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December 11, 2006 - Guyuan, China

Steam Powered Mayhem

Steam Powered Mayhem

December is doing a wonderful job of purring itself along. The 11th already.

The students have a touch of Christmas spirit - although I still have a hard time gauging how big the holiday actually is here - the teachers have settled into their classes and Phil is alive.

Yes, that’s right. Phil has been spotted alive. More accurately Phils’ ass was spotted waddling off as fast as his stumpy little legs could manage. Now I wouldn’t generally mention a dog, specifically his posterior and its relationship to me, but the level of general public concern is high.

A new merchant has set up wares on the sidewalk outside my apartment and I’ve been suckered in by his bit twice now. I’m not sure that he see’s it as a bit but it draws me to him moth-to-flame style.

He sells roasted beans?, nuts? I think I could be safe by classifying the roasted foodstuffs he sells are technically legumes. His set-up is a 6-inch high stool, a table full of baskets, a wire cage with no door and, my favorite part, a small bell shaped container he twirls over a fire.

The container is more of a crucible, an elongated bell-shape of inch-thick steel, that rests on two small towers over a can of white-glowing coal. One end is fixed by gimbal to the back tower and the other end a jumble of clasps and a handle. The clasps seemed to hold a cap tightly on the end. Reminiscent of starting an old Model-T the canister is quickly spun over the blistering coals by a handle sticking out the front. The outside coated a matte sooty black. This small contraption sits directly in line with the doorless-wire cage, man sitting in the middle, twirling away at the handle. Walking by him, he always looked up from this ode to carpal tunnel and flashed a toothy smile. A few days passed of this routine before I was stomach deep with hook, line and sinker. What was going on?

Thinking only of the bowl of noodles that awaited me for dinner as I walked by, I barely register that the man didn’t look up for my usual smile. In fact he looked quite absorbed - but not with spinning the small black container - he had hoisted it up, swiveled it on the gimbal and pointed it like a sinister little cannon at the cage. Strange, but I walked on.


A hissing cloud of steam rapidly expanded in the cold dry air, enveloping the sidewalk, even as the last echos of the resounding explosion raced off the passing cars and wall beside me.

He had blown himself up.

I hadn’t expected to see death in Guyuan - maybe if I had been teaching in Indonesia I could have at least been a bit more prepared.

Time returned to normal - speeding back to its regular pace after the horror I had just witness - my legs reacted and I had taken the first few steps in running the remaining 20 yards to see if the poor man was still alive.

But as quickly as I had started running, I slowed to a jog and finally an embarrassed walk.

Out of the dense white cloud of steam a black head emerged and the smell of roasted seeds enveloped me.

He had tipped the glowing canister towards the wire cage and released the safety catches. The rapidly expanding cloud had blown the still hot seeds into the waiting cage to cool.

Showmanship at its best - right when the entire cadre of Yi Zhong teachers and students milled out of the gates and around him - and a line formed immediately.

A line with me at the end.

Check back in a day or two, hopefully I’ll remember to grab a picture.

» Link lovin’

Fuwa - The Beijing Olympics mascots. Cleverly named “Beibei,” “Jingjing,” “Huanhuan,” “Yingying” and “Nini.” Clever because that just so happens to spell out “Beijing huanying ni” or Beijing welcomes you.”

Rats - 20 things that you might not have known about rats. For example female rats mating over 500 times in 6 hours. Watch out Shandong.

Soundbombing - That’s a nice set of soundbombs you’ve got there. Sound as matter.

Chinatown Bus Pricewars - Fungwah gets some competition as Greyhound lowers fares to Boston, Philly and Baltimore. $30 round trip.

300 Trailer Part II - Another 300 trailer. Another reason to see the movie. Phenominal action for the guys six-pack abs for the girls.

Aoshima in the Tube - Fun installation in Tube stations. I remember the installations there when I visited but this one takes the cake.

Skip the Diamonds - Blood diamonds. One more reason to forego diamonds. Period.

finally some word about phil, keep us posted more often about his whereabouts!!!!

- mom on a Monday


forget the kid thats in china - good thing you're keeping tabs on the local runt dogs. maybe you should have sent him some chew toys in the xmas package....

- Allister on a Monday

Hahaha! OMG, a whole new way for beans to cause an explosion! Well, I'm glad there wasn't any blood and guts. Yikes.

Are you sure you aren't being haunted by the Christmas ghost of Phil's behind?

- Siobhan on a Tuesday

Look - theres gonna be tagging along with Phils runt backside on time-traveling, Christmas saving escapades - not even if it means I'm going to the grave.

And besides - wheres the ass of Christmas present?

- Allister on a Tuesday
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