Thursday, September 29, 2011

This Is Longer Than Anything Else in China

A)(as in “August Burns Red”) Here is what has been happening over here, with me, at least. I can’t speak for anyone else.

B)(as in “Between the Buried and Me”) This long, arduous update on the life of one of Iowa’s slimiest is being typed on – dramatic pause – a MacBook Pro. I know I typed it correctly because it says so right there under the screen. In college I used to mock Mac users (read: T-Duck), but even as early as senior year, Bethel’s computer lab gained an impressive spread of the aforementioned product line. As time progressed, Apple products slowly started infiltrating my life, to the point where I thought, “Maybe I should at least learn my way around on a Mac so that I can work fluidly on one when I must.” And then, lo and behold, last Tuesday, I showed up at school and was handed this slim, 13-inch, backlit LED widescreen notebook. Cool.

C)(as in “Comeback Kid”) Speaking of school, let’s start with that. Let’s start with my responsibilities there. Let’s start with classes. Let’s start with homeroom. There’s twenty kids in my homeroom, kids from places like Australia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Japan, and Spain. We hang out from 8:20-8:28, water the plants in my room, answer the question of the day, and disperse. I feel pretty confident about all their names.

D)(as in “Dead to Fall”) Then we enter a block schedule. Seventy-five minute class periods three times a week. Different. Pros and cons. In this IB program (or, according to them (us?): programme)(when I type "programme" in Word, there’s a red line under it) language A is the language the student is most proficient at. Language B is a second language class. Language Y is a twenty-fifth language class. The equivalent of sixth through tenth grade is called MYP (middle years programme) and eleventh and twelfth grade are called DP (diploma programme). There are oodles of other ins and outs, but they are negligible for you readers at home, I think. Except the part about corporal punishment with a baseball with nails in it; please refer to "Y)" for more information.

E)(as in “Every Time I Die”) I teach seventh grade language A. The class is composed of nine girls. Like Girls Generation, which is what I’m going to start referring to them as. They don’t know it yet. We’re reading “Hatchet.” I want them to fall head over heels for Brian Robeson. We’ll see.

F)(as in “For Today”) I teach eighth grade language A. The class is composed of nineteen boys and girls. They have proven to be the least unruly, the most studious, and, in general, the easiest to plan for. Highlight so far: I tried to get them into a partner discussion format that closely, closely resembled speed dating. So awkward.

G)(as in "Gwar") I teach ninth grade language B. The class is composed of twenty-one boys and girls. We’re learning English by studying technology. I have had to talk to multiple kids after class about behavioral issues but have laughed the most with this class. Go figure.

H)(as in “He Is Legend”) I teach tenth grade language B. The class is composed of twenty boys and girls. We’re learning English by studying the art of travel. Resources are scant. It’s in a different building than the three other classes, a building that lacks air conditioning, clean floors, or airwaves that are uninterrupted by the sounds of construction drilling for more than thirty minutes.

I)(as in “It Dies Today”) My overall assessment of how well I will connect with the students in my classes is as follows (+/- indicates bridges and barriers to me connecting with them, not their value as humans):
E7 Language A: great English (+), Western influence (+), young (-), exclusively female (-)
E8 Language A: great English (+), Western influence (+), young (-)
E9 Language B: less developed English (-), little Western influence (-), older and more personable (+)
E10 Language B: less developed English (-), little Western influence (-), older and more personable (+)
Mr. Haggar: undeveloped Asiatic language skills (-), desire to learn Asiatic language skills (+), desire to learn about Chinese culture (+), controls grades (+), hideous complexion and fashion sense (-)

J)(as in “Jesus Wept") I teach a baseball club. It meets once a week at the end of Wednesday. We go to a park a few minutes away and “play” on a soccer field. I haven’t seen a baseball field here. The baseball team is myself, Mr. Robert Wang (who is delightfully energetic, insanely positive, extremely bilingual, and knows as much about baseball as the students), and a wide range of male and female sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth graders. A third of the crew has baseball gloves. A third of the crew (not necessarily the same third) has an ounce of passion for the game. Four-fifths come with a good attitude…maybe even more than that. After the first time we met, I told them to at least bring baseball caps (I’ve yet to find a store selling baseball mitts); so next week four kids had hats. One, however, was a Yankees hat, and so I went over to lay into the kid, and it was this tiny, tiny, tiny little sixth grade boy. I grunted, “You like that team on your hat?” And, in the best English this little trooper could muster, the boy replied, “Yes, I like the Yankees.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth about that team, so I said, “Uh…alright, so, Derek Jeter…he’s alright, yeah?” And we talked about him and some others and Rivera’s new saves record, and life went on. It will be a good year with these youngsters, but, if you’ve got any baseball gloves you don’t want, donate them to the People’s Republic of China. It’s time.

K)(as in “Killswitch Engage”) I teach a forensics club. It meets once a week at the end of Monday. Lots of kids showed up, but this might only have been because the other teacher who wants to coach speech is the most popular teacher at the school. She says that of the kids showed up, many are “loud, popular, funny” students. There’s an equal number of quiet, reserved folks. There are thirty or so students, and so hopefully we can enter some competitions, win some awards, and gather fame quickly.

L)(as in “Life in Your Way”) There are many other teachers at the school. Most seem pretty cool. I have found a handful who seem like they could be solid friends, which is essential for a good time here. And there are others unmet. Besides the demographics that intimate me in making friends (people who are way older and/or way more married than I am), the physical structure of the school seems preventative in the easy formation of friendships. There are two buildings. There is no staff room. All teachers teacher in multiple classrooms. The days are packed. So…time will tell whom I get close to.

M)(as in “Misery Signals”) School, overall, is going well. The first two weeks were frightening and overwhelming, as is the beginning of any job. I feel like I am over the hump, though. I am getting a handle on how to budget my time, deal with the students, and roll with the punches of being a professional educator.

N)(as in “Nodes of Ranvier”) Let’s go back in time. This past weekend (September 24-25) several other teachers and I took a journey to Beidaihe and Shanhaiguan, which are coastal tourist resorts east of Beijing. There were fifteen or twenty of us; we left Saturday morning and returned Sunday afternoon. There was a solid blend of beaches, climbable vantage points, dove-feeding, karaoke, pleasant weather, rustic Chinese architecture, married couples, and Great Wall bricks. Some far off day in the future I will write more about this and hopefully be able to upload pictures as well. Until then, know this: the trip was fun.

O)(as in “Once Nothing”) Let’s go further back in time. Last weekend (September 16-18) I found myself in Shanghai for MYP training. I found out that I was going on Tuesday (13th) morning and we left Thursday (15th) right after school (4:00 p.m.). I went with four Chinese teachers. We spent three days in workshops on specific content areas. I was pumped to get the opportunity because I went to the Language B workshop; Language B classes have been the far bigger struggle so far. I learned a lot, although I had higher expectations. I met some decently cool people, including coworkers of Jordan’s at TCIS in Daejeon (I sent back a secret note for Jordy Poo with them). I ate marvelous food the entirety of the weekend. The coworkers who hauled me around with them were sweet; we went to eat and then hit up The Bund one night, and the next saw us eating mouth-waterin' western Chinese food (like, food from the western part of China) in a restaurant that employed a professional belly dancer. Boom.

P)(as in “Project 86”…just their earlier stuff) Let’s go even further back. The weekend before last (September 10-12) overlapped with Korean Chuseok, so who should show up at my door but Cass Money from Seoul? She and a friend o’ hers came with a heretofore unparalleled desire to see all of Beijing. It was insane. They came Sunday and we went to the Summer Palace and the Silk Market. The next day (some Chinese holiday as well, so I didn’t have to work) we got through the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, touristy hutongs, and a traditional Peking duck dinner before finally parting ways. I went home to bed; they went to see the Olympic stadiums before the evening drew to a close. We must have walked three hundred miles. And then on Tuesday, Cass and her compatriot did the Great Wall tour, and then we hit up the Wangfujing market, where whack food is served. I went to bed after that, but they stayed out and, to be honest, I don’t know what they did Tuesday night or Wednesday during the day. Solid times, though.

Q)(as in “Quo Vadis“) I haven’t been to church in three weeks due to the events mentioned above. But community seems to be forming among my friends at BCIF at the 21st Century Theater, so I will have to return there soon.

R)(as in “Reflux”) Like I said, I have decided that the key to a great time here – as opposed to simply a good time – lies in me finding deep, solid friendships…go-to friends, if you will. Everywhere I have been in life so far, these friendships have popped up. Nasty Nate in high school, eight dudes I am in blogging communion with at Bethel, Ross in The Soo, Scott and Ray at Poly School, Lisa in Niagara Falls, Jordan and Mark at CCS, and a countless host of people in between. Who will those people be this time? I know a lot of it depends on how much initiative I take, but there is also an element of chance in there. We’ll see what happens. There is great potential already.

S)(as in “Symphony in Peril”) I brought five houseplants home from school, where they were dying, unwatered and uncared for. At this point I have them in my balcony thing, recuperating and rehydrating, but eventually I have perfect little places for them around my living area. I don’t know how these plants will fare when they are taken away from direct natural sunlight, though. Is anyone with a green thumb reading this? Holler.

T)(as in “Throwdown”) Slowly but surely traditions and rituals are being established in my life, just like I like. One of them is the watering of the plants each morning and evening (is that too often? I just don’t know…). Another is slowly but surely going to this certain restaurant on Fridays for lunch, a restaurant that serves meat on a stick. I want other ones to form as well: there is a Beijing Breakfast stand in front of my apartment, and I want to buy a breakfast product (words fail to describe what the thing is actually called) from this stand every morning and get friendly with the proprietors. Same with the small little convenience stores in my apartment complex: I go there often to buy daily necessities (soap, milkshake in a bag) and usually make a fool of myself (the cash register doesn’t display the price of the product, so I have to listen closely and try to figure out the price based on – get this! – its verbalization by the shopkeeper!). Anyway. We'll see how all that shakes out.

U)(as in “Underoath”) Chinese language learning. I don’t want to talk about this. The school is going to start offering lessons in October, though.

V)(as in “Venia”) My fantasy football team is tanking, and it’s three weeks into the season.

W)(as in “War of Ages”) I have really been getting into solving Sudoku puzzles on my phone when riding the subway. It helps me blend in more.

X)(as in “xDeathstarx”) My bowel movements have swung from the wet, nasty end of the BM spectrum to the other, dryer side.

Y)(as in "Yanni") Just kidding.

Z)(as in “Zao”) I’m so sorry that this was so long. So, so sorry. Thank you for reading it all, and a good day to you.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Beijing Checklist

Put up hundreds of tacky photographs all over apartment: check

Note irony in color* of couch in apartment: check

Figure out washing machine after forty minutes of button banging, texting for help, and e-mailing photographs of Chinese washing machine directions: check

Receive two boxes sent from Seoul in June: check

Walk it out: check

Fail to see apartment buildings two hundred yards away due to smogginess: check

Get busted dancing quietly to myself in elevator: check

Incur diarrhea from 80% of meals consumed: check

Get drenched in torrential, unheard of downpour on first day of new teacher orientation: check

Feel extremely young and uncultured after hearing life stories of older, seasoned international school educators: check

Exchange phone numbers with cutest female staff member at school: check

Learn that cutest female staff member at school is married: check

School some Chinese basketball dudes who wore matching Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett Celtics jerseys: check

Two step: check

Finally overcome jet leg: check

Fail to communicate intended message in Chinese to cashiers and waitresses: check

Receive skeptical, confused looks and behind-the-back mockery from cashiers and waitresses: check

Get challenged to an arm wrestling contest in the subway by some high school kid: check**

Get lost on foot: check

Get lost in taxi: check

Get lost in the subway: check

Do the stanky legg: check

Locate delicious Chinese restaurant near apartment: check

Locate delicious Korean restaurant near apartment: check

Locate delicious Malaysian restaurant near apartment: check

Locate delicious Indian restaurant near apartment: check

Locate Paris Baguette near apartment: check

Shake fist angrily at Paris Baguette: check

Tell horror stories about corporate evil and umbrella destruction by Paris Baguette to colleagues and and passersby: check

Pop, lock, and drop it: check

Go sightseeing with Dawna just like back in the day: check

Start “Beijing Scavenger Hunt” list: check

Get saved by Dawna from being the ninth wheel at a teacher get-together: check

Find decent church: check

Get called, texted, and e-mailed, and carrier pigeon-holed by church welcoming committee members: check

Shuffle...every day: check

Maneuver through first day of school without major incident: check

Write on smart board with dry erase marker: check

Indoctrinate students about New York Yankee wickedness and Anne Hathaway goodness: check

Miss delectable faces of friends and family, sweeping cornfields of the Iowa plains, fattening mounds of choices at Pizza Ranch, and encouraging familiarity of everywhere between Sioux Falls and St. Paul: check


To Do List:

Get VPN (until then I'd like to thank my publisher, Mike Moravec, Ph.D. and demigod)

Make friends with apartment guard

Figure anything out in Chinese

Go see Mao's body

Make students like baseball more

Use iron

Harden up stomach, bowels, and other digestive system organs

Find local, non-chain provider of quick, scrumptious breakfast food

Make grocery bag mask with eye holes cut out to wear when Major League Baseball conversation comes up

Have music up loud enough to be told by neighbors to decrease volume

Get taught how to dougie


*Guess.

**You may, whilst leisurely checking out the latest Facebook feed gossip, watching the most recent song from The Lonely Island on Youtube, or talking to your cute but shallow girlfriend of two months on Skype, be wondering if I won or lost this competition of strength and endurance. Here is the answer: I let him win.