Monday, August 23, 2010

City on Fire!

Hello everyone! The other day, I reflected on the times in my life that I have been unbearably hot, and decided that there have been three distinct times in memory: Back in 1983, when the heat wave on Columbia, S.C. put temperatures around 106 degrees (Fahrenheit), and around 115 heat index. The second was in 2009 when I experienced 115 degrees when I walked off the plane in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. But the number one spot definitely goes to Nanjing, Summer of 2010! It has been BLISTERING here, and it get's hot here like no other! How hot, you ask? It has been at or above 100 degrees every day for the last 6 weeks, with last week reaching heat indexes of 120 degrees! Add LOTS of humidity, and you have just basically Hell on earth! My time outside has been VERY limited, except for my daily run around 7pm each day, which is not QUITE as bad, as it cools down to a chilly 90 degrees at night here, which is sad...

To make matters worse, I work in an indoor pool. Most people would think this a good thing, but think again. One end of the pool is all enclosed in glass, which basically produces a "greenhouse" effect. Add a air dehumidification system that doesn't work at all (it's just part of the decor I think), and only a couple of windows to generate a breeze, and you have the world's largest sauna! For those of you reading this that have ever swum for me, you KNOW how much I HATE being wet while coaching. Here: I am completely drenched for 4 hours a day! I do more laundry here than I EVER did in college! And I literally am taking 3-4 showers a day just to stay cool and clean! I AM staying hydrated pretty well, though, as I drink about a quart of water each practice just to keep my energy up!

I guess the GOOD thing about all this heat is that it has really helped me in losing weight! Between running, eating well, and sweating non-stop, I have now lost a total of 34 pounds over the last 4 months! I feel lots better, and am looking to perhaps lose another 10, would be the lightest I have been in years!

On another note: 4 weeks from today, and I am HOME FOR VACATION! Words cannot express how excited I am about this, it will good to catch up with family and friends! The 3 weeks I get a home I'm sure will fly by, but it will be just long enough to regain some of my sanity back!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Chinese Fairy Tale

Hello everyone from the Land of the Insane! So I am wanting to go to the head of the Chinese builders association here in China and bring them a copy of an old standby Fairy Tale for them to read: The 3 Little Pigs. Now before you all really DO think I have lost it here (been on the brink a few times, but nothing a night out with some friends can't fix!), let me explain my rationale...

You see, here in Nanjing (and I am guessing China as a whole), it shows a lot of umph if you are a builder and can build an awesomely impressive mall, building, or apartment complex. They are FAMOUS here for slapping stuff up in 1/4 of the time we (or the Mexicans) can do it in the States. The Chinese don't have common work hours, they will work in shifts for 24 hours a day until it's done (NO lie, I watched a HUGE apartment complex be built in a span of 2 weeks!). So convenient and time efficient yes, but here's the truth of the matter: these buildings are death traps! Yep, I said it. I should know, I live in one of them. As nice as they seem, they are riddled with architectural flaws, cheap materials, and even cheaper labor to build them. The wiring done is not to code, and many times are not insulated or stored away in a power box. Did I mention I passed a Chinese man one day putting up drywall in his slippers and a pair of boxers? Who needs uniforms?

But back to the matter at hand: these buildings are not built for endurance, they are built for immediate vacancy. My Expat friends here that have lived here a number of years tell me an average new building here will deteriorate in around 10 years, where then the building is leveled (if it doesn't collapse itself) and they start again. I just can't wrap my head around this, why not build it right to begin with? Heaven forbid an earthquake (yep, those things happen here) or worse yet, a Big Bad Wolf comes a knockin!

On a separate note, I wanted to share a recent interview of one of my swimmers, Zho Xiao Ya (which I seemingly can't say Zho, so I just call her Showya). Most Chinese here are VERY shy, and are terrified to try to speak English. This was a RARE day that I got her to open up a bit! You can either go to my Flikr page by clicking on one of the pictures on the left tab, or easier yet, just click this link:

Hope you enjoy it!

Hope everyone is well, I can't WAIT to come home for vacation (3 weeks!) on September 20th!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ACME Headquarters MUST be in China!

Ahh, this sign says it all: "Mind Your Head". When I first saw it, I immediately looked up expecting to see a low ceiling or immanent obstacle that would cause some serious brain damage. But after seeing that there were NO obstructions, and that the ceilings were 30 feet high, I realized that this MUST have been code to all Non-Chinese visitors. It then came to me: we are being warned about the craziness and utter mind-blowing and chaotic things that only can happen in the Far East!

Before I delve into this more, I want to start by saying this is NOT meant to be a mean-spirited pot-shot at the Chinese or their culture. As I have said many times before, the people here are perhaps the most kind-hearted folks I have ever experienced! As I am a guest in their beautiful and fascinating country, I am grateful to them for allowing me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I will always cherish it! Lastly, I have a number of Chinese friends (some that read this blog!), so I am wanting to reassure that I am not stereotyping all people in China, JUST the seven million that live in my city...

In this blog, my goal is to simply point out some vast differences in Chinese and U.S. cultures. I will leave it to you the reader to come to the conclusion of whether it's bizarre and strange! Today marks the THIRD month I have lived in this country. The following are a few more (and some updated!) observations I have made here:

1) "Giddyup!"- So there are THOUSANDS of bikes, scooters, and motorcycles here. And many of those have a second person riding on the bike. But as we are used to the rear passenger straddle the back seat and grasp the waist of the driver to ensure certain safety, the Chinese take it a step further-they ride side saddle. And they do it well. Most people couldn't begin to pull this off, and the balance and grace the Chinese have doing this is quite impressive!
2) "Oui, Oui!"- So I have walked all over this city, and 2 times now I have seen a child (with parental consent), drop their britches and pee (sorry, URINATE) right there on the sidewalk! No one stares, no one cares, except for the obvious foreigners who simply stare in disbelief...
3) "Boss! The Train, the Train!"- this one always leaves me scratching my head. A few weeks ago, while sitting in a packed train station waiting on the train back to Nanjing, suddenly everyone jumps up and piles into a line outside the turnstile. When asked what was up, my translator tells me the train is here. I gather my bags, stand up, and proceed to wait in the line. After 10 minutes of not moving and getting a little miffed, I asked what the delay was and when we were going to board. My translator says "when the train gets here". "You said a while ago, it WAS here" I replied. "Yes, in 20 minutes, it will be here". HUH? I then asked why the hell we were all standing and waiting in line for a train that wouldn't arrive for another 20 minutes. "It's what we do" was the answer. With that, I dropped my bags, and sat back down at the utter shock and amazement of my team. "You will miss the train!" they all exclaimed. "I will take my chances" I said as I put my headphones back on. Crazy American!
4) "Demolition Derby"- I won't harp on this much more, just wanted to reiterate how CRAZY Chinese drivers are. Horns blasting, No lights at night, sidewalk driving, Chinese fire drills (I now know why they are called that!), it's all common sights here...
5) "Big Brother"- Unless you live with your head in a hole in the ground, you know that China is a member of the Communist Party. With that, you should know that cameras are EVERYWHERE here. You get used to them, but it's really amazing to see. My translator asked me one day (random question), if the U.S. embraced Communism as a form of government. After I looked both directions, I boldly said "HELL no!" I explained the differences in the two governments, and my translator couldn't believe that we as Americans didn't support it!
6) "Mickey Me Likey"- Ok, those of you that have been here already know that the Chinese have a thing for Western (not cowboy, but American) clothes. They LOVE anything American looking, and often wear shirts that are riddled with English sayings and pictures. Problem: none of it makes sense. They don't so much care as to WHAT it says, but doggone it, a nice shirt with the words "Flying Smile Upon Ground" just makes the world go round!
7) "Rain Rain, Go Away"- The other day while looking out my window, I saw hundreds of women walking around carrying umbrellas. Thinking it was raining, I grabbed mine and headed out the door. One thing: It wasn't raining. In fact, it was a beautiful sunny day. Feeling like an idiot, I proceeded to ask my trusty translator about this. I found out that in China, women are more appealing to men (and future husbands) when their skin is the color of a bar of Ivory soap instead of a nice, sultry tan we so desire in the States. The umbrellas keep their marriage streak alive.
8) "ACME Rules!"- So I have found that the Chinese people LOVE brands. It can be the best product in the world, but if they saw another cheaper version pasted in magazines and TV commercials, that's the one for them! Example- Downtown there is a Pizza Hut and a Papa Johns 1 block from each other. The PH Pizza is TERRIBLE (even worse than the States), while the PJ pie is glorious! BUT, PJ doesn't advertise, and PH ads and logos are all over the place! Result- PH is PACKED everyday, and PJ is a ghost town. That's ok, more for me!
9) "I Must Be Taking Crazy Pills!"- I have witnessed two recent accounts of behavior that just flat-out leave me scratching my head. First, at a Pizza Hut, one of my friends was ordering dinner, when the waitress asked "Would you like Thick Crust or Thin Crust?" "I will have the thick crust" my friend responded. "Sorry, we only have Thin crust" was the reply back. Picture head tilt and eyes crossed here. Second example- I went to a Subway recently, and asked for a sandwich. After paying and walking out, I was chased down by one of the workers, who in broken Engrish, tells me that she accidentally put cheese on my sandwich (which I didn't order). "It's ok, no big deal" I said. The lady said something else, and motioned me back inside. After I walked in, she opened my sandwich, and proceeded to TAKE the cheese off (which was covered in mustard btw). ARE YOU KIDDING? What are you possibly going to use that cheese for?! Some things are beyond explanations I guess...
10) "Of Mice and Men"- This was rather puzzled me and bothered me to some extent. While in Jinan recently, I went to a supermarket one night for some American snacks. As I was leaving, I walked into the foyer and noticed that the electronic doors were locked (a glance at my watch told me they were closing, and they were trying to keep traffic to one side of the store). But before I left and went to the other side, I stopped and watched the dozen or so people that had walked in there minutes before I did. Instead if taking alternative action, they merely stood there and pushed at the doors, sometimes knocking. But after 5 minutes of this, they STILL stood there, as if some magical event would happen and the door would open. I walked out and around to the other side of the store, and outside. As I walked past the front of the store, I passed the closed door, which now had 30 or so people trapped inside, all looking at me and still pushing on the door. Who knows, maybe they are STILL there, kinda bizarre...
11) "Speak Up, Sonny!"- Short, but sweet: the people here talk LOUD. I'm talking "We're about to have a fight" loud, it's funny to watch (and hear). I can't tell if they are just excited, or are screaming at each other for something.
12) "Wat You Lookin At, Willis?"- a follow up from an earlier blog, but I will say again I get stared at all day, every day. But I AM getting used to it, so stare away!
13) "Cook! Where is my Hasenpfeffer!" I can honestly say, I have never had quite the experiences with food as I have had with China. Some good, mostly bad, eating and food here are quite the adventure! I DID eat at a Chinese restaurant recently where I DID enjoy the meal immensely, as it was all rather tasty and spicy! BUT, as usual, I shied away from the turtles, Duck Heads, Half-grown Chicken embryos, Eels, Pig entrails, and although I have eaten it before, even the rabbit. But they NEVER seem to run out of noodles here, it's great!
14) "How Low Can You Go?"- In China, people wait around for things a LOT (see #3). In order to preserve the integrity of one's hips and joints, you are cordially invited to do as the Roman's do, and SQUAT. I have learned that squatting is actually a more natural and fluid way to rest, almost Yoga-like in position. But It takes some pretty strong leg strength and balance, and some pants that fit a bit loose in the seat!

That's all I have for now, I know it's a lot. But I enjoy making a list of these things as I go through my daily life here. I will leave you with one thing that actually did really touch me in a more positive way here: as I walked through a park with some colleagues after a recent dinner, we happened upon hundreds of Chinese people that were all dancing right on the waterfront. I watched with a smile (and admitingly a bit of envy) as all of these people, even with all of the craziness they seem to demonstrate at times, put everything aside and immerse themselves in good music, good company, and a celebration of life that many Americans sometimes take for granted. People laughed, danced (even with strangers), and just enjoyed the night! I will definitely go back and maybe even take part and make some NEW Chinese friends!

That's it for now, I'm off to an import supermarket tomorrow in search of Lucky Charms (which my brother sent me in a care package last week!), and my swimmers swear they sell there! We shall see!

Also, will be adding a lot of new photos on My Flickr page soon, you can access these on the left of the blog! Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is there a Witch Doctor in the house?

Hello everyone! I know it has been a while since my last blog, but as I am racking my brain about 3 hours each days writing workouts and planning, you can understand that the last thing I want to do at the end of each day is write! But as I have most of tomorrow off, here goes...

So let's talk about doctors, shall we? I'm not talking about those people who decided to attend school after college for a few more years in order to have a few letters in front of their name. I am talking about those who engulf their heart and souls in the medical profession, and who help many of us live a healthier and longer life. We look at doctors as gifted, intelligent, and wise beyond their years regarding medicine and practices. And then there are Chinese doctors...

Now as an athletic coach, I certainly am NO doctor. But for years I have been to quite a few both as an athlete and coach, and I must say I am pretty savvy with the lingo, protocols, and remedies. I knew I was in for a ride when I encountered my first doctor here in China. My first week here, I went to the "health" center here to get a physical for my work visa. I went from nurse to nurse, doctor to doctor getting a checkup depending on the area of medicine. Each process took maybe 30 seconds, and my results privy to everyone in the clinic as people actually sat next to you as you got tested or talked to a doctor. I REALLY knew I was in trouble when I went to get my eye test, and the doctor covered my eye with a paddle, and asked "Can you read the chart?" When I responded "Yes" and before I could read it, he said "ok, you are!"

But this is just informative info, as the reason for the topic is that over the last few weeks my swimmers have more and more lined up each day before workout and have pleaded their case for some ailment. "I have runny stomach" my translator tells me after talking to the boy standing in front of me. "Excuse me? Is this like runny nose? I don't understand..." After a repeat of the phrase, I tell Scotty that I give up, I have no clue what he is talking about. "He has diarrhea" Scotty tells me. OOOHHHH, ok. I tell them to take some Pepto Bismol, and then get in the pool. "Pepto? What is this strange word you utter?" HAD to have been what my swimmer is thinking as he is staring at me like a dog trying to understand their master speaking to them. "You know, Pepto! Tums, Rolaids, stuff that will help your 'runny stomach' ". Well, wouldn't you know it, the Chinese don't use such things. This would go against the traditional "Chinese Medicine" that has been used for thousands of years. "So what do we do?" I ask, now getting frustrated about the whole situation. "He must go to hospital" is the answer. "Are you kidding me? A hospital visit for the runs?!" So the swimmer goes off to the hospital. The next day the swimmer comes back, and I say "ok, what did the doctor say?" "He say the swimmer has runny stomach." I waited on the punchline and a drum rimshot, but only silence. Well, my friends, I had to shake my head and laugh at this point, as I knew it would only get worse from here. "So what was the remedy" I asked. "To take 3 days off". My laughter turned into growling as this simply wasn't going to cut it with me. This is from someone who himself swam for coaches that said "I'll tell you when you are in pain, keep going!" So afterwards, more and more swimmers started to come to me every day, for things ranging from headache and diarrhea to menstruation and high blood pressure. In each case, there was no medicine prescribed, only the cure of "take a few days off". It's really hard, cause the American in me wants to say "well, WE have things like Advil, Pepto, and Alka Seltzer. Why don't you get these things??!" But I know that would come off as arrogant, and defy the ancient Chinese method of traditional medicine (which is usually a few herbs, or perhaps the root of some vegetable out of the ground). Now I am sure there are a few educated and bright doctors in China, I just haven't met any yet. Maybe one day I will...

Life in Nanjing, however, is good! I am adjusting nicely, and have made a number of friends here! I WILL be glad to get home for a little home cooking though. I have been here for 2 months now, and have lost 20 pounds, woohoo!

On a different note, a few more observations:

1) Movie theaters show the movies in English here, with Chinese subtitles. The cost is actually the same as the States, however a bucket of popcorn and a coke are only $2...
2) I found out it DOES snow here a few times each winter. But as there are NO snowplows here, when it drops under freezing, the city shuts down, and the city officials spray WATER all over the streets in order to melt the snow....UMM, hello?
3) If you are unmarried at ANY age, you are considered a child.
4) Hospitals here are closed for lunch, and close again at 5pm. You can ONLY have someone see you if it's an absolute emergency (like an axe is embedded in your head).

That's it for now, have a great week!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Quick Lesson from the Orient!

Hello from HOT and MUGGY China! I wanted to contribute to educating you all on something I have learned here, so enjoy!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Yin and Yang (otherwise known as "this balance thing is driving me crazy")

Westerners call it "Yin and Yang". The Chinese simply call it "Yin Yang". Either way I learned last week what the concept is, and how it applies to the billions here.

Two weeks ago I left for the Chinese Nationals. I really didn't know what to expect, but I DID know that this is the biggest meet of this part of the season, and that it was important. Upon arrival, I learned that instead of me choosing where to eat, what time to leave the hotel, and what time to be at the pool each day (VERY important things needed for success), that I actually had NO say at all. Every team was in the same hotel, ate the same meals, and rode the same buses to the pool. This was indeed different for me, so I tried my best to adjust. The first day of the competition as I sat on the bus with my team and my translator, I realized that we were in NO hurry to leave. Ten minutes turned to twenty, and NOW I'm getting frustrated because I my team is missing the warmups, a CRUCIAL part of their success! I sat there steaming and biting my tongue, as no one else seemed to care at all. My translator sensed my frustration, and later that night gave me a valuable lesson in Chinese culture. I won't elaborate on our 5 hour conversation into the wee hours, but he did give me insight to the principle of which Chinese culture is based- The Yin and Yang concept.

I didn't really know what Y & Y was, I had just seen the logo on t-shirts, and knew it was kinda cool looking. But Scottie explained to me it's meaning, and how it impacts the Chinese people. Basically, Y & Y is the concept that everything in the world is balanced by forces that are seemingly contrary to one another, but at the same time interconnect to provide "balance". Y & Y constantly interacts with each other, so there is never any absolute stasis (a bit deep I know). Good and Evil, Night and Day, Right and Wrong. This all explained my experiences at Nationals-the bus drivers being in no hurry, the meet officials never showing any urgency to run an efficient meet, and no one in any worry that anything was going to go wrong-it's all part of the Chinese way. Now those of you that know me know that I am NOT a Yin-Yang kinda guy. I have always led a life of rules, timelines, and schedules which has in turn helped me get to where I am today. But I realized that after watching all this behavior for 8 days that I wasn't about to change anything anytime soon. During my upcoming competition, I hope to breathe a bit deeper, and just take things in rather to let my blood pressure spike because my swimmer missed an event. After all, it's just Yin Yang, right? But the concept has ONE flaw: if something does go wrong regarding the swimming aspect, guess who's fault it is? Man, ain't Asian thinking wonderful?

I went on a run last week, and was waved down by a bespectacled Chinese man. I stopped and he proceeded to speak English. "You the new American swim coach?" I was surprised, as I wasn't used to hearing English unless I'm out with other ex-pats or am watching my TV. I said I was, and he asked "So are you homesick yet?". It was interesting, but without even thinking about it, I said "No". After we chatted for a few minutes, I continued on my way and really thought about his question. I think most people after 30 days away from home (especially halfway across the globe) may have thought otherwise. But I have really worked hard to keep some balance here (hmm, the Yin Yang at work maybe?). I really enjoy my time coaching each day, and enjoy the other times I talk with my friends on Facebook or Skype. The weekend really makes it great as I spent all night meeting new friends, and speaking English all night long! So I think as long as this balance exists, I will be fine...

Other recent notables:
- I got my first Chinese haircut last week at a place recommended by my Ex-Pat friends, a hotel downtown that had an English speaking hairstylist. So I went to the hotel, had a nice Caffe Mocha from Starbucks next door, and went to the haircut. A decent cut, a nice shave with a straight-edge razor (a first!), and a nice hot towel on the face...all for a whopping $6 including tip. Too good to be true!
- This weekend is Labor Day (actually, Labor DAYS as it is 3 days long). Everything is closed, and fireworks went off for 24 hours straight (no kidding, non-stop!). Man, I know in the States we get a lot of good fireworks from China, but they keep the REALLY good stuff here!
-Went out Friday night to meet up with the Ex-Pats. What started out as some dinner and casual conversation ended up being dragged around downtown Nanjing crawling to every pub possible. I had a great time, saw some new parts of the City, and got to walk into my apartment at 7am Saturday! OUCH...
- It got up to 90 degrees here today with 100% humidity. Ugh!
- Watched Cannonball Run 2 this weekend on Asian HBO. Man, they have great taste here, who could possibly not like Dom Delouise?

I leave in 1 week for another competition, this one 10 days long. The meets here are WAY too long, perhaps I should talk to someone about this. Maybe not. I will try to get in 1 more post before then!

Have a good one!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Quest for Mickey D's!

I have been here now for 16 days. Other than the pizza I had last Saturday (which was average), and some spaghetti I made one night (with basically ketchup for sauce), I have eaten nothing but Chinese food 3 meals a day. Now don't get me wrong: I LOVE good Chinese food. But the same stuff every meal, every day get's OLD. SO, today I decided I had enough- I HAD to find some good American food, and had to have some soon! And what's better than the icon of American food but McDONALD'S! That's right, Mickey D's was on my radar, and I wasn't going to stop till I had it! So, I just had to come up with a plan...

The plan itself was quite easy, actually. I leave the campus, hail a taxi, and proceed downtown and walk around a but till I found it. BUT, I keep forgetting the one roadblock- I DON'T speak Chinese! So with a little thought and effort, here is how the day went down:

9:50am- Left my apartment and walked 5 minutes till I passed through the campus gates.

9:55am- Hailed a taxi to the city, no problem. I had my translator, Scottie, write me a note the night in Mandarin that said two things: Hello, please drive me to a certain area downtown, and Hello, please drive me to the Sports Institute and the address. This letter works like a charm!

10:30am- After a bit of traffic and construction, I arrive at my drop off point downtown. I don't know where the McDonalds is from here, but I am somewhat familiar where I am dropped off, so I started from there. The walk begins...

11:00am- After a while in the Carrefour (a kind of Walmart store), I started down the street in search for the golden arches...

11:15am-I pass a KFC, then a Pizza Hut, and feel that I MUST be getting close! Never saw a McD's, but DID find a Starbucks! BIG POINTS! I walk in and ask the barista if he spoke English, "Very Rittle" was good enough for me! He said it was further down the street 2 kilometers, which I figured to be not too far, so off I went.

11:30am- After a short walk and a few pictures of the city, I come across this HUGE building with 2 signs in front, both having the Golden Arches on it, and a bunch of Chinese writing underneath. Had I finally reached my destination? I walk in the large building which looked more like an office building than any kind of shopping center. After getting stared down by the class of school kids as I walked by, I proceeded to stop the security guard and locate my lunch. "McDonalds" I say, being sure to enunciate slowly and clearly. He repeats my words, then motions me to follow him. My heart rate quickens as I can smell the fries every step I take. Or is that just my brain jumping the gun? He leads me to a huge board that has all these businesses name and points to the 11th floor and nods as I say "THAT'S McDonalds?" So figuring that China may have now impressed me even more by having a 11th floor McD's, I take the elevator to the 11th floor. While in the elevator, I'm thinking to myself "Noo, there just CAN'T be a McDonald's in this building", and as that thought hit, I hear a "ding" and the door opens". I will admit I was crossing my fingers as I took a few steps out of the elevator, totally expecting to see a huge playground with dozens of happy Chinese children sliding, swinging, and playing gleefully on the McDonalds playground, as well as a line of happy patrons with money in their hands and gleems in their eyes. Instead, I see this: "McMillan English Language School". My heart pained and my stomach twisted as I sought the nearest window to jump out of. "How? How could this man dupe me like this? I said McDonalds, and he repeated it! How could someone, even with no English knowledge, get that wrong?" I knew I would never know the answer, but proceeded to the lady standing outside the door. "Do you speak English?", I asked, which I should now just go ahead and make into a t-shirt so English speaking people can seek ME out. Of course, the answer was no. "McDonald's" I said pleadingly, as if I really thought that was going to magically break the language barrier and make her understand my needs and desires. A shrug confirmed the worst. I went back downstairs, and left the building, dejected. Had I gotten so close, but can't find it just because of this language? Then a lightbulb went off in my head! I walked back outside to the McDonald's sign, and with my trusty camera, took a picture of the Golden Arches. I then walked BACK inside the building to find my "friend" the security guard. He smiled at me, like he had saved my day by showing where the language school was. Not quite, my dear Chang. I showed him the picture I just took, he looks at it for a moment, then in the clearest English- "OHHH, McDonalds!!" I wish a had a picture of me in that moment, I'm sure it would have been a keeper. We walk back outside, and he gestures down the street. I would once again start walking.

11:45am- I pass a foreign bookstore, which I decide to walk in and check out for a few minutes. Pretty cool place, I pass through aisles of books, cd, etc in French, German, and Spanish. I didn't know if I should laugh or look for the Chinese Candid Camera when I came to the aisles of my native tongue, which simply read on the sign- "Crazy English". Now I know that lots of our language is silly, but crazy? C'mon...

12:00pm- I walk just a bit past the bookstore, and what do I see on the next corner?? Could it be??

12:05pm- Salvation, I have arrived! I was giddy like a child before Christmas morning. I walked in, and immediately checked out the menu board- let's see, Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, Fish Filet's...yes, it's ALL here!! I walked to the counter, was greeted in Chinese which I totally ignored as I listened to the harmonious beeping of the french fry vats. I chose to enjoy a Big Mac Value Meal, my personal favorite. She nods, and proceeds to hold up both hands, as to simulate showing me the size of a large fish she just caught on a boat "YES, SUPER-SIZE IT!", I shouted as I clapped my hands together quickly. It's funny, language doesn't blur the meaning of such things as that. I gave her my money, which converted to dollars was a mere $2.30. I got my meal, sat down, and opened the package. JUST like home-the smell, the taste, the enjoyment...

12:30pm- I left McDonald's in a state of utter satisfaction. It was everything I had hoped it would be, and more. My mission was complete, my stomach was happy.

12:35pm- I hailed a taxi back to the Sports Institute. As I sat in the back seat slipping into a processed food coma, I smiled as I thought upon my day. All was right with the world.

Pictures from my journey are now posted on my Flickr page, which is on the left side of this blog page...

I leave for our National Championships Monday, and will be gone for 9 days. It will be the first opportunity to see my swimmers compete, and I am looking forward to it. I am taking my laptop, but don't know what to expect regarding internet, so this may be my last post for a while. But I will definitely take pictures and will report to you all when I return.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Birthday to Remember!

Birthdays are always special days to me, because it's a celebration of "well, I made it ANOTHER year!" Problem is, as you get older, birthdays come quicker than a Toyota heading down the freeway...

BUT, I will say that April 12th this year was one of the best birthday's ever! WHY, you ask? Here are a few reasons: 1) 12:01am on April 12th here was 12:01pm April 11th back home is the States. My birthday ended HERE at 12:01am on April 13th, which was 12:01pm on April 12th back in the States! SO, basically my birthday lasted 2 days! 2) I was surprised that my team and coaches threw me a surprise birthday party / lunch, and enjoyed the company of 75 happy and hospitable Chinese people, which was quite heartwarming. I have only had one other party with that many attendees (back in college, where it basically was a huge street party birthday, but that's another story) 3) GIFT-a-Rama! Every single person lined up and presented me with a gift. Some were handmade (cards, clothing, etc), and some were bought (everything from tea mugs, ceramic pieces, fans, chopsticks, books, etc). It reminded me of the scene from A Christmas Story, where the students lined up and gave the teacher a present (although I didn't receive any wind-up teeth!)

The swimmers then all gathered around, then preceded to sing Happy Birthday in Chinese, which was awesome! It's funny, the words are WAY different (being in Chinese), but the tune is exactly the same! After that, they really surprised me by singing Happy Birthday in Engrish! I have to admit, it was pretty good, and helped support my theory that the Chinese really CAN understand when I talk, just selectively :)

I also learned that wedding cakes aren't JUST for weddings-they are for birthdays here in China! Holy Moly, that cake was 3 tiers, and had lots of frosting and fruit embedded in the sides. After I cut the cake, one of my swimmers (a huge 6'2" guy), helped himself to 3 HUGE pieces of cake. I would have been in a coma after eating that...

I also received over 100 emails, calls, and messages from all of my friends from all over the world. I truly am grateful for my friends, they get me through tough times, and are the glue to my happiness!

Well, that's it for now. I have added pictures from the party to my Flickr page, which I have now linked to the left side of this page, I hope you enjoy them!

I will close with a few more "Observations" that I have made here:

1) The Chinese LOVE the NBA. Every meal I have to sit and watch highlights from last night's games. The Chinese have no problems saying "Shaq" or Kobe"...
2) Unless you are VERY clear in your communication, your message will be lost. Example: Ron (to my translator, Scotty)- "What time does the dining hall close?" Scotty- "Yes." This happens QUITE a lot...
3) The Chinese, like in the States, drive on the right side of the road. They also, like the English, drive on the left side of the road. Depends on which side of the road is clear.
4) In China, you look both ways before crossing a one-way street.

That's it for now, will write more this weekend!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Just updated a few pics and a short video. You can now click the Photostream link under the pictures on the left side to access pictures.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A few observations...

Hello all! Things here are great, can't believe I have been here for 9 days already! After a few days of observing all of the groups, I have now increased my training group to 9 swimmers. Recently added to the "stable"- 2- 4:18 500 Free guys, a 1:58 IM girl, a 47 100 Fly guy, and a 19.7 50 Free boy (just turned 17). This should balance out the group, and provide some great training opportunities, I can't wait!

We leave on the 18th for a big competition in a city called Shaoxin, in the Zhejiang Province (similar to our states back home). I have NO clue where it is in China, just know that it's a 5 hour bus ride. The competition doesn't actually begin till the 21st, and last 6 days. Championship meets here run VERY long, and include the 50's of everything (which is probably why 6 days for the meet). But it will be my first chance to see these guys race, which will be great to see!

So I have started a list of things that I notice are different / unique / strange in comparison to our culture. I will update this list as I note new things!

My Observations:

1) Daylight Savings time doesn't exist here. Today the sun was up at 5:15am, and it sets at 6:30. and JUST when I was all excited about longer days!
2) The Chinese wear shirts that have American words, but the words don't make ANY sense (example- One of my swimmers wears a shirt that has a picture of Charlie Brown on the front, but says "Have Face Charlie Brown". She has no idea who Charlie Brown is...
3) The Chinese youth are easily the most disciplined and respectful group I have ever seen. They are not late, do not talk back, do not whine, and do every single thing they are asked. Hmm, how WILL I get by?
4) I am finding that I am starting to use "broken English" when I speak (which is what I use to make sure my interpreter understands). Funny but scary as it sounds, I find myself thinking thoughts in that same English (thus why I need to speak to people back home a LOT, lol!)
5) As I mentioned earlier that everyone stares at me a lot, I passed the first dog I have seen on campus today, and he stared at me as well the entire time I walked by. Not wagging his tail, not excited, just STARED...
6) Everyone here in China has a washing machine, but dryers cost 2-3 time more, and are considered a "luxury", which means 99% of the population uses clotheslines.
7) Me saying "ok, we will start the set in 2 minutes" takes 5 minutes to translate in Chinese.
8) Things here are UNBELIEVABLY cheap! You know the 20 ounce sodas you see in the stores or in machines that cost anywhere from $1.25-$1.50? They are 25 CENTS here! I bought a TON of groceries the other day for only $20. I like this :)
9) I have now learned how to eat soup with chopsticks. I will make a video of that soon.
10) Traffic here is bad, but not nearly as bad as Cairo (see my other blog for video of that), which has the WORST traffic on the planet. People here drive in whatever lane they can make, and I still don't get the horn blowing for no reason...
11) Napkins in China = Tissue in the States (a box of Kleenex is on every table).
12) The Chinese just can't pronounce the letter "L" as I can't pronounce maybe 20 of their words.

Looking forward to heading out to the city Saturday night and checking out the nightlife! More to come!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Hey all! I finally have some pictures from my first week here, you can see them at my Flickr page. Here is the link!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ni hao!

It was the first thing I learned in China. And although my obvious accent saying “hello” causes everyone to smile, I usually am greeted back with a warm “herro”!

The last few days have been long and tiring. After a 30 hour trip to China, I have finally adjusted to the new 12 hour difference of time from South Carolina and the jet lag is almost gone. As I arrived in Nanjing, I was greeted at the airport by a small contingent of people: Scotty, my translator, is a very nice 28 year old fellow who usually is an English teacher here at the Institute, but is now my full time interpreter during my time here. His English is quite good, and he loves American sports, especially NBA! Coach Kong, the Head Manager for the team, is a former National level swimmer, and is very accomodating. She is very organized, and makes sure I get anything and everything I need here. Although she doesn’t speak English, she understands the gist of things quite well. Coach Sun, the Assistant Manager, is also very helpful, as he helps me with things that are outside of Coach Kong’s expertise (anything dealing with cell phones, electrical, errands…he is a Jack of all trades!).

Upon arrival, I was taken to my apartment at the Nanjing Institute. The NI is basically a college here of about 3000 students, and broken into 2 divisions: an academic half and an athletic side. The campus is very beautiful, and sits on the east side of Nanjing in a lush green woodsy environment. In the distance are views of rolling fields and mountains with a few ancient Chinese architecture homes. The weather has been nice, partly sunny in the 60’s during the day and low 40’s at night. There is always a nice breeze blowing, and some of the students here take advantage of this by flying very colorful kites in the fields. My apartment is what I thought it would be. It’s on the 4th floor of one of the main buildings, and is basically like a huge hotel suite. In one side is a double bed (VERY comfortable), a large desk with lamps and a telephone, wireless, printer, a bookshelf, a dresser, and a TV (I have 3 English channels including HBO, so life is good!) The bathroom is a normal one, so nothing special there. The other room in the apartment is more of a kitchen, with a stove, fridge, table, sink, and all dishes and utensils. There’s another bathroom in there as well as a washing machine (no dryers here, everything is hung out to dry!) It’s a very cozy place, I like it a lot…

Yesterday, I had lunch with a number of management from the NI, including Coach Zhong, who is the Director of all sports here. He is a very important and busy man, as there are 11 sports teams here. He is also the former Head National team and Olympic Coach of China, so I am fortunate to have someone here who really appreciates and supports swimming! The lunch was held at a very fancy restaurant, and as typical Chinese meals like this go, we were brought a number of different dishes (at least 20, no lie), soups, and drinks. I never thought I would see the day where I could say I had eaten chicken claws and stomach of shark soup, but that day had arrived! The soup was actually quite tasty, as were the other dishes as my taste buds went through a cornucopia of experiences!

My first day of coaching was awesome. The pool here is a 10 lane 50 meter pool, with a separate weight training center, which has all the equipment I need. Although some of the equipment is old (I haven’t seen some of that stuff in 30 years), it will do! I met the team, which are made up of about 40 swimmers, half boys and half girls. These swimmers range in age of 16-24, and are all very talented! There are 6 other coaches here, 4 men and 2 women who have various degrees of coaching experiences. They are all very nice and welcoming. The swimmers have been somewhat shy to meet me, but I kind of expected that (as Scotty says, it’s the nature if Chinese people in general). I have spent the last few days evaluating the swimmers, and will select the group I want to train on Monday, which will be around 3-5 swimmers, who all are world class swimmers and will train for the 2012 Olympic Games. Some of the girls on the team literally walked up to me and stared me in the eyes for like 30 seconds and said something in Mandarin. As Scotty is always right at my side, he told me that they were looking at my blue eyes, as they had never seen an American before. I am sure I am an oddity to many of them, haha!

All of the meals here are in the dining hall. It is much different than food in the States: lots of rice, dumplings, and noodles that I can’t make heads or tails of, but it’s all good! There are some things I shy away from (porridge, fish, milk items), but maybe I will muster the courage soon…

So that’s it for now! It’s been a great experience, and I look forward to Monday and a new week! Hopefully I can still use this blog for a while, as Facebook and my other original blog don’t work here. If you have Skype, we can chat through that! My skype name is globalswim65, as is my aol IM name. Drop me a line sometimes!

*POST NOTE- Got a great VPN tonight, so my blog and Facebook are back in business!

Zai jian! (goodbye)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Thoughts on moving...

Moving. It used to be such an exciting thought. The idea of picking up all your priceless belongings and transporting them to an exciting new phase of your life! And the process of finding a new home / condo / apartment, SO much fun! Did you catch it? I am referring to the subtle sarcasm in the way I say that...

The moving to a new place, career, etc...yes, definitely exciting! In a strange way, it is exhilarating for me, and I get excited almost like I did as a child the night before Christmas. But as I am older now, that feeling of bliss quickly subsides when I think of the process if actually having to move my "stuff" (my nicely coined word of what I actually call it) with me.

I used to be a pack rat. I couldn't even begin to think of parting with that board game of "Mousetrap" that I acquired as a kid, even though nearly every piece was either lost, eaten, or used for ANOTHER board game (the mouse was my favorite character when I played Monopoly!). That game represented the happy times of my childhood, and who knows, it may be worth a million dollars one day! But after doing this for a while (My family moved 7 times all before the age of 18, and I have moved maybe double that number up till now), I know consider myself a pro. I have learned the "art of the move", which is the only thing that keeps me sane during this time. I now know what to expect with movers, mail, landlords, weather, and dealing with all the "stuff". And the pack rat I used to be has gotten his neck broken in a trap, and has since been liberated by a bigger piece of cheese- the feeling of having less and not missing it! I have learned to streamline approximately 75% of my lifelong accumulations into what I feel I REALLY need. And of what I feel I REALLY need, I probably only REALLY REALLY need only 25% of that! What happened to it all? It's either been recycled, sold, trashed, or donated to a charity (that feeling alone makes it worthwhile!)

So the things I used to completely fill a 2 bedroom house with, now occupy a 5' x 10' storage unit near my parents. It is my goal to have that fit into a 5' x 5' unit by the time I return. If you see me pushing a lot of stuff on Facebook or Craigslist, you will know why!

Only 2 suitcases and a backpack are traveling with me this week to China, I am already getting excited of thinking how easy THAT move will be!

The day is quickly coming, hurry up and get here please!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A New Journey...

So as many of you know by now, I am embarking on a new and exciting journey in my career and life as a swimming coach and world traveler! In late January, I began talks with the Chinese Swimming Federation regarding a position as a National Team Coach with the Sports Institute in Nanjing, China. After lots of research and endless talking to family, friends, and colleagues, I have decided to accept the position and pursue another chapter of this adventure of a life I live.

The purpose of this blog is simple: to provide documented experiences and insight from my time abroad. I hope that you will enjoy the stories, pictures, videos, and anything else I feel can best bring you into my world. I hope you enjoy it as much as I know I will!