Thursday, January 31, 2013

Happy Snake Year

Twenty-five days since school started again
Sixteen since Beijing’s all-time high pollution.
There were days spent with 榴莲 and killwhitneydead
And diksha - all thanks to new couchsurfing friends
Most students seemed like they'd downed eight Red Bull shots;
Made Hathaway jokes, made me laugh a lot.
I can't forget paperwork; thanks, IBO!
You made twelve percent of my weekday days blow.
Then hot birthday parties and then KTV,
And plotting with Dawna to ravage Turkey.
Some worship team jams, and Fuel open gym.
A Skype call with Sunshine...quite jacked to see him.
In all the expenditures that you might make,
I'd like to wish you: Happy Year o' the Snake!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Christmas Vacation

On December 20 I flew to the U.S. to celebrate Christmas there for the first time since 2007. I could go on and on about a number of things, about how I got to hang out with the one and only Mr. Jordan Williams in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and even do one round through the vehicular airport loop with him; about how Mark Nola took me to see the Minnesota Timberwolves snap the Oklahoma City Thunder's twelve game winning streak and meet up with Pete and Kelly after the game and then to break bread (read: pancakes) with two amazing former students in Dinkytown the next morning; about getting a patty melt and a Twins lunch box at That 50’s Grill with Kaycee, Cole, Kristin, bearded Jake Lemke, and T-Duck; about breakfast at some Middle Eastern restaurant with Clayton and then meeting his son – the first of any of my friends’ children; about the Mall of America and Megan “I’ll Wear Your Granddad’s Clothes” Schwartz; about Emilie’s Lebanese Deli and hours of coffee shop conversation with Justin Juntunen; about a Colombian Novena celebration and “Ironman 2” with my Fridley Haggar family; about amazing days spent celebrating Christmas, watching movies, eating copious amounts of fatty foods, doing icy photo shoots, cheering the Vikings on, completing puzzles, and being together with my nuclear family, my mom’s family, and my dad’s family; about how it snowed so many of the days I was home, including on Christmas Eve and Day; about dropping in on the YouthWorks! office where Kari Smith and Ben Capps still rock hard; about multiple delicious burgers with T-Duck and singular delicious burgers with Orvis and Micah; about meeting my brother’s lover; about my first glass of beer with Paul Staats in Madison (where else?); about a brief landing on Bethel University’s campus. All fun stuff. But, I don’t want to go on and on about it. While it was incredible seeing these fine faces again, the two-week trek between the Twin Cities and Rock Rapids, Iowa, were characterized by moments.

Moments like the first evening back in Rock Rapids since July, when my family was finally reassembled: Mom, Dad, me, Christina, Michael. Simon, our huge cat. No more, “How was your flight?” or “How long will you be back?” or “How was your fall?” We talked about right now. We talked about where we were, and what we were doing, and what we would be doing. We talked about the candle light service at church that night, and how we three children were to read different passages from Matthew, and what we could add to the selected verses – donkeys speaking in tongues, a re-enactment of Mary giving birth – and we laughed. And it was good. It was spot on. That is why I came home: to be there in my kitchen in Iowa with my family for Christmas, laughing about stupid ideas that could never happen at church and about how fat our cat is. Choice to fly home instead of relaxing in Beijing or traveling: validated.

There were other moments that made me think different things. Instead of going up with many of my college friends to northern Wisconsin for New Year’s, I stayed home with my parents and the aforementioned huge cat. We skeptically watched Jenny McCarthy make out with some random Marine as New York City rang in 2013. When it came time for the Central Standard Time Zone to enter the new year, I was grading seventh grade poems. Afterward, when my mom had gone to bed, I went to sit by our Christmas tree and surfed the internet to see what everyone in Beijing had done to celebrate. Soon my brother came in from hanging out with his friends. We looked at each other. It was New Year’s. A time to celebrate, right? Yet here we were, at home, our friends and real lives hundreds and/or thousands of miles away. Maybe that particular holiday doesn’t usually live up to the hype. But I realized I was feeling a desire to get back into what I considered my “real” life. In the next couple days, while I still greatly enjoyed talking with my parents, my brother, and my friends – and our huge cat – I thought more about how everything was on pause when I came home. People I saw stopped their normal lives of working to catch up with me, to hear about what I’d been doing or to tell me about what they’d been up to. Did our relationship move forward? Did the direction of my life change during these conversations? If not, does that mean those times were not important? No, no. But during none of those hang-outs did we, as Michael so often calls it, “do life together.” We just visited. Michael and I were both in this mode most of our time in Rock Rapids and often in the Twin Cities (so I’d say we did life together). It was a holiday. No one was moving forward; everyone was reflecting. Not a bad thing. Just not a time when change happens.

This thought was made further clear when I ran into the one tangible link to what I consider my “real” life in Beijing at the airport in Minneapolis as I was departing: Dawna! We did not talk about how we’d been, we did not talk about how our break had been treating us. We didn’t talk about what we’d gotten for Christmas. Instead our conversation was about planning our February trip through the Mediterranean region of the world, to the future, which we would share together in a way that no one else we’d seen in the two weeks prior would.

A third moment has replayed itself many times since returning, a thought that reflects back on a moment at home but also on my life now. After I returned, I ran into a guy at church; he asked me about my time at home and said, “Yeah, I bet you met up with your college friends and did a bunch of crazy stuff, right?” My mind jumped to the only really out-of-control moments of my vacation, the eleven minutes and fourteen seconds during which Paul, my brother Michael, and I completely jammed out to the song “Elegy” by Becoming the Archetype. Completely surrendering ourselves to the death metal chorus of this anthem is a tradition that does indeed stem from our college days, when Paul and I lived with a few other good men and blasted this song on our air guitars, air basses, air drums, air mics, and the pillow we used as a piano. Every time I reunite with Paul, “Elegy” gets played once, and for miles around, windows shatter and children cry. When my brother was added to the equation, the song went from crazy fun to dangerous; folding chairs were thrown, pool cues were brandished, shirts got ripped off, cushions were unceremoniously smashed into faces, a huge punching bag became a guitar/weapon, and one of those fake mounted fish that has an electronic sensor and says some cheesy line when you walk past was employed as a microphone. Among other things.

Surely, you are flaring with jealousy right now. You should be. Those eleven minutes and fourteen seconds were complete and untouchable gold. As I look back on those minutes, though, and when I thought about how to answer the guy at church, I thought, “That was only wild thing I’d done in…a while.” I thought to other memories in college, times when we’d run around naked or throw snow at people in the toilet stalls or dress up like fools every Friday or throw carrots or breakfast potatoes or cups of lemonade at each other in the cafeteria or shoot racquet balls down the hall with a water balloon launcher or rub Icy Hot in places Icy Hot should never be rubbed or…sigh. What happened? Now the wildest things I do are shout and occasionally jump on a desk in class, and it’s only abnormal because I’m a teacher. I know it’s necessary to maintain some semblance of maturity, especially in this communist country where I may at any time be representing the whole of America. However, reflecting on the lone eleven-minute-and-fourteen-second-chunk of insanity of my vacation, I wonder if my life could use a bit of spicing up.

A mix of moments. Some were perfect, some made me restless, some were thought-provoking. I think all those sentiments were good to feel. The pleasure of reconnecting for a time, and the knowledge that my time in my past life was only for a short time, and then the thought that change would be desirable…thus was my Christmas break this year. How these moments affect me in the future remain to be seen. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No Beer 2012

In the fall of 2011, I found myself spending quite a bit of time in company that frequently enjoyed a good beer or two. These dudes were good, fun people, and I loved hanging out with them. But I found that each time we'd go out, I'd end up with multiple bottles or mugs of beer that I had no interest in drinking. I have no problem with people putting down a few pints, but I myself don't really care for beer. So, I decided that a New Year's resolution was in order: no beer for me in 2012. Thus, in the waning hours of December 31, 2011, I finished off my last Tsing Tao - and several beers that some creepy dude had purchased for one of my female friends in hopes of getting her too drunk to say no...who hasn't been there? - and entered 2012 figuring that not drinking any brewskies would not be a problem.

Soon after the new year began, I was somewhere with Dawna, and, nonchalantly, I told her about this New Year's resolution that I'd made. She appeared flabbergasted and rashly uttered fateful words: "You won't make it."

We'll never really know why Dawna said this. She knows me better than anyone within a 4,000-mile radius of Beijing, better than anyone in the entire continent of Asia! That's 3.9 billion people! She knows how stubborn I am, especially about things that don't matter. She knows I don't like beer, and that I don't like spending money, either. She knows that I once spent an entire summer at YouthWorks! playing a slap-related game called "Rick James," that consequently my slapping skills are quite well-developed, that during "Rick James" I hit many, many women in the face, thus desensitizing me to slapping female faces during games (that sounds pretty wrong, I know). So it will be forever a mystery as to why Dawna then offered me a slap bet over my beer fast.

For those of you who don't watch "How I Met Your Mother," a slap bet is simple and works like this:

Step 1: A bet is made
Step 2: The bet is resolved
Step 3: The winner of the bet slaps the loser of the bet in the face as hard as desired (by the winner, not the loser)

So if we apply these rules to this frothy situation:

Step 1: Dawna bet me that I would fail to not drink beer in 2012; she would win if I drank beer in 2012, and I would win if I didn't drink beer in 2012
Step 2: I would certainly not drink, because I'm stubborn and because I don't like beer, and because I have - along with most of modern society - always wanted to slap Dawna
Step 3: I would slap Dawna in the face as hard as I physically could, which would be extremely hard after all the training and practice I did (I had so much free time because of all the time during which I was not drinking beer) to strengthen my right arm and hand

Thus, the bet was on. Throughout the course of the year, I had to explain this situation to countless folks; colleagues out for a meal after work, couchsurfers who'd just reached China and wanted to celebrity, mad honies in bars. All these people got to hear what came to be a well-rehearsed, almost rote narrative of an ill-fated - for Dawna - disagreement over something unimportant to both of us.

As time wore on, I realized that the slap bet was probably working more to my advantage than I'd first thought. Initially, I'd just seen it as a chance to not drink beer and get to slap the mug of a friend, pun intended. But having this brief anecdote about face slapping was an excellent excuse to avoid awkward confrontations over beer, especially with strangers or people who loved to revert back to high school and give me a hard time about not drinking beer. "Why aren't you drinkin', you sally?" they'd demand roughly. "Well, I don't want to get slapped in the face, do I?" I'd reply with a wink. And the situation would be diffused.

Of course, this past Monday, December 31, 2012, the clock eventually reached midnight, and 2012 was no more. The moment passed quietly, and I didn't think about the fact that I'd won the slap bet until the next day.


And now here we are, in 2013. The year of brew sobriety is over. The ban has been lifted, the prohibition is done, this abstinence can be abstained from. I don't know if I will indulge or not; a year without beer has not made me thirst for it. But, if I want to, I am free to drink beer! slap Dawna.