Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Color Run 2016

Smoke and dust drifted through the air. The banging of tramping feet and occasional screams were the only sounds heard. I squinted through the haze. Where had my friends gone? Where had Ellen gone? Would I survive the myriad attacks, many of which had blinded me, had caused me to hack up red, had been accompanied by war hoots and yells? Something in me said yes. Something in me said no.

We'd arrived hours earlier with the others, in Fengtai, decked out in sparkling uniforms that would soon be devastated. I came with Ellen, and neither of us knew what to expect, or what we were in for. But we brought everything we thought we needed in the way of equipment: water, protection against the sun, enormous guns (here I am, of course, referring to my arms), and ammunition that we'd received upon enlisting. After reaching the point of embarkation, Ellen and I had met some of her friends, all of whom were also clad in shiny, spotless, soon-to-be-decimated uniforms. We greeted each other grimly, knowing but not knowing what lay in store for us, and took our places with the other grunts. Some had guns, some had other artillery equipment, and all had the most prominent weapon to be found in the battle: dirty bombs. Biological warfare. Agent Orange, and Agent Yellow (Ellen had this color, and wasn't happy about it; it was indeed an ugly powder), Agent Blue, Agent Purple, and Agent Red. It was going to be ugly.

All of us were herded into a large chute, where we waited anxiously to be released into the madness. Occasionally a general with a megaphone would scream commands at us, and we'd yell back in hysterical unison at him, weapons held high, guttural animal noises shrieking from our throats.

And then it was time to go.

But there were too many people. So instead of the wild scamper that I pictured (the image I had in my head was like when the Hunger Games begin, or when Black Friday starts at the Barnswallow in Milford) happening, we all sort of shuffled out of the chute and began the march. Sort of anticlimactic.

But only for a time...but only for a time! Once we'd marched for a kilometer of quiet vigilance, suddenly, shouts rose up, and an attack was underway! A toxic blue substance filled the air, filled my vision, filled my lungs! I yelled and looked this way and that. Where was Ellen? Where was the rest of our crew? Ellen had moved to the other side of the road, which was covered in blue and in the footprints of the damned. I grabbed her hand and we fled.

And went to the bathrooms for a quick toilet break. After a relaxing few moments, moments during which we did not fear for our lives, we re-emerged and realized our compatriots had left us behind, or that we'd left them behind. We'd become separated! Nearly hysterical, extremely concerned about their physical safety, Ellen and I took off, looking this way and that, running like Stephen Curry searching for his lost mouthpiece. Desperate. Frustrated. Worried. And - like Stephen Curry, by many a Cavalier - we now found ourselves being hounded...by many an enemy.

The enemy was faceless. All wearing the same garb, they'd come right up behind you and immerse you in powdery horror. And they'd shout some vile war slogan and disappear, leaving you stunned and gasping for breath. It took many rounds of these sneak batterings for either of us to pull ourselves together enough to organize a counterattack.

Which we finally did. After several more kilometers, many more assaults, and one straggler - Abby, one of Ellen's friends - who joined our ranks after somehow evading death on her own for several hours - we decided to fight back. For me, the turning point was when someone dropped a bag of poisonous powder the size of an old-man suitcase on the ground and ripped it open with a knife. The frenzied masses converged like animals on it, scooping it up and heaving it everywhere and inhaling it all. I decided, "Enough of this. It's time to take control." So I armed myself with several handfuls of purple toxin and struck back, flinging this way and that, bellowing like a violet, violent caveman. I think I even hit Ellen with some. It had to be done.

A grueling kilometer or so later, it was over. We reached a point of ceasefire, a point of truce. Covered in grit, unable to see straight, not sure if we'd ever be the same, the three of us wandered about in a daze, stunned by what we'd just been through. There were thousands all around in just the same state. No one knew what to do, or where to go, or how to cope.

How could we go back to real life after watching our fellow countrymen (well...Ellen's fellow countrymen...) get pulverized with contagion, after contributing to the madness, after inflicting the same fate upon each other as had been inflicted upon us? How could we hope to sleep at night? How could we look each other in the eye ever again?

The journey home was long, and haunting. We thought we were returning to normalcy, but the ghosts of those who killed and who we'd killed flickered in and out of our peripheral vision all the way back to Wangjing. People stared at us. We were still covered in bloodshed, in guilt, in shame. Men turned away from us with a shiver. Women drew their children closer in, or moved to the other side of the subway car. Teenagers gawked, and then secretly took pictures of us with their phones. Awful. Wild. Dangerous.

Life went on after The Color Run, and we strove after the lives we'd previously been accustomed to. But we couldn't quite shake it all off...

Thursday, June 9, 2016


I feel old.

Tired. Blah.


Let me stay home and do nothing. Read "Lake Wobegon Days." Do some push-ups or sit-ups in order to die less soon. Don't really want to talk to anyone in particular. Get some laundry done. Sweep. Read a bit more, this time a history book about Xinjiang. Maybe scrape out an e-mail to my parents. Eat leftovers from the night before, or from two nights before.

At work, I'm fine holing up in my empty classroom or in the office, headphones in, banging away on my laptop or quietly marking papers. Someone comes, but I don't want them to. Let the silence continue. Go home after the bell rings, earlier than I have ever gone. Maybe stop and buy some fruit or bread from Wu Mart. Eat in; gotta finish those leftovers before they start going bad. Part of me wants to quietly drink some sort of booze on the sofa by candle light while I read. I don't know why; I don't drink, and my couch sort of sucks. Another part of me wants to do puzzles, or take up bird-watching. There are several puzzles here; my mom sent them. Bird-watching in Beijing, though, would be terrible.

Terrible because there are too many people in Beijing, people that don't watch where they are going, and in my premature oldness, I let them drive me older. Crabbier. Same with students, always on their smartphones with the latest gizmo, the newest brain-cell-serial-killing game or app that allows people to watch you do whatever you are doing at the moment or that pits mankind versus an invasive race of plague-bearing ducks. What happened to books and paper, and abacuses? Watch out. You'll go dumb. 

Get me to bed early. I know my alarmingly-consistent internal clock will rouse me before I am ready to wake up. Or will it be my bladder, ringing a different kind of bell? Or my alarm clock, sending me out into the semi-toxic early morning to jog the running path in Ellen's apartment complex, where I am the youngest one out there by twenty years? I'll need a nap after school, especially if I think about the coming school year in August, which will be just as exhausting as the one I'm staggering out of, back onto my couch.

Old. Oldish. Hmm.

Hmm, hmm.

Do I have it right?

Or maybe - as I type a blog post on a semi-outdated social media site, on my Macbook Pro - maybe I don't have it spot on. Maybe my couch isn't the loafing haven it looks like, but instead it is a rejuvenation pad, as are the power naps that I take because I am building an animal out of my body, with early morning heart conditioning, leg muscle toning, and hopefully chest-fat-reducing push-ups, getting ready to climb up some tall, steep things, but blasting past the old closer to the here and now and taking advantage of the day while those my age sleep. Maybe their kids tired them out or something. I am a morning person anyway, according to my mom's diagnosis; things get done at that hour.

My books have gone soft: I read using a Kindle, and I can see why people like it, because I like it, too. Just like how I enjoy Wechat as well, the most frequently-used communication app on my smartphone, an app I've used to make learning happen, to download assignments or remind students of deadlines, to help strengthen relationships with the increasingly-intelligent and sophisticated youth that I have the pleasure of teaching and being with. Good people at school, as in Beijing; quick to smile, eager to help or give advice.

Bird-watching and puzzle-completing will come in due course, but there are still other hobbies to be pursued, like this one that I am indulging in right now - writing - and its lovely sister: reading a book. There are dormant dreams there, of writing, of books of mine that some bearded, thirty-year-old dude will read someday and then get off the couch because of. And go. Eat those leftovers; there are feasts from which they originate, and healthy supplements of fruit and 冰红茶, the stuff that keeps me charged to get wild in a classroom with a bunch of eighth grade students, or ninth, or whomever I am tasked with. Sit me down in an office, and I can get things done, but it will suck the life right out of my bones, and all the potential will atrophy, and a week of only-two-classes-or-less-per-day that appear relaxing will become a grave of overly-hairy bones. Fill my schedule up with some deadlines, lots of face time, and room/need to come up with something new, and - though I'll be tired at the end of it, and maybe want to go lie on the couch for a while - I will peak, in that zone between "comfortably-challenged" and "dangerously over-challenged." Just where I need to be, where you need to be.

Because there is still so much I want to do. I want to read all the things, and laugh with all the good people, and write some stuff that will make you think, "I know this guy," and pour into my lady, and raise a wild family - cat included, and climb a specific list of mountains in China, and make a bunch of teenagers love reading and love thinking and figure out who they are and what they love doing, and be an example and a pursuer and a lover of Jesus, wherever I am, in all of the above.

Much to do. Little time to do it. Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.

I'll stay busy.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dear Pollution

Dear Pollution,

Go away. No one wants you here.


- Everyone