The Adventures of Podunk Jo: Adventure 1 – The Beginning

Podunk was just spending her Sunday afternoon at a local teashop in Nine Rivers.  It was after church and she was enjoying a nice cup of Tetley while marking some papers.  Grades were due the following Wednesday.

She noticed another foreigner had entered the teahouse.  He came over to introduce his charming self.

“Hello.  My name is Colgate.  Crest Colgate.”

Podunk privately wondered what kind of person would punish their child with a name like that.

“Hello, I’m Jo.  Lovely to meet you.”

“So, What are you doing in Nine Rivers?”

“I’m a teacher here.”  She holds up her marked papers. “You?”

“I’m touring China.  Trying to catch local culture as well as the landmarks.”

“Ah.  Lovely.”

Someone shouts from the doorway. “Oh, there are my friends.  Nice meeting you.”

“Certainly.  Ta.”


The next morning, upon reading her China Daily, Podunk discovered a horrendous crime had occurred during the might.  All of the toothpaste in China had mysteriously disappeared.  Podunk’s thoughts immediately turned to the odd foreigner she had met the previous day. 


As she was washing dishes later that day, the phone rang. 


Silence.  “Podunk Jo?”

“Yes, this is Jo.  Hello?”

Silence.  Then more silence.

“Hello?” tried Podunk again.

“Yes.  This is Long Yagao.  I need your help.”

“How can I help you?”

More silence.  Must be a bad connection.  “Uhh…You know all of the toothpaste in China is missing?”

“Yes, I’d read that with my morning tea.”

“I want you to take the case, Podunk.  With your help, we’ll nab this crazy thief pronto.”

“Well, right now I need to finish my marks for the term.  Teaching is a very serious business, you know.”

“I understand.  When can you arrive in Beijing?”

“Well, marks are due this week…”

“So you can arrive tomorrow?”

“No I couldn’t possibly be their before Wednesday…”

“Good.  I’ll expect you Wednesday afternoon.  Goodbye.”

Podunk was left holding the phone.  And the bag.


Lucky for her, SUPAwaiban was available for her last-minute train ticket needs.  She arrived in Beijing Wednesday at 3:30 pm.  Strangely, no one was at the train station to meet her.  Odd.  She had at least expected one of Long’s henchman.

No matter.  She turned to her well-worn Amity Survival Guide under the section labeled “How to reserve a hotel room in Beijing at short notice when there is no toothpaste and officials have left you stranded at the train station.”  With book in hand she confidently hailed a cab and made her way to check in at a hotel.


After quickly getting settled in her room, she went to ask directions to Long’s office.  However, a male foreign surprise greeted her at the reception desk.

He flashed his minty whites.  “Hello Jo.”

Just the person I was looking for… “Crest.  What a surprise.  What are you doing in Beijing?”

“Well, it’s the capital.  What tour would be complete without it?  It’s my last stop though.”


“What about you?  What brings you so far from Nine Rivers?”

“As you say, what’s China without Beijing?  The term is over, so I’m on holiday as well.”

“Excellent.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around then.”



After an episode at the reception desk, Podunk finally made her way to Long’s office.  The front desk was empty, so she wandered around for a bit.  No one seemed to be working that day.  In fact, the entire building seemed unnaturally quiet.  At last she found Long’s private office.  She walked in to find…

(Continued next episode)

Who says I’m OCD?

One of life’s little conundrums that’s always tickled my funny bone is Mark Summers, host of Double Dare. Perhaps it’s because he went to my high school, and for that reason I suppose I have some sort of ‘right’ to his stories. Still, the idea of a man who actually has OCD dealing with all that sliming and kiddie germy nastiness just gives me a certain feeling of sympathy for the man. I just see him explaining the obstacle challenge and bending down delicately to pick up one of those orange flags. I always use to think he was just being careful not to drop his mike, but picking up those flags probably cost him lots of excessive hand-washing time after the cameras were turned elsewhere. The poor man.

So, the next time you’re miffed at your friend who is complaining about the water spots on the silverware at some local restaurant, or your girlfriend who has to have the laundry folded devoid of ALL wrinkles, just take a deep breath, and remind yoruself it could be worse. That friend or girlfriend could be Mark Summers.

Ahh. Millet.

Eating my sandwich today, I was reflecting on how much I love millet. I actually don’t know how the thought jumped into my head, but it’s true. I love millet. Not only because it’s one of the few high-protein grains that’s gluten-free, but also because it is the Supergrain for both nutritional and agricultural reasons. Need a crop that you can store easily in times of famine? You got millet. Arid climate or rocky soil? You got millet. Need more amino acids in your body when meat is not available? You still got millet.

I did some checking on the specific nutritional value once my curiosity was aroused.  I mean, maybe all this attraction I had for millet was all just hype – maybe it was one of those funky artisan grains that just makes bread heavy and coarse and difficult to chew.  But my sources seemed to be in conflict.   Some said it was a good source of certain B vitamins, others that it had a high iron and zinc content.  Still other sources bragged about it’s ‘balanced’ amino acids and high lutein concentrations, which I didn’t really understand.  What makes amino acids balanced?  What is lutein, and why do I want more of it?  I went to this site to find the real info (thank you Sarah) and discovered that it was mostly all true – high in lutein, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, thiamin, niacin, B6, protein, and folate.  So that’s good, I guess.  I also discovered this website which made me curious about cooking with it, as well as giving more detail on the history of the grain.  I was only aware of the Ethiopian highlands use of the grain, where it could be harvested three times in a season due to its ability to grow in arid conditions.  But evidently China owes it a debt of thanks as well.

I guess that makes it even more strange that millet was not chosen as on of the plants that changed mankind in the book, Seeds of Change.  But then, when I looked at the book a bit closer, I noticed most of those seed had a negative impact on history, and were the result of cataclysmic change rather than longer-term development.  Millet must only have historical positives.

Bad things about water

One of the nifty little features of WordPress is that it tracks a bunch of stuff about your blog. You can see how many people have been to your blog each day, and which individual entry has been viewed, and how often.  It also tracks which links inside your blog are clicked, and where viewers might have originated from – either via tags or an online search.  So far, one person has viewed my blog by finding it on an internet search.  They found it by entering ‘Bad things about water’.  Hmm.  I didn’t know I had been talking about water much…  Which just proves the unreliability of search engines.  I guess they do the best they can though, the poor little chuggers.  Anyway, all this talk about water reminds me that bottled spring water in the US is completely unregulated.  I could bottle my tap water and sell it under the name ‘Spring of Belmont’ and that would be perfectly legal.  Just remember that the next time you think about picking up some Nestle or Coca-Cola water.

Why I have the best boss in the world.

Does anyone remember the live-action movie of that children’s classic, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery? Besides being a wonderful story, it had great songs with extreme choreography such as “A Snake in the Grass” and “I’m on Your Side”. The one brought to mind today though is “Why Am I Happy? I’m Dying of Thirst,” or, in this case, ‘Why am I happy? My Job is the Most Boring On Earth.’
Granted, the job is not boring and stressful at the same time, like working in a bank or hospital where you can screw up someone’s finances or health. But still, it wears on me, the day after day slog of pointless activity – answering the phone, opening the mail, making some copies, scheduling some meetings and finally going home. It hurts my soul a little. However, every once and awhile there’s a little light that comes in. usually it’s in the form of actual research projects my boss gives me, data that I can be proud to find and quickly organize, getting to use that rotting organ, my brain.

Recently in my ceaseless mail opening there’s been quite a few holiday gifts to my boss from various companies and organizations he works with. Sometimes these will be food or tasty beverage items that he shares. Other times these will be more practical items, like office gadgets or a finance or investment related book. One of my favorites this year was Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. What does this book have to do with investing? My co-workers could not decide, and my boss playfully announced our office would now follow the Mongol model and proceed to take over the world. I was ready, just as soon as he gave us our ponies – Mongolian horde ponies, of course.

So he gave me my next research project – what is the proper weaponry of the Mongol Horde? What, exactly, would we need to advance our mission of taking over the world? Wikipedia, here I come!

In the end it’s not the fact that my boss is such a relaxed manager, or that he feels comfortable joking around with his staff that keeps me feeling good about my job. True, I work at a large institution where people might tend to be lost. But at the basic level, in the small moments like this, it’s when I really know that this institution truly values education and learning. It’s in one person saying to another ‘let’s find out’, that curiosity in our own history and the world around us that gives me a renewed sense of purpose. True, my phone answering and mail opening are very small in the scale of life, but at least I know they are menial tasks that support something meaningful, that are in some small way contributing to the larger world.