Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dawna's Bike

On July 2nd, 2012, after having received the key to the lock and a succinct map to its location in Qinghe, I took a bus to where Dawna’s bike stood leaning against a water shed in front of her apartment building. I quickly found her bicycle, a very normal teal beast, complete with a basket, a mostly-defunct bell, and a state-of-the-art bike lock.

I took the bike and rode it west from Dawna’s back to my neighborhood. When I arrived at my apartment forty-five minutes later, I was sunburned, sweaty, and sore, but as I gulped down the red iced tea lemonade thing that I’d become addicted to, I thought, “I have a bike. This is awesome.” As sad as it was that Dawna was gone for the summer, her absence gave me full reign on her bicycle.

I rode the bike many times and many places. Sometimes it was to parts of town previously unknown; sometimes it was to 7-11 in the middle of the night; sometimes it was to a restaurant to meet folks for dinner. It was quicker than walking and more healthy than sitting on a bus or subway (maybe; it did mean I had to breathe more road fumes).

On August 13, my school began its teacher orientation. The number of campuses that my school has is two; the one I teach at is a mere twenty-minute walk from my apartment, while the other campus requires almost fifty minutes to reach on foot. When word reached me that the first two days of orientation would be held at the latter, further campus, I fretted not, because I had Dawna’s bike.

Sunday night I pedaled the bike to a bar to watch the United States beat Spain in the Olympics men’s basketball finals. During the fourth quarter, a torrential downpour hit Beijing, blacking out the game for a time and eventually causing me to ride wildly through Wangjing in the wee hours of the night in just a swimsuit while the water poured down. No problem. In the morning, Monday morning, the first of the two days at the further campus, I knew the bike would probably be a bit wet from the rain, so I grabbed an expired pair of my boxers (i.e. the elastic had broken, so the waistline was enormous) to wipe the bike down. Sidenote: I got in the elevator, and then two floors down, the most beautiful Chinese woman I’d ever seen in my apartment got on the elevator with my and the giant pair of boxers I held in my hands. I am awesome. Anyway, I used the giant pair of boxers to wipe the seat of the bike off and then placed the underwear in the basket of the bike before swiftly heading off to the further campus.

During the orientation on Monday, Dawna texted me: “I want my bike back.” Legit. Thinking quickly, I texted her back, saying, “Cool. I am busy tonight.” I wasn’t. “Can I bring it over to you on Tuesday night?” After I had used it to reach the further campus and return from it for the last time. Clever, right? Right. After orientation, I took the bike – boxers still in basket - to a restaurant and had dinner with Ramon and Nallely. During the dinner, I asked the two of them – bicycle owners themselves – where and how to get air for the tires of the bike, since the back tire was getting a bit flat and I knew I had to ride it all the way back to Qinghe again the following day. They gave me the necessary info, like good folks do. After dinner, I rode the bike back to my home, locked it, and placed it against the wall next to the door to my building, like I had been doing all summer. Like I had been doing. All. Summer.

The next morning I came down on the elevator – yes, I did hold my breath slightly when I passed the sixteenth floor where the most beautiful Chinese I had ever seen in my apartment had gotten on the lift the day before – and walked out of my apartment. I had some small bills in my pocket to purchase air. I had the key to the bike’s lock in my li’l paw. I was ready for one last day with Dawna’s bike.

Obviously, the bicycle was not there.

When you hear about something being stolen, it seems so cut and dry, so concrete, so done. But when something of yours is stolen – especially something you didn’t see get jacked – it is not so easy to arrive at the conclusion that it has been stolen. Could something else have happened to it? Had it been moved? Had someone thought it was theirs and accidentally taken it? Is there a chance you’ll get it back? But, then, later, when it’s obviously that, yes, it’s been stolen and you’ll never see it again, you start wondering. Why mine? There were many others just like mine, some very much nicer (no offense, Dawna), most secured in a similar fashion, but yet mine is the one that is gone. Then you start thinking about whether you could have done something to prevent it from being stolen. Locked things up tighter, brought it inside, not been so greedy and gotten rid of it when its true owner originally asked for it. Then you start wondering, “Who the heck steals a bike with underwear in its basket? Big ol’ underwear?”

Dawna was not angry, especially when I gave her a whole heap load of money for a new bicycle. She said she’d heard that people’s bikes usually averaged about a year of life in Beijing, so the theft of hers was right on time. I felt bad because it happened on my watch, but I felt worse because I really like my neighborhood and generally consider it a safe, friendly place. There’s always children laughing and playing and people hanging around, looking happy. Maybe they’re happy because they have spotted the perfect bike to steal when night falls!

Just kidding, just kidding. It’s fine. Here’s to you, though, Dawna’s bike. I don’t know where you are, what you are doing, or who is riding you right now, but I hope you are plowing on as steadfast as always, through the rain or the wind or the snow. And, most importantly, I hope you still have my huge boxers fluttering like a proud flag in your basket.

Monday, August 20, 2012

School Year in Review

Since my school's first term begins today, I thought, "What better time to post a review of last year at Beijing World Youth Academy?"

The alarm. It beeps at 6 a.m. If it is spring, I am probably already awake due to the light oozing in through the two panes in my window that I have still failed to cover with pages from "The Beijinger." If it is winter, the alarm rouses me from dark, awful slumber. A shower follows, and then twenty-five minutes of prayer journaling, and then I pack up the day’s necessities into the slowly dilapidating Greatland backpack that I got from the Schrecks.

Out the door, down the elevator, and out into the day. Before June hit, I would study Chinese words as I walked south past the Fairmont Towers, next to Hualian shopping mall, and then straight southwest past Atlantic City – Daxiyang Xincheng. But if the stress level is high, as it was all of June, then the headphones get jammed into the ears and blasted all the way to Huajiadi Beili, where my school is.

The Wangjing campus of Beijing World Youth Academy shares facilities with Beijing No. 94 Middle School (BWYA also shares English teachers with Beijing No. 94 High School, but…just hold your horses). The Lido campus also exists; I don’t know what happens over there, though. There is Building A, where B-Dubs conducts middle school classes, and there is Building B, where the high school grades primarily meet, along with No. 94’s classes. Then past Building B there is an auditorium and a snack shop, and next to all of it are some basketball courts (that can double as baseball fields, if necessary) and a soccer pitch (I once mistook it for a soccer field and got slapped in the face by a European teacher)(just kidding)(the pitch also can double as a baseball pitch, if necessary).

If I leave my house before or at 7, my twenty-minute jaunt over gets me through the school’s gates in time to be greeted by six of No. 94’s students, decorated in red ribbons and looking breathtakingly unexcited. Building A is generally quite quiet before 8, so I really enjoy that half hour before anyone really gets there to disturb the stillness. A lot of times, I get ready for the next day’s classes after school and sometimes at home, so I often print in the mornings, or throw some powerpoints together, or find a suitable question of the day.

Before April, my homeroom was in A403, on the fourth floor of Building A, and it was glorious; great decorations, intense pink poster paper on the bulletin board, Homer Hankies everywhere, and a cool picture collage outside to mark our territory. Back in that magical era, I could just stay in homeroom, greet the students as they came in, have homeroom from 8:20-8:28, and then get on with the day. However, all the classes on the fourth floor were quietly relocated during April’s culture trips (by “quietly” I mean when I got back from the culture trip, ready to work all weekend, I found every resource I had – bar none – gone. So I didn’t do any work.) to the third floor. I never got a key to my new homeroom in A304, and all my crap eventually returned to A403, and the printer was in A103, so after April, those quiet moments before school started were split between many different and horrible places in the school building.

At 8:20, the bell would ring. A quick scan of my eighth grade homeroom, E8B, would reveal whether any of the nineteen members were missing. The question of the day followed, and then some announcements, and then – if we were lucky – some kid would show up late and be punished by having to dance in front of everyone. I love my homeroom students, but they really suck at dancing. Except for Andy.

At 8:28, E8B scampered from my view. The rest of the school day was divided into five seventy-minute blocks. Each day everyone’s schedule was different; hence, for much of the year, the background of my laptop was my timetable. Although during the last week of school it got changed to a very classy Anne Hatheway wallpaper. Each core class met three times a week, getting 210 minutes of face time. Is that enough? Who knows.

The week started off on a good note with E7LA. There were thirteen students in this seventh grade native English speaker class, and all but one Korean dude were girls. These people were winners; they made fun of the Twins, Anne Hatheway, my love life, the fact that I sometimes spit when I spoke, the fact that sometimes I put things in my nose, and the moose song. Don’t they sound great? Class was fun, we laughed a lot, and they were pretty dang good students to boot, consistently handing in quality, creative work. We read “Hatchet” at the beginning of the year, and then studied myths/fables/legends/fairy tales, persuasive tactics in the media, how animals and humans are connected, identity, stress, and how to research academically. My favorite moment with them was the hardest I have laughed in the past year, though this event is certainly one for which “you had to be there”: In the middle of class all of the students started a rhythmic pound-on-the-table-and-clap sequence, something they'd learned somewhere else, something cheerleaders would do at a basketball game, and it was fast and sort of funny, but they were all doing it, very well, and I didn't turn around but just had that body language that said, "What the heck? What am I supposed to do with this?" So I started dancing, and I can't really describe it, but I will call it "tribal arm swinging in 4/4 rhythm." And we all stopped and laughed for seriously like ten minutes. I tried to start the lesson again but everyone - including me - would just start snickering. It was super funny. But...definitely had to be there. And you weren't. In your face.

Abandoning chronology, I will say the next class was E8LA, an eighth grade class of…well, to be honest, only about four of the nineteen students were native English speakers, but they were supposedly at that level. E8LA was a quiet bunch, especially the girls, but there were a handful of dudes in the group that owned discussions and laughed at my jokes. This course, slightly more difficult than the aforementioned E7LA, looked into the topics of judging too quickly, persuasion in the media, decisions, rich settings, the value of fictional stories, and everyone’s favorite: poetry. They dealt with it. The best thing that happened in that class could have been when we all brought in our most treasured items for a show and tell session of sorts. Or more likely it was when this dude named Jack started laughing at the example of alliteration that I provided (the pepperoni pizzas paraded proudly past my parents, or something like that); he could not stop laughing. Or actually it could have been three days into the school year, and I was still in CCS/high school mode, and I told a story (a snobby kid in a college literature class told his professor that he didn’t believe in symbols) that climaxed with the main character (Mr. Joey Horstmann) flipping off a student (the snobby kid). The eighth graders, having never been flipped off by a teacher in class before, laughed for some time after I, having never flipped off eighth graders in class before, told the story. Or maybe it was...never mind.

Sure. E9LBS. Ninth graders whose English is not fluent. Nineteen Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian-Brazilian hooligans, most of whom were hilarious and put in a lot of effort. This group was the goofiest, I think, although I could not explain exactly why. They also caused the most problems from a behavior standpoint, although that does not take much. Using phones during tests, multiple cases of plagiarism by the same students, cursing in class (although we did read “Of Mice and Men”), not wearing ties, getting sent out into the hall, writing barely-censored lyrics from Li’l Jon on tests that needed to be sent to the IBO, mocking the Twins. It’s a pretty exhaustive list. But if those are the only issues I have to deal with, sign me up. We read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” (and watched the movie, which I recommend), “Flowers for Algernon,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Bearstone” (Are you not familiar? Every single student loathed this text…), and a unit of stories about technology. What was the highlight in this class? There are many options. Perhaps when I showed them Dancin' Kim (not a made up name) trying to do the robot after having shown them other dance moves for weeks (rephrase). Or perhaps it was we took an IQ score as a class and collectively scored 129 (90-110 is average). Or just getting through “Bearstone” without having any students kill themselves, or any teachers. Or perhaps when one girl cried at the end of “Of Mice and Men.” Some would say, “You’re a terrible person if this is something you see as a highlight, Haggar,” but I thought it was awesome from a teaching standpoint: someone cared! Someone connected with Lennie! Lord knows we spent enough time getting into his character’s shoes.

Or maybe the highlight was that by the end of the year, twelve of the nineteen students in E9 Language B Standard either requested to move or were moved by teachers to E9 Language B Advanced, the class with the next highest level of English. Hmm.

My last core class was E10LBS. There were seventeen in here, although two kids sort of left at the end of the year. Similar to E8LA, this was a quiet but fairly diligent crew with a few students who were willing – or more than willing – to participate in class. The practical trouble with this class – not the kids themselves, but the nature of the class – is that it is the class with the lowest level of English that students can take before they move into the infinitely more difficult Diploma Programme the following year. So, what motivation is there to improve? Who knows. In E10LBS, we plowed through a unit on traveling, on life stories, on drama, on literature in general, on health, and on the crowned jewel: “Things Fall Apart.” I think this class was the biggest headache to plan for, since my predecessor’s plans were – and I say this with all due respect (not much) - garbage. We got through it. The main reason we got through it was because the aforementioned students who were willing to participate carried us through on their li’l shoulders, carried us through all the way until the last week of school, during which they had preview courses of next year’s classes and spoke quite highly of said crowned jewel (“Things Fall Apart”) to next year’s teacher, Miss April. Boom. The last week of school also contained the highlight in this class, in my eyes. The day after grades were due, we had one more period together, and I had a big Socratic seminar planned but was expecting lots of resistance from everyone, since it was the last class period and grades had already been recorded and locked away. Can’t you hear it yourselves? “Aw, Mr. Haggar…let’s just play! Let’s have a party! We already worked so hard.” But I set my jaw and went in, scared yet ready for confrontation with my serious face. I went in and got class started, and then I said, “Oh, who was it that forgot their books yesterday? Did you bring me M&M’s as punishment like I told you to?” I turned first to Mary, because she was sitting in the front row, and with a grin she pulled out the very M&M’s that I envisioned as punishment for failing to bring her book. However, I had not envisioned all the other students pulling out snacks and treats as well, nor had I envisioned them all hurling these goods at me and yelling, “Surprise!” and then shoving small thank-you note card thingies that each student in the class had made into my hands, bringing tears to my eyes and melting my serious face. Bless their li’l hearts, those angels.

We still did the Socratic seminar, though.

So all four of those classy classes met three times a week. That, however, was not the end of my commitments. No, sir. On Monday Miss April and I did crowd control on the forensics club: speech and debate. This course of madness consisted of twenty-five to thirty seventh, eighth, and ninth graders from various walks of life, language levels, and wittiness congregating and then honing particular speaking performance skills. Miss April commanded the duet acting (obviously, two people acting) and oral interpretation (obviously, one person expressively reading a text aloud) vector of the club; Mr. Haysom manned the impromptu (obviously, a person receiving a topic, quickly planning a speech, and then delivering said speech ninety seconds later) and original oratory (obviously, students writing their own speeches) quadrant of the club; I facilitated the debate teams. Our kids? They were good and loud. We went to four events at other schools throughout the course of the school year, one each at WAB (We’ve Accosted Beijing), YCIS (Your Cowardly Ignorance Stinks), BICS (Big Intimidating Cow Skewers), and BISS (Ballet Instruction Saves Society) and held two speech nights at our school. Our students performed well enough to bring home a handful of medals and bragging rights; one duet acting crew even scored first place during their first ever performance at BCIS.

Not to be outdone by Monday’s academically-oriented club list, Wednesday boasted its own massive lineup of activities, and on this day I found myself playing baseball. The team took a bus to a park a few miles from school. The first few baseball sessions were a bit scattered, what with me and sometimes, if I was lucky, the Chinese principal trying to throw ground balls and correct swinging techniques for thirty sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students, but soon we settled into a routine of playing games each week. Each game was fairly similar; the more athletic of the group’s boys usually had pretty violent hits and dominated the fielding, and the quieter, less interested students had to be prompted to bat, put on gloves, run to first base, or continue breathing. Despite the occasional monotony, each week had some sort of crowning moment, some gem, some amazing play. Usually this was not a home run smashed into another area zone, Trevor Plouffe-style, but a close play at the plate or a neat double play that involved a lot of chasing and teamwork.

There was, however, a crowning moment of all the crowning moments: Every week, I pitched to every single batter who came to bat (sadly, my ERA was Nick Blackburn high). One week, instead of taking the crew off-campus to the park, we just played on the school’s soccer pitch. In the middle of yet another raucous scoring melee, the PE teacher Mr. Gaspar showed up and took a turn batting. I can’t remember whether he reached first base safely or struck out by flailing at my diving slider, but the next inning he said that he would pitch to me, since I never got to hit. Never ever got to hit. I excited obliged, grabbed a bat, and dug into the “batter’s box.” Now, let’s be honest: every week, to the aspiring middle school baseball players (or whatever they are), I was the only grownup, the strongest person, and the most knowledgeable individual in their lives for seventy minutes, but…they never got to see me hit. And that, to all but the most passionate baseball experts, is by far the most important and interesting element of the game: hitting. Thus, the pressure to come through was on, since they knew not my ability, whatever it was. Anyway, Mr. Gaspar threw the first pitch. It was in the upper corner of the strike zone and slightly inside, and I smashed the crap out of it. It went over the baseball team’s die of the soccer pitch, over the soccer team’s side of the soccer pitch, and into the playground way over on the other side. I scored easily amid the cheering of the baseball club youth.

And, actually, there was a low moment to balance out all the low moments, which were mostly yelling at kids for not listening, for having phones out when they should have been watching for the “infield in” sign, or for just being middle schoolers:

When I was told to start the baseball club, I was supplied with four gloves, two bats, and a bunch of baseballs. A third of the club's thirty members had gloves at home, so we had to share mitts. Even when my father and Mr. P. from Central Lyon High School in Rock Rapids, Iowa, send a huge box of equipment (awesome!), we still had to share gloves. Not a huge deal. But, in late April, I went into the PE office an hour before club started to check on the baseball stuff, and five of the seven gloves were not in the bag. Foreseeing a problem, I inquired with the supervisor of the clubs. I asked if the gloves had been used for anything, if there was some reason they'd gone elsewhere. The club supervisor said no. Then she said, "Do you need more gloves?" And I said, "Sort of. I mean, we'll get by, but..." And then she said, "Let's check in the PE closet." We went there. It was dark. And she pulled out this garbage bag. A garbage bag full of baseball gloves. Like, seriously, twenty gloves. I didn't know what to say. So I looked at her as she pulled out glove after glove "Is this enough? Do you need more?" she said. Then I found my voice and said, "So...how long have we had these?" Long pause. "Have we had these the whole year?" Pause. "Yes," she said. "Does the PE department use these gloves?" I asked. "No! We don't." So I said, "Well...can my baseball club use them?" The club supervisor replied, "They are very easy to lose. Don't you think it would be better if students brought their own gloves?" No! No! No! I don't think it would be! Because most of them...don't have gloves! So I said, "Can we use them for baseball club?" She said yes. And then we had enough gloves for everyone, all the time.

At least it makes a good story.

So anyway, Monday had an extracurricular activity, and Wednesday had an extracurricular activity; clearly the week would not be complete without something Friday. Thus, on that morning, extended homeroom was held. By us. Ninety minutes with the aforementioned poor dancers of E8B. During this time, we did everything you could think of: constructed informative recycling powerpoint presentations, played games of hitting each other in the face with pillows, planned and held Christmas parties, checked planners, watched “The Blindside,” participated in games with the other eighth grade homerooms, and in general were cool. A solid group of kids, E8B was, and many a teacher did tell me that of the three homerooms in Year 8, mine (though no fault of mine) was the most fun.

As if these blocks (so far, of the twenty-five each week, I have written about what fills fifteen of mine) were not enough, I was also blessed with the opportunity to go to a local Chinese high school and teach…a class. An English class. What was I directed to teach? “Whatever you think would be best.” So Tuesday afternoon, a driver would come from No. 94 Beijing High School, tote me over to their campus a block from my house, and I would spend an hour talking and trying to solicit responses from big classes of Chinese students cloaked in blue jumpsuits. There were rewarding moments, like when a handful of kids maintained an e-mail homework correspondence with me for a few weeks, or when we could connect over the few things we had in common (Chris Brown and Lady Gaga, living in Beijing, hating homework, being sad when you had just taken a dump but then discovered there was no toilet paper left), and it was very, very interesting to be in a Chinese public school; different feel, different system, etc., as expected. The lack of direction and my self-imposed need to represent the West (I was the only foreign teacher who did anything there) left me with quite a headache in planning. I did topical lessons on music, traveling, some grammar crap, and then on emotions, most of which were met with a sort of interest but without an obvious response. Hard to gauge if I helped them at all, so I tried at least to be entertaining. Who knows.

Was this the highlight? Early on, I was teaching, and some kid from another class entered the classroom and stood behind me while I was talking to the fifty-odd students in the room. I turned around and looked at him, and he scampered out of the room, but not before yelling the f-bomb as loud as he could. Everyone laughed. Maybe it’s normal there.

After my hour of power at No. 94 was finished, the same driver took me back to Beijing World Youth Academy’s campus and dropped me off in time for the Tuesday staff meeting, which was one of three meetings I had to attend regularly, the other two being the Head of Year gatherings that happened once a month and that consisted usually of discussing students of concern for hours on end, and the other being the English department meetings that were often pretty entertaining due to the high number of entertaining English teachers in the department.

Which accounts for seventeen of the twenty-five blocks during the week. The other eight were spent – this is going to be a shock to some of you younger readers out there – preparing for classes. This could be done [ideally] in my homeroom, when I still had it and if it wasn’t being used by another class; in the staff lounge, where many other teachers often worked and which was sometimes fine but was many days too noisy or often ended up having too many distractions; in the library, where it was quiet but unequipped with all my things. Since I had never taught at BWYA or in an IB system before this past year, I had a lot of preparation to do, and though at times I could have used my time better, there were many hours both within school and without preparing lessons and all that they entailed.

Oh. There was also lunch. Four or so restaurants came to the second floor of the school and sold food to students and teachers, and, from Monday to Thursday, I usually ate Indian or Korean food from those vendors. Fridays, however, were different. In addition to being Tie-Day Friday, every Friday was Chuar Friday. Before coming to Beijing, I’d never heard of chuar, but since Friday comes every week, I am now well-versed in eating it. Each Friday at least two but sometimes up to six or seven teachers congregate at the nearest Xinjiang restaurant and eat the best food in the world: lamb chaur – which is simply chunks of dead lamb covered with heaven spice and stuck on a skewer and grilled slowly into blissful ecstasy – and whatever other dishes we fancy. Some fried bread, some spicy, saucy eggs, some impossible-to-eat noodles, perhaps some Coke or iced tea. These are the main ingredients of Chuar Friday. The highlight of this blessed holiday: it happens every week. The crappy part: it only happens once a week. Really, the lowest time was one Friday when Ramon and I were dressed nicely – me in my white collared shirt and he in his blue one – and were quietly eating, and Ramon tried to grab a huge saucy noodle, which twisted out of his chopsticks’ grip halfway to his mouth. The huge saucy noodle splattered back into the dish of huge saucy noodles and all over my nice white collared shirt. No one said anything for a couple seconds, but then Ramon couldn’t help it and laughed.

The sauce came out of my shirt, eventually. That’s what we do for lunch.

The school day is over at 3:50, and most students go home. Sometimes there are activities that teachers participate in after school, like yoga – led by the PE teacher Gaspar – or Chinese class for beginning foreigners – led by Chinese teacher Yan – but a lot of educators cut out at that point. I myself more often than not find myself still prepping for the next day until 5 or 6 or 7, and then finally the time comes when I am either ready or too sick and tired of it to continue, so I bring it home. I retrace my steps, sometimes stopping for a meal or heading off in some other direction to be with other humans, but always eventually finding my way back to my apartment.

These are the vocational things that composed my life between August and June of 2011 and 2012.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Climb Hallasan

Fact: On March 27, 2011, a blog post went up on hagreu.blogspot.com that promised a return trip to Jeju for the mere purpose of scaling South Korea's largest mountain, Hallasan. Here is a screen shot proving as much:


How to Climb Hallasan

Step 1: Find a clinically insane travel partner. Someone along the lines of Jeffrey Dahmer or The Joker or whoever was responsible for the trade that sent Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers. I chose Dawna.


Optional: Choose someone who recently finished spending a lot of time in the Western hemisphere and is completely jetlagged and whose body is on a totally different time schedule.

Step 2: Book a flight from wherever you freakin’ live to Jeju International Airport in South Korea, and then fly there. Jeju is an island that was formed by a volcano. The volcano is now Mount Halla. That’s what you’re gonna wanna climb.


Optional: If you want to really challenge yourself, fly to Jeju right after spending a lot of time in the Western hemisphere so you’re completely jetlagged and your body is on a totally different time schedule, and/or go clubbing with couch surfers until 6 in the morning and sleep on the floor under the foldout bed the day before you leave.


Step 3: Do whatever you need to do to get to your lodgings for a good night of sleep for the climb that is coming on the following day. We chose Shinee Guesthouse, which is in Tapdong, north of downtown in Jeju City. It was impossible to find, so much so that we had to call the proprietor from a pay phone. He told us to meet him at the nearby McDonald’s and that we could identify him by the gloves he’d have with him. I told him he could identify us by our white skin.


Optional: Grill the owners of your hostel, guesthouse, hotel, couch, or bridge for cool ideas on what to do in Jeju, or for directions on how to completely own Hallasan. Or just read on. The two guys running our place were super helpful; in addition to having a very nice guesthouse, they even made breakfast for everyone who stayed there.

Step 4: Stock up on fruit, cheesy Pringles, peanuts, corn/peanut cream sandwiches, and lots and lots and lots of liquid from GS25.

Step 5: Get up at the buttcrack of dawn and hightail it to the local bus terminal.

Step 6: Tell the nice old ticketmaster at the bus terminal you want to go to Seongpanak, where the trail you'll want starts; take her tickets and go find your bus, and then ride it to the trailhead. Get off the bus when you see the huge parking lot and the crowds of hiking gear-totin’ Koreans.


Step 7: Stretch. Focus on your calves. But don’t forget the balls of your feet, which will soon be ghetto-stomping Hallasan in the face.


Optional: Dispose of any and all unnecessary trash (including the contents of your bowels) since it is common knowledge that the places to deposit said trash on the mountain are few and far between, if at all.

Step 8: Start walking up the trail. Take your time; it’s 9.6 kilometers uphill, though not too steep. Don’t veer to the left; don’t veer to the right. There’s not a lot of places to veer, anyway. Take some breaks for water. We left at around 7 a.m. Start whenever you want.



Optional: Check out this dude's calves. He works out.


Step 9: Get to the Jindallaebat Shelter by 1:00 p.m., or you won’t be allowed to continue up. Because you probably won’t have enough to get back down…before nightfall. The shelter is maybe three-fifths of the way up the mountain. We got there by 9:30 a.m., according to what time my camera tells me we took pictures there. There’s noodles for purchase and bathrooms for use.


Sidenote: Megan “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” Schwartz was climbing Hallasan with three other people once, many years ago. One girl got separated from Megan and the other two, so they waited for their lost companion at the shelter. For, like, three hours. Finally she called them and said, “Yo, where are you? I’m at the top.” And the other three made growling bear noises of frustration, and then when they tried to keep going onward, to the top, it was too late; the trail had been closed.

Step 10: Man up and head into the foggy nothingness that surrounds the trail from Jindallaebat to the summit of Hallasan.




Step 11: Stand at the top of the mountain you just climbed and feel like the beast you are.

Optional: Keep your eyes open for the quintessential photo taken of you at the mountain's peak.


Optional: Curse the mist that blocks the incredible views you could be seeing…the lake in the crater of the volcano, the entirety of the trail you just hiked, the vast majority of the island. Dang.



Step 12: Eat the fruit, cheesy Pringles, peanuts, corn/peanut cream sandwiches, and liquid you brought fro GS25. Don’t hold back. You’ve earned it.


Step 13: Head north down the Gwaneumsa trail, all 8.7 kilometers of it. Get ready for pain in new parts of your body. Compare the cool views of different peaks and natural formations on this trail to the monotonous views of trees, trees, and more trees on the trail you took up.





Optional: Stop and try to catch animals in some of the nearly-dried-up stream beds. Fall into despair on the stairs. Shudder in horror as you pass the former site of the Yongjingak shelter that somehow disappeared during a storm in the winter of ’07.




Step 14: Collapse in happiness as you reach the foot of the mountain. You’ve made it.


Step 15: Take a taxi back to the Jeju City for twenty thousand KRW (even though the taxi driver may tell you two hundred thousand KRW). Get back to your lodgings. Shower. Get that sweat and dirt off yo’ fine self.

Step 16: Celebrate what you’ve done. There are many substeps to this element of the journey.

Substep 16.1. Eat some black pig meat.



Substep 16.2. Go to a noraebang and sing your victory from…not the hilltops (you were just there) but from the sofa tops. If you go to the ridiculously cheap (12,000 won for an hour) one we went to, be sure to sign your name on the wall before you go. Leave your mark.




Substep 16.3. Take a ferry out to Udo, a tiny li’l island to the east of Jeju Island.



Substep 16.4. Rent an ATV with your international (read: state of Iowa) driver’s license and circumnavigate Udo. Pretend you are a modern-day Magellen. Get crazy. Stop when necessary for lighthouses, beaches, and lava rock.





Substep 16.5 Take a tour bus around the parts of the island you want to inspect more closely, like Udobong, which you should walk up while noticing how small and unimpressive it is compared to Mount Halla.





Optional: Avoid the crap on Udobong's slopes.


Substep 16.6. See how close you can get to the pounding waves on the island’s eastern coast without getting posterized by the sea.




Dubstep 16.7. Swing (pun intended) by the batting cages and do your best impression of 이대호.



Step 17: Go back to the airport and fly back to wherever the crap you came from. Be sure to keep icing your legs, but be sure to get your brag on for those sallies who stayed home playing video games or the stock market all summer. Hallasan might not be the biggest mountain in the world, or the most dangerous to climb, or the most likely to erupt, but: it’s fun. And that is what we’re about here.