"Running fast to catch a to slow train to Shenyang..."...

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January 22, 2008...Tuesday...Somewhere between Coldchun and Shenyang on a slow train to Shenyang...When I say slow, we're talking the kinda "slow" that when you paint your house with an oil base paint and watch it dry...yep, THAT slow...

Okay, I FINALLY received the DHL documents this morning, which was originally expected to arrive no later than the 191h from Vladivostok, Russia...That being said, I missed the train yesterday, Monday, and had to ask a favor of the Bellman to exchange them back at the Station for me if he had the time (most definitely tipped him, which he refused to accept, until I told him that I wouldn't be his friend anymore...)...He was able to get 80% of face value, which means the tickets to Shenyang that I didn't use cost me 8 dollars...There's no such thing as "changing" the ticket to another day in China...Why? You ask? Because it's China...

So, my "newest" best Friend in China, Louis Ming, the Headmaster and Co-Director of the BAIDAWEI English School in Changchun, and myself are traveling together on this "slow" train filled with every imaginable character known to Mao...Without, Louie, I can't imagine how I would have ever been able to get to Shenyang safely and with my sense of humor still intact...Louie and I became friends three nights ago at dinner (see previous Post), when I presented to him a Concept and Draft on an student exchange program that now appears is going to happen...I am really excited about this prospect, trust me, as the students (ages in school 5-16 boys and girls) in this school are the most astute and clear speaking Chinese students I've met to date...They look right at you and address your questions, and also your answers...The model they've implemented in this school is beyond "commendable", it's truly an outstanding piece of extraordinary structure and administration...The teachers are imports from abroad, Americans, English, Aussies, Canucks, I mean now I know how China was the first manufacturer to come up the idea of a "blender", 'cause they most definitely "know" how to blend...And Louie, the CEO and his partner, David, President, have established this school as the #1 in Changchun, having to turn away applicants...They're considering adding another venue next year...the only thing holding them back is the qualifications of applicants online for a teaching position...It's a difficult process they've experienced in the past, but NO MORE...I am now helping this school in expanding its horizons, by introducing "New Horizons...portals to the World..."...This will begin with bringing students over to the Puget Sound for two weeks to experience firsthand our culture and having the opportunity to speak their ESL in a public environment, where English is the norm...Also in this "plan" would be ol tommy boy here, helping them with the screening process of applicants for overseas placement at BAIDAWEI schools (4-5 schools at this time)...Also included in this "vision" is Louie's idea of helping him develop a basketball program within BAIDAWEI that would bring in 14 yr. old students, boys and girls, whose parents would love nothing more than to see their children learn English, become outstanding students overall, and perhaps qualify for an Athletic Scholarship for basketball skills...Imagine this scenario: "true" Student Athletes, attending high school in the Puget Sound, sharing cultural experiences, athletic endeavors and developing the necessary academic disciplines to go on to a university and gain a degree in the end...NOW THAT would be a GREAT scenario/ending in my book...Will let you know how Family Sports Life Today is able to bring this whole program along...If I were to put it on a scale of 1-10 for happening this Summer: "!!" would be the number of record...

"Get me a Ticket for a Fast Train...ain't got time to take no Slow Train..."...Well, I finally received my "stamp" of approval from the Russian Consulate in Shenyang...Now we're on the Fast Train back to Changchun, I repack, check out and catch a plane to Beijing at 7:40pm tonight...Talk about a whirlwind..."The same thing that makes you mad, will also make you glad..."...after being sorely disappointed in DHL service, and NOT to their fault but the "Security" measures taken by ANY AND ALL Documents that come through China to anyone, the "weight" of my Official Invitation in this Airbill was the equivalent of a book of stamps...So, after catching the train last night, sleeping soundly and preparing for the Consulate's Office this morning, I was cognizant enough to remind myself (keep in mind, I think I have "Halfheimers", 'cause I only remember HALF of what I tell myself), bring a TURTLENECK, just in case you have to stand outside for 5 to 10 mins...So I actually did remember to pack this item...and boy, did it help immensely in reminding me how cold it is to stand outside in 25 below Zero weather for 40 MINS. and NOT 5-10 as hoped...Whoever thinks that the "Cold War" is over, just try to stand outside in subfeezing weather, waiting numbly for an invitation to come inside the Attache's Office for your Visa Stamp...After 10 mins. you're thinking like the anxiously addicted Lotto holder, who week to week can hardly "stand" to wait for the numbers to appear...I often wonder if those people actually play Ping Pong, and if they do how well...you know, the balls etc., and watching them come up one by one on the screen daily...Back to story: so here I am, 8:00am, standing outside the Embassy Entrance to the Russian Delegate's Office, with Louie translating to the Chinese Guard protecting the gate, identifying me and my purpose and trying to "throw in" an extra plug about "why" I'm there and that they are expecting me, which was true...The Guard gives us the telephone number of the Attache' who I met back in September when we (Tate and Castleberry) had to get our visa stamps for the Tournament in Vladivostok, Russia (earlier blogit)...Louie tells me that we have a half hour before they open the gate, let's go to KFC until then...I declined, as I remember how they have this special security camera outside the gate to "observe" the applicants BEFORE inviting them inside, and figured IF they saw this somewhat tall (by Asian standards) Anglo outside freezing his natural parts to the infantile stages of conception, that maybe JUST MAYBE, they'd let me in early...Back to the phone number of the Attache' inside, Paul is his name...So I call him and inbetween stutters and stammers, reminding me of my first "date" in high school as a 14 year old who had no clue what to say or how to act in conversation, he screams out to me "What...you come to gate 9am...I think I let you in..."CLICK...or was that an ear-wax projectile that came out of my right ear?...So, I tell Louie if he'd be so kind to bring me back a coffee, first one in a long long long time, I'd be forever grateful...he did 15 mins. later, as it takes 15mins. for every 5 that you're outside in the subzero weather...Man, it could have been Havoline 10W 30W, heated in a styrofoam cup and I would have DRUNK it at this point...It's been close to 30 mins. now, my ears as stiff and I'm sure as crisp as a Michael's Potato Chips, my nose/septum blocking my vision remarkably and me STARING right into the security camera from across the street...All I''m thinking at this point is "who the hell said that the "Cold War" was over...'cause if they're enjoying the black and white picture on the Security Camera of this American Patriot exhaling vapor like a poor runnin VW Bug, well, at my expense they got a chuckle for sure...Geeeze, I'm trying to remember when it's NOT SAFE to be outside for X number of minutes...Finally, at exactly 9:10am, Tall Paul (6'5" former University player I befriended the first time we visited this Consulate) appears and in front of about 20 applicants converging on the gate, he motions for me to come inside, "Please"...with a smile and a handshake, and in perfect English, he greets me and welcomes me again...WOW, my ears ringing with pure delight and defrosting at the same time, I do have a "friend" afterall in the Embassy here...You see, basketball friendships are without borders and paranoia, Paul took my application, 2,100 Yuan/RMB, and passport and said: "wait a moment, Coach, I come back to you shortly..."...20 mins. later...ONLY 20 mins. later he delivers my Passport with stamp included and wished me well and said he appreciated how much I was doing to help coaches in Russia and to consider going to St. Petersburg, Russia to help the college coaches there..."...I asked him how long it would take by train from Vladivstok...he said "ONLY 7 days...!!"...I asked by plane? "Only 12 hours..."...Whoever said that Russia is NOT a large country only has to hear where one coast stretches to the other to get an idea of the vastness of geography...

Okay, so here I am on the Fast Train back to Changchun...this train has "sleeper" cars with 4 bunks and an area the equivalent size of an apartment walkin closet, yeah, that COZY...fortunately, this is a "day train" and not so busy nor occupied like last night and we're really not bothered by anything...I'm writing this blogit, Louie's reading the newspaper, and life outside the window is a blur...

I will blogit tomorrow, after my meeting with the NBA/China President, and hopefully share some insight to their "future" plans...I figure with as much international experience I have under my belt, there's gotta be some value to League with my expertise areas...In the meantime, take care, keep a happy face and drive safely...Best wishes always, Coach tom

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