An Action Packed First Day in China

Expat Jimmy by Travis Lee is a fast paced short novel that follows a young American English teacher’s first day in Wuhan, China. He is met by a seasoned expat, Adam, who has been navigating Wuhan for seven years. The day starts at five a.m. and takes them on wild taxi rides, into seedy bars, through a Chinese family’s apartment, witnessing an attempted suicide, making a drug deal, eating different foods, drinking local hooch, and encounters with prostitutes. The day is packed with eye opening adventure.

Adam’s first advice is “Don’t forget who you are or where you are. Who you are is a laowai (foreigner). Where you are is China. Don’t go trying to change things or help people out. Mind your own business and if you don’t heed my advice? Then fine, just don’t come to me for help…”

Adam knows Jimmy is excited and fresh. He doesn’t know much about his new home and has a lot to learn. Adam packs in as much as he can on the first day while Jimmy is jet lagged and wide-eyed. He will have time later to decompress.

There are a couple of things Jimmy mentions that are very relatable. Arriving in this new country, Jimmy mentions it is all hard to describe, you have to experience it. I felt that way when I first arrived in Africa. For example, the smells are unique to certain parts of the world and impossible to describe. Also he has his camera with him and is taking pictures of everything. Everything. It is all so new and different and interesting he wants to capture it all. When walking down the street he sees other expats and expects them to talk to him and to be friendly. They are not. Just because people look like you does not mean they are going to be your friends. This is a naïve notion that many new expats have.

It is amazing how much Adam packs into one day. Adam has become part of the fabric and is so immersed in the culture, he says he cannot leave. It would be too difficult to adjust back to the USA. Any expat can relate to how hard re-entry is. However, he doesn’t seem to be having a very good time in China, either. He drinks a lot. He doesn’t heed his own advice and appears to be heavily involved in one Chinese family’s life. He tries to be rough and detached on the outside but is caring on the inside.

Throughout the day Jimmy is able to keep his sense of self and his moral creed but he does end up giving in to some peer pressure. He starts smoking and is getting a taste for the strong alcohol. At the end of the day he can’t get back into this dorm and stumbles upon a room full of computers and college kids playing video games. He happily joins them.

Jimmy ends with the realization that Adam is right, he is not going to change things but he is still excited and looking forward to more experiences to come.

This is a great snapshot into life in Wuhan. If you have lived in China, you will identify with much of it, if you have never been there, you will have a peek in the window. Although some of it is disturbing and strange, I have no doubt it is real. This book is a fun read.

 

Travis Lee is the author of Kale & Jason, Tear Sin, The Seven Year Laowai, the Journey through Nanking and Grandpa & Henry. His fiction has appeared in The Colored Lens and Independent Ink Magazine, among other places.
For more information, visit: http://www.travis-lee.org

Iowa Weekend – Art, Nature and Food

 

“Old” Capital Building, Iowa City

Iowa City was originally the capital of the State of Iowa. The government was there for ten years until it was decided to move the state capital to Des Moines, a more central location. The “Old” Capital building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa. It is now a museum.

I met my friend, Liz, over thirty years ago in Minneapolis. When I was living in Russia she was living in Finland so I went to visit her there a couple of times. Now we were reunited at her home near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The first day we spent the entire morning at the Lasansky Gallery in Iowa City, Iowa, learning about Mauricio Lasansky, his life, his art and his family. My son had written a paper on one of Mauricio Lasansky’s prints for an Art History class and wanted to learn more about him. It was fascinating. Lasansky was not only a great printmaker and graphic artist but he taught at the University of Iowa for many years producing several generations of art educators and printmakers. He is known as one of the fathers of 20th Century American Printmaking. We also had the opportunity to see his grandson, Diego, at work in his studio. So we learned a little about the process as well.

From there we had lunch and then made a mad dash to Cedar Rapids to get to the Czech Museum before it closed. They currently have an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s, Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection. The series was inspired by a trip to Venice where he was exposed to Art Deco vases. He invited Lino Tagliapietra to work with him on this series. The exhibit does include vases but highly decorated, bright, asymmetrical vases that are more art than function. Apparently Chihuly is Jewish and his family originally came to the USA from a region of Austria later known as Czechoslovakia. As an aside, I found out he lost his eye in a car accident.

That night we met up with some African emerging leaders who were on an exchange program visiting the USA. My friend and her husband had hosted them in their home and were now saying good-bye. We all went to Devotay, a tapas restaurant in Iowa City where we drank wine and enjoyed plates of chorizo, pulpo a la Gallega, Spanish olives, market cheeses, chewy bread, potato basil soufflé, chicken salad and salt crusted potatoes. All delicious.

Next morning we headed out after breakfast for a two hour drive north along the river to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The monument contains 200 plus Native American mounds considered sacred to the 20 tribes associated with them. Many of the mounds were constructed in the shapes of animals. The effigies in this area are mainly bears and eagles. These date back to 1400-750 B.P., which I interpret to be about 600 AD to 1300 AD. There had been some flooding recently so some of the trails were closed. We chose a two mile hike up into the lower region of the park where there was a line of marching bears and several eagles.

The hike was uphill all the way in with an overlook and a mound on the way. Prairie grasses, flowers and raspberries were abundant. And it wasn’t too buggy, which was nice. We came across a friendly toad who stopped to be photographed but otherwise no wildlife. Once we reached the top, we understood why they had chosen this spot to build the mounds. It was a beautiful setting with a view of the river.

Back down at the river, we drove north to Lansing. It was the last day of Ragbrai and it just happened to end at Lansing so we spent a lot of time passing cyclists. Ragbrai is an annual event that started in 1973 with a few friends riding their bicycles across Iowa and was known as The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride. Because it was the brainchild of two DesMoines Register’s writers, the ride is now called the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai). Approximately 10,000 people do the ride every year, some participating in one or two days of the ride.

From Lansing we crossed over over the Mississippi on the Black Hawk Bridge, named after Chief Black Hawk. It is a large scale cantilever truss bridge. Because of its size and age, it is one of the most unusual bridges of its kind in the country. It is definitely very cool.

The bridge took us into Wisconsin and we drove north up to La Crosse. In La Crosse we stayed at the Charmant hotel downtown. It is a new boutique hotel in a renovated candy factory that was originally built in 1898. They made a premium line of chocolates known by the name Charmant. Upon arrival we were offered a sample of the hotel’s own version of Charmant chocolate. The building features exposed brick, wood beams and wood flooring. Our room was comfortable with nice amenities and a spacious bathroom.

Interesting light fixtures at the Charmant in La Crosse

There is a rooftop bar that was nice but small and completely packed on a Saturday night. The dining room bills itself as “rustic French-inspired”. We had delicious steak frites for dinner. On Sunday mornings they sponsor Yoga in the Park and have a full brunch on offer. We enjoyed french toast and eggs for breakfast. 

Across the street from the hotel is a lovely park along the Mississippi River where you can watch the barges and boats, and people, of course.

 

Life in Panama

I have an article in the latest issue of Global Living Magazine 

(it’s free to download!)

Inside this issue:

– Steps With Therra: Thailand’s first social enterprise providing vocational training to adults with learning disabilities

– Building cultural competency in the workforce

– An International Education

– Finding Purpose & Passion as an Expat Partner

– Expat Life in Panama – All about Amelia and Greg’s new adventure

– Life as an Expat in Valencia, Spain

– Expat Books

… and much more!

 

Five years of blogging

I just passed my five year mark as a blogger. This was my first post in March of 2012:

My New Mantra

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
The Matterhorn
I stole this photo from my brother who lives in Switzerland and happened to be passing this particular mountain among others on some weekend trip of his.
He is returning to the US soon and will also be an Alien….
It kind of represents my new mantra.  There are probably some trails up there for people to follow.
I spent two lovely years in Switzerland myself.  Fun times.  More on that later.
 
Since then I published my memoir on growing up internationally. I wrote over 300 posts and had about 50,000 visitors. Plus I blogged at the Baltimore Post Examiner for several years with more posts and visitors. I wrote a cookbook. I traveled to Switzerland, Italy, Nova Scotia, Florida, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, New York and Minnesota. I buried my son’s father. I loved and lost. I quit my job. I packed up my things and moved to a new city. I found a new job and a great apartment. And now I am planning a trip to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine to go to Tierra del Fuego. 
I don’t know that I am leaving a trail but I am following my own path.
I changed my blog to be “expat alien, recovering expat on the prairie”. I feel more local now. I recently read “the Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer. Going nowhere can be a journey in itself. 

Lindbergh, Lumber, Military and Mosquitoes

Lindbergh house

Lindbergh house

Charles Lindberg, the Aviator, was born in 1902, and lived in Little Falls, Minnesota until he went to college in 1920. The original house was a three-story mansion built by the river just outside of town. It burned to the ground and was replaced with the more modest two-story building we see today. Charles lived there with his mother. His parents were not on the best of terms so his father had a place in town. In 1931 the 110 acres and the house were donated to the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society took over the house and 17 acres. The remaining acres are now the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.

Lindbergh is most famous for being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He did this in 1927. The plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. In 1929, he married the daughter of the US Ambassador to Mexico, Anne Morrow. Their first-born child, Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped and killed in 1932.

A museum containing lots of information about Charles’ life and accomplishments is on the property in Little Falls. There are a couple of good films about his transatlantic voyage and tickertape parades. There are also activities for small children.

Weyerhaeuser and Musser Houses

Weyerhaeuser and Musser Houses

Down the road from the Lindbergh house, there is a small county museum, the Charles A Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum. It has a few turn of the century artifacts and a genealogy library and research area.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser was a German immigrant who started a lumber business in Rock Island, Illinois in 1858. From there he moved to St Paul, Minnesota. He ended up in a joint venture with James J Hill, also of St Paul. The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company was incorporated in Tacoma, Washington in 1900.

John, Frederick’s oldest son, followed him to become president of the company. In 1935, John’s 8 year old son George, was kidnapped but luckily it ended happy with the child being returned unharmed, and the kidnappers apprehended, unlike the Lindbergh affair. George grew up to be the president of the company. Today Weyerhaeuser is an international public company and per its website is “one of the largest sustainable forest products companies in the world.”

Exhibit at the County Museum

Exhibit at the County Museum

Charles was another son of Frederick’s who was also in the lumber business. He headed the Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls, Minnesota with his business partner Richard Drew Musser. It quickly became the second largest mill in the Northwest. In 1920 the mill closed and all the timber was gone. In the 1930’s the federal and state governments surveyed the area full of stumps. New regulations were implements restricting cutting and demanding re-planting. Most of the trees in Northern Minnesota are now back but the white pine is rare today.

After the mill closed, Charles moved to St Paul and died in 1930. His mansion in Little Falls is now open to the public. The county museum named in his honor does genealogy research.

Jessica Lange also lived in Little Falls when she was about eight years old. You could drive by her school and house if you are so inclined.

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The Dakota were pushed out of the area by the Ojibwe and then they were pushed out by the Europeans who settled in the area in the early 1800’s. The town is named for a series of rapids that ran on the Mississippi. Today a dam harnesses those rapids.

Mural at A.T. the Black and White

Mural at A.T. the Black and White

There is plenty to see and do in Little Falls. We stayed at the newly built County Inn and Suites and had an excellent meal at the A.T. Black and White, originally built in 1931 and known as the Black and White Hamburger Shop. Today it boasts a Cordon Bleu chef. We had the scallops in citrus beurre with asparagus and risotto and the linguini Alfredo with chicken that was light and flavorful. The evening ended with a brownie sundae with thick chocolate sauce and a touch of caramel.

Camp Ripley Gate

Camp Ripley Gate

About a ten mile drive north of Little Falls is Camp Ripley, a National Guard, 53,000-acre training center. It is named for Fort Ripley, a frontier Army post occupied from 1849-1877 that once sat on the property. The new training site opened in 1931.

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We visited the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley. We had to drive through huge solid gates and show our ID’s at the gatehouse in order to enter. The museum was close to the main entrance so we didn’t see a lot of the camp. The museum was very well done and quite extensive, I recommend it to anybody interested in history. There were also exhibits on the grounds surrounding the museum and smaller buildings that housed jeeps and other military vehicles. Part of it was interactive. I tried on a couple of helmets (they are heavy).

On the way back to Little Falls we decided to make a circle and swing by the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. We figured we would just jump out of the car, take a quick walk, take some pictures and be on our way. The Refuge was established in 1992 to preserve a large natural wetland. It is basically a marshland that is home to many species of birds including the sandhill cranes.

Our idea had one small flaw. Mosquitoes. Of course there would be mosquitoes in a marshland and we did know that but we had no idea just how many mosquitoes there would be. Within two minutes we were under full attack and had to run for cover. I was still swatting them in the car when we got back to town.

We consoled ourselves with pizza and beer at Charlie’s Pizza in Little Falls. The next day on the way out of town we stopped at Thielen Meats. John Thielen opened the shop after working for his parents at Thielen Meats in Pierz, fourteen miles east of Little Falls. We originally thought we were going to the market featured in the New York Times but they are all related so no disappointments. Amy Thielen, a chef featured on Food Network, is also related.

 

World Citizen Storycast

I am featured this week on the World Citizen Storycast podcast.

The focus was on the adjustments and challenges of growing up in different cultures as well as reverse culture shock when returning to the passport country.

Check it out.

26: Before I Tell My Story

 

 

Trip Around Lake Pepin – On the Mighty Mississippi

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Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake and is the largest lake on the Mississippi River. On the west is Minnesota and 1.7 miles across it is Wisconsin. It covers 29,295 acres and is 21 miles long. Its main claim to fame is that in 1922, Ralph Samuelson successfully skied on water. He was from Lake City and after five days of trying, he succeeded in being the first documented water skier. In 1925, again on Lake Pepin, he made the first water ski jump.

I took a drive around Lake Pepin to see what else it had to offer. We drove from the Twin Cities down through Red Wing, famous for its shoes among other things, and crossed the Mississippi to the Wisconsin side.

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A few years ago I was in Frontenac State Park on the Minnesota side looking over to Maiden Rock. This time I was driving through Maiden Rock village. A plaque at Frontenac Park states: “On the east shore of Lake Pepin, opposite this point, juts out a high rock. From this pinnacle, according to accounts of early travelers, a Sioux maiden of Wabasha’s band prevented from marrying the warrior of her choice, leaped to her death that she might avoid union with another and older man.”

Stockholm was our next stop. Population 66. At one time it was a thriving community of about 300. It was founded in 1856 by Swedish immigrant farmers and was connected to the railroad in 1886. Although most residents moved to more urban areas after World War II, the village did not disappear completely. In the 1970’s people were drawn to the area for its natural beauty and it has become a thriving artist community with small artsy shops like the Purple Turtle Artisan Collective and North Oak Amish Furniture and Gifts. There is a pie shop on the corner and a complete gourmet kitchen store. It is home to music and art festivals throughout the summer.

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Down the road, just outside of Pepin, is the Villa Bellezza winery. Wisconsin wine has a ways to go but we tasted a few decent wines and had a look around. The setting is stunning with vineyards all around an Italian Villa. There is a piazza with a fountain and it is a popular place for weddings and receptions. There is a self-guided tour but the main tours are on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 am. The tasting room is open everyday.

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Pepin is larger than Stockholm with about 800 people. We stopped at the Harbor View Café across from the marina for lunch. The café has been coming to life every summer since 1980. It is well known throughout the area for its tasty eclectic food. The Menu goes up on the chalkboard over the bar twice daily. We were offered Alaskan Halibut, Hawaiian Swordfish, Massachusetts Striped Bass, Copper River Salmon, along with chicken, pork, risotto and pasta. We shared a chocolate buttercream pie for dessert.

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From there it was a beautiful drive to Nelson and a stop at the Nelson Creamery. The ice cream looked tempting but we were way too full. We did stock up on local cheese and beer. They have a small seating area with a fireplace that must be lovely in winter. As we arrived it started to rain so we spent some time watching a summer downpour.

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We headed out as it eased up and crossed the river to Wabasha, Minnesota and up to Reeds Landing. Reeds Landing was founded in the mid-1800’s as a trading post and became a major logging town. The Reeds Landing Brewery is housed in a building originally built in 1869 as a dry goods store. Today it is a pub and restaurant overlooking Lake Pepin. One of their beers, Cap’n Crunch Amber, is made with Captain Crunch cereal and is pretty good.

We took a quick tour of Lake City on our way back to Red Wing to close the loop. On the way home we passed through New Trier to see St Mary’s Church. The church was built in 1909, in the Beaux Art Classic Style by architect Paul Ries of St Paul. The statue of the Virgin Mary and child was cast in 1862 and sits over the main door. It was entered into the national Register of Historic Places in 1980. It is at the top of a hill and is impressive.

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