Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yes Shave December






What do these words all have in common?

If you answered, "These are all people/farm animals your brother Michael has tried to date," you are close, but not as close as if you answered, "These are all things that your students have called you since November 1st, when No Shave November began." Day after day, I have been under assault in far less clever ways, whether it be from students in an eighth grade English class, from other teachers who see an easy conversation starter, or from women pointedly looking the other way on the street (or maybe I am thinking of October. And September. And August.).

Despite the attacks, No Shave November has been a success at BWYA. At least to some degree...I haven't seen any kids really going crazy with it. But in addition to the handful of rugged male teachers who have always had beards ("No Shave Life"), I can think of at least six other teachers who have consistently not touched a razor to their cheeks and two who have been off and on all month. Even a visiting pastor who came to B-Dubs to talk to some class remarked to Miss April, "There sure are a lot of teachers who have beards at your school!"

That makes me proud. Proud to have a beard this month. And it has been fun. But now the time for decisions to be made is here. Obviously, "To shave or not to shave," that truly is the question (or, as some seventh grad English class would tell is, "To have a girlfriend or not to have a girlfriend"). I have to admit, the reasons I have given to kids who have asked, "Why No Shave November?" have been legitimate ones. One is that I get three extra minutes in the morning when I could be shaving. Another is that I'm warmer with it on. A third and more extravagant reason - one that usually ends with me yelling and pounding on a desk like a caveman - is that for eleven months, we men are kept at bay from being who we really are: hairy animals that eat raw meat [and that grow beards]. But, really, most of all, I just like having a beard.

Tonight as I was leaving the school, a student I hadn't seen in a while stopped me and commanded, "Mr. Haggar, shave your beard." I scoffed and said, "It's still November! No Shave November!" To which he replied, "Yes Shave December!" I laughed. Decision-making time is here indeed. We'll see what happens, I guess. But to that tiny Korean girl in E8B - God bless her little heart - who stopped me one day, put her hand on my arm, and with all the sincerity in the world said, "Mr. Haggar...please shave your beard"...don't get your hopes up.

Here's what we're dealing with on the eve of Yes Shave December:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

No Rest for the Weary

Here is some school-related crap that has kept me busy in the past two months or so:

1. BWYA Basketball Tournament

Mr. Clem, the basketball coach at my school, organized this tournament on the eighth of October. It was held on a gusty, sunny day on our school’s courts and was attended by St. Paul American High School and some French school. I went to watch but was invited to referee each of the four games that took place throughout the course of the afternoon. St. Paul American won, B-Dubs got second, and the French school came in eighth or ninth. I liked how this latter team played the most, though; they avoided contact at all costs, so I had few to no fouls to call. It was a good time; there were a handful of students and some teachers who came out to cheer on the crew. I would love to ref again next year and am already accepting bribes; coaches, e-mail me.

2. Sports Day

The school - both student body and staff - was divided up into four houses (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)(I was on the Earth team, and our color was green, and we talked a lot of smack) and got together on Saturday, October 15, to do battle in a number of sporting events. There was rope jumping, race running, obstacle course maneuvering, war tugging, cheering, and trash talking. Ultimately Earth lost to Air (first place) and Fire (second place) but not to Water (in your faces). But, despite both the third place finish and the fact that the event was held on a Saturday morning at 8:30, Sports Day was a fun time and I really enjoyed it, perhaps due in part to the intensity and enthusiasm from the teachers on Team Green. The trophy is ours next year.

3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

On Friday, October 21, fifty or sixty of our students and a handful of teachers went to the TNT Theater to see Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I am an English teacher and should like all of Shakespeare’s works, but this one seems to be destined for me, or I for it. It is the only play I really remember caring about from my Shakespeare class with Mark Bruce at Bethel; I went to see it performed super well at the Guthrie. Then it turned out to be what was in the curriculum at CCS for the senior class, so I taught it twice there. Then I happened to visit Mr. Jordan Williams at TCIS in Daejeon and he happened to be showing a video version in class. And now, here in Beijing, it reared its ugly donkey head again. So we went, and it was good, and then we went home. My review of this rendition of the play (entitled “Whoooooooooooo Cares?”): it was very long, the funniest parts were the extreme liberties that the performing group took, and there were only six actors to do all the parts. Boom. Below is the advertisement that floated around my school for about a month leading up to the play. It is sort of a weird ad, which maybe explains why not everyone from my school went.

4. United Nations Day

This day was allegedly Monday, October 24, or so the authorities at our school said. BWYA celebrated it on Friday, October 28, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the entire event may have been concocted so that no one would wear their Halloween costumes during the school day but would instead save them for the Halloween party that evening. Anyway, most students were sporting the colors of their respective home countries. There were lots of flags, traditional costumes, and national colors all over the place. There were also plenty of kids just wearing whatever they felt like. I tried to bring together as much red, white, and blue as possible, which included blue slippers, white long-johns, blue KU shorts, a red sweater, a white tie, a “Twins: Get To Know ‘Em” pin from 2001, an Iowa flag worn as a cape, and a Santa hat. I also went out and got completely sloshed the night before, so when I showed up at school my eyes were super red. Just kidding. I felt stupid most of the day, especially walking to school and going out for Chuan Friday. But the celebration was a success. Also, some kid took a picture of me with all that crap on, but I haven't been able to track it down, so here is a picture of my brother, Dirks, me, and Clayton wearing some American garb at the Metrodome in 2008. Hope it will suffice.

5. Students vs. Teachers Basketball Game

I was walking down a hallway one day a couple weeks ago, minding my own business, when a senior at our school said, “We’re going to kill you, Mr. Haggar!” Startled at such a violent threat, I said, “Then you’ll get expelled!” After the conversation continued, I was enlightened about the annual students vs. teachers basketball game. I’d heard rumors and, after the trash talker found me, I enlisted myself on the teacher roster. The game was on Friday, the 28th of October, which, if the reader is keeping careful notes, was the same day as the national color hullabaloo and the Halloween party. So it was pretty full one. Anyway, the teachers – Mr. Clem, basketball coach; Mr. Vinge, PR guy; Mr. O., computer teacher/soccer worshipper; Dyson, IT master, Lei Buo, PE affiliate; me, English teacher – stepped up to the challenge against a crew of young dudes who were literally chomping at the bit to beat us. Below is a brief recap of the game that was published in the school newsletter, and a picture of Mr. O. showing off the scoreboard to Mr. Gaspar, who does not actually always look like a freak but was merely decorated for the H-Party that was held an hour and a half after the beatdown.

6. Halloween Party

The basketball game ended at 5:30 and the Halloween party started at 7 p.m., and I didn’t even have the largest part of my costume. But I made it. The party itself was alright. There were snacks, a costume contest, a haunted house, a dance room, and maybe some other stuff that I missed. But mostly I floated around and tried to figure out who was who and gasped for air through my costume. The quality of the costumes at the party ranged from awesome (two girls had intestines and gore spilling out of their slashed chests)(perhaps this doesn’t sound like it should be in Category Awesome, but they were well done, at least) to mediocre (like just wearing the “scary old man” mask with normal everyday clothes) to no costume at all (like, some students didn’t wear any costume at all). The snacks were good but the Oreos ran out very quickly. Overall, it was pretty solid for a school Halloween party; however, it cannot hold a candle to the legendary Lissner 403 September, February, and May Halloween dance parties of 2006-2007.

7. Baseball Club(s)

In earlier posts I mentioned the middle school baseball club I am running, with the help of Mr. Robert Wang. This continues to be a good time, especially now that a package from my father and Coach Pytleski of Central Lyon in Rock Rapids has arrived. Its contents include four gloves, a batting helmet, a handful of baseball bats, and many, many baseballs, the hard kind, the sort that grow hair on your chest and put you in the hospital if used wrong. A couple weeks ago we moved away from drills and practice to scrimmaging, which requires less planning and less yelling at kids to quit being morons. With the cold weather, however, we will have to see what happens. Additionally, at some point early in the year, a high school student approached me and asked if I would play some ball after school (the middle school club is during a class period on Wednesday) with some of the high schoolers who were interested. We have only played a couple times, and the numbers are quite few (6-10 students) and transient, but since everyone who comes is genuinely interested in playing, and everyone gets more playing time since there’s only three or four people per time (as opposed to fifteen in the middle school club), the engagement level is much higher. In general, it’s way more like playing with a bunch of friends. The smack talk level is higher, as well.

8. Forensix

Also known as speech and debate. On Mondays B-Dubs offers clubs that are more “academic” in nature, as opposed to Wednesday’s clubs, which are more extracurricular. Yes. Anyway speech and debate started a long time ago, but now we have one meet under our belt (Friday, Nov. 11). There are five vectors we have been focusing on: original oratory (writing your own speech and presenting it!), oral interpretation (dramatic readings of poems and prose, baby!), impromptu (creating a three-to-five minute speech in ninety seconds!), duo interpretation (memorizing and acting out some two-person dramatic piece), and debate (arguing with rules and regulations). I am in charge of original oratory and debate. On the 11th of November, Miss April, Mr. O'Day, and I took two debate teams, two duet acts, a poetry reader, and two impromptu speakers to the ritziest international school in the city. It was stressful and overwhelming, but once we got in and got settled, one of the debate teams won two of their three debates, everyone had a good time, and we all had a crazy good international lunch. All in all, a success! On Tuesday, Nov. 22, we do battle again at a different school under different circumstances. It's on. Here is a photo of our brainstorming board on "Research Night 2011: The Night We Got Yelled at for Having Pizza in the Computer Lab."

9. Beijing No. 94 High School

My school, Beijing World Youth Academy, shares one of its buildings with a local public middle school, which in turn works with a local public high school in the area. At some point a deal – one that I hope was made in a dark basement room over a smoky game of drunken poker – was made, a deal in which BWYA promised to service its partner high school, Beijing No. 94 High School, with a native English speaker for one class a week. The class period is on Tuesday from 2:45 to 3:45. Three English teachers at our school have that time off. Feel free to make your own judgments about my school, but I was the only one asked to teach this one class because a) one of the two other English teachers is head of the English department and is very busy b) the other of the two other English teachers is not technically a native English speaker, though she is quite fluent c) I am white, blond, and energetic. At any rate, now I go there every Tuesday afternoon and yell at two different classes – one of fifty or so, one of twenty-something – of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds for an hour. Ms. Du, my contact there, says that they’d just like to have some contact with a native English speaker; all they’ve gotten so far is Chinese teachers teaching them English out of textbooks, a fact that is made abundantly clear when I walk into the room and shout, “Hey, ya’ll, how you doin’?” And every person in the room says, “Fine.” I basically have free reign to teach them whatever I want. I will probably just teach them about a slough of random topics, but if you have any bright ideas, let me know. And, I don't have a picture from No. 94 yet, but some of them have pictures of me, since after class they came and stood four feet from me and took photographs. Anyway, instead, here is a picture on a Thursday morning - a truly hopeless day on which I get no rest - of the sun rising over the Chinese flag in front of my school. I will do better with pictures in the future, I swear.

10. Chinese Class

There is not much to say about this, except that the class consists of about six or seven teachers gathering after school every Monday and Thursday for an hour and getting taught pronunciation and vocab by one of the Chinese teachers at B-Dubs. There are varying levels of proficiency in the class; some of the “students” have been in Beijing for ten years and are pretty dang good, while others (ahem) don’t know jack and find it difficult to study consistently, given how much life is going on. But try we must. It’s a good time. Here is a picture of me studying how to talk about shengri and wearing my eighteen-day-old beard.

So! A lot has been going on, and this is basically not including any standard school stuff, like teaching, or any standard living stuff, like hanging out. Nonetheless, most of the items listed in the post have been fun, so they are not chores but enjoyable activities. Thus, let them continue, I guess.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Operation Golden Dragon, Pt. 1

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. Thanks to Nasty Nate for the title of this new China-based series of blog posts, a series that is merely a rip-off of "Bag 'Em and Tag 'Em" from South Korea. Meh.

(1) The Bell and Drum Towers

So there I was. Five days into my time in Beijing, stuck at my apartment, and gettin' antsy. I took off, throwing caution to the wind, and leaped onto the subway. I rode to Guloudajie Station and burst out in search of the Towers Bell and Drum. My honest thought process - if I can recall correctly - was that Dawna was coming, and I would wait with the more awesome touristy stuff until she, a fellow curiosity-haver, could join me in my touristic excursions. So, the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower got the initial nod from me and my camera on August 22.

I located the two large buildings and hit up the Drum Tower first. The stairs? Many. The view from the top? Impeded by smog. The drums? Mostly replicas. There was one insanely old authentic one, but that was it. Here is the Drum Tower:

Here are the stairs to the T.O.P.:

The view to the south:

The view to the east:

The view to the west:

Some drums:

Fortunately, a bunch of dudes showed up and gave a drum-banging performance. It was good. They'd clearly been training for months and months and were quite good.

Having explored every inch of the ol' place, I descended and went across the parking lot to the Bell Tower. These 2 for 1 deals, I tell you what. Behold, the Bell Tower:

Up the stairs. To the top. Looked around. The bell was pretty big. What you want me to say? I won't lie that I can't deny:

And the view to the north, since I knew you were wondering:

Then I wondered around for a couple more hours, aimlessly, until I came to a place that can only truly be described by its Chinese name, Jishuitan. It was calming and relaxing, which was good cause I was so, ya know, worked up and anxious, and I want to go back there and read when it's warm. Here are some pictures of it:

(2) Yuyuantan Park

Mere days later, August 26, the date of which I only can recite because the folder of pictures from it was created that day, I set out for a destination even more distant from my house: Muxidi Station and Yuyuantan Park. I arrived and walked for about ten hours before finding a way over the canal (moat?) that kept me from accessing the park. When I did breech the park's perimeter and enter the interior, I was pretty disappointed with the southern side. It was very bland and the lake that is supposed to be in the middle of the park - a lake with a cool land bridge through its center, according to my map - was very much under construction. It was an ugly sight, to be honest. I didn't even take any pictures. The only redeeming point was this nice little courtyard deal. Very chill. Some people were napping there.

I circled (ovaled? It's not really a circular lake) and found that the north shore was actually way cooler. There were actually people hanging out, some of them out on the lake in boats (similar to the swan boats!) and others just parading around taking pictures like I was. Good!

In the background of many of these photos, a large Seoul Tower/Space Needle-esque structure can be seen. This is the CCTV Tower. It is not to be confused with the CCTV Headquarters Tower. Both are on my list of towers to attack and pillage.

(3) Beihai Park

Finally Dawna arrived. Finally we set out with our explorer hats and our cameras. Finally we stormed the city. Finally! The destination was Beihai Park, not far at all from the Drum Tower, not far at all from the Bell Tower.

The park was mostly a lake, the land immediately surrounding it, and an islandy hill with the Great White Dagoba at its peak. However, the park was not as boring as it sounds. And we didn't even do everything that the place offered. Here are just a few of the intriguing attractions Beihai Park offered us on that fine Saturday, September 4, a day that will live in infamy.

First, a lake chock full of little paddle boats. They were a little expensive for two people, and we did witness one of them that had run aground; its occupants were yelling "S.O.S.!" and laughing.

Second, some canals. Beijing has an ample supply of these. And willow trees.

Third, a bunch of pagodas full of dancing people. Some performances were just one lady doing interpretative dance, but some were a bunch of couples - some of them old, brazen, and insane - getting down.

Fourth, calligraphy for the ground. If one were to write English words with a big water-broom on the ground, one would get laughed at. But Chinese is way sweeter to look at. So, as a certain friend commented on a Facebook photo of Cass Money's, "This kind of sidewalk calligraphy is widely done throughout all of China :)" Now you know.

Fifth, a bridge to the island in the middle: Qionghua Island. Dawna's shock and awe over the rare Great White Dagoba (similar in scarcity to the Great White Bat in "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls) is obvious in her body language.

Sixth, one of these things. I don't know what they are called or what purpose they serve. A lot of times they seem to be a gate of some sort, but as far as their actual function...probably just to catch the eye of tourists who aren't used to seeing them everywhere. I think I'm over them.

Seventh, another one of these things. This time my attention was caught so completely that I had to take a picture under it.

Eighth, a tower in traditional Chinese architecture style. This one's obvious original purpose was to shoot flaming poison arrows that made victims' skin melt and inner organs liquify out at attackers. Not so today.

Ninth, curves. Almost as nice as Anne Hathaway's. But...not quite.

Tenth, saxophone players. This one's for you, Christina Haggar.

Eleventh, a spectacular view of Dawna looking out on a spectacular view of Beijing, especially Jingshan Park, a destination we marked for death that very day.

Twelfth, a spectacular view of the lake and the swan boats and the other side. I can see my house from here.

Thirteenth, a dim, gray, foreboding view of the Forbidden City. Take care, tourists. Take care.

Fourteenth, Dawna grimacing over a gaggle of cross-legged, large-eared humanoid figures. Tread softly, Dawna.

Fifteenth, the Great White Dagoba. Undoubtedly, you have been racking your brain for the meaning of the word "dagoba." Well, wonder no more. Wikipedia tells us that the word is the name of a French metal band. Actually, they sound like something I'd sort of enjoy. Other definitions claim that "dagoba" is a brand of chocolate and/or a planet from "Star Wars." The winner is an architectural style: "a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics." And this one was white, and pretty great, as far as Buddhist relic-containers go.

Sixteenth, a horrible joke based on "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in which my head became an alligator's.

Seventeenth, stairs, and lots of them. We followed one portly couple up the stairs, and you could actually see the two physically losing weight as they climbed. At the top they had to hold their pants up with their hands.

Eighteenth, one last shot of some boaters as the sun threatens to set (spoiler: it did).

Nineteenth, another photo of the sun, this time hovering over the willows and another curvy building.

Twentieth, a summary of this whole segment of the post (Great White Dagoba, bridge, island, lake, etc.) and I.

(4) Community Hike

"Oh," you say in your quiet, fire-lit den in your warm home, "a community hike. How boring." Well, what if I were to tell you about five words that were left out of the title of (4), five words that would likely change your perception of not only this post but also of the entire world as you have heretofore perceived it? Here are the words; they also indicate where the hike took place:

The Great Wall of China.

Yes, it's true. Our rugged Community and Service Coordinator Mr. Fleming ("a ladies's man," as a student's journal told me forty-five minutes ago) organized this October 8 event for students, teachers, administrators, and parents; we departed from Wangjing at 8 a.m. and arrived at the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall a few hours later. The rest was simple: we hiked all over the Great Wall, stopping only for lunch and to pick up the bodies of the dead, those not strong enough to make it. Highlights: getting to parade around on the most popular historic tourist site in the world quite casually. Lowlight: our principal suggested we jog up this wicked steep set of stairs, and we did it, and we couldn't walk after that.

Rather than bore you with any more meaningless dialogue (who wants to read about the Great Wall when they could be looking at pictures of it?), I will just put up the photographs I took and call it good.