Western Journey

When I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was a genre show called Western Journey. Set in 1870, the show followed the adventures of a small band of US Marshals who traveled around the Wild West in 


Warning Signs

If the documentation/HOWTO/helpfile/hint uses the word “simply” (as in: “mod_proxy should simply send the raw directory list up the filter stack to mod_autoindex, which in theory should turn the raw ascii into pretty html” or “simply create 


Simple Solutions to Stupid Problems

The Mercy Corps office is terrifically overcrowded. I share a 100 square foot room with two other people, for example. This office opens directly into two other offices — not a hallway. So there’s not a lot of space, real 


What It’s Like To Be Back

Pretty much the first thing anyone says when we see them for the first time is “are you glad to be back?” This is surprisingly hard to answer. Yeah, it’s good to be back but the emotion is weirdly 


Oregon Again


We’ve been back in Oregon for 24 hours now, most of them occupied by sleeping or running errands like crazy people. I’m too wiped to pour a lot of thought into a post, or to recap the return 




In the last 24 hours the feeling finally hit us: OK, we're actually leaving. We finished our bank work yesterday, after a brief scare where we learned that foreigners can’t send RMB out of the country. We thought 


A Cowboy Never Says Goodbye


I hate saying “goodbye.” I don’t mean that I never want to leave places I know I should leave, or part from friends I don’t want to part with. Those things have to happen, they’re part of 


Seven Days


We’re entering the pre-move period, familiar from a year ago, when we are no longer excited about leaving but rather just want the whole damn thing to be over with already.Leaving Xiamen is not like leaving Portland (only 



In the last year I generated a hypothesis about global attitudes toward shit:“A person’s aversion to fecal matter is inversely proportional to their cultural distance from England.”Most of Asia smells much of the time like shit. Even 


Beijing, Briefly


My brother and mother have been visiting this past week. I took them to the usual Xiamen tourist sites: Gulangyu Island, Nanputuo Temple, Zhongshan Road. There’s pictures of all the Xiamen stuff on the Flickr Stream. I won’t 


Blogger; Protests; Skies and Cars


In probable anticipation of the anniversary of the 1989 student protests, the gummint has clamped down tight on Blogger. For most of the year we’ve been in China, addresses at something.blogspot.com were invisible inside China, but the 


Choose Two

Someone recently asked me for some businessy advice about working in China. Specifically, about team dynamics and the decision-making process. All four regular readers of 大黑狗 can probably guess my opinions on the matter, but this presents a golden opportunity 




For most of my tenure in high school, I didn’t “get” high school. I didn’t get the cliques, the sports, the clothes, how to manage classes, none of the John Hughes drama stuff. Until the second semester of 



Today at lunch I spotted a minivan with GNEFGNOD written on the side. You see some funny car names in China (“Freeca,” “Houda,” “BWM”) but this one was downright incomprehensible. Gnefgnod?But then I noticed 东风 (actually it was 東風 


Xiamen Love


The weather has turned warm and damp and it’s hard not be a little in love with Xiamen. The plants are greener, the sky is bluer, there are more people on the street, better produce at the market. In 


The China Fantasy

I’ve been struggling for a while to formulate a series of vague thoughts I’ve had about China. This is usually in response to a question I get from almost everyone who’s never been to China: “is China 


I Learned a Lot from my Parents

The Australian crawl The backstroke The Four-in-Hand The half-Windsor The non-necessity of training wheels If you’re bored, read a book Shake hands firmly and make eye contact It’s who you know not what you know Grill a steak 


Boredom and Solitude

On today’s Dilbert Blog, Scott Adams hypothesizes that: “A person’s need for social interaction is inversely related to the quality of his or her imagination. In other words, if you have an excellent imagination, you might enjoy people 



Working with a Chinese team (OK, my particular Chinese team) makes me long for a collaborative work environment like you wouldn’t believe. All my attempts to enliven the office environment have launched like lead balloons. Exhortations to share music 


And now...LINKS!

AKA The Lazy Man’s Blog Post17 Hates 10 Commandments for Westerners in China American IPR hawks, remember the little people Welcome to Boomtown, PRC Beijing fines more than 50 for spitting during Labor Day holiday The Pop vs. Soda 


Brain Hack


Reading over some posts from before our move to China I was reminded of how frequently I used to dream of being underwater. I’ve had underwater dreams my whole life, and they leave me feeling euphoric. I always supposed 


Back from Taiwan


We got back from Taiwan yesterday after utterly uneventful flights. Although the 777 (Cathay Pacific) we took from Taipei to Hong Kong had the coolest feature for their seatback video. There was a camera mounted on the underside of the 


Afternoon with the Spidermans

Today we saw Spiderman 3, the first movie we've seen in an actual theater since last August. Hell, it was the first non-pirated visual entertainment we've consumed in as much time, discounting I suppose in-flight movies.The theater 


Taroko Gorge


Jenny and I took the train (not, unfortunately, the High Speed Rail, although it was plenty fast) out to Taroko Gorge, Taiwan's world-famous National Park. We hired a driver/guide and spent 6 hours in the park -- about 30 




We arrived in Taipei two nights ago after a 50 minute delay out of Xiamen, and a switched flight through Hong Kong. Even that switched flight necessitated basically a sprint across the airport, so I didn't get to do 


Mama ma ma ma ma?

My mother asked me the other day, how exactly do you say “Did Mother scold the hemp horse?” Well, you say it like this:Māma mà má mǎ ma?The diacritics tell you which way to pitch the a sound 



Much of what passes for “Western” in Xiamen would more accurately be called “Sinicized.” A good example is the local version of “coffee shops.” These are actually restaurants that serve Western dishes like sandwiches and french fries (and perhaps actual 


Seven Irritations


OK, so: here’s what made this past Sunday so damned irritating.First, taxes. This was actually not any more irritating than usual, and actually turned out a little pleasant. We were expecting to pay a few thousand bucks each 


Kurt Vonnegut Dead at 84

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule 


3 Scenes, As Metaphors


Exhibit A: A New Privacy Wall Commentary:(Pre-existing rebar-reinforced concrete railing) = (nearly forgotten yet deeply sublimated Confucian/Taoist/Buddhist patriarchical tradition) + (3000 year history)(Hastily piled, poorly fired red bricks with copious slip) = (post-dynastic political confusion) + (shortsighted infrastructure planning) + (nepotistic 


“Dark and Dirty”


The weather today has cleared, the first break of warm weather since the Marathon, almost two weeks ago. This after a couple days of heavy rain. (Jenny said, this morning: “Xiamen has two seasons too cold and f*ing hot 


The Four to Five Stages of Culture Shock

I’m having a lot of trouble lately coping with the depth of my homesickness. I’m amazed it can be so thoroughly consuming. Nothing I read or heard could prepare me for the totality of homesickness and culture shock 


The Shire

During a conversation I had a week ago with a coworker contemplating a move to the US, and wondering what city would suit him best (he was leaning towards Los Angeles)COWORKER: “So what is the Pacific Northwest like?”PAUL 


Back Posts and Our Purebred Portland Labrador Retriever


Lately I’ve been adding some older bloggy-type stuff to 大黑狗. I started doing “something new every day” on axoplasm.com five years ago (when I didn’t yet know the word “blog”). Said New Things were usually designerly or 


Working Here

...is occasionally a challenge. The Chinese have not made cults of efficiency, quality, or service as in other countries (like Germany, Japan, and America, respectively). There are reasons why those countries have made cults of those things, and similarly there 


Xiamen International Marathon

Jenny and I ran in the Xiamen International Marathon yesterday. I ran 10K and Jenny ran the half marathon. Altogether it was a good day. The weather was warm (upper 20sC) and humid There was a splash of rain at 


Big Ideas

I resist talking too much on the blog about Big Ideas in regards to China vs. America (or anywhere else), in part because my thoughts aren’t well formed, but also because such ideas could easily be mistaken for racism 


The Homesick-o-Meter

Think you might be homesick? Unfortunately, expatriate life in China means living with constant homesickness, so gauging the severity of this emotion is essential to regulating your well-being. We have devised the following test to help in this regard. Please 


Things I’d Bring Back from China

Post-lunch naps Palm-sized rice bowls held inches from your mouth Industrial-grade hot water dispensers (for copious quantities of loose green tea), in lieu of office water coolers The metric system A3/4/etc. paper sizes The world’s simplest right-of-way 


American Dreams

Long, languid, atmospheric dreams of American landscapes occupied my sleep last night. Shopping malls, brick houses on tree-lined streets, farmland under an autumn prairie sky, an abbey set among pine trees. The dream action was the usual David Lynch stuff 


Internal Monologue: At the Expat Club

I can’t believe this Kilkenny costs 50 kuai. I am gonna nurse the hell out of this beer. Why is every bar band in Xiamen Philipino? Everyone says this one is the best in town. They’re OK I 


Did Mother Scold the Hemp Horse?

The crazy difficult thing about learning Mandarin are those devil tones. In Mandarin, the way you pronounce a vowel is often more important than the actual vowel itself. Officially, Mandarin has four tones (high, falling, rising, and falling-rising). As the 


Hanzi Are Fun

One of the small joys of living in China is learning Chinese. In a harsh blow to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the Chinese language is simple, elegant, and rational. This includes the writing system, which most foreigners and many Chinese people 


New Job

Today is my fourth day at my new job as [Senior Web Architect | Senior E-Business Manager | Director of Web Services] at Ports, an international clothing company based in Xiamen. I think I’ve had one job in my post–grad 


Chinese Color Symbolism for Foreign Designers


Dear Honored Foreign Designer, The following is a guide to the use of color in Chinese graphic design. Unlike foreign color symbolism, in which colors may be associated with abstract notions like “energy” and “aggression,” Chinese colors are linked symbolically 


This is a surprisingly hard habit to break

When we were in Bali, we kept having to remind ourselves that most of the people around us could understand the catty stuff we were saying. Living in a place where almost no one speaks English (and those who do 


“Make your vacation your vocation”


I realized on this trip that I don’t particularly care for travel. For me this is a big admission, although in retrospect it’s kind of obvious. I didn’t travel out of the U.S. until I was 



On the American West Coast we say “Gung Hay Fat Choy” but that’s apparently Cantonese. In Mandarin you say “Gong Xi Fa Cai.” You write it the same either way. It means something like “Happy New Year,” I guess 


Bali Bound

Hey just a quick note: Jenny and I are leaving today for Bali. We’ll be back in a week (literally arriving on the day of Chinese New Year). I’ll try to post from the island but, no guarantees 


I’m no longer above...


Starbucks KFC clothing made in China Tabasco instant coffee TV cop shows cheering for the high school basketball team lite beer soda with calories Crest toothpaste  


Madre de los Desaparecidos

Seen in a distant land: a middle-aged woman holding a signboard with photos of her (presumably) two adult children, a daughter and a son. Only God, and a few Party officials, know what they have done. Snooped where they shouldn 


Shoulda Been Me

I, for example, am good at washing dishes. I used to do it professionally and it’s still satisfying. You clear away the wreckage and run a sink full of soapy water and make everything sparkly clean again, and you 


Pigs and Birds


We’re about two weeks away from Chinese New Year, which is the largest (by American standards, only) holiday in China. The upcoming year is Year of the Pig, which is my year (1971). Apparently, good things happen on “your 


Proofread Study Interval Nation Door Mansion

XIS buses have the name of the school, in Chinese, printed in large letters on the sides. On the driver side it’s printed in the usual left-to-right fashion (Chinese is read from left to right, like English): 厦门国际学校 (Xiamen 


Where Life is Cheap


Last night, Jenny and I were in the kitchen washing dishes when we both smelled something burning. So we started looking around the kitchen: along the stove, at plugs, etc., looking for a short, or for something pressed up against 


The Tulsa of China


Xiamen is wonderful and all but our visits to Hong Kong and Singapore make me wish we were in a larger city. We’re kind on the edge of nowhere here but without the actual middle-of-nowhere mentality. Too big to 


Things I Miss About 1991


Only building contractors and heart surgeons carry cell phones. My guidebook to the Pacific Northwest, in describing the burgeoning Seattle coffee culture, mentions in passing a local chain called “Starbucks.” It also contains a sidebar of bands you should try 


Better Than You Might Expect


Piping hot corn smoothies Green tea toothpaste The emergency room Hocking loogies in public in front of God and everyone Sausage-filled donuts Public buses with rickety wooden seats Banana popcorn Chinese rap metal videos 75¢ haircuts Breakfast rolls with red 


My Three Favorite Purchases from Hong Kong


were:A Parker ballpoint pen A new Seiko dive watch A plain black merino sweater These are the kinds of things that are impossible to find in Xiamen. Pens, for example, are easily available here, but their price/value distribution 




So there are two circumstances that must obtain before I get up the energy to post to the blog:Boredom An elevated sense of well-being Funnily these things seldom coincide. My sense of well-being plunges with boredom. (This is why 




Last night (Michelle’s final night in China) we went to Riyuegu hot springs, a shwanky resort in Xiamen’s outer suburbs. They have a bazillion little hot tubs, most of which are infused with some kind of botanical: tea 




For Michelle’s pen-penultimate day in Xiamen, we had a big ol’ Chinese-o-rama. Jenny was “sick” and stayed home with Michelle, they visited the big local temple and had lunch with the monks, which was apparently a really great experience 


Hong Kong


We spent a few days last week in Hong Kong. HK is, without a doubt, the most vibrant , happening city I’ve ever visited. It’s certainly a “world city,” in the mode of Paris, London, LA or New York 


...Aaaaand We’re Back


OK, so it's been, what, two weeks now? I have excuses.The day after Christmas Axoplasm.com stopped working. In China. Everyone else on Earth can see it. After a little digging I'm 99% certain the site has