Wednesday, May 27, 2009


(I'm tired)
I awoke as my bedroom door creaked open. I rolled over to identify the intruder. Peeking his head in the doorway was Jack, one of my closest friends at school, and, as of a month ago. a new brother. He's also one of my favorite people in the world. But it was 8:30 on Saturday morning and I had just had one of the most people-ridden, tiresome weeks of my life. All I could muster was a groan and I just rolled back over. Jack got the message and quietly closed my door and left me there. I probably should have said something like, "hello," but I just couldn't do it. I just laid there, feeling invaded. The long week had started the previous Saturday with a surprise trip to Beijing.

For several months, IECS had been preparing for three "English Weeks" in our three cities: Baoding, Lang Fang, and Tianjin. Dozens of Americans had raised thousands of dollars to make the two week trip; they had taken off work and prepared music and skits to perform, among other things (like buying me Tums and more mac n cheese). Our five man team in Baoding was preparing for their arrival as well. But then the Swine Flu came and for a myriad of complicated bureaucratic reasons all three of our English Weeks were prevented from coming to China. There was nothing IECS could do. Money was lost; time was wasted. It felt like a kick in the pants. Our IECS Director, Newt, had already arrived in China early before he knew that the trips were canceled. So in lou of the canceled English Weeks, Newt invited the IECS team to Beijing for a final gathering before the end of the year. It was a bittersweet time, the last time our team would totally be together. But it was like salve on the wound of the English Week cancellation and we were all grateful to reconnect. The Baoding team arrived in Beijing early on Saturday morning to take advantage of our time there. We visited the Olympic Square and went inside the Bird's Nest, which honestly felt more like an empty stadium than a historic playing field. But we made our own fun, as we always do. Unfortunately, we mismanaged our time at the Bird's Nest and at 2pm we were all starving... for American food. And we were all getting a little edgy.

"If we keep talking we're just going to get angrier," Tim pointed out, "No more talking until we find the place where we're going to eat!"

The rest of us liked the idea and consented. For a good ten minutes we just walked and pointed. We made the trek (no pun intended... you'll see) to an outdoor mall where we knew there was a lot of foreign options. We went to a few restaurants to check out their menus, still in silence. The waiters were more than a little confused. After several attempts at choosing a place with thumb-votes, Tim broke the silence in frustration. It was interesting to see all of the misunderstandings come out. Each person had different ideas in mind about how much to spend and what he wanted to eat, but we couldn't talk about it. Eventually we settled on McDonald's. We hadn't intended to eat there, but when we spotted the COLDSTONE in the mall we decided to save our money for desert and eat cheap. The other big surprise at the mall was the underground movie theater.

"Oh man," I said to Tim, "if Star Trek is playing, I'm going to see it."

We walked down the escalator in our excitement (running would overdo it... it's an escalator) and there it was, a huge cardboard advertisement for Star Trek. We entered the clean, futuristic looking cinema and saw that it was playing, in a half hour. We rushed to Coldstone to get milkshakes and snuck them into the theater(I don't know what the Chinese rule about bringing your own snacks is, but we didn't want to risk it). It was awesome: the movie, the milkshake, the deafening sound, the science-fictionness, the dad in the front giving high-fives to his little sons at the end of the movie...

That night and the next day our team celebrated being together with great food and good conversation. We essentially said goodbye to six of our team members, who aren't returning next year. The Boading team arrived back home that Sunday night with just enough time to go to bed. Here was my schedule for following week:

Monday: Class and English Corner until 7:30pm, then English Night practice until bedtime.
Tuesday: Chinese class in the morning, English Night prep in the afternoon, and English Night at night (which was a huge success), then McDonald's again... it's an English Night tradition.
Wednesday: Class all morning, NT Wright reading assignment in the afternoon (for dude time the next day), then Team Dinner and Family Time at night.
Thursday: Class all morning, Dude Time in the afternoon, our friend Ken's birthday dinner, then a student-run English event at night called the "Flame Youth" (Vince's creation), in which we were participating in a few skits.

I'll stop here.
The Flame Youth event ended a little later than expected (Vince even had to cancel his rendition of the "I Have a Dream" speech) at around 10pm, which meant I would be going to bed when I got home, just to wake up at 6:30 the next day to go back to school for class. So, Jack, the intruder form earlier (or later, depending on how you look at it), invited a few of us to stay in his dormitory. He said he had a couple empty beds and he could make more empty if we needed to, which we knew meant he would kick roommates out. Our friend Tony from Beijing was visiting us and decided he would stay with Jack (he was instrumental in Jack's decision to join our family), and so did Ryan. Now, I'm not one to miss out on a good sleep-over; so, despite my exhaustion and my expectation of a poor night's sleep in the dorm, and my fear that if I said yes it would mean that one of Jack's roommates would be sleeping outside on the concrete that night, I said yes. Jack was so happy; he couldn't get the smile to leave his face. He worked so hard to make our beds nice for us and to take care of us. It was a great time to be together. The electricity cut off at 11pm, as it does for every dorm on campus, and we went to bed. Around 11:30 I was about to drift off... when, all of a sudden, my good friend Tony beat me to the punch, audibly. He started snoring at a volume I've never witnessed before. I laid there trying to overcome the noise for about an hour and a half, when I finally achieved Nirvana. 6am came swiftly, and I wasn't happy about it, as the night of sleep seemed to do more harm than good. But breakfast in the cafeteria with the guys was well worth it. I used the experience to explain the word "snore" to my classes that day, which made them laugh. Most of them said they had roommates who snored, but none of them said they did. Hm...

My day at school ended around 4pm and I met up with Tony and Tim in Tim's dorm at Hebei University to find Tony sprawled out in Tim's bed watching Max Payne on Tim's laptop. I quickly pulled out Hot Fuzz and told him to switch movies (I had just bought it). That night we went to a Spa, a long-overdue gift we had promised Tony as a Christmas present. We sat in the hot tub and sauna together, got massaged, and ate at the free midnight buffet. What a great time. It was relaxing, but I still longed for that sleep I'd been missing. That's why, the next morning, when Jack popped in my room at 8:30 I shrunk away.

But our Father blesses us and meets, even in those times of exhaustion and bad moods. Scratch that: the boss meets us especially when we're tired and in a bad mood. Sometimes that's when he uses us the most. It's then when we rely on Him. All that he asks is that I be me, and He'll be Him. Somehow, after that tiring week, Jack and I are closer, and two other students, Jack's friend Billy and our friend Ken, have heard the Good News and are studying and considering what they've heard. Be thinking about them. Ken and I have talked a few times recently about the Father and he's got lots of questions.

This weekend is the Dragon Boat Festival in China and we have Thursday and Friday off of school. About one billion people will be eating Zong Zi's, sweet rice and a date wrapped in a leaf triangle, to celebrate. Me? I got a good night's sleep last night; I just read for about an hour; I had cereal for breakfast and a bowl of Macaroni and Cheese for lunch. And I'm ready to go again.


This country is fickle about websites and it doesn't like blogger right now, which is why there's no media on this post... yet...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

the media room

"Ugh!" shouted Vince as we walked across campus, "I can't believe you can get a media classroom that easily! I have applied many times for a media room and I never get one!" Everyone knows who Vince is; he is one of the most important students on campus. He is the head of the Ministry of Study Affairs, a student union full of undercover brilliant students who would rather hold events, have ministry meetings, and study their own preferred subjects than study for their classes. Who can blame them? The majority of the students at Hebei College of Finance ended up at this school by failing to pass a few standardized tests that would have allowed them to attend the school of their choice. On top of that, many of them were forced into majors they didn't choose. It's a slippery slope in China. Once you don't pass the tests in high school, you don't get a choice in much of anything. But that doesn't mean you have to just sit and take it, or so Vince would tell you. You can create a slew of student unions and hold English speaking events until your head explodes instead. If you've ever seen Rushmore, Vince is Max Fischer, with a touch of Jack from the Newsies, always leading the charge against the establishment. Except that he doesn't do lasso-dance routines when he's by himself. Well, I guess I have no way of knowing that for sure...

"You have to apply for a media room?" I asked him, confused. All I usually did was ask for one.

Our walking pace quickened as Vince was trying hard to find something to blame for feeling slighted over never getting his media room, and I was trying to give him one: my white skin.

"Sorry, man," I told him, "you know it's just because I'm a foreign teacher. All I do is call Ms. Zhao and she finds one for me. Listen, next time you want a media room I'll book it for you."

I could see in his eyes that he didn't want my pity. But I felt sorry for Vince because the school does bend over backwards for me. Just last week I asked for a media room on Tuesday night for my classes on Wednesday morning by sending a text message to the head of our department, Ms. Zhao. She responded promptly by giving me a media room. I arrived there in the morning and put in the DVD I wanted to use. Nothing happened. I looked at the computer again. No DVD compatibility. Crap. I quickly called Ms. Zhao, explained the situation, and within ten minutes my students and I moved to a different media room with a DVD player. I then proceeded to show some movie scenes without subtitles for listening practice (Dead Poet's Society, Little Miss Sunshine, Hitch, Superman). Another victory for the waiguoren (foreigner).

The next day things weren't so easy. I found out the night before that there was no media room available with a DVD player, only the one useless media room that I had tried that day. I could just see Vince grinning over a bowl of noodles, satisfied with his sabotage. But I wasn't going to let it defeat me. No DVD, no problem. I explained my predicament to Ryan, who conveniently teaches in the classroom next door. We had just heard an idea that day from our friend, Emily. Her parents had come to visit her for a couple weeks and she brought them to a few of her classes. They played a game where t
he students tested Emily to see how well she knew her parents. They asked her questions, and her parents wrote their answers down before Emily could answer. Emily then answered for her parents.

At 9am that Thursday morning, during the class break, Ryan and I directed our students to the DVD-less media room that I had reserved, which had suddenly found its use; it holds 100 students, which was about exactly the number of our two classes combined. I wrote "How well do Ryan and Jon know each other?" on the board and we played. The students were on one team, their goal being to stump us, and Ryan and I wer
e on the other. The first question was predictable.

"Does Ryan have a girlfriend," one of Ryan's students asked me. Everyone laughed. It's funny every time to them.

"Ryan does not have a girlfriend," I answered with confidence. An easy point for us.

"Okay, now who wants to ask me if Jon has a girlfriend?" Ryan asked the class after the laughter had subsided. They laughed again. One of my students named Christina stood up to ask a question.

"How often every week does Ryan wash his hair?" she asked. Christina had apparently noticed that Ryan hadn't washed his hair that day, something she always seems to notice about anyone. Actually, the last two times I had seen Christina, she had told me, "I think it's time to wash your hair."

"Hm, I'm going to guess 3," I said. Ryan doesn't wash his hair that often.

Ryan held up his paper, which read, "2." One point for the students.

One of Ryan's female students stood up. Most of the questions came from females.

"What's Jon's favorite movie?" she asked Ryan. This was a hard question, so the student decided to give Ryan a break. She said I could write down five movies and Ryan had two guesses to guess any of them. It was hard to be honest with my top-five list; I wanted him to guess one. So, I put Lord of the Rings, which we were both reading, and Superman, which we had watched in my class the day before. The result was unfortunate.

"X-Men and... uh... Ace Ventura?," he said. One point for them.

The game continued on with a few hard questions and a few easy ones. Ryan guessed my favorite quote correctly (found on the left side of this blog); I missed the age of Ryan's dog by one year; Ryan guessed that my favorite experience in life was either my trip to Newfoundland or my trip to Colorado/Oklahoma, both of which were great guesses. But I tried too hard with my answer, "Teaching in China." The last question was perhaps the funniest.

"What color underwear is Ryan wearing today?" Coco, Ryan's student, asked me. I remembered seeing a pair of black boxers hanging in our shower room recently.

"Black!" I guessed. Ryan peaked in his shorts.

"White." The class lost it.

And so the game ended.
The class: 13
Ryan and Jon: 11


I love watching my students watch movies. The rest of that week, I decided to simplify my movie-viewing in my classes down to just one movie: Superman. I showed each class the rooftop interview between Lois Lane and Superman for listening practice, and instead of switching films like I had planned I just decided to let them watch more Superman. They knew very little about him, just that he rescues people. Most of my classes had big smiles on their faces when Superman took Lois for a ride over Metropolis. But their big reaction came when he first rescued Lois as she fell from the dangling helicopter. The laughed when Clark ran down the street and ripped his shirt open to reveal the bright red "S" on his chest. But they gasped when he caught Lois.

"Don't worry, miss, I've got you," Superman tells her calmly.

"You've got me? But who's got you?!" Lois exclaims. They all laughed.

The helicopter then falls towards Superman and Lois. Instead of avoiding it, Superman flies right at it and catches it with one hand, his other arm occupied holding Lois.

"Wow!" many students gasped. A few of them even clapped.

There's something in the innocent heart that jumps for joy over Superman. And somehow, the Chinese students still have that heart. Imagine a classroom of 50 American college students watching Superman. We're too cynical to react like them, even if we'd never seen Superman before. And even if we felt like they did, we wouldn't clap or say, "wow." Which is why I took hold of the chance to actually smile when Superman catches Lois. Because that's how I feel when I watch Superman; happy.

Monday, May 4, 2009


(Tiananmen = gate of heavenly peace)
Friday, May 1st was International Labor Day. But you probably didn't know that, did you? That's because you live in America, one of only two countries in the world that celebrates Labor Day on a different day. Why? Because America can. And Canada can... tag along. After tossing around a few ideas, and having a few fall through, Tim, Ryan, Cameron, and I decided to go to Beijing for a couple days. According to common sense, it was the wrong weekend to go; Beijing is already chalked full of people, but especially on holidays. And it felt like every one of them climbed aboard the no. 9 bus with us as we left the train station Saturday morning. Where were we going? We weren't sure, which was the beauty of our visit; no plans. I needed to buy new shoes (I've never been able to say that my shoes "broke" before, but I'm pretty sure my foot's not suppose to stick out the side), and everyone else mostly just wanted to eat at Subway. I was the only one who had never been to Tiananmen Square during any of my visits; so I quickly shouted the idea out to everyone as we were passing it on the no. 9 bus. They sort of shrugged their shoulders and we got off the bus. Most of our decisions were made with the shrugging of shoulders. And here is what ensued:

9 - 10 am - Tiananmen Square, not only the biggest square in the world, but apparently the most bugged. Why they closed the viewing of Mao's body on such a busy day is beyond me.
10:30 - 11:30 - wi-fi @ Starbucks
12 - 1 pm - foot-long Subway Melt w/ 10 yuan Mt. Dew (you finally made it, MD!)
1 - 3 - shopping at a yuppy outdoor mall - I bought new cross-trainers
3 - 4 - walking in a circle for an hour
4 - 7 - reading, napping, drinking at the Bookworm, which was, unfortunately, a few hundred feet from where we started. Great bookstore, horrible online map. I loved the fact that there was a bar. It felt more right drinking a Gin n' Tonic while reading LOTR than coffee ever has.
7:30 - 8:30 - bloomin' onion & medium rare burger at Outback - truly novelty in China
9 - 11 - waiting at a riverside street of shops and bars for Tim's college friend to show up (she was on her own and kept having to borrow random people's phones to call Tim as she tracked us down)
11 - 2 am - chatting and walking with Tim's friend, Lisa, an English teacher in S. Korea
2:30 - 11 am- sleep
12 - fruitless search for more Mt. Dew (good grief, it's good)
2:30 pm - train ride home. My seat was next to a pair of cute Chinese kids squeezed together into one seat. It was a brother (9) and sister (11), whom I talked with the entire hour ride, instead of reading and listening to music, my original plan. You can't miss an opportunity to try out your Chinese with kids. There's nothing better than making them laugh out loud by telling them that your friend is actually your 40 year old grandpa. "Bu ke neng!" they kept shouting (impossible).

The greatness in the trip could have also been its downfall. Our purposelessness, thankfully, didn't spill over into how we related to one another. It's always a tendency on vacation for me to live selfishly, to only think about what I want to do. But we grew together on this trip. While we have been together for a good eight months, Ryan made an interesting observation over our burgers at Outback.

"There are still ways that we don't know each other," he said as he dipped his fried onion slice into that 2nd bowl of bloomin' onion sauce, which you always have to ask for, "You guys have never seen what I'm like when I pursue a girl."

"Or when we're with our families," Cameron added.

How deeply can you know someone?
Why do Chinese people eat ice cream before their meal and eat white rice last? I have no idea.

Our picture in front of the father of Chinese democracy, Sun Yat-Sen.
Still revered, I guess.

North Face. Ben Sherman. Nike. Quiksilver. Apple. It ruled.

sleepy head at the hostel.


As a Redskins fan, I'm not sure how I missed this video. It's probably because I don't pay enough attention to Chris Cooley's blog, which is one of the most popular player blogs in all of sports, and there's a reason why. Aside from being one of the best Tight Ends in football, Cooley works hard to give his readers tons of backstage info and stories about the Redskins you could never get anywhere else. This fantasy draft video from last fall is a great example. Fred Smoot is hilarious.