Archive for December, 2011


On Writing Well

 A sacred testament to writers of all forms and abilities, William Zinsser’s, On Writing Well, continues to thrive today as it has since its first publication in 1976. Though Zinsser emphasizes writing tools and techniques for writers of nonfiction, fiction writers reap substantial benefits as well. Just over three hundred pages, the adrenaline rush of information kept me reading from cover to cover, completing highlights and notes, in less time than it takes to cook a twenty pound turkey.

Zinsser informs us that a writer needs to treat his craft like he would any job; setting a schedule and sticking to it, even when he doesn’t feel like it. No excuse for calling in sick when you’re a writer. Like any job, a writer needs his tools by his side; a good dictionary, thesaurus, and E.B. White’s, Elements of Style.

Similar to a writer of nonfiction, a fiction writer needs to recognize the difference between clutter, or “verbal camouflage,” as Zinsser refers to it. He expresses the importance of word choice, distinguishing between nouns, active verbs, adjectives, and those poisonous adverbs. In addition, all writers need to have a command for punctuation, which he briefly reviews.

While On Writing Well, is geared for the creative nonfiction writer, Zinsser dedicates several chapters to stressing the gravity of structure in ways from which a fiction writer can surely benefit. He also points out that a good writer of any genre needs to maintain unity of POV, tense and mood, propelling the reader through comfortable paragraph lengths towards a surprise ending. He reminds us that, “the essence of writing is rewriting.”

On Writing Well is rife with examples all writers should heed. As Zinsser quotes: “You will write only as well as you make yourself write.”

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I’mpossible!

Synopsis
 I’mpossible! is a compilation of qualities that most successful people share in common. Everyone already has these qualities, but either subconsciously do not realize it, or refuses to acknowledge them. Yes, it is possible to fear success. This is what separates those who are more successful than those who are not.
Success is subjective. Each person must develop their own definition of success, then work towards achieving that success. This book is designed as a tool to help you overcome negative barriers, and maintain a steady propulsion towards your goals. Although originally written for Chinese readers of intermediate English ability, and published in China, it applies to everyone, anywhere.
This book teaches, that success knows no restrictions. Anyone can easily develop those qualities which will enable them to perform at their optimum, in any field of work, or in their daily lives. Qualities such as: goal setting; developing self-discipline; positive self talk; recognizing opportunities; Law of Attraction; Flying with Eagles;  and visualization, are just some of the qualities that are necessary to efficiently propel any person to new heights of success. Throughout the book, there are numerous exercises and useful techniques that are highly recommended.

I’mpossible! is an inspirational tool teaches how to replace negativity with positive thoughts, clearing the way to accept only the good in our lives.

 

Achieve the happiness of success! Repeat to yourself, “I’mpossible! I’mpossible! I’mpossible! Available in Chinese later this year.

 

“Why are some people more successful than others?”

If you’re in the mood for escaping traditional Chinese rice and noodle dishes, you might want to check out Barry’s Brazilian BBQ in Huizhou. All your senses come alive in this sprawling tropical paradise, beginning with Barry Chang, the restaurants proprietor, welcoming you with a warm smile and handshake as if you were a guest in his own home. If you’re a foreigner, don’t’ be surprised when Barry seats himself at your table for conversation and English practice. It’s just that kind of hospitality.

Your meal begins with a visit to the all-you-can-eat buffet, where you’ll be pleasantly accosted by an array of appetizers ranging from fresh vegetables awaiting your salad creation, assorted soups, onion rings, spaghetti, breads, fresh fruits, and giant shrimp, oysters, and clams on ice. To quench your thirst, visit the self-serve drink bar offers assorted fresh fruit drinks, coffee, milk, teas, and sodas. The temptation to fill up on the buffet is overwhelming, but you’ll want to exhibit self-discipline with modest servings – the best is yet to come.

Upon returning to your table, you’re immediately touted by a parade of servers donning leather Brazilian cowboy hats and boots, a far cry from the Hop Sing look on Bonanza. Each server brandishes a mouth watering culinary delight speared on giant skewers resembling shish kabobs. Don’t worry if you miss some of them, they’ll keep returning until you ‘ve had enough – no one leaves Barry’s with an empty stomach.

The complete dining experience lasts between forty-five minutes to one hour. During that time your taste buds have relished in savory barbecued meat, chicken, wrapped bacon, squid, ham, fried banana, corn, lamb, and duck, just to name a few. Barry’s is not for the faint-hearted, so if you’re searching for a little conversation with a loved one or colleague, I recommend another place.

Through a large plate window, viewiers witness the preparation of food over blazing mesquite fire pits. Servers stand-by, eager to replenish their skewers for another round through the restaurant. Don’t bother requesting your meat be prepared to your preference, it’s out of the question – you either accept it as cooked (medium well), or dine elsewhere.

After finishing the main courses and waving the servers off from visiting your table again, you may be inclined to roll over to the rotating table of delectable temptations – desserts. Choose from an endless bounty of fresh baked cookies, muffins, cakes, and fresh fruits. As alluring as these may be, my lack of appetite has always prevented me from this visit.

It’s been several years since I visited Barry’s, so he was proud to announce his other two stores, and spring the news of another store opening soon in another city. When I asked him what his favorite recipe was, he gave a loud laugh and said, “The only recipe I know is for success. It’s eighty percent kindness and eighty percent atmosphere.” Well, I never said Barry was a mathematician, but you can’t help love the guy.

All meals at Barry’s Brazilian BBQ are priced the same: lunch is 45rmb per person, or $7.00, and dinners are 60rmb per person, or $9.50. Chinese and imported beers and cocktails are charged a premium when Barry isn’t treating. By the time you’re ready to leave, Barry and his hostesses give you a kind American hug farewell, and harmonize, “ Come back home again soon.”

Rating: ♥♥♥

Barry’s Brazilian BBQ is located directly across the street from Binjiang Park adjacent to the Pearl River in Huizhou. Open 7 days a week for from 12:00 to 23:00. Barry’s Brazilian BBQ, in Huizhou.

This morning I woke up knowing exactly what I would do today, but not knowing how it would turn out – kind of the way it was everyday in China. Being a foreigner, you pretty much learn to expect the unexpected: nothing ever seems to go the way it’s planned. Later I would come to find out – that today would be no exception.

I gazed out at the clear October sky, choking down previous nights leftovers of kung pao chicken, while carefully examining the list of activities I put together with the assistance of my staff. Typically reluctant of venturing out alone, today was the day to conquer any fear I might have. The city of Dongguan takes about three hours from one end to the other by bus. My staff had written all my directions on a piece of paper to give to the lucky drivers who didn’t have a clue how to speak English, and of course my Chinese is about as clear as a man speaking with a mouth full of food while walking on hot coals barefoot. Not a pleasant verbal experience to listen to.

I strolled down four blocks of sidewalk to the bus stop wearing comfortable tennis shoes, cargo pants and a backpack. I returned nods and an occasional, “Hello, nice to meet you,” in which I always replied, “Hello, do I know you?” Most didn’t have a clue what I was saying, so it always brought laughter from them. People here don’t normally get an opportunity to see a westerner in real life, so we’re constantly the center of attention, something I’ve never gotten quite used to. Bus twenty-one was twenty minutes late, typical for China. I’m glad it wasn’t the number 121 bus. I eyeballed an empty seat and began making my way for it, beating out a younger fellow. The next bus stop brought a grandmother aboard holding a can of powdered baby milk. No seats were available, so I motioned her to take my seat. She insistently refused, but I stood up with a smile suggesting that it was no bother. The younger fellow who I beat out earlier, saw the opportunity and made a dash, throwing himself at my seat. I looked down at him and shook my head, gesturing that it was for the grandmother. He did nothing. Everyone around the immediate area began yelling, but he ignored them. I just left it alone and stared out the window in the opposite direction. It’s better to be passive, especially in a foreign country.

I reached my first destination, the Dongguan Museum of Cultural Arts. I didn’t need the translated piece of paper this time, the bus stopped directly in front of it. The massive western styled architecture sparred no expense. The white pillared building sat well off the street. The beautiful flowered gardens trailed off into the trees along winding paths. Fountains of water divided the walkway leading up to the steps to the entry. There were meticulously painted gazebo’s with table and chairs scattered around the area where flurries of people seriously played board and card games. Others were doing their morning tai chi, as several just took a simple stroll. It was clearly a way to celebrate the day off work.

As I neared the foot of the fountains, everyone turned to see the foreigner, or as we’re referred to in China, lao wai, I began my march to the front doors – feeling like a runway model. Again, I returned smiles and greetings along the way. When I reached the doors, a sign was posted announcing their business hours – 15:00 to 21:00. I stood in awe, wondering what to do next. The back of my neck was being pelted by needles of stares. I turned around and faced the crowd glaring up at me. Perhaps they expected a song and dance from the lao wai. I needed to kill some time, so I decided to find a shaded area that was semi-secluded, an impossibility on this particular morning. I choose a book from my library in my iPad, a handy tool that I never left home without.

A few hours went by undisturbed with the exception of a few children flocking around me like they were viewing a zoo animal. One even offered me some candy which I politely refused. I forgot my ‘Don’t feed the animals’ sign. They dispersed upon the screams of their mother who might have been saying, “Get away from that, do you want to be eaten?!” Harmless as I looked, I must have still been a potential threat – after all, I was getting a bit hungry. Acclimated to Chinese customs, it was nearing 12:00 – time for lunch. I closed my iPad and aimlessly stumbled down the street searching for a place that fed hungry animals.

It was no surprise where the waitress sat me – next to the window. Restaurant staff always sat me where I’d get the most exposure to possible patrons. I couldn’t help but feel that I was on display to attract more customers. As I studied the menu looking for pictures, the waitress came over to take my order. There were no pictures. I was forced to resort to my custom, one of the reasons why I don’t get out much, I surveyed the room then signaled to a dish just being served to a man sitting at a table by himself. I said, “I’ll take that.” The waitress glanced over her shoulder. With a confident stance, she sauntered over to the gentleman, took his plate, and carried it back to me. I watched her with surprise and amazement, but as us foreigners like to say, “TIC,” or “This is China.” With an empty place-mat in front of him, the man spoke to the waitress. She said something back to him then left the room. Embarrassment took over my hunger pains. He continued to glance at me and smile. I smiled and shrugged at him. He motioned to me as if saying, “It’s okay, you look like you need it more than I do.”

Trying to forget about stealing the man’s food, I tried to eat his meal in peace. I soon noticed people clustering on the sidewalk. My first thought was something bad happened. As I paid a little more attention, I noticed that it was me who was attracting all the attention. I honestly felt like a monkey in a zoo. People pointed and motioned others to look at the display in the window – I never thought I’d be a photo opportunity. Complete strangers were laughing and pointing. Did I have food on my face? A blemish? A stray nose hair? I could only interpret their words as, “Oh look, he eats like we do. He even drinks the same way we do.” This spectacle attracted the attention of everyone in the restaurant. My head was squeezing like a vice with glares from both sides. I got out my trusty iPad and began reading. “Oh look, he even reads like we do.”

I had enough. I surveyed the busy room and waved to my waitress – it was time for this monkey to pay the bill and escape from the zoo. She smiled, waved back, and went on with her work. I sat patiently for a few minutes then waved to her again. The same smile, the same wave. I reached in my pocket and waved my cash to her. She worked her way through the tables towards me, pointing at the man whose lunch I just ate. She was trying to tell me he had taken care of my bill. He turned and gave me a wink and a friendly smile. I couldn’t believe it. I steal the man’s food, then he pays for it. You never know what’s going to happen in China, it’s about as consistent as the weather. The man stands up, wearing a pair of dress slacks and black shoes. He looked like he just had a hard day at the office. Standing over me, he asks, “Where are you from?” in almost perfect English.

Introducing himself as Michael, he took the initiative and helped himself to a seat across from me. His wife and children were visiting her parents, so he had the day to himself. He was a Vice President of a large company in town that manufactured and exported portable massage devices. After telling him my plans for the day, he invited me to go hiking with him. He seemed pleasant enough with a good sense of humor, so I gladly accepted – something I never would do. I figured after eating his food for free, it was the least I could do.

During our bout through the Saturday maze of traffic, we chortled over conversation and became better acquainted – my mother would have had a fit for getting into a car with a stranger. The way I looked at it though, I was the stranger. We stopped at the base of the mountain we would soon be hiking. He turned the car off and pointed to the peak. There were many hikers so I knew this was a popular place to hike. It was gift exchange time. I reached in my backpack and gave him a book I wrote. Like others, he requested I write something in it and sign it for him. He then reached in his backseat and gave me a box. It was a portable massage device that his company manufactured. When I returned home that evening, I opened it to find little electrode gel pads that stick to your body along with a controller with various settings. I’m using it right now as I write. We spent the afternoon hiking alongside a rushing river on a beautiful lush hiking path. It was quite steeper than I had anticipated, so several stops along the way were in order. We got along like we were old friends catching up on years missed.

The hike down was just as pleasant as the hike up, but with fewer stops. Being nearly dinner time, 18:00 in China, I accepted his offer to dine with him, but only if he agreed to allow me to pay for it this time. He wouldn’t consider it, “I invited you. It wouldn’t be right for you to pay.” After several attempts of insisting and threatening not to go, he gave in. He took me to what appeared to be a five-star hotel which was soon confirmed by the large marbled lobby and all the upper-scale restaurants outlining the 2nd floor balcony. At his suggestion, we headed for the finest of them all. It was The Japanese Steak and Sushi House. We took our shoes off and dined on the plush carpeted floor Japanese style. The waitresses donned authentic style Japanese kimono’s with wooden sandals called Geta. It was the best USDA choice steak since being in the west, and the sushi kept coming. We must have sampled every raw fish dish on the menu.

Rubbing our stomachs, Michael excused himself to use the restroom. I sat there for awhile hypnotized by all the empty dishes on the table. I called the waitress over and requested the check. She gestured that it had already been taken care of. He beat me to the punch… again.

Upon arriving home I promised him I’d come to his house sometime to eat dinner and meet his family. I watched him drive away and disappear into the night. On the way up the elevator my mind was busy rehashing the day. I took out the piece of paper from my pocket; reviewed my plans for the day; formed into a small snowball; then tossed into the waste basket. Once again, I learned to expect the unexpected, but this time I didn’t mind. I did something I normally wouldn’t have done today, I said ‘yes,’ and I met a good friend.

Voices from the living room continued to echo, “Rick, Kris! Come in here and watch this!” Seated like Indians at a pow-wow with business like expressions, my younger brother Kris, and I strategically negotiated the terms of the last available property, Marvin Gardens. Now in our third day of Pass Go’s, and countless number of Jail Get of Free cards, the fun turned into a battle of exchanging rents and paying huge amounts of taxes from Community Chest. The voices continued, “Kids, hurry! You’re gonna miss it!” Our shared bedroom had become a real estate conglomerate headquarters. The board was financially as equal as it could possibly be. Large sums of money exchanged hands with each roll of the dice. No definite winner was in the horizon. The voices of our mother and father had begun to wear us down. “Rick, Kris, get in here now. You’ll remember this your entire lives!” Surveying our money and properties, Kris and I gave each other a look that translated into, ‘You go first. No, you go first. No, you go first.’ Eyeballing each other like gunslingers in a showdown, we inched our way out of the room and into the living room. Our mother and father were seated at the edge of the sofa, eyes wide opened. Within moments, we were viewing Commander Neil Armstrong from our trusty two year old Zenith black and white, with Walter Cronkite as our host. We heard Neil Armstrong speak his famous poetic words, “This is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was approximately 22:57 EST on July 20, 1969.

The summer of 69’ was definitely the most memorable time of my life. Not because of our three day Monopoly game, but because of the world’s events. Our two year old Zenith, with horizontal lines, static and unreliable adjusted rabbit ears, it brought the world’s news directly into our living room. The world and America were turned upside down. Later I would learn that almost every event of 1969 would help shape America’s future… as well as mine.

Anti-war activists marched heavily protesting the Vietnam War, and riots spurred by The Black Panther Party were rampant throughout cities in America. In the midst of all this, a day of hope, harmony and content: the first landing and moonwalk in earth’s history. “The Eagle has landed,” rang in the ears of record crowds from all over the world. The landing of Apollo 11 on the moon’s surface brought only minutes of world peace. John and Yoko’s song, “Give peace a chance,” was given its due. Earth did stop… but only for a moment.

Just minutes behind Armstrong, Colonel Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin stepped foot outside the Eagle. Aldrin’s first account of what he saw was that of, “Magnificent desolation,” a paradoxical description of the moon’s surface. As they surveyed the Sea of Tranquility, both astronauts agreed on its ominous beauty. Armstrong’s description wasn’t far from Aldrin’s impression, “It has a stark beauty all its own.” Both astronauts strategically placed cameras for the world to witness what they were seeing. They demonstrated weightlessness by jumping in the air, and taking giant leaps as if gliding in slow motion through the moon’s non-existent atmosphere. The world watched as they collected moon dust and rock specimens. Both confirmed the surface of the moon as being, “fine and powdery… like powdered charcoal,” It was a dust-like substance caked over a dense surface. Later in my life, I would compare their experience to SCUBA diving: hovering weightless just feet above the oceans surface, exploring and viewing rock and plant formations not seen on earth’s dry land.

Less than a month following Apollo 11’s splash down in the Pacific Ocean, the summer of 69’ continued as usual in our neighborhood. My friends and I built a roomy tree house; played baseball; strolled barefoot down neighborhood streets wearing colorful tie-dyed dashiki’s (mine was carefully hidden and never worn around my parents); and conducted daily trials of our homemade skateboards. My friends and I lived in our own little world with no problems and nothing to worry about. It would be only at night when watching disaster and landmark news on our Zenith, that I would learned of world events, particularly in our own country.

Most of my memories have faded, but definite recollections remain ingrained in my mind: The Haunted Mansion opening at Disneyland; Charles Manson’s killing spree; Russia and China’s boundary dispute; the Woodstock concert in New York; and Hurricane Camille causing over $1.5 billion in damage. Being the first hurricane I ever heard about, it had a lasting impression on me, as well as the ones that would follow throughout my lifetime.

During that summer, I remember my father driving us over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco in our Ford Mustang to visit my Grandmother. I peered out the window at Alcatraz Island, not realizing that in just a month or so, it would be taken over and occupied by angry American Indians. At age 11, I couldn’t appreciate the appeal San Francisco had on so many people. For me it was a city of concrete and hilly streets that added to my boredom. The only things that kept me from being bored were the visits to the zoo; Golden Gate Park; the Aquarium; Fisherman’s Wharf; and visiting my uncle who still lived with my Grandmother. He was always kind, and a great baseball player who taught me a lot. But that particular visit in 1969, I didn’t get to see my uncle. After repeated inquiries as to where he was, my Grandmother answered with a disappointed, “He’s at Haight Ashbury.” Much later I would find out the truth about my uncle’s involvement with the anti-war and hippie movement.

Upon returning to Southern California it was time to begin school again. Summer was over. The Pledge of Allegiance was still holding strong and repeated each morning as usual. The news of Apollo 11 seemed to have vanished forever. It wasn’t until my first day of classes that teachers discussed the importance and relevance of Apollo 11. It was refreshing to hear that someone was bringing it’s memory back into light. Teachers didn’t mention anti-war movements, Haight Ashbury, or Charles Manson, so it seemed that teacher’s truly did feel Apollo 11 was the pinnacle of events that summer.

Sitting in class one day, my memory escapes me which class it was, our teacher gave us an assignment to complete over the next few days. We were told to put together pictures of this years events in a collage form. My idea came instantly to mind: a collage of the moon with the Eagle perched at the Sea of Tranquility, and Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon. The background would be a smaller earth with all its travesties occurring. I immediately began cutting out everything I could from magazines and newspapers. It only took me one evening to complete it. I don’t remember the caption, but I know it was something catchy. My teacher liked it so much, she posted it in the hallway exhibit case for all to see. I was a young and proud American. I often think about that poster. I don’t think I could ever duplicate it again. Some things are better left in memory.

A few weeks after school begun, new world events were taking place: Muammar al-Gaddafi became leader of Libya; the Chicago Eight trial began; HR Puffnstuf, Scooby Doo and The Brady Bunch premiered on TV; and The Beatles, Abbey Road album was released. All these and more events, overshadowed the historic event of Apollo 11.

School proceeded as normal throughout the end of 1969. My friends and I hung out together; played ball; and did what boys of 10 and 11 years will do. Every night, our Zenith displayed more national and world news, and ol’ Cronkite was never at a lost for words. In between Apollo 12 landing on the moon; submarines colliding; death marches in Washington D.C.; and Pele’ scoring his 1,000th goal, remained two memories that stand out. The first: viewing the New York Mets and my hero, Tom Seaver, winning the World Series against the Baltimore Oriole’s The second: slowly negotiating around sprinting looters and rioters on the way to saving my father’s mother from potential danger.

My brother and I remained on the floor in the backseat of our Mustang, while my father weaved through people running in the street. Flying bottles and rocks: sounds of crashing were in the air. I peaked my head up and remember seeing small fires in the street. I had only seen footage of this on TV, now we were in the middle of it. We arrived at my Grandmother’s house, and in seconds, she was in the backseat ducking down with my brother and I. My father drove us home without incident.

For good or worse, the summer of 69’ is remembered by many. An infamous year that will forever be imprinted in history annals. Even my tie-dye dashiki fashion would return briefly, reminding me of that summer. But the one event that impressed me the most, was Apollo 11. My mother was right, the moment Commander Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, would be the most important step in history.

My brother and I never finished that three day Monopoly game, and it was retired for many years after, only playing it once or twice for old time sake. If there was one thing that Apollo 11 overshadowed longer than anything else, I would have to say it was Marvin Gardens.

Closing your eyes and making a wish before blowing out birthday candles is a custom that most countries enjoy. My birthday wish has been the same for as long as I can remember. My 50th birthday in China changed all this.

The school I taught at was located on a back street on the edge of a small tourist town called Yangshou, a popular tourist site. It is well known for its many rivers and streams that meander through green Chinese hat shaped mountains. Being located on a rarely traveled back street, our school enjoyed the luxury of utilizing the surrounding properties for events. Canopies, tables, chairs, and ping pong tables were fixed to the sidewalk across the street for students and staff to use.

It was a night of toss and turns. Sheep counting turned into sheep herding; sheep herding turned into sheep sheering; and sheep sheering turned into pork chops on a plate. My mind was a turbulent mess of tumbling trivia. I opened my eyes to a dimly lit room and thought, ‘Today I’m fifty years old.’ I glanced at the clock resting on my nightstand and saw it was early. I propped myself up against the headboard, and stared at the black screen on my TV. My small one bedroom dormitory was located on the floor above the classrooms. It was comfortable and sufficient for one person.

I continued to stare at the reflection on my TV, clicking through the channels of my life, stopping just long enough to preview the highlights. It was a show that included almost all genres with me as the writer, producer, director, and actor.  Subjectively, my life was an Emmy Award winning series.

At the request of several of my friends, we spent the day together. They mapped out the day with a few activities, which I later learned was a ploy to keep me away from from the school. We swam in the Li River as bamboo rafts drifted by carrying photo snapping tourists. They treated me to my favorite English restaurant which was situated in the midst of other small restaurants. Street performers demonstrated their Ninja and magic skills; contortionists exhibited their flexibility; there were jugglers and fortune tellers at every corner. You would think you were visiting a circus.

After lunch, we bicycled on paths along a smaller river that weaved through the beautiful countryside and green mountains, making frequent stops along the way to watch children leap effortlessly from waterfalls. The children succeeded in coaxing us into jumping with them. Being afraid of heights, I was quite apprehensive. After remembering what day it was, I decided, ‘What the heck,’ and accepted their invitation.

I stood on the cliff top staring down at what seemed to be twice the distance from looking up from below. I took a deep breath and, “Geronimo!” I screamed. I hit the water like a bag of bricks. Not quite the world class entry I was hoping for. I struggled out of the water in pain, but wasn’t afraid anymore. I decided to make another plunge. The next jump was performed with a bit more grace, but still, definitely not a gold medal candidate.

The sun beat down on us as we continued our trek through the countryside, stopping to take a short dip in a river pool surrounded by trees and sounds of a waterfall. After a short swim, we climbed out and dried ourselves off. One of my friends, Andreas, a music composer from Greece, remained in the water and ventured downstream for awhile. A garbled yell soon came from around a short bend. We trotted downstream and met Andreas swimming against the current in horror. The force had begun taking him towards a waterfall. With a futile  attempt at swimming upstream, Andreas screamed out, “Help me! I don’t want to die!”

As Andreas frantically flailed about. We could see the terror in his eyes as he fought to refuse his untimely desmise. Sorry to say, we could not stop laughing. Like our previous cliff jumping episode, your perspective is distorted when previewing something from another angle. Andreas didn’t realize that the waterfall was a mere two foot drop at the most, and since we could see the bottom of the river from the shoreline, We yelled to him, “Stand up! Just stand up!” Our words fell on deaf ears.

Finally, a laughing bystander waded in a short distance and grabbed Andreas’ death-like grip. Andreas was saved. After some verbal beatings from Andreas and our continued laughter, we decided to return to the school.

A welcoming breeze had filled the air as we coasted into the vicinity of the school. The days activities provided exercise, excitement, and Andreas’ near death experience. I lazily climbed the four stories to my room, showered, and reenacted the bag of bricks dive onto my bed. I glanced at the clock, it was still ticking forward and as usual, on time.

A couple of hours went by when I was awaken by a knock on my door. It was Peter. Peter was a professional artist from Leeds, England. We did everything together, and still remain best friends in China. With a soft English accent and a slight grin, his solemn words sounded like a guards dreaded announcement from the Green Mile. “It’s time bud.”

I donned some fresh clothes and ran downstairs. Peter and a few friends then escorted me to a nearby restaurant. When we entered the room everyone yelled, “Happy Birthday!”The room was full of friends. It was the first surprise party for me.

During dinner, there were repeated toasts of “Happy Birthdays,” with China’s nasty white wine known as “bai jiu.” With its color and consistent innocence of water, it had a lethal kick of 54%. If you’re not used to drinking, this is something you definitely want to stay away from. It isn’t pretty. Not being much of a drinker, I sipped the poison in moderation.

Everyone remained eating and drinking, the room was full of fun and laughter. Every now and then, I witnessed signs of people whispering about me. When Chinese secretly speak of other people, they have a tendency to whisper in each others ears, look at the person they’re referring to, and often point at the person they’re talking about. So much for being inconspicuous. I didn’t care though. There secret actions told me the night wasn’t over.

The time had arrived to leave the restaurant. Most guys stumbled out of the restaurant, while the girls kept organized: acting like they were following an agenda. The instant we turned the corner towards the school, I saw what looked like a County Fair. There was a banner with multi-colored streamers, flags and balloons hung from one side of the street to the other; several BBQ’s were set up; there were large speakers with a computer for music; and table clothes drapped over tables in canopies. Written across the huge banner was, “Happy 50th Birthday, Rick!” My first thought was, ‘Great. A public announcement of my age.’ but with a wipe of my eye, I got over it. I couldn’t believe they went through all this trouble for me. My emotions were difficult to hold back as I began getting a bit misty.

Guys picked me up and carried me on their shoulders under the banner while others took photos, and music played. I glanced down at Peter and jokingly yelled, “Pay backs are a bitch. I owe you big time for this.”

He just smiled then said, “I just told them it was your birthday, they did the rest, buddy.”

We ate BBQ, drank and danced into the night. It was a beautiful birthday block party that was heard from many streets away. People from neighboring locations came to join in the festivities.

During a short lull in the action, a table rolled out of the school lobby with the customary large pink box on it. A circle of people formed around the rolling table, inching their way to a canopy. Several moments later, I was standing over the cake ready to make my wish and blow. Written on the cake was, “Happy 50th Birthday, Rick.”

Everyone sang Happy Birthday. I closed my eyes; made my annual wish that ‘time would stand still for a day’; drew a deep breath; and with a little help from the breeze successfully extinguished all the candles. Cheers and claps echoed in the street. After cutting the cake, equal slices were placed on paper plates and distributed. I remember the cake was a cool creamy custard, with slices of assorted glazed fresh fruit toppings: kiwi, papaya, mango, dragon fruit, peach, and banana. It was beautful art.

Some customs in China vary depending on location. That evening, I learned another new custom. In Yangshou, cake isn’t for eating. After everyone received their slice of cake, shifty eyes and suspicious stares pinpointed targets. This small quiet educational neighborhood was about to turn into a chaotic war zone. I would later learn, this would not be my last cake riot.

Another thing I learned was, once cake gets on a part of your body, it has an tendency to travel to other unspeakable parts. Again, not pretty. People ran up and down the street, hiding behind cars, under tables, behind each other. Even innocent onlookers were ambushed. Once behind enemy lines, you were guaranteed to get pelted. After forty-five minutes of retreat and revenge, people tired and gave up. The party came to a close with a public shower (with clothes on) by means of hoses sprayed in the air. It was a welcomed rainfall under a warm starlit sky with pieces of fruit falling from bodies.

Back in my room, the black screen of the TV hypnotized my attention. As I clicked through the channels of the day, I determined that my life was indeed an Academy Award winner. Before closing my eyes, I glanced at the clock on my nightstand, it was still on time. I’m happy my wish didn’t come true, and time still ticks forward. I now prefer to live my life in real time.

Chinese people love to view and collect art, especially if it has a western influence. Almost every weekend you can find outdoor art exhibitions in parks, gardens, and even displays lined up along sidewalks. Art enthusiasts gather around to witness first hand the artistic bravura of its creators.

Like the west, art is introduced and taught at an early age. Beijing Normal University Hanlin Experimental School, in Dongguan City, recently held an art exhibition to boast the progress of their students in the Art Department. Easels of sketches were arranged under multicolored canopies just inside the entrance of the school for all who entered to view. The soccer field and basketball courts served as the backdrop, with a size and resemblance of an American University. The art displays were grouped from the most simple to the most complex. Although these art students may be considered too inexperienced to be given the official title of “Artist,” their work exhibited maturity and talent required of those seasoned.

Like writing, art has its cliche’s. Fruit and vase on a table was the theme of most sketches, measuring 2’ x 3’, completed with charcoal pencils. Students were allowed to add items on the table to sketch, should they have chosen. Some placed combinations of hair dryers, books, wine bottles and glasses, bottled water, and even a mountain goats skull in their sketches. Scattered throughout the arrangements, were sketches of Greek columns and the head of David.

From a distance the sketches all appeared basically the same. As you neared the display, details of each particular piece seemed to take shape. Viewing them again in the afternoon light, it was clear to choose two sketches I felt stood out amongst the rest. With the assistance of one of the students viewing the collection, I tracked down the artists responsible for those sketches.

During a short interview with seventeen years old, Mindy Liu and Vivi Chen, I learned they both enrolled in the art class last year with no previous art experience. When asked why they chose art, they agreed, “To be admitted into a better University.” Not quite the artistic answer I was expecting. Art was only an additional course for them to place on their University application.

Knowing beforehand their sketches would be displayed outside, their focus was on light and shading. Their intention was to render the sketches with equal appeal throughout the day, taking into consideration the direction of sunlight at each given point of the day, an almost impossible feat considering they used charcoal pencils.

At this point, neither student has a desire to pursue art as a potential career, but were proud to present their personal sketch books for me to view. The first pages could have been easily been mistaken for a right handed person drawing with their left hand. As I quickly turned the pages, it was clear to recognize their talent taking new form. They had sketched: human figures; landscapes; the Eiffel Tower; historical buildings and monuments in Paris; skyscrapers; and clothes from different periods of time.

The exhibition attracted hundreds eyes from students, faculty members, and cameras. Mindy and Vivi discovered their hidden talent, but like so many Chinese students, modesty gets the better part of them, which prevents them to excel. It is my hope they will continue, and at least use it for a hobby, sharing their art with others to view.

Remember when love songs were innocent and you didn’t have to bend your ear to understand the words? Remember searching for that perfect spot in at “Lover’s Lookout” on a Saturday night, or being attracted to a particular song in movie, only to find out later it was a remake of an older song before your time? This collage of ‘70’s music is sure to distract and absorb your thoughts – all performed by their original artists.

Pop-love was a break into a new generation of music – a mix of disco, rock, and a peppering of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. The CD, “Amour” reveals a list of artists that helped introduce us to this new style of love ballads. The CD tops off with the talented sensation, the Bee Gees, singing, “How Deep is Your Love?” Unfortunately never one of my favorites, this song will prepare you for your trip back in time for the music yet to follow. Most music is deciduous, but love songs of “Amour” have withstood the test of time. Some artists include: the piano plucking man himself, Billy Joel, singing “Just the Way You Are”; the mod sunglasses artisan, Elton John, singing, “Your Song”; and of course every girls “Hero”, the saucy Enrique Iglesias. Not exactly background music you’d hear at KFC.

Unlike most CD’s that ping pong from fast to slow ballads, this CD sets the mood for the perfect moonlit dance in a quaint outdoor restaurant adjacent to pearly white sand with waves running up to the shore. Close your eyes and visualize your exotic escape into the past, as you listen to memories of the past – I highly recommend enjoying this experience with the same person you were with during those times.

Although all the songs are popular, and performed by their original artists, I must admit, there were a few artists I had never heard of before. I couldn’t tell you if they were one hit wonders or not. Like me, perhaps you’re not familiar with Harry Nilsson, who sings, “Without You”, or Extreme who performs, “More Than Words,” or even, Wet Wet Wet? who sings the popular, “Love is All Around”. Never being much of a music fanatic, I’ve never been one of those who walk around with a cord coming out of my ear while walking down the sidewalk in rhythm to the music. Ask me who sings some of today’s hits, and you’ll more than likely just get a blank stare in response.

Some that do raise my eyebrow included on the CD, are popular arrangements by: Eric Clapton, who sings one of my all time favorites,“Wonderful Tonight”; Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’, “Up Where We Belong”, and Foreigners, “I Want to Know What Love Is.” I wouldn’t recommend any of these songs for the main wedding music, buy they’re sure to help you get to the alter, or at the very least, enjoy a successful wedding reception.

Reluctant to tell you the ending of the CD, but what the heck, it’s not a movie – “Amour” concludes with King Lionel Richie and his court of romance – Motown’s multi-colored, tight fitting, polyester pant dancing, afro sporting, Commodores, singing, “Three Times a Lady”. I personally would have selected this tune as the grand finale song, rather than a song by, Wet Wet Wet.

So, give your MP3 player and IPOD a break, and listen to the music that was accompanied by candle lit dinners, and romantic preludes to marriage and babies, if you can find it that is. I’ve Googled it and have not been able to find it. Who knows? I might be sitting on a rare collectors item of love.

A Bonding Story

Nostalgic music lovers and sentimentalist of all ages will enjoy viewing The Music Never Stopped, written by Gwyn Laurie (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2005) and Gary Marks (Shootout TV series 2005) and directed by Jim Kohlberg. The Music Never Stopped is a touching story about a father who uses music in an attempt to understand his estranged son who suffers from memory loss due to a brain tumor.

The Music Never Stopped maintains a level of familiarity, reminding us that our past actions reflect our future and accountability. J.K. Simmons (Mac MacGuff in Juno), gives a realistic portrayal of the concerned and understanding father, Henry Sawyer. His character realizes his regret for his lack of compassion and understanding which drove his son, Gabriel, away from home as a teenager. A music therapist (played by talented, Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall with Brad Pitt) is hired and discovers that Gabriel becomes almost normal when he listens to early 1970’s anti-Vietnam music. Baby-boomer’s and music lovers will sing along with music from: The Grateful Dead; The Beatles; Buffalo Springfield; Jefferson Starship; and Bob Dylan.

Gabriel Sawyer’s part is convincingly played by Lou Taylor Pucci (The Informers with Kim Basinger and Billy Bob Thornton). You are bound to fall in love with Gabriel’s character as he instigates laughs by completing remembered cliche’s. Gabriel recalls incidences during the hippie movement: his first love, his being drafted; and arguments he and his father had. Memories are recalled through flashbacks with talented newcomer, Max Antisell, playing the younger Gabriel.

Gabriel Sawyer is found wandering the streets in Manhattan and taken to a hospital. His parents are notified and informed about his memory loss due to a massive brain tumor. At the beginning of the film, we notice Henry sitting in a chair in a seemingly coma-like state, as the telephone rings off the hook. A few scenes later, Henry is booted from his job, and reluctantly agrees to visit Gabriel in the hospital on a daily basis. Henry brings in music albums and begins learning everything he can about them, even the words to Grateful Dead songs. The father and son bond begins to form.

Henry begins to go through a gradual transformation as he grows closer to a need to have a “normal discussion” with his son. We witness more compassion, as well as a break in the language gap which existed between them, notably ‘Hippie’ expressions such as Trippy.” Although a well written and believable story, there was a scene that seemed Gabriel only experienced selective memory – when he remembers Celia, played by the Argentinean actress, Mia Maestro (TV Series Alias), the hospital cafeteria lady. Aside from this one miscalculation, the story proceeds to grow with audience participation.

Get your popcorn and soda, and use the toilet before you take your seat. This is a movie you’ll not want to miss a minute. Cheers to Mr. Kohlberg for his Directing debut.

Rating: ♥♥♥