Saturday, August 21, 2010

Be Not Far from Me

Our school is starting up again.
A new year! Here we go!
But something there is slightly wrong;
at first I didn't know
exactly what it was that made
me sit uncomfortably.
But then quite suddenly it was
so obvious to me.
The slough of CCS teachers
was missing something big,
something large, and I don't mean some-
thing for Ben's head (a wig).
Jordan Williams! That brave old chap
had left fine Yongsan-gu
for Daejeon and TCIS
to start afresh, anew!
This dude and I had borne such pain
but carried it together,
and leaning on each other, our
load was but a feather.
Our common ground included stuff like
major, tuba, age,
experience teaching classes,
and large amounts of rage
over printing, and cold hallways,
and scheduling problems,
and frigid toilet seats that stopped
us from taking BM's
at school, at least. The bathroom at
Jordan's house was perfect!
His whole abode was squeaky clean!
No dirt could I detect.
Young Jord could make the meanest pot
of chili in the land,
Phase Ten? He'd kill you, even if
you had a decent hand.
The color of his pen was orange;
he claimed it was the best.
And if you tried to say, “No! Green!”
he'd lay your butt to rest.
Williams' taught classes at a depth
that was unparalleled.
And when it came to teaching Eng-
lish he could not be felled.
We'd share a funny tale or two
each hour of the day
o'er Google Talk or in the hall;
sometimes we'd meet halfway.
But more often than not we would
invade each other's rooms
between classes, and fill each with
our loud words and our fumes.
He won the great, student-imposed
race for Miss Gordon's hand,
And, thus, we know, concerning gals,
J-Williams is the man.
Malaysia was a place we went
for mission purposes,
To Changyeonggung we went to feel
no harm to our purses.
And watching me get super gross
while eating chicken was
a pastime Mr. Williams loved,
I think. Why? Just because.
He took me to his hallowed ground:
Sinchon, near his high school.
If there alone, I'd be dang lost!
But with him I felt cool.
“Grade essays at a coffee shop?”
Mr. Williams might ask.
“Sounds great! I'll bring some books and we'll
get work done by the cask!”
But usually we'd just distract
each other from our task
with jokes and giggles we'd try to
use our papers to mask.
But now! He's left my school, as I
have mentioned previous.
At CCS there's quite a void;
the school is Williams-less.
Though I am sad and often weep
great roomfuls of loud sobs,
I won't forget the times we've had,
we English-lovin' fobs.
Dear Mr. Williams! I wish you
the best of luck, old man.
Someday we will teach side-by-side
united once again.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Upon arriving at my grandparents' cabin on the north side of Spirit Lake on July 19, I sort of figured that the stressful, action-packed portion of my summer was over and done. Most of the long driving had been done, I was back in areas I was grossly familiar with, and there were stretches of days during which I had no commitments. But I was mistaken; many an event was still in store, though I did not see many of them coming. Nonetheless, most were enjoyable. After July 19 I...

...underwent a bachelor party camping excursion in Afton State Park.

...assisted in the construction of a wicked sand castle.

...received the following text from my brother: “Just saw a body get pulled out of the Niagara River. Get me back to the Midwest.”

...watched three of most awful movies I've ever seen (The Mummy 3, Teen Wolf, Predator).

...watched three of the best movies I've ever seen (Baseketball, The Big Lebowski, Super Troopers).

...witnessed a person get scalded by boiling urine.

...purchased a tie that looks like a big fish.

...rode (rowed?) kayaks with my parents.

...sat on my butt at the aforementioned cabin at Spirit Lake and did nothing.

...took a brief tour of homes in the Minneapolis suburbs.

...frolicked in a chlorine lake.

...crushed two vehicles in a crusher at a junk yard.

...attended a demolition derby.

...was introduced to a band called Austrian Death Machine, the instruments of which are all done by Tim Lambesis from As I Lay Dying and the lyrics of which are all lines spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. A thousand thanks, Chaunce.

...moseyed around the Minneapolis Sculpture Gardens.

...bowled a 145.

...rejoiced happily when the Twins leaped back into first place in the AL Central on Tuesday night.

...discovered that one hundred trees are planted by the Minnesota DNR for every baseball bat that is broken by the Minnesota Twins this season. One hundred twenty-two have been busted as of August 8.

...tolerated a straight edge razor shave by a professional straight edge razor wielder.

...partook in the wedding ceremony of one of my best friends; that a way, Mike and Hilary!

...slept everywhere. To be honest, this is a slanted statistic since it is tallied from when the school year ended on June 11. So in exactly two months, I have slept in 31 different spots, not counting airplanes.

...reunited with both my brother and my sister for the first time a good fifteen months. Stupid Korea...

...exchanged good-byes with the coolest people in the world.

So. There was a lot. A good blend of relaxing and action. A lot of discussion, as well, especially on such topics as: the future. Back to Seoul and Centennial Christian School quite soon (tomorrow) for the year. But what then? My answer to that question was generally a shrug. And then a list of options. More CCS. More Korea. More teaching in Asia, more teaching somewhere. Maybe YouthWorks! Maybe grad school. Maybe professional cheerleading for the Twins.

I also often had to list the pros and cons of my current lifestyle. The pros usually included Seoul being a money city, the items I like about my job and even having a solid job, the opportunity for travel in Asia and even within Korea, some of the neat relationships I had in Korea, the positives of and growth from being in a different culture. The canon of cons was always shorter but had more weight. Being back in the Midwest, especially with the fam, the friends, and the aforementioned Twins, made me keenly aware of the fun I was missing by not living there. Hanging out with old Bethel friends and folks from YouthWorks! and my family was as awesome as it always was. Lots of laughing, lots of depth. It sucked saying good-bye again.

Also on the list was the impending threat of nuclear war in the Koreas.

So. That conversation, along with this post, always concluded with another shrug and an “I don't know, I don't know.” Who knows what will happen. But until it does, there's a lot to do, and I guess I'll focus on that for now. Good-bye for now, Midwest.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Chapter 1: Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota; home of the Minnesota Twins

The only Twins game that I so kindly got invited to this summer was against the dreaded Detroit Tigers on July 15. A one AnnMarie happens to babysit for then-Twins-closer Jon Rauch; she must do a bang-up job at it, because the family gives her sweet tickets on occasion. A model of responsibility, AnnMarie! Way to go. So a host of us went: AnnMarie, a friend of hers whose name escapes me, Clayton and his girlfriend Brittani, Clayton and AnnMarie's mother Ann, Sunshine and Hilary, and I.

Enough personal details. The stadium is on the opposite end of the downtown Minneapolis area from the Metrodome, close to...the Target Center (why does the Target Center get a “the” in front of it, while Target Field needs no such article?). We got there early and parked under some skyscraper, and then went to go walk around. Target Field's surroundings are quite nice. There are statues and monuments in honor of former players. There's a giant store of Twins paraphernalia. There's tasteful, modern architecture. There's banners for the top fifty Twins of all-time. My favorite was this wall dedicated to the parks in which Twin Cities baseball has been played, parks that include the Metrodome, Metropolitan Stadium, Midway Park, Athetic Park, and Nicollet Park. I think.

And that was just outside the stadium, on one side of it! Who knows what lies behind the other walls! We didn't try to find out but instead ventured inside to our seats, behind and slightly to the first base side of home plate. Excellent spots. Not that I spent much time at that proximity to the field at the Dome, but it was awesome being so close. I was told that the backstop at Target Field is much closer to the plate than at most stadiums. Dig it.

The stadium is indeed incredible. I had been told many times over that it was so, and I was not disappointed. Out in right field lies a fine view of the Minneapolis skyline; in center sit the typical-to-our-era pine trees in a grasp at nature in an urban setting, above which is the Twins old logo, those two dudes shaking hands over the river. In left is a mongo scoreboard. So large that the information one needs is not immediately obvious, which is sort of annoying. All the seats are close to the field, which is extremely well-kept, as you'd expect. And, yeah, outdoor baseball is the way the game should be played. Boom.

However. I loved the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and was somewhat skeptical of the original idea of building a new stadium. Go ahead, go me an idiot. Target Field does appear to be a success; revenue must be pouring in like crazy, with which we can buy new, better players with (oh, wait, Minnesota doesn't do that...). Whatever my mindset was going in, I found myself constantly comparing Target Field with the Metrodome.

The obvious main difference is that the field is real and it is outside, which is great for most games, but we all know, deep in our heart of hearts, that there will be not only rain-outs but also snow-outs come September, October, and April. And May. Another difference is the price and availability of tickets. The reason for this difference is, of course, directly related to the quality of the experience: at the Dome you'd easily get a cheap ticket to a junk field in a controlled environment, whereas now you have to scratch and claw your way past other ticket buyers and then pay at least three times what a Metrodome Twins ticket cost, if you were lucky enough to face a purchasing opportunity, but you'd view a high-quality baseball adventure once inside. A third difference, and perhaps the most important, is that in the mens' bathroom, there are actual urinals, many of them, instead of troughs to urinate in.

Overall: Target Field is money. I cling to the past because it is intricately laced to me emotionally, but I am not too stubborn - for once - to not greatly enjoy the new stadium to its utmost. It is, after all, the new home to my favorite team of all-time. I am glad I got to go.

Unnecessary sidenote: As I write this meaninglessness, FSN North runs a commercial featuring ex-Twin Ron Coomer. He and two other goons are at Target Field trying to show the audience some strategic baseball play, but they can't because first someone on a mower goes by (no need for one of those at the Dome), and then a helicopter drowns them out (noise that'd be prevented by the roof at the Metrodome), and finally the sprinklers come on (fake grass doesn't need water), so they walk off, exasperated. Minnesota is pumped. Pumped, I say!

Chapter 2: Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois; home of the Chicago Cubs

At some point in the fall of 2009, a one Jonathan Enger, who has been and shall be referred to here as J-enger, because I like how that rolls off my fingers, and I promised each other a Cubs game visit the following summer. At some random point, I purchased six bleacher seats to the July 18 game against the Philadelphia Phillies and started halfheartedly to enlist baseball fans into going with us. The spots were not filled until five or so days before going. The roster included Lisa, her friend Mary, Erik “I Don't Want to Lose Your Love...Tonight” Johnson, Justin, J-enger, and myself. We met at the stadium at a variety of times, all of which were before the first pitch.

I have followed a number of professional sports quite closely since I was old enough to start biting ankles, but it has become increasingly clear to me that baseball is the one for me. Thus, Wrigley Field is a must-see for me. Attending a game there was less of a comparison or of an emotional event; it was more pure and unadulterated.

Among the pure and unadulterated elements of the experience were (1) the way the park is just another building in the city, right next to and across the street from all the other buildings, whether restaurants or residences (2) again, the outdoor element, which was a beautiful summer evening (3) the nearness of every seat to the field and the game (4) the relationship between Alfonso Soriano, the left fielder, and the occupants of the left field bleachers, which was a friendly one (5) the disposition of the crowd in general; although I was expecting it to be louder and more obnoxious, at least no one turned around and gawked when I yelled, something that has occurred at every Twins game ever (6) the storied, historic quality of the stadium itself, from the scoreboard to the ivy to the fans watching from seats across the street (7) all the beautiful women there. Holler.

Overall: there weren't really any things I didn't like about Wrigley. Maybe that we almost got hit with baseballs during batting practice. Which would have been cool to be able to tell people. But: it's a sweet park.

Target and Wrigley Field provided a nice contrast to each other. One was old, a relic, something legendary that I'd seen in pictures and movies. The other was new, sleek, a hip new thang that I'd been told about so often. But they are both beautiful temples to the god of major league baseball, beautiful buildings where worshipers flocked from near and far to come pay homage. Good places to have gotten to revisit America's great pastime for a spell.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

School Year in Review

This account probably should have been written a long time ago, maybe at the beginning of the school year so as to give some context to every post on this blog since September 2010. Oops.

A typical day this past school year at Centennial Christian School began between 6:00 a.m. (rare) and 6:50 a.m. (frequent) for me. It generally included a shower and the slinging together of the day's necessities, which basically meant any books or work I'd brought home. At the beginning of the year I used to always get the same delicious chocolate frosted pastry from the GS25 near my home – like, if I couldn't find it, the young person working there would come help me find one – but eventually they quit carrying it. Prejudice, I tell you. Then a bakery opened closer to my house, and that began robbing me of my hard-earned won. Times change. At least once a week I'd go in early enough to print off papers and get a few things done before 7:30, at which time the teachers gathered for devotions. Each teacher led for a week each semester. I do not boast often, but I will do it with glee here: I was never late for devotions, and the only time I missed them was the personal day I took to go hunting in Suwon.

Devotions ended at 7:45ish and often I'd also have to print something between that time and 8:00, when the students – and, consequently, I – had to be in homeroom. Despite being a complete rookie to teaching and CCS, I was crowned the senior homeroom teacher, which was likely some sort of computer or mechanical error. Of all that I was responsible for, homeroom was undoubtedly the biggest failure. Ask any of the seniors. I was meticulous about who was late and absent (Did you read that part about how I was never tardy for devotions?), but other than that, we didn't do too much in this 8:00-8:10 time frame. There was a month where I made each student lead a short devotion or share a scripture, and another month where I read an arbitrary psalm, but, because at the beginning of the year I'd orchestrated nothing during homeroom, that became the standard. My bad, class of 2010. I'll make it up to you in gold melted down and crafted into Olympian figurines.

At 8:15 a.m. first period and the school day really began for most of grade twelve and me as English 12 started. The curriculum we covered included, in absolutely no chronological order: “Things Fall Apart,” one-page essays, “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” punctuation and capitalization, some independent reading, a handful of short stories, research papers, and a long procession of older British literature (J-Swift, B-Wulf, A-Pope, G-Chauc, etc.). Best day: because J-Swift is the master of satire, we watched several more modern satirical videos. Worst day: quotation marks.

But at 9:05 a.m. all that came to a grim close, and at 9:10 a fresh array burst into room 607. Second hour was comprised of English 11. In this class we covered literature from America up until around 1900, question essays (“If you could kill Mr. Haggar, how would you do it?” “Why are the sophomores so loud?”), various papers and speeches, “Night,”The Things They Carried,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” and a smidgen of grammar. Best day: Mr. Nola made me sing a rap with him about the SAT's. Worst day: any day we talked about Transcendentalism. C'mon, somebody.

At 10:05 third hour began. On Mondays and Wednesdays I was in semi-complete command of the tenth grade study hall; on the other days I had a prep period. The janitor also cleaned my classroom at this time. Fourth hour was at 11:00, at which point I had another open period. 11:50 meant lunch time. At some point in the year our noble secretary took it upon herself to order lunch for the teachers, so we got a steady culinary cycle of pizza, pitas, jajangmyun, kimbabchunguk, or cafeteria food. Every so often I'd have to be on lunch duty and make sure no food fights or manifesto distributions occurred. Or there was language timeout, where students were put in solitary confinement for not speaking in English. I despised these duties, but I suppose they were necessary evils.

The clock striking 12:30 ushered in fifth period, during which I tried to teach English 10. This class viciously attacked short story after short story, the eight parts of speech and other elements of grammar, description essays on people, places, and things, “The Joy Luck Club,” and various speeches. Best day: all autumn this class wanted to go have class up on the roof. I rarely considered this, but, finally, one day an idea came to me and we went to the roof to play...drum roll...a grammar game. Four teams, one in each corner of the pseudo-basketball court, and I in the middle. I would yell out some criteria for a sentence (“Four adjectives, two adverb phrases, and a subordinate clause with the name Chan Ho Park in it!”) and the first group to place a piece of paper with a sentence containing the correctly-written requirements would win. Now, I know what you're thinking: what a dumb idea. But, in actuality, it was hilarious. Kids were running into each other full speed, getting excited about winning, becoming angry about losing, etc. I am surprised no one had to go to the emergency room. Worst day: grammar without games. Hopefully the “worst day” trend is obvious by now.

At 1:20 p.m. fifth hour and the core classes were concluded for the day. Sixth and seventh hour were elective periods running between 1:25-2:10 and 2:15-3:00, respectively. AP English was sixth hour. Now, I know what you're thinking: why is AP English, a class students can receive college credit for, an elective? The answer is this: nobody knows. Everyone still did alright or better on the AP Lit & Comp exam, so I guess it wasn't a total wash.

The ironies surrounding AP English are far from over. Despite being the smallest class I taught, this course perhaps took up more of my time than the other three combined. Along with explicating a multitude of poems and a couple short stories, I had to read or reread each of the texts we hashed to bits: “The Scarlet Letter,” “Crime and Punishment,”Beloved,” “The Awakening,” “The Metamorphosis,” “Dubliners,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “The Sound and the Fury,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Invisible Man” (not to be confused with “The Invisible Man,”), “Wuthering Heights,” “Heart of Darkness,” “Macbeth,” “Frankenstein,” “Moby Dick,” “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” And I read “The Road” over Christmas, which brings my total book count from this school year to twenty-four. No wonder I didn't go on a single date the whole year. That, and probably this:

AP English broke from the pattern of English 10-12 in that there were only three or four students in it, depending on the time of year. Instead of being a cruel dictator upfront and having to balance instruction and classroom management, I sat at a table with the others during this class and we discussed the crap out of whatever book or poem or story we were dealing with, unless it was “Moby Dick,” which we never discussed. I got to know the students in AP English much better than those in other classes; we even went out for coffee once. But we only got smoothies, because high school kids shouldn't be drinking coffee. Or maybe some should be...

When that was over, my day was basically done. Seventh hour was another open one for me. Every so often I would wander down to see what Mr. Williams was doing in his creative writing class, or I'd go to the bank, or maybe Gary's Gun Shop down on 41st Street, but for the most part, 2:15 was when the work began.

And the good Lord only knew when it would end. The next four to nine hours would be spent doing a variety of things. From 3 to 4 p.m. there was peer tutoring in my room, which didn't require much on my part but was occasionally distracting, in a good way. Grading papers, preparing lesson plans, entering grades, reading reading reading...these were the basics of the after-school rigmarole. On some rare occasions I stayed at the school until only 4ish, and on other rare occasions I'd stick around until almost midnight.

Each day of the week followed this general daily schedule, with a few curveballs. Monday night Mr. Sullivan, the head teacher, and I would usually stick around the school later than usual to work on stuff (read: pizza). Tuesday afternoons there was chapel instead of the electives, which meant that AP English was down to four days a week. There was also a teacher's meeting every Tuesday after school. Occasionally there were sporting events to attend nearby. And on Fridays it was quite tempting to leave as soon as possible.

And it went beyond that! There were other activities and events and such that comprised the school year. There was a lock-in! A volleyball conference tournament! A Thanksgiving feast for the students! A Thanksgiving feast for the teachers! A Christmas concert! A Christmas banquet! A basketball conference tournament! A spiritual retreat! A talent show! A senior banquet! And a graduation ceremony!

The other teachers! From all over the place and from many different walks of life, the staff varied quite a bit from member to member. Some I don't really know anything about, and some I consider some of my best friends, and then there's a lot of in between smashed in there. I connected the most with Mr. Jordan Williams, the middle school English teacher, and Mr. Mark Nola, who taught science. Jordan worked in the cafeteria at his college (like me), played tuba (like me), taught at a hagwon in Seoul prior to CCS (like me), was in his first year teaching English class, or any class (like me), and was twenty-three upon entering the school year (like me). We went to each other early and often for ideas and support and continued to do so throughout the year. Mark had more experience and less in common with me but we soon discovered many a common interest, such as noraebang, basketball, and working at late hours. And breaking it down M.C. Hammer-style. He is Laotian and from Kansas and had a few years of experience under his belt upon coming into the 2009-2010 season. Many good times were had with both of them. I also had a superb time ballin' with Mr. Elie and Mr. Davis, not dating Ms. In, carrying Ms. Lee down the stairs, disturbing Mr. J.'s class with mine, being led by Mr. Sullivan, ordering text books with Mr. Blais, giggling quietly to myself over Mr. Friesen's jokes, eating at Ms. Bigney's house, and trying to keep Mr. Nickel's room moderately clean during study hall. Three cheers for the upper school staff! In fact, three cheers for all the staff!

The students! May they live forever! My favorite part! Every kid in all my classes was ethnically Korean, at least to some degree, and most knew Korean fluently, which made me feel fairly ignorant. Most to all either had lived or been born in a country where English was the official tongue; America, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand were the countries that come immediately to mind. Some also had experience or direct ties to Japan, China, Singapore, South Africa, and Pandora. Nonetheless, almost everyone was Korean.

There were exceptions, as there are to most things in life, but the vast majority of the students I got to teach in these classes at CCS were hilarious, intelligent, and personable. On the first day of school, in order to try to get to know everyone, I made each kid share their favorite and least favorite thing about the school, and many a student said he or she liked the community, how small it was and how one could get to know everyone else, teachers and students alike. I found this to be true and enjoyable. Kids were for the most part respectful and engaged; they laughed at my crappy jokes and made quite a few themselves. I liked the relationship that I had with each class, and with each student, though each one was quite different. We'd share YouTube videos or or music or some ridiculous, asinine story, or go to a soccer game, or play basketball, or shoot the breeze in the hall for a few minutes after school. Or something. I didn't get to know everyone, but I was super glad to be able to connect with those who I did.

So. The important factors in this, my first year of professional teaching, were: (1) students (2) insane workload (3) Mr. Williams and Mr. Nola. Next year will be sort of the same, though without some old familiar faces and with some strange new ones. And with maybe a nuclear holocaust. We'll see how she goes.