Monday, September 27, 2010

The Two Worst Travelers in the World Go to Beijing

The Two Worst Travelers in the World began their two-part Chinese quest on the morning of Saturday, September 18. Neither was well-rested; both had been up late getting sub-par haircuts, printing off directions, celebrating the birthdays of uncared-for friends, and watching YouTube videos. Nonetheless, the Two Worst Travelers in the World converged upon Seoul Station, bright and early, at 6 a.m. to catch the airport limousine for their 9 a.m. flight to Beijing. Which, remarkably, they made.

The two of them had been quite busy prior to their departure from Korea. Many late nights of both work and play preceded this nine-day Chuseok break, so the two had neither planned the trip well nor gotten the rest they probably needed. The plan was to give Beijing a thorough rub-down on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, all while staying with a complete stranger named Judy the Divine, and then to head south to lay Shanghai to waste from Tuesday to Saturday, all while staying in a completely strange hostel named Beehome International. Some touristy sites to visit had been identified, some subway maps had been borrowed, and some desperate prayers had been said. That was about it.

The Two Worst Travelers in the World arrived in B-Town as planned and immediately ran into a couple from Minneapolis - small world - but they had enough sense to not dawdle and got on a bus for Wangjing, as instructed by their host in town, Judy the Most Excellent, who was, as far as logic and directions are concerned, the polar opposite of both of the Two Worst Travelers in the World. As the bus drove further and further from the airport, and the remaining passengers grew fewer and fewer, worry began to creep into the feeble mind of the Iowan Traveler. The Kansan Traveler was spared such stress because he was asleep. Eventually the bus attendant questioned the Two Worst Travelers in the World, who showed (Lord knows no talking was involved) Judy the Incredible's digits to the attendant, who called Judy the Magnificent, who said to just stay on the bus until it stopped.

After closely following these instructions, the Two Worst Travelers in the World were met by Judy the Outstanding when the bus mercifully ended its journey. Both of them knew, even upon first seeing her, that Judy the Marvelous was going to be awesome, because the young lass was sporting Chuck Taylors and a checker-pattern shirt. Bags were put away, lunch was devoured, and bus treks were made to Touristy Stop the First: Olympic Park, home of - you guessed it - the Tri-Annual Global Knitting Festival.

No. Beijing 2008. The Olympics. That great assembly of sporting events, all packed into one concise location. The three of them, one competent and two not quite, paraded around until they convened with Maude, a splendid friend of a one Mr. Luke Elie, and two of her cohorts. Together the crew snooped around the area as dusk fell. Around the Nest! Through the Cube! About the parks and plazas surrounding the stadiums! They saw it all.

As daylight dropped, appetites rose. The Two Worst Travelers in the World and their new friends headed toward Tuanjiehu for dim sum and a night out. Good times were had by all, but probably more so by the carefree wayfaring Americans who did not have to work in the morning and less so by everyone else who did. "What?" the reader may say, startled. "The 'tomorrow' of which you write is...Sunday? Or am I sitting too close to the heavy narcotics cupboard again?" But the truth is, you are not. Unless you are Clayton. The truth is that the holiday that allowed the Two Worst Travelers in the World to idiotically travel was also observed in China; however, the days of work that should have been canceled by the holiday were made up on weekend days, like Sunday. Enjoy your freedom, readers from democratic nations. Enjoy your freedom.

The aforementioned Sunday soon reared its ugly head, and, consequently, the Two Worst Travelers in the World soon reared theirs and were on their way, under Judy the Supreme's careful guidance, to Touristy Stop the Second and Third: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, respectively. Despite being cartographically-illiterate and directionally-handicapped, the Two Worst Travelers in the World located Tiananmen Square, home of many a protest in 1989, quite easily and did a loop through it without incident. Cool. Right across the street, impossible to miss, lay the Forbidden City, that world-renowned home for the royalty of the Qing and Ming dynasties. The thing was enormous, and both the Science Traveler and the Language Arts Traveler shuddered in horror at the thought of viewing the palace in its gruesome entirety. But all the shuddering in the world could not hold those Two Worst Travelers in the World back, and they burst through the complex with all the child-like enthusiasm of Wesley Welch at a Tim Horton's.

Following the decimation of what must hereafter be called the Not-So-Forbidden City, the Two Worst Travelers in the World made some phone calls from the Not-So-Forbidden Police Station that was on-site and then hopped into a cab bound for Touristy Stop the Fourth: the Temple of Heaven. Not to be confused with the Pizza Ranch restaurant in Rock Rapids, Iowa, this massive compound is six hundred years old and was built by the same construction company (Halliburton) that put up the Forbidden City. The Two Worst Travelers in the World marched through the Temple of Heaven systematically, stopping only to take pictures, play ancient Chinese badminton with some vendors, get coaxed into needlessly purchasing an ancient Chinese badminton set, and watch an old dude lift a giant eagle kite high into the atmosphere. Foolishly, they took little time to inspect the maps that littered the heavenly temple, and, thus, after going nearly a mile through the compound and then turning around and coming all the way back to where they stupidly thought they were meeting Maude, the recipient of one of the police phone calls from earlier, the Taller of the Two Worst Travelers in the World realized that they were on the wrong end of the Temple of Heaven. Suddenly they were in the Temple of Hell. The Two Worst Travelers in the World hoofed it all the way back to where Maude was patiently waiting. They were twenty-five minutes late, which is about right for them, the worst of the worst.

Maude, being an upstanding and forgiving individual, still took the Two Worst Travelers in the World to gorge themselves on cow ankles and hot pot. And then showed them where a solid massage parlor was. And then called Judy the Exemplary to get directions back to her home for them. May she live forever. May they both live forever! Despite keeping such exquisite company, however, the Two Worst Travelers in the World grossly contorted said directions. First they got off at the wrong metro stop. Then they almost punched each other trying to figure out which bus to get on. Then they got in a taxi but got hollered at in Mandarin for...God knows what. They sure didn't. Perhaps the driver was a White Sox fan who was disgruntled with his team's inability to keep pace with the Twins. Finally, after another SOS call from some hotel clerk's cell phone to Judy the Stupendous for clarification, the Older of the Two Worst Travelers in the World was able to successfully communicate their desired destination to a different, less angry cab driver. Who took them to Judy the Incomparable's. Where they made Judy the Distinguished call their Great Wall tour guide for Monday's Great Wall tour. And kept her up late with their ceaseless banter.

But did she throw them out onto the street, as she should have? Did she toss them and their dirty bags to the curbside, like she should have? Did she shut off the water heater when they went to shower and not tell them, as she should have? No! A thousand times no! She remained awesome, hospitable, and gracious. May all her endeavors climax in extreme success! May all her enterprises flourish into inconceivable victories! And may all her singles get stretched into doubles!

Touristy Stop the Fifth was arguably the most well-known tourist attraction in the entire world, rivaled only, perhaps, by Niagara Falls, or Dave Barry's birthplace: the Great Wall of China, almost nine thousand kilometers long, eighteen hundred years old, visited by between one and seventy-six million people each year, and not visible from space, at all! The recipient of the other police station phone call made the day prior, Jin's Tours, was the means of experiencing the Great Wall (or "Da Wall," as the locals call it) that the Two Worst Travelers in the World chose. For a period of about two hours on that Monday morning, it appeared that going with Jin's - as opposed to something more reputable and stable - was another costly mistake on the Travelers' part; at 8:00 a.m., when Jin said he'd pick the Two Worst Travelers in the World up, Judy the Exceptional got an alarming call to inform her ill-fated guests that...Jin had woken up late. Finally, at 10 a.m., a dingy, beat-up blue van full of foreigners pulled up and imbibed the Two Worst Travelers in the World. And off it sped, through the wind and the rain and that characterized the day.

Two hours later, the van stopped in the middle of nowhere. As luck would have it, it was not Jin but Paul who led the tour on that particular day. After giving his victims some background information on Da Wall, Paul uttered words that would drastically alter the lives of both of the Two Worst Travelers in the World forever: "Only those who scale the Great Wall are worthy of being called heroes...are you ready to be a hero?"

Despite longing to be heroes (and not the Two Worst Travelers in the World), neither of the Two Worst Travelers in the World had brought umbrellas. Both had shorts on. One was wearing a t-shirt; the other, sandals. The other tour-takers (two Spaniards, two Israelites, and a Canadian) undoubtedly mocked the short-sighted Americans behind their soaking-wet backs but in the meantime lent them spare umbrellas and smiles. Paul was not so kind. Soon into the trek, he dubbed the sandal-wearer "Slipper Guy." And after taking a picture of the Two Worst Travelers in the World, he squinted at the camera's display screen, then back up at them, and then said, "You are terrible." How right he right he was.

Nevertheless! Paul took the group up a hill to a low-lying section of the Great Wall, and from that point the tourists trekked five kilometers atop the ancient barricade, stopping only for a brief lunch, and occasionally to wait for stragglers, none of whom were either of the Two Worst Travelers in the World. The inclement weather abated somewhat, much to the delight of the poorly-clad Americans. The sights were astounding. The exercise was amazing. The company was A-OK. And thus was the Fifth Stop.

The ratty blue van was waiting for the rain-soaked troop when they descended. It took them speeding back through the muck to near - not near enough to not have to ask some loiterers for directions - where Judy the Brilliant lived. The Two Worst Travelers in the World arrived at 5; Judy the Masterful would not be home until 7ish. So they did what any unsound-of-mind citizens with two hours to spare would have done: they wandered around the Wangjing Mall, engaging themselves in such activities as: using the hand-dryer in the bathroom to dry off their damp clothes, setting new records on the Street Basketball arcade game, and eat the remains of their lunch in order to lighten the burden of the younger traveler's backpack.

When the clock struck 6:56, the Two Worst Travelers in the World sprinted back through the rain to Judy the Superb's. The rest of the evening was spent dining in fine fashion on legendary Peking duck, which, as the Two Worst Travelers in the World discovered, is famous for a reason. The next morning they ended their reign of terror on the Beijing metropolitan area, and on Judy the Peerless's apartment, with a subway trip to the airport, where they boarded a plane that would take them from one unknown to the next (read: to be continued).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Update Schmupdate

The rumors you have been hearing are true: the 2010-2011 school year is now in full and brutal swing. Already every effect that my current job had on me last year has resurfaced: exhaustion from late nights, delight from awesome students, overexposure to reading material, conflict in my schedule. Et cetera.

Last year I taught four classes. Mercifully, the administration scheduled me to teach those same four classes. English 10, 11, and 12 are basically the same, with all the superfluous stuff extracted and thrown by the wayside. AP English is more intense, as it is five full class periods a week instead of four abbreviated ones. And a creative writing class, which I would love to teach full-time, eight days a week, is the elective class that has graced my schedule.

Any teacher will tell you, of course, that there is much more to teaching than the classes. The kids at the school continue to be pretty awesome. Surprisingly perceptive and alarmingly humorous and terribly diligent and all that crap. The atmosphere at the school seems more positive to me compared to last year. More energy, more laughing. But. It's early.

The workload per day is still equivalent, in poundage, to how much hair is or could be shaved off Michael Haggar's body on the same time table. That is to say: it's an unhealthy amount. It definitely helps, though, having taught each of the courses before, and having a folder from J-Will with detailed lesson plans for the newbie.

One reason that my perception of my workload might be of the same nastiness as last year's is probably the slight increase in responsibility so far. Some of that was due to the spiritual retreat that occurred this past weekend, a retreat that demanded preparations of many kinds by all teachers. Some of it may have had to do with the multiple typhoons that stormed and slunk through the Korean peninsula. Some of it was likely also due to the alignment of the stars, which landed such charges as leading staff devotions and morning/lunch duty on me right off the bat. And some of it, like addressing the student body at large and at small on such topics as flying and sex, was due to...actually I don't know who thought that Mr. Nola and I would be good at coming up with speeches on those topics. We'd much rather have given a talk on the stanky leg. Or Nick Blackburn. Or how to dress to impress.

"Wait, wait, wait," you say. "Spiritual retreat?" Yes. It's true. There was one last year. There was one this year. Deal with it. The whole school went. We braved the second typhoon that came through, the one that left rivers and umbrella sales overflowing their usual parameters. The buses took us to some retreat center out in the hills. They left us there. We heard speakers. We played games. We moved chairs and tables. We prayed hard. We ate mounds. We sang songs. We put toothpaste on the mugs of sleepers. We threw each other out into said typhoon. We tried to get each other to laugh. We wrestled. We dressed up as mythical Transylvanian figures. What more could you ask for out of such an event?

And, thus, another year begins. It's pretty packed. And on top of all things school-related there is, of course, just a bustling social life (read: no dates to report so far, Mom!). We will just have to see how it goes.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bits and Pieces: May, June, July, and August Editions


The following are reminiscent of the stories I think I tell quite frequently. You may recognize similarities between this post and my reports on the day if you've had the misfortune to have hung out with me before. By that I mean that most of them are funny in context, to me, and I feel obligated to try to share them, but I know that most of them probably aren't funny to anyone except me.

These also stretch back into late April, May, and through the summer months, so ignore the seeming randomness that characterizes the sequence of the bits and pieces.

*At a spiritual retreat our school went to, a number of us played basketball. One time down the court, I idiotically thought I had an open shot but, when I went up, I was blocked. Needless to say, I have not heard the end of this, and recently the student who swatted me signed his paper: "the student who blocked his English teacher."

*Our school's e-mail system is through Google mail, so if anyone is logged into their e-mail, it is possible to chat with him or her. For the past month, one student's status has consistently been "storm of diarrhea."

*As awful as it sounds, I was forced to work in my boxers and a t-shirt in the sultry afternoons of the last week of school because of the temperature and lack of functional air conditioning in our school during June. I'm sorry.

*Some kid used my computer while I was still logged in on Google Talk and changed my status to "I will disembowel you, Mr. Haggar." Please pray hard for me this coming year.

*From a paper about "The Lost Symbol": "I could not resist the power of Dan Brown."

*From a paper about a very girly book: "P.S. I would not recommend this book for males."

*From a paper about curfews: "I am not interested in drinking, smoking, drugging, or any of those stupid activities that makes you speak at retreat 20 years later and convince others not to do it."

*From a description essay: "I am so glad that this is the last descriptive essay of my sophomore year. It really gives me an actual feeling of summer break coming closer. Since it’s the last one, I wanted to make it something special, so I decided to write about a garbage can in my room."

*Quote from the upper school high school teacher: "Well, it's like I always say. Get to da choppa."

*DISCLAIMER: this is probably an offensive one. From a final exam essay on "Night," referring to a twenty-kilometer run through a blizzard during the night by victims of Auschwitz: "He [Elie Wiesel] ran the naked snow Olympics in hope that his father would meet him at the finish."

*My brother demolished our family's Buick LeSabre by running into a cow that had wondered into the middle of the highway late one night near Sioux Center, Iowa. The highway patrolman who helped out Michael and another family who'd also ran into a cow surveyed the damaged bovine and then asked Michael incredulously, "How much of that cow is on your grill?"

*I went on a camping trip with the world's greatest men. We were walking up the highest hill in Afton State Park, and Sunshine told us that he chose the particular pair of sandals he had on because they were in pretty bad shape, and if he ruined them on the trip, he "wouldn't feel any guilt about throwing them." We said, "Okay." He then took off one of the sandals and hurled it smack dab into Clayton's poor back. Sunshine then turned back to us and said, "See? No guilt."

*At the wedding of the aforementioned shoe chucker, all the groomsmen and bridesmaids were being aligned for pictures. The photographers were meticulously putting everyone into place. I heard one groomsman say to another, "Now, remember: when I put my hand up on your hip, and when I dip, you dip...we dip. Remember that." To which the other groomsman said, "How can I forget those words when they were the first ones I heard upon leaving the womb?"

*The day before school started we had an open house for students to come check in and what not. During the first half-hour of the open house, the only student who came into my room had a graduate from the year before on the phone who wanted to say good-bye. I didn't even talk to the phone bearer. Who knows.

*A student tried to convince me that her middle name was Gaga and does, in fact, write it on assignments and such.

*I was sitting quietly in my home working at 10:30 p.m. one night when my phone rang. It was Tony, who lived on the other side of the Haebangchon hill. He said that a fight of epic proportions was occurring in his apartment and that he had to move out that night. Could he stay at my place? Yes. So I headed over to where he lived in Itaewon. There was yelling. There was swearing. There was slamming. We packed up all his stuff and hauled it to the curb. Then we waited for his girlfriend to arrive and for a taxi to come to our aide. Around 1 a.m. we finally loaded a cab up with all his possessions. There was only room for two of us, so (I refuse to take responsibility for this decision) Tony and I piled into the car and the girlfriend set out on a long walk up the Haebangchon hill. We road over to my home in Huam-dong, unloaded everything onto a new curb, and filled my apartment with books and clothes, boxes and bags. As we brought in the last of the load, the girlfriend calls and says, "Tony! There is some black man trying to get me into his car!" So Tony takes off, and I follow. We ran up the stairs. We ran up through the school. We ran up the hill. We ran up more stairs. We ran up more hill. We reached the summit and started down and finally ran into his girlfriend and some African guy who was still trying to convince Tony's girlfriend that his car was way better than her current unviolated state. So Tony yelled at him and he ran away. It was now 2:00 a.m. We walked back to my house. We chatted for a while and then went to bed on the various couches, beds, and floors that can be found in my apartment. Please come visit me.

*Tony, his Korean girlfriend, and I were eating somewhere. The girlfriend said, "Reuben, you are a very nice man. Very Nice." Pause. "But I hate you."

*Tony, his Korean girlfriend, and I were headed down an escalator in a subway station. It had been raining, so we were all carrying wet umbrellas. Tony said that he really liked the feature on his umbrella that made the stem elongate, so he held it up to demonstrate this maneuver. By doing so, however, he sprayed rain water all over the couple on the step below us.

*Student A told me that Student B told him that they would for sure get together during the summer to hang out. However, Student B never called Student A, who was disappointed. Then one night they met each other in an online computer game. And the problem was solved.

*A new grade of students clapped after the prayer I said on one of the first days.

*I'd like to entitle the next couple tidbits "Korean Stories from Cass" because they were told to me by a friend of mine by that name. Behold:

***Story the First: three Korean American friends of Cass's were walking down the street in a busy, congested area. A man was walking by them, wound up with all his might, and punched one of the girls in the shoulder as hard as he could. He kept walking. No one stopped him.

***Story the Second: an acquaintance of Cass's was in a restaurant. A Korean couple started fighting loudly. The woman in the fight suddenly broke her wine glass and stabbed her man in the neck with its broken, jagged stem. Blood started gushing, and he ran out of the restaurant. Not finished, the woman ran into the kitchen and (this is where I myself started to become skeptical) grabbed a butcher's knife. She took off after the bleeding guy. Throughout the fight, the restaurant personnel continued serving food. No one tried to stop her in her mad rush.

***Story the Third: a friend of Cass's woke up one night and there was a Korean man standing over her, watching her sleep. She screamed. He fled. No one stopped him.

***Story the Fourth: one night a different couple had a mongo fight across from her house. There was yelling, profanity, and the sounds of smashing and hitting. Then, as Cass peeked her li'l head outside to observe the madness, a glass door smashed open, and she heard someone started screaming, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Someone call an ambulance!" The dude had punched through the door. He walked out when the ambulance came with multiple tourniquets on his arm. Many old Korean dudes and ladies came to watch. one stopped the fight.

***Story the Fifth: Cass, who is tall, was standing on the subway minding her own business once, and this old Korean dude came up to her, grabbed her by the shoulders, started shaking her, and yelled, "So tall! So, so tall!" in Korean. And, as expected, no one stopped him.

*This has nothing to with Cass or her tales, but this is a piece of luggage (read: masterful artwork) that accompanied me to Seoul three weeks ago. Thanks, Michael:

*This is what my clothes looked like after walking up the hill to my home with all my items the first night back:

*Note: any person who would ever visit my apartment for any reason should redirect his or her web browser now. This was one of the two-part welcoming committee that was waiting for me in said apartment:

*This is the second and less animate member. He got...what's the technical term?...ghetto-stomped. By me. I killed his mate with a toilet plunger.