Sunday, July 31, 2011

And another thing!

Lime juice from the import store + Chinese beer = cheap imported beer.


The best way to shake off a significantly annoying and arrogant image is for a football team to sign a guy who went to jail for accidentally shooting himself in the leg.


Did American Apparel really go bankrupt? This would be a significant blow to the future survival of my closet. They're running a few men short as it is. Their t-shirts are very comfortable. I am wearing 2 right now.


The Norway thing is very sad. Horrible stuff. I think of my Norwegian friends and my heart goes out to them and their country. No words can express. There is a scripture that says that the Spirit intercedes for us. I think of that scripture in times like this.

At the same time, it is also sad that Amy Winehouse died. It is no less sad. It can be just as sad. There is enough of us to mourn both situations, no?

As a society, we have a bad habit of trash talking dead celebrities. As if that will make us feel better about our non-celebrity selves.

"Oh, she was a drunk and an addict. And all those tattoos? What a waste."

From what I've heard, it would be pretty easy for anyone to get caught up in all of that junk when they reach the big time. The sad thing is that she is dead. The other sad thing is that, with the way the whole system is set up, there will be many more celebrities dying from substance abuse.

The truth is that Amy Winehouse had an amazingly powerful singing voice that is now forever silent.


Chinese labor workers usually wear army camouflage clothing. I am not sure why but they do. Despite the camo my son Jonas can still see them. He calls them "bad guys". I am not sure why. Maybe because they're wearing army camouflage clothes.


Cars 2 is an entertaining movie but I can't help but think that they pushed things a little too far too quickly. Mater equipped with fully automatic machine guns? A female car named "Holley Shiftwell"? Cars trying to kill other cars? Turning James Bond into a cartoon?

Whatever happened to us all laughing as Chick Hicks makes a fool of himself in the winner's circle? It seems like Pixar has things geared more and more towards the parents rather than the kids.

For me, the truth is that I'm kind of sick of all of the side jokes aimed at adults. Make a kids movie for kids and make it completely in the way that would make the kid understand and enjoy all of it.

And another thing! Why can't there be a lesson of reconciliation in there somewhere? Maybe the bad cars can somehow become good cars. Maybe the evil guy in Toy Story doesn't have to be carted away in shame and humiliations all of the time. Anyone can see that Stinky Pete just wanted to be loved just as much as any of the other toys.

Maybe the lesson could be to work out your differences. We could all learn from that lesson, though kids retain information better and learn faster than adults so it would be especially important for them.

Or I could just turn the TV off I guess.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Your tee time is at 6:27am

Barrhead, Alberta. 2009

Through the glowing, heart beating race of life there are so many things to keep us entertained. I feel like most of the world is centered around entertainment. "I can't see a meaning in all of this so entertain me until I die."

Funny faces, play pen, Little Einsteins, show and tell, video games, making out, going to the movies to make out, going for a drive just to make out, football games, golf, strippers, chess, going for a walk at an age where holding hands is equal to making out, watching TV, making funny faces to grandchildren, watching more TV, death.

Somewhere in there is golf.

According to my friend/The Internet, golf's origin is debated muchly. Like everything else, it's either from the Romans or the Chinese, though the modern game originated in Scotland. King James the 2nd banned the game because he said that it distracted people from their archery lessons. Where as Lebron James is a basketball player who took his talents to the beach.

That thing about archery made me think that there is more to the story if I were to use logic and push it back a few years. Somewhere along the line someone was sick of archery. This person was probably high class, therefore he had a lot of money and time to figure out exactly how to invent the modern game of golf. This person was more than likely a pre-enlightenment douchebag. Actually, he would probably be more famous for being the first douche than the inventor of golf if his identity were known today. No doubt that when he stepped up to the tee and would pop his collar everyone in the group would secretly roll their eyes.

"But Brett, why are you so negative towards this unknown golfer? This nameless hero, if you will?"

I don't mean to speculate, but from watching movies and reading Anna Karenina I can decipher that anyone who did anything significant back then had money. These people were usually selfish 20 to 40 something year old men who spent their time trying to steal some innocent peasant's virgin wife. Along the way they discovered things like golf and polo and all kinds of things that take time and patience to play. These guys were so rich and bored that they actually invented complicated and time consuming games to play on large areas of grass that some poor fellow needed to cut with his bare hands.

"That's an interesting theory, Brett. But where are you going with this? I've got a tee time at 6:27 tomorrow morning."

Exactly! 6:27 am. Because by 6:31 you better be down the fairway. This is another example of the European aristocratic influence on western society. The same stain is found in baseball, though I don't know how it seeped into the American pass-time. "The first pitch is at 7:05 so we should leave around... 6:22."

My caddie and me in Thailand, 2008

The point that I am not trying very hard to get to is that there is supposed to be a golf course somewhere around here. I heard that they had built it an hour or so outside of Xining but I have not heard if it is finished. The other more pertinent point is that even if this golf course does exist I do not have clubs and I am sure that playing at this course would be far too expensive for anyone to play besides the 0.05 % of the population that they built it for.

"But Brett, aren't you considered 'rich' in China? I mean, you have food to eat, right?"

Yes, we are rich. We are definitely rich here. We have an apartment and we can make food with import store products.

That being said, there is a tennis court in town that we can play at if we pay 140 yuan an hour. That is a little over $20 Canadian an hour. That is why I don't play tennis. I don't have a whole lot of hope that I will be playing golf this year either.

I was reminded of golf the other day when I was walking through our complex to our building. After walking past the stench of the giant garbage can my senses were overwhelmed by the smell of fresh cut grass. They cut the grass about once every two months. Needless to say it is an event I look forward to each and every time.


Friday, July 22, 2011

So, I popped in the DVD and then what happened was...

Some of you may have noticed a little area to the right that tells you what movies I have enjoyed recently. They are not limited to new releases.

I have a hard time tracking down new releases. I know that there are ways to watch on the Internet but more often then not I find that the quality of the movies and speed of the connection are not as 'spot on' as I would like. Therefore, I am basically limited to watching whatever I can get my hands on. This usually means Classics, 80's Action, Oscar winners that I've never seen, Hitchcock, cartoons with cars or some sort of talking animals and Chinese movies..

Now with this approach, I am actually quite surprised that I have not enjoyed that many movies lately. I saw one called I am Love staring Tilda Swinton. There are parts that I loved about this movie but there were more parts that I did not like at all, including the parts where they show too many people parts;)

I watched a Chinese movie called Yi Yi. It was really good, but not "3 hours long but it's so good so I'm going to keep watching" good. Actually, at the point that I gave up I started to fast forward thinking that I was near the end. Well, the fast forwarding took a really long time and I think I gave up on that and just went to scene selection and found the last one.

Then we have director Kar Wai Wong. I watched In the Mood for Love and Chung King Express and loved both of them. To my delight I found a few other of his movies. I soon found that I was not a fan of all of his work. The look of his movies is very interesting, but the topics* seem too drab and empty to maintain my attention for the duration of the film. Needless to say, after crawling through My Blueberry Nights I have left both Ashes of Time and 2046 unopened on my shelf for quite sometime now.

*Something about a wandering woman or man who gets lost in the confusion that is life and the big city.

Brothers was okay. I like the story. I had a hard time believing that Tobey, Natalie and the gang were actually adults with real families and problems and stuff. Maybe Natalie can gain 5 or 30 pounds for her next "mother of an 8 year old" role. She looks like she's heading into 10th grade. I will say that the movie was interesting and that Tobey even took it to a slightly higher level in this one, despite the fact that he still looks so cute and teenagery.

I've seen True Grit a few times now. I think that most people have seen that one. I don't know anyone that didn't like it.

That's about as new as it gets. I look forward to seeing Tree Of Life within the next 3 or 4 years. I heard that Super 8 is entertaining.

This week we had a good time with Scott Pilgrim verses the World. Have you seen that one? I had pretty low hopes for it. Not MacGruber low, but low enough as not to be expecting too much. I found it to be entertaining, funny and very creative. I would recommend that people of a reasonable age watch it. Or maybe you're all over your Micheal Cera phase. He is timid and awkward and such, just like all of his other roles, but somehow it still works for me.

That is about it when it comes to movie watching. Lack of good movies has given me more time to tweak my fantasy baseball team, write, and read on my Kindle. As always, I also anticipate the upcoming NHL season with great... anticipation. Only 2 and a half months away!

This is pretty much the extent of my exposure to a fabricated western culture. I get home sick quite a bit, but these kinds of internet hobbies help take the edge off. I also eat a burger at Bill's Place once in a while. Also, I hear that The Greenhouse has 'pour over method' coffee now.


Regarding my movies, today I had a little meeting with a prospective actor for a short film I want to make next month. It looks like it will work out. She is an 11 year old girl that I need to look like an 8 year old. When I met her I thought that she was 9, so that's good enough for me. I have a few other parts to cast and I need to confirm a friend's apartment for use as a location. It's fun being back in the pre-production phase of things. I have faith that it's going to work out. In any event, it will be fun and educational to at least give it a try.

More on all of this later.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Swimming with the fishes and other happenings

We went to the park last week. The People's Park, in fact. It's really nice this time of year and we figured that Friday would be better than the busy weekend. We figured correctly.

The boys went on some rides, the train, and played in the playground. They even got some ice cream!

Miles Waiting patiently.

Miles reaping the rewards of patience.

They also tried to catch some more fish friends for our pet fish Flowerduna, whom Miles caught and won as a prize on our last visit to the park. Well, this time it didn't work out so well but we ended up buying 2 more fish anyways.

Miles with Flowerduna, April 2011

Fast forward 24 hours...

A sad day in the Gitzel apartment this week. Our first pet, Flowerduna the fish, passed away. She was far too young. Oh the places she could have gone to.

The cause of death seems to be the arrival of 2 new fish, Fireduna and Sunny. We think that the new fish were not eating the food, thus Flowerduna gorged herself on too many little pellets of food. Or... it just might have been murder. Fish on fish murder. We don't know these new guys that well at all. In fact, Fireduna and Sunny might not even be their real names!

The new guys getting used to the spacious territory

Jonas didn't really notice too much of what happened. Miles on the other hand learned something new. When we told him that she was dead he laughed, not really understanding the situation. Then we said that we had to flush her and that she could never come back. He thought that that was strange, but was more curious than broken up about it.

Do I hate the new fish for killing Flowerduna? Do I hold them responsible for Flowerduna's death? Do I think that they might be racist fish with an agenda? I do and I don't.

We gathered around the toilet and flushed her down. That was it. The other two fish continue to survive and I think that they are eating alright. I still step lightly around their bowl, not wanting upset or aggravate them. I mean, they've already committed one murder this week.

But poor Flowerduna couldn't cope with new environment.

"So long, golden little fish. You will always be our first pet. You did a good job, kid. Swim on into that vast ocean of eternal sewage."


I ordered a hat online and had a friend bring it out. My regular hat is faded pretty bad from the hot sun up here and I've always wanted a San Fransisco Giants hat. I ordered an XL. Well, as the story usually goes, it does not fit. It sits hanging from my lamp, as a reminder that I am not a normally sized headed person and I never will be.


Two more things.

I ate the first fruits from my pea plants. Crunching into those bad boys took me back to the days when we would pick peas in our back yard. Or in particular, I remember picking peas in Uncle Randy and Auntie Janice's backyard before they built their garage.

The sweet basil is also growing nicely. I put it on pizzas and in spaghetti sauce. Very nice touch. I love Basil. Heck, maybe we should name our next fish Basil. Basilduna...

basil on the left, cilantro in the back, and mint in the foreground.
That's how they roll.

The mint is also growing well. What do I do with mint? Manufacture chewing gum? Mojitos?

The cilantro is soaring to new heights. I am trying to figure out how to use the stuff since Barbara doesn't like it at all and I only like a bit of it with Mexican food. Why did I plant it in the first place?

My worm bin has been around for over a month now and thee little guys are still chewing away. It's working pretty well. Worms and fish are about the only pets I am interested in having in this apartment.

What an emotional week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

So long, Min Yuan

participating in the Sports Day Parade, 2008

There are many things that I hate about Min Zu Da Xue here in Xining. If I get overwhelmed by the pressures of culture and differences all around me then I often indulge in complaining and whining about them. It's one of my favorite pass times.

Thursday was my last class at Min Da. I had been going to the school to study Mandarin off and on for over 5 years. This landmark on Brett Gitzel Highway is proudly hoisted and planted, and through all of the frustrations and anomalies I can't help but feel a sort of fondness towards that place. The people, the buildings, the changes over the years all give me a sense of belonging. If you've been a student at Min Da (or Min Yuan as we all call it) then you would agree with me on a few things:

The smell of the bathrooms waifing into the classrooms.

There's nothing quite like it. Sitting there, trying to figure something out in those white-washed walled caves. Suddenly, the stench of death arrives. The strange thing is that, after 5 years, it doesn't bother me at all anymore. In fact, the smell of other peoples crap and urine actually brings back fond classroom memories. It makes me think back to that first semester with Chris, Rachel, Alicia, and Tyler. We all thought that it was the strangest and grossest thing. I have heard that smells had the ability to trigger memories, I just never thought that this would be one of them.

Like most students, we have had some great times with our teachers.

I love the teachers. All of them. I've said it before, but I accidentally punched one in the face, causing swelling and a black eye, and she still interacts with me! What a great/forgiving person.

They have all been great. Comedy runs naked and wild in the classroom. It's nice to know that humor speaks many different languages.

I remember have one semester where it was just me in the listening class. The teacher was a lot like my grandma Derman. She was in her 50's but grew up on the campus. She was full of stories and liked listening to mine.

Bai Lao Shi has been a true friend to the family. She was our first teacher when we arrived on the scene in 2006. Yesterday, we all took her out for lunch. Great bookends to a 5 year run.

Presenting Bai Lao Shi with an orange I drew on, 2007

The sacred grounds of Min Yuan.

Many students would remember the large, brown dirt field that sat behind the library. It just sat there. There might have even been poop on it.

I remember playing baseball on that field and running for my life when a ground ball came my way. The ball would be hopping like a bunny rabbit. I remember when someone hit the ball into a yard and smashed some bricks. No big deal.

These days, the field has been replaced by 100 yards of cement, trees and bushes, and a giant rock in the middle. There is also an elaborate fountain system that they never turn on. Because of a lack of benches and tall trees, the place lays deserted most of the time. As I have found out, it is also illegal to ride your bike on the cement. In fact, it is a downright crime against the Great Wall itself.

All around the campus, there are beautiful grassy areas. The local students, who mostly grew up on the grasslands of Tibet, are not allowed to sit on the grass. The foreigner who is typing right now was verbally assaulted for going on the grass. The grass is God at Min Da. No one knows why, it was just that why when they got there.

The Foreign Student's Office

There are some great people that work in the Wai Ban. Mr. Bai is one of them. We've known him for over 6 years now and he is always helpful, friendly, reasonable, and caring.

An example. The last apartment that we lived in before this one was owned by one of the presidents of the school. We never saw the guy. He was busy. Never ever met him. Mr. Bai was the go-between. Anytime we needed to pay rent or if we had a question we would ask Mr. Bai and then he would relay the message on to "The Man".

Last year, about 2 months before we were going to leave to go to Kona for 6 months, we asked Mr. Bai if he could ask the landlord if we could extend the lease. We wanted to stay there and we wanted to figure it out because our current lease would be running out while we were away. Mr. Bai got back to us with a "He's thinking about it." About a month later we heard that he thinks that we might be able to work something out, but he's still not sure. We told him that we needed to know soon so that we would have time to find a new place and move our stuff. Well, 2 weeks before we were leaving and the guy tells Mr. Bai that we cannot extend the lease. Miraculously, we found a new place.

The worst thing was that, while we were away, people like Dustin and Morgan had to do a bunch of stuff to the apartment to make it acceptable to the landlord; repainting it and putting in a bathtub were just some of the things that these guys needed to do and repainting and putting a tub in are some of the things that foreign guys like us hate to do. It was great they helped us out, but I was kind of annoyed at the landlord, especially because we paid so much money make the place livable when we moved in. He got all of that for free and on top of it he wanted us to pay for painters and a tub? I am annoyed.

Well, fast forward to this last Christmas. We were at the school Christmas party. I was chatting with Mr. Bai as he was pouring me a glass of wine. He comes out of nowhere and says, "Listen, Brett, I just want to apologize for all of the trouble that you had to go through with the old apartment. It was not fair to you." I told him it was no big deal and that communication is always a problem. But that was beside of the point. The point is that I had never had an person in his position apologize to me. The other point is that it wasn't his fault. Just an example of the kind of guy Mr. Bai is.

There are others in the office. They all work hard for the students, though I will say that some of them don't really know how to relate to foreigners very well. This can make for some frustrating communication problems. I have heard of verbal arguments between some of the students and staff. This is not a good thing.

My opinion is that the school would do well to hire a foreigner who would relate and communicate with the 130 foreigner students that are registered with the school. This person would also work closely with the staff to make everyone happy with the foreign student's role in participating in school events. It seems that the school has high aspirations for the foreign students and it also seems that none of the foreign students have any interest in achieving these heights. We just want to learn.

That being said, this is a different country and they do things differently here, so there could probably be a compromise somewhere in there. It just needs to be toned down a bit. It's at the point now where the staff are recruiting any white person to represent the school by dancing and singing in traditional minority people group clothing. The contest is in Beijing. I don't know about you, but I don't really have the time, desire, or skills to learn a dance, sing a song, and travel across the country to pretend that what I am doing is a true representation of the kind of people we have at our school. That being said, maybe someone else is into that kind of thing. Good luck to you.

In any event, I will mostly have good things to say about the school. I'm sure that I will miss it some time down the road. The Brett Gitzel Highway. Next stop... studying with a tutor, which I am sure will usher in a brand new flavor of interestingness.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th - America Day!

Hello, America!

First of all, this is for America the country, not the band and not the actress.

You shelter my native land from the south. You are my Prime Minister's Inspiration. Your muscles make him blush.

I have spent a considerable amount of time in America. Most of that time was spent in Hawaii, which is technically America, but it often does not feel 'Americay' at all.

We are also friends with a lot of Americans. We spend a lot of time with that kind of people... Americans!

To celebrate this day I would like to share some of the things I love about Americans:

Firstly, Americans love Canadians. At least, they pretend to. I think that this is neat. I once had an American bake a cake for my birthday. I needed a ride once, and an American picked me up in his jeep. One time, an American was playing basketball and he let me play basketball with him. Great stuff! Great people... Americans!

Secondly, if there is something wrong with me, like if I don't speak English correctly or I say kilometer or centimeter or spell kilometre of centimetre, an American will laugh at me. It's great because it's deserved. The trick is to pretend that they are laughing with me and not at me. That way, I feel like one of the gang, like an... American!

Thirdly, Americans want to know about Canada. They like to ask us questions about Canada, like "Is there really a place called Saskatchewan?" and "How many kinds of maple syrup are there?!" The great thing about these types of situation is that, because I am a Canadian, I can just make stuff up.

"Saskatchewan's coastal cities are legendary."

"I love that, back home in Canada, we use beavers as remote controls. If there's one thing I miss, that would be it."

Forthly, Americans look like Canadians. So, when I am hanging out with Americans I can just pretend that they are Canadians.

Fively, I can say that I am very cultured because I hang out with people from other countries. Those countries are China and... Americans!

Americans smell like money. Americans have nice teeth. Americans shop on-line. Americans drink copious amounts of coffee and get their Canadian friends hooked on it as well. Americans have iPhones. Older American men have peppery, gray hair. Americans wear sunglasses. Americans have American children and I think that that is great.

I am thankful for my Americans. They are all around me and they have yet to kick me out. My gift to you is pronouncing "out" properly and trying to make sure I use the word "with" when it needs to be used. I also made a cake for an American once.

America is cool because it owes somebody trillions of dollars. I don't know who it owes but that is pretty cool that America doesn't really give a crap that it owes all that cash.

Speaking of Americans, Handy Manny is Spanish-American. He is the sexiest cartoon on tv right now.

Most of my favorite baseball players are Americans, or Latin American. There are very few good American Hockey players, but that is better than 10 years ago when there were 2. Most of the Canadian Football League is made up of Americans. Americans!

America is cool because it's also the name of a band. There could never be a band called Canada or East Timur. No, just America!

You say that Canada is your hat, so I will say that you are Canada's pants. You are very comfortable and you make our butt look great. I hope we can wear you forever.

So, thanks big brother. You have never ceased to love me whether I am in America, up on the hat, or over here on the wrist watch. Thanks for being everywhere for me. I love you, America!

3 cheers for America today.

U - S - A !

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Trifecta!


Today is a special day for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. It's also special for anyone that celebrates 'April Fools Day' in July. Though, they might just be fooling around.

When you think of 'the trifecta' you might think of this. But today there is another...

Back home, it is Canada Day. And no, it is not a day that Canada made up to copy the American’s July 4th. This year, July 1st is Canada’s 144th birthday! Happy Birthday, Oldtimer! The day will be filled with barbecues, sprinklers, parades, fireworks, NHL free agency and much more festivities. Rumor has it that there might even be a bit of hullabaloo too. However, it cannot be confirmed.

Also, today is my mom’s birthday. It a shocking twist, it turns out that Mom is 29 years old today in mom years. How that works out in human years is anyone’s guess, if they dare. Happy Birthday, mom!

Finally, in China, it is officially the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. I’m not sure how they will celebrate, but so far I have noticed a Chinese flag hanging from just about every store and restaurant in town. More could be said here, but I will refrain. Well, I’ll just say that I hope that the next 90 years are even better, way better, than the first 90.


Last night we went for dinner at our friend’s house and low and behold, a famous person was there. His name is Benny Prasad. He is a roaming musician and inspiration. He has been to every country on earth. His stories of how he, an Indian, has been to every country without or asking for any money are nothing short of miraculous. How he got into North Korea and Pakistan to play his guitar are amazing examples of faith in God and an expectation to see His promises come to fruition. ‘Fruition’ is a great word. There is more to his story, of course, but most importantly he is a very friendly and humble man. It was really nice to get to know him a little bit and I wish him well as he plays some songs for people in and around the city this weekend.

Check out his videos. He invented a guitar and called it the ‘bentar’. It is a guitar with bongos in it and a harp on it. For extra entertainment watch him on the 100 Huntley Street videos. David Maine is hilarious!


I just found out that China is ranked #39 in the world in Hockey. My goal? Bring it up to 38!

This blog is now mobile. Carry it wherever you go. Let it ride your bike. Let it mow the lawn. It's mobile! Apparently you can view this blog on your iphone now. That is, unless blogger is blocked in your country and you are vpn-less. In that case, continue to enjoy it on your 电脑 now!