Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Question of the Day

Each and every one of my classes begins with a question. The Question of the Day.

I stole the idea from Mr. Wright, a very wise math teacher at Central Lyon High School in Rock Rapids, Iowa. Mr. Wright's Question of the Day came often - I think? - from the interesting tidbits of knowledge that can be found on the bottle caps of Snapple bottles. I - a mere student at the time - kept score of who answered the most Questions of the Day correct throughout the semester; I know that somewhere, there is a picture of me shaking Dusty Ageson's hand, since, during one semester, he answered the most questions correctly.

Anyway, now, in China, I start homeroom and each of my classes with a Question of the Day. Sometimes I have classes in which some of my homeroom students study, so on these days I have to have two questions. I like the Question of the Day a lot because it says - if the bell doesn't do this job - that class is starting, it reels in the attention of most of the students, and it is a good routine to be in. Perhaps wise Mr. Wright also asked the Question of the Day for similar purposes. But, the most important reason I like the Question of the Day is because it is fun.

For no reason - no reason at all! - I kept track of the questions during the final month of the BWYA school year, and of the answers, and they are all written down below. Do whatever you want with them. A lot are current events questions, and others are just interesting trivia.

June 1
In the past five months, 385 people have been killed in America by whom? (the police)

June 2
How many countries has Mr. Ramon Villar been to? (50)
How many was I, Mr. Haggar, able to correctly guess? (41)
What did an E6 kid give to me randomly yesterday (a MN Twins hat)

June 3
What is the best city for baseball fans? (St. Louis)
Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, California, is famous for what? (being the most expensive college in the U.S.)

June 4
In 1951, something happened in Tibet that has not happened anywhere in China since then. What happened? (a volcano erupted)
On Tuesday in Boston, police killed a man named Usaamah Rahim, who'd been under surveillance for quite some time. What was Mr. Rahim's intention? Why was he under surveillance? (He planned to conduct a beheading "outside Boston.")

June 5
Which famous celebrity pleaded guilty yesterday to assault and careless driving? (Justin Beiber)

June 9
A man from Connecticut called 911 at 1:30 a.m. and reported that he'd been prevented from entering his house for four hours. What was preventing him from entering his home? (his pet cat)

June 10
How many people in South Korea have died so far because of the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome? (9)

June 11
In what American state have two convicted murderers escaped from prison? (New York)

June 12
Which BWYA DP teacher did not have to invigilate a single exam during the DP exams this week? (Mr. Haggar)

June 15
What are the top five highest-grossing movies of all time? (These: 1. Avatar 2. Titanic 3. The Avengers 4. The Fast and the Furious 7 5. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron)

June 16
Which company has closed 175 stores in North America? (GAP)
What did a guy named TechRax destroy in a Youtube video, the advertising earnings of which will earn him his month's salary? (a $10,000 Apple watch)

June 17
How far did the Nepal earthquake that killed more than 8,500 people in April move Mount Everest? (3.5 centimeters)
Guam beat India in a World Cup qualifying game. What was Guam's team ranking in the world? (174)

June 18
On this day in history - if we count the time difference between China and the U.S. - what arrived in New York in 1885, 130 years ago? (the Statue of Liberty)
Japan the age limit of what from 20 to 18? (voting)

June 19
What American city has gone the longest without winning a sports championship? (San Diego)

June 23
Who dropped the n-bomb in a very public interview podcast? (Barack Obama)
What were the top five most-frequently visited cities in 2014, according to the BBC? (These: London, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Paris)

June 24
What is the biggest city in the world? (Tokyo)
What is the GDP per capita in China? ($12,880)

June 25
How much food does the average American throw away every year? ($640's worth)
How many different actors have played James Bond, and can you name them? (6: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig)

June 26
Who were the three most-frequently late-to-school students during second semester in the DP1H homeroom? (Sean (23), Andy (32), Ako (38))
Which two students, although they maybe have been absent once or twice, were never late to school? (Emily, Meilin)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Man Hike

Meat.

Blood.

Push-ups.

Sweat.

Barbaric noises.

Jokes of questionable content.


Man things.


Four men set out in the earliest of hours on the well-known Chinese holiday Dragon Boat Festival and, spurning any thought of celebrating with boats or dragons, headed out to the wildest, most untamed section of the Great Wall of China: Jiankou, which literally translated means "Widow Maker," which was one of many reasons why the four reckless adventurers made the decision that they did in heading out into the wild.


There were no showers involved, or even talk of such things, since the men were basking in the glory that comes from leaving civilization behind in search of the great heights and challenges thereupon...although one of the dudes did apply, to his pasty shoulders, neck, and nose, a bit of Banana Boat sunscreen that ultimately did not protect his manly skin from the sun...but as the city of Beijing faded behind them and the grisly air tried to hide the dales and valleys through which their black taxi van sped like a bullet shot from the gun of Blondie from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," the blokes could feel adrenaline and the call of the wild and the slow rumbling in their ab-encased stomachs of the large and quickly-prepared sausages that they'd messily consumed for breakfast before leaving for the sweatiest, dirtiest storming of the Great Wall that had ever been organized.




A short stomp through the foliage drew the four horsemen nigh the Wall, and then upon it, after which there was not much to say except that the four cavemen ran helter skelter upon one of the greatest fortifications ever constructed and made it their own by climbing up and down destroyed sections of the Wall, yelling at the tops of their young and increasingly-PM 2.5-filled lungs, sweating everywhere and on everything, scaling the sides of hills from which drops would have resulted in broken limbs and dismantled body parts of the most horrific description, occasionally accidentally breaking bricks that composed the Wall itself, eating lots of - and for some, like the British hooligan, their first-ever - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of a deepness and richness that had been previously been unseen in that part of the country, and relieving themselves at will (there are no bathrooms out there, ladies).






They went up and they went down, and then they went up again, reaching one watchtower after another, gazing out over all that the great Lord had established and created and enjoying everything - okay almost everything; the pollution level was in the 150-200 range - that they laid their eyes upon, including mountains, hills, grass, bush, trees of all varieties, wild and dangerous rock formations, cliffy outshoots of stone that would chill climbers of an average disposition to the core, Shooter McGavin, valleys, lizards, their hiking mates, and - most importantly - the Great Wall as it snaked over and around all of the aforementioned landscape features and Shooter McGavin.






At one point the band of brethren gained a particularly difficult tower and, after standing there and shouting and taking several ridiculous but picturesque photographs for several minutes, the manly men set their eyes on a distant watchtower that loomed up through the faint haze of pollutant death which all four of the dudes was now feeling quite clearly in the deeper of the breaths that they took, and at least one if not two of them roared, "That's the one!" at which point everyone leaped forward in an energetic surge of masculinity and sped up and up - and sometimes down - but then back up again! - closer and closer to the tallest of the fortifications that reared up off the highest of the hills that lay before a huge mass of impassible mountains at the edge of the world and the brink of existence itself.






At long last, after fighting through bushes that absolutely did not want the four marauders to successfully pass through, after battling gravity that groped at the legs of the hikers as they rushed up the steady incline, after gasping in and out of patches of poisonous air, after hearing the ten thousandth joke about each and everyone's mother, after going toe to toe with time itself, the group of yahoos arrived at their destination: the last watchtower before the wilderness overtook the Great Wall.





And what a watchtower it was, covered in sweat, peanut butter, jelly, more sweat, the last of the men's bottles of water, the leftover courage and grit and wherewithal that remained after the uphill hike, still more sweat, perhaps some urine, but perhaps not, and providing an incredible view that made all that the grungy barbarians had spent reaching that watchtower worth it.





Then they descended, as quickly as they had come, back down the Wall, back down into the brush, back down the trail, back into the black taxi van, back into Beijing, and, finally and appropriately, to Roy's Chicken and Beer World, a quaint and friendly fried chicken joint near Gaojiayuan that serves up the best deep-fried bird in the Oriental world, where they ate all the chicken. All of it.




Because all four of the menfolk had longed for just such an adventure and had been both mentally preparing (by watching excellent films such as "Anchorman" and by hurling constant abuse at each other for the sake of skin thickening) and physically preparing (by eating chocolate ice cream, sour cream and onion Pringles, quickly-prepared sausages, popcorn, fruit, Blue Frog burgers, eye of newt, and the like) for hours, the exploration of Jiankou on that fateful Monday so many eons ago was deeply satisfying, like drinking the blood of a freshly-killed doe under a full but slightly-clouded moon, or like destroying a lion in a fight to the death that involves nothing more than fists, fangs, and ferocity, or like hitting a big home run with all your students watching; as such, the fellows enjoyed each others' company, time, effort, and slightly-questionable jokes, and they vowed to partake in such an expenditure again as soon as was humanly possible.









Friday, June 19, 2015

A Nice Sunday Night at Yugong Yishan

We went because there was a band called War of Ages.

For those of you who have never stepped foot inside a circle pit, War of Ages was and is one of those Christian metalcore bands that did rise up above hundreds of other mediocre, generic metalcore bands but that did not reach a really mainstream audience (like, perhaps, As I Lay Dying or Underoath can said to have done). The band is from Pennsylvania and formed in 2002; they've put out seven albums. I listened to their first one ("War of Ages") a lot during the fall of my senior year of college and specifically connect it to the drive east on 694 from Arden Hills to Mahtomedi and Oakdale, where I did my student teaching. Stand...stand your ground.


At a random point in late May, I saw somewhere online that War of Ages was doing a tour through China and was coming to Beijing on June 14, so I immediately began rallying troops. The first person I asked to come with me was Ellen, who - after watching a few live War of Ages videos on Youtube - politely declined my invitation. Ben Whitmore - a former member of a metalcore band himself - was the next person I asked, and he was followed by a Ukrainian female friend of ours - Marina - who said she'd been to two concerts in her life and who felt like this one would be a good third show. Later the fifteen-year-old (I think) son of one of the pastors at our church joined us, and then the sound guy from our church and wife wanted to come as well, and so then there were six of us, and we went. First we ate pizza, and then we went.


Interestingly enough, the aforementioned band that Ben had been a part of had opened for War of Ages many years ago, in Joplin, Missouri (I think). While we were waiting for everything to begin, one of the guitar players from War of Ages walked by, and Ben greeted him and we spoke to him about the trip through China. Their tour sounded quick and not very relaxing but fun. And then he went off to prepare to rock and roll.


The show was scheduled to start at 9 p.m. At 9:15 or so, some Chinese hardcore band opened up. They were loud, they had their breakdowns together, they played for about half an hour, and their singer wore a Terror t-shirt. People watched them but didn't move around very much.


After the local band played, War of Ages came onto the stage and got all tuned up, and the excitement level in the venue increased dramatically. Someone brilliant in our group positioned us right in front of one of the speakers, so when the band started playing, I had no idea what song it was because it was super loud. Eventually, though, I realized War of Ages played almost exclusively songs from their later albums (which I hadn't spent much time listening to, ever), so they could have played anything, and I wouldn't have recognized it.


Key points from the jam:
  • We were very curious to see if there would be a lot of people at the concert and, if so, how crazy they would be. There were not that many people there, and they did not get very crazy. 
  • Marina, Noah (the pastor's son), and I spent most of the show with a finger in our right ears.
  • There was a pause in the set list, and when the band was drinking their water 'n' thangs, Ben and I yelled the names of their oldest and most awesome songs at them. The singer/screamer said, "Sounds like we've got some Americans in the crowd." The acknowledgement from the stage was nice, but they didn't play the song I yelled.
  • The band only played for about forty-five minutes, which is short. 
  • The singer yelled a really dirty Chinese word at the crowd several times; we don't know if he didn't know what it meant or if he knew and thought it was funny. It was funny. 
  • War of Ages played two songs that I knew. 
  • Ben really only wanted to hear one song played: 'All Consuming Fire.' 
  • When the band finished playing their dang set, they left the stage. Then they came back! And then the front man said, "We've got one more song. This one is called 'All Consuming Fire!'" So they started to play and Ben grabbed me and chucked me into the mosh and we threw down and broke faces and all that. At the end of the song, the band's singer summoned everyone to the front, and he climbed onto the crowd and sang the final breakdown. I held his ankle up. No one got hurt.
  • Afterwards we took a picture with War of Ages and told them to come back. They said they would. 
  • I got home by 11:30 p.m., which was nice because I had class at 8:20 a.m. the next morning and had thought it'd be later. My ears did not stop ringing for two days. 

Was it the most amazing concert in the world? Not really. Was the crowd lively and fun to watch? No. Did we grab the drummer's drum sticks when he threw them out into the audience after the show, or catch the guitarist's pick, or snatch chunks of wood from the guitar he smashed at the concert's conclusion? No, no. Those things didn't happen. But! I never thought any metal band I'd really enjoyed in the States would make an appearance here. And that night, June 14, 2015, War of Ages played in Beijing, China, and we were there, and it was fun. It took me back to college, to the Triple Rock in Minneapolis and to Station 4 in St. Paul, to the scene, and it was fun to go back and see some dudes who really know how to jam. Come back anytime, War of Ages! And bring some more mid-level Christian metalcore bands with you. It'll be a good ol' time.


The entire concert is online, on video, here. All but the last of the pictures in this here post are screenshots from the video anyway, so you've seen most of it already...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Nice Friday Night in The Seasons

The sky in Beijing is usually pretty boring. But the past few weeks, it has been full of stuff: breeze (of varying strengths), pollutants (common, but less prevalent recently), clouds (a rare sight), rain (rarer still), and pure sun rays (often subdued by the aforementioned pollutants). The PM 2.5 has not been as stifling, and each day recently has been quite hot until a punctuation of precipitation arrives in the late afternoon. I like it.

Last Friday after the showers had passed, the sky looked like it was going to do some real nice stuff, so I biked to The Seasons, a nice apartment complex a half-mile west of my house. I went there because I wanted to see the sun go down behind the clouds and the hills, and a) the buildings in The Seasons are very tall, so you can see a long way 2) directly west of The Seasons, there are no tall buildings to obstruct a dude's view of the mountains in the far distance 3) I'd heard that the doors to some of the roofs on some of the buildings in The Seasons were unlocked, so a dude could - if he wanted to see the sun down behind the clouds and the hills - get all up on there and watch the sun go down behind the clouds and the hills.

When I got to The Seasons, everything I'd heard turned out to be true, and within four minutes of chaining my bike to a fence, I was on the roof of a thirty-three-story building, looking west at the sun going down, all by myself. It was what I wanted.














I'll be back.