Friday, January 29, 2010

Bag 'Em and Tag 'Em, Pt. 3

The following account details experiences that, though due in no part at all to my own efforts, I believe to be possible only in the country I am currently in. Sort of.

Also, this post is stinkin' long. And it is long long long overdue. Sorry. Many of the events occurred when I was younger, better looking, and less mature.

(1) Screen Golf

I suck at golf. I took a class on it during May Term at Central Lyon; the two main things I remember are about Hoff. Once, he hit such a big divot that he picked up the earth that he'd dislodged and put it in his golf bag as a trophy. Another time, we decided it'd be fun to tee off my foot. Hoff didn't connect with the ball at all, but he smashed my Nike shoe as hard as he could with his 3 wood.

So when Jeff Hunt told me to come screen golfing with him, I was leery. I had heard a bit about screen golf and how it was neat activity that was popular in this fair city, but I didn't really know what it was. Nevertheless, I decided to go for it, more to hang out with Jeff than anything else.

After misplacing my classroom key, losing my T-Money card, getting stuck in traffic on the Hae Bang Chon hill, and sprinting to Sukdae Station, I finally located Jeff and a fellow teacher of his in Hapjeong. We went to the screen golf place and, well, golfed nine holes. Basically, there is a big sheet on one wall, and a computerized simulation of a golf course is projected onto it. After typing in your names, like you'd do at a bowling alley, you get your club, put your li'l ball on the tee, and hit the thing as hard as you'd hit on a real course. The ball hits the screen, which then decides how straight and far it would have gone. The entire thing is done via video simulation. The program keeps score for you; you can't have over ten swings on any given hole...which is nice.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Part of it could have been that I won, barely. Part of it could have been how dangerous it seemed; we were in room the size of my living room at home, and we swung as hard as we could. Fun! I think one or two of us came close to getting hit, but the screen absorbs most of the ball's force, so.

I'd go again.

More info on this strange activity: Earth Times, New York Times,

(2) Seoraksan

On Friday, November 6, several teachers piled themselves onto a bus after school and struck out for Seoraksan, this legendary hilly hiking area near the east coast of Korea. The ride took a few hours and we landed at some hotel out there in the middle of the night. Mark, Jordan, Larry, and I (no, the link is not to a picture of us at a jjimjilbang) trekked out to a jjimjilbang for a few hours and came back and went to bed, for the next day would be taxing in every way possible.

We got up at 7, had breakfast, and drove to Seoraksan National Park, where we ran into hundreds and hundreds of other hikers. All that I'd heard about this place was that it was completely gorgeous, especially a couple weeks prior to when we were there, as that was the peak fall season and all the leaves were in prime viewing condition. We didn't get to see that, but the word was that the place was much more crowded then than it was while we were there.

Our fearless hiking captain and resident chaplain, Mr. Larry Nickel, immediately lead us up to the top of a peak. Based on my previous hiking experience on Bukhansan, I figured the excursion would take forever and ever and be very difficult. It was not. We got up the mountain without much trouble in about two hours; we camped out on the top and ate and read and hung about, in true weekend fashion.

The descent was quick and painless, as was the scenic trek back to the entrance to the park. Jordan had an epiphany and converted to Buddhism during this part of the journey.

And it was only about 2 p.m., so we piled into a gondola and went up another mountain. This one was taller; the view was better. I really like this photo, but I cannot explain why. Possibly the Boston subway system shirt. Or "The Player" shirt. Who knows.

The tram didn't go to the top, so we climbed up close to the peak and paraded around and dared each other to jump and what have you. Then Mark and I went all the way to the top of the thing. This was the coolest part of the trip. We sat around up there and could see everything. It was very quiet, and it got dark in a way that our initial mountain climb had not been at all.

After that we climbed down and fatigue set in. The bus driver picked us up, we drove back to Yongsan, and I went to bed. And it was good.

(3) COEX Aquarium

So. A long time ago, last year, in fact, a one Mark Nola constructed a rugged band of individuals for a trip to the COEX Mall across the river to tour the COEX Aquarium there. The crew was comprised of Mark's esteemed mother, our dangerous colleague Caleen, Mark himself, and me.

The plot was simple: we looked at fish and other water animals. Thus, most of what is conveyed is best conveyed photographically. Oh. And. I stole many of Mark's pictures from Facebook.

Here we have a large, stupid turtle. It looked very startled and crabby when noticing any and all who came to it.

This is how fish are treated in South Korea, sometimes.

This is how foreigners are treated in South Korea, sometimes.

Mark and I making some obviously clever observations about sea life.

Starfish. Reminiscent of those viewable at the Parting of the Sea Festival in Jindo.

This one's for Christina Haggar, world-renowned lover of penguins.

Some awesome jellyfish. I wonder what it'd be like to step on one of those.

A big blue watery road.

A wild deep sea scene. Contrary to popular belief, I was hoping to take a picture of the fish and not the pretty woman here. Sigh.

The fiend of the sea: my favorite ocean beast.

Fish and eels: a deadly combo.

Hey, good lookin'.

Bigger but equally attractive in appearance.

An altar to individuals who love both baseball and marine life. Or, maybe it's for people who love baseball and hate marine life.

Literacy Awareness. Swing.

(4) 63 Building and Contemporary Art Museum

Over Christmas break Mr. Jordan Williams and I decided to make a day trip out of the Yongsan area and see some other areas of interest; namely, the 63 Building in Yeouido and the Contemporary Art Museum out in the middle of nowhere.

Smile! Because we're not very close to where we're going yet (the large golden building).

After plodding around in the cold for about a hundred hours we finally took the structure by storm. And I took a bunch of pictures of Seoul from up top.

This direction is north. We live sort of under that li'l white tower on the hill. Also worth noting is how the top of the photo is a beautiful clear blue and then how there is a grim haze of pollution between the blue sky and the earth.



More south.

West-ish. Very uniform. The tall buildings on the horizon are in Mok-dong, I think. Where I used to live in the days of yesteryear.

Northwest. The river was all frozen over, which is saying something, and it looked pretty neat. We threw snow down on it in an attempt to break its icy mask while walking over.


And then we left. We headed to Seoul Grand Park, which is out in the boonies in Gwacheon on Line 4. Allegedly. We paraded around the contemporary art exhibits for a while. No pictures were taken. I felt like the attendants on duty were very skeptical of our presence there. But, nonetheless, we overcame this obstacle and: saw some cool stuff.

Then we headed for home, made some eggs, toast, and bacon, and watched "Where the Wild Things Are." Depressing. But, all in all, a good day.

(5) "The Nutcracker"

Right before Christmas, Megan "And What Better Way to Say 'I Love You' Than with the Gift of a Spatula?" Schwartz left Korea for a spell, so I met up her and some of her friends for tacos in Gangnam. After that, she was going to meet with someone I didn't know, but her friends said they were going to see "The Nutcracker" at the Seoul Performing Arts Center. Going out on a limb, I invited myself.

We went. They'd reserved their tickets, but there were plenty of empty seats, so I got a ticket near them and we went and watched a slough of Korean dancers perform "The Nutcracker." I'd never seen it performed before. No words, just dancing and orchestra music. Very well done. The hall in which is was performed was ridiculous. It reminded me of the Guthrie. And I felt quite under-dressed. But I have gotten used to that in this city.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ice Ice Baby

There has been a seemingly inexplicable chill in Seoul this week of January 11. The temperature has been no less than absolutely freezing since school at CCS resumed on Monday. The record low temperature in Seoul was -16.7 Celsius, or 1.9 Fahrenheit, 2004. Which isn’t really the impressive. The coldest that it’s gotten this week has been -15.3 Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit). Which, again, doesn’t seem that bad on paper.

However. The pipes in Mr. Williams’ house froze and he had to take a shower at some lame gym yesterday. I have a sneaking suspicion that a pipe in my own building has burst because I can see water seeping through the wall in a corner in my bedroom. In an effort to prevent any more of that happening, my landlord came in and turned my heat on for me, ending my streak of having it on for zero days so far since moving in last August. He told me leave the heat on (I think; really, he could have told me I have awful breath or that he believes I’m Satan himself), and I’m sort of grateful. I have started sleeping on the floor to stave off the chilly weather. It works well. But it doesn’t matter as soon as I leave the safety of my abode. The cold makes almost any activity that involves travel seem grossly unattractive. Walking anywhere is unpleasant enough; then consider standing around waiting for a bus. Even being in our school, which has caused every student and most teachers, especially those who stay until later hours of the night, substantial discomfort because of the freezing hallways and arctic bathrooms, is an alarmingly cold experience. There is a splash of urine frozen onto the side of one of the urinals. Bah.

However! Despite these frigid conditions, I have been delighted to see some people taking heart and not backing down in the face of Mother Nature. I try to do this by saying, “This is nothing, I’m from Iowa. We get this all the time.” But I’ve been shown up many times. Yesterday a student opened the door to the classroom and said, “We’re playing basketball on the roof; come up.” After I laughed at the idea, I realized that it could be fun, and so I went up and played (and got beat), but I was sweating and took my coat off and didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

Additionally, the story “To Build a Fire” snaked through the curriculum this week, which was appropriate because, if you are not familiar with this particular tale, it’s about a -72 degree Fahrenheit day in the life of a man in the Yukon in Alaska. Very good story, and I jokingly said that we should go out onto the roof and read it. But- wouldn’t you know it- many students hollered, “Let’s go out to the roof, Mr. Haggar!” So we did. It wasn’t that bad. On the way back I grabbed some snow and had someone open the door to Mr. Williams’ room so I could throw the snowball in. Then later he burst into my room during class and slid a huge block of ice over to me. He’d gotten it from his house; something had been dripping from his roof and it had accumulated, and then the dudes who fixed his frozen pipes had knocked it down. Sad. But now I have it. Holla.

Anyway. For a while, during Christmas, I missed the Midwest because I heard it was snowy and freezing and all that there, and I was here, where, at the time, there was no snow. But now, the winter has come full circle; ridiculous hats and warm scarves have had to been brought out. Long johns are a must. And this icy video keeps me warm. Count it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Maligayang Pasko

Last year the holiday season was one of despair and isolation for me. Thus, this year I really wanted to spend some time with an actual family. When the lottery was drawn, the unfortunate clan I sought to victimize was a clan with which my family has ancient, bloody ties. That clan has run with mine. They've painted with mine. They've trekked through Hong Kong and southern China with mine. Clearly, a suitable bond had been formed, and I booked a ticket to fly south to the Philippines to shack up with the Caldwell family, Larry, Mary, Jesse, and Katie, for the 2009 Christmas Season.

I left my apartment in Seoul at 5:37 a.m. on December the 23rd and made it to the airport half an hour before my flight was supposed to leave. I thought I was cutting it close, but some dame scampered onto the plane after I did. She sat next to me and then proceeded to take six pictures of herself before the flight attendant told her to stow her portable device away. When the attendant went away, she took nine more photos. Of herself. Same shot. Freak.

The plane deposited me at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (which, literally translated, means “The Sound a Dog Makes Right Before It Throws Up International Airport”) and Larry, the noble head of the Caldwell family, picked me up. We traveled to his lovely home on the hillside, but soon I was whisked off to blow up balloons for an event that will be explained later. The rest of the day was spent reading and laying low.

Briefly, and not to be pretentious, some info, stream-of-consciousness-style, on the Philippines: the official language is Tagalog, which uses Roman characters. So it was a nice break from deciphering Korean all the time, though I still didn't know what any of the words meant. English used to be a co-official language, but I was told that it is no longer. Wikipedia says it is. Who knows. Most people still know a bit, regardless. A major mode of transportation is the Jeepney, which is a jeep that traverses a certain route and gives rides and has super cheap fare. I rode one. Super. They're often elaborately decorated. It's a third-world country. Quite a contrast from Seoul, even from where I live in Yongsan. It's very hot, which didn't stop me from wearing my flannel and Bethel rugby hoodie all the way to the Caldwell's place of residence. It's a very Catholic country. A squad of pretty young women stands in the terminal at the airport and greets everyone who enters the country, which is a great incentive never to try to sneak in. There is a decent amount of poverty. Kids came and knocked on the gate almost everyday, hoping to get money for singing Christmas carols. Tipping is treated in the opposite way that it is treated in Korea, where one never tips. Manila has a nice skyline that I never got a good picture of, much to my chagrin. Basketball is king. One thing I noticed was that anyone who was wearing a basketball jersey was wearing a Filipino one, not an American one, which are the only ones seen in Seoul (I'm actually thinking much more of baseball caps). But they seemed to have their sports down, whether it was basketball or soccer or what have you. The place reminded me a lot of Mexico. The language was spoken all quick-like, the people appear physically similar, the currency is the peso (46 pesos to the dollar), and it was dang warm. Yup. Now I know. And, now, so do you.

And you know how in 'Merica you've got your toilet paper perforated into small pieces, so maybe you take two pieces and fold them together like I do, just to be safe? Well the perforation on the toilet paper in the airport was spaced out twice as far as it is on American toilet paper, so one piece in Ninoy Aquino International Airport is like two in the United States!

Christmas Eve! Most of the day was spent taking it super easy. I went to the mall with Jesse to look for Christmas gifts. Here I discovered what may very well be my calling in life. To set the stage: the week prior, I had gone with Mr. Jordan Williams to some illegal DVD shop to find films to purchase. There is no rhyme or reason to how the DVD's in this shop are categorized, but despite these odds, I located five of the six movies that he wanted. Initially, I just chalked this up to coincidence, but, in an equally-unorganized but far more legal movie shop at the Taytay Mall in Manila, I located the one movie that we were searching for. “No Country For Old Men.” Mrs. Kim, watch out for my letter of resignation soon as I leave to pursue this which I am obviously so much more equipped for.

We also attended a candle light service at the Caldwells' church and then went to look at Christmas lights afterward. When we got back, a lasagne feast occurred. Lasagne happens to be the traditional my own family consumes every Christmas Eve without fail. I ate with tears in my eyes.

Christmas Day! We got up early and drove to some woman's home to hand out bags of rice and canned goods (along with balloons) to, ya know, whoever needed it. We got out of the van and were just plodding along and as we turned onto this lady's street we were met with a throng of folks. Now I tend to exaggerate quite a bit of what goes onto this blog, like that I have a job and friends, but it was a huge crowd. And we handed out the bags of rice and canned stuff (along with balloons) for about an hour and a half, and we had more than enough, and it was pretty cool.

Then it was back to the lovely Caldwell home and time for presents to be opened. They were kind! They bought me a shirt and some other items to remember the ol' place by! So nice. We got all that taken care of and took naps and then got ready for an enormous four-family dinner banquet, which began in the late afternoon and went on until everyone was satisfied. Delicious food, wild games, Christmas banter, superb dishwashing. This party had it all. Late into the night, all the participants left and all was still in the house once again.

The following day was the interim day, the one between the Christmas wildness and the Mindoro wildness. Lots more dishes got washed, many clothes got packed for the forthcoming trip, and debris from the night before was removed from sight. The main event of this Saturday was that I got beat in a mutated version of “h-o-r-s-e” (Do I capitalize this? What kind of title is it? Bah.) by basketball phenom Katie Caldwell. To recap, yes, I lost to an eight-grade girl. But she was good! And it was hard to concentrate because every once in a while, the Caldwell's neighbor, who was playing “fetch” (Do I capitalize this? What kind of title is this? Bah!) with the dog, would send a large dangerous stick sailing through the middle of our game. Coulda been through the middle of my face if she hadn't yelled. Maybe next year, Debbie.

We struck out at the butt crack of dawn on the 27th for a boat ride that would take us to a wild port in Puerto Galera. We successfully gained entrance onto the boat and made the hour trip from Manila and Luzon, where the Caldwells are, to Sabang and Mindoro, where the wild things are. Sabang is a resort town in the municipality of Puerto Galera, which is located in the province of Oriental Mindoro, which is easternmost on the island of Mindoro, which is the seventh-largest island in the Philippines, which is the twelfth most populated country on Earth, which is the fifth-largest planet in the solar system of our main sequence G2 star that contains 99.86 percent of the system's known mass and dominates it gravitationally. I won a geography bee in fifth grade, no joke.

Anyway. We got to the Red Sun Dive Resort and took control of our rooms; Jesse and I had our own, and Larry, Mary, and Katie had their own. The rest of the day was pretty chill. The Caldwells learned a few things about me on this day, such as the fact that I suck at snorkeling, I eat super super slow, I burn easily, and I am rotten at Hearts. Sorry.

This is Mindoro. The lower part is the beachy resort area where all the tourists live. Then further back is huge uncharted mountains. They were often blanketed in clouds and looked ominous and awesome even while the rest of the place was sunny and pleasant. Larry said that if they dropped me off in the middle of Mindoro, I'd never find my way out. Then he said that they probably wouldn't be able to, either, at least for a while. And then he said that in 1996 a Japanese soldier was discovered wandering around back there. He'd just been living in the jungle for, oh, fifty-some years, thinking that the Japanese empire was still winning World War II.

The Red Sun Dive Resort. At first when Mary told me that that was the name of where we'd be staying I thought it was literally going to be a crappy shack to sleep on the floor in. You know, a dive.

Our room; my roommate.

The next day was basically a carbon copy of the one before it, but without the traveling, and with a National Geographic special called “Scrapbooks from Hell” instead of “Bedtimes Stories” as the movie for the evening. Other things that happened: I got better at snorkeling and more burned. Jesse and I swam a hundred nautical miles. I read a hundred nautical pages of “Things Fall Apart.”

The view from our porch during the day.

The view from our porch during the night.

We rose early on the 29th and had a buffet breakfast. Larry told me some awesome stories about my dad, one of which involved a hundred dollar reward on my father's head. After the meal we took a boat around the island to Manila Strait, which is nowhere near Manila, and threw ourselves overboard to snorkel for a while. By this time I had got a handle on how one goes about snorkeling and could do it at least somewhat efficiently, which allowed me to join the Caldwells in viewing the wild coral extravaganza that lay beneath the lovely waters. However, near the end of our scenic experience in that particular area, I stepped on what is commonly referred to as a long-spined sea urchin.

Larry said he'd had this happen to him before. I asked him what happened, and he casually said, “I almost died” over his shoulder. I didn't know whether to focus on the tone or the content of this answer. Then I asked him what I should do, and he told me to pee on me foot.

Maybe you reacted the same way I did (with a gasp due to insane foot pain) to that. Then Mary fleshed out the story a bit more. Larry had stepped straight down on an urchin and several spines went way into his foot. Then they had to walk about a mile down the beach to where they were staying; no easy task. Some kids who were playing nearby figured out what had happened and were all laughed and yelling, “Pee! Pee!” (sort of like Clayton when he drinks too much soda). Finally they reached the school; they told the beautiful young nurse what had happened, and she said, “Well, uh, you have to urinate on it.” Pause. “Do you want me to do it?”

This tale was told several times over the course of the next couple days, and at this part in the story, Mary always said, “So I said, 'No way!'” and Larry always said, “So I said, 'Well...'”

Anyway. We landed on another beach and I went to a deserted corner (twenty feet from where we set up shop) and peed all over my foot and sandal. It didn't really help. Everyone left, too.

After a while the throbbing pain stopped and the Caldwells returned from wherever they'd gone snorkeling next and we went over to Long Beach and fed fish, and then returned to our illustrious hotel. A passive reading spell ensued, and then Mary and I played Scrabble, and then Larry said we should go for a run.

Now. For many readers (“many” being a relative term, because there are few readers to begin with) such an invitation may strike fear into your hearts. Why? Because it is safe to assume that a run with Larry Caldwell is no ordinary run. No. We are talking about an individual who coaches cross country professionally, an individual who set six track records at Bethel University, an individual who ran a 4:10 mile. Which is how my dad knows Larry: they ran together in high school at Lincoln in Sioux Falls and at Bethel in St. Paul. One of those high school years the Lincoln cross country team had six of the top ten runners in the state of South Dakota, which is ridiculous. So if you were that sixth guy on the team, you were a stud, but your score didn't even count at the state meet. Another one of those years at Lincoln my dad, Larry, and some dude named Brad were all winning the mile and held hands as the crossed the finish line. One. Two. Three. Their coach got mad. There is a sweet picture of this floating around somewhere, I think. And once at Bethel, after a particularly grueling stretch of practices and meets, my dad and Larry were running a race, and at one point, Larry just ran off the track and into a corn field. When questioned later, he said that he had gotten sick of running in circles.

And that, ladies and gents, is why the opportunity to run with such a man was intimidating. But, at the same time, a part of me felt honored to get to take part in what I consider to be a long-standing tradition. I do not know how the Caldwell children view our fathers' relationship, but in the Haggar family, the Haggar-Caldwell duo is a legend, something that was hilarious and incredible, something that we, the younger generation, perhaps hoped to emulate in our track careers. Michael had a successful track and cross country record; he went to state in track. Christina went to state in multiple sports in high school and ran track at Bethel. I threw up in the Living History Farms Road Race '07 after getting beaten by some six-year-old kid.

Anyway. Larry, Jesse, and I walked out to the opposite end of the bay, viewed a beautiful sunset from a pseudo-lighthouse, and then jogged back through the hills and streets of Sabang. There were multiple firecrackers set off near/at us. There was a race near/at the end, one that I got ahead in by dashing through the ocean and soaking a couple that was blocking our path with sea water. And there was this moment of silence as we solemnly ran past three old Filipinos who were sitting next to the road, and suddenly the silence was interrupted by the fusillade of flatulence from our fearless leader.

Also, that night, Jesse ate an entire pizza in the time it took me to eat half of one.

The boat that took us here and there and everywhere, and its captain.

The beach where I peed on my foot.

Jesse havin' at it.

The pool at the hotel. Jeez.

We left on the following day, December 30; good-bye paradise, good-bye vendors. Back at the Old Manse in Manila, we watched a hundred movies: “Snatch” (which I said did not get my “stamp of approval” as far as appropriate-ness, but we still watched for a good half-hour), “Good Boy!” (which we didn't get to see the end of), and “Cry Freedom” (which was awesome, and which a student of mine wrote a report about that I read a few days later...count it).

New Year's Eve. Finally 2009 comes to a close. Another seemingly chill day, but an epic event reared its head midway through the day: an Anne Hathaway movie marathon. Katie and I watched “The Princess Diaries” and then took a long break before resuming the marathon later. The New Year's Eve festivities revolved around the school that Mary works at, Faith Academy. There was a alumni basketball game that was quite entertaining. There a few moments spent at the home of a couple who Larry and Mary are friends with; I mention this only because in the course of conversation, the topic of explosives and bombs came up, and the guy who the home belonged to decided to try to make a Drano bomb; as he was putting chunk after chunk of aluminum foil into a huge empty Coke bottle, he remarked to the resident chemistry teacher, “So what kind of reaction are we going to get here?” Lord. Larry and I soon left and watched Jesse dominant other high schoolers in a soccer game, his sport of choice. We then went up to the school's tennis courts, from where many eager viewers were watching Manila celebrate New Year's.

And just how is that done? Well. Everyone in the city of nineteen or so million (give or take a few million after this particular night) gets a bunch of firecrackers and fireworks and sets them off. All night. Before we'd left the Caldwell home, we'd shut all the windows and put sheets up over the Christmas tree so that drifting smoke from the celebration would not come in and blanket the ol' place in soot. A few years back, the Caldwells had lived more within the city; on New Year's the police had come to their house and advised them not to be there that night. Another year they came back and there was a bullet hole through one of the pillows in a bedroom in their house. Policemen shooting their guns into the air and jubilant citizens setting tires on fire was also reported to be a threat.

Fortunately, Faith Academy is way up on a hill, much like Centennial Christian is. Both have a neat view of the city. So we sat up there from 10:30 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. watching thousands and thousands of fireworks erupt. Some guy's dad had been in World War II and the dad had said that being in Manila on New Year's was louder than any battle he'd ever been in. And, indeed, it did look and sound like a war. Bottle rockets were erupting everywhere, coloring explosions of fireworks dotted the horizon, and bright spots of light flashed each second. It was reminiscent of moments during professional baseball or football (but not basketball...never basketball) games that are key, and tons of people take photographs with the flash on, so they are all going off sporadically. Or certain scenes from apocalyptic movies where everything is blowing up.

Witnessing all that also brought another thought to my mind: this type of thing is what so cool about traveling and experiencing new places and cultures. Who knew that this was how the Philippines celebrated New Year's? I'd never heard about this, and there I was, and it was awesome. If you put yourself out there, that type of crap can happen all the time. It probably isn't going to be as widespread or as wild as this was, but I couldn't help but think about how this was something that was reinforcing my decision about being away from the Midwest.

After 2009 had breathed its last, we returned and continued the Anne Hathaway marathon by starting “The Devil Wears Prada” at 1:15 a.m. My accomplice, the remote control handler, fell asleep quickly (she hates Meryl Streep, I think), but I stuck it out until the movie had played for 52:15, at which point the disc just stopped playing. I didn't want to wake Katie up, nor did I want to not know what happened to Andy Sachs, so I fast-forwarded to 52:00 and watched it stop abruptly again. After a couple more tries, I realized there were two discs. VCD's. Who knew.

New Year's Day was also quite relaxing; a lot of reading and relaxing got done, as well as another run and an intense game of Settlers of Cataan at another family's house. I lost. Pretty badly. And we called Emily Caldwell, the eldest sister! She is in South Africa with the Peace Corps. I asked her to marry me and she declined. A legal way to get into this fam still eludes me. And I got a tour of Faith Academy! I hear there's a lot of young, single female teachers there, so. I also was swinging on a swing in some sort of contest to see who get the highest, and my swing broke. I will let your imagination fill in the grisly details on that one. And we lit off some firecrackers off the back porch that night. No fingers were lost.

My departure time came the next morning. Up early, quick good-byes (except with the cat, who I talked to for quite some time before anyone else got up), and off to the airport. But not before stopping at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. In the cemetery lie 17,202 Americans, and another 36,000 are commemorated in the memorial, all of whom died in the Pacific theatre of World War II. It wasn't something fun but it was good to see it.

Then Larry took me to the airport and I flew back to Seoul.

I got some of these pictures from Katie. Thanks, dude. And thanks Caldwells, for a sweet time! Being with a family again was awesome; I did the dishes and hung out with domesticated animals and got made fun of and opened and gave presents and set the table and demonstrated fairly poor hygiene and talked smack and bummed around reading and went for walks and took lots of pictures and performed executed various Christmas and New Year's traditions that had been held sacred for several hundred years, all things that I was used to doing at my house with my family in Rock Rapids. Perhaps next year we will all meet there. Or something. But. Until then, I will miss you all. May we run again together soon.