Saturday, August 27, 2011

Recovering From the Most Devastating Injury Ever, and Some Assorted Other Musings

First of all--why aren't you watching this now?

Please be warned--further graphic medical explanations. Enjoy without krispy kreme's, as Ben Don learned the hard way

So I've now been home like a week. With a few urologist appointments, a surgeon appointment, 4 prescriptions, 1 ultrasound, and more hours of sleep than I had in 5 months in Hong Kong (probably not too much of an exaggeration) under my belt, I can safely say that I AM BORED! In short, it seems to be an unfortunate catch-22 that I desperately want (daresay need) to get back to Asia, and thus need to raise money, but any temp job requires a decent bit of physical labor, which I'm really not in any shape to do at this point. I'm also massively reluctant to find any sort of careery (new word) job at this point, due to the horrible proposition of settling into the suburbs of Chicago. So anyway--an update on what's been going on.

About 4 days ago out of absolutely nowhere I got a pretty shocking case of the chills. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced--up to that point I'd been feeling better and better every day, and earlier that evening I'd been feeling fine, and then at about 9:30 I just got goosebumps all over before basically passing out. 3 hours later I woke up and started vomiting pretty profusely, which continued throughout the night. What a wonderful edition to the medical issues I'd previously been having. I woke up the following morning and nearly fell over due to the dizziness/lack of balance I was experiencing. This horrendous illness continued for a few days before mysteriously vanishing yesterday/this morning. My theory (which was backed up by my doctor) was that I'd simply taken too much of my pain medication (definitely possible, given the amount of pain that shattered testicles involves). Anyway, got a different pain medication, and now I feel pretty fine in terms of the fluishness.

The urologist told me yesterday that things seem to be moving along pretty well. Arguably the most unsettling good news I've ever heard came when he told me "the left testicle appears to be completely in tact". Well "it appears to be", that's wonderfully inconclusive. He recommended that I continue to do what I've been doing (apart from OD-ing on hydrocodone... disgraceful), and we have another examination in 2 weeks. Again, not the most optimistic report, but could be worse.

Upon arriving with Asia, I met up with one of my best friends from Hong Kong, John Scutt, who was doing the same teaching program I was doing. I was absolutely shocked (and frankly envious) when he showed up with his medium-sized suitcase and nonchalantly told me that "my entire life is in this suitcase". Assuming he was just using a figure of speech, I asked him if literally everything he owned was in that suitcase. "Yeah". I was awestruck, and sort of realized how much absolutely useless crap I have back home. Mind you, a lot of my useless crap (mainly my absurd collection of souvenirs from here, there, and everywhere--photo to come tomorrow morning) is very important to me, but a lot of it isn't. Consequently, to solve my problem of having too much crap, while also solving my problem of needing money to get back to Asia, I'm selling loads of my crap on eBay. Here's the link! And a note on the eBay account name--made the account when I was 15, and since then I have indeed driven a Ferrari several times, so I'm ok with it! Anyway, so I've been keeping myself busy going through my house finding things I can sell. I've thus far sold ~$625 worth of stuff, so not bad! Hopefully by this time next month I'll have a couple thousand dollars plus birthday money to start living in Asia. Incidentally, my wallet currently contains 1,435RMB and $9US, so I guess I've already got a little bit of a start, but nothing grand. Either way, as Douglas MacArthur once said upon leaving (I believe) the Philippines, "I shall return". Despite having had to leave Asia under morbid circumstances, I'm quite convinced (even more so after my week back home) that Asia is where I will be for the long-term.

Speaking of long-term Asian prospects, the job apps are coming along pretty well. I've applied for ~25 jobs in total in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen, mostly for recent graduate roles in international consulting firms, with some finance jobs thrown in for good measure. If they all fail to come to fruition, expect me crashing on a couch near you in HK/SZ within a month or so. If nothing else, I'd have to assume that given the reasonably customized resumes I've been submitting, and the nearly completely customized cover letters, should be enough to not have these companies laugh at my applications. And as we all know, once it gets to the interview stage, I'm either getting the job with immense enthusiasm from the hiring manager, or I'm getting a restraining order put upon me from the company. Not much point in having a mediocre interview. Go big or go home I guess (though my god do I hate that phrase). So we'll see how all that goes.

On a random note, this entire medical issue and having to essentially return home in what I view as shame (though others would probably view as a necessary treatment of a medical emergency) seems to have provided a much-needed crushing blow to my hubristic (which spellcheck says is not a word) tendencies. That is to say, prior to this whole incident, I was far more arrogant about my traveling, intellect, guile, and just life in general, than I probably should have been. So in a strange way, this whole debacle has managed to knock me down a peg. Don't get me wrong, I will still likely waltz through life with an ego larger than it should be, but this somewhat puts things in perspective. Realistically, it also has something to do with the mental hurdle of turning 23--I guess it's more about coming to terms with one's own mortality, something I had never really considered before this whole shinding, and something I very much realize now. So in short, I really do feel the need at this point to apologize to anyone that I've really, truly hurt or offended by being a completely self absorbed and arrogant bastard. In particular a positively lovely Korean princepessa. You know who Yoo are (though you're probably not reading this. Fair call).

In other news, I've recently discovered that I have the ability to see how many people view my blog, from what countries they've viewing it, etc. Which has led me to a few really cool discoveries (basically, blogspot opened up a Pandora's Box when they allowed me to discover this. I love numbers and geography, and when they provide me with color-coded maps of my viewership, it's just asking for trouble):

1) My blog recently surpassed 1,500 views all time. So a big, big, big thanks to all my readers! Obviously, 1,500 views is nothing remarkable, but I'll take it. Really big thank you!
2) My blog is pretty popular in Slovenia. That's the country with the 9th most blog hits, despite being the world's 145th most populous country. So hvala to Slovenians everywhere for being mad-dogs and reading this blog!
3) There appears to be a pretty frequent reader from Russia using to get to this blog. I'd be really really interested in hearing from this Russian (if you do indeed exist, and it's not just me misinterpreting the data), so if you'd be so kind as to drop me an email at, I'd be really interested to hear how you found the blog, what you enjoy about it, what you hate about it, etc. (that goes for everyone who reads this blog, really, do feel free, but the random Russian in particular!)
4) My blog about the testicle injury became the 3rd most viewed post after about 2 days. Go figure :-D

Some other assorted musings:

Manchester United play Arsenal tomorrow. Chances of Arsenal winning that match are probably about 10%, so let's see United go out there and run them over

My team is coming along nicely. I've managed to import a few excellent players, and I'm pretty pleased with the progress

As the baseball season comes to a close, my Chicago Cubs are once again going to miss the playoffs. For my friends abroad that aren't familiar with the Cubs futility, their last championship was...get ready for this...


Yes, 103 years ago was the Cubs' last championship. They haven't even made the championship since 1945.

I'll likely be taking a day-trip this week to visit my brother at Northern Illinois University, he's currently living in a frat house there (phi something or other), and given my immense boredom at home, lack of a job, lack of a drivers' license (wallet being lost in Beijing saw to that), and lack of car insurance (given that I was planning on leaving for >1 year, my parents took me off the insurance), why not just drive an hour out to NIU and back?! So that should be a good change of scenery. Apart from that, things are just continuing to move right along here. It's been a mortifyingly boring week, but I've only spent like $4, so at least I'm saving some coin for Asia. More rants to come as I feel like telling them.

And thanks again for 1,500 views! Pretty cool stuff.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Injury So Unfortunate, It Merited Flying Home From China

Please BE WARNED: The following blog contains graphic depictions of a horrible bodily injury that I recently suffered in Beijing.

I've been fortunate in my travels across the world over the last few years. With the exception of one stolen bike in the Netherlands (which, in retrospect, was partially my fault in that I only had a wheel-lock and not a chain-lock), I've been able to avoid much thievery, injury, and general misfortune while traversing two oceans and four continents.

This all changed during my first 2 weeks in Beijing. As my last post outlined, my first night in Beijing ended with my wallet being gone, which was pretty inconvenient, but still manageable. The events of Thursday, August 18th, however, are something I will never be able to fully wrap my mind around.

It all started with a game of cricket. Some of the British kids from the program and a handful of Peking University students decided to play a bit of pickup cricket, which was a nice throwback to my days at HKU with their cricket club. After a little bit of playing, I was standing fairly nearby the batsman (as is common) when he hit the cricket ball directly into my groin. At about 90 miles per hour. Needless to say, I was on the ground writhing for the better part of 30 minutes, simply not knowing what to do. By this time it was evening, and there was no way I was going to try to find my way to a Chinese hospital. Shortly after the incident, my balls began swelling incredibly quickly--by morning they were literally grapefruit-sized. Anyway, now that we all have a wonderful mental image of grapefruit-sized balls... the next day I decided to go to Mandarin class in the morning and teach that afternoon, fulfilling my duties first, then go to the hospital after teaching. I ended up taking a cab with Victor, one of our program's Mandarin professors and a fully bilingual Chinese man, to a wealthy expatriate hospital in central Beijing. Upon walking into the hospital, I was pretty relieved to see that every other patient was either white or Middle-Eastern, which lured me into the false sense of security that this hospital would include English-speaking doctors and good facilities. Upon walking into the first doctor's office, I was asked to remove my pants. His two-word response to what he saw was incredibly discouraging... "Big problem!" He then left the room immediately. After that lovely bit of encouragement, Victor explained to me that the situation probably was not quite so bad--he reasoned that the doctor's English was quite poor, so while he may have had a more thorough and less pessimistic observation to make, he couldn't do so in English, so he simply said the simplest phrase he could think of while also somewhat describing the problem. Just as well there wasn't a fully fluent translator in the room, otherwise that argument would make no sense. Anyway, so I ended up getting an ultrasound at this Chinese hospital (bit awkward certainly) and the verdict was that there was no permanent damage (thank God), but that if the swelling doesn't go down in 2 weeks or so, I'll need to get an operation. He also told me to make sure to ice it. A brief side note: there is NO ice in China. They DO NOT BELIEVE IN ICE. It is, quite literally, the worst country in the world to find ice. Consequently, I was using popsicles to ice it for several days.

So the hospital visit was borderline encouraging in that there was no permanent damage, but a bit iffy, given that they'd basically implied I wouldn't be healed for a couple of weeks. Given that I was living in the amazingly interesting megacity that is Beijing, the prospect of being utterly incapacitated and resigned to my hotel room almost 24 hours per day was just devastating. After 3-4 days of basically hanging out in the room and leaving only for class and meals, the swelling wasn't really improving much, and there was starting to be a devastating pain when I stood up to walk anywhere. At this point, I had a chat with Scutt about what he would do in this situation, and he basically told me he'd without question go home and get the situation taken care of, then try to come back to China as soon as possible. After Skyping with the parents and going over the situation, we decided that it would be best if I came home. Yes, that's correct, Blaine Curcio, the kid who has to be on the brink of death in order to go from his house back home to the doctor's office--a 10 minute drive--decided to come home from Beijing, in order to get a medical problem taken care of. Should give one an idea of how bad the situation was, I guess.

On the morning of Wednesday August 17th, I went to Beijing's Capital Airport, hoping to catch a flight using a "Friends and Family" ticket from a good friend of my dad's. The beauty of this program is that the ticket is dirt cheap...the drawback is that I am not guaranteed a seat on the plane until about 1 hour before the flight, and if the plane is full that day, I'm not getting on it--better luck tomorrow. So at around 4:00pm, I went to the ticket counter asking about whether I can get on the plane or not. The ticket agent had a rather concerned look on her face, and was telling me "well there's still a chance you'll get on the plane... one moment". As I stood there, I realized that going home was certainly the correct choice, given that the pain in my groin caused by standing was enough to make me come close to collapsing. After several minutes that were agonizing both due to the pain and the uncertainty of whether I would be spending this night in Beijing Airport or getting on this plane in an hour, the ticket agent told me that there was one ticket left, and I got it. If I was nearly collapsing due to pain the minute before, I nearly collapsed from relief at this point. I basically ran through security.

Three minutes after the flight, the very Asian (read: inconsiderate) man in front of me threw his seat back with such vigor that I nearly ended up with a shattered kneecap. And such was the case for the next 12 and a half hours of my life. Also--the entertainment on United was complete crap as always. United is the only airline I've been on that still doesn't give everyone their own TV screen on trans-Pacific flights--even Air Canada did it!

So I got home. In the line for passport control, I nearly collapsed again from pain. Not good. The next day I saw a renowned surgeon who is also the brother of a close family friend. His reaction after asking me to remove my pants was simply

"This is better than it was before?!"
"Yeah. The swelling used to be about 3 times that size."

Not encouraging. Anyway, after seeing this surgeon and a urologist, the verdict was such: I suffered a minor hernia and what the urologist called "massive testicular trauma". Fortunately, there was no permanent damage, so I will one day be able to grace the world with offspring, but for the time being I'm basically in a bit of an iffy situation. It looks like I'll be able to return to China sometime in late September/early October. I've been informed by the teaching program that I can possibly get my visa reissued, but it's a bit questionable. If that doesn't work out, I've been applying like mad for jobs in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Singapore, Shanghai, and Beijing. Worst case scenario, I can just go back to Shenzhen and tutor English for 250 yuan per hour. At any rate, it seems the most important thing I can do for myself now (and by now I mean in the next year or so) is learn Mandarin Chinese. Every trip I've taken to China has just further confirmed my feelings that China is going to be the world's economic powerhouse, and soon. Therefore, Mandarin is a MUST! And of course, the best place to learn Mandarin is... not Chicago. So it looks like it's the Orient for me for the foreseeable future, at least as soon as my testicles heal.

So what can we learn from this whole situation? Like I said before, prior to this, my luck had been pretty good when traveling abroad. I'd been pretty careless about safety in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, etc., so I guess eventually it would have to catch up to me. It's also going to be a hilarious story to look back on once everything is healed and I'm not walking around with a horrendous pain in my groin. And perhaps, just maybe, this will all work out for the best if I don't get my teaching job back, but do get some great job with a consulting firm or something of that nature in Hong Kong. In which case I'd have to devote the rest of my life to popularizing cricket in the US, so that other young men like myself can have their manhood all but destroyed only to have it be beneficial to them in the long run. Or not. But seriously, this whole situation reminds me (just as did the bike theft from July 2010 in NL) of the story of the zen master:

“So there’s a small village somewhere, and in this small village a farmer’s horse runs away, and all the villagers say “oh how terrible, the horse ran away”. And the Zen Master said, “we’ll see”. Two days later, the horse returns, bringing with it three more wild horses. Everyone says “Ah, how wonderful, now the farmer has 4 horses to tend to his crops!” and the Zen Master says, “we’ll see”. A short while later, the farmer’s son is riding one of the untamed horses, and he falls and mangles his leg. All the townspeople say “oh how horrible, his leg is broken”. “We’ll see”, said the Zen Master. A couple of weeks later, a war breaks out. All the young men are required to go fight in the war, except for the boy with the mangled leg. All the townspeople say “oh how wonderful”, and of course, the Zen Master replies… “we’ll see”.

Big thanks to anyone who's read this far, hope you got a laugh out of my immense misery, more to come as updates flow in!

Also please note: anyone reading this that's in the Chicagoland area--if you are around at all during the next month and want to hang out, let me know! Most of my good friends from home are either back at school for a 5th year, doing grad school, or have moved elsewhere, so if you want to see THE Blaine Curcio before I leave for China again, shoot me an email (

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Arrival in China

So it's currently my 4th day here in Beijing. I've finished teaching a bit earlier than expected, and for the first time during these 4 days, I actually have a bit of time to take a seat and type something up for this blog in my wonderful, air-conditioned hotel room. It should be noted that the A/C is the most essential thing here--outside is 90 degrees, humid, and did I mention MASSIVELY polluted. The air quality here makes Hong Kong look like the Andes Mountains, really just disgraceful stuff. We've also been doing an insane amount of walking, which has resulted in requiring to drink literally a couple gallons of water/tea/Pocari Sweat to stay hydrated.

Anyway, so let's start from the beginning. Flew out of Chicago a few days ago for Beijing, connecting in Toronto. Flight to Toronto went smoothly, and after a 2 hour layover involving the obligatory Tim Horton's coffee and donuts, I hopped on the 13 hour flight to BJ. I was quite shocked when the person I was sitting next to on the plane turned to me and asked "Are you by chance going to teach in Shenzhen this year?" So right away, I'd made my first friend. After the 13 hour flight, I met a few others in the Beijing airport who were doing this program, and, as directed, we just sort of hung out in the arrivals hall for a couple of hours (just as well we'd not just flown halfway around the world) for the coordinator to arrive. About 1.5 hours after my arrival, I heard a deep London accent from behind me say "hey Blaine, how's it going?" Sure enough, it was John Scutt, a good friend of mine from when I was at HKU, and one who would be doing this yearlong program with me. After catching up for a few minutes, we decided it would be rude not to have a good night out after having not seen one another for a year, and as Scutt had spent ~2 weeks in Beijing previously, he knew a good place to go. Late evening rolled around and we showed up at our hotel, prepared to sleep for an hour and a half before orientation. Remarkably, we made it to orientation on time, and were pretty on it in terms of participation.

Starting on our 2nd day, we were teaching. I'm teaching a group of about 25 Chinese kids with incredibly varying levels of English, and have two other teachers that I'm teaching with for the first few weeks. Most of the students in the class are the children of Peking University faculty, and are therefore well-off, well-educated, and well-behaved, something which we've been assured will almost certainly not be the case in Shenzhen. We're teaching in classrooms of Peking University, and taking Mandarin Chinese courses here as well. Given that PKU is the most prestigious universities in China, it should look pretty good on a resume. Also--PKU is basically a city within itself. I have no idea how big the campus is, but I'd imagine the walk from one end to the other would take close to an hour. There are tons of shops, houses, and an underground mall within the university's walls, and basically all the buildings look the same, which makes finding one's way around pretty difficult. Our hotel is just across the street from PKU, and is located within a Chinese Sports Complex. From here, the center of Beijing is about 30 minutes away by subway, and the subway station is about a 20 minute walk from here. Needless to say, most of the people on this program have not made the 1 hour trip into the center of town, mainly because it seems most of the people on the program are pretty content just hanging around the hotel.

The schedule here has been pretty packed, with Mandarin lessons every morning from 8:30-10:20, then TEFL courses from 10:30-11:30, lunch until 1:00, then teaching in the afternoon followed by planning for the following day. All things considered, we'll usually start working around 8:30 and be finished by 6:30pm or so. This schedule will be 7 days/week while in Beijing, though once we get to Shenzhen it seems that the consensus is that we'll be working ~15 hours per week. Thus far Mandarin has come pretty easy, with a lot of everyday phrases being used. Today I was able to ask a shopkeeper how much for a bottle of water, understood his response, and even threw in a thank-you. Practically fluent!

Yesterday we were shown the different districts of SZ on a map, and given a brief overview of each of them. It looks like the district I'll be trying to stay in is Luohu, which is closest to Hong Kong, and probably the best combination of low prices and proximity to worthwhile things.

Anyway, that's about all that's gone on the first few days. I understand that this blog post is 1) rather short, and 2) very choppy, but these few days have been somewhat uneventful. More updates to come as the Beijing adventure continues.