Thursday, December 27, 2012

I'll Be Home for Christmas

In November of last year, 2011, on a cold, sunny Tuesday afternoon, I left school for 7-11 to eat lunch a few minutes before beginning my most dreaded class. I purchased whatever garbage presented itself as appealing and was ready to head back when I saw a teacher from my school standing at the 7-11 counter.

This teacher was an older guy with whom I wasn’t too well-acquainted. What I did know about him was that he had a good, dirty sense of humor, he was a wise, old English teacher, and he had a faint distain for our administration. I’d never really talked to him, though. So I stopped to chit chat.

I didn’t really know what to say, though, so I resorted to the basest of questions: “So, are you going home for the holidays?”

He looked off into the distance, suddenly going into textbook reflective mode. His voice was quiet and drawn out when he answered. “Reuben, I have been abroad for thirty years. I have been to this place and that. I have experienced so many different things and seen so much, taught at all kinds of different schools, and met all these different people. Throughout the years, various members of my family have slowly but surely passed away until there aren’t really any more. Now, I have nothing to go back for.” Pause. He looked me straight in the eye. “Now, looking back, one of my only regrets – but my greatest – is that I did not go home for holidays, to be with my family.”

I still didn’t know what to say, and I don’t really remember what I did come up with, if anything. We eventually went back to the school, and I went to teach the class at No. 94 that I dreaded, and life went on. For Christmas that year, last year, I went to Xi’an and Thailand and Cambodia and Malaysia and Singapore. Definitely didn’t go home.

This year, I recalled the dark monologue from that older teacher. And now here I am, sitting in my family’s living room in Rock Rapids, Iowa, next to the tree, thinking. Satisfied. Thankful not only for all that is here and that I have experienced this Christmas, but for hearing what I needed to hear to go and experience it.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Season in Photographs

Christmas season means many things for many people. For some, this time of year may bring happiness. For others, a rush of materialism. And for still others, sadness. But perhaps one thing everyone in modern society can agree on is that Christmas is a busy time of year, and after a while, when a million things have been scheduled, the most dominant feeling is one of being quite overwhelmed.

What keeps people so busy? What keeps me so busy? I'm too busy to even write about it all, so here are pictures of all the crap - the good and the bad - that has filled my schedule during the day and my head during the night in the past few festive weeks.

Christmas decorations, in my home:

Santa Con 2012:

Snowy days at school:

And in English class (if your first thought was, "I bet these kids are reading 'Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening,' you are wise beyond your years...). After they read, snow in copious amounts was thrown at me:

And in C&S, where Mr. Fleming helped me out with this primarily-fictitious video:

Playing the tuba for the first time in eight years for my school's December Talent Show:

Random presents, like this one, the book "Ben Hur" from the good Mr. Ramon Villar. What a champ:

Deliberate gifts, like this one, a present from whoever got stuck with my name in my school's secret Santa gift exchange. This present, which is actually a speaker that can be hooked up to the ol' computer, is ironic because I haven't been able to drink beer for a year due to a bet I made with Dawna. I thought at first she'd sent the speaker to me. It turns out she did not, but the real giver of the gift has yet to reveal him or herself:

A grown-up Christmas party, the main event of which was the dreaded white elephant gift exchange. I walked away with a package that included an ashtray from Mexico, a Beijing city guide in Chinese, some tea leaves, and a juicer. No, no, not Manny Ramirez; a little contraption into which fruit can be pressed into liquid! Much healthier:

A little kid Christmas party, held during the last class period of the 2012 calendar year in the fourth floor lobby of building B at BWYA. Festivities included a huge heap of food to congregate around and spill (first photo!), a bit of Christmas charades (second photo!), and a secret Santa gift exchange among my homeroom (third photo!). I gave a kid a book; finding it took a grossly-excessive three and a half hours, and when he opened it, his shoulders dropped and he sighed. It sucks to have an English teacher draw your name for secret Santa, my sucks:

A massive pile of school stuff to mark:

Weird advertisements to figure out:

Home Alone:

And, of course, the most important thing:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Beijing SantaCon 2012

Ho, ho, ho.

A few weeks ago, while languidly browsing the internet to see what holiday events were available in Beijing, I stumbled across My eyebrows arched ever so slightly. My right index finger clicked quietly. Inside, my interest piqued.

SantaCon! It is simply a bunch of people dressing up in Santa Claus costumes, getting together, and going around town. According to the extravagant website behind the affair, SantaCon began in 1994 in San Fransisco - or, the Bay Area, if you will - and spread out to its current empire status in thirty-seven countries, in 272 cities. So, at some point, the epidemic reached Beijing, in communist China. And reached me.

I mentioned this to Dawna, who already knew about it from a coworker, and we committed. She and a friend of ours from camp named Townley went and bought nice, new Saint Nick stuff at Ya Show market. My own Santa garb included, of course, a Santa Clause costume, a short-sleeved t-shirt, a long-sleeved t-shirt, two hoodies, two pairs of sweatpants, two pairs of long johns, boxers, three pairs of thick socks, shoes with holes in them, a pink belt to hold the whole ensemble together, some gloves that a student had left on a bus once, and a big reindeer scarf. Would it be warm enough? I wasn't sure. Time would tell.

Beijing SantaCon 2012 commenced at noon on Saturday, December 8, but Dawna, Townley, and I were not there to partake in the opening ceremonies. There were apparently two different meeting points: one in Wudaokou (in the northwestern part of Beijing) and one in Sanlitun (in the northeast). Around 2:45 p.m. the two groups merged at some bar in Andingmen, north of the center of the city, and that was the last tweet I saw before I left my house to join Dawna and Townley and then join the other 圣诞老人 as soon as possible.


At 4:00 the three of us joined forces at Dongzhimen Station; within minutes we were at Chill, the last bar we knew that the Santas had been at. We rushed an empty bar. Except for some discarded Santa pants. The bar master told us that the herd of St. Nicks had headed further toward the city center. Our red trio (not to be confused with, like, a communist trio) took off in hot pursuit and, after speaking with some stragglers, caught up with the Beijing SantaCon 2012 mob at the Drum and Bell Towers.

The SantaCon group was comprised primarily of foreign men drinking, foreign women drinking, some of the foreign men's Chinese girlfriends, a few unattached Chinese people, and general holiday cheer. I hadn't thought much about what the group demographics would be like, but I had expected more people overall. We did catch up with the Santas when they were quite spread out in a long line and over a large, empty parking lot. Who knows. Some minutes were spend hanging out and taking pictures at the Drum and Bell Towers, and then everyone relocated to two bars that lay across the street from each other on Yan Dai Xie Jie near Hou Hai.

When the Fathers of Christmas were in a small, confined space, they did appear to take the place over. On my way to joining the fray, I felt like a complete idiot; people did not hide their stares and gawks on the bus, on the subway, or on the street. However, as soon as all the Kris Kringles had assembled, anyone in their midst who was not wearing a full-body Santa Claus costume looked like a fool. A complete role reversal. The next stop for Bejing SantaCon 2012 was a bar called Four Corners; this was wear the most Santas seemed to conglomerate.

At Four Corners, things started getting wild. There was a band of pseudo-Santas jamming, there was some lady who was giving people free meals of street food, there were female Santas making out unashamedly (insert joke about Santa being bad this year here), there was not enough room to stand. After an hour or two of this, three of the Santas broke free from the group and ran off laughing into the night. We fled in the direction of a certain KTV in Andingmen, and we fled swiftly and deliberately, stopping only to greet a friend we randomly ran into and to wish all a good night on Gulou Dajie.

So the evening ended with three hours of making merry in a small, well-decorated room, belting out such holiday favorites as "Jingle Bell Rock," "What Child Is This," "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," and "Gangnam Style." Exhaustion took over around 11:30, and the three of us parted ways sweaty but happy with how the night had unfolded.


Next year? Why not? Discussions were already started on what could be done differently, about what creative twist we could bring to our Santa costumes. I was lucky enough to have had a Santa Claus outfit that young David Emmert left at my apartment when he departed from Beijing; ironically, though, he'd received it from me in a white elephant gift exchange the previous year. Could the Minnesota Twins be incorporated? How about Avatar? Or Kiss? Winnie the Pooh? Maybe Dave could come back with his gorilla suit. The possibilities are endless. But, so is the time to mull it over. So, until next year at this time: merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bits and Pieces: April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November Edition

The following are reminiscent of the stories 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 or at least interesting in context, to me, and I feel obligated to try to share them, but I know that most of them probably aren't entertaining to anyone...except me.

*I was trying to teach about formal and informal register. First, to practice, the kiddies wrote a note in an informal style that explained why they hadn't handed in the homework; then their partners rewrote the note in a formal style. One kid informally wrote, "I try to do the homework but demon came and I called zombies armies to fight a disaster until Satan arrived." His partner wrote formally, "I had a problem with someone."

*At the top of some assignment, there was a place for students to write their name and then how they'd like to die. One kid wrote his name and then "softly."

*A ninth grade Russian-Chinese student in my baseball club was trying to catch a high, high throw from a classmate; he lost the ball in the sun and it hit him in the cheek. He went down for a while and then walked to the bus under his own power (we clapped for him) to go back to the school. The nurse checked him over and declared him okay, and he left school laughing and joking. Then he didn't come to class for the next three days because apparently he'd fractured bones in his cheek and had had fluid leaking out of various orifices in his head.

*A different kid in my baseball club - a ninth grade Korean girl, and a seemingly delicate one at that - has been hit with a baseball (off the bat!) three different times in or near the head. Once someone else was batting and the ball bounced off a fence pole and hit her in the cheek; another time she was batting - this was actually unbelievable - and when she made an awkward swing at the ball, it bounced off the bat and hit her in the cheek again; the third time, she was fielding right behind the pitcher, and someone hit a line drive that bounced off her neck and smashed into her chin. Each time she went down, a few tears were shed, a host of other ninth grade Korean girls swarmed to the scene to make sure their friend was okay (where were the ninth grade boy's friends to comfort him?), and she got up shaken but intact a few minutes later.

*A homeroom at my school did a fundraising project called "Hot Teachers." The idea was this: in order to raise money to donate to UNICEF, the students of this homeroom would choose five male teachers from our school. Then students and faculty alike could vote for which of the five male teachers they'd most like to see dressed up as a woman. There was tons of advertising and promotion, and lots of money raised. When all was said and done, I'd come in second but far behind the obvious winner, the principal of the school. The final result video is here; the promotion video for me is here (and an anti-promotional is here); ads for the other teachers are here, here, here, and here. And obviously a post-event promotion for the Hot Teacher project is right here in this very post.

*A paper I received recently had the word "relationsheep" in it.

*I read an article about Moustafa Ismail, the man with the world's biggest biceps, last week and thought that it would be a good question of the day. However, when the question came out of my mouth, it sounded a big suggestive, at least to me: "Moustafa Ismail, from Egypt, has a certain body part that is bigger than anyone else's in the whole world. What body part of his is bigger than everyone else's?" However, in my ninth grade homeroom class, no one laughed (although one kid ventured a daring guess: "His butt?"), no one in my tenth grade class laughed, one [very American] kid in my eighth grade class giggled, and then finally - finally! - the seventh grade English class I teach - a class that is twelve girls and one boy - burst out laughing, all of them, all at once, when I asked them during my last class that day.

*One of my students began a debate constructive with, "Good afternoon, fellow debaters, honorable judge, members of the audience, friends, family, and that creepy uncle who hasn't been invited but shows up to sit in the back anyway."

*A smaller, very cute, and very girly acquaintance of mine happened to have my iShuffle in her purse when we parted ways once. She said that she later put the earphones into her ears and hit "play" on the device when she was in an elevator full of quiet Chinese people; unfortunately for her, the volume was cranked up to maximum and the music on the iShuffle was Norma Jean...and not that weaksauce, "The Anti Mother" album of theirs. No, this was "O God, the Aftermath," pure math metal. Needless to say, this girl got some looks from her fellow elevator-riders.

*The vocab word was "horde." The students wrote sentences using the vocab word. One girl shared her sentence: "Mr. Haggar saw a horde of Anne Hathaways." Then this husky boy from the back said, in a low, almost sensual voice, "Yeah, Mr. Haggar...leap into the horde."

*On some test I gave, some kid wrote, "Boom! Get outta your mind! Boom! Get outta your mind! [eraser marks] that [eraser marks], get outta your mind!" in between the text and the reading comprehension questions.

*Student comments about a) me: "Mr. Haggar is a out going and active people. He likes to shout and jump up and down. He is full of passion and be on fire at all time." b) Miss April: "Ms. April likes to talk very fast and can speak Chinese very well. Ms. April likes talking all the time because she lives alone."

*The opening lines of this quiet tenth grade girl's answer to the essay prompt "What is the best way to get a boyfriend/girlfriend?" is one of the best things I have ever seen in print. Here is the complete answer: "I really don't know what is the answer of this question. And I also need the answer immediately. Nowadays there are some students in grade ten find their girlfriends or boyfriends. After we came back from culture trip, there are more. And they just suddenly get together. But most of them don't want to acknowledge that. Some of them will say that is not true! And some will say they are just brother and sister. Some one doesn't say anything at all. But they stay together every day and all of us think that their action show clearly their relationship. Let's return to the topic. My mom told me if a girl don't show that she likes a boy, but the boy has a little good feeling of her. Then the boy will likes her more. I can't do that. Because nearly all the students in grade ten knew who I like. And there are some ninth graders and eighth graders also knew that. That person also knew. But how do they find their girlfriend or boyfriend? We don't know how. Maybe they seldom talk to each other before. But they get together! I think just make more friends with other people you will find the person that you want and he/she also want you."

*The first time I have ever cooked something in my apartment:

*A celebration of mustaches at BWYA. The man on the left, Mr. Ramon, was voted "Best Mustache Owner 2012."

*This is not a computer graphic; it is a box on my head.