Friday, November 9, 2012

Table Talk with the Mormons

"Hello, is this John Westin?"
"Yes," I said.
This was our first exchange when the Mormon called to schedule our meeting. We decided on Wednesday, 3:30p.m. They got lost on the way, so I had to meet them in front of the Chem-Phys building. We sat down and talked for a good half hour at the black table between the President's house and the Chem-Phys building.
There were two of them. Elder Brook was in his early 20's. Chubby, giddy and easy to talk with. I can't remember the other one's name, but I will get it on Sunday when I go to the Church service I was invited to. He was thinner, just as friendly as Brook, but not as talkative. We'll call him Elder Joe for now. Joe seemed to be a more factual kind of guy, whereas Brook didn't seem to care about to facts; he was just happy to be Mormon.
They were both born into the Church, but Elder Brook's father was not a Mormon. I think he was Baptist, so Brook got a little of both worlds. Brook's father transfered from his previous denomination into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints later in his life. Family was emphasized as one of the most valuable parts of the Church. Brook said to me, "Almost all of my friends are Catholic or Baptist." Both Elder Brook and Elder Joe seemed to accept everyone as equals, even non-Mormons. "We're not going to tell you you're wrong," said Elder Brook. All he wants to do is spread The Good News. They have had strange interactions while speaking with people. They told me of one instance where a Christian woman tried to "pray the Mormon" out of them.
Elder Joe told answered the question, "What does 'being a Mormon' mean to you?" He told me about growing up, and questioning the Mormon ideology, because he didn't want to blindly follow his parents. He paryed about it, received an answer and the rest is history.
Elder Brook answered the same question. He was baptized at eight years old, but by the time he was eighteen he was starting to lose interest in the Church. He had been searching for something his entire life, and one day it smacked him in the face. The answer had been right there infront of him the whole time. The Church was his answer. A feeling of warmth came over him. "Imagine the warmest feeling of love in your life," Brook said. The glimmer in his eyes says it all, this man loves the Church, and I doubt he will ever leave.
"Church statistics also show a 30% membership increase between 1990 and 2008—a rate double general US population growth (" This statistic is not at all surprising when you meet them. They're friendly, seem happy and aren't imposing. They walk door to door, sure, but they don't do any harm. Elder Brook and Elder Joe genuinely care about my conversion, and this is appealing to most people. Sure, their beliefs are a little corky, but so is every religion when you take a good look at what they're preaching. I'm not sure Mormonism will be very appealing to younger people, because of their strict drugs limitations, but I could see middle-class white families being drawn in to the stable, friendly community. According to Brook and Joe, women are placed at a higher standard than men. This idea seems to gain popularity as the years go by, so this will be appealing to the stay-at-home moms out there.
I will be attending a service on Sunday at 9a.m., wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chinese Christmas

Christmas is approaching more quickly than a reindeer on roller skates.

I know Christmas is approaching because my family is starting to tell me all the different things I should be buying them this year. I have one special gift for them all . . . his name is Kevin.

Kevin is my Chinese boy who lives across the hall from me in my dorm. He is trying his hardest to learn about American culture and, even better, learn to speak English. Kevin can't afford to go home to China for our Winter break, so, being in the Christmas spirit, I told him to spend the month long break at my place. My goal is to soak this twenty-four year old exchange student in the thickest of American culture. He will drive a car, shoot guns, drink liquor and go to a pool hall.

I also plan on taking him to the Strip District of Pittsburgh to get him some good local food. Some borscht, some pierogies and a lot of sausage should do just fine. The poor bastard has been living on the dining hall food of a college campus, so some real food should make him feel at home.

I have high hopes for this Christmas break. Kevin will get a holiday splash of American culture, and my family will get to live with a young, confused and disoriented Chinese man.

I will update my blog with adventures from this Christmas vacation.

Comment if you have any ideas on different activities and adventures to do with him.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Check out

Awesome blog and a good friend of mine. Chris blogs about fishing adventures and posts great pics.
Check it out!

Democracy and Parachutes

Democracy is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Well, it would be without journalism and the First Amendment, anyway. Without those two things, Democracy would fall faster and faster until it splattered on the ground like an egg on concrete. Luckily for Democracy and the United States, we made sure to strap on our parachute before we made the leap.
Journalism education in progress
            If you don’t believe me, just ask Benjamin Harris. He published America’s first newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick. This newspaper was shut down after the first issue by the government and less than 100 years later, that government was overthrown. Censorship never bodes well for an oppressive government in the long run.
            The First Amendment allows journalists to act as a watchdog, a source of information for elections and as a teacher. These three duties are essential to the democratic system that we hold dear and without the First Amendment, the duties of journalists would not be protected or secured.
            If there’s one man who knows the loud, bone-chilling roar of watchdogs, it’s Richard Nixon. The Watergate Scandal, exposed by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, is one of the most important moments in journalism. Bob Woodward said, “I believe that Watergate shows that the system did work. Particularly the Judiciary and the Congress, and ultimately an independent prosecutor working in the Executive Branch.” Watergate also shows the effectiveness of watchdog journalism and it’s role in democracy.
            This watchdog idea has shaped a sort of skepticism in the minds of journalists in this country. A basic distrust and distaste for all things murky and unclear. This skepticism clears the smoke that the Government and businesses use to keep the people at bay.
            “VOTE THE BASTARDS OUT.” This Facebook group may have only 30 “likes,” and perhaps this is due to their distasteful use of capitalization, but it represents something very important in a functioning democracy; Elections. The ability for the people to elect new leaders with new ideas and new policies is something the American people hold dear.
            Journalists are the reason that elections are effective and possible. Journalists provide the people with the information on the candidates that the people need to make informed votes. Voting would mean nothing without the knowledge of the candidate’s views, policies, and personal beliefs.
            “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward explains the values of teaching in this quote. Journalism, as a teacher, is meant to inspire.
            Journalism teaches the people of their surroundings, their different subcultures, and how they, the people, are all connected. It’s a valuable role that allows the people to come together, as one, and solve the problems that their government never could.
            Ah, parachutes, how they save us from the power of gravity and the selfishness of wicked men. The powers of watchdogs, elections, and teachers are all powers that keep us from ending up splattered, like an egg on concrete.

The Unknown Is My Friend

The Unknown Is My Friend
Fly Fishing in the Highlands of Pennsylvania
            Thailand, Australia, Havana, London, Venice, Chile, Moscow. These are all places I’ve never been, places I know little about, and places that I dream of. There are about 196 countries in the world, each with their own food, their own art, their own songs, and their own typography. I believe in travel.
            I must have been ten or eleven years old when my family and I went on vacation to the Bahamas. I loved it and I loved all the tourist-trap activities I took part in. The parasailing, the snorkeling and the dancing all made me smile and I will cherish those memories, but, while those were all well and good, they aren’t what I remember most. My clearest memory was much more eye opening. It was early in the morning and my Mom and I had just walked out of a jewelry store. At the end of the parking lot there was a hill that seemed to be blocking something. Being the curious little ten year-old that I was, I wanted to see what was over the hill. Needless to say, it was not the bright palm tree forest that I expected. No, it was a magnificently huge field covered in sheet metal shacks. Ten foot by ten foot structures at most. It soon became clear that these were not just metal shacks in a field. No, they were home. They were home to hundreds of amazingly poor Bahamian locals. The image burned into my mind like an iron on a bull’s backside. You’re not in Pittsburgh any more, William.
            I’ve been to Toronto, Boston, Savannah, Costa Rica, Maine, Alabama, and I’ve learned something from every one of those experiences. For example, in Costa Rica I learned that, believe it or not, monkeys do exist outside of the cages at the Pittsburgh Zoo. In Alabama I learned to be careful when choosing which gas station to stop at, and which to avoid at all costs. In Maine I learned that my family is the most amazing thing that I can call my own. I learned that memories of time spent hiking up mountains and playing poker after an amazing lobster dinner with my family become memories that make me tear up when I think about them. Traveling makes you realize where you home really is, and what their names are.
            I currently live in Lexington, Kentucky, and I will be here for a while. While this is my new home and I am glad to remain here to study, I will not stop traveling. The city of Lexington will be my world for the next four years, and I intend to travel as much of it as I possibly can. In fact, I’ve already begun. I’ve made a point to try out new ethnic cuisine at least once a week and learn about the culture through the food. Yesterday I went all the way to Thailand and back! I walked to a local Thai joint, picked up some soup and talked to the waitress about its ingredients. Once she knew I was genuinely interested, her face lit up like a brand new LED bulb. She and I managed to not only hold a conversation, but to laugh together. And to think, all we had in common was a bowl of soup. I believe this shows how easy it is for two people with different skin tones, different cultural back rounds, and different first languages to feel connected with each other. Surely this must hold true to the world outside of Lexington. I will set out to prove how similar we all are, and how the differences that we boast of are miniscule compared to the things that all of us can smile about.
            I am William Wright, the year is 2042, and I have been to Thailand, Australia, Havana, London, Venice, Chile and Moscow. These are the places I continue to dream about and continue to learn from. I’ve walked through many markets, made many friends, and laughed with many people that don’t get my jokes. The planet Earth is my home and humanity is my family. I will never stop meeting my distant relatives, visiting my undiscovered homes, and, most importantly, I will never stop looking over the hills outside of jewelry stores.

Taste of Thai

"My flight to Thailand leaves in 20 minutes!"

One day, I will be lucky enough to utter those words. Until then, I'll have to experience Thai culture from National Geographic clippings, blogs and restaurants. I'm starting with Taste of Thai in downtown Lexington.

Tasty beef soup with bean sprouts
When you walk inside, you're bound to see just one server waiting on every table. Paper table mats, a strange pattern of tile, a bar and little green bowls with red pepper on each table makes the place comfortable. Taste of Thai is small, quiet and very simple.

I've noticed many people have written negative reviews about the food and service, but I have to disagree. The service wasn't excellent by any means, but the waitress was friendly and seemed interested in what I thought of the food. If the waitress cares, you can bet the people in the back of the house do too.

The food was good, not great, but good. A bowl of their beef soup cost me around $9, and did a good job of filling me up. The use of the sprouts added a crunch and made the dish look pretty. They were out of noodles, which I found odd, and they were also out of whatever it was that my brother tried to order. We almost had to ask, "Well, what do you have?" The food that they had, though, was very good.

All in all, I still can't wait for my flight to leave, but Taste of Thai did a good job of sustaining me until I get off this seemingly massive runway.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Local Taco

My eyes were bloodshot, I had no sunglasses, and by God was it bright outside. I desperately needed some shade and quiet, so I set out with my copy of Down and Out in Paris and London, sat under a nice tree and read for a while, but there was something missing...Breakfast! Ah yes, I must find some breakfast immediately. So I called my brother and told him the plan. The plan went as follows: Local Taco, ten minutes from now.

The Local Taco "embraces the simple pleasures of Tex-Mex cuisine, the traditions and character of Southern food culture, and distinct flavors of the communities in which it resides." (As taken from The Local Taco home page enchiladas are fantastic. With just enough tang to tingle your taste buds, you'll find yourself coming back for more.
The atmosphere of the building makes you feel like you can walk out the door and find yourself on a beach in Havana. Open air patio seating brings fresh air in and makes you feel comfortable and relaxed.

Expect to get your dinner for around $9. UK students can use the Plus account to pay for their meal.

Whether you're out with friends or trying to have a date night, The Local Taco will provide you with a warm atmosphere and a delicious meal.