Book Tour Update: Thank you Fargo and Grand Forks. Minnesota, you’re next.

Every week, I tap, tap, tap away at the letters on my keyboard to share a travel story with readers in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and beyond.

Now I’m spending less time tapping and more time talking (and showing photos and footage). Friday and Saturday, I was honored to share my East African experiences (and China book) with residents of Fargo and Grand Forks.

On Friday, I drove up to Fargo from Minneapolis to kick off the Life Learned Abroad Tour.

I presented at the West Acres Mall.





By 7:20, a roomful of attendees readied for my presentation of adventure and analysis.

When I asked, they commented on the animated church service I witnessed in Tanzania.

“I think they’re putting on a show,” said one woman.

“You can see that here in America, too,” said an older man.

We talked economic development–and whether it was necessarily “better” to have the latest gadgets.

Overall, though, I showed dozens of photos and some footage to offer an idea of what it was like in this part of the world. I then capped things off with a reading from my book Life Learned Abroad about my year in China from 2010-2011.

Many thanks to the West Acres Mall for the space and the support offered to arrange the space.

Many thanks to the Fargoans who came out on a Friday night (during the hockey games) to listen, watch, ask questions, and engage in an education about their world. These included a pastor who came dressed in a Sudanese shirt from his work there, a professor/researcher of molecular biology and sustainable energy from NDSU, and a college student there for class credit.

Finally, there were the Jensens, the couple who hosted me and who themselves have spent their careers traveling the world working in the energy sector in the developing world.


Today, Paul Jensen operates Green Ways 2 Go (, an advisory company working with businesses to help them apply green energy to their operations.


The next day, I flew up I29 to Grand Forks.


The plains of the Midwest: an open, calming landscape that at once makes you want to slow down while flowing by like a river at 83 mph.

No hockey games today (though one attendee proudly wore his UND jersey.)

I presented at The Ember coffee shop, a non-profit effort from Freedom Church.


Workers are volunteers and the space caters to artists–musicians, painters, authors, and more.


IMG_20150328_164456 IMG_20150328_164508

With desserts/coffee spread, I presented in their event room. Attendees arrived to explore their world and the topics arisen along the way.

They asked great questions.

“How did tribal division affect the health care?” asked one lady.

“I’m not sure,” I said frank and stumped.


Another question was whether there was separate education facilities for boys and girls at the school I worked at.

This one I could answer. (No, there wasn’t.)

A young man who had taught abroad, a middle-aged woman mission worker, and a middle-aged gent who took a liking to writing himself were some of the attendees.

It was another great event with great people.

North Dakota, it was great spending time with you.

Minnesota, you’re up. Today I’m presenting in Bemidji at the Eagles Club at 2:00pm. Area residents, come for the refreshments–oh, and a chance to learned about and discuss the different cultures on the planet.

Here is the remaining schedule of events:

BEMIDJI – Sunday, March 29 at 2pm
Bemidji Eagles Club, 1270 Neilson Ave SE

DULUTH – Tuesday, March 31 at 7pm
Spirit of The North Theater, 600 E. Superior St.

BRAINERD – Thursday, April 2 at 7pm
Northland Arboretum, 1450 Conservation Drive

COTTAGE GROVE – Saturday, April 4 at 2pm
Park Grove Library, 7900 Hemingway Ave S


Hope to see you there.



Announcement: My ND-MN Book/Speaking Tour Starts this Friday

This Friday, March 27, I’ll be in Fargo. The following day, I’ll be in Grand Forks. And after that, I have four stops around Minnesota: Bemidji, Duluth, Brainerd, and Cottage Grove. Details of the stops are below.

First, a little about these events…


I spent most of 2014 volunteering at a village school in Tanzania, East Africa.

I stayed in a small room at the school. No plumbing. No regular electricity. I lived as the other teachers and students did. And I taught computers for eight months.

LLA tour pic

This was just the start of my experiences.

I would have the chance to leave the village and travel the corners of Tanzania, as well as to other countries in the region.

LLA tour pic2

And I explored and documented the ways of life I saw each step of the way.


EA election


EA religion

Law and Justice:

EA jail4


EA romance 3

Health care:

EA hospital

Each of these areas is an opportunity to compare & contrast their ways to ours–and in the process, learn about them, us, and humanity. This is what my book/speaking tour is all about.

For the last year, I’ve been writing about these experiences right here on this blog, which is featured on newspaper websites across North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Now I’m going to share in person that which I’ve been offering on my blog.

These events are a picture/video presentation of the highlights, stories, and the lessons from my time in Africa.

In addition, I’ll share my newly-released book (and multimedia eBook) Life Learned Abroad, a similar documentation and exploration from my previous travel: a year in China.

Books in my room ready for next week's tour

Books in my room ready for this upcoming tour

For this tour, I’ve teamed up with media company Forum Communications–parent company to the newspapers that feature my writing and whose cities are the locations for the events. Starting Friday, I will be sharing Africa and China at these locations and times:

FARGO – Friday, March 27 at 7pm
West Acres Mall Community Room, Lower Level, 3902 13th Ave S

GRAND FORKS – Saturday, March 28 at 2pm
The Ember Coffee Shop, 8 N 3rd St

BEMIDJI – Sunday, March 29 at 2pm
Bemidji Eagles Club, 1270 Neilson Ave SE

DULUTH – Tuesday, March 31 at 7pm
Spirit of The North Theater, 600 E. Superior St.

BRAINERD – Thursday, April 2 at 7pm
Northland Arboretum, 1450 Conservation Drive

COTTAGE GROVE – Saturday, April 4 at 2pm
Park Grove Library, 7900 Hemingway Ave S


These will be entertaining, educational, and intriguing looks at distance parts of the world. Students, travelers, and all curious-minded people will enjoy these presentations.

If you’re on Facebook, please RSVP here. Also, follow along the tour as I update over the eight days under the hashtag #LifeLearnedAbroad on Twitter (@brandonferdig) and Facebook (


I hope to see you as I hit the road and arrive to a city near you.


Education is Bigger than Politics (A Lesson from my Year in China)

Having been in China just 10 days, it was funny how the detail of teaching English–my vehicle for coming out to China–became lost on me. But it was no accident. I didn’t want to think too much about it, because honestly, I didn’t think too much of it. Tons of others before me had gone abroad to teach. Plus, how hard could it be? Especially to a bunch of Chinese children who were going to be little soldier students. Thus, leading up to my departure, and despite all the encouragement I had received, I was sheepish about admitting my job. I would respond to others, “That’s right, I’m going to China to write . . . oh, and teach English.”

Skip ahead, and here I was sitting in teacher training in my school in Zhuhai. And it was maybe one whole hour into it, when I realized I had underestimated three things: the difficulty of doing this job well, how important a job it was, and how rewarding this experience would be.

My fellow first-year colleagues and I gathered for training in a classroom that—with the whiteboard, world map, desks, and bulletin board—reminded me of any classroom at most any school back home. I sat in one of the twenty dark blue plastic chairs with attached, dark blue plastic desks. My colleagues included Marilyn, a young woman from The Philippines; Reynold, a fellow American (Oregonian) a couple years younger than I with a medium build, glasses, thinning blonde hair; and then we had a Scotsman, an Englishman, and an Australian woman all ranging from late-twenties to mid-forties.

The Scot, the Englishman, and the Aussie sitting in the lobby awaiting training

The Scot, the Englishman, and the Aussie sitting in the lobby awaiting training

Soon, a middle-aged Iranian man in slacks and a white turtleneck walked into the classroom. He was tall, thin, clean-shaven, and had a receding hairline and smiling face. His name was Navid (sounds like “NahVEED”), and he was the education supervisor at TPR Academy of American English in Zhuhai. TPR is an acronym for Total Physical Response—a system of teaching and learning with physical accompaniment to aid in the process. TPR Academy is an English-learning school that caters to children and adults outside of normal school and work hours.

Navid introduced himself to us and began his lecture.

Soon after, I tuned out.

His opening remarks were about the value and importance of education, that the job we had as educators was not only to impart knowledge but to impart wisdom and morals. He talked about a spiritual education. He talked about being a role model, a nurturer—that parents and teachers share in this responsibility.

Upon hearing this, I slouched down and thought, “Oh boy, here we go.”

You may wonder why, as his statements seem harmless, if not accurate. But I’d heard this rhetoric before—used by groups and administrations back in America to defend their philosophy of education and then to promote their policy.

Apparently voting “no” means you’re against kids. I had grown tired of the propaganda.

Apparently voting “no” means you’re against kids. I had grown tired of the propaganda.

When Navid started talking like “one of them,” my defenses went up. And so it could have gone for the next two hours, myself veiled from truth due to my judgment—just the kind of thing I moved abroad to improve. Thankfully, I didn’t tune him out for long. As he spoke of the upcoming classes, it began to sink in that this job might not be as easy as I had anticipated.

That upcoming Saturday I would have fifteen sets of eyes staring back at me. Imagine that—fifteen little Chinese kids looking up at you, or worse, not looking at you because they’re bored or messing around with one another. Though I assumed they would be good and quiet, I wondered what I’d do if they did get out of line.

Then all the factors to consider when teaching also hit me: some students are louder, some quiet, some smarter, and some simply want to be there more than others. And I would be teaching five different classes—five combinations of all these factors. Oh, and all the names. And how long does fifty minutes in the classroom feel like anyhow?

Nothing like the reality of reality to get you out of the luxury of being an ideologue.

Adding to all this, I had thought that my job would be to simply, well, teach. Navid used the analogy that the teacher is an urn full of water, and it is his or her job to fill all the little urns. “All right,” I thought. I liked this analogy—clear, simple. Problem was, he used this dated idea to contrast how far we’ve come in our understanding of education since the ancient Greeks used this very analogy. Hmmm, seems like my prejudices and ignorance had me behind the times just a titch. So I told myself to be quiet and listen, and from an open mind came open eyes, realizing the fulfillment of what was ahead.

Socrates: filling urns

Socrates: filling urns

Navid went on to promote another idea of education: that inside each student is a pearl. Some are easy to find, easy to shine. Others are not. Our job as teachers was to discover this pearl inside each child and learn how to make it shine. This is what it is to teach—not merely passing knowledge down, but a discovery process, an interaction that should motivate, educate, and help another person grow. Whoa. Once I heard this, it wasn’t just fear of these first classes that got me to focus—it was excitement about getting to participate in this process. In addition, I thought of the character and the skills honed as a result of teaching: creativity, patience, expression, focus, confidence.

Mr. Holland: shining pearls

Mr. Holland: shining pearls

The Greek illustration was powerful for another reason. It revealed that education is something that’s been studied for a long time—well before lobbies and political lawn signs. It revealed to me the importance of this topic. Indeed, what could be more important than how knowledge and wisdom get passed down?

Education is much bigger than politics. I also realized how easy it is to take a side on an issue and then disregard anything that resembles the opposition. Lessons learned. Breakthroughs may be months/years in the making, but they happen in a moment, and I realized what a lucky opportunity I had before me. It was a good thing, too, because I’d need the motivation to get me through the tougher classes and tougher days ahead.


This story is an excerpt from my recently-released book – Life Learned Abroad: Lessons on Humanity from China – a chronology of observations, experiences, insights, and photographs living in China from 2010-2011. It is available on Amazon.


Connecting a Minnesotan Father to his Ugandan Sons

On January 15, 2014, I was getting my car washed.

It was one of those where you hand the car over to workers, they vacuum it out, it goes through the wash, and then other workers wipe it down and clean the interior.

I was inside paying the Latina cashier when a man walked behind me and said hello to her. As she responded in kind, I turned to glimpse a tall, black man with an eye patch.


He walked inside the car wash area, and I asked the lady if he worked there.

He did.

“How did he lose the eye?”

“I’ve never asked. He’s from Uganda,” she offered.

Uganda borders Tanzania. In eight days, I was leaving for a nine-month move to Tanzania and other areas of East Africa–including Uganda. That’s why I was here at the car wash. I was cleaning my car before selling it.

Upon hearing this, the Latina walked out from her cashier’s booth, entered the car wash area, and yelled out to the Ugandan.


He came over, she told him about my plans, and he got excited.

He swiftly walked back to his personal belongings, and delivered an atlas. He paged through to show me where he was from and where his sons still live: Jinga.

map jinja

“Can I have their numbers?” I asked, thinking it was a long shot, but that maybe I’d use this connection while I traveled through. It was a long shot this father was thrilled to take. Writing down his sons’ numbers, he said, “This makes me so happy.”

I wasn’t sure why. I think the idea of a local guy connecting with his world was exciting for him.

We snapped a picture with my cell phone, and then took his sons’ numbers and drove off in my clean car.



Eight months later, was in a coffee shop in a shopping mall in Kampala, Uganda. Now in their country with their phone service–but after having grown evermore skeptical at making this connection as the months passed–I made the call.

After a couple of rings, a man picked up.


“Hi,” I said. “Is this Najiib?”


“Hi, uh, my name is Brandon,” I continued sheepishly. “I’m from the U.S., and I met your father.”

“Yes,” he said indicating a lot less surprise than I had anticipated. “My father told me about you.”

We finished the brief discussion with plans to meet sometime the upcoming weekend when I made it out to Jinja.


Six days later, the morning of September 28, I was in my third-rate motel room in the second-tier Ugandan city, Jinja.

I got a call from Najiib. It was 10:30 in the morning, and he was waiting outside. This was earlier than we had planned, but he told me that he was going to check out his fish farm cages and asked if I wanted to join.

“What do you have to do?” I asked looking for some clarification. I had no idea these guys fish farmed.

“We go to feed our cage fish,” he answered.

Sounds good to me. Actually, it sounded awesome. I was eager to see what this operation looked like.

I went outside to see Najiib in his white Toyota.

DSC05355 (1)

Off we went. Najiib’s little brother, Umar, was in the backseat.

Najiib was taller and worked in real estate–buying chunks of land, breaking them up, and selling the pieces for development. Umar had his own cell phone store. Neither of these vocations would be much the topic today.

Today was about family and fishing–Ugandan style.

First thing I did was show them the picture I took with their father at the car wash. They hadn’t seen him in 16 years.

“That’s him,” Najiib said smiling.

Making our way out of the city, we passed an abandoned industrial site. Umar pointed out the car from the backseat.

“That was where he first worked,” he said.


It was the old Nytil factory that once produced fabrics. The boys told me their dad worked here as his first job, even before he had met their mother.

The topic then went from family to fishing.

On the side, these boys had started a little entrepreneurial experiment. Before taking me to their lab, though, they showed me a fullscale version of what they hoped to do.

After a couple of kilometers of windy, old blacktop over the shoreline of Lake Victoria, we pulled into a lot on the lake’s edge.

We got out, and Umar spoke to one of the workers:


The man tended to these cage nets:


Which were places in these waters:


(And by the way, these aren’t just any waters. This is Lake Victoria at the precise spot where a river from it starts to flow north. See the narrows back there? That’s the headwaters of the Nile River.)

The cage nets held fish–many fish–for this seasoned fish supplier. Working with this larger operations, the brothers had started their own fledgling farm with five cages a bit further down the coast. After a few more minutes of conversation I couldn’t understand, we packed it back up and went to their farm.

On the way, we had gotten far enough out of Jinja that we entered a little independent outskirt.

DSC05386 (1)

DSC05380 (1)

Soon, we turned off the now-dirt road and bumped and rolled along into a little homestead. There was a small house for a mom and two children and a little kitchen hut for meals.

Mom and son; the mom was here as a caretaker of the property.

Mom and son; the mom was here as a caretaker of the property.


Kitchen hut

Inside kitchen hut

Inside kitchen hut

From the house, Najiib emerged with life jackets.


Time to suit up.


We walked to the lake’s edge within 100 yards of the house.

We walked around small square rice paddies and a yard of drying laundry.


At the shore, one boy bathed.


The water looks okay from here, but not so much from here:

DSC05412 (1)

We hopped in the boat.


We rowed out to the cages maybe 100 more yards offshore.


Birds were teased by fish they couldn’t reach.

The brothers knew how to make the fish surface, though.


Tilapia feeding frenzy

Another way of getting the fish to the surface–and doing to so in a way that kept them there–was to lift the hanging cage nets. While we were feeding the fish, a few helpers came by to do just that.

DSC05445 (1)

As the man raised the net to the surface, the fish flailed. One even got stuck in the cage. This was the perfect chance for the brothers to check out their crop.


Afterwards, we rowed back.


Future Fish Farmers of Uganda

The men took the opportunity to talk.


I wandered around the surrounding sugarcane fields.


We left soon after and stopped in that outskirt community. The brothers had to talk business with the man who sold them the lakeshore property.


So I wandered once again. These boys entertained themselves.


The last thing we did was drive a mile out of town in a different direction to visit a relative–the brother’s aunt, Yusuf’s sister.


Finally, Najiib and Umar returned me to my hotel.


Just as I had shown them the picture of their father with me. Now I’d have a photo to show their father when I returned to Minnesota. The boys talked about wanting to bring him back to Uganda to run the fish farm. Najiib talked about going to see Dad later in 2015.

For now they’ll have to settle for phone calls and pictures by way of their American delivery boy.


This is how travel becomes amazing: make a connection with someone there and get involved with the real life of the area. This is also an example of how everyday people you meet–even just at the car wash–can have an impact.

Wealth: Equalizer and Diversifier (An Essay from China)

Book Cover Business Card

I know an American man from India and an American woman from South Korea, who on separate occasions shared with me their similar experiences traveling to their mother countries: people there could tell right away that these ethnically identical visitors were, in fact, visitors. In addition, the Indian man told me that people in his ancestral homeland could even tell he was from the US.

Similarly, I expected something other than eyes and skin tone to differentiate the Chinese child from his or her American counterpart, something so encompassing it’s hard to point out—attitude, demeanor, carriage. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say that this X factor is ease of expression—and these children had a surprisingly high level of it, a comfort and looseness I’ve come to identify with Americans and opposing the relative rigidity I’ve seen from folks in other countries.

Whatever this factor was, though, I’d find that on account it, my children students would blend right in back home in most classrooms…that is, until they opened their mouths. During a speaking drill practicing the verb to be, I said, “I am American. You are Chinese.” And they responded with, “I am Chinese. You are American.” I went down the line from student to student repeating this. After the sixth or seventh student, I paused a beat and thought, “Hmm, these little buggers are Chinese.” I forgot.

The variables I could think of to account for this blending between students here and back home were prosperity, modernity, and globalization. These students lived in a city and came from families with enough extra income to afford these English classes. I assumed they had internet and television at home by which they watched the latest media and trends. It seems once on this prosperity/modernity/globalization plane, a universalizing element in humanity occurs.

The counterbalance to this trend is that while students found themselves on the same plane of global prosperity, their resources now allowed for greater individual expression. This magnified their idiosyncrasies of style and greatly undermined the idea that “all Chinese look alike.”

Sometimes, though, there was an unfortunate familiarity that may have also been due to China’s growing prosperity. My class of eleven-year-olds had a real “this is boring and we’re not going to go along with your stupid lesson” attitude. One day when trying to keep the attention of this hard-to-please group of fifteen students—some with eye-rolling expression—I thought, “You little brats.” Reynold from Oregon told me that some of his students regularly called him fat and said unmentionable things about his mother. He knew the language so caught all of it.

The thought occurred to me that having the best of both worlds—prosperity and contentment—requires enhanced discipline as the former increases; that as the ability to appease oneself or one’s children with more stimulation rises, so does the potential difficulty to realize that true happiness comes from things that can’t be purchased. I guess this is a growing pain of a developing country.


This essay was an excerpt from my recently-released book – Life Learned Abroad: Lessons on Humanity from China – a chronology of observations, experiences, insights, and photographs living in China from 2010-2011. It is available on Amazon.


Humans of Jinja, Uganda

From houses of worship, to shacks in the slum, to my host’s home in the outskirts, to the snazzy mall in the middle of the city, I had explored Kampala.

Now it was time to get to my next city, Jinja.

map kampala to jinja

A hop, skip, and a leap away from Kampala, I got on a dalla dalla (public transport van) and headed on over.


Jinja is a city of 70-80,00 people. There’s a lot of poverty; there’s a lot of beauty. The Nile River starts here. Young travelers come to raft the Nile’s whitewater nearby. Other Westerners are in town for development work and were seen at the coffee shops and more expensive restaurants. These locations are dotted within the rest off Jinja, a small third world city of which you’ll now see how the people live.

We start on the way from Kampala and Jinja:


Also on the way, stops featured the company of streetside sales folks.


“You want fried banana?”

Getting into Jinja, my motorcycle taxi dropped me off here:


Then I walked about its downtown.




I saw these interesting wheel barrows around.

A new market was under construction:


Until it’s ready, old markets will have to do.



Watch downtown come alive:


To the old market:





Big filet o' fish back there. Jinja is also on Lake Victoria, which supplies tilapia and Nile perch.

Big filet o’ fish back there. Lake Victoria supplies tilapia and Nile perch.



















































Cow head

Footage of market:


Getting back outside:



Like Tanzania, a mix of Christians and Muslims in Uganda


Here’s what I ate for lunch:


Street food: beef, rice, and yam

Getting my food:


Wandering away from town, I stumbled upon a housing park.




These homes aren’t much, yet infinitely better than the situation I encountered at night.

Within the dark of Jinja presented perhaps its darkest side.


I don’t know where these boys came from, as I didn’t notice them all day. But at night they come out when the sidewalks are empty, and lay their heads to rest with bodies wrapped in rice sacks.

My host in Mwanza, Tanzania worked with local runaway and homeless youth. We even hear about the problem in the US from time to time. Young people in bad domestic situations gravitate toward urban areas no matter where you are in the world. I suppose this is because they stand a better chance living off the pity of strangers.


No place in the world is without its problems of broken families and lost youth. But in an economically undeveloped place like Uganda, the problem is more pronounced.

I ended the day with some more street food.

Egg and veggies fried and wrapped in a chapati

Fried egg and veggies wrapped in flour chapati


My stop in Jinja wasn’t just to check out the lives of the people here. I had made a connection eight months earlier in Minneapolis that I was to fulfill the following day.

A father, his sons, and their fish farming operation at the headwaters of the Nile.

What I Learned about Feminine Power while Living in China

When I was in China, I regularly attended yoga classes at my gym. It was part of the membership fee. Plus, I really liked the meditative benefits of doing so. And it made me sweat a lot. One afternoon I arrived to class ready to stretch and pose. Changed into my blue gym shorts and black tee shirt, I walked into the yoga room, grabbed a blue yoga mat, and began to warm up.

I picked a spot in the center of the room surrounded by mainly middle-aged women. By now I had gotten used to being the only non-Chinese and only male. But this time, one stout, short-haired woman whom I’d met before and who knew a bit of English greeted me in such a way as to reveal some surprise at me being there. I gave another look around and wondered.

Then the instructor arrived—a young, athletic woman dressed in white tank top and maroon sweatpants. When I asked her about the class, she conveyed through my short-haired acquaintance that, indeed, this was not yoga but “balance” class. Oh, okay. Balance sounded alright. So I decided to stay put.

Moments later, our instructor walked to the front and put a CD in the stereo along the right wall. She then pressed “play,” walked to the center, and faced her class of twenty-five evenly-spaced students.

The music began. She began. I raised my eyebrows in surprise.

After the first beat of the song, I knew this was far beyond the gender-neutral territory of yoga. The music was slow, light, and passionate. The instructor led not with poses but with smooth and methodic dance moves: limp, lightly-touching wrists slowly floating toward the sky as bent knees straightened, raising her whole body. Her arms parted and waved outward at the crest of her stretch with a lifted chest and body now elevated onto her toes. A serene expression rest on her face during this swim stroke with the sky.

I feebly followed her lead along with the others. I was self-conscious, but something about being away from home allowed me the freedom to not care too much. My thin frame moved awkwardly—particularly compared to the instructor, even compared to the stout middle-agers—but I gave it my light-footed, light-hearted best. And after just a minute of letting myself go to the art, I felt something in my hands and arms and then in my whole body. Whatever that something was, our leader exuded it.


I had actually been introduced to the term feminine power just a couple of months prior in the US and recalled this phrase right here and now in this yoga class in China. It seemed I had a definition offered by the feelings resulting from this dance. This was a force not of aggression or domination but a resonation of being that nurtured each moment of each movement. The methodic choreography didn’t demand a surge of energy but a persistent and delicate intensity.


By participating in this and subsequent balance classes, I not only gained an appreciation for this new power concept, but by zooming out to make room for a broadened understanding, I was able to objectively recognize for the first time all previous notions of power. While we moved to the music in the yoga room, bulky men on the other side of the gym floor lifted bulky plates of metal in a show of what I now consider masculine power: domination, competition, proving yourself, demonstrating your worth by defeating or conquering something—an opponent, a barbell, a goal, a calculus problem, a trophy buck, a competing business, another country.

The power of the balance class definitely included an element of fight, but it was a passionate battle demonstrating the power of growth, potential, hope—and most of all, an appreciation, love, and dedication to life; to living.

It’s likely these notions may make some American readers cringe, as it is controversial to put men and women into boxes. But despite them being predominant to one gender, my experience demonstrated that such expressions of power are not exclusive to either gender. And in addition to a gradient of these powers’ expressions across the gender continuum, I theorized there to be variation across cultures.

Experiencing this other side to humanity’s power dichotomy, I then recognized China’s overall unique demonstration of femininity and masculinity. I didn’t have to go too far. In the lobby of my gym were pictures of some of the male trainers.


Then out in the streets, Zhuhai’s residents embodied an interpersonal closeness:


Probably not lesbian


Probably not gay

In China—at least southern China—many men carried themselves with a more delicate walk, prettied hair, and some sported lengthy, manicured fingernails. I’d also see men pull up their shirt and tie it in a knot over their midriffs.


Three guys I photographed out on a weekend night

I had to wonder how a society’s embodiment along this continuum of femininity/masculinity influences national aspects of business, art, policy, and philosophy. Specifically, I thought about how China conducts foreign policy, and then I thought about the US approach. I thought about Chinese domestic policy, and then I considered how the US likes to address its social ailments by having a “war” with them.

It suddenly occurred to me just how far-tilted America is toward the masculine, so much so that the terms for the gender equality discussion are drawn in the masculine.


By experiencing these classes and newfound power, I learned that gender appreciation and equality are not about pretending the differences between the masculine and feminine aren’t there—that equality means advocating that women can do everything men can. It’s about realizing that femininity is equal for what it is. But America doesn’t value feminine strengths, I realized. Vital and beautiful virtues such as patience, caregiving, and the ability to nurture are seen as less important and even demeaning.

The unfortunate result of this institutional undervaluing is that it limits understanding, exposure, and appreciation of femininity. If not for an accident, I wouldn’t have taken part in this class on the other side of the world. And I’m grateful that I did, because it taught me to appreciate femininity as a force and as a personal attribute of my own.

By missing out on this power, I believe we restrict our potential on the continuum of the human experience.


This essay is from my recently-released book, “Life Learned Abroad: Lessons on Humanity from China“.

Life Learned Abroad 24-hr eBook Giveaway

Book Cover Business Card
To promote the re-release of my book, “Life Learned Abroad: Lessons on Humanity from China,” I’m running an all-day promotion.


Just for today, Sunday March 1, the Kindle version is available to download for FREE. (This can be read on a Kindle or a Kindle Reader app on any device.)


This digital version offers the advantage of color photos (if read on a color screen) and enhanced with video and commenting capabilities (if read on an internet-enabled device).


-This means that while reading about my old neighborhood in Zhuhai or the fish market or the students I taught, you can then watch footage of these places/people.


-And when reading about a topic like protests or education or how we treat animals/nature, you’re invited to offer your own two cents.


The book compiles these experiences, observations, and insights from 11 months in China. Go to Amazon by clicking here, and download a copy for yourself.


If you prefer the paperback, that’s available too (though not for free).


Either way, I hope you can pick up a copy and enjoy the experience.




If you have technical questions or any other concerns/feedback, please email me at or comment below.


Next week, my Sunday blog will get back to Africa.


Don’t Be a Bully: Let e-Cigarette Smokers Light Up

A few years back, I was disappointed when Bemidji State University–the college nearest where I grew up, where I attended music camp, and where my brother graduated–initiated a strict no-tobacco policy.

I was disappointed because under the guise of providing “the public with a safe and healthy work environment” the ban included snuff, which hurts no one but potentially the user. And “to establish a tobacco-free environment,” the ban included eCigarettes, which don’t even use tobacco.

It seemed the desire to “do good” got the better of BSU, drifting their policy into the territory of controlling, intolerant, and doing so by targeting a particular population whom Progressive society has deemed it okay to pick on: tobacco users.

The bullying continues.

Three weeks ago, Hennepin county voted to 6-1 to ban the use of electronic smoking devices in any public, indoor facility. There’s no evidence of physical harm to others when these devices are used. This study found that the vapor exhaled from an e-cigarette does contain elements of nickel and chromium, but the blanket policy of BSU and now Hennepin county isn’t about such considerations.

To them, smoking is evil. Period. And such simplistic thinking leads to bad policy.

Beyond being unreasonable, such policy is harmful. Electronic cigarettes offer a huge benefit. People who use them are not smoking actual cigarettes, which we know are deadly. We shouldn’t discourage this life-saving, cost-saving transition from tobacco cigarettes to electronic ones. We should be patting them on the back for kicking tobacco.

Plus, it’s just mean to treat people this way–relegating them down a notch on the social order and making them go outside in sub-zero weather.

Sorry, Miss. It's illegal to do that in here.

Sorry, Miss. It’s illegal to do that in here.

I don’t write this to change BSU or Hennepin county policy. Undoing policy is legendarily difficult. I write this to those county commissioners, city council members, and college boards in other regions. You are undoubtedly being pressured and tempted to take a similar stand against all things that even resemble smoking.

I ask you to please not be unreasonable. Please don’t be bullies.

My China Book Revised, Re-released…and free this Sunday

About a year ago, I finished a book about my travels and insights while living in China in 2010-2011.

Book Cover Business Card

I held two book release events in Bemidji and Minneapolis. (I almost had to cancel the Minneapolis one, because as you recall, last winter was brutal.) But people came out on this below-zero January afternoon, and we had a wonderful time as I introduced the book.

Book release party

It was crucial that I got my book released by January, because a couple of weeks later I left for Africa.

While there, I read my book in the quiet, off-the-grid village that I called home for eight months. Doing so, I realized some ways I wanted to improve the book. So throughout the year, I tinkered and fiddled and improved.

Today, I announce the revised edition of Life Learned Abroad: Lessons on Humanity from China.

It’s tighter, sharper, and just a more fun and interesting 400 pages of pictures and stories about a life in China…

-about my experiences in and around the country: visiting a factory, emceeing a Chinese New Year celebration, practicing martial arts in a mountaintop temple, and more…

-about the topics addressed along the way: charity, education, economic development, law enforcement, romance, and others…

It is available on Amazon.

There’s also the e-version. And this comes with three cool features: color photos–if reading it on a color screen, links to supplemental videos helping the contextual material come to life, and opportunities for discussion by way of links taking you to forums. You can see it hereThe eBook is free when purchasing the hard copy. It’s also free if you’re a member of Amazon Prime.

Finally, this Sunday, March 1, I’m offering a promotion: for 24 hours, the eBook will be FREE for anyone to download. Simple go to Amazon, download the file, and enjoy.

I hope all of you with a Kindle or the Kindle App on your computer, tablet, or smartphone will take advantage of the promotion. I hope those of you interested in stories and lessons about China, travel, and life will take look at this work. I enjoy being able to share my stories with you here on this blog each week. It’d be an honor to have you enjoy my book inspired by these articles.

And if you have questions about the book, how to buy/read the eBook, or anything else, email me at or comment below.