How to Eat a Watermelon Seed

One of the things I noticed during my first few weeks in China is that Chinese people eat a lot of seeds. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, seeds I don’t know the name of. When people gather for a meal, a banquet, tea or just plain talk, out comes a plate of dried seeds. Everyone digs in, cracking the seeds open and spitting the remains on the ground, on the table, even on each other. Sort of like “peanut night” taken to the extreme.

Watermelon Seeds
Now, I really appreciate it when a host provides peanuts. First, it is something I recognize and second, it seems like minimal work for a substantial reward. Watermelon seeds, on the other hand, are a real hassle. I haven’t yet mastered the art of eating these seeds without a rather long, involved process. I greatly admire my Chinese friends who can, crack, separate, swallow and spit using only teeth and tongue.
If you’ve never eaten a watermelon seed, here is the general idea: First, grasp the dried seed between thumb and forefinger. Second, place the small end of the seed vertically between your teeth. Third, apply slight pressure with your teeth until you hear it crack. A loud cracking sound is bad news, it means something else is going on… like maybe Chinese fireworks.
Next comes the part I have yet to master. At this point I show my standing as a novice by pulling the cracked seed out of my mouth and staring at it to see if there is anything worth the additional effort. Sometimes there is. From here on out it is all manual dexterity, something I am apparently lacking in.
Anyway, that is about it for now…


I am fighting a cold because it has turned cold! Guess we even had a little snow last night, although it melted right away. I keep thinking about the warm days I spent in Sanya. Not too much to report; I am actually trying to get myself organized. Bought a little notebook for lesson plans, etc. Of course, it will probably get added to the small pile of other little notebooks I bought when I was trying to get organized….
Here, for your reading pleasure, is the opening act of my screenplay:

WRITING SAMPLE 1 – from Mindgame

By Ron Hendricks



Not long after the first Gulf War two shadowy figures sneak along a chain link fence.


(Loud whisper.)

Comrade…over here…

DIMITRI holds up the bottom of the fence so MICHAEL can slither under. Next it is DIMITRI’s turn, but his butt is too big. MICHAEL slides out and they try it in reverse order. Success…


I think it’s this way…

MICHAEL and DIMITRI approach an old yellow school bus half hidden with canvas. They force open the door and climb inside.

MICHAEL and DIMITRI flip on their flashlights and look around. All but the driver seat is removed and there are a few empty crates in the corner. Keys dangle from the dash and a padlocked panel is cut into the floor.


Well… what have we here?

Dogs begin barking in the warehouse office. MICHAEL and DIMITRI freeze. Foreign shouting is heard over the dogs. A door opens and the dogs get louder and closer!


Do you suppose they’re friendly?


I’m not waiting to find out!

MICHAEL leaps into the driver seat, grabs the lever arm handle and slams the door shut just as two Dobermans lunge. Their slobbering jaws and snarling teeth leave streaks on the dirty glass.

MICHAEL turns the key and pushes the starter button. It cranks slowly. Rrrr… The GUARDS are getting closer. Rrrr…


Come on, come on…

The old engine purrs to life. MICHAEL throws it into second and takes off. DIMITRI is launched onto the floor. MICHAEL cranks the wheel left and heads for the padlocked gates.

MICHAEL double clutches and grinds through the gears. He can barely see out the front window because of the canvas. It flaps, billows and snags on scrap metal as the bus picks up speed. Junk flies everywhere.

DIMITRI attempts to secure a seat on one of the empty crates. He holds on for dear life as the crate slides back and forth.

The GUARDS fire warning shots with their automatic weapons. Running back to the warehouse, they leap into a humvee with a distinctive LOGO on the door. The humvee engine cranks over several times before starting. They peel out.

Another GUARD is yelling into the telephone. He slams the receiver down and races out the door. He is nearly run over by his compatriots in the humvee! He curses at them and then jumps into a second vehicle to give chase.

Ke-rash! The bus hurtles through the locked gates. A large chunk of canvas shreds off onto the barbed wire. MICHAEL turns right and heads for the deserted streets. Screee… the bus tilts sideways as it careens onto the pavement.



With the guards in hot pursuit, the bus barrels into the night. Up ahead, a few VENDORS are setting out their wares and preparing their stalls for the day’s market.


Where are the damn lights??

MICHAEL frantically toggles the light switch, but to no avail.


Look out!!


Do you want to drive??

MICHAEL lays on the horn. The VENDORS look up just in time to leap out of the way. Their stalls are demolished and their wares go flying. DIMITRI stumbles to the back window and calls out.


Sorry! Sorry!!

More vehicles join the pursuit, firing automatic weapons. DIMITRI dives to the bus floor and slithers up front.


They’re on to us!


Ya think so??

The chase continues through empty streets, down alleyways, around corners, up onto sidewalks, etc. At the outskirts of town the pursuers suddenly lose interest. Up ahead there is a hand-lettered sign.


What’s that?


I think it says MINES!…

They look at each for a second and then MICHAEL jams on the brakes. The bus halts in a cloud of dust. Nobody breathes for a long exaggerated moment. Then they both exhale loudly.

Pulling out his gun, MICHAEL trains his flashlight on the padlocked access panel. He takes aim.


What are you doing comrade?


Shooting the lock off! I’ve seen them do it in movies!


Why not just use key?


Key? What key?


That key!

DIMITRI points his flashlight at the bus dashboard. Dangling from the ignition key ring are two other keys.


I thought those were just extras.


Let us find out!

DIMITRI grabs the keys and bounds to the padlocked access panel. He kneels on the bus floorboards and tries a key in the padlock. It doesn’t fit. He tries the other. It does.

MICHAEL gets up, strides to DIMITRI and grabs his hands.


Wait a minute!




Suppose it’s booby-trapped!?


Comrade… We just drove half dozen atomical bombs through city at ten times speed limit with no lights going and guns chasing us. We are in field of mines with no way out.


I hope it is booby trap!


Okay… since you put it that way…

DIMITRI turns the key and pops the lock off. MICHAEL grabs one side of the access panel with his fingernails and DIMITRI grabs the other side. They look at each other and slowly lift.

The lid falls backwards with a clang. MICHAEL and DIMITRI shine their flashlights into the storage compartment. It is empty. They sit back against the bus walls and say nothing.

Finally, MICHAEL breaks the silence.


I wonder if they hang bus thieves in Kuwait?


Let’s get those lights fixed and have a look around.

MICHAEL and DIMITRI stand and dust themselves off. MICHAEL gingerly steps out of the bus. Hugging the sides, he makes his way to the front to inspect the lights.

DIMITRI sits down and flips the light switch. Nothing happens. He shines his flashlight under the dash and spots two dangling wires. He touches the bare ends together. The lights come on and then…

KA-BOOM!! The bus explodes in a ball of flames.

January 3rd, 2005: No Classes

Unbelievable: Snow!
Note: In an effort to completely confuse everyone, I have decided to periodically post entries from my diary…
Monday, January 3rd, 2005
Today there are no classes and Audraie and I are relaxing. The weather is still cold, so we are trying to stay warm in my apartment with the two heaters, lots of blankets and extra layers of clothing. We spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Nanchang at the Jiangxi Hotel. It was so nice to have a warm room and a warm bath!
It has been four months yesterday since Audraie arrived (September 2nd) and slightly more for me (August 26th). I bought this diary at Wal-Mart in Nanchang and will try to keep a New Year’s resolution to write regularly. I also will try to go back and fill in the blanks. So much has happened in the four short months; I hope I can remember it all. But now, it’s time for some coffee!

Wu Shan Ji

The Wu Shan Ji is a white-feathered chicken with black skin, bones and meat. It is famous in China for it’s supposed nutritional value. It has even been to space! (At least some of the eggs went in a recent space flight. I think it was Shenzhou 5.) Anyway, I visited the “black chicken factory” on my Saturday trip to Tai He. Even though it was raining off and on, we took a walk in the surrounding country. It was quite peaceful and beautiful. We (the headmaster, my driver, a teacher-translator and I) also visited an island in the Gan Jiang River. It has an old village with a temple. There were about a dozen villagers seeking shelter from the rain and playing a couple of lively games of Mah Jhong in the temple. There is also a new village on the island. I would like to return when the weather is better. The river looked almost clean enough for swimming!

Tai He

Been a looooooooooooong time since I blogged. In fact, I completely forgot about this space. I stumbled onto it by accident last week, so now I will try to do better:
In addition to my teaching schedule at the university this term, I have taken on a second job teaching in a junior middle school in Tai He. They send a driver for me in the morning. It is about 45 minutes from here. I have really enjoyed the change of pace. The kids are fun, although they require more patience and energy than my college kids.

Sing Along With Ron
Yesterday I was the “guest of honor” at a wedding of one of the Tai He teachers. I kind of like Chinese weddings; they skip the ceremony and go straight to the party!! All that other junk (ceremony, photos, legal stuff) happens at another time or on another day.  I sang two songs for them: I Love You More Than I Can Say, and Lao Shu Ai Da Mi (Like Mice Love Rice).
During the banquet, as I was digging in, I enquired what I was eating. Turtle! I should have learned my lesson two nights previous, as the delicious meat I had been eating was not duck, but….. dog. I need to listen better. Sorry PETA members. I couldn’t help wondering if the canine browsing around under our table was related.
Today is Sunday and I am still trying to get organized after my long winter holiday in Hainan. This afternoon, Gray and I will meet downtown with the owners of a (new this year) pizza place. They are interested in “cooperating” with us in my coffee bar. I am torn between trying to sell the place and investing further. I have had a lot of fun, but now it is actually turning into work. I really depend on (student manager) Gray. His English has become quite good. Although I have picked up some Chinese, I don’t think constantly asking “Where is the bathroom?” is very impressive to potential business partners.


West Street (Xi Jie)
Call of the Open Road – Yangshuo

On Sunday, May 1st we found ourselves in Yangshuo. In a word, fantastic. Karst mountains pop up out of nowhere (take a look at the photo). Like waking up in a fairytale. When we got off the bus from Guilin we started walking in the right direction. Wrong. We learned later that the Bamboo House Hostel is just a short walk from the depot. When we reached the edge of town we spotted three other lost foreigners. Two from France and one from Germany. Forutunately, the young French girl speaks excellent Putonghua (Mandarin) and was able to negotiate a ride in a tricycle truck for only four times the going price. But then there were five of us and it was getting hot. After taking us over hill and dale and cutting through every back alley in Guangxi Province we finally arrived at our destination. A vacant lot. The driver couldn’t get his trike to haul our fat asses any further so we had to carry our suitcases to the hostel. Anyway, I cut the original price of 20 yuan down to 10 and ended up only paying twice the price.

After checking in, a cold shower and a nap we had supper at Cafe China on West Street. Now let me tell you about West Street. As far as I’m concerned it is the coolest street that I have found in China so far. Yes, still a little dirty, (a clean street by Chinese standards) but lined with cool shops and great bistros and bars. Foreign languages everywhere with people to match. Wonderful Chinese and Western food. Young backpackers, families, tour groups and tons of Chinese hoping to practice their English. We joined up with a group of travelers from, uh let’s see, Holland, Germany, Israel, Canada and one USAlien (yours truly). Most of us were teaching English either in China or Japan, but a few of us had real jobs and a few of us had no jobs. Oh, okay, professional tourists. Anyway, it was fun.

The next morning (closer to noon) we rented a couple of bikes and took the self-guided tour. Actually, we spotted a couple who had hired a guide for the day and we sneaked along behind them. They finally eluded us somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. But it was cool. No, actually it was getting hot. I spotted a river that had a few local boys bobbing in it and I dove in. I dove out again fairly quickly because the current was stronger than I thought. It was enough to cool down though.

The next day, for some reason, we got on bikes again. Now, let me just say that it is one thing to ride a bike the next day when you are young. It is quite another to ride a back the next day when you are, umm, chronologically challenged. I sat on one cheek, then the other, then I stood on the pedals and then I got off. We were with “the Yangshuo Gang” so I wasn’t able to lag “behind” for too long.

That’s all for now.