Saturday, June 16, 2007


When I took Chinese in college, we were instructed to buy Oxford's Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary. I hated it; it was totally worthless. It was a short, squat book that fit poorly in a knapsack. It was paperback and easily bent. And all the new words we had to learn were in the textbook. What was the point?

Now I love my little dictionary. I carry it everywhere. It does not always help in conversation (in fact, it rarely does), but it has helped me pick up a few new words every day. When I was without it for a few hours yesterday, I felt naked. It is my only weapon against ignorance.

Speaking of language, Wang Rui told us a fantastic little parable today:

A mother rat had a litter of baby rats. As they grew up, they noticed that their mother went and talked to the other animals a little bit every day. "Mama," one said, "why do you waste your time? We're rats. We need to speak rats."

"You will see someday," said the mother.

One day a cat came sniffing near the rats' house. When the mother rat heard it, she began to bark like a dog. "Woof. Woof woof woof!" she said. The cat became very scared and ran away.

The young rats were very impressed. Their mother turned to them. "Now you understand the importance of learning a foreign language."

Indeed. I shall miss Wang Laoshi. He has been an excellent guide.

It is morning. There shall be no dawn.

There is no sun in Chengdu. Or in Ningbo, where I am tonight. The humidity and the coal-burning power plants blot out the sun. There is light, but it is never sunny. It is my understanding that I shall not see the sun except when we are in an airplane.

I miss the sun. When we saw it today in the plane, I waved to it.

At the watchtower of Amon Sur...

In our last day at Chengdu, we visited a Daoist temple. I am not one for religion*, but I have a very respectful attitude towards visiting another person's church as a tourist site. For starters, running, pointing, staring, or reacting in any way that one would not react were one in her own church is strictly forbidden. (I chastised the girls on this several times. That's not smoke, kids. Those are somebody's prayers.) Second, I try not to understand what each of these symbols means. However good your interpreter/guide/tourist attraction finder might be, he is incomplete. You're getting the watered-down version of the story. Just take in the sight in reverence and keep moving.

Finally, once, and just once, I must perform a ritual that I see a native worshipper perform. Nobody else may see me do it. It is a sign of respect** to acknowledge that one is in the presence of the divine, even if one does not believe that there is a divine in whose presence one can be.

*Assuming, of course, that it is not worshipping me. I am all for religions centered around me. The more, the merrier!

**Today, I bowed low three times, got on my knees, and focused on one of the twelve lesser dieties of Daoism. It is not only a sign of respect; it is also a hat tip to Pascal's Wager, but in multidimensional religious space.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards…

Because they can blow fire and change their faces a dozen times and do a quadruple backflip and a hundred other things I know I’m forgetting.

We just returned from the oldest tea house in Chengdu. In the tea house, you take tea while watching various performers. We saw several musicians, two scenes from Chinese opera, a shadow puppet master, a Chinese puppet show, fire breathing, and masters of the mask.

They were amazing. The shadow puppet master created images with his hands that I did not think possible. A wolf and rabbit chase, ending poorly for the rabbit. Bunnies and horses running, though not at the same time. A dove. A pair of doves. An owl. A kitten.


The musicians and opera pieces were interesting, but they were longer than I would have liked. This may be due to my mental state (see the previous post), or due to my 15 hours awake at the start of the show. Or because the pieces build to too many climaxes. Once you’re banging on every blessed surface on the stage, call it a day. Please.

The fire breathing was fire breathing. Very cool, not anything new, but always fantastical to see. The masters of the mask were amazing. A flick of the wrist and BANG! New face. They even came out into the audience so we could see them up close. I was less than ten feet away, and I’m still not sure how they did it.

Rivendell magic was the manipulation of the matter of the universe. Earthbound magic is the manipulation of expectations, the diversion of attention. I wonder where I was supposed to look.

He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself.

Kina is sarcastic and quick to pick up on things, but she is also easily bored. She gets irritated when the simple answer she devises is insufficient. For example, we were at dinner without Rui and Caitlin wanted some soy sauce. Despite what you may think, soy sauce is not just sitting on the table like salt and pepper in China. Far from it. When I didn’t know the Mandarin for “soy sauce”, Andrea noted that she didn’t even have the words to describe it (neither did I). Kina chimed in. “Duh. It’s BLACK.”

Thanks, kid. Because no other sauce in the world is black. I’m sure they’ll understand.:-)

Caitlin acts like her mother a great deal, often to the consternation of her parents. She likes to boss Kina and Victor—really, just Victor—around. She speaks much more loudly than is necessary, given the size of the room and the closeness of the listener. She likes to chime in when she knows the answer, often before a question is asked. That said, she is the same little girl I fell in love with five years ago, just a little bigger.

Victor is a little slow, but very observant. His slowness may be in large part attributable to his difficulty with the language; a function of his time in the orphanage, his adoption, and the City School’s inadequate treatment of him. He cannot stop moving; I often have to grab him around the shoulders to keep him from wiggling or wandering into someone. He is also sweet and loving, and begins most sentences, whether declarative or inquisitive, with “Okay. But I have a question.”

I mention all this, these factoids about the children that I love, because right now I want to eviscerate Caitlin and Kina in the worst possible way. They are so mean to their brother. Savagely mean. Unbearably mean. It tears at what’s left of my soul.

An example: on a vehicle ride at some point so far, Kina, Caitlin and I developed an “electric handshake”. I hold Kina’s hand and Caitlin’s hand, then when they hold each other’s hands, we all shake and make a noise like we’ve been shocked. Well, in the elevator on the way back from playing some games in the “game room” (read: billiard hall), I grabbed Kina’s and Victor’s hands. Kina asked what I was doing. I told her and Victor to take Caitlin’s hands, to make a four person electric handshake. Kina immediately dropped my hand, and Caitlin crossed her arms. “We’re not doing that with Victor,” Kina said.

I have two types of mad. One of them is the fly-off-the-handle, shout-and-jump, hafling-barbarian rage. It is terrifying (and sometimes comic) to behold. In it, I would drink the blood of my enemies out of their recently severed heads. This type of mad, however, pales in comparison to the steely cold, I-will-make-you-obey, power-is-my-boot-on-your-neck-forever mad. If I get this type of mad at you, go dig your grave. Now.

That is the type of mad I got at those girls.

I lowered myself to eye level, and with the wrathful, quiet voice of a vengeful diety, said:

“Look at me. You will never exclude Victor. Ever. He is your brother. Do you understand me?”

They wilted in my gaze. They did not respond.

“Do. You. Understand. Me?”

They nodded.

Later Andrea informed me that they walked straight into her room and began to sob. They hated their brother, because hating me was inconvenient. Victor had come between us. If only he could go away.

Once a speaker came to my university, the guy they based “Remember the Titans” on. He talked about integrating the football program in Alexandria, Virginia, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I remember only one thing that he said:

“You can’t legislate love. Ask your Senator! No, for love, you gotta have a dictator.”

And so my first impulse is not to let it slide, as Andrea suggested. She thinks the best answer is not for me to keep forcing the girls to include Victor, since that will only further alienate them. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, but I think it’s something like maintaining a friendship with two sides of a divorce.

My first impulse harkens back to the history of the land of my adventure. To call upon those that united this land into one nation. Do you know the writings of Xiang Yu? That is my first impulse.

I love those girls. And I hate them. I hate them because I love them, and they are so mean to Victor. I hate them because I love them, and they act as I know I would to a slower, unwanted sibling. I hate them because I love them, and they bring out my will to dominate, to force obedience to a reign of kindness. And I hate them because I love them, and they bring out that which I hate in myself. Because I know the writings of Xiang Yu.

I could have written them.

What does one do with such feelings? That I do not know. But my first impulse, that will not avail me. That I know.


Our guide’s full name is Wang Rui. He studied English and Law at Sichuan University, and is about 30 years old. He had difficulty finding a job as a lawyer, and thus is our interpreter, storyteller, and local travel agent. As a child, his nickname was Xiao Hu, or Little Tiger. His older brother (Da Hu, or Big Tiger to Rui) is a musician who plays the drums and accordion all around the country. I suspect he is a starving artist, which would be a rough life in a country where a whole lot of non-artists are already starving.

I have taught in a university and advised statewide candidates for office, while Rui explains his province’s historical treasures in simple, digestible bites to tourists and adoptive parents. He is no less talented than I; he is likely far more talented. But he will lead a very different life than I do because of an accident of birth.

If somebody with some clout is reading: open our nation’s borders. Open the god damned borders now.

What the dwarves have wrought in stone...

Today we went south of Chengdu to Leshan to see two of the UNESCO cultural sites. They are two representations of Buddha, the Giant Buddha and the Sleeping Buddha. The latter is a natural phenomenon such that, when looking down the coast of one of three rivers that meets in Leshan, you see what appears to be a human body in repose. Obviously, this is the Buddha; who else would it be?

The other Buddha is simply phenomenal. It is the largest representation of Buddha in the world (and yes, we asked if it became so only because the Taliban destroyed those other Buddhas. Nope, this one was always bigger. Take that, Afghanistan!). It was built in the eighth century, and I mean all of the eighth century. It took 90 years to complete. It’s massive, at 71 meters tall and 27 meters high.

[Who was paying attention when Rui explained everything? Me, that’s who.]

We boarded a boat to go see it, as it sits at the intersection of three of the four great rivers after which Sichuan is named (“si” being four and “chuan” being rivers. This is one of the few things I could figure out without being told). I was under the impression that we would take the boat across the river, then walk to the Buddha. So I was shocked—there is no other word—when we came around a bend in the river and face-to-face with Siddhartha himself. He was truly awe-inspiring. I don’t know if he calms the intersection of the rivers, as he was created to do, but he had a calming effect on our boat.

There was also the opportunity to hike through the hills and stand at the foot of Buddha, but I don’t think anybody wanted to do it but me. There are 333 (I asked. Twice.) steps to the top of the Buddha. An auspicious number.

How the Precious works…

My Precious works backwards. Rather than making me invisible to the world, it makes me visible to the world and the world invisible to me.

Translation: I cannot read my own blog in China. I can only post. I cannot see your comments, however clever or insightful they may be. This does not mean that you should not make them, just that it’ll be a month before I read them.

On an unrelated note, I shall also start pulling titles from plot points of the Lord of the Rings, as there’s more material to work with that way.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Glamdring and Orcrist

The last stop on today’s sightseeing was a museum dedicated to archeological findings in Sichuan province that reveal the earliest culture in the area, the Sanxingdui. This stop was doubly neat: I love museums, and I had just finished reading about this period in Chinese history just two days ago.

The exhibit was primarily pottery and Big Jade Blades. Big Jade Dagger-Axes, Big Jade Adzes, Big Jade Rings, and, of course, Big Jade Ceremonial Swords. The archeologists have almost no idea what any of these swords were for, or what the markings mean. Most of the time, that bugs me. I’d rather read a book.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I want to see a Big Jade Sword. I think I’m set for a few decades now.

The burglar vanishes and reappears…

We lost Victor for about five minutes today. Today was my day to keep track of the girls, but they keep track of themselves, so I mostly monitor Victor. At any rate, when we approached the red pandas’ habitat, a large tourist group gathered. Our guide led us away from the group, but as Dave and I watched Andrea and the girls skip down the steps, he asked me where Victor was. I told him to follow the girls in case Victor was ahead of them; I would double back towards the red pandas.

Just as I doubled back, the tourist group began to head in our direction. I waited, peering through the crowd for Victor. He was nowhere to be seen. I ran up to the red panda habitat; still no Victor. Anxiety set in, but as I walked back down again (to chase the tourists), I saw a very scared Victor wandering toward me.

Now I know that Victor is in deep, unrelenting trouble for wandering away from us, and that he knows this. So I do what I can: I ask him if he thought he was following me while I nod my head repeatedly. He says yes. Good, I say. Please be careful next time. We don’t want to lose you. I will tell your parents that you thought you were with me, that this is all a mistake, again nodding my head repeatedly. Yes, he says. Mistake. Sorry.

I love the power of suggestion.

Then I took him to get his picture taken with the red panda. He was really good; he didn’t even tell his parents that he had his picture taken until we were on the way back from the Panda Adventure.

He will make a very good burglar.

Beorn is not a xiao xiongmao, either…

In addition to giant pandas, there are also many red pandas (“xiao xiongmao” means “little bear cat”, in case you wanted to know). Red pandas are adorable; the have the best traits of teddy bears, raccoons, and kittens, except they are much larger than kittens. How would I know?

Because I got to hold one, that’s how.*

When Caitlin and Kina had their little run-in with Jing Jing, I asked our guide, Roy, if I could get a picture with a red panda. He said I could. Thus, when we arrived** at the red panda area, I plopped down my 100 yuan***, and the authorities plopped one red panda on my lap. I got to pet it and feed it and take several pictures with it.

*If there’s anyone out there reading my little journal, anyone who is just head over heals about red pandas, anyone who ever made me sit unnecessarily in the heat waiting for red pandas that did not exist, this post is for you.;-)

**Actually, this is not how it happened. First there were lots of people. Then we lost Victor. Then I found him. But that’s a separate story.

***Giant pandas are endangered; red pandas are threatened. Even without different demand schedules, which there undoubtedly are, you can see how scarcity affects prices.

Move over, Beorn. Make way for Jing Jing!

There are pandas (xiongmao, or “bear cats”) at the Panda Adventure. Lots of them! I was overwhelmed by the xiongmaoness of it all, for it is everywhere, from the giant metal panda when you enter, to the pictures of pandas on every flat surface in the park, to the pandas themselves.

Pandas, by the way, are not nearly as interesting as the Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club would have you believe. It turns out that these once mighty carnivores now subsist on a diet of about 40 different kinds of bamboo, supplemented in the park with apples, milk, and some coarse wheat buns. In the wild, it’s all bamboo, all the time. One might think, thus, that pandas are very good at digesting the fibrous stalk of the bamboo tree, but they are not. For every kilogram of bamboo that they eat, as much as fifty to sixty percent is excreted undigested. And yes, there’s a picture of that too, because Panda Adventure is nothing if not thorough.

Panda Adventure (or, rather, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding) is also the home of Jing Jing, a several-year-old panda who has the distinction of being the official mascot for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing. Not to nitpick, but I cannot think of a less appropriate mascot for athleticism than a creature that spends over two-thirds of its day sleeping and the remaining third ingesting and excreting bamboo shoots.

At any rate, Caitlin and Kina had the opportunity to meet Jing Jing today. See, the Research Base gives individuals the ability to support their efforts by practicing “Beneficence Towards Pandas”, or some such tripe. What it means in practice is that you fork over 400 yuan (about $50) and the authorities frog march a panda onto a bench, where it sits munching bamboo whilst you pet it and the authorities take pictures of you and the recently bribed panda.

[Please note: I am not some tree-hugging activist, but even I thought this was a little over the top. But not so over the top that I wouldn’t participate, as you shall see.]

So Dave pays 800 yuan, and Caitlin and Kina get to have their picture taken with a panda. But not just any panda; it’s Jing Jing herself! The authorities indicate that only one camera may take pictures of this moment, and they enforce this rule by leading the girls onto the island in the middle of Jing Jing’s habitat.

I am not, however, about to tolerate that. For 800 yuan, we’re getting as many pictures as we please, thank you very much. The authorities have Caitlin’s camera, so I grab Kina’s and Andrea’s. Andrea sees me do this.

“Jared, what’re you doing?”

Getting pictures of the girls, that’s what.

“You little anarchist.”


The pictures, by the by, are lovely. Jing Jing has nothing on those girls. Nothing.

Economic development outside of Rivendell…

Chengdu, as mentioned previously, is the socioeconomic capital of southwest China. It is quite impressive. That impressiveness does not, however, extend to the entire area.

On our way to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (also known as the “Panda Adventure”), we witnessed rather stark difference in living conditions between city and suburban dwellers. I cannot comment on the presence of utilities or household equipment, but the general upkeep of the buildings declines dramatically, and the age of the buildings rises, as we get farther from downtown Chengdu.

One striking feature of the landscape is the presence of family enclaves of four or five houses surrounded by rice paddies, and only rice paddies. There is nothing like it that I have seen in the western hemisphere. Caitlin noted that rice grows in China like corn does in Ohio, and she’s right. It does; it is omnipresent outside of the city. Which leads me to this thought: there are two reasons to grow a crop. Either it is very profitable, or it is very subsidized, because farmers aren’t growing that much of any crop for subsistence. We know which is true in Ohio. Given the nature of the government of China, which do you think it is here?

Second breakfast? I want third breakfast!

The buffet at our hotel has both conventional European and Chinese breakfast food. And I like them both. But I have a newfound appreciation for Chinese breakfast food. Savory noodles? Sweet, steamed rice flour dumplings with bean paste? Chinese broccoli? If I can have these every day, I’ll tell you what you can do with your croissants, France. Or I would, if I weren’t such a well-raised citizen of the Shire.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Ring is a diaper bag.

No, I am not kidding. The Ring holds the papers that turn a kid in Taiyuan named Zhuangzhuang into a kid in Granville named Charles Ziegert. If the kid understood what that meant in terms of his material well being, he'd want us to guard these papers like the One Ring, too.

I have told the children that the Ring is like an egg, and that at some point it will "hatch" into Charlie. They think I'm crazy, but on a two-hour flight, they'll play along with anything. I asked Kina what kind of bag she hatched from. She didn't know, so I told her she hatched from a pretty handbag with sparkles on it. She squealed. She wanted to come from a fancy lunchbox.

So I asked Kina what Caitlin, her elder sister, hatched from. She giggled. "Something girlie." Caitlin does not like girly things. She is my darling, but she's also an archer.

I told Caitlin she hatched from a hot pink quiver with orange stripes. And sequins. She squealed, too.

Rivendell 2.0, and why I'm glad there are planes...

We are in our hotel, and only drove through Chengdu (the largest and most socioeconomically and politically important city in Sichuan province and probably in all of western China) for a half hour, so I don't have a whole lot of interest to say about it.

Our guide is very nice. His name is "Ray". Right. Ray. He says "Okay?" at the end of every sentence, and it annoys me. I realize it annoys me because it's exactly what I do to the children. I hope he will speak with me in Mandarin, because we have guides all throughout this trip, and I'm not going to learn anything unless the guides talk to me.

Ray has explained that there are two places to see pandas. One of them is five hours away, has only black pandas, but they are in their natural habitat. The other one is an hour away, has black AND red pandas (and cranes, and... ugh... hiking), and did I mention it has red pandas? Bet you know which one I would prefer to visit.

He also indicated that there are several Buddahs one can see in the area. There are, in fact, five UNESCO-designated cultural areas around Chengdu, and two of them are representations of the Buddah. (I have now done my duty as an unpaid representative of the Chengdu Chamber of Commerce. Can I have a cookie?)

Anyway, one of them is carved into the side of the mountain, was carved there during the Tang dynasty, and took 90 years (and who knows how many hours of unpaid labor). Ray tells us that it is the largest carving of Buddah in the world. My first thought was "the Taliban really did these folks a favor." I think Andrea and Dave thought it pretty quickly too, because Dave said it as soon as we were out of earshot of Ray.

The other one is a very pretty natural representation of the Buddah. I think it's the one we will visit. Of course, it involves hiking.

And that's why I'm glad there are planes. Because I suspect we're going to spend a good bit of our earthbound time walking.

There's nothing like a panda in The Hobbit, so...

We have arrived in Chengdu, the first of several cities on our grand tour of China. We are here, I believe, to see pandas.

I'm pretty excited about seeing pandas, possibly more excited than even the children. Why? Why would I, who lived in Washington, DC, for three years, where the zoo has *both* red and black pandas, be excited about more of them?

Because I have never seen pandas, that's why.

I mean, I have kind of seen black pandas in DC. They pretty much sit there. They are not exciting. I have also tried to see red pandas, but that never quite worked out. Let me explain:

At one point in our tumultuous ongoing relationship, Christine and I went to see the red pandas of the DC zoo, because they are the cutest, sweetest, funniest, most wonderfulest... you get the idea... creatures in the world. Or so I was told. Thus did we hike up to the zoo one hot summer day to see them.

We arrived at the red panda area. There were no pandas. We waited.

Several familes walked by. They did not stop, except to read the sign. "Red pandas" it said. "Elusive little buggers," said one father. He only slowed down.

We waited.

Finally a cute, adorable, wonderful little creature made a mad dash for the food in the middle of the panda area.

A panda! we cried.

A chipmunk, actually.

So I'm pretty excited about seeing pandas.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The road goes ever on and on…

You’d think that getting to sit on one’s behind for twenty-one hours wouldn’t leave one drained, but it does. Curiously so. I tried to sleep on the plane, but for aforementioned reasons, that didn’t happen.

Kina sat with me on the first flight. Our most common exchange began with her saying, “I’m bored.” I suspect that Kina exists in a constant state of boredom, requiring ever increasing stimuli to remain out of it. Either that, or she’s not happy unless she can constantly move around, and on an airplane, that just isn’t happening.

In between flights we continued our brilliant track record of still-sitting. The kids and I took a few walks around the concourse (where Kina noticed that our flight would be delayed… maybe letting her move around is a good idea). We ate something like lunch.

By lunchtime I had noticed a distinct pattern: Victor is a rambunctious little guy, but he doesn’t have to do anything to irritate his sisters. He just has to exist near them. And by near them, I mean within the greater metropolitan area in which they reside. It made me sad, because I love those girls, and I hate to see them being mean.

Anyway, I mentioned this observation to Dave after lunch. He sighed, then said, “yeah. It’s like that. I like to think of it as good training for marriage, though.” Heh.

Though at some point my resolve shall surely fail me, I have not yelled at any of the kids yet. It is difficult not to do so in some instances (“yes, we need to walk down the concourse. No, I will not drag you by your arm.”), but not particularly so. Andrea and Dave have really raised them well, and they are easy to like. They make parenting look much more rewarding than I imagine it for myself.

An example: It’s midnight (EST) on the plane, and Victor sits next to me, trying to sleep. He looks over at me and says, “Aren’t you going to sleep?” No, I say. I’m going to read. “Oh. Can I sleep on you?” Of course you can, buddy. So here’s this little kid, curled up on my lap with a couple of airline pillows and blankets, hugging my arm. “I love you, Jerry*”, he says, then he nods off** for a few hours.

I am sure that I have done this with both of my parents on several occasions, and they have explained how they feel about it. And I have shrugged it off. But at this moment, it is so unbearably clear to me. Who wouldn’t want one of these? Who wouldn’t want several?

*He calls me Jerry sometimes, rather than my name. He says I can call him Tom. I’m not sure I like what that implies about our relationship.

**Which completely cut off the circulation to my foot. You should have seen me trying to reposition his head periodically so I wouldn’t have to amputate.

Second breakfast? I want a nap first…

I could not sleep Sunday night. Traveling makes me nervous; traveling to a foreign country where I do not speak the language doubly so. Traveling to a foreign country where I do not speak the language and stick out like a sore thumb renders me an incomprehensible nitwit jittering in a bed at the Inn.

It soothes me that I can blend into the background when required to in daily life. That I cannot do that anywhere that we shall go leaves me feeling exposed. That I know people will speak to me slowly and say things in Mandarin knowing that I shan’t understand them keeps me up at night. I wonder whether I shall sleep tonight.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Back in the Southfarthing...

I now remember why I agreed to go. Because I love these people, and they are fun.

Caitlin, Kina, and Victor are not much bigger than I remember them, and much, much bigger than I remember them. For starters, Victor can communicate now. He had a cleft palate as a baby, which was not repaired, I believe, until Andrea and David adopted him. At any rate, my entire time babysitting him consisted of a series of dichotomous choices. Like playing 20 Questions. Only the machine can run naked around the room grinning like a fool and humming songs from Blue's Clues.

Now he talks, and he wants attention, and I adore him all over again. I totally understand why he needs a brother, since Caitlin and Kina tolerate him in a haphazard fashion. And I totally understand why they tolerate him haphazardly, as he could annoy me, were I only two (rather than twenty) years older than he.

When I watched the kids back in the day, Kina was the one with whom I interacted least. David always took her to school on his way to work, so I wouldn't get to play with her as much. She's become quite the corker, and is clearly going to challenge me most often. Which is perfect. She also wants to be my pinochle partner; I can't wait.

Finally, Caitlin. My darlin'. She and I spent a goodly number of hours in the front yard, waiting for buses, picking clovers, doing magic. She is most convinced of the three that I am a wizard*, despite being the eldest child. While I attempted to choose stories to read to the kids whilst abroad with all of them in mind, I admit to choosing them with an eye to what Caitlin and I used to talk about reading.

David and Andrea are delightful. They are quintessentially calm; as I am not, I find this trait of theirs to be very soothing. I hope I do a good job with their kids. They certainly do.

It is also very calming to be leaving from my alma mater. My time here (as I look back on it with five-year anniversary rose-tinted glasses) was idyllic. If one must go on an adventure, this is a good place from which to leave.


[*Do not let the above paragraph suggest that I am not a wizard. I am. Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.]

It was a hobbit-hole, and that meant comfort.

I would not have agreed to go, had I realized that we would actually go.

There. I wrote it. In the 'sphere. There's a record.

About seven months ago I called my undergraduate advisor, Andrea, with whom I am still friends. She mentioned that she was heading to China with Dave (her husband), to adopt their fourth child from the PRC. She is taking the other, pre-adolescent children with her, she tells me. Do I want to come along to help keep track of them?

Sure. Sure I would, says I. When are we going?

December. After finals. That is when we are to leave. But that trip falls through, as I thought it would. And a similar plan existed for May, right after finals. But by the end of April, I knew we weren't going to China, so I didn't worry about agreeing to a similar plan for June.

Because we weren't going to China in June. This trip was like waiting for Godot. It just wasn't going to happen.

But then it was May and a plan came together and the next thing I know we have tickets to fly from Columbus to Newark to Hong Kong. So the trip shall happen. The trip shall happen tomorrow.


I am, at my core, a Hobbit. Adventures are dirty, nasty things. They make you late for dinner. I like the idea of having gone on an adventure, I like talking about the adventure I am about to go on, but I do not like going on adventures.

There had better be some damn fine stories that come out of this, or I shall be sorely disappointed.