, and James Earl Jones' first acting roll. The themes in this movie, though comedic, are probably very similar to the themes that George W. was dealing with for the last 8 years with his war friends.

8. Chinatown 1974

First of all, director Roman Polanski's life is unreal! His mother died in a Nazi Concentration camp and his wife was murdered by the Manson Family; and that is just the tip of the iceberg. He later went on to win an Oscar for directing The Pianist in 2002, but could not come to America to receive it since he would be arrested upon arrival because of being convicted of statutory rape of a 13 year old girl years before after which he fled the country, never to return, even to this day.

Chinatown is amazing. Jack Nicholson gets things done in this movie. The thing that really stood out to me was all of the "beat downs" in the movie. They all seemed so real. I am convinced that half of the fights had to have included real punching, hitting, slapping, etc. It's simply a very believable movie.

4. The Thin Blue Line 1988

Errol Morris' shocking documentary is hard to get a hold of, but if you do, you will not be disappointed. The story line is of a man convicted of a murder he did not commit. It's a really sad story, but the whole thing comes together in the end and it is... well... unbelievable! I'll just say that. Watch it.

5. Unforgiven 1992

If I was making this list from best to 11th best, this one would be near the top. Clint Eastwood is the man in this film. The cinematography is beautiful and purposeful. The acting is raw. The story is refreshing for a cowboy movie. I only saw this a few months ago and I still think about it a lot.

6. Saving Private Ryan 1998

The chaotic beach scene is one of the best scenes of all time. The rest of the movie is pretty amazing, as we all know. The ending on the bridge is pretty memorable too.

7. The Matrix 1999

The 2 other Matrix films are pretty forgettable, but it all started out pretty well. I remember going to see this movie at the Paramount Theatre on Jasper Ave. with my cousin after some sort of family gathering. I don't really need to say anything else about this movie since everyone has seen it. When I worked at Movie World it was the staple that I would throw in the VCR and have on during the slower parts of the night.

8. Dancer in the Dark 2000

The saddest movie I have ever seen. Talking to other people about it and they actually seemed to feel physically violated by the movie. I'm pretty sure that that's what the makers were going for and I think that it is beautiful because of/in spite of that.

9. American Splendor 2003

This is the "comedy" of the bunch. Harvey Pekar is a really lovable character. His idea for comics is great as is the whole story. "I'm just a kid from the neighborhood!"

10. Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 2003-04

After thinking about it for a long time I've concluded that this is my favorite Tarentino movie(s). It is very violent, and that is not necessarily why I like it. The story is different in that it is a Kung Fu/Western/Crime/Dramatic/Thriller. Also, Uma Thurman rules.

11. Darjeeling Limited 2007

A few Highlights:

- The awkward moments between the brothers.
- Francis' annoyance at Peter for Peter seeming to steal all of their father's things.
- Francis' and Sister Patricia's similarities.
- The gifted leather belt, from Francis AND Jack.
- The fact that I know many people who have been to India and none of them ever saw a train that nice.

This is a beautiful movie. The incident in the small town with the river raft puts it over the top.

I really like Wes Anderson's movies. The Royal Tenenbaums is right up there as well. When Jeff Wilson finds a copy of Bottle Rocket in town he is sure to buy it and gift it to someone. There seems to be a lot of respect for that movie in this city. I also realise that I indirectly have named both of my boys (born and not yet born) after Wes Anderson characters.

Miles Dignan Gitzel
Richie Darrough Gitzel

I love those little guys.

I could have picked other movies, and most of my picks are rather new. This could be because I am 27 years old and have not yet been introduced to many more of the old classics. I've watched a ton of classics, though, and I would say that 95% of them are just as good as advertised. I encourage you to check out the classics. Or at least anything made before 1990.

What's your favorite movie?

Monday, March 9, 2009

School's back! Cough, cough, Coffee!

Today we had a meeting for all of the foreign students at the University. It was my 4th or 5th one of these, I can't quite remember clearly. It involves us listening to a speech in Chinese and someone translating that speech into English. The English translator, a wonderful local lady we've known for quite sometime, was off from her job in the office for almost a year, so her English is a little rusty. The speech is usually a bunch of do's and don'ts. Here are some of the highlights:

1. "Teachers and students leaving class early or talking on their cell phones during class will be punished." (I think that something is lost in the translation here. I imagine that they are trying to crack down on this kind of behavior, but 'punish' seems too strong of a word. Rest assured that I will not be testing them on that one.) "No cell phone? Okay, got it!"

2. "Except for Chinese, we will also offer calligraphy, culture, and other classes." (Once again, 'except' doesn't really work that well in this situation. There WILL BE Chinese classes.)

3. No talking about things you shouldn't be talking about. (I understand that one. I don't talk that much anyways.)

4. People on student visas may not work at teaching English or in the factories. (Which factories?)

Those are the highlights. It's usually a pretty entertaining time.

In other news, I met a guy today who is planning on opening a coffee shop somewhere on the other side of town. This is good since the 2 existing coffee shops are downtown and the other side of town is probably teeming with coffee enthusiasts. Still no Starbucks... amen. It is fun watching all of these people try to open something here in this city of 1.5 million before Starbucks gets here. My guess would be that within 5 years they break down the door and start brewing their perverted devil's drink. So, so tasty perverted devil's drink, that is.

The weather is warming up nicely. I can smell the Spring season wandering through my window as we speak. Kind of like leaves and baked bread. We've spent time playing outside the last few days.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Week In Review...

- A lot of good stuff happened this week. First off, Miles' mouth welcomed a new addition to the tooth family. This one is more of a molar type tooth as it is nearer to the back of his mouth and not for any sharp 'piercing' of food, but more for 'grinding' the food down. This will come in handy with his apple slices, toast, and crackers, but not so much for juice, cheese, or peanut butter. All this to say that it seemed to be a painful experience for Miles as this tooth is both wider and flatter than the previous ones, resulting in more pain as things progressed.

The appearance of the tooth has seemed to result in a happier boy. He isn't as whiny as he had been the last few weeks and he seems to be excited to get back into the 'joys of eating'.

- I started up my language class this week. It will be 1 hour a day, 5 days a week with Bai 老师. She is the elder sister of one of my former teachers at the university. I am sure that it will be good times.

Our Teacher with the boys.

- In regards to baby #2, we seem to be closer to giving the boy a real name. The options, as of now, are Richie and Jonas. If you have any name ideas please feel free to comment. The boy's middle name will be Darrough, after our good friend Kevin Darrough who passed away earlier this year.

- The elimination of coffee during Lent has had its ups and downs. I think that its been about a week and I've gone 5 of 7 days without coffee. I had to incorporate a special 'sabbath' from Lent, which equals drinking coffee on that day, which is Saturday. This is in conjunction with our traditional 'Saturday Morning Breakfast' celebration that takes place every Saturday morning. In any event, taking it easy on the coffee has left my stomach feeling a lot better. Maybe it was an ulcer or something forming down there, but things seemed to have cleared up. I can't say that I'm proud of my apathetic observation of Lent.

- It is now a few hours later and I am staying up for a bit to listen to TSN.ca for their updates during NHL trade deadline day. It's got a lot of hype, but I can't say that I'm expecting anything amazing done by the Oilers. They need a new back-up goalie, a strong defense man, a face-off specialist, and a scorer. I will say that I hope that they at least grab another defense man and a face-off guy. I guess I'll find out a little later.

**To the left are a couple of 2026 first round picks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Format Crew Doormat

I've decided to make updates about the family on this site, to go along with the writing and hockey silliness. I hope that you will come back every week to see what we've been up to. I plan to let you know about it, every single week. That's a promise. If I don't update this thing every week, then it's free!!!

PS. I made it possible for non blogger people to comment on my posts. Just click on 'comment' and comment away! And be sure to check the quote of the week at the bottom of the page.

Lately time has been pretty spacious. Because of Chinese New Year 春 节 we language students have had, basically, all of 2009 off so far. This has left me feeling unmotivated and kind of bored. To pile on top of that the fact that the family and I will be flying out of here on April 15th for six months and you can understand why studying language is far from my mind.

Anyways, I will get back at it with a tutor starting at the beginning of March and (hopefully) go hard for about a month and a half.

Aside from that, Miles has been keeping us busy these days. We think that he'll soon be sprouting up a nice, new, shiny tooth. This little tooth develops quite a painful look on the face of the little guy, along with a lot of whining. We're not annoyed or anything, but it is a little bit of a change from the usual always laughing and smiling little Miles guy. Welcome to parenthood, I guess.

Barbara's belly is continuing to explode! I say this only because she is continuing to be pregnant. Due on June 2nd, this baby will be a boy and will be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to going into this whole thing again, especially with the little experience that I now possess.

I've been thinking that having kids is a really great thing. I think that a lot of people believe that having kids is the end of fun. I understand what they mean because we need to get up early every morning now, but other than that, I enjoy most of the experience. New fun, I guess would be a good perspective. Today, while Miles and I were watching his favorite video, I could feel his little heartbeat through his back pounding into my chest as his excitement grew for the upcoming 'spider song'. Such innocence. It's really fun to watch him grow from a little baby into a little guy. I recommend kids.

Our house mate's mother is visiting for a few weeks from the bay area in California. Her husband and son are huge San Jose Sharks, so there was quite an uproar when I took a photo of her grandson (Seth) in an Oiler's jersey. Needless to say, they have struck back with all kinds of Sharks memorabilia. Not only does Seth have a brand new teal jersey, but now his dad is outfitted with a new Shark's shirt, and he doesn't even really care about hockey! My mom has a saying that she made up; "When it rains, it pours".

Stay tuned!!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New NHL Season revisited.

I have realised that this blog is mostly an outward processing device for myself. In any event, here it is...

This morning as I fed my son a bowl of oatmeal I realized that the hockey game would probably still be on the Internet radio. A few moments later and there I was, spooning oats to the boy as the sun had yet to poke its head out from the mountains and the Oilers late in the 3rd period with a 2-1 lead!

The boy with the oat face.

Being in China during hockey season leaves me a little out in the cold (sorry for that one) but I manage to spend way too much time paying attention to the ways of the league anyways. The reasons for this might include the fact that this year, for the first time in 3 years, I will be home for the playoffs. This is what drives me to the hope that my team might slip in to the 7th or 8th spot, as usual, and I might get lucky enough to snag a ticket for one of those 2 games where the Wings destroy the consistently inconsistent Edmonton Oilers on home ice.

Anyways, the Oilers won last night (this morning) in a shoot out. That's 2 wins in a row, hot stuff! After the game I remembered my blog at the beginning of the season that I wrote containing some advice for the average fan regarding the upcoming season. Lets take a look back...

(Scroll down if you missed it)

-Things to look forward to-

1. Peter Forsberg's retirement. I just heard that he scored a goal today in some Russian league. I still in hold onto the hope that he breaks his ankle again. Ol' Green Eyes needs to end it. It's nothing personal, I just don't like guy, mainly for the reason that he is annoyingly good and usually plays on Colorado. And personally, I just don't like the guy.

2 Fantasy Hockey. I currently sit 6th in the Yahoo! league with a whole bunch of underachieving superstars ie. Crosby, Zetterberg, Backstrom, Kane, Pronger, Souray. Seriously, how am I in 6th? In the "Kateri" league I am in 1st and I plan on staying there. That league is closer to my heart than the Yahoo! one so I am happy about those standings.

3. Patrice Bergeron coming back from taking a concussion from a Philly Flyer's dirty hit. I think Bergeron came back for a while and then got hit again and missed a bunch more games because of another concussion. It's really sad to see someone so talented be limited by this kind of thing. Hopefully he can battle through it.

4. Speaking of concussions, Jarret Stoll is still engaged to Rachel Hunter. I think they bought a house for 3 million dollars. I am dead serious, I really DID look that up.

5. On January 25th of this year Chris Chelios turned 47 years old. He was drafted in 1981 by the Montreal Canadiens, about a month after I was born. I hear he's not getting much playing time, though when I think about it, I guess my dad isn't getting much playing time either.

6. Eklund's crappy rumor blog is still a crappy blog full of dumb rumors. Tabloids for hockey fans.

7. This next one hurts. Erik Cole on the Oilers.

Stats I predicted for this season: G 32 A 38.

Real stats? G 12 A 10.

So, that means that he needs to score 20 goals and 28 assists in the next 27 games. That is not going to happen. Half of that is not going to happen. A quarter of that is not going to happen. My apologies.

8. Pierre McGuire is still Pierre McGuire.

9. Joni Pitkanen is having a decent season. That makes the Erik Cole debacle that much harder to swallow, along with 2 of the Oilers' best defensemen out of the lineup with severe injuries.

10. The Oilers still might make the playoffs. And my imagination still rules!

-Things to Avoid-

1. Again, just to be clear, I don't like Peter Forsberg. It looks like we won't see him in the NHL this season. Woot!

2. Does the CBC still show hockey games? I don't know, I live in China.

3. Mikey Comrie and Hill Duff were spotted in the Bahamas this past January so we know that they're still together. She's so Disney.

4. Mats Sundin signed with the Canucks for a gazillion dollar contract. He will probably help them make some noise in the playoffs. Then they will lose and he will probably retire or sign with Detroit for 2 gazillion dollars, or a lot less because, "Hey, who doesn't want to play for Detroit?"

5. I don't know about you but I've managed to avoid the awkwardness of Ryan Smyth this year. Praise the Lord!

6. Todd Bertuzzi. I was a little more accurate with my predictions this time. Lets take a look:

I said: 37 goals and 33 assists
Todd's hockey stick says so far: 14 goals and 27 assists.

He's actually doing amazing, and for a million bucks a season can the flames go wrong?

7. My wife and I have made some pretty decent chicken wings over the last few months. The secret ingredient? Hot sauce. Shhhh, don't tell anyone about that secret ingredient... and don't eat chicken wings at a hockey game.

8. The only name I would put on a Jersey?

If I had to pick another guy it would be Oli Jokinen, but things would need to change because I will never buy a Coyotes' jersey.

9. Don't wear a jersey unless you are playing hockey, are at an NHL game, or are a dufus.

10. I still don't like the leafs (Leaves?), but I think that I like them better than the Canucks. And I used to have a problem with disliking the Flames but now I am back to not liking them at all. Looks like it all evened out, didn't it?

So, there you go, Brett.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"This town has the best noodles in all of Tibet" - A Taste of Xia He (Labrang)

The Great Wall. Tiananmen Square. The Forbidden City. Yes, every traveler aims for these popular tourist spots while overlooking the mysterious and culturally rich choice: The Tibetan Plateau. Yet every hopeful plateau traveler, even the Chinese tourist, always seem to come back to the same question: where to begin? My advice to you is to begin in Gansu Province in the small town of Xia He, famous for it’s Labrang Monastery.

Only a two-hour flight west of Beijing, Xining City is the starting point for many people to begin their trip to Xia He. Located along the ancient Silk Road, Xining has helped travelers find there way across the great Tibetan Plateau for centuries.

The Tibetan Plateau is an elevated area that stretches across 5 different Chinese provinces before rising into the Himalayan mountain ranges of China and Nepal. With a total land area larger than California and Alaska combined, is it any wonder why someone would be confused on where to begin exploring? Xia He is a town located just inside the western border of Gansu province, on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, and a great place to start. It is to this small town that I traveled to this past spring with a friend of mine...

-A fictional take-

Stepping of the dusty bus, I cough up 7 hours of second hand smoke. What a ride! Though it wasn’t always comfortable, it was an experience I will always remember: a bus full of Tibetans, my friend Derek, and myself. It really was a lot better than the Land Cruiser rental option I had back in Xining. Better and cheaper. The bus ticket was only 50 RMB, just over 9 Canadian dollars. It probably would have been more comfortable in the Land Crusier, with a lot less smoke, but I didn’t come on this trip just for sightseeing; I came to experience the culture. In any event, I am very glad to finally be off the bus.

Derek, a friend of mine who had lived in this town a few years ago, tracks me down in the crowd, with our backpacks in hand.

“Tough ride, huh? Here, I got our bags from the roof rack.”

“Yeah, thanks man. I think the guy in front of me never stopped smoking the whole trip.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s a lot easier to get addicted to those things over here since their only 3 RMB a pack.” he chuckles.

Derek is a good friend. He has lived in this part of China for over 5 years working with an NGO doing research on the plateau. He speaks Chinese and Amdo Tibetan very well, which are just a few of many reasons why I’m glad that he agreed to accompany me on this trip. He hasn’t been here in a few years and he says he’d like to catch up with some old friends.

After checking into our hotel, we set out for the town’s main attraction; Labrang Monastery. The monastery is one of the largest running monasteries in all of China, home to over 1500 monks of the Yellow Hat sect. The Yellow Hat sect has been considered the ruling sect of Tibetan Buddhism since the 1400s. An offshoot of the ancient Bon religion, the Yellow Hat monks practice a religion that is far less animalistic, and is what many followers would consider “true Buddhism”.

A 40 RMB fee gets us a ticket and a guide. As we make our way to the first building, my thoughts are quickly drown out by the persistent hum of chanting. Looking over I see a monk sitting cross legged in the dust, holding a book in his lap. Upon further inspection I see that there are about a dozen other monks around the corner joining him in this ritual. The constant drone overtakes the entire monastery grounds.

We are swiftly marched through each building. Most of the rooms contain different variations of idols, alters, paintings, drapes, and books. The dense smell of incense floats from wall to wall. A pile of old fruit rots at the foot of a Buddha. All of the rooms are poorly lit so it’s hard to get a good look at anything. I mostly just feel like I’m intruding. Our guide speaks a little English, but he doesn’t say much. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this tour. I wouldn’t mind just roaming around on my own, but the guide is sure to always keep the group close together. With the guide unaware, I am able to snap off a few photos behind his back.

Leaving the Monastery I notice a lot of people outside. Many of them seem to be praying.

“Derek, why aren’t those people in the monastery?”

“Oh, they’re all doing a “Kora”. It is custom for the Buddhists to walk slowly around the monastery, clockwise, while kneeling to the ground and falling prostrate in succession. As you can see, they repeat this act after each step. Some of these people will walk this way around the monastery all day. They do it because they think it will help their Karma and keep their family safe and healthy. Whether you believe it or not, one thing is for certain; they are a very committed people.”

As the sun rises overhead, Derek and I are on the move. He wants to take me to his favorite noodle shop.

“This town has the best noodles in all of Tibet.”

These simple little shops are owned and run by Muslim families. Muslims are famous in China for their noodle dishes. We order 2 large bowls of Gan Ban Mien, similar in style to chow mien. It’s a very simple dish: long noodles, hot spices, sliced up vegetable and lamb, and a traditional sauce. It’s quite oily, but delicious. It reminds me of a spicier and tastier Hamburger Helper.

After eating, we head back out onto the street. Derek is hoping to run into one of his old friends, but so far no luck. Across the street I see a young woman carrying a large coal stove up the road. Her husband follows close behind.

“In this culture, the women do a lot of the work. It’s just kind of the way things go here. It takes a while to get used to it. I always want to stop and help them out, but if I did it would embarrass both the women and their husbands.”

After a few minutes of strolling through shops, Derek and I run into one of his old friends. Jako is a taxi driver. He and Derek met a few years ago when Derek needed to take a group of friends out to the grasslands for a day trip. Jako is a tough looking guy. His face is as leathery as a baseball glove and all of his teeth are bright white except for the gold-capped one that rests right in the middle of his smile.

“What you guys doing tonight?” he asks in broken English.

Derek responds in Tibetan and they continue back and forth for a few minutes. From the look on their faces I can tell that they are working out some plans. Finally, Jako smiles, brushes back his hair and shakes my hand.

“Okay, see you tonight,” he says.

He is off, back up the road, soon to be lost in the crowd.

“Okay man, it’s all set.”

“What do you mean?”

“Jako’s uncle wants to have us over tonight. He says that we must come and see them. They are very excited to have us.”

“But we haven’t even met them. How could they be excited to meet us?” I ask, confused and curious.

“Don’t worry man, it’s cool. It’s just the way they do things here. They are very hospitable. Jako and his family have always been good friends of mine. Their door is always open.”

Later that night we make our way up the main road, through the monastery, and out into a nearby village. Jako’s uncle lives in a traditional mud house. I find out later that the “mud” is mostly yak dung.

The house is one main room and a small little kitchen at the back. There are about 10 people in the house and I’m pretty sure that they all must be related to Jako. In the centre of the room is a table full of food. Everything from soda, to yak meat, to sunflower seeds, to homemade yoghurt is spread out in front of us. It’s possible that every edible thing available in the house is sitting on that table. Hospitable is the understatement of the day.

While Derek chats it up with the family, I sit in silence. My only way to relieve the awkwardness is to continue eating. The yoghurt is amazing. It’s so fresh that I occasionally came across a yak hair or two. Its thickness kind of reminds me of Brie cheese. I was hesitant at first, but after a few spoonfuls I am all in!

My other favorite is the tsamba. Tsamba is a combination of four things; barely flour, yak butter, yak cheese, and tea. The first step in making tsamba is to put all of the dry ingredient into a small bowl. Next, you spoon in some slightly melted butter. After that, pour tea over the whole thing. Then you take the clump of mush in your hands and mix it all together into a ball. I am reminded of when I was young, making cookies with my mom at Christmas. Then I look up and remember that I’m on the other side of the world with a room full of strangers. They laugh at my rookie moves with the tsamba, and with my hands full of gunk, I soon join in with them. It becoming clear that this room full of strangers is quickly turning into a room full of good friends, despite the language and cultural barriers.

After hours of food, laughter, games, and songs, Derek and I say goodbye and head back to our hotel. It’s past midnight and we have an early bus to catch back to Xining. It was only a small taste of Xia He, but a taste that will most certainly bring me back for more.