Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Hey! Nihao! I made it safely, although the same cannot be said for my bottle of Head and Shoulders 2 in 1 shampoo+conditioner with almond oil and pyrithione zinc for dry scalp care, which spilled half its contents all over my suitcase. I didn't spill any of MY contents, thank the Lord. The flights went smooth, I miraculously made friends on the plane, and my school's HR person saved me from the airport when I got in at 10:30 on Thursday night the 18th. Hurrah!

The next day we checked out apartments. I tried to remember what you told me to look for when making the big housing choice (stove, washer and dryer, internet, garage, backyard, 2.5 children), but I eventually just settled on a crummy bomb shelter flat next to some super cute Chinese-Korean-Lebanese girl who happened to be leaving her place when we were coming in.

Just kidding. I got a sweet place, and it only took three tries. It is on the eighteenth floor; you'd be proud, I have refrained from spitting off the railing like any normal man usually does at such a height. The apartment's got one bedroom and plenty of space for one single dude who hardly brought anything anyway. Maybe you could send some of my old stuffed animals or something to take up some of the empty space here? Funny Freddy? Or some Lego? There are an ample supply of kitchen utensils, a giant TV equipped with a DVD player, and a nice shower, all of which I'll probably never use. There is AC, a decent set of speakers with a subwoofer, and a nice red couch, all of which I've already put to good and excessive use. I'll try to send pictures soon, I promise.

So then I moved in on Saturday; it didn't take long. On Sunday I had lunch with Judy...maybe you remember her from when Mark and I came here in September? She saved us from being lost all the time then. Now here's the super weird part, though: my flat is in the same building Judy used to live in...where we stayed! Dang! She has since moved out, probably when she heard I was coming. Pretty strange, huh? Yah. Anyway, we ate and then shopped for bedding and laundry detergent and an iron. No, that's not a typo. An iron. You've raised me well! But don't be surprised if you get e-mails from me about how to turn it on and/or use it as a weapon.

And! I also met a couple of the other teachers who are new to Beijing World Youth Academy. Good people all around; there are some from England, some from Mexico, and some with big-time connections in - sit down for this - Pocahontas, Iowa. Boo-yah! I've eaten with these folks and used their internet. And we all went and got medically examined on Tuesday. Nothing builds stronger bonds than having blood removed and orifices probed together, ya know? Haha. Just kidding. Sort of.

Training and orientation and what have you doesn't start until next week, so I have been exploring and trying to figure out the subway and the general city layout. Seems simple enough. And freakin' huge enough. There are a gazillion old historic sites for me to photograph and blog about (yawn...). Today I had my first conversation with a Chinese person; some little girl started haranging me with "hello" and "hi" and "[a lot of Chinese that I didn't understand]." She took a picture of me making moose horns. Her parents laughed. I think it was a good start to my time here.

Come visit whenever! My couch folds out into a bed, so if you and Dad come, we'll be comfortably housed! Just tell him to bring a crap ton of those dentist masks he wears when he mows the lawn; the smog here is appalling. Don't tell anyone, especially Dad, but I read that breathing the air here is like smoking seventy cigarettes a day. Gah. Gah!

Okay, I'm going to go try to figure out the laundry machine. It looks nothing like the one at home. I'm probably screwed, and so are the people around me. I miss you and everybody already. See you in a year!



P.S. I think my mailed boxes of neck ties, winter clothing, and Christmas lights was confiscated by the customs authorities. Thus, you might be seeing me sooner than next summer...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'm Between Jobs and Living with My Parents

For me, the summer reached its peak last week.

After a month and a half of attending weddings, finding sandals on the road, hauling to Chicago to get a Chinese visa, kickin' it with the best people in the world, taking bike rides, driving to Wyoming and back, playing volleyball and grilling meat with the college crew, rocking out to Becoming the Archetype with Paul, crashing on the different couches and air mattresses and beds at different friends' homes, beating the crap out of my sister in an Iowa county-naming contest, visiting my grandparents, watching the Twins lose on TV, building turtle internment camps, flying to Idaho and back, breaking bread with a wide variety of friends and family, jamming with Cole and Justin like we used to in Lissner, reading, and harassing our pet cat Simon, the time that I was most excited for arrived: a week with my family at the cabin on Spirit Lake.

First, the cabin. The best place in the world. It lies on the north shore of Big Spirit on the border of Iowa and Minnesota down a quiet gravel road on McClelland Beach. The cabin was originally this olive green cottage that sported a leaky roof, a toilet that worked most of the time, and a lot of character. In 1996, however, the family decided to knock that cabin down and put up The Cabin 2.0.

The cabin now is everything one could expect in such a structure at such a location. Lake paraphanelia - like the big mounted fish that we told Michael would eat him when he was little - decorates the wall. Various swimming accessories - like Big Bertha, the infallible large black inner tube - lie strewn on the floor and in the closets. A loft populated by mattresses and other sleeping goods - how else would we get ten or eleven occupants in the cabin at once? - dominates the upper floor. Outside there is the standard fire pit, the shed out back, a beach, and a dock.

Admittedly, words fail to reflect the true value of the cabin. I cannot speak for all the members of my family, nuclear or extended, but when my car gets to the grade, I slide into relaxation mode. The cabin itself is not markedly different from any of the others on the beach or in the area, but the memories, the company, the break from normal life, and the reverence with which hanging out there is treated makes this my favorite place in the world.

We jumped off the end of the dock at least ten million times, sometimes throwing a ball to each other, sometimes screaming the name of a movie, sometimes leaping in the middle of the night. We paddled kayaks to the world's end, took a break, and then lumbered back. We laughed at Michael as he trailed behind the motor boat on a tube and his swimsuit trailed down his legs in a bundle. We fed campfires until they raged uncontrollably and ate s'mores until we bulged uncontrollably. We sat on the dock and talked and got into the sun. We helped and laughed at a family friend after she and her jelly slippers fell into the slough on the other side of the road. We took naps. We caught frogs and turtles, sometimes getting bloody injuries from the latter. We rode jetskis and killed them in the middle of the lake, or couldn't get back on, or both. We took rides on the motorboat. We (Jake Lemke!) lit off fireworks that came back and hit us (me!) in the legs. We slept three in a two-person tent. We built enormous, intricate sand castles. We (I?) got a ticket from the DNR for failing to have any life jackets in our expired-tag-havin' boat. We gathered to celebrate countless birthdays and Fourths, thus forging relationships with all the members of Grandpa and Grandma Schoon's family.

So, second, the cabin at Spirit Lake was a perfect place for the Haggar family to finally reunite. Dan, Sue, Christina, Michael, and I last congregated on May 25, 2009, and had not all been together for 807 days. And only the good Lord knows how many days it will be until we all meet again, too.

On Monday afternoon I rolled out on Highway 9 to Spirit Lake and the cabin by myself, but I was joined later that evening by my parents. The next day I picked my brother Michael up from the airport in Sioux Falls, he having recently finished his YouthWorks! commitments for the summer, and back to the cabin we went. Then Thursday night the final piece of the puzzle was put into place as my sister Christina showed up off the road from Omaha. Thursday to Sunday was spent together.

How can I describe my time with the four people who know me best? I felt complete. In many ways, we were all at different places than we'd been the last time we'd all been under the same roof; each member of the family had taken different paths and had different experiences. But the time was still overrun with cohesion and understanding and laughter.

As had so often been the case during the summer in America, reconnecting and reminiscing and processing with the fam made me feel like I should stay and not go. Maybe going makes me value time with my family and my friends more, although I know living in the Midwest around them would be awesome and rewarding as well. I doubt it makes a difference, though. We have a good time, all the time.

So. I will miss the Haggars. I will miss the Schoons. I will miss my college friends. I will miss my YouthWorks! friends. I will miss my Iowa friends. I will miss the cabin and the TC and Simon and the Twins and home. But...maybe we can do this again next summer? Let's be in touch. See ya.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

101 Questions about Beijing

On Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - six days from now - I will leave the Midwest and fly to Beijing in the People's Republic of China. Questions swirl around my head like flies around a pile of my brother's laundry:

1. What is the quickest way to get arrested in a communist country?
2. How hard is Mandarin to speak and understand?
3. How hard is Chinese to read and write?
4. How much room in my bag will I save if I go commando all year?
5. What is communism like in action and how much does it affect everday life?
6. When will the "Korean singles" ads disappear from my Facebook page?
7. Are cats and snakes normal menu items?
8. Can I get a pet cat instead of eating one?
9. Are there many fun things to do on the weekends?
10. Will there be room to breathe?
11. Will I get to coach anything at my new school?
12. Which age group do I teach best?
13. Will there be as many bald teachers at Beijing World Youth Academy as there were at Centennial Christian School?
14. Will the other teachers like me?
15. Will my students be fun?
16. What books will I get to teach?
17. How much frustration will the VPN that I get cause me?
18. Will I even be able to use Facebook?
19. Will I even be able to publish on this blog?
20. Will Skype work from China?
21. Are all emails, phone calls, letters, and smoke signals censored/monitored?
22. Is Yao Ming as popular there as Michael Jordan was in America?
23. How much influence did Yao Ming have in making basketball popular in China?
24. How do people in China feel about Yao Ming's recent retirement?
25. Can I meet Stephon Marbury? How about Steve Francis?
25. How come baseball has failed to become popular in China?
26. Can I go run a lap on the Olympic track or swim a lap in the Olympic pool?
27. Would it be a good idea for me to get a bike?
28. What are the most popular martial arts practiced?
29. What are the in's and out's of Buddhism?
30. Where and how are the dead disposed of?
31. Are there trees or grass in Beijing?
32. Does anyone there care about Christmas?
33. How crazy is the Lunar New Year celebration?
34. How importantly is education treated?
35. How do the Chinese view Western education?
36. Are Pringles available?
37. What is the foreign community like?
40. What percentage of the foreign community is composed of white men living in China solely to date Chinese women?
41. Are the ladies better looking in Beijing or in Seoul?
42. Where can books printed in English be found in China?
43. How much will a cab cost?
44. Is there a Hard Rock Cafe there?
45. Do students wear uniforms?
46. What word(s) can I yell for service in a restaurant?
47. To what degree is fashion emphasized?
48. Do Chinese people like flannel?
49. Who is your daddy and what does he do?
50. Do the Chinese know who Alexandra Wallace is?
51. Is deodorant available for purchase?
52. Do people party in Beijing as hard as they do in Seoul?
53. What is the most common last name in China?
54. Can toilet paper be flushed down the toilet or does it go in the garbage?
55. How different is American Chinese food from authentic Chinese food?
56. Is the food delicious in general?
57. Is the food healthy in general?
58. Where can I get me some good Mexican food?
59. Where can I get me some good Korean food?
60. Where can I get me some good Lebanese food?
61. Should I boycott McDonald’s?
62. How will a beard go over?
63. Will anyone come visit me?
64. Will people still want to be my friends in America if I continue to leave all the time?
65. How expensive is traveling within China? Without?
66. Are all things in China actually made in China?
67. What are China's views on its neighboring countries?
68. Is it expensive to heat ones apartment in the winter?
69. Is there validity to either of the following articles that Kara Minor posted on Facebook ("Ten Reasons Why Going To China Might Be Bad for Your Health"; "Seven Things in China That Could Kill You")
70. Will Chinese people care if I don't shower?
71. Do many Chinese people speak English?
72. Do many Chinese people want to speak English?
73. Will I be able to find the note that Dawna left me in China last spring?
74. How hot does it get?
75. How cold does it get?
76. Does it snow?
77. How did China produce so many people?
78. How long should I stay?
79. How much does an apartment cost to rent?
80. How's the public transportation?
81. Is there karaoke in Beijing?
82. Do the Chinese like punk?
83. Do the Chinese like ska?
84. Do the Chinese like hip hop?
85. Do the Chinese like K-pop?
86. Do the Chinese like metalcore?
87. Do the Chinese like hardcore?
88. Where can I meet a panda?
89. How nasty is the pollution going to be?
90. Do the Chinese like Americans?
91. What is most likely to kill me: a panda, the pollution, or being an American?
92. Do the Chinese like white people?
93. What does the average Chinese citizen think of democracy and/or the West?
94. How badly is China beating the U.S. in the "Most Powerful Country in the World" competition?
95. Given that most of the world considers China to be the rising superpower of the 21st century, how do the Chinese themselves view their place in the world economically and their future as a global player?
96. How can China's support of North Korea be pried away?
97. How long are the Chinese going to let the United States pussy-foot around concerning the trillion plus dollars Americans owe them before taking up arms?
98. Can I bring my Bible?
99. What kind of English or international churches exist?
100. Do the Chinese dig Confucianism?
101. Can the Great Wall of China actually be seen from space?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cemetery Road Trip

Here is a quiz of thirty questions about a road trip I went on recently in order to see a bunch of different graves throughout the midwestern and western United States. Write down your answers, tally them up at the end, and e-mail me how many you answered correctly. The winning score will receive a prize that we discovered on the road trip, gathered up into our van, and brought home especially for this occasion. Good luck!

1. On Tuesday, July 19, 2011, my father and I departed from Rock Rapids, Iowa, for Lander, Wyoming in hopes of both learning a lot about the history of the Midwestern U.S. and also _________.
a. getting away from Iowa for a while
b. discovering the truth about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
c. checking up on my brother Michael
d. finding an additional starting pitcher for the Twins

2. The Mighty Mo, a.k.a. the Missouri River, was a lovely accomplice for most of the first day's drive and was _________ in most places.
a. flooded
b. thorough, informative, and interesting
c. absolutely crazy
d. closed

3. The Atka Lakota Museum that we visited at the St. Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota, was _________ but prohibited photos from being taken inside.
a. flooded
b. thorough, informative, and interesting
c. absolutely crazy
d. closed

4. The Buffalo Interpretative Center, located seven miles east of Pierre, South Dakota, was _________.
a. flooded
b. thorough, informative, and interesting
c. absolutely crazy
d. closed

5. A visit to the capitol building of South Dakota in Pierre the next day allowed us to meet _________.
a. the current South Dakota governor, Dennis Daugaard
b. the lady once known as the most attractive woman in politics, Stephanie Herseth
c. South Dakota native Mike Miller
d. no one important

6. At the Cultural Heritage Center, which had been built into the side of a hill and documents most to all of South Dakota's history, the younger of the two of us lost a _________ by a score of 49 ounces to 187 ounces.
a. simulated cow milking contest against a milking machine
b. blood drinking competition
c. gas siphoning game
d. spitting match

7. My pa and I journeyed onward to discover _________ grave overlooking the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.
a. Laura Ingalls Wilder's
b. Joe Foss's
c. Hubert Humphrey's
d. Sitting Bull's

8. Tuesday night's stopping point was in Lemmon, South Dakota, home of the world's largest _________.
a. landfill
b. congressman
c. petrified forest
d. buffalo

9. Thursday saw us travelers progressing into North Dakota, where _________ grew up.
a. 2NE1
b. Roger Maris
c. Theodore Roosevelt
d. Mr. T.

10. Also located in North Dakota is Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a massive nature reserve of 110 square miles and home to scores of _________, all of which the two of us drove near, photographed, and heckled when we passed through on Thursday.
a. horses
b. prairie dogs
c. buffalo
d. all of the above

11. Thursday night's resting place was in Miles City, _________, a locale neither of us had been to before.
a. Canada
b. Montana
c. Nebraska
d. Greenland

12. On Friday my dad and I rose (read: one hit the other with a bunch of pillows to wake him up) at 5:53 in the morning and drove just north of the Montana-Wyoming border to the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn, which was fought _________.
a. on June 25 and 26 of 1876
b. between several Native American tribes and General Custer's Seventh Calvary Regiment
c. all over the hills above the Little Bighorn Creek
d. all of the above

13. The U.S. Army lost the Battle of Little Bighorn; _________ of its soldiers involved survived.
a. zero
b. the larger
c. the Iowan squadron
d. all

14. After touring the battle grounds, the we hit the road and headed south toward Casper, Wyoming, but halted in Buffalo, Wyoming, when we learned that the flight of my mom from Denver had been delayed until 10:00 p.m. that night instead of 4:30 p.m., so instead of going to Casper and waiting to pick her up until then, we _________.
a. a long nap in the parking lot of an insurance agency
b. a detour to a memorial for Fetterman and the other eighty soldiers who got demolished in the Battle of the Hundred Slain against Red Cloud
c. a scenic drive through the Bighorn Mountains and Wind River Canyon
d. all of the above

15. Before picking up Sue from the airport in Casper, we met Michael Haggar near Lander, Wyoming, on the other side of the state, where he works hard for _________.
a. the CIA
b. YouthWorks!, Inc.
c. a rodeo
d. the money

16. I hadn't seen Michael _________.
a. so clean shaven
b. so fully clothed
c. in almost a year
d. without a flock of women chasing him

17. After reunited with Michael, the crew of male Haggars _________.
a. cruelly texted Christina, the only Haggar not destined to congregate that weekend
b. drove to Casper, Wyoming, to get my mom from the airport, where her flight from Denver finally deposited her
c. purchased matching sets of cowboy hats
d. did the Ghost Dance

18. Saturday, my nearly-complete family drove back to Lander and _________.
a. inspected Michael's housing site
b. prospected for gold
c. did the Ghost Dance
d. all of the above

19. Saturday afternoon's activities also included _________.
a. a visit to Sacajawea's grave
b. a drive deep into the mountains
c. a check-in at Best Western
d. all of the above

20. The Wind River Reservation near which Michael is located is home to the _________ American Indian tribes.
a. Shoshone
b. Arapaho
c. both "a" and "b"
d. neither "a" nor "b"

21. Not deviating from the normal Sunday routine, we all _________ on the morning of the Christian Sabbath.
a. slept til noon
b. went to church together
c. graded papers
d. hit the hay at about 7 a.m. after a night of wild partying at the local trance club

22. _________ consumed the afternoon hours of that Sunday, but only for my mom and me.
a. A hike into the wilderness that ended at a waterfall
b. An elk hunt with bows and arrows
c. The Twins-Tigers game
d. The completion of a thousand-piece puzzle

23. The last we saw of Michael was him _________ during club that night.
a. leading worship
b. pretending to be a dinosaur (probably a velociraptor) and attacking kids
c. consuming a gratuitous amount of beans
d. giving an intense talk the kids at his work place

24. On Monday my mom _________ Iowa from Casper after my dad and I drove her there.
a. disowned
b. flew back to
c. prophesied doom over
d. shelled

25. Feeling abandoned, my father and I traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota Monday afternoon, a reservation that is home to the _________.
a. Crow
b. Cheyenne
c. Oglala Sioux
d. Mighty Mighty Bosstones

26. On Pine Ridge lies the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre, which occurred when _________ slaughtered between 150 and 300 captive, unarmed Lakota Sioux in 1890. (Hint! The answer has already been mentioned earlier in the quiz!)
a. orcs
b. the aliens from "Independence Day"
c. L. Frank Baum*
d. the 7th Calvary Regiment of the U.S. Army

27. When my father and I visited Wounded Knee, we confronted _________.
a. the Wounded Knee Massacre cemetery
b. a dude who hit us up for a ride to town even though he regaled us with a tale of how he’d stolen some guy’s car in Rapid City and driven it until it ran out of gas
c. a shockingly heavy thunderstorm
d. all of the above

28. After a night of rest in Hot Springs on Monday night, South Dakota, we swiftly crossed the entire state Tuesday, stopping only to _________ and _________.
a. perform the Ghost Dance; hang out with Lisa McCarthy in Mission, South Dakota
b. urinate; hold up a store
c. check out a museum at the Oglala Lakota College; hang out with Lisa McCarthy in Mission, South Dakota
d. check out a museum at the Oglala Lakota College; perform the Ghost Dance

29. My understanding of most to all of the historic sites we visited in South Dakota and Montana was enhanced by reading _________ at the time of the journey.
a. "Book of Mormon" by Joseph Smith (the founder of the Mormon religion, not to be confused with the mediocre #1 pick in the 1995 NBA draft)
b. reading "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown (the illustrious author, not to be confused with Dee Brown, the NBA player who did the "no look" dunk in the 1991 Slam Dunk Contest)
c. "Dead Reckoning" by Michael Jackson (the New Zealand poet, not to be confused with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson)
d. "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin (the acclaimed author, not to be confused with the flailing baseball player James Baldwin)

30. The final stop of the journey in Marion, South Dakota, to pay respect at the grave of Uncle Dave was the _________ graveyard that we visited.
a. first
b. fifth
c. biggest
d. oldest

Extra Credit:
General George Armstrong Custer graduated _________ in his class at West Point.
1. first
2. with honors
3. by bribing his professors
4. last

1. c
2. a
3. b
4. d
5. d
6. a
7. d
8. c
9. b
10. d
11. b
12. d
13. a
14. d
15. b
16. c
17. b
18. a
19. d
20. c
21. b
22. a
23. d
24. b
25. c
26. d
27. d
28. c
29. b
30. b

*Don't know who he is? This dude not only wrote "The Wonderful Wizard of Os" but also advocated "the complete annihilation of Native Americans."