Friday, December 23, 2011

Interview with a Christmas Addict

Grinchy Host: So. It's that time of year again. Christmas. You have made it abundantly clear with your constant and obnoxious display of Santa hats and Christmas ties of all kinds that you love Christmas this year, haven't you?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: I hope so.

Grinchy Host: Okay then. So you came in wondering a great many things about Christmas in China, no doubt, no doubt. Tell us, then: have you discovered anything?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Hmm. Even though there are Christmas lights and Christmas trees up all over the place, the Chinese population doesn't seem celebrate the season that much. The people I have talked to who don't work at my school don't get days off, nor do they do the whole gift-giving thing.

Grinchy Host: Well, you work at an international school...does this sentiment, or lack thereof, also reign supreme at Beijing World Youth Academy?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Ha. No. We at the school forced Christmas on everyone within a ten-block radius. Maybe fifteen blocks, even.

Grinchy Host: How? What did you do, pray tell?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Where to start? The best part of the celebration is a 39-day vacation between December and January. There's no way to top that.

Grinchy Host: I suppose not, I suppose not. But that has hardly begun, correct? What did you do before that? Did you make your students celebrate, those little wenches?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Yeah, yeah, yeah we did. There was a homeroom decorating contest; the best-looking room received a pizza party. And you know how pizza goes over with kiddies. So we took a homeroom period or two to make the room look nice, and some kids stayed after school to gussy A403 up a bit, and, in the end, it looked pretty good, I have to say.

Grinchy Host: Spectacular! Top drawer! Did you win?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: You know, we didn't. We got second place. But I guess that means we still beat a lot of other homerooms.

Grinchy Host: Indeed, indeed. So that was the extent of your Christmas promotion with the youth?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: No, no, don't be absurd...why decorate a classroom if you are not going to have a party in it? We had a big Christmas bash on the Friday before school got out: Christmas music, presents, snacks, balloons...the whole nine yards. Jealous kids from other homerooms came by to peek their li'l noses in, even!

Grinchy Host: How nice! Your room must have been most bustling place in the building!

Hopeless Christmas Addict: No, no...actually, there was a massive dance party going on two doors down from us, and I peeked my own li'l nose in there and ended up dancing myself. But our party was solid, and we made a huge mess, and that is what is important.

Grinchy Host: Quite true, quite true. And that was the extent of your Christmas at school?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Heck, no. There were a million other things, the main one being the December Talent Show. The whole school turned out for this momentous performance. It was so big we couldn't even have it at the school; everyone took a bus over the Heaven and Earth Theater in Dongzhimen, practiced all morning, and then cut loose all afternoon. Good times!

Grinchy Host: What sorts of performances do you mean?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Mmm. There was a short play, various musical performances, and a vast array of dances.

Grinchy Host: Did you act, play, or dance?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: No, but I had to be Santa.

Grinchy Host: You are not fat and you are not jolly, though.

Hopeless Christmas Addict: I have a beard.

Grinchy Host: Indeed. So it sounds like everything you all did was for your students. How nice.

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Not entirely accurate. The teachers had a wicked good meal at some barbecue restaurant. Delicious and paid for.

Grinchy Host: So all the teachers just sat around eating all evening? How mundane!

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Not so, not so! There were gifts being literally thrown at people. I got some toilet paper.

Grinchy Host: Toilet paper being thrown at people. Well, I just don't know what to make of that. What kind of school is this?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: A very giving one. There were also gifts you'd never consider wiping your butt with, like the one my Secret Santa got me: a Lonely Planet guide book!

Grinchy Host: Stupendous! You are quite a lucky young chap. What did you buy for your Secret Santa victim?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Soap.

Grinchy Host: So, another gift that one could consider wiping one's butt with. Well, that's very good 'n' all, but don't you think that you concentrated too much on school when you perhaps should have been focusing on your friends and family during this holiday season?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: I understand how you could see it that way, but: no. I had a Christmas party at my house.

Grinchy Host: (long pause). You?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Yes.

Grinchy Host: don't shower! don't shave! are thrifty! How could you have thrown a Christmas party?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Some call it a miracle on Guangshun Beida Street.

Grinchy Host: Har har. Tell me, what did this so-called Christmas party entail?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Well, we ate at this Korean restaurant across from my house first -

Grinchy Host: So you didn't even throw the party at your own house! You sick fiend.

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Wait, wait, wait. Then we went to my apartment and indulged in blueberry potato chips, chocolatey snacks, a white elephant gift giving, a visit from Santa Claus, and “Home Alone.”

Grinchy Host: Ah, “Home Alone.” You enjoy that movie a bit too much, don't you?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: I have watched it every year for the past five Christmases, and I will watch it next year, too.

Grinchy Host: Interesting. What gift did you receive at this allegedly “party”?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: This stuffed animal sheep thing. I don't really know what to do with it. But it is sort of cute.

Grinchy Host: Very good, very good indeed. Enjoy it. Now that all that is over, what exactly do you plan to do with the rest of your hideously long break?

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Date a different woman at a different restaurant every evening.

Grinchy Host: Good luck.

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Yeah, actually, I have a Skype date with my family on Saturday, a Christmas dinner on Sunday with another family from my school, and then on Tuesday I am leaving Beijing for a trek through some different parts of Asia.

Grinchy Host: Interesting! Very good! Well, I hope you have loads of fun, simply loads of fun, ol' boy! Thank you for chatting with me for a spell. And happy holidays!

Hopeless Christmas Addict: Yeah. Ho, ho, ho.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Operation Golden Dragon, Pt. 2

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.

(1) Beidaihe

Back when the sun still shone pleasantly and warmly over northern China and the weather was kind to the land’s inhabitants, our school decided to treat its teachers to a trip out east to the coast, to Beihaihe and Shanhaiguan, where the Great Wall meets the Bohai Sea. A map is here. I didn't know about it, either.

There were perhaps twenty brave souls who decided to venture on this journey, I being one of them. We set out on Saturday morning, September 24th, and drove until we hit paydirt: some hotel next to the beach. The beach was probably the most normal beach I have ever seen (and I spent fifteen years in the land of ten thousand lakes). Here is Dan and I ankle-deep in the surf:

It was at that moment – when Dan and I rolled up the pants and none of the others in our group did – that I truly noticed how young and American Dan and I were compared to everyone else on the trip. Hmm. Anyway, we perused around it, walked here and there, and then go back on the bus and headed to some park further down the coast. There we were sort of scattered about when I walked by this fenced-in statue that was overrun with pigeons. I made the fatal error of letting my gaze rest there just a bit too long, sort of like when Hilary let her glance linger a bit too longer on Sunshine – and suddenly the enclosure’s overseer (what a job that must be) was coercing me into the trap, loading me with pigeon food, and stopping other tourists to laugh at me. No joke, there have to be at least a thousand pictures in existence of that ten-minute span of my life. Here are a couple:

After I cleaned the crap off myself (haha…just kidding)(I mean, I didn’t clean it off), we moved on and scaled some hill that looked out over the landscape. Now I was hoping that as we left the smog of Beijing, the air would be pristine and clear, but that was a silly thought; the atmospheric conditions were still not very good. Nonetheless, the view was pretty cool, and we bummed around the top of the hill for a spell. Boo-yah:

After said spell was over, our bus took us back to home base, where we ate at the same restaurant as what appeared to be some large wedding rehearsal dinner. The weddingers decided they wanted to celebrate via karaoke, so they did that while we ate our seafood cuisine, but then when a bunch of them left, so different members of our group ravaged the sparse English section of the karaoke’s song options. I know that somewhere there is a video of all the male tourists rockin’ out some Guns ‘n’ Roses song with an amused restaurant staff looking on. Boom.

The next morning our bus relocated us to Shanhaiguan, which had everything a good Chinese tourist spot should have. We walked around for a while, climbed a wall that could have been the Great Wall, saw a camel, and then walked back to the bus. Here are the places we were:

But the day was not over. No. The bus spilled us out at the easternmost point of the Great Wall, right where it meets the waters of the Bohai Sea. This was also a pretty touristy stop, but it was cool nonetheless:

Then we ate some food and got back on the bus and drove back to Beijing. It was a decent time, though other than Yitao and I, and perhaps the trip organizer, our HR chieftain, everyone on the excursion was in some sort of romantic relationship with someone else on the excursion. Other than that, a fine trip, a fine trip indeed.

(2) Jingshan Park

Beijing is a big square. In the middle of the big square is all the important crap: Tiananmen Triangle, The Super Accessible City, etc. Just north of The Super Accessible City, overlooking its north entrance, is a hilly park known as Jingshan. Each of the tens of thousands times (read: two, but two times is like going through any other palace complex ten thousand times) I have been at the Forbidden City, I have exited and seen Jingshan Park and thought to myself, “I want that.” So on the first of October or so, Dawna and I climbed the hill and owned it. A few days later, I stupidly hadn’t planned to go anywhere for the National Holiday, so as I sat idly around my apartment, I made this video. I do not claim it to be of a high quality, and maybe it will not even load for you; such is my faith in the tech involved. Meh:

Three sidenotes: (1) "I do not in any way own any rights to the song in this video." (2) I don’t know what is going on in America right now, but said song in said video is hot here among the youth. I would not mention this except I had this song when it came out on “Sorry for Party Rocking” in June, months ago, and I could have told you it was, well, a song that was going to be a hit (I hesitate to praise the song itself). It’s one of those. (3) At Beijing No. 94, I was asking fools where I should go in Beijing to enjoy the city, and some girl said that I should go to Jingshan Park and watch the sun set there, and I think I need to. Cause it’s a great idea.

(3) Chongwenmen

South of the city’s current center lies the remains of the wall that surrounded the inner city of Beijing quite a long spell ago. The wall is not overly impressive, but there is a nice tract of land next to it, and it makes for a nice li’l walk. I conquered said walk back over the previously mentioned National Holiday, which was between October 1st and 5th. A relaxing time.

At the eastern end is a small museum that provides info on the wall, its history, and some art. There were also some people there flying kites insanely high, which happens here. There was also some super cute woman there with her dad, a statement by which you can judge the excitement level on this excursion.

Nonetheless, the walk was, based on my poor math skills, at least six or seven times better than sitting in my apartment doing nothing.

(4) Yuan Dynasty Relics Park

Another dreary day of National Holiday nothingness found me walking from Shaoyaoju Station on Line 13 all the way to Beitucheng Station on Line 10, which is approximately four kilometers. The “park,” as my tourist map indicated, was this long strip of green running east-west through northeastern Beijing. There were not a ton of relics, as the name suggested there would be, but there was either plenty to look at or calm nothingness to enjoy.

One thing that I have loved about Beijing has been the canals enveloped by willows. There’s been no equivalent in my life to date. Maybe it’s the water. Maybe it’s the green in the otherwise-drab concrete landscape. Maybe I should get a job on a ship or protecting the Amazon rain forest. But, at any rate, I enjoy walking along these watery paths.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Last Friday morning, December 2nd, I got up and stumbled out of my apartment around 7:15 a.m. As I groggily entered the elevator to go down and head to school, my phone buzzed. "Who on earth is texting me right now?" I thought to myself. I looked at the small Nokia screen. The message was from Dawna. It read, "Snow!! The start of a good day!"

Suddenly all fatigue left me. My heart leaped up in its case of tissue and bone. I frantically tried to find a Christmas song on my iShuffle. I exited the building and saw dusty white falling from the sky, dusty white that continued falling gently all morning and into the early afternoon.

Let's be honest: compared to the way it falls in Iowa and Minnesota, the snow that landed on Beijing on Friday was pretty dang weak. However, every time I've asked more experienced Beijing residents about how much snow we'd get this winter, they'd replied skeptically: "Not much, if any." So! This initial snowfall - a smidge of which remains in just the right places - lifted my heart from the depths. The last three winters that I've staggered through have been bitterly cold but have lacked that constant blanket of white everywhere, that beautiful sheet that takes the bite off just a little. Thus, the snow on Friday was warmly welcomed by me and my camera. Here are some pictures of what happened. I know they are far from epic, but they are what they are.

From my homeroom classroom's window:

Near B-Dubs:

On the way to Chuar Friday lunch:

On the way back from Chuar Friday lunch:

Dan enjoying the snow:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bits and Pieces: September, October, and November Edition


The following is reminiscent of the stories and anecdotes I think I tell quite frequently. You may recognize similarities between this post and my reports on the day if you've had the misfortune to have hung out with me before. By that I mean that most of them are funny in context, to me, and I feel obligated to try to share them, but I know that most of them probably aren't actually humorous to anyone except me, and maybe other teachers, because they are almost exclusively from the writing and/or mouths of students.

*We did a Venn diagram in class, and then months later I happened to see the Venn from one kid's notebook, and it was labeled "Venn Death Gram."

*From some paper about the book "Hatchet": "We know that the shelter Brian made is sound and safe, so beasts cannot attack him while he is sleeping."

*From some paper about what the kid did last summer: "We reached Thailand, we had dinner, we ate marine products."

*A student-generated question for a speaking activity (I felt bad for the kid who got this question and had to answer it): "My boyfriend leave me and find another boy. What should I do?"

*Miss April and I were going to model how to do impromptu speeches, so we had the students generate topics for us to speak on. Two stuck out well enough that I kept them and have them on my lap while I write this. One slip of paper says, predictably, "Mr. Haggar is disgusting." Most of them were like that, ripping on the school or on the teachers or on other students, or at least were related to things that everyone could relate to, but the other tickled my fancy more, so I will keep it longer than I will keep the one that says "Mr. Haggar is disgusting." The second paper says, "Disney characters should be hunted down."

*I e-mailed one class an assignment and told them to e-mail it back to me completed (go green!)(no, no...I just didn't have time to print the assignment out). One student finished it and e-mailed it to me. I checked it, as I did hundreds of others, and wrote back, "Great job, you got them all right. Keep it up!" She e-mailed me back: "Yo, you r not bad too. You don't have spelling and grammar mistake in questions. Well done, continue. good night, cya tomorrow."

*The last question on a reading exam earlier in the year asked for two words that could best be used to describe the main character. One student wrote: "Nice! Good! Perfect! No words can describe him!"

*I was walking along and ran into one of my students whose English level is quite low, and I said, "Hey, dude. Uh, tell me somethin' good." He paused briefly and then said excitedly, "Teacher, you are young. You can enjoy your life!" And then we parted ways.

*The students write journal entries at the beginning of every class period. I usually give them a topic. Here are a few of the topics and some of the lines that struck me as memorable.

1. What are you really, really, ridiculously good at?
a) I am good at late.
b) The thing that I am really, really, really ridiculously great at is staying on my bed.
c) I think I’m very good at cheating. I’m very success to being a cheater, too, because I never fail to cheat, the teacher never know how I cheat and when I cheat.
d) Yoyo.
e) I’m awesome at slapping people with pizzas.
f) I am really good at getting to sleep fastly.
g) I’m good at getting girls’ phone number.

2. What do you suck at?
a) I’m terrible at singing sounds.
b) I am terrible at doing “rock, paper, scissors.”
c) I’m bad at chewing things.

3. How do you want to die?
a) I want to be killed by atom bomb.
b) I would like to die by the women’s hug.

4. Write a story that starts like this: It was a dark and stormy night. Thunder crashed, and lightning lit up the sky. Martha shuddered at what she saw.
a) Mr. O’Day!***
b) Her tea was gone cold and she was wondering why she got out of the bed. The morning cloud took her window. She can't see at all. Even though she could, it would all be gray. But her mom's picture on the wall, reminds her it's not so bad.
(Then he also wrote this: A gangster comes in and points a gun toward her. Boom! Martha was gone cold.)

5. Dogs or cats. Please explain.
a) While a dog is trying to comfort its owner’s sorrows, a cat is just lazily laying on the sofa, thinking how it could make itself more comfortable.

6. Free topic:
a) "Dear God, I heard Mr. Haggar is going on a big date tonight with his friends. Please help Mr. Haggar to get a pretty and kind girlfriend. And please let him not to get kicked by the girl who Mr. Haggar likes, when Mr. Haggar asks her to go out. Dear God, Mr. Haggar is a humorous and well teaching teacher, therefore help him out, we pray in Jesus' name, amen."

*This is a pizza that (from right) Luke, Dan, Dave, and Dawna (and Anna, Dan's fiance)(and I) consumed. Kro's Pizza. Get to know 'em:

*This is the table at Kro's Pizza after we got done eating. Boo-yah.

*This is my front door, complete with the Minnesota Twins "Do Not Disturb" sign that my mom sent me for my birthday. Sadly, it was stolen a few days later. I cannot fathom a reason why anyone in my apartment building would have taken it.

*Here is a picture of a clear day from my apartment:

Here are some pictures of a smoggy day from my apartment:

*And here are two pictures of the street near my home around 9 p.m. Some call the lights "tacky," some call the whole thing "light pollution," but, somehow, I like 'em:

***BWYA's most notorious principal