60 is the new 16

I was standing at a bus stop recently when a lady got in line behind me. She put down her bags and began twisting her arms from side to side.

With the grace of a gymnast, she raised one of her legs onto a metal railing at least three feet high. With her leg still propped up, she bent toward her foot, her chin nearly touching her ankle.

Did I mention she looked like she was in her 60s? Continue reading

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Boston bombings bring fear back to the forefront

The last time I flew to Beijing from the U.S., I had to pass through a full-body scanner at an airport security checkpoint in Louisville, Kentucky. One of the people in front of me was an elderly man in a wheelchair.

When his turn came, two security officers helped him to his feet and guided him into the machine. “Can you stand on your own?” one of the officers asked.

“I think so,” the man said.

He kept his arms raised long enough for the machine to take an image of his body and then, with the help of the security officers, returned to his wheelchair. Continue reading

Now I’m a non-Belieber

Dear Justin,

I really tried to be a “Belieber.” Not that I was ever into your music or dance moves (OK, I downloaded “Baby” – albeit, illegally – but only because it’s upbeat, and I’m running out of songs to jog to).

The reason I wanted to believe in you was that my 11-year-old niece is a big fan of yours. And in this day and age, kids need good role models, some more than others. Continue reading

A full-time brother

Growing up, my brother Billy and I shared a bedroom. We slept on a bed that folded into a futon. When we weren’t asleep or at school, he followed me everywhere. If I locked myself in a room, he’d try to pick the lock or figure out another way to get in.

I hated it at the time, being shadowed wherever I went. I was five and a half years older than Billy, and having your younger brother around was a liability. If I was with friends and we got into trouble and needed to run, he was usually the slowest in the pack. I felt like Billy was holding me back, sometimes literally.

But I also knew he needed me, and so when my friends weren’t watching I tried to teach Billy the difference between right and wrong, helped him with homework and showed him how to field a ground ball. I had to fill the void of our dad, who died when Billy was 4 and I was 10. Continue reading

Oblivious to oblivion

I recently bought an iPhone5, and wow, my life has gotten so much better. Not only can I surf the Web and take high-definition video on the go, but it’s also great for tuning out my girlfriend.

Need to talk about our weekend plans? Sorry, babe, my thumbs are busy. These Angry Birds aren’t going to launch themselves. Continue reading

Smile and say “CT”

Before moving to China in 2010, I had always been a model of good health. Not overweight. Perfect blood pressure. I drank beer and rarely met a pizza I didn’t fall for, but almost always balanced it out with exercise and more than enough sleep.

Something changed in Beijing. Exactly what, I still can’t put my finger on. Dishes here tend to be on the oily and salty side. The air, water and streets are dirty. That can’t help. And I work nights – 5 to 12 most evenings – whereas most of my jobs in the U.S. were day shifts.

Whatever the cause, my body’s changed. My blood pressure runs high, and because of that I feel anxious. I find it harder to relax, and I spend more time worrying about what could be wrong with me instead of thinking about what to cook for dinner or what to buy my girlfriend for her birthday. Continue reading

Not-so-easy rider

There are days that I wake up and can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.

I think about what I did last night and shake my head. I never thought I’d turn into one of them. The unnecessary risks. The disregard for other people. I’m ashamed of what I’ve become. And yet, when the weekend comes and I inevitably get that itch for a cheap thrill, I’m sure I’ll just do it again.

It’s in my DNA now. I’m a biker. Continue reading

If you could talk to a gunman

Whenever a mass shooting like the one in Connecticut occurs, there’s always a group of Americans who argue that the tragedy could have been prevented if someone besides the shooter had been armed.

It’s a flawed argument. Even if an employee at the elementary school had had a gun – a teacher, for example – Adam Lanza had more and better weapons, was protected by body armor and was ready to die rather than surrender.

It’s certainly possible an armed teacher, in the right place at the right time, could have stopped Lanza. But that sort of Hollywood ending isn’t likely. Shootouts are almost always messy, even when professionals, such as police officers, are involved. Continue reading

North Korea’s Kim: Too sexy to be true?

The death of North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il last December set off a period of mourning unlike anything I had ever seen.

The footage broadcast by the country’s state-run media showed tens of thousands of people in the capital Pyongyang, weeping and buckling over in grief. Women fainted, and even grown men sobbed uncontrollably. A New Year editorial published by the North’s leading newspapers called Kim’s death “the greatest loss our nation had suffered in its 5,000-year-long history and the bitterest grief our Party and people had experienced … The tears our service personnel and people shed with greatest sorrow were tears of the unity, unaffected and crystal-clear, and tears of their firm determination to follow the Party to the end of the earth.”

A few days after Kim’s death, I met with my Chinese teacher Cathy for our twice-a-week language lesson. Cathy is in her mid-40s and has lived in Beijing her entire life. Some days we choose a topic to discuss, and on this day we decided to talk about international news.

“What do you think about Kim Jong-il’s death?” I asked. Continue reading

Lessons from a dad I lost too soon

The last time I saw my father was through our living room window.

He was sitting in his favorite La-Z-Boy. I pounded on the screen with my fist, but he paid no attention.

“I love you. I love you,” I said.

Finally, he looked in my direction and muttered something that I couldn’t understand. Satisfied, I walked toward the end of our driveway, where a car was waiting for me. I was leaving for the weekend to stay with my best friend and would be back on a Sunday, November 5.

When I returned home two days later, I was led to my parent’s bedroom, where my uncle and mom were waiting. Your dad got sick, they told me. We took him to a hospital. There was a little bit of a pause. “And he just … died.” Continue reading