Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pictures of Stuff I Got for My Birthday

If you like arrogant, self-centered blog posts, then this is the post for you!

I felt loved. Every year people do amazing, surprising things that I can't even really describe. It's true that many students seem to like me, and I get along fairly well with most of my coworkers and fellow city dwellers. However, most of my relationships with students are nowhere near what I'd call deep, and I am not super present - relationship-wise - with everyone at work. Yet, people still bathed me in love, whether it was the stuff above or with an e-mail or with some other nice gesture. I felt super, super cared for. And it seems like most years, I always feel super super cared for. I spend time thinking, "Alright, I don't deserve this, really," and time thinking, "Alright, is this, like, the pay-off for being the person I am?" Not, like, I try to joke around with students all the time so they bake me a Twins cake on my birthday; I joke around with students so that we have a relationship that could be worth doing that for. Hope that makes sense and doesn't sound too arrogant.

Anyway, thanks, every person I know. You are awesome. Glad you are in my life.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Operation Golden Dragon, Pt. 7

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) Longquanyu Great Wall

When the week is nasty and draining, and you just want out, Beijing Hikers is there for you. It might be a bit more expensive than doing a trip by your fine self, and it might feel more like a tour than you are comfortable with, but you don't want any headaches! Because you just want to leave all the stacks of papers to mark, the scores of friends wanting to hang out, the concrete and pollution, and the known and get out into the woods for a while.

Go, then. I did, on October 19, to Longquanyu and to the section of the Great Wall there, northwest of Beijing. And it was good. The trip itself was not much to write about and can be divided into five parts: the bus ride, the road hike, the lunch, the woods, and the Great Wall parts.

The bus ride out of Beijing was okay; the bus ride back into Beijing was spent equally hearing about how China's electricity could be dispensed in a more economically-friendly, cheaper way and cursing the Saturday evening traffic. The road hike was walking two kilometers on a road out of the woods and not talking to anyone. The lunch was spent listening to a couple of fellow Americans talk about their lives and, not surprisingly, eating.

The woods and the Great Wall, obviously, were much more enjoyable. We were on the Wall for a couple of hours; some of it was open and still standing, and we paraded around the towers and got in each others' ways and took pictures and all that, and then part of it was overgrown with bushes and foliage - enough to take a leak in without getting caught. And then right before we hit the woods, there was a restored section.

The woods were the woods. I walked alone and looked at the sun pouring down through the branches and thought about my life and how it wasn't out there in the woods with me at that moment, and how that was alright.

(2) Beijing Hope Run

In 1980, a dude who'd lost a leg to cancer - Terry Fox - started to run across Canada. Why? To raise awareness and funds for cancer research. After almost five months, and after 5,373 km/3,339 miles, he had to quit, and eventually cancer killed this baller. For real, go read the Wikipedia article about him. Crazy stuff.

Anyway, so, now, all over the world - in sixty countries - different running events are held in Terry Fox's honor to raise awareness and money for cancer research. On September 28 of this fine year, one such event was held in Chaoyang Park, in Beijing. And forty-two members of Beijing World Youth Academy, where I work, went. Despite the horrifying amount of toxic matter in the air the day of.

It must be noted that getting the aforementioned forty-two members of Beijing World Youth Academy - thirty-five students and seven teacher people - to the 8K event was a massive headache. It involved a blind night trip to the south part of Beijing to pick up t-shirts and registration stuff, a large number of e-mails - most of which were far short of being clear about the event's details, fights with the dearest of coworkers, and a massive pursuit of students for forms, money, and signatures. Nonetheless, we embarked from our school on that fateful Saturday morning, took a bus to Chaoyang Park, and situated ourselves near the starting line to run...and to fight cancer.

And then we waited. On a field, with six thousand or so other cancer-haters. Through what seemed to be endless bureaucratic garbage: speakers, warm-up exercises, songs not accompanied by sign language, songs accompanied by sign language, and probably some other points of interest that I missed because they were in Chinese.

After almost an hour and a half, the run began, and Mr. Alberto led our crew into the eight-kilometer melee. We started out quick but most soon started lagging behind. I sucked wind (read: toxins) for a kilometer or two before finding my stride and settling in for the run. The event was populated by all kinds of characters: some in jeans, some wielding computer bags, some carrying flags, some walking, some running, but almost all sporting bright, pink t-shirts.

Eventually - actually, much sooner than I expected - the finish line reared up and a million photographer types were waiting to take pictures of everyone. And then did. In hindsight, and in discussion with the other participants, we decided there was no way that the run was actually eight whole kilometers. It was over way too quick, and it had taken up far less energy than we'd expected. Hmm.

Nonetheless, we donated our entrance fee, helped a large-scale attention-grabbing event take place, and probably contracted cancer from the air around us in the process. The whole crew left feeling fine. And if anyone comes across a good picture of Mr. Alberto riding piggy-back on me as we cross the finish line, please let me know.

(3) Beijing Marathon

Twenty-six miles. It pales in comparison to what Terry Fox did, but it still ain't nothin' to sneeze at when done all at once in a couple of hours. Beijing hosted its twentieth annual marathon on October 20, and for some reason, thirty student volunteers from Beijing World Youth Academy were invited to help facilitate it. I may not have even known about it, but Miss Jade from BWYA's other campus was on the job and told me to bring some volunteers from the campus where I work, and she'd bring some from hers, and it would be a big ol' party. And that was that.

The prep wasn't as demanding as that of the Hope Run, but we did leave earlier in the morning: 6:30 a.m., to be exact. The BWYA bus took the twenty-seven students (three of mine failed to show up) and seven or so teachers to the Olympic Village in Beijing, which was the finish line for the marathon this year. We unloaded and got ready to help.

The first portion of the day was, as far as us volunteering went, an enormous waste of time. We stood around for an hour and watched three BWYA teachers - Mr. Clem, Mr. Alberto, and Ms. Nallely - dance to get the runners of the Family Marathon pumped for their run to glory. Which was alright! But then some coordinator type tried to bring our group of student volunteers to where we were supposed to hand out certificates at the finish line of the Family Marathon.

However, she utterly and completely failed. Security guards and fences blocked our path, and we had to make a huge detour around the Bird's Nest to get to where we needed to be. When we arrived, the Family Marathon had finished, all the certificates had been handed out, and we had nothing to do. Except take a picture where we should have been.

A half-hour later, things picked up, in many ways. The first finisher of the real marathon showed up, which was delightful; the guy's time was about two hours and five minutes. Incredible. Probably the last thing he wanted to do was get interviewed, but.

Then two of the students who'd missed the bus earlier showed up. I spent about half an hour searching for them, and when I corralled them and returned to the finish line with them, all sorts of mayhem had broken loose. We were needed! The marathon was finishing!

Some of our students had to direct runners who'd finished to the locker/bag area, to the turn-in point for tracking chips, to the bathrooms, or to the medical facilities. I thought these students would get bored, but they were swamped with panting, sweating athletes in no time, and they didn't get to stop pointing for the next three hours.

The two tardy girls and I were stationed at the locker/bag area, where we redistributed the runners' bags to them. Basically, every runner had been given a bag at the starting line, a bag in which to put personal belongings, warm-up clothes, doping equipment, their wills, etc. The bags were marked with numbers that corresponded to the runners' ID numbers. Then all the bags were thrown in a truck and organized numerically - sort of - at the finish line. Our job was basically to give the runners their bags back, and/or to redirect them to some other section of the bag/locker area. We spent an equal time doing these things.

It was madness. I loved it. It was hard to find the bags, there was the pressure to locate them quickly, and there were fun curveballs - like the eastern European woman who barely spoke English and told me that she'd lost her family. With thirty thousand or so runners milling about, we were kept quite busy. It was sweet. I maybe have never used more Chinese ("Section A is that way!" "A在那边!"). The students kicked butt. Smiles were everywhere.

And then, suddenly, with 30% of the bags still unclaimed, a BWYA teacher came over and said, "Reuben, get your kids together. We are leaving." I tried to protest, to ask why, to stop this madness, but to no avail. I may have used a curse word or two as we left, but such was my sentiment; why leave when the job wasn't done? And earlier than planned? And for no apparent reason?

But, the early departure notwithstanding, being at the marathon was sweet. It felt awesome to be busily helping out. It was sweet thinking about the massive amount of planning involved in such an event. It was neat actually getting to see people - lots of people! - who'd just completed an extremely demanding physical endeavor. And to help them, even if it was just a wee little bit. A good time, indeed.

(4) Yuyuantan Park

We went, the four of us, a long time ago, on April 20, a Sunday, to a park in southeastern Beijing. We'd been there before, some of us, the year before, in 2012. It had been good. The reason it had been good had been, singularly: cherry blossoms. I love them. You love them. We all love them. And when we'd gone before, there'd been thousands of trees bursting with cherry blossoms. And, so, we expected the same on April 20 of last year.

Alas, though. We were a bit too late. We entered the park but discovered that, sadly, the optimal cherry blossom-viewing days had passed us by, probably while we were marking papers or picking our noses.

Even though the blossoms were mostly on the ground or in some countryside kid's backpack, the day was not lost; we still paraded around the park, looking at flowers that weren't cherry blossoms, looking at each other awkwardly, waiting for someone to point out that we'd failed. It was okay. We laughed some. Ate some crappy churros. And were together.

But it wasn't the same.

Dan, Mash, and Dave also weren't there like last time. Only Dave's bass Mjölnir was.

What can we learn from this expenditure? Maybe the good stuff is only meant to happen once. Maybe we should quit living in the past and look for new adventures in places we haven't been. Or, maybe, that we should do research before traversing all the freaking way across the city for a small, pink 'n' white flower. Next time will be different.