Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Other Side Of Jet Lag

5am over Beijing, the view out our apartment. That is the sun way back there (Blow the picture up if you don't believe me...).

~Steve

In Case You Are Wondering About Jet Lag

After a full first day on the ground, we were fighting it on the 106 bus from Saoziying back down to Tianzuo Guoji. Hey, at least we made it all the way through to 7pm...

~Steve

Back Home At Tianzuo Guoji

We are quickly getting settled in at our old, new digs at Tianzuo Guoji, right on Zhongguancun Lu, down the road a bit from Peking University.

Registered with the police...check.

Cleaning and other household supplies...check. (That's Julie wiping down the glass table.)

Back in touch with friends...check. (That's Z on the phone with the village where he was bit by a dog last year.)

Internet connection...check.

Hot water in the apartment...still working on that one...

~Steve

Random Hand Sampling

When it took Julie longer than Z or I to get through the security checkpoint at JFK airport, she explained her experience as follows...

"As I went through the metal detector, I was notified I had been selected for random hand sampling."

Random hand sampling? That doesn't sound too pleasant...

Turns out, it wasn't what I imagined...

Julie's hand was simply swabbed and analyzed. I still, however, have that voice from iCarly in my head. Now it is echoing..."RANDOM HAND SAMPLING!"

~Steve

PS: The attached photos are some scenes from our travel around the world...

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Most Unusual Way To Grade Exams

Jumping on a plane the day after giving the final exam in the summer course I just finished teaching meant that the grading would have to be done on the road (in the air) or be put off until we got to Beijing. Deciding to get started right away, on the first flight from New York to Moscow, this approach actually worked really well.

Grade a question...take a nap.

Grade some more...listen to Marillion.

Back to the grind...chow down.

In the end, I have to say this method was much more enjoyable than my normal approach of chaining myself to my desk and going on a grading marathon.

~Steve

Bear Snacks

As always, a flight on Transaero, our resident Russian airline, begs the immediate question of food and amenities. This time around, what tickled me the most was a most ordinary snack...salted peanuts.

It was actually the packaging that got my attention. What is it, in Russia (or anywhere else, for that matter), about peanuts that evokes wild bears on the prowl?

As I know you are wondering, yes, Des, there was plenty of (free!) red wine and Haagen-Dazs ice cream...

~Steve

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Of China And Cameron

A few hours from now, Julie, Z, and I will be boarding a plane and heading to Beijing. Yes, you read that correctly. Desi will be staying behind in Silver Spring.

Almost a month ago, Cameron was diagnosed with lymphoma, a common cancer among Golden Retrievers. The prognosis is never good in these kinds of situations. For Cameron, it was four to six weeks if left untreated. As we ultimately decided not to administer chemotherapy, we knew that the month of June would be devoted to enjoying lots of quality time with Cameron.

We also knew that, come the end of June, we had four plane tickets to China, as well as an apartment and a full slate of activities and responsibilities. And so we have spent the past several weeks going around and around on what to do if Cameron was still doing reasonably well when the time came for us to take off.

In the end, it has come down to Desi rescheduling her flight to Beijing for a week and a half from now (and perhaps longer if Cameron continues to hold his own). For the kids and I, it has meant saying goodbye to Cameron.

What a hard-to-explain assortment of emotions...

~Steve

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wicked

During our recent New York trip, Z and I finally got to see Wicked, my first Broadway musical! As a Christmas gift, Grammy and Grampy wanted to get us tickets to a show in New York, and after How to Succeed in Business ended early, we settled on Wicked, one of the most talked about shows at my school.

Well I was blown away by how truly fantastic it was. We saw it at the Gershwin Theatre and we had seats in the Orchestra section.

There is no doubt that this is now my favorite show of all time. From the set to the talent to the plot, it is really the perfect mix. I guarantee that Z and I will be singing the music from Wicked for many weeks to come.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The basic plot of the show is that prior to The Wizard of Oz, Glinda the Good Witch, and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, went to school with each other and were best friends. The show explains how there are links between all the characters and how each of these connections has changed where they end up. It would be too much to go into all of them but some of my favorites were how Elphaba actually created the flying monkeys, along with the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow. I also loved how the Wizard of Oz was actually Elphaba's father.

Another technique I thought they used brilliantly was how they shaped the characters throughout the show by using visible additions to the props on stage. For example, Nessarose, who eventually became the Wicked Witch of the East, was given the ruby slippers by her father when she went to school at the beginning of the show. I also enjoyed how Glinda gave Elphaba a witch hat as a mean joke, but this eventually turned their hostile relationship into a friendship.

It was an all around great show. I couldn't believe how long it was! The first act was an hour and thirty minutes and the second act was an hour, not including the 15 minute intermission.

Anyway, I can't wait for our next Broadway experience!

~Julie

Buckland Mill

Buckland Mill was the site of a battle in the Civil War. It is also the place where the countryside home of a colleague of mine is located. So when we were invited to a little get together recently, we had the chance to enjoy the beautiful, natural surroundings of the Virginia Shenandoah.

Oh, and Z found a tick on himself the next morning...

~Steve

Monday, June 25, 2012

"That Place Can't Be THAT Good!"

One of the fun (and exhausting!) parts of checking our Marillion up close (read: on the rail in front of the stage) is queuing up for hours before the show.

The most interesting line we have ever been on has to be the scene outside the Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia. Because the theater is located in a busy commercial district, lining up right outside the venue is prohibited. Instead, what you have to do is wait down the block, in this alleyway.

Given the distance from the venue, people walking by have no idea what to make of the scene when they see a line stretching all the way down the alleyway and around the corner. The four of us had fun watching people's reactions as they came up upon a seemingly random mass of humanity. We would watch people's eyes move from the line up to the nearest building, in an effort to figure out just what it was all of these people were doing.

The funniest part was watching people try to make sense of the fact that it was a cheese steak shop that was the closest establishment. Imagine the cognitive dissonance of people trying to bring together a line of hundreds of people and cheese steaks. Who could possibly wait on a line like that, just for a sandwich!?

Not us, that's for sure!

~Steve

PS: The setlist...

Asylum Satellite #1
Cover My Eyes (Pain and Heaven)
Slainte Mhath
Fantastic Place
Somewhere Else
Power
Afraid of Sunlight
Man of a Thousand Faces
Lucky Man
This Strange Engine
Neverland

The Invisible Man

Easter
Three Minute Boy

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sun Domingo

Our recent Marillion-fest has introduced us to a new band (new to us) that is worth checking out. Sun Domingo is opening up for Marillion on their North American tour, and they are doing quite a nice job. Mixing strong instrumentation with memorable pop hooks, Sun Domingo is offering up some nice original music.

Click here to check out the video for "Till Then We Wait."

~Steve