Well it's been six months since this blog went into hibernation, but we're back in business now.  Here's a quick summary of what's been happening lately.

-Nolan turned one year old on July 24th.  We had a big party with several neighbors and friends, and it was especially cool since my mother came from the USA for a visit.  It was the first time that she had seen Nolan and Tina in person, and we had a blast while she was here.  My father passed away last year so he never got to see his grandson face to face, but I'm glad that my mother was able to make the trip.

-Tina celebrated her 30th birthday on August 2nd.  I arranged a little surprise party with some of her friends, which was something she had never had before.  For a lot of Chinese people, turning 30 is the equivalent of becoming middle-aged, so Tina was lamenting the grinding gears of time a bit.  But since she already has the husband, the baby, and the house which are all required of Chinese girls by the time they turn 30, she wasn't feeling too bad.  Plus she still looks like a dream, and people always tell her that she's got to be in her mid-20s.  By the way, she's a year and a half older than me, and you know what they say about hot, horny older womenGiggity!

-Life is slow and quiet at our new home, but it's nice.  It's a few kilometers outside of the city, which means that everything is much cheaper but it's kinda boring, with small town people, small town manners, small town life.  I'm the only foreigner around so I'm a bit of a local celebrity (which we have been able to use to our advantage in creating a small English school at our home during the summer) but I spent three years in Jiangxi province before I came to Xiamen so I'm used to the Chinese countryside.  There are a lot of things that I wish were different, but I appreciate what I have.

-Tina and I got tattooed together last week.  She got a little "Z" on her ankle for Nolan, whose middle name is "Z" (I know, cool huh?).  I got a large design filling up the empty space on my left elbow region.  It took two sessions for a total of six hours.  It was not fun at all.  I've decided that in the future, I'm going to get tattooed once a year, and with this new tattoo out of the way, I don't really have any desire to get anything new, so I think I'll just devote my tattoo energy to improving the ones I already have (and some need a lot of touching up).  I'll post the photos of Tina's and my tattoos once they've healed.

-I've been doing lots of research on cathedrals, particularly the Gothic style of architecture.  I've always loved cathedrals, but now I'm taking a serious look at the design, the styles, the symbolism, and it's utterly fascinating.  There is a commanding grandeur in this structures that I find lacking in Chinese construction, and the more I learn, the more I yearn to explore them in real life.  I'm even reading The Hunchback of Notre-Dame right now.

So that's the deal for now.  I'll be heading back to work in a couple of weeks, and it's been great having the whole summer to spend at home with the family, particularly Nolan as he navigating these formative days.  I feel bad for a lot of parents, particularly fathers, whose jobs take them away from home for so long.  It's nice to have personal space sometimes, but I wouldn't want to miss first steps or first words for anything.  The Bible says that children are a gift from God, and it's true.
 
 
It's been fun but I'm going to hang up the gloves on this blog, at least for the foreseeable future.  I'm very busy these days with teaching, family, and home so I don't have too much time to post new entries, and honestly, I don't really have that much to say anymore.  I'll just say that life is good and getting better, and I'm enjoying my new home with my wife and son and chihuahua.  I've got some plans for the future that will hopefully work out but life is always twisting and turning, and it can still be fun even when it doesn't work out the way you plan it.  Just smile and roll with it; don't waste time worrying, just do your best and deal with things when they happen.  That's my idea, anyway.  So adios amigos, and always remember to turn on the lights when you're taking a leak- it's just easier that way.
 
 
On my right arm, I have five stars: two large ones representing my parents, and three smaller ones for each of my younger brothers.  When my father passed away in October, I wanted to do something special to his star to memorialize him.

When I returned back to China from my father's service in the US, I brought some of his ashes with me and scattered them in Shanghai.  But I kept a little bit with me, because I had a plan.  I had seen a tattoo program several months ago where a man had his wife's ashes mixed with the tattoo ink and then had her portrait tattooed over his heart.  I wanted to do something along those lines for my father.

The day after Christmas, I found a little tattoo parlor near my home and told them that I wanted some touch-up work done on some existing tattoos and I also wanted to add some light rays radiating out of my father's star.  Ok, no problem, they said.  One more thing, I said before we started the process, I want to add some of my father's ashes to the ink.

They were definitely not thrilled, saying it was unhealthy and unhygenic.  I countered by saying that it was a common practice in the West for people to get memorial tattoos this way :-P.  After several minutes of reassuring them, the proprietors finally agreed and let me sprinkle a tiny pinch of my father's ashes in the ink.  The light rays are very simple, just six ling extending out of a star, but I think it's really cool.  People look at me a little strange when I tell them, but for me, it's the most personal tattoo I have, and it was done for all the right reasons.
 
 
I haven't posted on this blog for a while, because we've been busy getting our new apartment ready.  But the good news is that we finally moved in last week.  It's still a work in progress but it's so nice to have our own home.  It's a pretty cool feeling to look around and realize that everything I see belongs to us and was paid for by my hard work.  No more landlords, no more rent, no more leases.  Just a mortgage for the next 9 years :-P.

Our home is about 90 sq. m., 2 bedrooms, one bathroom (with an actual bath!), a kitchen, a living room, and a balcony.  We're on the 21st floor so we look out over the ocean, though between us and the ocean are some low-lying industrial buildings and train tracks.  Still, it's quieter than our previous location in Xiamen.  The rooms have large windows that let in a lot of sunshine and the view makes the home seem a lot bigger.

Since we now live outside of the island, the surrounding area is pretty much like a small Chinese city.  No foreigners besides me, and not much in the way of shopping and nightlife.  But on the plus side, everything is crazy cheap and there are restaurants galore, so in proper Chinese tradition, food is going to become a primary source of entertainment :-).  I've even got a Chinese tea set now and I spend every evening sipping Oo Long tea.

The biggest negative is the distance that I have to travel every day to get to work, but a new bridge is under construction that will cross the sea and provide a direct route to my school, so when that's operational, it will take even less time to get to the university than when I lived in Xiamen.

It's been a busy week but it's good to finally be home :-).
 
 
This week Tina and I went for a full-body massage.  I'm not a huge fan of massages (unless Tina gives them ;-) but it was a nice time to get out of the house and spend some time together.  After the massage, Tina decided that she wanted to get the fire-cupping treatment.  If you don't know what that is, it's when the masseuse takes spherical glass cups, uses fire to burn away all of the oxygen inside, and then places it on your skin.  Since there is no oxygen in the cup, it sucks your skin into the cup, kind of like a continuous hicky.  They leave the cup on there for a few minutes and then remove it.  What remains are dark circles where the blood vessels broke.  This treatment is meant to remove the body's impurities, especially if one is retaining too much water or fire.  The darker the circle, the more you needed the treatment.

Tina gets this done every once in a while, and I think it really works, because the areas where she feels the most pain usually yield the darkest circles, and she feels much better afterward.  In my 5+ years in China I'd never tried it, so this time when she decided to get it, I thought why not me too.  It's better than sitting around waiting for her to finish, so we ordered a round of fire cups for both of us.  Here is the result.
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I'll be carrying this unique pattern on my back for the next few weeks.  And as you can see, I really needed it, even though my body wasn't feeling bad at the time.  Some of the circles are so dark, they obscure the tattoo beneath it.  It was definitely uncomfortable though not unbearable, and my back still feels a bit tender a few days later.  Kind of like a sunburn.  At any rate, it's not often that I get to try something new so chalk this up to another China experience.  Now if I can just muster up the courage to try acupuncture....
 
 
My father passed away on October 8th after a six-year battle with cancer.  He had a great attitude throughout and never complained (and frequently denied the seriousness of the doctors' diagnoses).  He never got to meet his daughter-in-law and grandson in person but we videochatted frequently using QQ, and in fact we chatted via webcam the day before he died.  It's sad to know that my father is no longer in this world but I know he's with God and his body is healthy and whole again.

I jetted back to the States last week for the memorial service.  It was very moving and emotional with a few tears and many smiles.  My father was a very generous person with his time and energy and spent every free moment with people who needed a friend.  Those friends in turn showed up in droves to the service and I was very touched to see how many people my father affected.

The day after the memorial, my mother, my three younger brothers and I drove down to Daytona Beach, Florida, to relax, enjoy the sunshine, and decompress after such an emotional event.  We spent a day at Universal Studios in Orlando where we laughed and screamed and basked in the sunshine.  it was nice to see my mother having such a good time.  The last year and a half of my father's illness was very stressful for her and even though she was heartbroken to lose her husband of 33 years, she was able to enjoy a relaxing couple of days with her sons and no worries.

Of course I had to leave Tina and Nolan back in China, and it was hard to have so much fun without my own family, but this was a time for my first family.  But when I came back to China last weekend, I wsa able to make a special memory of my own.

On the way from Shanghai Pudong Int'l Airport to Tina's friend's home where I was going to spend the night before heading back to Xiamen, I got off the subway at the People's Square station.  My father and mother had visited me in China in 2006 and we had spent a couple of days in Shanghai, so my father had a direct connection there.  This time I  brought back some of my father's ashes with me and sought out a small tree in the square.  After inspecting the perimeter to make sure I wasn't being watched, I poured my father's ashes over the tree's roots.  Now my father's body will forever be a part of China, and his family is through me.
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I'm sorry, I have to take a moment to gloat.  Much ado is always made about Chinese (and Asian in general) women's long-lasting beauty, but take a look at the proportion of hot mamas walking around and the point is obvious.  Check out these photos taken less than two months after having our baby.  She bounced right back to pre-baby weight, though there is a substantial upgrade in the top floor ;-).  As Quagmire once so eloquently put it: "Giggity!"
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The new fall semester started this past week, and thankfully my teaching schedule is a little bit lighter than last year's schedule (which I requested because the new baby and construction of our new home is keeping  my wife and I plenty busy).  This year I'm only teaching new freshman, which is nice because I can recycle my old jokes and lesson plans :-).

This will be my sixth year as a college teacher in China, and I've certainly noticed a change in the students since I first started.  The class of 2010 is certainly a lot more worldly-wise, confident, and keen than the class of 2005.  But I'm also noticing a slight downturn in students' optimism about the future.  I'm surprised how often I get asked about my belief in the validity of 2012 doomsday predictions, and a lot of Chinese people have confessed to me that they think our way of life is going to end soon.  But perhaps even more surprising is that they don't seem to bummed out when they talk about it.  It's almost like talking about the demise of summer and the approaching winter- everyone knows it's coming and there's no reason to fret about it.  Of course this isn't to say that Chinese people see the future through a bleak lens- quite the opposite actually.  But the "go-get-'em" attitude that I'd seen before has become somewhat tempered now.   I get a similar vibe when I discuss climate change or world war. I imagine that it's the same for American students after the latest economic tempest.

One reason why I love my job as a college teacher is that I can communicate with students who are mature enough to have deep thoughts and opinions but also retain the energy and excitement of childhood.  Now it looks like the kids are growing up a lot faster these days.

 
 
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I love action movies, and Tina and I are huge Stallone fans (Judge Dredd is one of my top five favorite films of all time).  His style is usually more grim with more swagger and attitude than the other 80's action movie heroes.  He's not wisecracking after every kill shot and he has that snarl that is downright terrifying.  So when The Expendables hit theaters this month, I was more jumpy than a kid around Christmastime.

As it has been billed, this is one of the greatest ensemble action movies ever made.  It's a celebration of everything macho: guns, motorcycles, clever put-downs and comebacks, and tattoos.  Speaking of which, Stallone just became the coolest actor in Hollywood in my book as he showed off his exceptional quarter-sleeves.  I really like Stallone's directing style, though I would have to say that 2008's John Rambo was much more graphic and gritty than The Expendables.  Stallone's new film feelsa bit too polished and clean, the lighting is too professional, and it feels a bit stagey at times.  The grit and grime of John Rambo combined with the flair, wit, and gleefully-excessive action sequences would have been the perfect movie.  As it stands, The Expendables still kicks major ass and it is a heavy metal action bonanza that anyone with a pulse would enjoy.

However, I did have a couple issues with the film, one of which is not the film's fault.  Since China doesn't have a movie ratings system, all movies are general admittance, which means that every film released in Chinese cinemas have to trim any objectionable material, no matter what the target audience is.  That means that the Chinese version of The Expendables was somewhat neutered.  Several kill shots were going to be super cool and then...cut to the body falling to the ground.  Most of the violence was left intact, but there were just a few moments of fist-clenching frustration.

The other issue I have is with Jet Li.  If you look at the movie poster to the left, you will see Jet Li standing eye to eye with his fellow stars.  If the poster photo had been shot with everyone together, Li wouldn't be visible- he would be obscured by Stallone's mammoth shoulder.  Li's unimposing stature was brought up several times in the film to the point of being uncomfortable.  His character even had the gall to demand more money because he's smaller, and the bullet holes are subsequently bigger and the distances longer.  Now as an American, it's no big deal, but I felt that it might be a bit awkward for Chinese audiences to see one of their homegrown heroes mocked for a stereotypical Asian characteristic, even if it's true in Li's case.  Make no mistake, though, Li gets buck wild on many a bad guy's ass and his kung fu magic takes backstage to his bullet ballet skills.

In this movie age of impressive but hollow special effects blowouts and bumbling nerds finding themselves becoming the hero of the day, The Expendables is a refreshing blast of napalm to remind people that the big boys have and always will rule action empire.  You could literally feel the testosterone and HGH crackling in the often-talked-about scene with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis.  This film rocks, and I am definitely going to get my pirated copy of the real DVD the day it comes out.

 
 
This week I got a tattoo of Nolan's English and Chinese names (for free :-).  For his English name, I designed an anagram, which is a word that can still be read upside-down.  It was pretty simple, since Nolan's name is almost symmetrical (the only difference being the "o" and "a" which were easy to convert).  The tattoo completely encircles my left forearm and on the back below my elbow is his Chinese name is swoopy Chinese script.

It was nice to sit in the tattoo chair again after a nearly year-long break, though I'm sure this will be my last for a while.  I got the tattoo for free because I interviewed the tattoo artist for an English-language Xiamen magazine and he offered to give me the tattoo free of charge, which I feebly protested but eventually gave in :-).  Seriously, this dude is excellent, and I've been tattooed by more than a dozen artists in China and the States.  If you're ever in Xiamen and looking to get inked, go to his website for more info.