Wednesday, December 10, 2008

your old men will dream dreams

"Girls are, by nature, easy," was one of the more surprising statements Tim made this past week. I'll leave it up to you to judge whether it's just as true out of context as it is in. The fantastic five (Tim, Ryan, Emily, Amelia, and I) were eating lunch following our Sunday morning family time at one of our old stand-by restaurants, The Old Cook. [We have about four restaurants that qualify as "old stand-by's"; one is a standard middle class Chinese restaurant just across the street from Ryan and I's apartment which we named "Jason's" after our teacher friend, "Jason" (clever, I know); another is a cheap gai fan (dish of your choice over rice) restaurant near the Hebei University campus in the back of a place we call the "Red Tent", a long canopy of street restaurants (costs about 6 yuan); another is a Tibetan noodle place also in the Red Tent (about 6 yuan); and the fourth is The Old Cook, a typical middle class Chinese restaurant just around the corner from Jason's... upon further thought it's pretty identical to Jason's; we probably just go there for variety sake.]

We were eating some of our favorite dishes at The Old Cook, and the reoccuring topic of Christmas came up. The entire IECS team is participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange and we starting talking about the different wish lists each team member had submitted. Following some suspicious comments made by Amelia, the rest of us decided to try and figure out whose name she had drawn. Amelia's most leading comment was, "mine's gonna be pretty hard to shop for," and it was this comment that led Tim to say that it couldn't be a girl because, "girls are, by nature, easy." It only took us a few seconds to start laughing. It's moments like these that get me up in the morning. Actually, maybe I need to stop having these kinds of moments because I've been waking up really early recently. Just the other day I woke up at 2:45am, only to lay in that half-asleep-crazy-dream-state where time is somehow still passing normally but you're dreaming ridiculous dreams, for the next four hours. It was weird. Also, I had a dream the other night that Sega released a new video game... for every system Sega has ever created. Think about that; the same game with versions for Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, and Sega Dreamcast all coming out at the same time. For some reason in the dream I was watching my brother, Nathanael, play, which is ridiculous because there's no way I would have let anyone else touch that Sega Saturn controller but me, not until I had beaten it, twice. A couple nights later I dreamt that Nathanael and Maureen got pregnant; actually, just Maureen (dudes can't get pregnant, dummy, except for Arnold). Prophetic? I hope so; I really want to play that game...

Despite this sleeping funk I have been in, this past weekend was quite restful. Last week I had invited several students to help me decorate my classroom for Christmas on Saturday. I brought a six foot tall plastic Christmas tree, ornaments, lights, a pile of computer paper and scissors, and Santa Claus faces. What a great time it was to cut out dozens of snowflakes and set up my pastic tree with some of my favorite students (I know you're not supposed to have those, but it's too late now). Right when I arrived, a few of the boys started setting up the tree with lightning speed, and it was finished within minutes, ornaments, lights and all. Unfortunately, it looked like a Christmas tree that Scrooge would have set up before his conversion, a mangled mockery of everything the tree stands for. I didn't blame the boys and was happy to see their excitement, but when they left I asked one of my girl students (Kerri) to help me redo the whole thing. Now, it's a thing of beauty. Unlike Charlie Brown's tree, this graceful tree stands up all on its own, no love needed. Before each class this week, students have been surrounding it with their cell phones taking pictures. I've been telling them that I don't know where it came from, and that it must be a gift from Santa. I'm convinced that at least a few of them believe me.









Here's a shot of me teaching a Christmas song to one of the classes that Ryan and I teach in tandem (he's taking the picture), as well as a picture of me with my favorite class (I told you, it's too late).





Keep us in mind as we explain the meaning and origin of Christmas. They already have lots of questions...

Friday, November 28, 2008

from Beijing with love

“I’d make out with Brad Pitt,” Ryan said as he picked up his pen. We had been sitting in our favorite coffee shop, the Blue Melody Coffee Bar, for about three hours. Tim and I had spent the previous hour communicating to the bartender and waitress by pictures on paper, while showing them pictures of our lives on our macbooks. This statement was the conclusion of a short conversation about how much we both loved Brad Pitt. Ryan, Tim, and I were lightly debating over which movie to watch tonight, and I had thrown in the possibility of the new Coen Brothers’ film, Burn After Reading. He had a grin on his face that told me he was kidding, but one can never tell with Ryan; I’ve found he’s full of surprises…

Ryan and I were asked to give lectures to all who wanted to attend, which meant that they would be chiefly attended by our students, as well as the rest of the English Department. Ms. Zhao, our boss, told us our lectures could be about whatever we wanted, as long as they were in English. While I strongly considered the history of video games, I settled on American Football. Two weeks ago I spoke to about 350 students about Football. I borrowed Ryan’s Virginia Tech jersey, explained the rules and the popularity of the NFL, and showed them pictures of the best team in the NFL; the Redskins. I also asked Ryan and Cameron (a friend and fellow teacher from California) to exhibit some of the rules and vocabulary I talked about. These included Cameron jumping offsides as I threw a yellow flag, and Ryan tackling Cameron… to the ground, much to Cameron’s dismay. I ended the lecture by showing some of the Redskins vs. Eagles game from this season. Last week was Ryan’s turn. He chose to lecture about the Wild West. It was amazing to see how little the students knew about both subjects. Everything we put on the screen and explained was new to them; the same could be said for me if I sat in on a lecture about obscure pieces of Chinese history. Ryan took advantage of his time up front, donning two six-shooters, a bandana, and a cowboy hat. See the video for the full effect.

These past couple weeks have been some of the busiest of my life, but, if asked, I probably couldn’t recall a quarter of what happened. It was just too fast. This past weekend our group traveled to Beijing to help some Chinese friends run an English Club, a place where Chinese students and friends and sing songs, play games, and learn about western culture, all with the purpose of improving English. It was Ryan, Tim, Amelia, Emily, Cameron, and I. We arrived just in time for English Club on Saturday afternoon. I helped by playing the guitar as we sang English songs, including a “new” song we introduced; Brown Eyed Girl. Before Club I told a girl the name of the new song we were going to sing.

"I can see her in my mind, and she is beautiful," she said.

After the music Tim explained the history of Thanksgiving, followed by a game of Charades. After Club we enjoyed a great Chinese meal with our Beijing friends. Later our energetic friend, Vicky, chaperoned us as we toured the business district. Beijing is a great place, complete with Coldstone (which we couldn't find), Papa John's, Subway, Starbucks, and a delightful hostel bar where the tenders don't really know how to make drinks correctly, but are open to correction. We also did some Christmas shopping in along a river, a part of town called Ho-Hi. If we were working, we probably would have whistled.



Thanksgiving was an interesting day. Our students took it upon themselves to bombard us with Happy Thanksgiving text messages. Emily counted over 40 on her phone. It was certainly a nice gesture, but somehow, many of them sent identical messages (a forwarding extravaganza, I assume). Amelia and Emily were gracious enough to cook the most American meal we could get our hands on; Mexican food. The chicken tacos were unbelievable, and most importantly, there was cheese. This weekend we travel to Lang Fang to celebrate Thanksgiving with the entire IECS teaching team. I'm looking forward to life slowing down a little next week. I'm also looking forward to going back to the underground supermarket; I've heard the workers are all now wearing Santa hats...

During each of my classes this past week, I asked my students to express what they are most thankful for. One bold young man named Kobe stood up and said with full confidence, "I'm thankful for the woman who will one day be my wife!" He wasn't done, "I'm also thankful to her parents for giving birth to such a beautiful girl."

Those are the days I live for.

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Here's a view of the bus we take to school every day.


Friday, November 14, 2008

jonny on the spot

Let me tell you about my friend, Jack. I have three Chinese friends/students named Jack, but this particular Jack stands out from the rest, mostly because he's always there. Every time Ryan or I participate in a fun activity on campus, Jack somehow catches word about it and shows up. At first, I admit, I was a little apprehensive about his dedication to being around wherever we were, but now it is a joy to see him. Jack's English is fairly poor (and highly amusing at times), but it is improving. A good example of his English level occurred last week when Jack found out that Tim was really sick. Like the rest of Tim's Chinese friends, Jack was worried about Tim. Many of these friends took it upon themselves to visit him and tell him to "drink more hot water." Jack decided a text message was enough.

"Hi Tim. I'm Jack. I heard you were sinking..."

Jack's favorite pastime is to put Ryan and me on the spot. Most Chinese people love to see we foreigners perform, but Jack can't get enough of it. Two weeks ago, at the Karaoke Competition, Jack made sure Ryan, Tim, and I had front row seats. Looking back, this was probably to make it easier to force us onto the stage. He continually tried to get us to perform more. "Have a try," he said, with a smile on his face so big, his eyeballs disappeared. The epitome of his pushing came when he tried to convince Ryan to make a "nunchuck" performance on stage. Honestly, I can't remember how our conversation even came to this. Ryan, of course, has no idea how to use nunchucks and would have either made a fool of himself or knocked himself out. After Ryan refused, Jack tried harder.

"It doesn't matter! Have a try!"

While Ryan didn't make a nunchuck performance, we didn witness one, impromptu, that night. During the competition we went back-stage to congratulate some of our students. Somehow, one of the students we had just met the day before came and found us back-stage. Ryan had had a conversation with this student about kung fu and the student told Ryan that someday he would teach him for free. What ensued back-stage seemed surreal. He said hello to us and placed his duffel bag on a nearby table. He then tore off his winter coat to reveal a full kung fu outfit. He pulled a pair of metal nunchucks out of his bag and began his performance. It all happened so fast that all Ryan and I could do was look at each other. The performance was fast and furious. It ended up being a little too furious as the nunchucks accidentally connected with each other, shattering one of them in mid-air, spraying shrapnel in all directions. We covered our faces, and the student left, a little embarassed. "What just happened?" was all we could say...

Now, I've caught onto Jack's "have a try" game and try my best to turn the tables whenever I can. Tuesday of last week was "Single Day" in China, which is the opposite of Valentine's Day. From what my students have told me, this is a day for single friends to go out together and celebrate their collective loneliness. If you are not single on this day, it would be frowned upon for you and your significant other to be seen on the town. Basically, if you're "taken," stay home on Single Day. Our friends, Robert and Billy, play in a rock band together and decided to put on a small concert in one of the classrooms (the show included a performance from our nunchuck friend; this time no one or thing was hurt, emotionally or physically). As you might have guessed, they asked Ryan and me to perform as well. I brought my guitar and played a few songs (Iron & Wine, John Vanderslice, and, accompanied by Ryan, Wonderwall... again). Jack wasn't satisfied.

"No more?" he asked.

"You go, Jack," I said as I pushed him in the back, "Have a try!"

"No, no, no," he pleaded, waving his hands, "I can't play!"

"It doesn't matter! Have a try!"

He got my joke and LOLed. Later that night he walked Ryan and me out to our taxi, carrying my guitar for me along the way.

"Let me carry it, Jack," I said.

"No, I must thank you for coming," he said with another big smile.

And so our friendship has formed, based a continual plea for the other to perform. Of course, I already know the outcome: It will always be the Ryan and me.

---------------------------------

Yesterday, Ryan ate lunch with two of our close friends, Vince and Ken. Seemingly out of the blue, Vince gave Ryan an idea on how to improve their class. He told Ryan he should start telling stories from The Book. Taken aback, Ryan began to answer both of their questions about The Book.

We don't know how this happened or where it's going. All we know is, The Boss never does anything the same way twice. And so we wait on Him...

Monday, November 3, 2008

great expectations

One week ago our good friend, Vince, walked up to me at English Corner (a time when Chinese students practice English) with a purpose in his eyes.

"Jon, I will be competing in the final round of the Karaoke Competition this Thursday," he said succinctly.

"No way! I'd love to come and watch, "I said with genuine excitement. What a great opportunity to support my good buddy, I thought. I should have seen the next part a mile away.

"You will also perform something," asked Vince, at least I think he meant it to come out in the form of a question, but he couldn't hide his intentions. He expected me to perform. Later he sounded flabbergasted that I would only perform one song.

"I'm afraid the students expect much more from you," he said.

It always happens this way, and the IECS team has begun to expect it. No matter what they say, the Chinese always expect more from us. For example, a week and a half ago we were all asked to attend a pumpkin carving event. I imagined several tables set up with pumpkins where everyone could carve at their own leisure. Of course not. We entered a class room packed with freshman students, each armed with a cell phone camera held upright in our direction. Of course, they want us to lead this and sing songs and answer questions and carve pumpkins in front of students, not for. Always perform. Always in the heat of the lime light. "Have a try," is a popular way for Chinese people to request our performance. At first, to be honest, this was quite an annoyance. No longer could we attend an event and enjoy it from the background. But now that we're used it, we have embraced it, and we just expect to be put on the spot. Now we just have fun with it.

When the Karaoke Competition rolled around this past Thursday, Ryan and I prepared to perform two songs; Ryan would perform "Man in the Mirror" by the king of pop and we would sing "Wonderwall" together (maybe the only crowd-pleasing song I know on the guitar). We were given front row seats at the Competition, an event with an attendance of well over 300. And of course, I was also randomly asked to stand up and say something in English about one of the performances. I said something about the girls being beautiful and they all cheered. Ryan's "Man in the Mirror" was a huge hit; despite his lack of knowledge of the song, he still hit the chorus spot on. And Tim accompanied Ryan and me for "Wonderwall." We gave the camera to our friend Jack, who not only took video of the performance, but continually snapped pictures during the video. Enjoy.






The next night, on Halloween, we hosted a movie night on our campus. While debating for about a week on what route to take with the movie choice (It was either Truman Show for its accessibility and good message or Poltergeist because the movie night took place on Halloween or Star Wars... because it's Star Wars), we settled on Poltergeist, and it was a huge hit. About 400 students packed out the stadium-seating classroom, and nearly every one of them screamed at every scary scene (and repeated the s*** word every time it came up in the movie). It was like watching a scary movie with 400 Mark Herritts, which is as close to heaven as I might get on Earth. It's great to see how much the students enjoy our presence on campus, and relationships are flourishing because of it.

Yesterday Vince invited Ryan and I to the park to join him and his friend, Lily. I expected a quiet afternoon in the sun, but when I arrived on campus to meet Vince, there were ten of my students waiting to join us (all girls but one). Of course, I thought to myself, why didn't I expect this? We welcomed the inclusion of my students and had a great afternoon. At one point we encountered a pseudo-toboggan ride on top of a hill, the track made out of Sesame Street arms. 5 yuan a pop? Thanks, I'll have one! Again, the students proved themselves to be as innocent as 12 year olds, and I wouldn't have it any other way.



Be sure to be thinking about them, just as we have been.

Vince, Ryan and I were chatting by our bus stop the other day about life without hope. Vince says he's leading one. He said there's no light at the end of the tunnel. Somehow, as Vince tends to do, a few minutes later he switched conversation gears and got excited about what it means to give one's life away.

"We were created to help others," he said as he looked down at the pavement, in deep thought, "The more we give ourselves away, the more we will get."

I think he's getting somewhere, and I hope he gets there. Be thinking about him.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

not to be outdone

I recently realized that the majority of actions taken in my life can be explained with the preface, "not to be outdone." I spent much of my adolescence trying as little as possible, all the while shooting for the most success; quite efficient, if you think about it, Greg. The epitome of this mindset occurred in tenth grade. I was playing on the JV basketball team, and during one game, while I was running up and down the floor scoring loads of points, Gabe Cohen was taking a breather on the sideline. Coach McNabb, my old JJV soccer coach, walked over to Gabe and asked him, "where did Jon get all that speed?" Gabe thought for a second and answered, "video games." An exaggeration? Not really. But to my point, there were times when I actually made an effort. I studied for some tests; I jogged during Christmas break, once. All of these efforts were made just to keep up with the rest of the pack. I never wanted to be outdone, at least too much. Nearly a decade later, things aren't so different. I play video games about 90% less than I did at 16, but I still always shoot for efficiency, sort of.

Last week, the Hebei University teachers (Tim, Emily, and Amelia) had been invited to a fellow teacher's apartment to learn how to make dumplings. How fun, I thought, maybe Sophie will invite ol' Jon too. Dumplings are my favorite Chinese food and I'd always wanted to learn how to make them. But alas, no invite! That night, feeling slightly defeated, I asked Ryan to join me for dinner. We rode our bikes over to a popular street food area; a long red canopy forming a wide corridor of street restaurants, where snacks, noodles, soups, and dumplings were all being served. I had accidentally made a few friends at one of the restaurants the week before. I made my way to the canopy by myself one night and sat down at a random too-small-for-Americans table. A kind middle-aged lady approached me in Chinese. I saw that they were steaming dumplings in wood-basket stacks.

"Hayao yiga jiao zi," I think is what said (I want one order of dumplings). Whatever I said, she brought me what I wanted. She also showed me a Chinese menu and started pointing at one of the items and telling me about it. I heard the Chinese word for "noodles" over and over, but I waved my hand; I just wanted dumplings. She still brought me the noodle dish she was talking about, but, as I later found out when I attempted to pay, it was for free. It was a nice gesture; so, I decided to return the favor by going back there (not to mention the daughter of the parents running the place is a bit of a cutie). Throughout Ryan and I's meal of dumplings and noodles, the daughter and two men were rolling dumplings at another table. At the end of our meal, I decided that I didn't have to be left out after all. I perused my phrase book and mixed together the words, "I can help." So, not to be outdone by my fellow teachers, I walked over to the dumpling-rollers and said (in Chinese), "You work too hard; I can help." Somehow they understood me (which is pretty rare; often they'll look at me confused, forcing me to repeat myself until they finally say, "Oh, Chow FAN." And I'll grit my teeth and say, "that's what I said!" ...the tones are hard) and offered us to sit down. For over an hour, Ryan and I tried our hand at making dumplings (don't worry, we washed our hands). And these weren't just your typical boiled dumplings; these were intricately woven steamed dumplings. Basically, we stunk at it. But even though our new friends spoke a total of two English phrases, they loved having us try, and they even used some of our mangled dumplings. Now, when we go there, we receive a warm welcome. But for some reason the free food stopped coming...

-----------------------

Ryan, Tim, and I just had our "dudes lunch" this afternoon. We get together every Thursday and go enjoy a little taste of America, KFC. Today we sat there for over an hour and talked about "the boss." Tim made the observation that despite our preconceptions about life in China being hard, we are well provided for here. We get paid enough to not have to worry about money, and we have everything we need. Of course, we still don't have a clothes dryer, which is the same for everyone here in China, and which is quite an enigma to me. Nate and I agreed on this a couple weeks ago (Andrew and Maureen disagreed) ; we would rather have a dryer than a washer. Granted, without a washer, I'd have to wash my clothes by hand (or foot), which would take time and effort (maybe 2 hours, at the most?). But after that, my clothes would be dry in an hour! As it is, I have to wait 2 days to 1 week for my clothes to dry on the clothes line, depending on the type (jeans take forever). Anyway, you decide...

Either way, it's great to share joys and struggles with some great dudes over fried chicken. We'll be there at 12:30 every Thursday if anyone wants to join us...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

lets go away, you and i

I haven't taught a class in two weeks. Adina, our co-worker and care-taker at the Hebei College of Finance, jokingly mentioned to Ryan this past week that it seemed like I was getting paid to do more traveling than teaching. This is only half-true. While I have done more traveling than teaching and I have been paid, I... hm... I feel like some part of that wasn't true.... It'll come to me. All I know is that after two weeks of vacay, I've covered some real estate. After my first week of teaching, all classes all over China were canceled for one week due to the National Holiday. Of course, these canceled classes needed to be made up (eastern logic); so the Saturday and Sunday before the National Holiday were filled with classes. It was also during these make-up classes that I learned all of my classes would be canceled yet again the week following the holiday because all my freshman would have to fulfill one week of military exercises. A nice surprise, to say the least; with the extra week, I had enough time to purchase a flight down to the Guangxi province to visit my brother, Nathanael, his wife, Maureen, and our friend Andrew. Despite the make-up classes, the National Holiday was still a holiday, and was great for getting more acclimated to Baoding, on my bike, of course. At the end of the week, the Baoding IECS team traveled to Beijing for two days to meet with the rest of the IECS team, and also to do some shopping. We all braved the monstrous Pearl Market, where there are hundreds of shopkeepers all yelling, and sometimes grabbing, at you to buy scarves, or jackets, or ipods, or little gel packs that heat up when you bend them due to a really cool crystallizing chemical reaction that only cost 10 yuan, but only work once... sometimes they lie to you. After purchasing several gems at the Pearl Market (no pun intended), Tim and I grabbed a taxi to find the newly built Apple Store, the biggest in the world, with no intention other than to get our greasy little fingers on as many Apple products as possible. We arrived to find an elaborate outdoor mall with all of the expensive western stores one could ask for, and about as many westerners. For the full experience, see the video to my left (your right).

After returning to Baoding for a couple nights, I caught a train back to Beijing on Monday in order to fly down south to Guangxi. Everything surrounding that day was congested. Not only was all of the transportation I took packed to the brim with Chinese people, but I was suffering the worst cold of my life. Unfortunately, as many of you know, my time management skills are quite poor, and following a few mishaps on Monday, I missed my flight; so I was forced to find a hostel for the night. Normally, a mistake like that would cost a lot of money, but I'll tell you, if you're going to make that kind of mistake, do it in China. While all of the extra costs of getting around and staying a night in Beijing cost me hundreds of Yuan, hundreds of Yuan only equals about $50. As I told Nathanael that day, I was almost relieved to not have to try and hang out in Guangxi that night; I felt absolutely horrible and would have been useless. The hostel was very adequate, with a cleaner room and more comfortable bed than in my own apartment. I felt a little better the next day, and after learning my lessons, I arrived at the airport two hours early. I ate some noodles in the terminal right next to an empty Subway restaurant, where the two Chinese girl Subway workers stared at me, confused. I think they expected me to eat there.

It was great to see Nathanael and Andrew when I arrived in Guangxi, whom I hadn't seen in 10 months. It was a little humbling to see that Nate was skinnier than I am (he lost 20 lbs.), but after trekking the six flights to his apartment several times I could see that he earned it. Before we traveled to their city, we decided to stay a night in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi, to see an old friend, and to also buy some DVDs. I hadn't seen Spencer in four years, probably the longest separation from a friend I can recall (a reunion is required for this category). Seeing him was a little frustrating at first because he couldn't communicate very well; his English skills had taken a nose dive since I last saw him. It felt like speaking with an amnesiac. It took him a few hours and a few dumplings to feel comfortable speaking English, and by the time he took us to a strip of lakeside bars that night, he was a regular chatty kathy. The conversation at the serene bar went as deep as the lake we were sitting by, and I learned more about Spencer's heart in those couple hours than I could have hoped for out of a month's time. He's also still the funniest Chinese person I know.

The next few days were spent in Baise, the city that Nate, Maureen, and Andrew have called home since February. We grabbed some good south China food, rode a canopied boat around the lake, caught up on the Redskins... By the way, I'm a little frustrated that the Redskins are flying so high. I was completely comfortable writing them off this year with me living in China and all, and after that horrendous opening game against the Giants, I was ready to. But as it is, each week I have to anxiously abstain from sports and fantasy websites from Sunday until Wednesday, when the game becomes available for download, when I can finally allow my catharsis. And then I must spend hours reading Washington Post articles and watching Tony Korneiser and Michael Wilbon's daily podcasts following the games so that I can adequately soak up all of the Skins' success. I repeat, must. Anyway, while I was in Baise I was also able to be involved with the Firefly Coffeehouse, the business they have been running in Baise for some time now. Each night from Thursday to Sunday, the rooftop coffeehouse is open and themed. The two nights I was there were "Game Night" and "90's Night." The coffeehouse is beautifully set up and attracts a slew of local Chinese English speakers. On 90's Night Andrew gave a presentation on "The Internet" and 90's music, part of which was Andrew and I's rendition of Wonderwall.

My time in Guangxi flew by, but the time with my brother was well worth the trip. For the first time in our lives we have been living in different places, and our reunion in Guangxi might be the last until next summer. But we both recognize our Father's hand in our lives, and we trust Him for when we will meet again. Maybe he'll still be skinnier than I am when I see him next, at least that's what he says. I think there are a few bags of Salt N' Vinegar chips waiting for Nate back home that say different...

No matter how much weight you lose or where you are on the globe, society will find new ways to make you feel fat. While I was in Baise, Nate showed me where he buys underwear that fits him (us) so I could buy some. See for yourself.



For those who miss Spencer...


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

dragon cheesesteak

I would tell you that after ten days of Chinese submersion, I am not homesick, but my subconscious would tell you otherwise. The other night I dreamed I was in the underground supermarket here in Baoding, shopping for what, I'm not sure (probably for cucumber flavored Lays chips or tomato ketchup Bugles, both of which I have purchased). In the corner of the supermarket there was a Zero's Subs, a delicious toasted sub restaurant in Virginia. The Sub of the Month was called a "Dragon Cheesesteak," which is, I'm assuming, the Chinese version of the Philly Cheesesteak. Whatever it was, it looked delicious and if the dream had continued I probably would have ordered it. The dream was a little anticlimactic though, not as good as the dream I had a few nights ago when I took a trip to the Middle East with my friends, Hudson and David Sullivan (who don't know each other). The food has been amazing. Most of the IECS team's Chinese language knowledge involves eating food, boxing up food, or screaming for the waitress, "FU YEN!!" By the way, as I'm writing this I'm dipping Ritz crackers into Skippy peanut butter. I also ate KFC for lunch yesterday, and pizza for dinner. Okay, maybe I do miss America... but just a little.

I have now taught one full week of classes, and I really enjoy it. Sometimes the students' English speaking levels can be quite poor, making them difficult to communicate with, but it's still fun. They love to ask me about the NBA, the Beijing Olympics (sometimes even my thoughts on the slogan, "one world, one dream"), and they always ask me to sing a song; so far, all I've been able to come up with is "I got friends in low places," which isn't even a song I listen to very much and I only know the chorus, but they applaud it every time. I spend a lot of time enunciating carefully and writing words on the board they don't recognize. It has become a habit to do this, sometimes to a fault. I realized this the other day when I wrote the word, "diarrhea" on the board. Let me explain. All of my students are freshman and most of them do not have English names; so, much of my classtime so far has been spent on giving them English names. While the list of names goes around the classroom I usually give them an opportunity to ask me more questions. One of the students stood up and asked me, "Can you tell us an interesting story from your childhood?" I thought for a second, and only one popped in my head. I began to explain that this story was an "embarrassing" (which I wrote on the board) story. I told them that it happened when I was ten years old and was playing "baseball." I explained what the position of "catcher" is by acting out how a "pitcher" throws and how a catcher squats to catch the ball. I explained that my stomach began to hurt and that squatting is a poor position to be in when this happens. I then wrote the word, "diarrhea" on the board. Right then I realized that during all my years of Spanish class, my teachers and professors never told us how to say "poop," "feces," or "diarrhea." Why should I expect them to know these words in English? Yet I persisted. I also wrote "poop" on the board, and began to use motions. Blank stares. No one laughed. I started to laugh to myself, as I usually do when I'm enjoying an awkward situation. I quickly ended the story and asked if there were anymore questions. Next time I'll refrain from telling stories involving bodily functions.

Ryan and I are celebrities at the Hebei College of Finance. Students line up after class to have their pictures taken with us, and they love to have conversations with us. For example, they have a biweekly gathering where all the students can practice their English skills called "English Corner." Ryan and I attended this function for the first time last week upon request from the Dean of our English department.

"The students are very excited to meet you," Ms. Zhao told us, "They have been waiting for you." An understatement. Ryan and I arrived to a fleet of smiling, waving, and applauding students. We entered the library atrium and the students closed in. Hundreds of students fell silent. I turned to Ryan.

"I guess we need to say something to the crowd, maybe?" We turned to the masses.

"Hello, my name is Ryan," Ryan yelled out, enunciating carefully, "We are from A-mer-ica."

"And my name is Jon," I belted, "We are very excited to be your teachers this year. Please come and speak to us. We would like to talk to each of you." Maybe not the best choice of words, but it certainly was effective. The students then shuffled their feet to get within arms length of us and the questions began. Ryan then grabbed my arm, maybe thirty minutes later, at least that's what it felt like.

"Hey, it's 7:30. We should probably go," he told me. We had arrived at six. Yesterday we went to the English Corner again, but this time brought our two IECS friends, Emily and Amelia, because there are far more girls than boys. It was still overwhelming and we only stayed one hour this time, but it was still an effective time.

As Tim has already chronicled on his blog, life became extremely convenient as of last Saturday when the Baoding IECS team set out to buy bikes. While the rest of the team was content to buy "normal" bicycles (and rightly so), Tim and I decided to dip into the kitty a little and buy something nicer. Both of us had taken notice of all of the electric bikes being ridden all over the place, and we wanted a pair. You should read it on Tim's blog; he does a good job of telling the story. It involves some heckling, a little jealousy, and an abandoned apartment. Although, I did notice that it in Tim's version there's no mention of trading bikes every once in a while. I could have sworn that was part of the deal...

Thanks for thinking of me and the IECS team. We are making friends fast. A good example of this was a big dinner the other night with all five of us and some of our Chinese friends in a private room, which we had to spend 100 yuan to use; so, we were forced to over-order. There was a lot of food left when we were done; so, we decided to play a game in which the loser had to eat a dumpling. Afterward our bellies were stuffed, but we had big smiles on our faces. More times like this are to come. KTV tonight...


my bike.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

made in China voyage

Over the last two months, you might have been asking yourself this question: Did Jon leave his blog in Missouri? The answer is no. But I'll tell you what I did leave in Missouri : an incredibly comfortable pair of Eddie Bauer slippers, a cable that hooks my Macbook up to an HDTV, and most importantly, a 90-pill box of Lactaid. All remain tucked away in the Learfield corporate apartment in Jefferson City, waiting to surprise someone who enjoys all of my favorite past times; loitering in front of the TV while my body breaks down lactose. Don't worry, I replaced the Lactaid when I arrived in Virginia as soon as possible and I couldn't be more satisfied with the replacement; Kirkland Signature lactaid! I stopped in at Costco a few weeks ago and found the holy grail for the lactose intolerant; a 180-pill box of knock-off lactaid for $15; that's roughly 8 cents a lactose ingestion! Costco has done so much for me, I wish I could repay them. Maybe I'll donate some money...

Unfortunately, half of that box of Costco lactaid is now sitting in the Allison medicine cubpoard. The other half is with me here in Baoding, China, and I imagine it will be used just as much as its stateside counterpart.

"You need to buy milk over here, guys, to keep up with your dairy intake," Newt, our IECS Director, told us last night over a delicious Chinese meal.

"It's too late for me," I said, "you guys go on without me." Why Newt laughed at me when I said, "It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me," I'll never know.

The dairy is scarce over here, and generally unappealing. The milk is not kept cold at the supermarket, leading me to believe it's not actually milk, while the cartons of what looks like milk from afar are labeled "Yoghurt." I still swear it's really milk (it's so liquidy), but my Chinese friend, Gary, advised me that it is actually yogurt. However, I did find some imported Land O' Lakes cheese yesterday, and it was being kept cold, which is a good sign. It was over $6 (US) for a stick of sharp cheddar cheese, a price I will gladly pay when I begin to miss cheese.

I'm sharing an apartment with a gentleman named Ryan, a saucy Virginia Tech graduate and fellow IECS employee. Don't worry, he loves Virginia Tech just as much as the rest of you hokies out there. Ryan, Newt, and I were invited to be introduced in front of an English class at the Hebei College of Finance yesterday (the school where we will be teaching starting next week). I explained that I was excited to be a teacher and was a graduate of Old Dominion University. Ryan followed by carefully anunciated the fact that he graduated from Virginia Tech, home of the greatest American football team in the world, followed by applause (they like to do that).

I was also given the opportunity by Ms. Zhao, the Dean of the English Dept., to be introduced in front of one of my future classes, much to my surprise, as well as the students'. The freshman class of about 20 girls and 2 boys picked their heads up from their workbooks as I walked in (with Ryan), looking confused. I explained who I was and that I was from Ver-jin-eea and that I was excited about being their teacher next week. Silence. Their mouths gaping, as if they were all waiting for spoonfuls of cough syrup. This is consistent with several aspects of Chinese culture: students know their place in the class room; they sit quietly and wait for a lecture, pen at the ready, with no expectations of having to vocally participate; it's also not common to see white foreigners in Baoding, let alone have them as teachers; also, at the halfway point of each class, Chinese students expect to be fed a collective spoonful of cough syrup. Speaking of syrup, soda tastes much better here. As is the case in many countries, the soda in China is made with real cane sugar, as opposed to corn syrup in the US. Hooray for empty calories! But back to teaching, all of my classes are freshman Oral English classes, while Ryan's are all sophomore Writing classes. Each class is about two hours, and all of my classes are in the same classroom, which is quite convenient. The campus is brand new, with nice facilities; there's even a western coffee restaurant on campus (Ryan and I were served french fries there yesterday, even though we didn't order them).

Ryan and I aren't the only teachers on the IECS team in Baoding. There are three other teachers teaching at another school in the area, Hebei University; Tim, Amelia, and Emily. While the Hebei College of Finance has about 10,000 students, Hebei University has nearly 50,000. All three of them are wonderful people, and, like Ryan, are already becoming close friends, except for Tim; what a jerk. Just kidding. Tim has been a close friend since 9th grade, and I'm so blessed to have him here with me. Soon the ten minute walk in between our apartments will be cut down to 2 minutes after we both buy Autobikes.

Ryan and I's apartment is very adequate. We each have our own room and our own TVs, complete with ridiculous Chinese commercials; there's a kitchen with a stove, microwave, refrigerator, and toaster oven; there's a shower with hot water, and a western toilet. One lesson we learned the hard way is, you can't flush your toilet paper. Newt, Tim, Amelia, and Emily all wanted to come see our apartment for the first time yesterday. We brought them over and as we began the tour, our steps made splashing sounds, which wasn't there when we had left that morning. So, the tour mostly consisted mopping and sweeping up water which covered half of our apartment. It's all dry now, but we having gotten a chance to buy cleaning supplies; so, the floors are quite dirty, and we are definitely walking around in sandals until we remedy the problem.


The next few days will be spent doing several things: We all need to do some shopping to buy essentials, which will also help us get to know Baoding better. We all begin teaching next week, which will take a lot of preparation. Luckily, all my classes are once a weekers; so, one lesson plan a week should do just fine. I need to work on ways to get my students to loosen up. Hopefully, I can use Newt as a resource while he's still here; he's amazing at getting them to open up and be themselves. My mornings will also be spent getting up progressively earlier. Yesterday morning I woke up at 5am and this morning at 3:30am. At this rate who knows when I'll be waking up next week!

Thank you all for thinking about me and these things.

----------------------

Also, my sister, Faith's kidney transplant went extremely well yesterday! Her new kidney, which was inside my mom just a few days ago, is successfully producing urine, which sounds gross, but is great news! Continue to be mindful of her and my mom as well.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

the cheese stands alone

I could date a celebrity. I'm already prepared for the lack of a private life; I love public relationships. If anything happens in the slightest on the "girl front" I tell everyone. You probably think this is just a product of my egotism. So what if I like to tell my friends when I'm in love, and so what if that person happens to be a Cylon on Battlestar Galactica? Sure, they give me flack about it. "It's a TV show, dude," they chide, "Cylons don't exist... go for Starbuck instead." It comes back to bite me when things don't go well because I have to tell the story a hundo times, but I think public relationships are healthy. It's good to get opinions from outside sources; it keeps you grounded, which is the second reason why I could date a celebrity; celebrities need to stay grounded. How refreshing is it to see a movie star who is "down to earth?" Very, is the correct answer there. You see the reverse all the time. Celebrities become full of themselves; they marry other celebs and live depressing lives in the smoldering heat of the lime light. Mixing stardom with relationships is a dangerous brew.

So, really, it's not just that I could date a celebrity, it's that celebrities need me. Think about it; you're a movie star hottie, and you're featured in every issue of US Weekly and People. The public sees you dating celeb hunks and they put up with you, but really, they're just waiting for you to fail. That one slip of the tongue on Regis & Kelly. "I always knew she was a jerk," they'll say. Now, think about you walking down the street holding hands with some average dude with a "down to earth" job, maybe a middle school teacher or a community organizer or a newsroom intern. Not only will it make US Weekly, but people will love you forever; so, when you decide to be brutally honest on Letterman about how you don't write your own songs (you're a singer now) and you don't ever plan to, people will give you some slack. We'll be the feel good story of all of Hollywood. They'll probably write a movie about us, and we could play us! Wait, that means I'll become famous too...

Here's the biggest hurdle; I'm not very good around celebrities. I have a hard time being myself. That one shot I'll get at some point in my life to talk to an attractive celebrity will be so packed with pressure; I might freeze. But luckily I got a practice swing last week.

I had the opportunity to go see a Kansas City Royals game with our sports broadcaster. We got to go down onto the field while they were having batting practice. It was an especially humid day; so I was sweating as hard as the players. I saw John Buck take some swings in the cage. I brushed shoulders with Gil Meche as he walked by me in the dugout. The Royals were playing the Detroit Tigers, whom one of Old Dominion's former players now plays for, Justin Verlander. Justin's no nobody; he was the second overall pick a few years ago and he's turning into a star pitcher for the Tigers. Justin and I actually had a speech class together my freshman year (his senior year), and we would chat every once in a while. He always had the biggest smile on his face, and he would try and convince me to come out and watch the ODU baseball team play. Every time I heard his name since then I would spout out what I just told you; Verlander, ODU, class together, nicest guy, etc.

The Royals were wrapping up and Bill, the sports broadcaster, said, "Hey, you wanna go see your buddy, Verlander?" Oh no, I thought. He's not going to remember me.

"Sure," I said.

We walked over to the Tigers dugout and sat down on the bench as the players filed out onto the field. I frantically scanned every player to see which was him. I assured Bill that he probably wouldn't remember me, that he's big-time now. Each walked into the dugout, then went straight up the stairs onto the field. One of them took a hard left into the dugout and walked towards us. Oh God, I thought, it's Verlander. Everything came down to this. Verlander was the pride and joy of ODU sports. If he doesn't remember me, I thought, how can I keep building him up to be this old buddy of mine? I remained seated as he walked closer.

"Hey, Justin!" I said, smiling. He looked over at me with a quizical look, "you probably don't remember me, but we had speech class together."

"At ODU?" he said. I froze.

"Yup..." was all I could get out. No 'remember that assignment we had to do?' or 'remember our really feminine teacher?'

I moved on, "Yeah, I'm working in Jefferson City in a radio news room and we're down here covering the Royals."

"Where is that?" he asked. I explained that it was in between KC and St. Louis. I could tell he thought I was lying at this point.

"So, how'd speech class work out for you?" he said, a half-ass attempt at a joke.

"I'm broadcasting now," I said. What an idiot. I could feel the conversation ending. It's over, I thought. Justin Verlander, star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, thinks I'm a liar, a jerk, and an asshole. He shook my hand, and grinned, not nearly the size of the toothy smile I remember from speech class.

"Good to see ya," he walked off.

I spent the next couple hours thinking about what I should have said, how the conversation should have ended. That's it, I realized, no second chances.

And that's what separates the men from the boys. You've got to perform when it's all on the line. No second chances. So, when I'm reading at a coffee shop and Carrie Underwood walks in and orders a cafe latte, I'll know what to do. I pull out my gun and hold the place up. I yell at everyone to get down. I go to the register and demand that they open the safe and bag the money, as well as scan one of those gift cards and put $1000 on it (any more than that would look suspicious when I use it at other Starbucks). As they're bagging the money I look around and act like I notice Carrie Underwood for the first time. I say something like, "Are you Carrie Underwood?" After she affirms that she is Carrie Underwood I say something about a "change of plans." I take the money and I demand Carrie comes with me. I lead her out to my car by gunpoint and tell her to get in the driver's seat and drive. She starts driving as I continue to point the gun at her in the passenger seat, acting really nervous, by the way. Hopefully, it's humid so I am sweating profusely. She notices I'm nervous and starts to ask me questions like, "How are you going to get away with this?" After we drive late into the night I tell her to pull into a motel. There are some awkward moments because the only room available is a single bed. She sees that I'm really a gentleman when I tell her that she can have the bed, and I sleep on the floor. She realizes I'm just mixed up, and starts to care for me. Sure, I go to jail when I give her back a couple days later, but we'll have made a deep connection by then, and she'll probably write a song about me. Later we'll date, but break up after I become famous.

I need to get that concealed weapon license...

------------------------------------------

Also, here's a song I wrote:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

hire greg

My good friend Greg was asked to make a minute-long video resume for a website called hireme.tv, which is built for job-searching using video. Greg's video will be used as a template. The professional that Greg is, he knocked it out of the park. The video (apart from its poor quality) is well done and has just the right amount of humor to attract attention, but not away from Greg's qualifications. I'd hire him:



Greg inspired me. I decided to use his video as a template for my own video resume. I gave it my best shot, but making the video only made me realize one thing; maybe I'm not exactly ready for the real world...




Also, here's a video of Greg as a kid (he used to want to be a cop).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

not everything is good for the gander

I took an early lunch yesterday at around eleven, and I was feeling quite professional on my way home. The reason for the early lunch was that I had to be in the booth by 12:30 to do the 1 o'clock news cast, and then the 2, and the 3. Jarred, fellow intern, heard that I was doing the newscasts earlier that morning and came to visit me at my desk.

"Newscasts, huh?" said Jarred, "not in the booth, practicing?"

"Nah," I replied.

The truth is I was actually thinking about practicing, mostly so that my voice wouldn't sound hoarse during my first cast. But as soon Jarred suggested that I needed practice, I put the kibosh on the idea. Practice? Me? I don't think so. Don't need it. So, I entered the dark, chilly apartment (we keep it at 68), unpracticed, and on my lonesome. I decided to take advantage of the seclusion and put on some of my music. Yeah, good music. I plugged in my new ipod touch to the stereo and blasted The Dodos. Not too loud... neighbors. I turned it down, but just a little. I snapped my fingers as I perused the cabinets and refrigerator. Velveeta mac and cheese, thank you very much (don't worry, it's the 2% milk version, half the fat. daddy's taking care of himself). I sat down at the table with my piping hot bowl of mac and cheese, popped a lactaid pill, and grabbed the latest issue of the Economist. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good at this point; my music was playing via my sleek ipod touch, I was gearing up to do three newscasts without practice because I'm that good, I had a copy of the young liberal's Bible in front of me, and lactose was successfully being broken down in my body, thanks to lactaid. At this point the roommates had arrived and were rummaging through the kitchen; so I turned the music down, but just a little. I was jamming out, scooping up the mac and cheese, flipping through the Economist, when i arrived at a particular article about Thomas Paine. Hey, I know about Thomas Paine, I thought. I wrote a paper or two about him while getting my Poly Sci minor. I at least know enough to throw out little nuggets here and there to impress friends: Common Sense pamphlet in 1775, state of nature, men are good, etc. I'm not sure why I remember Paine so well; maybe it's because of my infatuation with the movie Major Payne.

Thomas Paine has always been a confidence booster for me, but his use has really only been in the form of the random fact. The skill I learned best as an English major is how to communicate just enough about a subject to seem knowledgeable, which is essentially bullshitting. The random fact has always been my intellectual crutch. There are really only a handful things I know anything about. For example, I like to remind the average Feist listener that she used to be in a band called Broken Social Scene, a Canadian post-rock experiment group. It's important to mention when Ben Stein is on TV that he was once a speech writer for Richard Nixon. When the OC was on, it was always nice to quiz people about what movie Marissa was in as a kid (she was the throw-up girl in the Sixth Sense). And if someone is reading a newspaper or a magazine, I like to slyly bring up the fact that paper comes from trees.


I began to read the article about Thomas Paine feeling very proud of the fact that I already knew something about an Economist article before reading it. I got to about the third line. An Arkansas legislator was attempting to pass a bill to create a Thomas Paine day... What for? I read on... To educate the people about the impact he had on our independence? Oh no! I mean, sure, he did have a huge impact, but I don't want everyone to know about it. If everyone knew about Thomas Paine, not only would everyone else be getting smarter, but my relative intelligence would go down. I became angry. The bill didn't pass, phew. "...an effort to institute a Paine day in all 50 states...so far nine states have passed such resolutions, including...Virginia"?! What the hell? What did I even get my minor for if everyone's going to already know what I learned due to a stupid holiday? Going to school was never about educating myself; it was about being educated more than others.

This was a blow. My mac and cheese started to taste more slimy than good, The Dodos' constant banging began to annoy me, and I started to get nervous about my afternoon broadcasts. Why didn't I practice?! This was just like the other day when my roommates and I were watching Arrested Development. I tried to throw out an apparently ancient random fact in a last ditch effort to look informed.

"You know Gob and Amy Polar are married in real life too," I said.

"Yeah, we know," everyone said in near unison.

Here's the problem; not everyone can be intelligent. Some have to be uninformed for others to be informed. Good cannot exist without evil, light without dark, etc. We need to limit what we pass on to the uninformed, for the sake of people like me, the marginally intelligent. People like me cling to the few pieces of knowledge that get clogged on their way out "the other ear" after we learn them. Sometimes, what's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

the greatest game ever

I was riding on a heavily delayed flight from Baltimore to Kansas City yesterday, squeezed between two older folks, one one of whom smelled. I couldn't quite pinpoint the source of the smell, but since one of the older folks was a dapper woman, I guessed it was the frazzled old man. The old man was reading a book about a 1958 football game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. I leaned back in my chair and attempted to sleep, but being unable to doze off, I decided to open my left eye and skim what he was reading every once in a while. I think he noticed what I was doing, and let me know he didn't like it by turning towards me to look out the window whenever he thought I was doing it; so I had to keep my head completely forward. You know the drill. The book was entitled "The Greatest Game Ever", and towards the end of the flight we began to chat about it. Apparently, he was at the game (he was older than I thought) and he told me it wasn't actually that good of a game. Either way, I dispute the title. The greatest game ever is not a particular football, basketball, or soccer game; it's not even Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for N64 (that's #2). It's sardines. A game of sardines in a big, dark house has never failed me, and it never will. It's guaranteed fun. Our game in Annapolis, Maryland, the night of July 4th was no exception.

If you don't know what sardines is, it's the opposite of hide and seek. Instead of everyone hiding and one person searching, only one person hides and everyone else searches. When the hider is found, the seeker hides with the hider, until eventually one seeker is left; ie, the loser. The loser is the next hider, get it? The game takes place in a house, preferably a large one, and all the lights need to be out, the darker the better. It gets even better when you meld it with 7 minutes in heaven, at least that's what I hear...

We were able to corral 7 players for our ID4 game, (Austin, Greg, Mark, Emily, Corie, Hanna, and I) which was just right. The game started at 1 a.m. and ended at around 3:30 a.m. It was, without a doubt, the creepiest game of sardines I have ever played. The house was, as Emily pointed out, the size of a 'manor' and was so dark I couldn't even see my own hand in front of my face. During the first game I attempted several times to convince the other players that we needed our cell phones, which were confiscated at the outset, to give us a chance of finding the hider, but really I was just scared and wanted a phone to call to my mommy. Austin was the first hider, and after a while he got tired of hiding and started banging on the walls of the deep closet he was hiding in. I immediately knew it was Austin, but knowing is only half the battle. The slow deliberate banging still managed to creep me out. And knowing that Austin would surely jump out and scare us (the wily bastard) didn't keep me from jumping when he screamed and leaped out at us. I wasn't the only one scared; the usually tough Greg, who has never officially been scared by a movie his whole life, was panting harder than a woman in labor after Austin jumped out at us.

Greg wasn't the only one to lose his innocence that night; I about peed my pants feeling around several dark closets (I later opted for just kicking around the closets with my foot so I wouldn't have to actually go in. it's probably better off I never found anyone in there; they would have received a swift kick in the gut), and Hanna was peer pressured into smoking her first cigarette. I didn't realize we had actually 'peer pressured' her into it until she said, "I can't believe I'm doing this" and started coughing after her first inhale. Corie, on the other hand, claimed she "didn't know how to inhale." She was probably just lying and wanted to not die of lung cancer. I know, lame, right? This wasn't the first time I had played sardines with Corie, but at least this time she didn't insult me. A couple years ago, we were playing in my old college house and Corie was hiding in a closet with someone else. I found them, but naturally, the savvy player that I am, I wanted to shake the company I was in; so, I left the closet and said something like, "garsh, where are they?" and led them astray. I then went back to the closet and quietly hid with Corie and the other hider. I was so sly, in fact, that Corie didn't even know I had joined them in the closet. I know this because she whispered to her co-hider, "Jon just looked in here, and didn't even see us. what an idiot!" This was followed by a few seconds of silence and me saying, "I'm right here, Corie." I'll let you decide who the real idiot was...

I also cheated. By the third game, I had lost the jitters and was boldly swiping my hands through dark closets and under beds, but I wanted to win; so, I cheated. Mark, my best friend, was the hider. I broke off from the group and whispered Marks' name in every room, knowing he'd cheat with me. Of course, Mark had beaten me to it, and was already cheating by rotating between two hiding spots. I should have known; Mark has always been a great cheater. I remember a particular game of capture the flag on a youth group retreat in 8th grade where Mark had somehow procured both teams' colors (each team wore sashes or bandannas with their team color on them) and was able to go into both bases and secretly steal both teams' flags. I remember him running up to me and saying, "Look what I have!"


Corie, Mark, and I were sitting on washers and dryers in the laundry room awaiting our turns to go search the dark manor one last time when I asked, "Why don't adults play sardines?"

"I don't know," Mark said.

"I mean, how old are we all here? 23? We're adults," I said.

"Are we?" Corie answered.

I've realized that most real adults don't really play sardines by the unimpressed looks on people's faces as I've recounted how much fun we had playing. Will I one day wake up and adjust my suit in front of the mirror in preparation for work, and think about how childish I once was? Or, will I get home from work some day, and take my suit off in preparation for a good game of sardines with friends? And why does every scenario have me wearing a suit?

-----------------------

Btdub, here's a commercial I was in a couple months ago:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

expecto patronum

This might be old news to all you Hogwarts students and Leaky Cauldron regulars out there, but JK Rowling has written a Harry Potter prequel! Here's the catch: it's 800 words long, handwritten, fits on the front and back of a note card, and there's only one copy in existence. Rowling wrote the prequel for a charity auction, as well as several other authors (Neil Gaiman, for one). The rules for the authors were that the story had to be handwritten and could fit on a note card. Well, Rowling cheated a little and stretched hers out onto both sides of the card. But how could she not, if, as she says, "I did feel like a relapsing addict as I sat down to write - the words poured from my pen with frightening ease."

The story is said to feature James Potter and Sirius Black about three years before Harry is born, and it involves an altercation with a policeman, and, of course, there's magic involved. The story went for the equivalent of around $50,000. Rowling did make it clear that she is not writing a prequel... boo!

Listen to this BBC reporter read a snippet of the story.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

layered comedy

The Onion used to be a novelty. Oh, look at this funny fake newspaper, honey; it's so cute! Then you put it down and move on, similar to your phase with Weekly World News... remember how funny that was? Well, The Onion is now a comedic powerhouse. They upgraded to podcasts a while back, which I flirted around with, but now they've got video and I can't stop (it stings). Btdub, their articles are still funny too.

Here's a classic that I saw a while back that will appeal to dorks like me more than anyone:



This one was released yesterday and explains how to pretend you give a sh*&! about the presidential election:


Today Now!: How To Pretend You Give A Shit About The Election


If you play fantasy sports, read this.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

somebody dies in this post

I witnessed two events live in St. Louis last weekend, both of which included several of the same qualities: they were both witnessed by hundreds of people, and they uh.... both were... uh.. in St. Louis.

That's right, you've probably guessed what they were. The first was an Iron and Wine concert and the other was a giraffe giving birth. Iron and Wine was fantastic, save for the 'separate but equal' set-up in the Pageant Theater, where minors are only allowed in half of the downstairs and none are allowed in the balcony. The giraffe giving birth was like any child/animal-birth; it took forever, daddy was nowhere to be found, it occurred at the zoo, and it was highly disturbing. Not only was the mama giraffe strutting around in circles with two hooves sticking out of her anus for over an hour (I can only vouch for the amount of time I was there), but when the final push was pushed, the baby fell a good five feet out of mama, onto its head on the ground. You'd think the mama could have buckled her knees a little and laid her baby on the ground gently, but maybe the five foot drop acts as the slap on the behind human babies need to jump start their lives for giraffes. Watch the footage and see for yourself. Apparently, baby giraffes start walking within hours, but we didn't stay long enough for that. On a side note, did you know that guerrillas look just like humans; they gots fingers and everything!

I made a comment on the way out of the zoo about how I thought it would have been funny if we also saw an animal dying. Be careful what you wish for: RIP, Glen McMurry... of a broken heart.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

google maps has me giggling

There's a new feature on maps.google.com that will knock your socks off, and if those socks get knocked off outdoors, near a road of some kind, you'll be able to see a satellite picture of it on google maps a year from now. Here's what I mean. First of all, for all those mid-Missourians reading this, the feature is not yet available to you; it's only available in the big cities (Kansas City, New York, Chicago, Hampton Roads...). The new feature is called "Street View" and it will literally take you down the street. Until now, the satellite pictures used on Google Maps or Google Earth are all from above. Remember how cool it was when you were able to zoom in and see the roof your home? Now, you can look in your window, from the view of the street. Just type in an address, and click street view at the top of the map. Now, click one of the blue streets, and google will ask you if you want to see the street view. You better say yes! You'll be amazed by the quality and functionality. You can spin the camera around by clicking and dragging, with 360 degrees of capability. I've included a shot in Times Square and also one of my old college house in Norfolk. My guess is that the pictures are one year old, because of the cars parked in front of the house (mine, Colin, Doug, etc.).

There are two guys walking into the house in this picture. Maybe they're the guys who took all these satellite pictures...

Monday, June 9, 2008

conan o'brian is still funny

Reading a high school graduation commencement speech given by Conan O'Brian reminded me how funny he was. I used to love him. Now, youtube has reminded that he is still funny.

Here's a video of Conan and ex-co-host Andy Richter doing a Q&A session with each other. What a duo they once were...




Also, here's a short clip from the short-lived show Andy Richter Controls the Universe. Conan guest starred on this episode as the eccentric head of the company. Another great show that Fox canned. Fox is full of dummies.




You can watch the full episode in parts.

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Being a dork is a lot dorkier than I thought. Maybe I was spoiled back in Virginia with a plethora of dorks for friends, but it used to be a lot easier to get a group of people together to watch watch dorky movies; ie, asian, sci-fi, zombie, Miyazaki, etc. Sure, some of my friends abstained from these activities, but I still got some respect. I could have sworn being a dork was becoming cool, or at least on its way. Seth Cohen from the OC is a prime example of how dorks have now become cool. Seth, while obviously adorable, was a huge dork. He played video games, read and wrote comic books, and never really went to the jock parties, and if he did, he got beat up. Yet no one could deny his moxy. Ladies wanted him and dudes wanted to be him. I saw this social evolution growing up. When I was in high school, a copy of Electronic Gaming Monthly was a hot commodity on the school bus, even if it was the soccer or basketball team bus. You had to get in line to read it, and the qeue consisted of the coolest kids at school. As I got to college the evolution continued, and most kids were into at least one or two dorky habits. We probably have video games to thank, and now with the Wii, girls and parents are dorks too (although, parents have always been dorks).

Missouri is little bit different. Dorks are dorks out here. Maybe the cool dork hasn't made his way out to the mid-west just yet. Of course, gaming is socially accepted. Everybody plays video games. But this hasn't spilled over into other hobbies like comics, movies, TV shows, and computing (the word sounds dorky as I type it). Battlestar Galactica is my most recent example. It's dorky right off the bat because there's a made up sci-fi word right in the title. While I do admit Battlestar is probably the dorkiest thing I've been involved with, it would have been at least respected back in Norfolk. It's flat out frowned upon in Missouri. It's for this reason I bring it up whenever I can in social situations.

I like to first bring up the topic of favorite TV shows. Generally shows like Lost, 24, Sex and the City, or an MTV reality show are mentioned. Then I like to drop the BS bomb.

"Have you ever seen Battlestar Galactica?" At this point I usually can't hold in my joy; so, I'll ask the question with a big (dorky) grin. This is then followed by a frown and a few seconds of silence.

"Are you serious?" Now he or she is scanning my face to see whether I'm joking or not, a little uneasy about how to handle the situation. Do I let Jon know what I really think of him now or do I not make a big deal out of it and hope the subject changes?

And then Zach came along. An angel straight from the pearly gates, fellow intern, and now favorite roommate, Zach has been gracious enough to give Battlestar Galactica a shot. Like any dork relationship, it's give and take. Zach is a big Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fan, and not just a casual one. He doesn't wear a communicator on his shirt, but he is going through the entire series solo (again). He's halfway through season 4 right now. I decided to make an offer: how about you watch a Battlestar with me, and I'll watch a Deep Space Nine with you? It was like shooting a dead guy in a casket.

We've watched four Battestars together now and we're not looking back. Glen, bless his little heart, tried to watch one and couldn't handle it. I respect that, kudos for the effort. My third roommate, however, Jarred, has watched 3 episodes with Zach and I, and yet, refuses to admit that he's a fan. I think any sane person out there would admit that sitting through a show as dorky as Battlestar Galactica on three separate occasions would signify a "fan", or maybe better yet, a dork.

It's up to you, Jarred. You can come clean whenever you like. We're waiting on the other side...

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Thanks to my friend, Steve Mays, I have lately been enjoying the tech side of the internet. One of the best referrals Mr. Mays has given me is a techy named Chris Pirillo. Steve Jobs was giving a keynote address today on several new iphone and macbook features, and while I wasn't able to watch Jobs live on the internet, I was able to watch Chris Pirillo watch Jobs live on the internet. Pirillo has a live video stream of him on the computer, which sometimes is just as boring as it sounds, but at other times, like today, it can be pretty interesting. He's got a blog when some great tech reviews (mostly Apple stuff), and clever articles. Today he was really hopped up on coffee, and let out an emphatic "yes!" or "woohoo!" when Jobs announced a cool new feature. Maybe you dorks out there will enjoy him as much as I have.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

bookmark this page

There's nothing more vital to the 21st century human than his internet routine. The internet is all about convenience. Just like with watching TV: nobody wants to have to actually get up out of their seat to change the channel "manually" anymore; so, the remote was created, and then lost in your couch cushions. Now, nobody wants to have to actually pick up the remote and flip through TV channels to get their news and entertainment. What a hassle. I want what I want when I want it, right? I mean, if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where the heck is the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked? Alright, enough alliteratory rhymes (that's not a real genre).

Like I was saying, the internet just plain rules. I can't get enough. Everything I know I learned on the internet. If I have a question I just go to www.askjeeves.com. If I want to laugh, I'll search for .wav clips from my favorite movies and TV shows; Tommy Boy, Billy Madison, and the Simpsons. These are great for mix CDs. Usually I like to stick a few laughs in between my pop punk. For example, I'll make a cd that goes like this: Whippernsapper, Slick Shoes, Dogwood, Vroom, Ralph Wiggum clip from the Simpsons, back to Whippersnapper, etc. I'll also tend to turn up the CD in my car at the funny sound clips if I have passengers in my car, just to show off.

Don't worry if you didn't recognize any of those bands in the last paragraph. This is premium underground stuff. You just need to get your hands on Songs From the Penalty Box, Vol. 3 and turn the clock back to when you were in 9th grade, and maybe, just maybe, you'll appreciate it.

So, here are the sites I like to go to for my different online needs:

Sports (mostly NFL):
si.com
espn.com
http://tinyurl.com/6ah3um (Kornheiser and Wilbon's video podcast)

Redskins:
washingtonpost.com/redskins
redskins.com

News:
cnn.com
nytimes.com

Politics:
thepage.time.com (just found out about this today, but I already love it)

Movie reviews and news:
rottentomatoes.com

Asian movie reviews and news:
twitchfilm.net
lovehkfilm.com
kfccinema.com

Music reviews:
pitchforkmedia.com

Profiles of celebrities and news anchors I have crushes on:
wikipedia.org

Cables:
monoprice.com (thank you, John Colonna)

Funniest internet show:
http://tinyurl.com/2mty4y

Tech reviews:
cnet.com

Sermons:
redeemer.com

Loneliness:
facebook.com

Blogs for keeping up with loved ones oversieze:
mesaydo.wordpress.com
petercphillips.blogspot.com

Hotness rating:
hotornot.com

Captain Picard rap song:
picard.ytmnd.com

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Anyone who is planning to run a blog to keep friends and family updated on life needs to buy this: the Flip Video Mino. It's tiny; fits right in your pocket. And it takes an hour of video (2GB). The video quality is surprisingly good, and the mic picks up sound nicely. Also, it's got a USB jack that flips out of the side so you can plug it right into your computer. It's easy to use (big red button on the back does it all) and not too expensive ($179). The Mino just came out, but I had an opportunity to mess around with the previous version last week. Here's a video of me toying around with it...


Monday, June 2, 2008

interns have hierarchy too

I am no longer the last link of the food chain. With the arrival of the Learfield summer interns last week, I finally get to eat. Once doomed to a work-life analogous to that of phytoplankton, I have now been promoted to a small crustacean. And what do I finally get to eat? Chicken biscuits. As I've already mentioned on this blog, I love Chicken biscuits. Brent Martin has been flooding me with free chicken biscuit coupons (2) he finds in the newspaper, and I finally got to use one today. Zach Osborne, summer intern and roommate, came to me this morning with nothing to do, and I said, "Wanna go to McDonald's?" I enjoyed the rush of being able to do that. I'm not sure I am able to do that actually...

I even get to give work to interns. Today Jarred Donalson, another summer intern and roommate, also came to me drunk with boredom this afternoon and asked me if I had any work for him to do. I have been an intern, myself, for a good four and a half months; so, I know what it's like to ask others if they have any work for me to do, and usually, it's because of devastating boredom. Just as I was finished telling Jarred I had nothing for him, Steve Mays came to me and explained how he'd like to create a Missourinet channel on YouTube and that he wanted all the videos on my account transferred to it... anyway, it came down to some mind-numbing cutting and pasting work that I was not interested in doing. Luckily, there was Jarred with nothing to do. I, being drunk with power, served Jarred (servant leadership) by giving him an opportunity to succeed. Jarred is doing that little project right now... while I blog. Now that I think about it, I should probably be doing something constructive with this time. Maybe God's giving me this promotion to give me a chance to prove I can handle the responsibility of... ah, I'll think about this later.

If you're reading this, Jarred, and you're upset that Zach came to me with the same problem, but I took him out to eat instead of giving him work, like I did to you, just take this as a lesson: If you come to me with boredom, you never know what you're going to get. It's like the mystery AirHead flavor, except in this case it's not always delicious, like it was for Zach.

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Here's a wire story picked up by the Nebraska Radio Network a few years ago. David Brazeal, who comes into Learfield every Monday, read this out loud to everyone in the news room as he was going through his old files. Sometimes fatigue can really take over and really effect your work, with some hilarious results...

(Bellevue) A walk to benefit cancer research is expected to draw more than 600 people, including Nebraska's first lady.
Stephanie Johanns will kick off the Relay for Life at Bellevue West High School tonight.
The all-night event will include a memorial service for those who have died from cancer, massages and face-painting clowns.