Monday, September 22, 2008

Gravity

I was greeted today by news that a friend from the mission, Elder Enriquez, was killed in an accident a few days ago. He had come across 2 trucks that had collided. Being the type of person that he was, he stepped out of his vehicle, and tried to alert those behind him. An oncoming truck tried to stop, but the trailer it was towing slid out of control, killing 3 people. One of those was Felix Enriquez.

I had the opportunity to welcome Elder Enriquez into the mission. He arrived on my last day in the office. I trained his companion from the Buenos Aires MTC. For the last 4 1/2 months of my mission, I was his District Leader. He was a hard worker, and loved to gospel. He spoke Spanish and Guarani, and his Guarani gave him an accent that endeared him to the Argentines, his companions, and his leaders. He was a tremendous soccer player, and could send a ball like nobody's business. His testimony gave him incredible energy. He had the reputation for working his companions... especially his senior comps. :)

He leaves behind a widow, Carolina.

I do not know any other details. I would, however, like to say a few things. I think I have more time to live, but, hey. I'm sure he did, too.

I'm grateful to my father for teaching me to love the scriptures. Every time he gives a talk, or acts in a spiritual sphere, it makes me want to study the scriptures more. I see the power it gives him. He taught me not to let college get in the way of my education. I know that one sounds funny, but he explained that college isn't the end-all. It's just another step. I'm grateful for his critical side. He knows how to take an idea apart, interpret it, and put it back together in a way that the average person can clearly understand. He also taught me that it's okay to ask questions, and doubt things. There is a Cheezit box on his office wall that bears the words, "Get Your Own Box." My father is a great example of that. If he has an oppinion, it's because he arrived there, not because someone fed it to him. I admire that more than he could know.

I'm grateful to my mother. Where to begin? I don't think that I could have been my own mother. I would have killed me. Looking at the things that we kids put my mother through, I wonder what sort of hell I'll have to go through to get the reward she will. Her patience is beyond my comprehension. She sees herself as constantly on the edge of mental breakdown. All things considered, that's fair. We kids were rough on her. "Are" rough on her. Really, I am glad for her constant striving to love, even when loving requires her very soul. She is paying her token payment for heaven.

I'm grateful to Gareth, my brother. Good heavens. I hardly every see him, anymore. From him I have learned that you have a choice. Life will always throw crap at us; hard, fast and frequent. Sometimes we look on the good side. Sometimes we look on the bad. Sometimes, we just have to take it. I love my brother.

Ginger holds a different position. I graduated High School, and went to live under Ginger and Joe's care for the following 7 months. She was convinced that she could straighten me out. Make me grow up. The fact that I am not dead is proof of progress. :) Looking back on those 7 months, I know I would have killed me. Her help in becoming less of a child was instrumental. No, I watch as she is raising 4 kids. She has helped me to grow up.

Joe, Ginger's husband, is one of the most patient, hard-working, down-to-earth, upstanding people I know. I think it was his insistance that kept Ginger from killing me. :) I don't know that I merited his intervention. His temperance and good humor make him someone I hold in very high esteem.

I love Erin's love of life. She has a desire to live life, and takes advantage of many of the opportunities that most people would just let go by. Her kindness is limited by her means, but she pushes those limits, as she tries to help. After Isaac had given us such a wonderful gift, she tried to insist that the Bridals (which, incidentally, are FREAKIN AWESOME) and Invitations (also bearing the title of FREAKIN AWESOME) were a wedding gift. We politely declined, but the offer was truly a generous one. With so few resources, she is doing a lot.

Isaac. When I get back, I'm totally challenging him to a wrestling match.... And locking the fridge. ;) Isaac stands out in my book because of his attention to detail, and how much he cares. 1 example: when my ring was shipped, he got it, looked at it, and then showed it to us. I looked at it, and thought it was good, but he saw that one side of the ring was thicker than the other... something that I could hardly see once he pointed it out. He sent to a different factory to make my ring, and made sure it was satisfactory. He has some work ahead for his business, and I'm sure that if he meets it head-on, he'll come out more than just victorious. He'll excell. That's just who he is.

Stuart. I'm giving the twins their own, because they are truly individuals. I regret letting Stuart ride home from Tennessee in a different car.  He wanted to, but I should have stopped him. Honestly, he would have had more fun with us, and we truly would have enjoyed his company. In Tennessee, Stuart was like the motor in a car. Wanting everyone to feel included, he made sure something was happening. One think I love about Stuart is his desire for things to be fair. His strong sense of justice moved him on many occasions. He was obedient, and very hard working. Learning didn't come easily to him. He worked at it. He's no slouch. I'm glad that he was the referree in many of the tiffs we had. He truly is a loyal brother, and a loyal friend.

Now, Mr. Fireball himself. I love Scott's leadership ability. When the 3 of us were in Tennessee, if Stuart was the motor, Scott was the steering-wheel. (Sidenote: I would be the car stereo... not vitally important, but a whole lot of fun) In light of his leadership style, Stu and I were both willing to take a side-seat to his decision making. He worked hard. He sacrificed free time to work and earn money to pay for his mission. He was the sort of person who enjoyed being in charge, not because it was power over others, but because it was power to help others. If I had to work for any of my siblings, it would probably be Scott.

Jonathan Alexander Cooley. 12 going on 20. He doesn't really fit in with any of the kids his age. Why? Simple. They're half as smart as he is. I love J's love of reading. He is really just a bookworm, and reads everything from Oliver Twist to the latest Starwars Comic Book. His imagination is more vivid than most, and he truly enjoys toying with ideas in his mind. He makes obscure references to things the rest of us have already forgotten, but that he has catalogued away in his amazing mind.

There.

I just wanted to throw a shout-out to my immediate family. I love you all. I wonder what the Lord has in store for me. I'll just keep on truckin', staying on the right side of the line.

If you're ever feeling down, just remember: Somewhere in the middle of a crazy, third-world, communist country, there's a guy who's not allowed to talk about the religion that is the reason for his happiness. Also, he can't talk to most of the people. :) But he LOVES YOU!! :D

Things I've Learned About Cooking in China

Things I've learned about cooking in China:

1. Don’t stand too close when you turn on the stove – it will send a fireball app. 3 ft high.
2. A wok heats very quickly when placed on a burner that is continually shooting flames in excess of 2 feet.
3. Anything placed in said wok will be finished cooking in about 30 seconds or less, unless you turn the heat extremely low – in which case you can increase the cook time to about 60 seconds.
4. Ramen noodles are as much a staple here as they were in America, but here they come with the powder, a packet of freeze-dried vegetables, and a packet of reddish, oily stuff.
5. Reddish, oily stuff is good when cooking ramen in a wok, because most of the liquid will evaporate. If you cook it microwave-style, however, skip the red stuff.
6. Ramen noodles mixed in the wok with an egg or two is pretty darn good, and beats getting your face burnt off at the cafeteria.
7. Western ingredients are not to be found in the Hunan province. Don’t even hope for milk or cheese.
8. The bow-tie noodles you were so excited to find are not egg noodles. There is a big difference between egg noodles and flour-and-water noodles.
9. Flour-and-water bow-tie noodles do NOT make good pasta. When mixed with eggs and tomatoes they can, however, make a good-smelling-awful-tasting paste, which you could effectively use to scare your dog away from ever eating table food again.
10. Ice cream is a useful substitute for dinner when you have just tried to make pasta using flour-and-water noodles.
11. All meat is fresh. If you want fish, pick one from the bucket and watch as they begin cutting it up for you while the heart is still beating. Same with chickens, ducks, frogs, eels, etc. Oh yeah, and dogs, but I won’t watch that one.
12. Produce and meat purchased in China will be good for one day, maybe two. If you do not intend to use it immediately, don’t purchase it (even if you have a refrigerator)!
13. If you buy normal looking bread, it will have beans, raisins, etc. in it. If you want normal tasting bread, buy the purple kind.
14. The orange, hairy stuff on/in many of the bread products is not an odd-looking kind of melted cheese; it is nastiness. Period.
15. If you leave a few drops of water in a wok overnight, it will rust.
16. Oranges have a green peel, but are still called oranges. They’re quite good.
17. Bread and honey is a luxury meal, and can help ease cravings for “normal” food (a.k.a. food that will not burn your face off).
18. When all else fails, pay Y21 (what you might otherwise pay for 3 or 4 meals) and grab a bag of Snickers bars from the grocery store. They’ll make you feel better.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Delay

So, i was putting this off. Not for any good reason, either. I mean, I'm sitting in a Cybercafe, it would be just as easy for me to write a blog post as it is for me to watch the latest episode of Bleach, or catch up on my MegaTokyo, but I don't. It might be that I haven't been feeling well lately, or it might be that I just want to teleport to a Subway, get some food, and then come back to China (I so blame Shannon for that one).

I'm not homesick by any means, just tired.

Let me tell you why my job is tiring.

I am a teacher. Do I really need to elaborate? Inspite of it being unneccesary to do so, I will do so. Why? Because I still have about 1 yuan worth of time left on this computer, and enough yuan in my money pouch to keep me here for the next 3 years.

I teach 24 classes a week. The school we're at requested 3 teachers. They got 2. We're picking up the slack. All of it. Most other teachers here teach 16 classes. 1 or 2 teach 20. Shannon and I are the lucky ones. At least, that's what they tell us. Jacob Harlan (our boss) told us that he was glad that it was us. I take it as a compliment, but not without some trepidation.

When I say I teach 24 classes per week, I mean that I teach the same lesson 24 times per week. 24 of the same "repeat-after-me's", sight gags, explanations, chalkboard etchings, etc. This job would still be tiring if for nothing other than the sheer quantity of classes.

Each class has about 60-70 kids in it, ranging from 13-15 years old. There's one kid in there who says he is 18, but I think that he just doesn't speak English. But he was pretty big. A whopping 5'10".

Each class is grouped by test scores and over-all ability to learn. This system is good, but flawed. The flaw lies in the lack of separation by discipline. Each class stays in the same room, and the teachers are the ones who rotate. This makes consistent visual aides entirely dependent on chalk-board skills. (Let me just say, "I HATE CHALK!!") The lack of disciplinary division creates a severely varied range of skills. The students in my class are the 1st of 3 years taught here. Some have better English than people in Utah/Idaho (not meaning to offend, but I will not take that back if I do). Most have none. They can say, "Hello," and, "Bye-bye," but that's the limit of it. Every kid in the school has taken it upon himself to greet me as I walk past. I'll come back to that word, "Hello."

Now, try to entertain 60-70 kids of varing interests and levels of intelligence with no books, no worksheets, no puzzles, relatively few game options, and little if any English ability. It's lame. Really, really lame. We don't even have suggestions for lesson material. It's not easy to just pull something out of your hat that will entertain for 45 minutes at a time. It's even harder to make something like that work for 24 times, and even more-so not to get so sick of it you could spit.

So, I'm tired. I'm recovering, but I'm tired. Our water is back on again. (It was only for 1 day this time.) We have almost zero water pressure, but at least it's some, right?

Now, I'm about to rant about something most people will not understand....

I hate the word, "Hello." I got it for 2 full years in Argentina. To hear it here.... Nails on the blackboard would be more welcomed. Really. Only someone who has been exposed to it every day for 2 years would understand just how loathesome a simple word like, "Hello," can become. Shannon told me that she kind of likes it. I told her that when I was in Argentina, I did, too. For all of about 1 month. Here, it's way worse. I mean, I can't walk on campus without a rolling chorus of "Hello's" tumbling after me. I know hate is a strong word. Honestly, though, I don't think it cuts it. It's not something you get used to. It's something that gets really, really old. I don't think you know just how old until you get it all day, every day.

So, there you go. The rant is finished. So is this post. I have more time on the computer, but really have other things I ought to be doing. Or would like to be doing. Or could possibly be doing.

Thanks for reading, peeps.

Xao

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"If it weren't for physics and law enforcement I'd be unstoppable"

Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Wine Culture

"Here in Yongzhou... we have... a wine culture. It is... a very good culture."

Yeah. I could have guessed, actually. Maybe it was the bottles of 53% alcohol our hosts were downing by the half-dozen at the banquet they threw us our first night here. Maybe it was the homemade rice wine they store in giant barrels and drink by the bucketful at lunch. Or the bottles of beer they pop open with glee.

Have you ever seen a Chinese man go red? I mean REALLY red. Sweat-running-down-their-face-and-turning-to-steam red. I have. Oh, I have. Try our principal, our dean of foreign languages, our head of English department, our translator (who is also a teacher), another teacher, and last but not least, our driver.

Now the driver hid it better than most, so we didn't know for sure if he was drunk or not until he stood up and looked us in the eyes. And then we knew: he was just as smashed as the others. Ryan thought it might be fun to ride with him... I was definitely more hesitant. Somehow, though, he managed to not get us killed, or even injured (which is a feat of heroism on Chinese streets under any circumstances).

Never have I been more grateful that I don't drink. And that Ryan does not drink. They told us how normally they try to get the foreign teachers drunk, and how the guy from India got so drunk they had to get him a room at the hotel above the restaurant. The guy from Ghana apparently drank the Chinese people under the table though, and they loved that just as much.

One of our favorite moments came when Mr. He, our translator, leaned over and said, in a very slurred voice, "One of the foreign teachers, he told me when I am half-drunk my English is not so good. But you understand me, and I am not just half-drunk!"

Yes, Mr. He, we understand you. You are saying that you are VERY drunk! But we could have told you that.

I'm Huge in China

Seriously. You have no idea. I mean, I just went in to 5 different stores, and only one of them had a jacket that fit me in the arms. Guess what size it was. XXXXL. Yeah, there are 4 X's there. Wow. I mean, Wow.

I mean, I don't really have too much more to say than that, but I really just was amazed that I'm a size XXXXL....

Update on the whole name thing.... I met a girl by the name of "Smile." It took me a while for me to understand what she was saying. She had a tough time actually saying her name. I mean, I remember how it was when I had braces.... :D Yeah. So far her smile is very sincere, and really lights up her face, but I'm sure when they're finished it will be dazzling.



Let me tell you about one of my favorite things here in China.

Moto-taxis

Scott and Stuart will be able to understand best how the taxis can be in foreign countries. It's basically amazing that more people don't die from them. Now, after having driven in Argentina, I can honestly say that the Chinese are worse (or better....). They really have no respect for lanes, stoplights, or order. They use their horns like we use turn signals, horns, brakelights, and highbeams. :)

I mean, in Argentina, you can usually expect them to obey red lights, and right of way. Here, the concept of right-of-way is swallowed up in a first-come-first-serve mentallity that is so pervasive here. If you are there first, and there's no way for them to get around you, they will respect your right of way... until they can get around you.

Now, imagine all the craziness of a taxi in a place like this. Taxi drivers, who are notoriously "carefree" while driving, make wonderful chaufers. The price you pay for a chance to cheat death and get where you want to be is truly worth the money. Now, imagine removing the steel exoskeleton that shields you from any careless drivers, while at the same time removing the stability of 3 or more points of contact on a plane (in this case, the street) required for permanent stability, and keeping the same amount of people in the equation.

That, my friends, is a "Moto-taxi."

We usually don't take them very far, but if you're in a hurry, and you need to be able to dodge other vehicles, ignore lanes, and ride on sidewalks and through fruit-stands, Moto-taxis can't be beat.

Monday, September 8, 2008

"They're more like guidelines, anyway."

We're riding a bus down a small, ordinary 2-lane highway. Or so we thought. Did you know that if a two-lane road has a decent shoulder, it is actually a 5-lane highway? As long as two of the vehicles are motorcycle sized or smaller, anyway. The Chinese drivers can easily fit two buses, a car, a motorcycle, and a moped side-by-side on a two-lane highway. And these vehicles don't have to be going the same direction; in fact, it's that much more fun if they're not. Passing on a double-yellow line is perfectly acceptable, and even accepted. I don't know if speed limits exist here, but if so, the police don't care. In fact, I haven't seen the police care about anything having to do with traffic yet. Red lights are also merely a suggestion, which makes crosswalks one of the most hazardous places to cross the street, because you are lulled into a false sense of security. They also have more traffic to watch; therefore it is much better to cross in the middle of a street.

The strangest things I've eaten yet (that I've known what I was eating...) are 1-month eggs (I think they actually call them 1 year eggs, but it's an egg that has been wrapped in pine needles and stuck in an ash pit for a month), and cow tongue. The eggs were black colored, and had a bit of an odd taste, but weren't bad. Ryan liked them. I preferred the cow tongue, which is good, because we've been served it twice now.

Today we found a giant indoor flea market (no, not selling actualy fleas, though I wouldn't be surprised if there are a lot there). From the outside it looks like a giant shopping mall, but inside it's definitely a flea market. You can find everything from dishes, to clothes, to tools, to CDs, to giant umbrellas for motorcycles and scooters (hey, when it's your only form of transportation, why get wet?)...

A couple days ago we also found a bakery. Talk about a dream come true! Do you know how hard it is to find baked goods here? Everything is fried, steamed, or boiled, including their bread! But we found a true bakery, with bread, cookies, tarts, cakes, and more. They even had chocolate cake with real chocolate (also hard to find)! For about Y65 (about $10) I could buy Ryan a GIANT birthday cake (like, 4-7 layers), exquisitely decorated, and hopefully tasting good... but I don't know what we'd do with a giant cake, so when his birthday comes next month I'll probably buy one of the small, fruit topped cakes and we'll eat it in one sitting.

You know, speaking of bread, there's another problem with bread here. If you do manage to find some that was baked instead of steamed, it always has weird stuff in it that takes you by surprise. These awesome looking scone breakfast things turned out to have weird peppers in them. A delicious roll was full of nasty bean paste. A normal looking loaf of bread had weird raisins in it. Or the loaf is purple; we had one of those given to us our first day at this school. It tasted just like normal bread, but was definitely VERY purple. Why? Why can't they have plain, normal bread? Sure they don't eat sandwiches, but that roll we tried: why couldn't it have been plain? Why the bean paste?

Watch out for the corn-flavored ice cream as well.

But the cow tongue is good; go for that.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Now and again

So, instead of trying to play catch-up right now, I will just start from where I am and take care of the back-log later. :) I'm in Yongzhou, Hunan, China. Yeah. I made it. Maybe next post I'll explain why that is just such a miracle, because it truly is. Trust me. It's a wonder I get anywhere. :) Usually, I just skate by on charm and good looks... *hey, no snickering...*

I'd like to explain why being a celebrity would be Hell.

I'd like to appologize for the use of that word, but it's really the only word that applies. Here in China, I stand out. Surprise. Remind me when I get back to make a shirt that says, "I'm huge in China." If you've ever walked around in a giant pink bunny suit on a busy New York street, you truly understand what it's like for me to live here in China. It might be the blue eyes. It might be the blonde hair. It might be my incredible good looks. (Okay, so maybe not)

Anyway, I can't step out of my apartment without: 1. stares (or stairs: we live on the second floor), 2. a chorus of "hello's" and "hi's", fangirls giggling behind their hands, hoping I'll drop something so that they can put it in a shrine. While I am usually prone to exaggeration, this time I'm serious. Dead serious. I always thought it would be fun to have groupies. I was so wrong. Actually, just today, a small gaggle of my students (14-16 year-old girls) came up to Shannon, and said, "We think your husband is very cool. And CUTE!" They promptly vanished, leaving a cloud of giggles in their wake.

Introductions in class are a hoot, too. Some of these kids give themselves their own English name. Most of them speak only enough English to say, "my name is Kobe Bryant," "Jackie Chan," or "Harry Potter." Really.

I've also had some like Aoes (which isn't even pronouncable), Watch, Dak, and Sen, and Coffee. Coffee is so aptly name it's frightening. Her favorite phrase is "Happy Happy Every Day!" It's not uncommon for her to say it 10 times in a 5 minute period.

But, you know whose name takes the cake? Now, remember, this name is self-given, and belongs to a 14 year-old girl, dressed in pastel pink, living in the middle of a Communist country...


You'll never guess.


Lucifer.


I kid you not.


I almost laughed out loud.



Only 13 years of exposure to Paul and Ben kept me from rolling on the grimy, chalky floor. I really almost died. I mean, what do you say to that? "Good name"?


On a totally different note, I take my frisbee to every class, and show them how it's thrown by throwing it to a couple of them, and having them throw it back, to varying degrees of effectiveness. After one class, (long story short, I missed a class because my schedule was given to me wrong, and made up the class in 8th period, when it would have been study hall), some of the kids followed me around asking me questions. Their English was surprisingly good. Especially a very tall kid (probably 5'10"). Well, they sort of held my frisbee as a compliant hostage, and said that they wanted to play. So, a group of 6 of us went to the field (riddled with mud and rocks and, of all things, cement. There is also a HUGE tree right in the middle. Made in China. We threw the frisbee back and forth for a while before one of the PE teachers came over. We thought we were in trouble, but it turned out, she just wanted to play! 2 of the kids, Adam and Alan (they were probably both 5'10") had hops, and very good timing. They both play basketball, but the timing is totally different. So, with the addition of the PE teacher (a very athletic looking woman, probably 5'4"), we threw the disc around.

As I watched them throw the frisbee, I was pleasantly surprised at just how quickly they caught on. Really, they played very good. For never having seen a frisbee before, they had so much raw potential....

I honestly don't know how to describe how it felt to be throwing the frisbee around, like so many times before, and have it feel the same. Even though I was on the other side of the world, even though their faces were different, and their English was either broken or non-existant, and even though the surroundings were third-world, backward, and dirty, I was home. I was with my wife. I was playing frisbee.... I know that sounds a little weird for some of you, but I know Paul and Sasquatch will at least understand.

I felt like I was home.

Then, I realized that I should probably not get too sweaty because we haven't had running water for the last 3 full days. (Some of the students didn't have it either... they hadn't showered... I could tell... poor kids.)

I could easily live here. Scary, huh? I mean, I would never go to the doctor, and would have to keep saying, "Bu yao. Tai La!!" (No thanks! It's too dang SPICY!) These people really make Dad's hot sauce look tame.

Have you ever blacked out? You know how your vision, gradually becomes tunnelled, and then goes black? Well, my 2nd day here, they gave us some green peppers. I decided that I was going to be Hunan-y, and eat some. I took several chopstick-sized scoops. I ate them very quickly, chewing thoroughly. My face began to be hot, then burning, then it wilted, and dropped onto the table, bursting into greenish flames.... Yeah, it was hot. I thought to myself, "I'm doing alright! I can still wheeze just a little, and I can blame the rivulets on my face on my gratitude to my host." Then, I gradually got tunnell vision, and my hearing started to fade. Those last two really happened! I thought the peppers were going to kill me!! That sort of fire is impossible to mitigate. It just burns.

Dad, you would be proud!

Well, peeps, I am doing just fine. I'll have some pictures for you when I come better prepared. I love you all so much.

Peace,

Cooley