earthGiles the Explorer in China

This time around, Giles the explorer spends 3 months in China. For his past travels, see his Zeff Fellowship Travels. He will be in China from May 2007 to August 20, 2007.

These are his emails back.

First 3 weeks in China . . . - 7 June 2007
Worms, Traffic, and Shoes - 19 June 2007

First 3 weeks in China . . .
Thu, 7 Jun 2007 6:48 am

My first three weeks in China - or how I ended up watching lasso tricks with a turtle head in my mouth.

There is something about traveling that inspires me to write long informative letters so be forewarned because this is a long one. I wrote this e-mail in stages and I am too lazy to delete the less important details now that better ones have supplanted them. If you do not have a long time to read then skip this e-mail and come back to it later if you so desire.

Many of you have neither seen nor heard from me since the last time I was out of the country for an extended period. For these people I have spent two years in Champaign, Illinois and gotten my Master's degree. Now I am a PhD student at the University of Illinois (still) and will be studying in China until Aug 20.

For those who are new to my e-mail list, "Welcome." If I allude to my previous travels, you can find my old e-mails at on my sister's web site. I must have met you since I returned from Hong Kong on July 31, 2004 (unless you are from the Dept. of Homeland Security in which case I arrived on July 29) which ironically, or suitably, is where my story once again begins.

I have been a very lucky traveler. Wherever I have traveled, my luggage has always accompanied me - until now. I guess this story actually does not begin in Hong Kong but a few months before I actually left. I have known for almost a year that I would be coming to China, but the actual dates where not determined until a week or so before I left. Therefore, I did not buy my tickets until after having stayed up all night to finish a final project and then take final in the same course only a week before I left. Buying a ticket so late meant that after passing through airport security I discovered that I did not have a seat but was third on the list for receiving one. After checking in at the gate, the attendant told me to wait in the specified area and they would call my name when my seat became available. This is where I made my mistake - I went to the bathroom. In the time that it took me to use the facilities and wash my hands, they must have called my name. I, however, being the patient human bean who respects rules and regulations then followed instructions and waited to have my name be called. Boarding time came; first class passengers entered the plane. Then economy class passengers began to queue as the attendants called their seating sections. Still I waited to hear my name. The economy line slowly dwindled and still I sat waiting as the voice in the ceiling called other names. I asked the desk and they told me tersely to just wait - so I did. Just before they closed the gate, the first attendant I had talked to saw me, checked my ticket, and told me that they had given me a seat almost immediately after I had asked for it the first time. I rushed onto the plane grateful and relieved though because I boarded so late there was no guarantee my luggage would go with me. I slept all the way to Hong Kong.

I knew I would have to spend the night in Hong Kong because there is only one flight to Shantou (where I will be staying) a day and I arrived well after it left. I was planning to spend the night in one of the many budget hotels or hostels to keep my expenses for the three-month trip down. However, upon arrival, I passed through immigration control easily and went to retrieve my luggage. My large suitcase was already on the carousel so I picked it up and again began to wait. The unclaimed bags went around once, and then twice before I concluded my trusty green backpack - the one that for a year contained my whole world - was lost. I was not the only one who was missing luggage and the local United employee had the necessary form ready for me to fill out. The friendly employee told me that my luggage should arrive on the next flight but that would be at midnight local time and could not be delivered to me until two in the morning. The problem with budget hotels and hostels is that they do not always have 24-hour reception desks. I had to make a quick change of plans so I gave him the address of the hotel I had spent one bloody (bloody as in blood not bloody as in the British colorful metaphor) night in the last time I was in Hong Kong. I was not looking forward to the price of the hotel but the benefits of knowing how to get there and that they have 24-hour reception outweighed that thought. With my large wheeled suitcase, therefore, I made my way from the airport via trains and the subway to the hotel. It was odd remembering my way around and being in familiar territory.

I spent the evening walking down the clothes market streets and then ate dinner at the night market. I contemplated a ride on the Star Ferry but decided to call it a night instead. The bed was soft and considering I had been on a up for ten down for two sleep schedule for about two weeks prior to boarding the plane I fell asleep immediately. At 2:00 AM, the telephone rang and I woke up confused and disoriented. Just as predicted by the friendly United employee my trusty backpack had arrived, no worse for the wear. I waited for them to deliver it to my door before I once again fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, my nose had not bled all over the pillow and sheets making the room look like a homicide scene as it had the last time I had spent a night in this hotel. Instead, I packed my bags, went against the rush hour traffic to the airport, and caught my flight to Shantou and my first experience with mainland China.

I had met Prof. Xie, my host professor, once in Illinois but I did not remember very well what he looked like. I was a little slow coming from customs so I figured the one person who looked a little familiar and was waving wildly at me must be him and not a taxi tout. With my bags in the trunk, we drove off through Shantou. This city, despite being a Special Economic Zone, has experienced significantly less development than more famous SEZs like Shanghai. It reminds me more of India than anywhere else due to the many motorbikes zigzagging in and of traffic. The biggest difference is that there are traffic lights here but for the most part, drivers ignore them anyway.

Our first stop was at a fancy restaurant for lunch. All the dishes that they serve sat on display not made of plastics as in Japan four rows deep on a long table. I started to look at a few dishes but could not make out what many of them were and the name cards did nothing to help me choose because I still do not read Chinese. As I looked, Prof. Xie asked what I would like to eat. Not knowing what anything was and as always very confident in my ability to suppress my gag reflexes and the hardiness of my digestive track, I deferred the choices to him and included the phrase, "I'll eat anything." He and the student that was accompanying us both laughed and I think they took this as a challenge.

We sat at a very lovely table where everything from the table, the chairs, and the wait staff dressed in orange cloth of varying shades. Prof. Xie and the wait staff were surprised when I would not drink the beer that is part of most formal meals. The restaurant scrambled to come up with an alternative for the three of us with the result being a wine glass full of steaming hot liquefied corn. I have had, and liked, corn ice cream in Brazil, but this was hot and not sweetened. It was not half-bad once it had cooled. The food vs. stomach battle had begun. Goose meat and a few other dishes arrived and all were very delicious so I thought I had escaped without a scratch. However, the food scored a sharp blow against my gastronomical ego when a plate of fish heads arrived at the table. I have eaten fish with heads and tails attached before, but the heads had always been left untouched. This was a plate of just the heads no tails, no fins, no spine. Almost as soon as they touched the table however, they were motioned away with a hand gesture and a few Chinese words. Nevertheless, this was not to send them back but to have them split in two and served on individual plates. I soon had my own serving of warm fish head sitting directly in front of me.

Chopsticks are wonderful utensils. A knife and a fork are just not as good for literally poking a piece of so-called food. Therefore, with my trust chopstick I gave my fish head a good poke or two. Then I lifted a piece that had some lingering strands of meat to my mouth. My pokes and puckish looks did not go unnoticed and I got the best fish head eating advice I guess one can receive "Just suck off anything that is soft." Not wanting to offend or admit gastronomic defeat, I took the advice and lifted it up and begun to suck things off the bones. I nearly gagged on a gelatinous semi-solid in the middle of the head but I kept it down and smiled. Even when I realized the fish's eye had popped and was now oozing an odd textured liquid over my tongue and down my throat, I kept my smile on my face and the lunch in my stomach. After I had reduced my fish head to naught but a pile of bones and the empty shell of an eye, the frog legs that came next had no power over me. Despite the fact that I could still see the small little webbed feet attached to the limbs, I enjoyed them and their meaty contrast to the gelatinous head goop.

After lunch, we drove to the university where I will be staying in the Foreign Student Dormitory. Chinese students live in dorms where they share their room with three other students. All the beds are lofted and placed end-to-end, two to a wall, with a desk under each bed. Some rooms share a bathroom with another room of four while others have communal floor bathrooms. Since I am a foreign student, I have a room to myself and share a bathroom with two other rooms. However, no one lives in the other two rooms so I have them all to myself as well. I have a twin bed with a decent mattress. Prof. Xie had bought me a sheet and a thin blanket for bedding and so far it has proved sufficient. I am slowly getting the other things such as hangers, a trashcan, and cleaning supplies. There is no kitchen in the apartment so I am back to eating dorm food.

While at Rice, I spent four years in the Colleges and had my feeding habits timed to correspond to the operating hours of the cafeteria. The food is good and varied so I can always find something that is appetizing. I do find it hilarious that they serve rice here based on your gender. There is a large serving of rice that costs 6 Jiao (a Jiao is 1/10 of the Yuan which is the base currency) that is for the male students, and a smaller serving that costs 3 Jiao for the female students. The person serving the rice looks at the student and scoops out the appropriate amount from a pot of rice that is a meter tall and a meter in diameter. I cannot eat a male portion of rice. Much to the delight of all my new lab and table mates, I have now been asking for the female portion of rice with my meals. I have traveled in many different countries and yet jokes about how I eat like girl seem to be just as funny in any language.

After just a few days in Shantou, I packed my once lost backpack with clothes and left for the World Forum on Smart Materials and Smart Structures Technology in Chongqing. Chongqing is a mega city that most people have never heard of. The municipality that consists of the city and the surrounding three counties has more than 30 million people in it. In other words - more people than Texas. However, to me it is always where one of the "100 million miracles" that happen every day takes place. More specifically, it is where "A little girl in Chungking, just thirty inches tall, decides that she will try to walk and nearly doesn't fall - a hundred million miracles!" Chungking is the older spelling of Chongqing. My family will understand the reference but for the rest of you it comes from the musical "Flower Drum Song" that I spent a summer performing in high school.

Chongqing itself epitomizes the quickly developing dragon that is China. Shiny new skyscrapers are springing up downtown, uptown, across town, and even out of town at an alarming rate. I heard while in Dubai that a full quarter of the world's cranes were busy building Dubai. If that is true, the other three quarters (minus the two rebuilding memorial stadium in Champaign) are in China. Yet the development in not complete and at times is just a façade. My five star hotel bathroom epitomizes the situation. I was brushing my teeth one evening surrounded by the mirrors, marble floors, and stone countertops. It all looked wonderful and opulent. Then a cockroach crawled out from behind the complimentary toiletries, up the wall, and down into the bathtub. Chongqing is like that. One evening after a day at the conference, a lab-mate and I went downtown and wandered around a little. The center of town, a clock commemorating the end of the Japanese occupation of China during WWII, looked shiny and glossy with well-kept roads, a pedestrianized shopping area, name brand store window displays, and buildings without laundry hanging out the windows. While looking for a local temple, we wandered off the main road and up an alleyway behind the well-kept façade. Here we found small residential hovels built without plan and the doors not quite hanging correctly on their hinges allowing the glow of television to seep out onto the grimy alley from the tiny living quarters inside. Someone is benefiting from the booming real estate market and rapidly developing economy but it is not the majority of the population.

I spent much of the time in the Forum just winding down my stress levels and trying to avoid the blame for the many evidences of disorganization. I was one of the Forum's Secretariats and I was mostly the Information man. Trying to convey information and thoughts from Illinois to China and vice versa was difficult and despite all our efforts, it was obvious that we were never quite on the same page. However, thankfully, it is all over now and I can get back to things that graduate students should be doing.

The Forum was held in two cites so many of the participants had to travel from Chongqing to Nanjing. On my flight from Chongqing to Nanjing, I almost did not get through the security check. For some reason they had to show my passport to all the security officials working the various desks. Each of the officials looked at the passport, looked at me, looked at the passport, looked at my ticket, looked at me, pointed at the passport, pointed at me, and laughed. I did not understand any of it since they eventually waved me through without any problems and I think my current passport picture is much better than my previous passport's photo.

Because the Forum took place in two cities, we had two banquets. The first one in Chongqing took place in the hotel dining room and we watched a performance of traditional dance and music. In Nanjing, we got on a bus and had to travel for an hour to a restaurant on the far edges of the suburbs. My table at this banquet had a professor from the University of Porto and his wife on one side and Koreans everywhere else. Without a Chinese speaker at the table, we could not ask what the dishes they kept bring to our table were until some brave soul tried them. Admittedly, most were easily recognizable but there were a few dishes that only now do I realize what they were like the jellyfish. While we ate the mysterious plates of food there were the typical expressions of gratitude to the organizers, awarding of prizes to students, and addresses by the keynote speakers. When these had finished, the entertainment portion of the evening began. There was some traditional music and theater as well as some modern dance. However, the most surreal part of the evening came when a man in his fifties perhaps walked onto the stage with a microphone in his hand. He had a grin that spread across his entire face and wrinkled the skin around his twinkling eyes as he started to imitate birds. I have never seen anyone imitate birds for so long or have so much fun doing it.

About this time, a new dish arrived and I took a bit, put it on my plate, and turned the lazy Susan so the next person could have a bit as well. Meanwhile, the bird impersonator on stage began his impression of a baby crying. Of all the annoying sounds that exist in the world fingernails on chalkboards, knifes scraping plates, boy bands (including but not limited to barbershop quartets) and the like why would anyone want to imitate a baby on stage in front of a couple hundred eating intellectuals. Everyone in the audience laughed but there were a few odd looks directed at the stage. I used the baby crying impression as an opportunity to try the bits of food I still had on my plates. The first bit was an odd-looking piece of bone that was very flat and star shaped. Taking the fish-head advice "just suck off everything soft," I cleaned the odd shaped bone. It tasted good so I moved onto a less odd-looking piece. This piece of was four centimeters long, two centimeters in diameter, covered in sauce, and very brown. I picked it up with my chopsticks, stuck it in my mouth, and turned to watch the performer. I guess he can only imitate birds and babies because for the next part of his act he pulled out a rope, formed it into a lasso, and started doing rope tricks. So there I was, a Texan in China watching a man who had literally been literally crying like a baby only moments before jumping through a lasso as if it were ladies' night at the county rodeo. That is when I realized I was trying to eat a turtle head. I took the piece of meat out of my mouth as discretely as possible and examined it. Now that the sauce and skin were mostly gone, I could recognize the clearly chelonian features in the skull. Not wanting to pass up a story to tell my grandchildren someday, I turned the turtle head over and looked for any edible bits. Just so you know, there were no edible bits.

On the way back from the banquet, I sat with a Chinese student getting his PhD an American university. When I mentioned I ate the turtle head, he was shocked. Turtle heads, apparently, are not intended to be eaten. At this point I brought up the fish head incident from earlier and the Chinese student confirmed that fish heads could be eaten. At this statement, I protested that these policies were a blaring example of head discrimination and that if you eat one head you should eat them all in order to be an equal opportunity head eater. I made this protest a little two loudly and half the bus either giggled or looked at me with confusion. However, a Portuguese student getting his PhD in Belgium sitting behind me also mentioned that he had tried to eat the turtle head. This begs the question that if I should not eat the turtle head, why do they put the head on a plate? I do not consider heads as garnishes. Parsley, carved vegetables, and flowers all make good garnishes. Heads do not.

After the conference, I did a little touristy stuff in Suzhou and Shanghai. The night view of Shanghai is beautiful.

I have since returned to Shantou. The daily routine of awaking, eating, and working is settling in. I did go do some KTV (karaoke) with some of my fellow students. The English songs are limited to American music from the seventies and British pop from the last decade. I will have to brush up on my Westlife and Robbie Williams. Afterwards, we went to Wal-Mart where I received my Chinese name. They had wanted to call me Bao-Yu that they said meant something to the effect that all the girls liked me but in my dictionary, it means "torrential rain." This did not stick very long because when we were checking out, everyone's total was a few Yuan and a Jiao or two. I was the only one who had any Jiao so I gave them to everyone. When referring to Jiao, they use the grammatical counter Mao so my new nickname became Mao-Mao. This one seems to have stuck. I do not think I like it myself because Mao by itself can mean hair or wool so I get the feeling they are calling me Hairy in the cute diminutive sense.

I guess that is enough for one e-mail. I will be in Shantou until my parents arrive in late July so I imagine my weird and exciting experiences will be limited until then.


Worms, Traffic, and Shoes
Tue, 19 Jun 2007 11:50 am

While in Brazil, I was supposed to write a letter home to my parents every Wednesday. If you look at my letters home, you will learn little about what I actually did there. However, you will learn a lot about the many different ways to buy milk in bags out of a refrigerator, in boxes on a shelf, in powdered form in bins, or in plastic jugs in the bigger grocery stores for a little more money among the many observations that I made while in the state of São Paulo. To me, these small quirky details are the joys of living in a foreign place for extended periods. I did not ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower while in I was visiting Paris so I do not know what Paris looks like from that height while surrounded by other sweaty American tourists. However, I can tell you that men stand in a line on the left side of the bus and women go to the right side of the bus when your bus stops in the middle of a field for a pee break just before stopping for the night in Mozambique. Alternatively, I can tell you why a family would choose to kill a pig on their front porch in Brazil and invite me to use a sledgehammer to whack it on the head. Neither is your traditional tourist event, nor even something you would take a picture of, but they are the real stories that I remember and provide a glimpse into how life really is in each country. I have yet to kill an animal on this trip (other than the cockroach and ants that I have exterminated in my room), but I am beginning to settle in and have those odd experiences that tourists never have and make some observations.

The above paragraph was just to fill my quota for blood and scatological references for this e-mail. The rest, if you are still reading, will not rate high on the disgusting scale. Unless that is, you consider a biological discussion of worms disgusting. Back in the ninth grade, I had a hyperactive, short biology teacher who really enjoyed her job. She enjoyed talking about all the wonders that biology had to offer and she thought first hand knowledge of animal anatomy was important. In talking to other people my age over the years, I seemed to have had to dissect more species than most. One of the animals whose skin I have pinned to the black wax of a dissecting pan is an earth worm. I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas both are desert communities. Where my houses were in each town, the soil was less than fertile. In these conditions, I would only find worms when digging in the yard or on the sidewalks after the rare rainstorm. These worms were only about an eighth on an inch in diameter and about three to four inches long. However, when my bubbly biology teacher brought out the worms marked for dissection, their stiff bodies were contained in a tube of preserving fluid that was about a foot long. Those worms were huge. At the time, I figured they were some genetically altered worms scientists had grown in a lab specifically for dissection by high school students. Now, however, I know otherwise.

Shantou University is located to the west of the city center near some beautiful rocky outcroppings. I call them mountains, but those who have not lived in the corn belt of Illinois for the last two years may call them largish hills. (For those with Google Earth my dorm is located at 23°24'53.44"N 116°38'3.39"E) Anyway, there is lots of open space for all the local fauna to go about its biological business. When I first arrived, this meant that the birds would sing to wake me up every morning. Now, however, it has been raining everyday in Shantou for the last two weeks or so and the birds will not sing in the rain. Though the bird song is gone, the rain is nice because it keeps the temperature down a little. However, after the first two days of rain, the soil became saturated and the Shantou worms came out to show themselves. I had high school flashbacks. Only now, the worms were a foot long or longer and had a centimeter thick body that was compression waving its slimy self across the sidewalks. Body segments were also strewn everywhere as other monster worms had fallen victim to the scooter tires of the students and their noodle deliverymen. Now, days later, the worms themselves are gone but the silhouettes of the segments remain like police outlines on the sidewalks. I also almost stepped on a large jumping and dancing spider that made me jump and dance in return.

From worms, we move on to organ donation. One of the many travel myths that exists is the one about a man or woman who wakes up in a hotel room bathtub full of ice in Shanghai or Beijing with a note saying that they should call a doctor because their kidneys are gone. The more experience I have with Chinese traffic the more I realize just how preposterous this story is. Even though Shantou has only 2 million residents, its traffic is worse than Nanjing, Chongqing, or Shanghai. If traffic laws exist here, no one follows them. The main rule of the road is definitely not "Pedestrians have the right of way." The Shantounian Laws of Motion are as follows:

1) An object in motion will tend to stay in motion even if that motion is to swerve to avoid another object in motion.

2) F=M*A Where F is the number of times one must honk one's horn, M is the mass of the vehicle, and A is how hard you are pushing down the accelerator. In other words, if you are pedaling a rickshaw you only ring your bell occasionally. However, if you are a truck barreling down the road you must emit a constant barrage of blasts from your air horn.

3) For every vehicle going one direction, there is an equivalent vehicle going in the opposite direction and they will both try to use the same path to get where they are going.

On the streets of Shantou, might is right, the bigger the better, pedestrians are targets. I hope this sentiment will not translate into China's foreign policy as it emerges as the biggest chicken bus on the world stage. I feel like the title frog in the old Atari Frogger game every time I try to cross the road. I do not hold hands with my lab mates as we walk from one side of the roads to the other, but I do look in all four cardinal directions and every direction in between both before and during the act of crossing the street. While crossing the street here I have never before felt such a deep-rooted need to hit the hood of a taxi and yell, in my worst New York accent, "Hey, I'm walkin' here." I feel safest in the buses with their superior mass and stream of explicative honks. However, the most enjoyable way to see the downtown areas is in the pedal rickshaws. The slow, pedaling pace lets me enjoy the sights and sounds if not the occasional putrid odor of city life. I fear for my life at intersections as the driver risks our lives so he does not have to slow down and then try to get the pedi-cab going again. This fear and the driver's capricious attitude for my life alleviates some of the guilt I feel for making a sixty year old man pedal me a few kilometers for only a few cents. Most of the guilt returns when I reach my destination safely.

Nevertheless, I do not think most drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians share my trepidations. A few years ago Texas revoked the law that makes wearing a helmet compulsory when riding a motorcycle. In India I was pulled over for not wearing a helmet on my motor scooter and asked for a bribe (in my defense, I had cracked my helmet when I had tried to put it in the under-seat storage area). Here in Shantou, I believe that drivers think a helmet is a fashion accessory. Most drivers wear some form of headgear while driving a motorcycle or a scooter. These most often take the form of what I consider construction hard hats or old baseball batting helmets without the protective earflap. Though both are made of hard plastic, I do not feel either will be much use in an accident. To increase the probability of their organ donation candidacy, even those that do wear these types of helmets do not buckle the straps around their chin. In the likely event of an accident, the force of the impact will throw the rider from their seat and the helmet from their head. Despite my dire predictions and condemnations of helmet usage, I have only seen one or two accidents on the road well after they occurred. Regardless, I still feel my kidneys are safe as long as I keep working in my lab and avoid the streets altogether.

I did do a little sight seeing this weekend in Chaozhou, a city just up river. We went to a temple dedicated to a poet, visited some old city walls and gates, and a lit some incense for a morbidly obese golden statue that is supposed to bring me good fortune at a Buddhist temple hey, it's no goat sacrifice but it will do. The best part of the trip though was walking through the small streets full of shops. Houston is the only large city in the United States without zoning laws. Perhaps this is why I like Houston and many Americans do not. Here in China, and most of the world that I have been in, this means that you can have your small shop sell tea, while your neighbor to the left has a few lathes to manufactures auto-parts, and the neighbor to the right sells woven plastic burlap. Each little storefront specializes in only one thing. I saw a wheel shop the other day. It had small wheels for furniture, medium sized wheels for wheelbarrows, and larger wheels for wheelchairs. You had to buy the furniture, barrow, and chair elsewhere.

Here on campus, they have a few convenience stores and a small shopping center with lots of little stores in it to serve the university community. I frequent the fruit stand and bakery quite often but there are also hair salons, clothing stores, electronic stores, and dollar stores. The other night I had to buy soccer shoes. I have joined the recreational soccer team consisting of almost all the male civil engineers at the University. They all have matching, fake, white Liverpool shirts that they all wear. I did bring a pair of soccer shorts, T-shirts, and cross-trainers with the idea that I might do some exercising while here. My athletic shoes are a nice pair of name brand shoes that I bought in Houston at Academy Sports & Outdoors (I include the store name just because I like to say it out loud like they do in their commercials, this is not necessarily an endorsement of their establishments). However, my teammates have deemed them as unfit for use on their soccer pitch. They wanted me to buy a pair of soccer shoes like they all had. While at Rice University, one of my history professors went through a similar ordeal. Some students had asked him to play goalie for a team in the intramural league. He proceeded to buy top of the line, black, kangaroo leather, soccer boots for a large sum of money and then tell us all about it during a lecture. The shoes my teammates suggested I buy are like a pair of low-top Converse canvas sneakers with large rubber spikes on the soles and cost just over 2 US dollars. I did not have money with me after our second game so I did not purchase them at the time. Instead, they invited me back for a third game and we tried to buy them at nine o'clock at night. The convenience store near the cafeteria was doing a brisk business in munchies but they did not have the shoes. A teammate and I then walked to the small shopping center and one on the dollar stores was open but they had shoes that were too small or too big only. All the other stores had closed so I thought our resources were exhausted and I would just play in my regular shoes. However, I did not realize that students on campus sold everything, including soccer cleats, out of their rooms. In the US only illegal substances are sold out or dorm rooms. My teammate made a few phone calls and we found a student who sold soccer shoes.

The student's dorm door was open so my teammate knocked and went in and the seller's four roommates paid no attention. However, when I walked in the other four roommates quickly got me a chair to sit on and became interested in the purchase - racism. I had previously said that four students share a room. I was wrong. There are five students in the room and their beds have no mattresses. As I looked around it was interesting to see pictures of horses, small stuffed animals, and magazine clippings of Harry Potter hanging on the available wall space and not pictures of cars, sports heroes, or scantily clad women as in most American male dorm rooms. (Again, in my own defense, my dorm room only had a batik of tropical birds, a world map, and an x-ray of my chest hanging on the walls) The stash of soccer shoes were behind the door. He had about twenty boxes of shoes, some open, some still stacked against the wall. We searched for a pair that fit me but the 24.5 was too small, the 25.5 was a little big, and his supply did not have a 25. I bought the 25.5 pair because of my teammate's insistence and then we went to the convenience store and picked up a pair of insoles that were supposed to make the shoes fit. The shoes are still too big for my feet but peer pressure and conformity will make us do almost anything. Even with the new white canvas shoes and their fake silver vinyl Nike Swoosh, I am no better than I was before. Nevertheless, when I score the only goal in the game on a weak shot that dribbles toward the keeper and only scores because he mishandles it twice then I guess my skill level really does not matter; especially when my two-dollar shoes are still a luxury for some of the soccer players I have seen in the world.

If you have read this far, you have not learned a thing about my engineering research. Until next time, beware the monster worms.


Ryan Kent Giles