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Super Nova. Si. Super Teacher? Nah.

Wow, I was watching the Yankee game this morning (Sunday, in the States) when the broadcasters announced the starting pitchers for the August 23rd game, Yanks at Toronto. One of my students at the Dominican Republic Yankee baseball academy is going for New York. Ivan Nova is a charismatic, 6-foot 4-inch, 23-year old from the D.R., and I’m really going to enjoy watching him pitch his first major league start, though he pitched a few games in relief earlier this year. It’s quite a huge deal for him. Here are his stats on Baseball Refrence.

I joked with Ivan about what his nickname might be in the Majors; I said it could be “Ivan the Terrible,” but he told me that “Super Nova” was going to be his moniker. I think I have his email address, so I’m going to send him congratulations after he wins tomorrow. Good luck, Ivan! Here’s a photo of him that I posted back on Nov. 16, 2007, when part of the team visited an orphanage in Santo Domingo. The kids loved him, (like I said–charismatic), and he was swamped by young autograph seekers.

The university conducts student surveys after every semester to ascertain how we teachers are viewed by our classes. Well, the results from last semester came out last week and I had the highest rating by far, at 93%, with the faculty average being 85% or so. The students “grade” us in categories such as “The teacher arrived in class on time,” “The teacher was well-prepared,” “The teacher used outside materials appropriately,” etc. However, I look on this stuff as mere popularity ratings, not proficiency, and your score is dependent on the kind of students you have for that particular semester (age, hometown, interests, major, etc.). I won this before, in my first semester here (Fall, 2008), and I received a 100,00 won prize and a nice certificate. I also finished near the bottom in the semester right after that, while not drastically changing my methods or presentation, though I’m always striving to learn from my mistakes and get better. Like I said–a popularity contest, though it’s not bad for an old guy, I guess. :smile: More later.

Goodbyes

There are some very nice personal advantages to working here, among them, these. First, the camp is tranquil, despite all the baseball, and beautiful–quite isolated, surrounded by scrubland and forest, with lots of birds, woodpeckers and yellow thrushes especially, making their homes in the trees. Next, we’re only a 5-minute ride from a beautiful beach–swaying palms, turquoise waters, and gentle, cooling breezes. Finally, living at the camp 24/7 naturally leads to good friendships with many of the players. That’s also a downside. A number of players have been released lately, dropped from the academy and sent home, mainly due to lingering injuries that just never fully healed and negatively affected their performance. Some of these guys had become good friends, and when I found out they were leaving, I shed a tear or two. Three in particular, who were released in the past month, stand out.

First is Jean Paul Conde, a handsome and friendly 19-year old Venezuelan pitcher with a confident attitude. With his dashing good looks, he would have been a major celebrity if he had made the big leagues with the Yankees. Here’s a shot of a rental car with Jean Paul on the left, Richard Martinez in the middle and Nixton Perez outside the car (all from Venezuela), along with a few chicas that Jean Paul had attracted.

JeanPaulCar

Then we lost Andres Varilla, an outspoken and high-strung Venezuelan. He is a good English speaker and we had more than a few discussions about Venezuelan and American politics. He plans on going to university and he’ll do well in whatever he decides to do. Here’s a photo of him (on the right) and Jean Paul with Reggie Jackson from November, 2006.

CRW_5468

Finally, my favorite player was also released a short while ago. Juan Lopez, from Nicaragua, is such an easy-going, friendly 19-year old that no one could help but like him. He speaks decent English and helped me out in a few of my beginner classes. I was taken by surprise and stunned when I found out that his smile and optimism would no longer grace the camp. Here’s a photo of him (on the left) with Gabriel Tatis, a Dominican player.

OD_Players6

Of course, I wished these guys well when they left, and I’m going to try to keep in contact with them vie email. Unfortunately, there are many more players who have become friends and whom I must leave in a few weeks. I never thought that would happen when I first took the job. It’s going to be a bittersweet departure from the D.R. More later.

Oppression

Here’s another news article about UXOs (Unexploded Ordinance), particularly cluster bombs, in Laos. Though the U.S. is one of the countries helping to clear Laos of these things, it’s still shameful that the U.S. dropped all these devices on Laos in the first place. What’s even more disgusting is that the U.S. government refused to sign a treaty Friday banning these horrors. Granted, China, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan and Brazil also refused to sign, (WARNING–going on the soapbox) but it seems that the U.S. USED TO, at some distant time in the past, try to set a shining example of adhering to humanitarian ideals. I could be mistaken about that since recent history seems to show otherwise. Sometimes, I don’t recognize the USA anymore. It has become, in many ways, a totalitarian, war-mongering state, one that seems to be completely at odds with the beacon of light it could and should be. (OK, I’m off the soapbox.)

The weather has really been oppressive lately, enough so that it almost–almost–reminds me of Missoula in the winter–always cloudy, very little sunshine. We had enough rain a few days ago to render the warning tracks a bit muddy, but not unplayable. Still, what boring conditions for a tropical location, not to mention how clammy it’s been, with no breeze to speak of. Geez, I’m so tired of the weather that I’m thinking of leaving in several weeks. :)

It’s a bit tough (tongue firmly in cheek) sitting on the beach in Boca Chica under this unwanted cloud cover when you’ve got ants in your pants to go somewhere else. Being not that far from the airport, you can see all the larger international jets soaring into the sky, leaving for South America, Mexico, Europe, and other destinations. You wish you were on one of them and going to somewhere sunny, somewhere like, oh, . . . Thailand, for example.

Or Laos.
Or Korea.
Or Somewhere.
Soon.

More later. Especially if the sun comes out today. (And then I won’t want to go anywhere.) 😎

The Faster I Go, The Behinder I Get

Well, it seems that way; at the least, I’m always a week late in my posts here. Anyway, last Sunday was a great day, as far as sports go, at the Weekend Office. I watched the Yanks score 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to win their 5th straight game, 6-5 over Seattle. Then, I remembered that the Indy 500 was running. I asked one of the waiters to switch the TV and I was lucky enough to catch the last 24 laps of that event, won by Scott Dixon. I think that’s the first Indy I’ve seen live since I left the U.S. back in 2003.

The week before, once again, the Canadian National Junior All-Star team visited the camp to play an exhibition game against the Yankee squad, and, once again, like last year, they kicked rear end, beating the Yanks 13-2 or some such ridiculous score. They’re a very good team, obviously. Sporting flags and banners, lots of Canadian embassy people turned out to watch. Here are a few of them making their way onto the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Canada08-2

Here’s a shot of the game in progress.

Canada08-1

I bought my ticket to Thailand this past week. I fly out of Missoula on July 25th, arriving in Bangkok on July 27th. I’ll probably work on getting my Korean visa there, then head on up to Laos around the 30th or 31st. After spending some laid-back time in the Land of a Million Elephants (not that many left, I’m afraid), I’ll leave on Aug. 24th for Korea, Land of the Morning Calm (but frenetic at any other time of day). Koreans, according to this survey, put in more hours per year on the job than any other people. I can definitely vouch for that. Andong University students put in just as much time, staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning, grabbing a couple of hours of shuteye and then going to 9 o’clock classes (so they told me). It’s like a never-ending urge, on the part of the entire country, to succeed at ALL costs. Lose one hour here or half an hour there, and your prospects and your life, become a shambles. It’s utterly ridiculous, in my opinion, but to each their own. It will be quite a cultural warp going from languid Laos to intense Korea, but, having worked there before, I’ll manage just fine because, well, just read the title of this post again. 😛

Today is Opening Day of the Dominican Summer League, but both Yankee squads are traveling to other camps to play, so there will be no opening ceremonies here, like there were last year. Perhaps I’ll tag along with one of the teams. More later.

Update

There was a LOT of confusion among the players and coaches about when everyone would be allowed to go home to vote. The voting age here is 18, so most of the Dominican players are eligible to participate in the elections, but they have to vote in their home districts. The main scuttlebutt was that they had an intra-squad game today (they did) and would be allowed to leave when that was completed, but they would have to be back for Saturday morning practice. That would have been a completely illogical restriction, but the final word was that they were allowed to go home after the game today, and Saturday practice was called off. Good news for all, except the foreign players, who, of course, can’t participate in the election. But, I called off English classes today, so the Venezuelans and others were happy about that.

I went into Boca Chica to see if anything interesting was going on, but the place was completely shut down. Almost all the small, neighborhood grocery stores, bars and restaurants on the main strip were closed, but the beach establishments were open for business as usual. As if it mattered, the beach was pretty empty, too. I’m told that tomorrow will be interesting, to say the least, with celebrations, marches, occasional gunfire (!!!), and general mayhem to commemorate the victory of the winning party. I have been warned to use a bit of caution (and I will) if I planned to leave the camp, but I have to go into Boca Chica to see what happens. Going to Santo Domingo would be much more interesting, but since I have to go there on Monday, I’ll just use some of that caution and stay out of the city tomorrow. Hopefully, Boca Chica will be interesting enough–if so, I’ll try to get some photos while avoiding any gunshots aimed in my direction. (Just kidding). 😮

Yeosu

Strange title for a new post, but that’s the city where I’ll be working starting in September. It’s the Yeosu campus of Chonnam National University, a highly-rated Korean educational institute. Yeosu (also spelled Yosu) is, by all the accounts I’ve read, a very beautiful ocean city, and it will be the host of Expo 2012. You can read more about Yeosu at its Wikipedia entry. As I said in an earlier post, it’s a fairly isolated locale. Here’s a map showing its location on the south coast (underlined). It’s a little difficult to see on the blog, but click on the caption underneath (in orange–Map of Korea [EDIT 11/18/09-click on the map itself]) for a larger version. Of course, you’re never all that far from a big Korean city, but the university offers a nice bonus for working there, due to it’s isolation, I presume.

yeosu

I got the contracts and other documents last week from DHL in Santo Domingo. Of course, they couldn’t find the baseball camp (nobody can, it seems), so I had to go into town to pick up the package. I was going to go back today to drop off the necessary documents to send back to Yeosu, but I read in an online English-language newspaper that the government here has declared a national holiday from yesterday at noon until 9 a.m. tomorrow morning. The reason? Today is election day, when Dominicans vote for their president and other candidates. I asked some of the players about traveling on Thursday, Friday or Saturday and they all told me not to do it–too much traffic, too dangerous because of people shooting off firearms in celebration, etc. I asked Victor Mata, but he said there’s really no danger. Well, I decided not to go mainly because I’m afraid once I got to the city, I’d find the shipping companies closed because of the holiday declaration; I’ll take a trip in on Monday to mail the documents.

The two teams here, Yankees and Bombers, have started playing practice games against each other in preparation for the opening of the Dominican Summer League on the 31st of this month. One of the teams traveled to the Red Sox camp yesterday to play a game, which ended in a 2-2 tie. Hopefully, the two teams can do better than the big club is doing at the moment. Looks like a long season ahead for the Yanks.

Interestingly, I weighed myself last week on Friday morning, a day I took off from jogging. I was very surprised when the scale showed I was at 192.5–too much Burger King, I thought. I checked again on Saturday after jogging. I was at 188. I know I sweat out a lot of water when I run, but I don’t think it’s that much. My weight can vary a lot from day to day, and I don’t know why. It’s probably due to the scales here being off, which might lead me to believe that my actual weight is in the mid-170s. 😆 (I weighed myself this morning–I’m down to 186.5). More later.

Weather, Wreck and a Few Photos

The weather has certainly changed. Gone are the cool, low-humidity mornings and the moderate afternoons. The sweat that pours out of me on my sunrise jogs has me feeling like I’ve just run through a rain shower. I’ve been wearing long pants to my classes in the afternoon, but I’ll be switching to shorts soon. And my room air-con, which I’ve not had on a whole lot, will now be put to ever more increasing use.

We hadn’t had much rain until last weekend. We had some gentle showers on Friday and Saturday, but Boca Chica had much more, so they told me at the Weekend Office. I think I knew that before I got there. As the Yankee bus to Santo Domingo slowed to let me off in Boca Chica, we noticed a logjam of traffic ahead of us. Skid marks in the watery mud led to a concrete power pole. Here’s what was at the end of those marks:

Boca_Chica_Wreck

This had to have happened not much more than 30 minutes before, since an ambulance arrived as I took the photo. Unbelievably, someone survived the single-vehicle wreck. I glimpsed a guy laid out on the ground, bloody arm and hand outstretched, propped on his elbow. I wasn’t about to get closer to take a photo–very inappropriate, and he was surrounded by a few dozen people as he was loaded into the ambulance. Not a pretty scene.

As promised, here are some photos of the April 24th visit to the camp by the U.S. Military baseball team. I thought it was the Army team, but the guys represent all branches of the military. They practiced with the Yankee players about 4 hours, then returned with some of the Yankee coaches to Santo Domingo, where they gave a baseball clinic to some youngsters. It was an interesting visit, something to break up the daily routine.

Infield practice at first base. The Yankee kid on the left is Reymond Nunez, from the D.R. He’s a top prospect who can crush the ball a mile. He’s got a great attitude and he’s an all-round good guy. Let’s hope he can hit a curve. If so, he could be a big star at the major league level. I wrote about him in an earlier post.

Army_Team1

Here, Coach Mota (in the shorts) gives baserunning instructions. Mota, coincidentally, coached with the Missoula minor league team for a few years in the early ’90s. I kid him that the cops are still looking for him.

Army_Team2

Military team members get ready for practice.

Army_Team3

Stretching before the practice session.

Army_Team4

Here’s one more photo: me with two of the smaller guys on the team. :)

Guillen_Ron_Manuel

If you can’t figure it out, that’s me in the middle. To the left is Luis Guillen, a pitcher, and the other fellow is Manual, the new strength coach. Both are from Venezuela. More later.

More About the Job

Here’s a little more info about the prospective Korean job this fall: My apartment is either on campus or near it because it’s only a few minutes’ walk to classes. It’s about a 5-hour bus ride to Seoul, 3 hours to Busan (or Pusan), (Korea’s 2nd largest city), and 2 hours to Gwangju. Thus, I’m well out of range of North Korean artillery. 😉 (Since I still haven’t given the name of the university or the city, you could probably triangulate between the above 3 cities and bus ride times to get a fair approximation of where I hope to be. Sorry, I won’t tell until I get the contract and sign it–don’t wanna jinx things.)

Like I posted before, I’ll have free internet in the apartment, and Korea has a top-notch broadband system, meaning the connection will be very fast. Here, from about 1 p.m. to midnight, the internet is virtually unusable because all of the players and coaches (and me) have their computers fired up, sucking up the limited bandwidth that we have, so that everyone’s internet experience is quite a bit less than optimal–a LOT less. It’s a good thing I’m an early riser, up before most other people in camp. The early morning is about the only time I can accomplish any major Internet activities.

What else about the job? Free cable TV, a large-screen TV (whatever size that might be), university English classes, of course, but also some kids and adult classes on occasion, similar to what I taught in Andong. Hiking in the hills behind campus. The area is famous throughout Korea for its seafood, especially sushi. Vacation time is split up thusly: 7 weeks work, 1 week off, 7 on, 1 off, 7 on, 3 off, 7 on, 1 off, 7 on, 1 off, 7 on, 3 off. Not optimal, but not bad; I can at least go to Thailand and Laos twice a year, instead of once, though for shorter stays. The airfare will be less, even going 2 times, and the travel time will be shorter. If I recall, it’s about a 5-6 hour flight from Seoul to Bangkok.

All in all, it seems like it will be a good gig. If it’s a typical university, there will be plenty of restaurants, bars, karaoke clubs and such in the immediate area. I don’t know how close it is to the main part of the city, but I’m going to buy a bicycle as soon as I get settled in. Oh, I forgot to mention that the job begins on Sept. 1, so I’ll probably have to be there around the 24th or 25th of August. My plans right now are to fly out of Montana on the 22nd of July, bound for Bangkok and Laos. So, that gives me about a month in the Land of Smiles and in the Land of a Million Elephants.

Meanwhile, though, I’m going to enjoy my remaining time working with the Yanks. I’m looking forward to the arrival of more players on May 4th, some of whom I haven’t seen since last July. This life’s short–enjoy it. As my friend Nai (who’s doing very well, finally) tells me in his fractured English, “Don’t worry about everything. Don’t thinking. Don’t serious.” Well said. More later.

Surprises and VIPs

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Let’s see . . . what’s been going on? The Yanks are not in first place, the Dominican Republic is still a very nice place to live and work in, and, oh, yes, there’s a bit more.

First, I’m going to whine and seek your sympathy (or admonishment), but only for this one post. I screwed up BIG TIME on past tax returns. I’m not going to go into details, but the resulting effect on my wallet and my mental state has been nightmarish. I’ve had to pay a ton of money so far, and I’m sure there will be more to cough up. It’s my own fault, something I omitted out of sheer ignorance and naivete. Be careful when assuming things when tax time rolls around! Ok, end of whine. I’m not going to cry about this burden again on this blog.

This past week was interesting, other than the IRS snafu. I went into Santo Domingo on Monday to send some documents to Mr. Taxman and was invited to a press conference by my boss, Rex Moser, at the Cultural Affairs office of the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Army baseball team is touring the Dominican Republic over the course of the next few weeks, so, of course, the government has to call attention to all affairs of this kind. There were quite a few important D.R. military people at the conference–a general from the Army and others from various branches of the armed forces, and the Dominican press. It was interesting, but short. There was a very tasty assortment of snacks afterwards, which I took full advantage of. :) The Army team is coming to the Yankee camp next Thursday, possibly to work out with our guys, but not to play against them. They will be playing against other Dominican teams while they’re here, though. I’ll definitely get some photos.

More important, however, was the visit of high-ranking Yankee officials this past week. Brian Cashman, the General Manager of the team, was here on Monday and Tuesday, along with V.P. Felix Lopez and Senior V.P. of Baseball Operations, Mark Newman. They were here to look at the players who are trying out for the team, players who haven’t yet signed a contract. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Cashman. As I wrote earlier, I was in Santo Domingo on Monday, and Tuesday I was busy with lesson planning. He was, of course, busy looking over the players. Mr. Cashman is, basically, the architect, so to speak, of the Yanks, an important but extremely difficult job. He probably ranks about #3 in the organization and he’s done a superb job so far. This year is going to be more difficult for the team, in my opinion, so I wish him good luck.

Despite the tax situation, there has been some good news. First, I’ve finally broken through the 190-pounds level–I was at 188.5 after jogging yesterday! So, that’s about 12 pounds I’ve lost since the middle of January. Hopefully, I’ll be in the mid 170s by July 15th, when my contract is finished.

What? Contract finished? Yikes, where will I work then? Korea is my first choice, so I sent out a few applications to various universities in the country. One of the problems about working there is that many institutions are focused on age and looks. The younger and better looking you are, the better chance you have of getting a job, as long as minimum educational requirements are met. You need a 4-year degree (B.A.) in anything, including dance majors or history or whatever. You’ll get hired to teach if you’re young and photogenic, no experience required.

I feared the long spring and summer ahead of me, sending out dozens and dozens of applications and getting no responses. Surprise!!!! Virtually the first university I applied to asked for an interview. We did that on Wednesday at 12:30 a.m., my time, and the next morning I had an email offering me the job. Wow!

It’s a decent position in a very isolated part of the Korean peninsula in a “small” town (300,000) about the size of Andong, my former workplace in the Land of the Morning Calm. That remoteness is probably the biggest reason I’ve been hired (ok, my credentials aren’t too shabby, either). Youngsters, for the most part, seem to enjoy working in the larger, more accessible cities, where night life opportunities are more prevalent. Old-timer me doesn’t care about that, and I think the folks at my new university realize that. (Yes, I accepted the position).

The city is remote enough that the uni offers a 300,000 won ($300) per month “incentive” to work there. The job pays decently and offers $25/hour overtime pay, free internet in the free housing, 300 kilowatt hours free electricity every month, 8-10 months vacation every year, and numerous other benefits. I really consider myself fortunate to get this position right off the bat. Oh, yeah, it’s a 10-minute walk to a beach and it’s located in the extreme southern end of South Korea. It’s not Thailand or the D.R., but from what I’ve read, it has a moderate climate (except it’s also in the “Typhoon Belt”). I won’t say more about it until I’ve actually got the contract, but it sounds like a perfect fit for me. Hopefully, I can make enough money to pay off the credit card bills I’ve racked up to pay off the IRS. :crazy:

Ok, I’m off to Boca Chica to treat myself to a Triple-Layer Chocolate Fudge Cake! 😯 No, not really.

More later.

Odds ‘n Ends

After having ark loads of rain last week, making the fields too muddy to jog on, we’ve been experiencing marvelous, sunny, tropical weather this week, the kind that is featured in travel brochures. Because I hadn’t been jogging all that much the few weeks prior to last, I thought I must have put on a bit more weight. But I weighed myself just before resuming my daily running program, and, wow, I’d actually lost a few pounds. It must be the power of positive thinking. Sit back, think “lose weight, lose weight, fat off,” and eat all the Dominican food and Burger King junk you want and “POOF”–pounds away. The Montanaron Diet, one to rival Atkins and others. :roll:

The expected April 1st arrival of the new players didn’t happen. Instead, most of them will be coming around the first part of May, I’ve been told. My classes, though not as large as before, are still of a decent size, and a few new/old players seem to trickle in every week. Some are returning from Tampa, others from their home countries, and there are a few new ones at the camp. It helps keep me on my teacher toes.

Here’s an interesting video from Reuters about an all-woman team clearing unexploded bombs in Laos, bombs left over from America’s secret assault on the country during the Vietnam War. I hope to journey into that part of the country when I go to Laos in July and August.

The Yanks knocked off the Red Sox last night in their first meeting of the year. Let’s hope they can keep it up. (Hey Tiger fans–what seems to be the problem?) More later.