My wife will give birth to our baby in late August, and it's been an interesting seven months so far.  A few minor scares here and there, but for the most part, it's been pretty smooth.  That's easy for me to say,though, since I'm not the one with constant back pain and swollen feet :-).  I've tried to be very sensitive and attentive to her and I can tell that I've made her feel very secure and even beautiful during this fragile time.

One thing that I am continually thankful for about my wife is her emotional balance.  Yeah she's a girl and all girls get emotional now and then, but compared to girls I've dated before, my wife has a very good handle on her emotions.  Of course, pregnancy brings the hormone onslaught and it's easy for an even-keeled woman to go all loopy, but I've fortunately been spared any tempestuous outbursts of mama-bear fury :-).

Yet one emotional battalion that takes a serious hit during pregnancy, especially for beauty-conscious Chinese girls, is confidence.  Of course I've always told my wife she's beautiful, and before she was pregnant, she believed it, but as the kilograms start to add up, now she needs much more reassurance, especially with my job as a university teacher surrounded by slender (and very hormonal) students.  In China, husband's infidelity is unfortunately a cultural fixture, and my wife tells me that several of her friend's husbands strayed while they were pregnant.  My wife doesn't expect that I would follow the same path, but at the same time, she's a girl, and girls' minds are a whirlwind of doubts and worries.  Actually, to be honest, my wife is still pretty freakin' hot compared to the other pregnant ladies waddling around, and any man who cheats on his wife while she's at her most vulnerable, such as during pregnancy, must be the most wretched scum alive.  But even still, I continually remind my wife that she's still beautiful and still the apple of my eye as I massage her swollen feet, and I know she believes me.

Like I said, I'm an American.  Soccer (or futbol) has never been on my radar, and actually until I moved to China five years ago, I had never watched a complete professional game.  When I visited Hungary as a teenager, I watched some beefy farmers duke it out in a soggy farm field, and that was hardcore.  Professional football...meh.

I know by virtue of the fact that I'm American and pre-disposed to not liking football, my opinion is worthless, but the purpose of blogs are for people to display their worthless opinions to the world.  So here's my opinion: football is kinda boring to watch, really fun to play, but requires far too much patience to enjoy.

Let me break it down.  Football is a simple sport.  Run and kick the ball- that's the basic gist.  Now don't get your knickers in a twist- I didn't say it was easy.  In fact, it's incredibly hard to play well.  Hell, these dudes on TV are the cream of the crop and most of them spend 90 minutes running and sweating with nothing to show for it.  Football requires immense talent and endurance, but that doesn't mean it's fun to watch.  The action is pretty constant, but monotonous, with occasional moments of "whooOOOAAA...ohh..."  When a goal is finally scored, it's a big release of tension and aggression but these moments are too few and far between.

The field is so damn big, and the sweeping camera pans make the action seems slow and tedious.  If there was an on-field cameraman, that would be sweet.  And don't get me started on the vuvuzelas, the damn horns that the locals insist on blowing for the whole match.  South Africa, no one's slamming your culture or identity, but these jumbo kazoos are annoying.  Where are the chants, the songs, the taunts?  Oh right, drowned out by the vuvuzelas.  Yawn.

But wait, Mr. Stereotypical American Hater, what about all your boring American sports, like baseball?  I concede that baseball is boring to watch as well, but it is also multi-faceted and the strategy is much more important.  American football is sissy compared to rugby, I'll admit, but at least it's not boring (usually).  And who can hate on basketball?  That sport was invented for American's short attention spans.  NASCAR is monotonous and tedious, but the connection between Americans and cars transcends attention spans.  Perhaps that's an important reason why soccer never caught on big in the USA.  Americans aren't connected to their feet like other countries are.  Americans don't walk, they ride or drive.  Football is all about the feet, and Americans use theirs to press the gas pedal.

So that's my ramble.  Futbol is a simple game that requires too much effort for too little result.  I know I don't get it, but I don't really care.  I watch the World Cup when it rolls around, and I'll cheer for this or that team, but all in all, it's boring.  I think it's more about the hype than the actual game.  Look at the advertising- you'll see Ronaldo roundhouse kicking a bullseye goal shot while Powerade splashes in the background, but in the actual game, most goals are weak kicks or awkward head balls.  At least in American sports, you've regularly got soaring basketball dunks, monstrous baseball home runs, and American football players catapulting themselves into the end zones.  Much more visceral and aggressive, which, in my opinion, sums up the American experience pretty well :-).

Unlike in the USA, university students and tattoos don't often mix in China.  Part of it is the submissive attitude towards parents, as well as the cost, the pain, and the public perception that someone sporting a tattoo is trying to be "bad."

I have a come across a few brave souls, however, even in my own classes.  In one class, two students got tattoos this semester, and one of them got hers at the tattoo artist I frequent.  My student said that the tattoo guy asked her where I've been lately, since it's been a while since my last ink session.

I've also spotted a few of the more diva-inclined students sporting cute designs on their ankles or on their shoulder blades.  More often than not, one will encounter these students staying outside the school gates long into the night, drinking, smoking, and chatting with douchebag-looking dudes, thus further solidifying their "bad" perception.  But I don't judge.

I don't flaunt my tattoos in class and around campus, but the tatoos on my forearms are visible, and while they're a bit of a surprise to students during the first couple of weeks, after a while, they just ignore them.  Although I do see students doodling on their arms or fingers every once in a while.  And while I'd like to think that I'm inspiration for this yearning to be tattooed, I know that deep down inside, most people would get a tattoo if they had the money, the pain tolerance, and parental and social approval.  Just look at the SIMS computer game.  I've never played it, but every screenshot I've seen shows SIMS avatars sporting elaborate ink.  Ah, to dream...
Kinda hard to hide these....
It's been a long time since I stepped off the plane in August 2005.  I was planning on just staying for a year, travel around, experience a new part of the world, then head back to start my "real life."  Now here I am, with a wife, house, and baby on the way (2 more months to go!).  It's actually been a pretty smooth 5 years, with a few bumps here and there but like anything in life, if you give it some effort, things usually turn out okay.

Of course I miss the States, my friends and family, etc.  So that's why I compiled this 5-year list.  I'm sure a lot of you can empathize :-).

Things I miss, in order of importance:
- Live music.  I was all about the rock concerts and underground shows, particularly during my college years.  I know music scenes exist around China but there is nada where I live now.  What I wouldn't give for a good circle pit and 150 dB....
- Sports.  I'm not really athletic but I enjoy the vibe of sports culture.  Though "rabid sports fanatics" could be filed under "Things I Don't Miss."
- Cool cars.  Who doesn't like cool cars of all shapes and sizes?  Apparently not Chinese people.
- Multiple ethnicities/skin tones/languages/food.  China is probably the least diverse place on earth per sq. km.

Things I Don't Miss, in order of importance:
- American arrogance.  The main reason I left America was the attitude... so many people self-absorbed, in love with their own opinions and the sound of their voice as they bellowed these opinions to anyone around; the eagerness to challenge others; to pick a fight, physical or verbal; looking for any excuse to flaunt one's individuality/uniqueness, no matter how trivial.  Americans take themselves way too seriously, and it usually has nothing to do with America itself.  They're so in love with their freedom that they need to continually reassure themselves by looking for challenges to their freedoms/rights, when in the end, no one gives a damn.
- Rabid sports fanatics.  You know what I'm talking about.
- Fat peoples' attitudes.  Nothing against fat people, but you can stuff your bitterness and complexes.
- Oversensitivity.  No one in America can call a duck a duck for fear of offending someone.  Don't be mean, just be real.

The truth is, I feel more American and more free in China than I did back in America.  And for this reason, I try to be mindful of this gift and not abuse my freedom here.  It's easy to exploit China, on multiple levels, but what kind of American would I be if I misused the thing that we Americans prize most?