Friday, October 12, 2012


As we drove across the Hebei countryside one day, Julie snapped this picture out the car window.  Spectacular!


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cementing A Roof

Upon arriving out in our friends' countryside village, by now our China home-away-from-home, we were met with a home improvement project.

You might recall the major flooding that we were caught in back in July.  Well, the massive storm caused some leaking in the simple brick, mud, and concrete home of our friends.  And so up onto the roof it was, to do some quick patchwork.

It wasn't pretty, but all that matters is that it does the job.  A utilitarian place, the Chinese countryside.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Scenes From The Slow Train

There's nothing quite like riding the slow train through the countryside, surrounded by migrant workers, young couples, and all of those folks who are fighting like crazy to get on the fast train that is the Chinese economic miracle of the past several decades.  On this occasion, two months ago, we were heading six hours out into the countryside of Hebei Province, visiting some friends and making some new ones along the way.

We'll be documenting that journey over the next few blog posts.  Spoiler alert...No dog bites this year!

In the meantime, there is plenty of time for looking out the window and reflecting on where we are and what we are doing, eating simple, peasant-oriented food (about $1.50 for that set meal), and of course for Julie to make sure everything is in place!


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The World's Largest Chuanr Tree

Just think about all of the little pieces of lamb left on those kebob sticks...


Monday, October 08, 2012

"Because Of Jail"

Hugo Chavez has won reelection in Venezuela, so it's time to revisit that old Parks and Recreation episode...


Automatic for the People, China KTV Style

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the the release of REM's classic Automatic for the People, here 's my attempt at channeling my inner Michael Stipe at 17-Miles KTV in Beijing this summer, bringing the power on "Man on the Moon."

Of course, Julie and Desi are much better singers than me, whether its Donna Summer or Taylor Swift.  And Z is the master at spinning the tunes, from the Beatles to today.

"Andy are you grooving on Elvis? Hey baby" as the mis-translation on the karaoke machine prompts us to sing...



The deluxe campaign edition of Marillion's new album Sounds That Can't Be Made arrived at our house last week.

Like any Marillion release, it is challenging both musically and lyrically.  Undoubtedly the most challenging piece of music is the album's opening track, "Gaza."  A 17-minute prog epic, the song has numerous musical movements, from soft to hard, with a number of vaguely Middle Eastern influences.

Beyond the music, though, are the songs lyrics, which approach the Gaza from the point of view of its residents.  Bound to be controversial, here are the lyrics in their entirety, following by an explanation from H.  Judge for yourself...

When I was young it all seemed like a game
Living here brought no sense of shame
But now I'm older I've come to understand
Once we had houses
Once we had land
They rained down bullets on us as our homes collapsed
We lay beneath the rubble terrified

Hoping.. Dare we dream?
We gave up waiting
For us, to dream is still a dream

When I woke up, the house was broken stones
We suddenly had nothing
And nothing's changed

We live, eight people, in this overcrowded heat
Factory-farmed animals living in our own sweat
Living like this is all my baby brother ever knew
The world does nothing. What can we do?

We will kick the ball
We will skip the rope
We will play outside. Be careful
We will paint and draw. We will say our prayers

Outside the pitiless sun bleaches the broken streets
The darkness drops in the evening like an iron door
The men play cards under torchlight
The women stay inside
Hell can erupt in a moment day or night

You ask for trouble if you stray too close to the wall
My father died ..feeding the birds
Mum goes in front of me to check for soldiers

For every hot-head stone ten come back
For every hot-head stone a hundred come back
For every rocket fired the drones come back

For thirteen years the roads have all been closed
We're isolated. We're denied medical supplies
Fuel and work are scarce. They build houses on our farms
The old men weep. The young men take up arms.

We're packed like chickens in this town of block cement
I get headache from the diesel. When it rains, the sewers too
I had no idea what martyrdom meant
Until my older brother.. my older brother
I'm sorry. I can't continue.

You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind, it is said
When people know they have no future
Can we blame them if we cannot tame them?
And when their hopes and dreams are broken
And they feel they might as well be dead
As they go, will we forgive them
If they take us with them?

Stay close
Stay home
Stay calm
Have faith

With the love of our family we can rise above anything
Someday surely someone must help us
With the love of our family we can rise above anything
Someday surely someone must help us
Even now we will go to school
Even now we will dream to dream
Someday surely someone must help us

Nothing's ever simple - that's for sure
There are grieving mothers on both sides of the wire
And everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at it - whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just aint right
It just aint right
It just aint right

We all want peace and freedom that's for sure
But peace won't come from standing on our necks
Everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at this - whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just aint right
It just aint right
It just aint right

It's like a nightmare rose up slouching towards Bethlehem
Like a nightmare rose up from this small strip of land
Slouching towards Bethlehem

It's like a nightmare rose up from this small strip of land
Slouching towards Bethlehem

Stay close
Stay home
Have faith

I can't know what twist of history did this to me
It's like a nightmare

With the love of our family
We can rise above anything
Some day surely someone must help us...

"This is a song for the people - especially the children - of Gaza. It was written after many conversations with ordinary Palestinians living in the refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank. I spoke also to Israelis, to N.G.O workers, to a diplomat unofficially working in Jerusalem, and took their perspectives into account whilst writing the lyric.

It is not my/our intention to smear the Jewish faith or people - we know many Jews are deeply critical of the current situation - and nothing here is intended to show sympathy for acts of violence,whatever the motivation, but simply to ponder upon where desperation inevitably leads.

Many Gazan children are now the grandchildren of Palestinians BORN in the refugee camps - so called "temporary" shelters. Temporary for over 50 years now..

Gaza is today, effectively, a city imprisoned without trial. We ask you to add your voice to those already campaigning and lobbying for a peaceful and urgent resolution to this desperately unfair situation.

Please check out the "Hoping" foundation ( which provides facilities and materials for Palestinian children enabling them to play, to learn, and to express themselves through art, music, and the performing arts.

Help if you can. To dream, might not after all, be just a dream.
h (September 2012)"


PS: Click here to listen to "Gaza" in its entirety.