Dinner with the Funks

Last night for Institute (college age religious classes), we met at the home of temple missionaries, Elder & Sis. Funk. Temple Missionaries are older, retired couples who work in the temple and are set apart like younger, proselytizing missionaries. They only work in the temple, however. Anyway, after a great class on the early chapters of the Book of Helaman, we had dinner with the Funks. As Elder Funk and I expressed to each other, it is the small things you miss when you live abroad. We had chili and I have to say my first taste was so divine I had a physical reaction. Everyone thought I burned my mouth. I had not had chili, especially good chili, in over six months.

After dinner, we had a long discussion, particularly of their family. I love listening to people talk about their family histories. The hardships of the depression and war generations are especially touching to me, as I remember the strength that was in my own grandparents. I noticed it was nearing 11 pm at last and we (the students) left. My talking contributed to the lateness, no doubt. Still, it was a great experience.

As a side note, Elder Funk is descended from Isaac Melton, a son of Isham Melton that emigrated from North Carolina to Indiana. Isham is a potential candidate as the father of my maternal 4th great-grandfather, Michael Milton. So, he could be my 4th or 5th cousin. He is not the only relative in my ward here in Taipei. More distantly related, there is a Sevey and a Frost here, two names that permeate my paternal family tree.

Dinner with Steve Gardner

Last night, I had dinner with another old friend, Steve Gardner, and his family. His wife, Alina, is originally from China and they have two boys, Stockton and J.J. They are teaching at a school down in Changsha, Hunan Province and were in Taipei for a short vacation. Luckily I caught them just as I came back from Oahu. We had some great discussions about travel and people that we know. I am thinking of taking a trip to Egypt, to peruse the antiquities on display there, so when I found out they had been there I was excited to hear about it.

Steve also told me of his brother, who is attending Harvard at the moment. His brother came to China and gave a paid lecture on how Harvard’s students handle stress and the academic workload. Steve thought Beijing would be fertile for a workshop like this and if I would be interesting in starting the ball rolling when I returned that city. I told him I would think about it, not because I think it is unimportant, but because I really do not know what my situation will be like when I go back.

Xi’an Excursion – June 2017

I was finally able to get to Xi’an after many, many years of wanting to go. When I first went to China, I met one of my closest friends by coincident. He was working out in front of the foreign languages building at Beijing Normal University and I walked by on one of my extremely unusual late night walks. We discovered our mutual love of history and that is how one of my closes friends was added to a very short list. I promised him that if I ever went to Xi’an, he would accompany me. However, life keeps getting in the way. First, he got married, then divorced. Then he had a wonderful son named Bruce. Now he is finishing writing his dissertation in International Studies. The man is always busy, so I decided to go by myself.

Let me tell you, Xi’an is hot in June. Plenty of people told me this, but there was nothing to do about it. I got to the city and was told my hostel had no rooms. They refunded my money and kinda, sorta helped me find another place. Sorta. The new place was sufficient though. The first full day I went to the Shaanxi provincial museum, considered one of the best in China. It was excellent. There were so many artifacts on display. The great thing about the place was they have a limited number of free tickets and I was able to receive one. The bad thing was all of China was in there with me. There were several times that I was almost crushed to death by groups of tourists. I could have been a new display there. I left there and went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

The next day I got really early to go see the Terracotta Warriors (兵马俑). I met a Chinese-Australian family who were also visiting the site. I was able to play tour guide a little for one of their daughters (don’t think that way – I’m a nerd and was just showing off my love of history). Seeing the soldiers was a highlight of my accumulated adventures. You could see the individualism of the face and heads, as well of some paint residue on them in the museum. That was the only place you could get really close to one.

After the soldiers, I went to his funerary mound and walked all over it. It is a mountain. His tomb has never been opened, but when technology has evolved to be able open the tomb safely (the artifacts are damaged by oxidation), there will be such a find to surpass that of Tutankhamun.

The next day I had a solo trip to another museum in the city, called Banpo.  To me, this was equally interesting. The village that was discovered existed about 2000 or more years before the Qin. The grave goods discovered there are fascinating in a different way. The Terracotta Soldiers and the tomb are about excess –  Imperial, individual, megalomaniacal. The ones at the village museum are personal as well, only the possessions of an every man (or woman)  for everyday use. They were much more real in that way, in that they were used. A silent cry of history rather than a huge shout from a single man, even if he was the most powerful man in the world at that time.

The final day, I rested. Hey, I mentioned it was hot. No…not descriptive enough. Hell is hot. Xi’an in June could give it a run for its money. Here are some pictures.

Khan Baba – Wudaokou, Haidian, Beijing

I would like to mention one thing up front first – I love Chinese food. I love its depth and complexity, something difficult to find in the typical Americanized take-out joints so ubiquitous in every town in the States. Chinese food, with its eight major cuisines and many smaller ones, has been one of the great joys of my life. When in the US, I completely miss it. In China, however, I start to miss other things. There are some great restaurants in Beijing catering to many of those needs. This review is of one of them – Baba Khan, a small Pakistani restaurant in Wudaokou. In fact, there are two locations, the main one in Chaoyang and the smaller, newer branch in Wudaokou. If you go to the U-Center on Chengfu Lu, travel south for about 5 minutes, it is on your right in a small strip mall next to a motel and a massage place.

When I first started to live in Wudaokou, I would often get my South Asian food fix at Ganges Restaurant on the 6th floor of the U-Center. Now, Ganges is a good restaurant, with the food being good. Baba Khan opened about a year and a half ago and it quickly blew Ganges out of the water in two of my favorite categories – price and taste. It tastes better and is cheaper, which, in truth, might also have an effect on the taste. Baba Khan’s dishes on their dinner menu generally run anywhere between 10-20 RMB cheaper than the competition. Plus, they have hummus, that gift to man straight from deity. To make matters even better, they run a 55 RMB all you can eat lunch buffet. Every single person I have taken there (less 2 Chinese friends – weird, right) has loved the food. Here is a picture of my lunch from last week, with naan bread, tandoori chicken, rice, and three kinds of curry:

School & Nerves

20140405122239355My first week of school was one of frustration and anxiety. The frustration was due to the registering process. I spent a great deal of time in great many queues. I have no doubt that my school, Beijing Language and Culture University, endeavored to streamline the process with helpers directing hallway traffic and answering questions. Large placards detailed every paper and other items needed for each line. I am just that guy. You know that guy – the one who seems incapable of standing in line. No because I am incapable of reading the instructions, just incapable of following them.

In addition to standing in line, I also had a 2-3 minute conversation with a teacher that placed me in the Upper Elementary level. She wanted to place me in the Lower Elementary (the lowest), but I talked her out of this. I was really nervous during the conversation and stressed. I spent about a week in this level and on Friday, I changed to Lower Intermediate. I was extremely nervous about this switch, even though I found the Elementary class to be of little challenge. I understand literally just about everything the teacher said.

Today, I had my first class from this level. It was 中国文化 (Chinese Culture). The teacher spoke pretty quickly, but I understood at lease 75%, if not more. It was an interesting class. It was partly history and a great deal of detail on China’s minorities. I really enjoyed this class and look forward to more of it. Tomorrow, I am having an HSK class (teaching the Standard Chinese Language Test) and a regular class for the level I am now in. I still remain nervous because I, as always, doubt myself. The nervousness my also be because I have to go to the hospital tomorrow for my required physical exam.

I will definitely include an update of how the classes go tomorrow.

An End to My Employment

Yesterday marked the end of my employment of 3 years at Beijing University of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Beihang, for short). I have turned my grades in and hope that no modification of them is needed. Grading is my least favorite part of teaching. Some people are the most earnest students, but quite frankly stink at studying languages. I always feel that there are some who received a better grade than they deserve and a great many more who received less than their due. That is one of the difficulties in judging grades for classes that are oral based. Any mark is almost entirely subjective. For example, a introverted student usually receives a lesser score because of the nature of the class. Being a natural introvert myself, I can understand this. I hope that they themselves consider it fair. One of the things that sooth my conscience was the fact that I only provided half of the English grade, with the rest resulting from an English writing class given by a Chinese teacher.

All in all, I have taught almost 4,000 students at the university, the great majority of them graduate students. I have been deeply impressed by their skills and desire to learn. I have had a few jackasses, but those have been extremely few. A similar experience in the US would have no doubt had more. I should know, since as a student I could sometimes be a jackass with the best of them. I wish them the best in all of their future endeavors. Along with my previous students at Beijing Normal University (2005-2007), these guys have deeply influenced me more than they know. This is especially true to my visiting students and my classes in American history.

I Remember

For a nation that proudly touts the five thousand years of Chinese civilization, there remains an event that the government yearly endeavors to erase from the consciousness of the its people.¹ According to this article at Foreign Policy, it seems that they are succeeding, at least within the boundaries of China. I, however, choose to remember. Even today, the beautiful idealism displayed there brings tears to my eyes. I have read and seen in documentaries many accounts of those days. I have read the biographies of many arrested and sent to the laogai. If placed in a similar situation, of standing up to a despotic government, I often question if I would have the strength to stand by my convictions. I state with pride that I would, but in searching the depths of my heart, I must state with certainty that I cannot be certain. I was not there and another such moment for me has not come. Therefore, I can only do what little I can. I remember.


For me, this picture encapsulates the measure of a man. Faceless, nameless and no doubt afraid, he stood up to the Leviathan in the only way that he could. His punishment was no doubt detention and execution, but in this moment he stood up for an entire nation. Everyday in classes that I teach, my students talk about the latest superhero movie or basketball star. Here, among the ashes of history that some would bury, stands a hero greater than Superman or Ironman. I remember.

Here is a poem by the poet, Meng Lang²:

· 孟 浪 ·




Mnemonic for 6/4: Three Nines Make Twenty-Seven
By Meng Lang

Between a bloody hand and a bloody handprint
Oxygen is interposed; smearing and rubbing have faded
What is setting forth and what is arriving—they collide together
Memory’s guards escort forgetting; some look on but take little in
Yet I want to give you a plain view of the invisible
That erstwhile partitioning and jettisoning, done directly
Those flames in the cranium that overleapt, again overleapt
Sin, ah sin, somehow learning to vanish
Twenty-seven years, the shame of an entire nation

Traces, criminological studies, having mastered ways of escape
Insert themselves in government and sit still, pretending innocence
Procession of vehicles, crowds—a thin, drawn-out line, a nerve fiber
Extracted by this pair of hands that were cleansed by means of sin
Roughly kneading a billion-some balls of dough: angry faces
Turn away, turn away, in the end to be twisted and wrenched
Ah, that wrenching sacrifice, its savor, nursing bereavement
Heavy rumbling, clamor and din, magnificence like a jetting fountain
Twenty-seven years, the enzyme of an entire nation…

The bloody handprint is printed on the sky; who would now
Point falsely? Is God’s fingerprint to be molded in plastic?
I hereby point out, this nothingness is to no avail
On the wide land, only this last bit of greenness remains
From tips of grass shake down that wordless dewdrop
She, the one who bears the whole sky’s weight
Her long sigh is heard from the deepest place
A mnemonic for something—not to be held back, not to be obstructed
Three nines make twenty-seven, followed by four sevens which make twenty-eight

( Tr. by XM )

¹Before any wumao heads explode, I want it to be understood that I despise all governments, including my own to a great extent. My politics tend toward libertarian. I have always maintained a great respect and love of the Chinese people. The government and party, despite what they wish people to believe, are not the people and thus can go to hell.

²This poem was originally published in the Mingpao newspaper, Hongkong, June 1, 2016. It was passed to me through Ohio State University’s Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Resource Center.

Trip to Taiwan – Jan. 31st-Feb. 11th

For the Chinese New Year’s celebration, I decided to leave town like I do every year. I chose Taiwan, which was a poor choice. I had a horrible trip, but not because of the food, people, or the accommodations. It was the weather that did me in. It even started off bad because I missed my flight. DragonAir was extremely kind and bumped me to a later flight (that I almost missed as well).

My first night in Taibei was quite nice. I had a foot massage and treatment that cost me about $30. An old man worked on my feet for about an hour and demanded more money because of their state. He scrapped the dead skin off with a straight razor and some other tools, causing me to lose about 5 lbs. of body weight in the process. I was staying right next to the Shilin Night Market, which had some delicious food.

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On my 2nd day in the city, I went down to Taiwan National University and then over to Taiwan Normal University. I was scouting out the place because I am considering moving there in 2017. I have heard great things about Taiwan Normal’s Chinese language program. While I was down in that part of the city, I went to a bookstore that I know reprints some out-of-print Chinese history books. I bought two for about $25. When I move to Taiwan, they will be seeing a great deal more of me. For lunch, I walked up to Diantaifeng, the most famous restaurant in Taiwan. I waited for 45 minutes, but it was worth the wait. In fact, I went three times (2x in Taibei and once in Gaoxiong). I know there is one in Beijing, but I waited to try the original place in Taibei. Here is some picture:
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On the 3rd day, I went over to the War Memorial Shrine, which honors the Chinese Nationalist soldiers killed in World War II. From there, I walked over to the National Palace Museum. There was a lot of people there, but they also had some magnificent artifacts from Imperial China. In fact, they have most of the items from the Palace museum in Beijing (the Nationalist carried it with them when they fled to Taiwan).
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The 2nd and 3rd day turned out to be a killer for me. I got a nasty cold. I spent the rest of the trip (8 days) in bed, taking on cold medicine. I traveled down to Taizhong, but saw none of it. I went to Gaoxiong and was only able to get out of bed for few hours to meet my friend Caroline. She is an awesome person I met in Beijing, when she was studying at Beijing Foreign Languages University. In Gaoxiong, I experienced the earthquake on Feb. 6, 2016. No disrespect to the 117 people who perished, but when I woke and determined that a) I was not going to die and b) the building was not going to fall on me. I rolled over and went back to bed. I was that sick.
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Despite getting sick, I loved Taiwan. I wished that I had gone sooner and that I was healthy enough to experience all of it.

*Update* April 5th – I have been sick for some while. My cold turned into pneumonia. The doctor at the 3rd Hospital Affiliated with Beijing University said no, but what does he know. In addition, the constant coughing caused me to have laryngitis. This is horrible since I am a teacher. Two weeks with no work. Blah.

The End of the School Year

This past year of Beihang University has been great for me. I was happy most of the time, even though I fell completely short of two of my goals. My Chinese is still completely abysmal and my weight is still entirely too high. I did lose about 15 kg during the first semester and then gained it back over the spring. Financially, I am in a much better place. I make about the same comparatively in the States, but I don’t have to finance a car, pay insurance or gas, or the rent on an apartment or room. All of that money goes to my savings (ok, my debt).

In January, I went to the home of my friend Anna, in Wenzhou. I met her family and stayed at her home for a couple of days. It was very beautiful there among the rice fields and mountains. The people of Wenzhou speak a dialect that is extremely difficult, so I understood none of it. Her family is very nice. We then went to the wedding of our mutual friend, Sabrina, in Hangzhou. I also stayed with her family. Her mom tried to murder me with food. She was beyond gracious and welcoming. I enjoyed getting to know both families.

Anna and I

Anna and me, Wenzhou.

Serena's Wedding

Serena’s Wedding, Hangzhou.






After that, I went to Hong Kong and Macau (my 2x) where I visited with my friend Jan (from Czech Rep.) and my 妹妹 (Masako from Japan). I met both of them while living in the dorms of Sichuan University. They are some of my favorite people. Jan was studying at HK Polytech and Masako came to visit with us both. We also went to Macau and had dinner at the Grand Lisboa Casino with two other friends, Ricver Chan and Elaine Seng. Ricver was Jan’s roommate at Sichuan University. Elaine is a friend of mine that I met while teaching at Beijing Normal University. She was a student then and is now a teacher in Macau.

Jan and me in Macau

Jan and me, Macau

Jan and Masako, Hong Kong

Jan and Masako in Hong Kong

Elaine and me, Macau.

Elaine and me, Macau.






I had another trip later in the year. I went to Pingyao, Shanxi Province with friends from Church. It was great hanging out with those guys, especially since one of them will soon be heading back to the US. The city itself was very interesting. I also bought the first souvenir (other than books) in the past ten years – a gun that fires matchsticks. I didn’t tell anyone but I immediately regretted buying it. First, I am an avowed cheapskate and it cost me about $8. Second, it was a silly purchase. I could also have had a miniature bust of myself made for $48, but didn’t because it was too expensive and a bit egotistical. All of the souvenirs in the past ten years were given to me.

As for the school, I love teaching here. My students are respectful and eager to learn. I felt that my Western Culture classes were interesting and had something of an impact. Several mentioned that my class was their favorite. I think that had more to do with my no homework policy than anything else, though. I felt some regret about my Oral English class. My students were exchange students from outside of Beihang and they paid more to come to this university. I could see their progress, but could also sense their frustration because they did not feel they were as capable as others. I knew this was not true, but I could not seem to convey that to them. They were the only class I had for the whole year and were my favorite. Each of them is an example to me in striving for my goals.

My students.

My students.

Returning to China

Great WallIt seems in many ways that my life has come full circle. Or maybe just that it has not gone anywhere, if I were a complete pessimist. When I was 25, I set out for China as an English teacher. I was young, reasonably healthy (if very overweight), and happy. My second time in China was a time of depression and despair mitigated only by the presence of awesome friends. My roommate Bruno and our companions Beata, Rob, Jan, Masako (and so many others) did more of a service in my life than even they know. 2009-2012 was one of the darkest periods of my life and in the last two years of that time, I almost folded. But now I have returned triumphantly (mostly in my own head) to China at 34, still as an English teacher. I may have not been a huge success in the last decade, but most importantly I am happy. Still overweight, though. I have found that I am usually happier abroad for some reason. Probably something to do with not paying taxes.

For the last month and 1/2, I have been teaching at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (北京航空航天大学), or simply Beihang (北航). This time around I am teaching graduate students majoring in a wide variety of majors. Mostly, though, they are engineering and science majors. All of them are smarter than me. It is a strange atmosphere as well, since I teach about 90% male. When I worked at Beijing Normal, I taught the reverse – almost all girls. In addition, they were English majors. It is still really interesting. As I told one student, I learn as much or more from the class than perhaps they do. I do have one class of English undergraduate majors, but they are a special class made up of students from other universities outside Beijing (called appropriately, Visiting Students). They are pretty cool kids and very enjoyable to teach.

I found that my Chinese has reached new levels of terrible. I was surprised by how much I remember since I haven’t spoken it in three years. Still, this is countered by the great majority that flies over my head. I still have quite a bit of perseverance though. I will eventually become good at this language. I keep telling myself this and hope through repetition that it becomes true.

Beijing itself has changed so much since I was here in 2010, and even more so since 2004 on my first visit. The people seem worldlier, yet the air quality remains about the same. I went to play basketball yesterday and almost hacked up a lung. Ok, the fact that I have eschewed physical activity for almost forever had a great deal to do with it as well. I have been slowly losing weight – mostly because I walk almost everywhere and I eat better. I eat tons of vegetables here rather than meat.

The only real complaint that I have is that I forgot how slow the internet is on Chinese university campuses. The speed is slower than at my Dad’s, which I had previously thought was the slowest “broadband internet” available to mankind. I have been proven wrong.