Friday, October 29, 2010

Pop Quiz

Alright! We're takin' a quiz! Put everything away except your most cherished pen or pencil! If you want to lose points and get a yellow slip, talk to your neighbor while people are still taking this. Good luck.

1. Though completely inexperienced and painfully unqualified, I have taken on the position of __________ at my school, Centennial Christian.
a. tax collector (responsibilities: breaking kneecaps, collecting KRW)
b. chess team sponsor (duties: take down the king)
c. assistant speech and debate coach (jurisdiction: individual events)
d. birthday cake cutter (charges: cut cake at monthly staff birthday parties into evenly-spaced cubes of certain, consistent dimensions)

2. Last weekend was the memorial of my twenty-fifth year alive; to celebrate, I __________.
a. received a flannel 'n' cake surprise from my homeroom students
b. romped through Lotte World with Bethel graduates of a pleasant disposition
c. ate enough food for seven grown Clydesdales at On the Border in Sinchon
d. all of the above

3. The past five school days have composed Centennial Christian's __________ for the fall.
a. Buzzfest '10
b. Spirit Week
c. International Scatology Awareness Week
d. A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: John Locke Remembrance Week

4. The upcoming month is a time to celebrate __________.
a. No Shave November
b. the ten plagues all over again
c. Narcissistic November
d. Clayton's birthday

5. My classroom has been swarming with students not interested in learning but in completing __________ that lies within its colorful walls.
a. the obstacle course comprised of tar, broken glass, bits of bone, and seal blubber
b. a master's program that I've been offering in Strat-o-Matic baseball
c. the race set out before them.
d. a puzzle of Spirit Lake and Lake Okoboji

6. __________ were released to the public on Friday.
a. Free samples of the Andromeda strain
b. Barnabas and his lesser-known brother Alfred
c. SAT scores
d. Coupons for North Korean sparklers and fireworks

7. __________ are coming to visit Seoul at the end of December.
a. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau
b. My mom and dad
c. Anne Hathaway and the engagement ring I got her recently
d. Fire and brimstone

8. Travel options for Thanksgiving this year include __________.
a. Laos
b. Taiwan
c. Osaka
d. all of the above

9. The biggest stress-causer in my life the past two weeks was __________.
a. the failure of my external hard drive to turn on
b. writing letters of recommendation
c. finishing report cards
d. the possibility that, up until a few days ago, the Yankees might represent the American League in the World Series

10. Students unlucky enough to be enrolled in a class of mine recently had to write a paper on __________.
a. the archetype of the soul's sale to Satan
b. how they would want to die
c. what they'd do if they discovered that their husband/wife had cheated on them
d. all of the above

When you're done, fold your paper in half and give it to me. Do. Not. Talk.

Answer Key:

1. c - I am am supposed to guide between five and seven young men and women toward becoming better at the solo performances, prose readings, and impromptu speech sessions that make up tournaments in our conference. My favorite piece is an excerpt from Stiff by Mary Roach. Pick it up. We went to a tournament a few weeks ago; two kids placed. Our main agenda was to defeat TCIS, where a one Mr. Jordan Williams works and coaches now. There is another tournament over the weekend of November 11 and 12th. Bring it.

2. d - all of the above. On Friday the 22nd, the coolest kids in the world made me feel pretty awesome with this:

The evening hours did indeed see some of the slowest gorging ever to disgrace this peninsula. It was followed by a late night of singing, dancing, and cave exploring. In the morning I talked to the 'rents and then Peter, Kelly, Dawna, and I went to Lotte World.

Lotte World is a sick amusement park; it has an indoor section (which was reminiscent of Camp Snoopy) and an outdoor section (reminiscent of Valley Fair). We rode many rides there and exhausted ourselves and went home. 'Twas a great way to spend a Saturday birthday.

These are Kelly's pictures, even though she told me that the photos were so bad that I should just take credit for them.

3. b - Monday was color day, Tuesday was sports day, Wednesday was crazy dress/hair day, Thursday was school colors, and Friday was Tie Day Friday. I wish. To be honest, last year, more students got into it. But there were a few who manned up (is that grammatically correct?) and got their weird on. Or whatever.

4. a - although "d" runs a close second. Sorry, Claydee Bug. Anyway, it is that time of year again, when we all put away the razors and get out the long johns. Last year the men of CCS got on board a month late and we looked more awful than usual for all the Christmas photos; this year it will be during Thanksgiving that we look our filthiest.

5. d - last year my mom sent me this puzzle for Christmas, I think, but it was not until this past week that I employed it. The puzzle had an animalistic effect on some students. Normally well-behaved folks would use any excuse they could to go work on it. The bell would ring and no one would leave the small table on which it lay. Threats were issued concerning any disassembly that the puzzle might incur. It was nuts. And it got completed within a week. Maybe we will try to do one per.

Observer the three flannels in this picture! Ballin'.

6. c - this only affected me in that some kids were happier than usual the next day, and some were sadder. The SAT ain't got nothin' on me.

7. b - adventurers from abroad! Come hither! I have long been planning how the three of us are going to fit in my small apartment, which touristy attractions to take the crew of us to, and what people my mom and dad will and will not get to meet.

8. d - although, obviously, not all of them can happen. Cast your vote now to see which nation state Reuben and Mark embarrass themselves this quarter!

9. a - although the others contributed and all were factors. Everything electronic that I have, including but not limited to pictures, resumes, videos, letters of recommendation, contacts, and - most most most importantly - teaching material was on that thing. Fortunately, the illustrious Cory Dyck, the IT master at my school, resurrected the drive, and all is now well in that regard.

10. d - "a" was inspired by "The Devil and Tom Walker," but "b" and "c" were their own ideas. Go figure.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bag 'Em and Tag 'Em, Pt. 6

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. Though beliefs of mine have often proven to be silly and based on foolishness.

(1) Cat Cafe

Immediately after making the bold claim that these episodes could only happen in Korea, I begin to question myself, fearing that cat or dog or snake cafes had perhaps sprung up in America, possibly even in the Midwest, where the majority of this blog's fan base (Dan and Sue) lives, and that scathing criticism could soon be headed my way. But, no. There are allegedly 39 cat cafes in Tokyo, but there's no mention of them in the United States. Thank the Lord.

Judith and I went to Myeong-dong one fair evening. We did not stray from the path that led to the cat cafe there. We rode the elevator up. We removed our shoes and donned slippers. We paid the 8,000 won cover. We ordered our coffee-based drinks. We meandered to the corner of the room and watched and petted and beckoned and took pictures and listened to Flo Rida's "R.O.O.T.S." (which is not cat music) and hung out.

The cats were of all shapes, colors, and sizes. They were mostly of the same temperament: spoiled. Which is understandable, considering people pay every day to come and pet them and play with them. But that made it all the more satisfying when these constantly coddled animals chose to wander over of their own accord and sniff us or investigate our bags or lie lazily next to, behind, under, or above us.

After a while we left. As a lover of cats, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. It does make me wonder, though, what sort of state things are in when you have to pay to go hang out with felines. Is something wrong with Seoul, that there are no domesticated cats to be pets? Is something wrong with me, that I am desperate enough to be around these prissy beasts to pay that much to do it?

(2) Jeoldusan

After recently returning to Seoul from the summer in America, I made Dawna accompany me on a search into the religious history in Seoul with a trip to Jeoldusan. I know sometimes I make up stupid translations for foreign terms, but Jeoldusan does literally mean "beheading mountain." Write that down.

We walked to the Martyr's Shrine, a memorial to the thousands of Catholics who had been persecuted and/or killed in the 1800's, and basically just snooped around. There was a mongo building that looked like it would be a museum or the location of interesting relics or something, so we ascended its stairs under that impression and almost walked into mass. Thus, we hastily descended and ambled around the grounds surrounding this large structure. I felt guilty taking pictures but did it anyway but wasn't overly impressed with the images I captured. After covering everything, we tried to go through another building that looked like it had potential, but we were also disappointed to find that there was nothing inside except administrative offices. Undoubtedly this was where the beheading strategies were planned. Soon the two of us exited, sat in some plaza, and watched some dude hitting golf balls.

Despite the neat name, Jeoldusan will not be a place that I will take my parents when they come to visit. Sorry, martyrs.

(3) Suraksan

What better way to end a stressful, taxing week of work than with by climbing some huge rocks and getting mud all over yourself? A dangerous team of us did just that one Friday, leaving school early to manhandle Suraksan, a mountain northeast of Seoul.

The leader of the team was Mr. Nickel, the Bible teacher at my school. His loyal followers included all of Mr. Mark Nola and myself. We followed Mr. Nickel up the hill, stopped only to take a few pictures, and finally reached the summit, along with some dude who passed us multiple times.

I say this without being the least bit facetious: Mr. Nickel kept complaining about how many railings and safety ropes had been installed on the mountain since he'd been there last. Mr. Nickel is in his sixties. I love when older folks complain about how the world has changed since their youth. My dad always used to do this in Sioux Falls. Dave Barry does it in this wicked good article about Halloween. And Mr. Nickel kept us informed on how much more fun Suraksan was without all the superfluous items meant to keep us out of harm's way.

When we got to the top, Mark got stung by a bee. We ate cucumbers that we'd purchased at the bottom. There was a kitten that I chased. And the old Korean dude who'd haunted us the entire trip oversaw all that we did.

We then made haste for the bottom. Night feel quickly. Soon we could not see very far in front of us. Mr. Nickel picked up the pace. I felt like I was Legalos or Aragorn tracking orcs in "The Two Towers." But instead of killing a bunch of evil goblins at the end, we only had a duck killed for us. It was pretty good.

(4) Seoraksan

Some may make the claim that I had been to Seoraksan once in my life already. Those claimers would not be mistaken. But would they would be mistaken in is the assumption that any previous trip could be compared to one made with Peter Freeburg, the Twelfth Son of the Lamb. The two of us went on the excursion with no discernible plan. We figured we'd ride to the Seoraksan area, climb some mountains, find a jjimjilbang, sleep there, and go home in the morning. Read on to discover whether our lack of planning resulted in gory disaster or glorious triumph.

We left the metropolitan area that we'd come to call home at 7:10 a.m. one fine Saturday morning. A bus with the speed of a thousand chariots took us eastward to the coast town of Sokcho, where a glassy sea view met us. This mighty steed deposited Peter and me at the bus terminal, from where we took the number 7 bus twenty minutes in the wrong direction and then thirty-five minutes in the right direction. Which left at the mouth of that mountainous haven which we sought: Seoraksan National Park.

Pete, it turned out, had had some semblance of a plan after all. Even prior to arriving in South Korea, he had spotted some photograph of Ulsanbawi and had made a mental note that any trip to Korea would include its conquest. Pete is not one to let a promise go unkept; thus, we scaled the hills and dales (can you scale a dale, really?) that surrounded the aforementioned peak and mounted the beast, stopping only when a line of other hikers prevented us from moving forward.

A surprisingly low number of other climbers occupied the top of the mountain. So we hung out there for a while, despite the thick cloud drapery that prevented us from seeing all that surrounded us. We still got a good grasp of Ulsanbawi's height. And I daresay that the mysterious, dark atmosphere that hung about us throughout the trek contributed to our appreciation of the park.

We descended. We stopped for a bite. We redirected our path in order to scamper up and check out Biryong Falls, which was set deep in the woodsy woods. A worried restaurant owner/oracle warned us that soon there would be no light, so we walked with Rickey Henderson-like speed, deeper and deeper, at times bounding up stairs and leaping over stony inclines, following the water flow nearby. The number of fellow hikers diminished as our altitude increased. Finally we reached the waterfalls. It was neat. But Pete pointed out that we'd probably die if we didn't high-tail it back to the park's entrance before nightfall, and so we did. I fell twice.

From the mouth of the park, we took the #7 bus back into Sokcho, got off way too early, sauntered through an insane fish market, ate some meat, and inquired as to the nearest jjimjilbang. A taxi took us there. We bathed our sore bodies and rested our weary souls. I don't know what it is about those places, but locking away everything you brought with you and unwinding is alarmingly relaxing. Check it out.

In the morning, we rose - again, without a moment of planning - and met each other at 6:40 to go to the beach. Though a few moments late to see the sunrise, the two of us were delighted to behold the still calm of the waters of the Sea of Japan in the morn. Being there made me want to see more of that part of this part of the world. Don't ask why.

Our bus left at 7:50. We arrived back in Seoul around 11:30 and went our separate ways. A good trip, to be sure. All the photos in this here Seoraksan section are my own, surprisingly, but Peter has a collection that makes mine look like the Yankees against Cliff Lee. It can be viewed here. He has more coming, too, perhaps in his Picasa album. Or, if you also want to read the words of truth that he speaks, instead of just viewing his pictures, his blog posts has been known to make Christians out of Muslims, Democrats out of Republicans, and Vikings fans out of Cheese Heads. Rest assured his Seoraksan post will be no different.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This Is Twins Territory

On the morning of October 7 in my homeroom class, the students and I voted on who we think is going to win the 2010 World Series. I wrote the records of the eight playoff qualifiers on the board and added in what I considered to be helpful tidbits: who won last year (Yankees), who won the year before (Philadelphia), who I’d seen get demolished at Wrigley Field last summer (Philadelphia), who had the most championships (Yankees) with 27, and who was second (St. Louis) with 10. I also added that I’d kill them if they didn’t vote for the Twins.

I am not gonna lie. The beginning of the major league baseball playoffs sort of snuck up on me. It would have been far easier to follow if I lived in the Twin Cities, a city which I imagine to be seething with Minnesota Twins pride right now… not right now, as the Twins just lost Game 1 of their series with the Yankees. I get e-mails from friends proposing a location from which to view the game. I hear rumors of tickets floating around, waiting to be grabbed. I get Facebook messages from my mom, detailing how she and my father are experiencing the game on a particular evening. I wish I could be there.

But, nonetheless, the playoffs snuck up on me. It seems like they sort of snuck up on the Twins, too, who went 2-8 in their last ten games. That is an embarrassing way to enter the postseason, in my opinion. They had a great chance to snag home field advantage throughout the playoffs, too, as both Tampa Bay and New York played about as awfully as Minnesota did. But, no. They are lucky they won the division; their 94-68 record is worse than that of the wild card team whom they just lost to.

I am trying to make up for letting the sneaking happen. I wore my Twins tie for their first game. The math teacher, a Reds (read: fellow small-market team) fan and I exchanged fist pounds. We took the aforementioned vote in homeroom. But, after the first game, it seems as if my excitement over the game, excitement that came after two weeks of relative apathy, was punished by the baseball gods with a cruel meltdown in the sixth and seventh innings at Target Field. My day was shot. My tie hung limply. The only consolation is that by the time the game ended, all my classes were finished, and I would not have to face anyone else the rest of the day.

Like the score of the first Minnesota-New York game today, the results of my class’s vote were relatively discouraging. Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and Minnesota all got three votes. Then the Yankees got eleven nods. I suppose that for a Korean teenager who couldn’t care less about some overseas sport that isn’t exciting to watch, voting for New York was an obvious choice. They won last year. The teacher hates them. They have twenty-seven championships. They’re as good a bet as any. And whoever picks the correct team gets ice cream.

Which gives me one more reason to cheer against the Yankees: I don’t want to buy ice cream for eleven students. C’mon, Minnesota! Rise to the occasion! There’s a lot riding on you over here! Emotions! Bragging rights! Sweet-tasting treats! And the pride of a supportive English teacher. If you reach the Series, I will fly back. I promise.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Two Worst Travelers in the World Go to Shanghai

The Two Worst Travelers in the World arrived in Shanghai around 4:00 p.m on Tuesday, September 21. The moods of these two antiheroes were light, yet there was a vague sense of dread that hung about them. During the first leg of their journey, in Beijing, they'd had the safety net of Judy the Unparalleled and Maude. In Shanghai, they knew not a soul. The questions swirled about them like Iowan shad flies in August: would they get as lost here as they did there? Would cab drivers yell at them for little to no reason? Would the Laotian Traveler be driven from the German/Dutch/Lebanese Traveler because of the latter's lack of clean laundry? Only time would tell.

Taking heed of the words of a certain Peter Freeburg, the Two Most Awful Travelers on the Globe took the Maglev train instead of the subway on the way to their hostel. For those of you who don't speak Mandarin, “Maglev” means “traveling near or at the speed of an average man's flatulence” in English. The Maglev train in Shanghai runs between the airport and a certain stop on Line 2 of the metro system there. The two boarded and enjoyed the 431 kilometer per hour trip to Longyang Station, a mere four stops from Dongchang Road, where their hostel quietly and conveniently lay.

The Two Most Horrendous Travelers in the World found Beehome International Hostel easily. Their private room, complete with double bed, couch, TV, towels, slippers of various natures, toilet paper, and an air conditioner (all for about $50 a night, total! Call today!) was perfect. After settling in for a few short moments, the two reboarded the subway system for East Nanjing Road, where they spent the remainder of the evening gaping at the enormous, colorful skyscrapers and architecture that dominated their Midwestern perspectives. Such were the simple joys of traveling for them.

The next morning, Wednesday, the Two Worst Travelers on the Face of the Earth headed to the People's Square, a mere three subway stops away. Once there, they wandered aimlessly through the People's Park, pranced joyfully through the aforementioned People's Square, and were accosted with survey questions from the People's Local College Students. Having surmounted these mediocre attractions, though, the two bumblers reached their decided destination for that rainy day: the Shanghai Museum.

The stolen Lonely Planet book that didn't leave the Iowan Traveler's side the entire trip claimed that the Shanghai Museum was not only a “must-see” but also something that one should “expect to spend half, if not most of, a day” within (252). Though the travelers did peruse through all of the exhibits and enjoy many of the scrolls, masks, camels (for the German/Dutch/Lebanese Traveler's people), orange figurines, chess boards, 소화기, figurines, dishes, statues, rock chunks, and bells on display in the institution, their attention spans got the best of them, or the knowledge of the existence of another wicked cool museum that demanded conquering: the Museum of Science and Technology.

Larger and with a wider variety of displays, this museum took more time, more endurance, and more memory space on the couple's camera. There were expansive sections on the earth and its composition, the animals that inhabit the old place, spiders, robots, the information era, outer space, and the healthy human body; so many exhibits, in fact, that the camera that the travelers were carrying died on them. It happens.

Following the conquest of this museum, the Two Most Heinous Travelers in the World split for South Shaanxi Road, where they ate, got medication to battle the cold symptoms that the Kansan Traveler was experiencing, checked out DVD stores, and just generally wandered around without any clue as to where they were going. After a while, they went home and went to bed. Game over.

On Thursday the travelers threw China a curveball: they split up. The Traveler Who Would Have Done Touristy Crap Until He Puked struck out for the Jade Buddha Temple and the Yuyuan Gardens, and the Traveler Who Would Rather Have Met More People slept in more, to recover from the aforementioned cold symptoms, and got some shopping done. And some burger eatin'. Lucky.

The Touristy Traveler made it to the Jade Buddha Temple after quite a walk from the subway station. He viewed the the prize piece in the temple: a jade Buddha that sat 1.9 meters tall and was off limits to cameras of all shapes and sizes. He viewed many other Buddhist-related sculptures and images. He viewed the interference of most of the tourists present with the practice of Buddhism by those who came to worship and burn incense. And he thought to himself, “This is like if people paid to come to my church and took pictures while we sang hymns and my dad preached,” thoughts he usually had when viewing but not paying laud at religious venues of a touristy nature. Who knows.

The Touristy Traveler then took the metro back to the Yuyuan Garden stop, where he exited and followed the crowds, which were considerable, into the Old Town region, which was choked with people like himself. He then proceeded through the gardens, which were, if you must know, built in the 1500's by some kid for his pa, a head honcho in the Ming dynasty. The place was picturesque and packed. It would have been quite a place to live, had it been private. But, alas. It was not.

The rendezvous time was 5:00 p.m. The Two Rotten Travelers met and ate. Both were up for a chill evening and, caving into their love (or whatever) of cinema and violence, attended a movie entitled “The Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zen.” 'Twas an action movie, so the travelers figured that they would be fine without understanding any of the Chinese dialogue. Which was completely true. Holler.

The next day, Friday, was one that was much anticipated by both of the Two Most Terrible Travelers on the Planet. The thesis statement was this: go up the Shanghai World Financial Center, the world's third-tallest building, and then amble through the Bund, a scenic riverside walk along the Huangpu River that provides a lovely view of the skyline of Pudong, the eastern and much more recently-constructed area of a city that, like Seoul, is split by a big ol' river.

The Financial Center was within easy walking distance of the Beehome, so the two lads did the unthinkable: they walked to it. After paying 150 RMB to ascend to the uppermost of the three observation decks and waiting in line for probably around forty-five minutes, the Two Lamest Travelers in the World reached the 100th floor and peered down on Shanghai in all its glory. The deck sort of faced east and west, and incredible views were available from each window, and from the floor, as well. The two looked around for a while and then pronounced it good.

They left. They went down. They ate. They walked eastward, to where the 2010 World Expo was, and to where the Oriental Pearl Tower was, and to where the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel was. On their trek in this westerly direction, disaster struck. On the day that lent itself best to taking pictures, the camera that the two had been using relentlessly suddenly and inexplicably died.

Thank the Good Lord that the Traveler with the Backpack had his ratty, sixteen megabyte camera along for backup, in case something like this happened. All was not lost. They continued on to the western shore of Pudong, looked out over the waters of the Huangpu, snorted, and proceeded on to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, one of many means of crossing the river without getting soaked and polluted.

The Lonely Planet that the Touristy Traveler carried had this to say about the tunnel: “There are many ways to get across the river to Pudong but the weirdest has to be the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, where train modules convey speechless passengers through a tunnel of garish lights” (256). The Two Most Absurd Travelers in the World were immediately taken in by such a statement, one that could only have been made it into the travel guide if accompanied by a few under-the-table yuan. Nonetheless, after first perusing through a small, worthless exhibit called “Secret Aquatic Creature,” the two boarded said train module and went through the cavern of insanity. They were far from speechless. But, nonetheless, the ride served its purpose, and the Americans set foot upon much-anticipated Bund ground and its lucrative vantage points. They flew outside, above ground, and moseyed from the Waibaidu Bridge to some giant, stone, three-legged structure to the more southern areas along the river before the Chemistry Traveler decided it was over and headed back east. The English Traveler wandered around until darkness fell and then also headed back to the Beehome.

After some down time, the Two Most Weaksauce Travelers in the Land set out for the French Concession, an area that if missed would be similar to skipping Kensington and Chelsea in London (Lonely Planet 253). Which would be like visiting Minneapolis and avoiding the Mall of America and the Sculpture Gardens. Which would be like visiting Rock Rapids and not going to the Train Depot Museum and the late Jubilee deli. At any rate, the two wandered through the upscale area until they located the Crystal Jade, rated one of the top restaurants in the metropolitan area. In addition to satisfying their appetites, the establishment did not cost them that much. By this time it was near 11:00, and the two set out to see what there was to do in Shanghai in the dark. They found friendly French and Spanish dudes, really expensive bottles of water, a DMX imposter, some folks from Brazil, the Fountain of Youth, two turn tables and a microphone, and a pocket full of shells. Which is, you know, what you could expect at the Train Depot Museum and the late Jubilee deli. So it was a good thing they went!

The next day, the last day, was a wash. They abandoned the Beehome to the next wave of barbaric invaders, fed themselves, and slowly but surely made their way to Pudong Airport. There the Two Most Laughable Travelers in the World wrote a book called “101 Ways to Kill Time While Waiting for Your Flight.” And then they flew back to Seoul, and took buses back to Huam-dong and Haebangchon, and laid their tired li'l heads to rest for a spell.

Harper, Damian, et al. Lonely Planet: China. Singapore: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd, 2007. Print.