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At Last–MontanaRon Succeeds

Well, nothing earth-shattering, really. But, I finally achieved my long-time goal of jogging for an hour-and-a-half, non-stop–91 minutes, to be exact. That works out to about 8 3/4 miles, 35 times around the soccer field not far from my dorm apartment. If you compute my average speed, you’ll find I’m not that fast, and the time is nothing compared to marathoners or those guys and gals who run those long endurance competitions of 50 or 100 miles. Still, not bad for an old guy. :smile:

As so often happens when I start my jog, I think about how far or how many minutes I want to go that day and then end up doing more that I had anticipated. This morning, I thought I’d go about 20 laps or perhaps a few more to get in an hour. I got to 20 and felt like doing 5 more. I didn’t feel bad after 25, and that’s when I began to think I could do the 90 minutes. It kinda just happened–nothing previously planned. I felt I could’ve gone another 5 minutes or so, but I gotta have something to shoot for next time. My next long-range goal is to go for 2 hours. Hopefully, I can do that sooner, rather than later.

As I mentioned previously, I canceled my MLB.TV subscription, and I was sent an email that stated that, indeed, my subscription had been canceled. I was still able to access games through a few days ago, so I thought that the end of my month must be around May 4th or 5th, since I subscribed on April 5th. Now, I hadn’t reckoned on the high-flying Yanks meeting the suddenly-hot Red Sox in a 3 game series starting today, so I thought, what the heck–maybe I’ll sign up for another month. But first, I thought I’d try to log on to the game, and, lo and behold, I’m still able to watch it. Right now, it’s the top of the 3rd in a scoreless battle. More later.

Signs of Spring

Finally, we’re getting some nice weather, with the temperature today in the mid-50s (12-13C) and expected to stay around there and/or close to 60 most of this week. Unfortunately, the forecast calls for rain Thursday and Friday. Still, the balmy days are arriving just when I have a week vacation. Very nice. I did a nice, long jog today in my running shorts and a t-shirt, the first time I’ve been able to do that since who knows when. It was great to soak up some sun, recharging my batteries, so to speak. I hope to get out and take a few rides on my new bicycle and take some photos. I also noticed some flower buds ready to open on some of the shrubbery, so signs of spring are fueling my impatience for the real deal to get here.

I was busy most of the weekend grading 143 essay papers. The university is offering a special class, which I taught last semester, for the incoming freshmen. It’s a 2-semester course with instruction for the all-important TOEIC exam (important in Korea, anyway), conversational English and tourism English that might be useful during the 2012 Expo here. To qualify for one of the 80 spots in the class, however, students had to write two picture description essays and two general essays (write about your best friend and write about your favorite school subject); I graded the latter portion. It took several hours, but I was paid nicely for the time spent. Now, no more school work until the start of the semester on March 2nd. More later.

Back in the Saddle

No, I’m not riding a horse; I’m back in the saddle of a bicycle. One of the teachers’ contract is finished, and he’s chosen not to renew. Instead, he’s entering the Peace Corps in late spring or early summer. Less than a year ago he bought a Cannondale F7 mountain bike up in Seoul. It’s made by one of world’s great bicycle companies and it’s really a sweeeet ride. Here’s a picture of the model from the Cannondale website (Note: the new picture on the site is a different color from this one. My bike looks exactly like the one below.)

Cannondale F7

It gets mostly great reviews, including a bunch from this website. The guy paid around $700 for it, but he’s letting it go for around $300, a price a bit beyond what I wanted to pay, but too good of a deal to pass up. I can probably sell my motorbike, which I rarely use, to offset some or all of the price.

Walking around or taking the bus last summer and fall to various locations around Yeosu, I thought that it would be great to have a mountain bike, and I promised myself that I’d look into getting one this spring. I love bicycles, but I haven’t had one since I worked in Morocco. The Dominican Republic was just too unsafe to be out riding alone and after a year without one here, I realized how much I miss riding. Now, I can hardly wait for the weather to warm up. Yeah, it’s still chilly winter here, despite a few decent days a couple of weeks ago. Soon, though, (well, a few months) it’ll be spring and I’ll be out riding regularly.

The two extra classes I’m teaching finish this week. That means I’ll have more time to get into the gym beginning next Monday and start working out and running on the treadmill (too cold and windy to run outside). I’ve probably put on a few pounds since my last regular workouts at the beginning of December, so I’m anxious to get going again. I’m looking forward to being svelte. 😎 It also means I’ll be posting more often. Stay tuned for more later.

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.

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.

Baseball Tournament, Holy Week

The last couple of Saturdays the camp has hosted a high-school age baseball tournament, consisting of 8 teams, which means all four fields have been in use. Each team plays two games, beginning about 11 a.m. and finishing around five, I’m told. (Because I’m usually in Boca Chica on Saturday afternoons, I’m not around for the finish of the games.) There are quite a large number of supporters, family and friends, I assume, who have been turning out for the games, and, with the 20 or so members of each team, the complex has been quite crowded. One of the best parts of the tournament has been the enthusiasm of the players. Cheering, chanting and hand clapping punctuate the play, and with the green, yellow, red and blue uniforms dotting the fields, the complexion of the campus is drastically changed. Very interesting and exciting. I don’t know if the tournament will be played this Saturday, since this is one of the big holiday seasons in Latin America, Semana Santa–Holy Week.

RBI_Baseball

Speaking of which, we get a few days off, beginning today. The Dominican players are going home after practice today, but the rest of us, from other countries, are staying at the campus. Last year the Yanks put us up in one of the Juan Dolio resorts, just down the road about 30 kilometers, for a few days, but not this time, for various reasons. There’s quite a large contingent of foreign players here right now, probably in the neighborhood of 15 or so. Last year, too, the holiday coincided with the player turnover which takes place near the beginning of April. We’ll get a lot of new players in then and lose some, who will be moving on to Tampa. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy the days off, probably spending a lot of time in Boca Chica.

My jogging times are back up to over an hour, so I’m 100% recovered from my recent illness. With all the physical fitness attempts, I figure I should at least be allowed to take a few batting practice sessions to keep up with recent Yankee signee, Billy Crystal. I ain’t askin’ for a contract–just a chance to strike out against one of our young guns. :)

There haven’t been too many nice sunsets or sunrises lately that I’ve been able to photograph. There was a gorgeous sunrise the other morning, but I was out jogging. The one below is about the only one I’ve been able to “bag” recently. More later.

Palm_Sunset

P.S. For anyone who is wondering how Nai is doing, well . . . he was doing pretty good, but now the doctor tells him that he has malaria! Go figure. He’s also been complaining about one of his eyes hurting him. This is one of the results of the motorbike accident that is still lingering and it’s something I’m worried about. He says he can barely see out of it, and I can’t figure out whether it’s bruised, or a scratched cornea or a detached retina, which is serious. I warned him to see a doctor right away, which he did. The doc seemed to feel that it might be ok. Nai said he would send me an email, written by his friend, explaining what the doc told him. He’s pretty despondent right now and weak, but I hope he’ll get through it all ok.

Something’s Burning

I mentioned in a previous post about the fires that are set in order to burn off the dead undergrowth this time of year. Here’s a couple of photos of the smoke from a few fires that were started just outside the camp. The first image was taken through my bathroom window, and, with the large cloud of smoke, it’s a good thing the wind was blowing away from us.

Camp_Smoke2

The second photo is from my balcony. Though the smoke is not as bad, the wind is blowing toward us, so the field was beginning to get a bit hazy.

Camp_Smoke1

You can see how dense the smoke can get, but in reality, the size and the intensity of the flames are quite small. I walked outside the fence and took a look at the area of one of the burns the day after, and most of the larger, living stalks (1-2 feet tall) of whatever kind of plant they are, were barely singed.

There’s sometimes so much smoke coming off these burns that you’d think the blazes must be huge. They’re not. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire–but not much.

Apparently, there was a small oil spill near Boca Chica last week, causing the closure of the beach for a short period. It wasn’t too serious, and the Weekend Office beach was open this past weekend. I read today that the shipper was fined 7 million pesos (about $210,000) for the cost of cleaning up the spill.

Also last week, the Dominican Republic was host to a summit of Latin American nations. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, as well as his counterparts from Ecuador and Colombia were present, and they shook hands and made up over the recent spat about Colombia’s incursion into Ecuador. A couple of the Venezuelan players told me that Chavez and some of the other leaders were staying at Hamaca Resort in Boca Chica. I looked around for some sign of them on Saturday to try to get some photos, but I saw nothing, so I assume they had already returned to their home countries.

Nai seems to be doing better, but he’s still weak. When I called him this morning (early evening in Laos), he was out walking around, albeit with the aid of Pui, his brother. I, however, am just now getting over a bug of some kind that I picked up last Monday or so. I even cancelled last Wednesday’s classes because I felt so badly, and I’m still not 100%. Thus, my running program has sure gone to heck, though I did manage to survive a 45-minute jog this morning. More later.

Space Camp

For a few days this week, I was focused on the heavens. On Tuesday, the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Atlantis flew overhead, both easily visible to the naked eye, with the ISS particularly bright–brighter than any star, at about -2.5 magnitude, according to Heavens Above. The Shuttle was about 20 degrees ahead of the ISS, after separating from it the day before. The previous evening, the two were supposed to have been very close together, forming a more spectacular, tight, naked-eye duo soaring in tandem across the evening sky. However, at that time their altitude above the horizon was too low to be seen at my location. It was still a great sight on Tuesday, with the two artificial “stars” taking about six minutes to make their way from north to south, though they were only visible at the camp for, I estimated, about 4 minutes.

The following night, Wednesday, was the equally awesome total lunar eclipse. The event started about 9:45 p.m., my time, with totality lasting from 11 p.m. to midnight. I stayed up watching reddish-orange Luna until about 11:30, way past my normal bedtime. I slept in the next morning, forgoing my usual jog. I took some photos, but none of them turned out very well. The one below is probably the best of the lot. The bright “star” at the bottom of the photo, just to the left of an imaginary line drawn straight down from the moon, is Saturn.

Lunar_Eclipse

Speaking of jogging, I went beyond my previous longest time last Saturday by clocking in at an hour and 23 minutes, 14 laps around the warning tracks of the four fields. I’m nearing my short-term goal of jogging for an hour and a half, and now I’m looking at, hopefully, being able to do 2 hours, non-stop, by July. That’s about 20 laps, and it sounds approachable. It’s good to see some results of the morning run and of other exercising I’ve been doing–my weight is now in the low 190s. (I can hear you snickering out there–that’s pounds, not kilograms!)

I should be able to get some photographs of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, now that burning season is here. It’s the time of year when the surrounding farmers and landowners start burning their old scrub brush, filling the air with smoke and particles, which scatter and reflect the sunlight (something like that, anyway) much more than cleaner air does. That’s another reason to go jogging in the early morning–there’s not as much smoke in the air, though there is a faint gray haze over the camp as the sun rises, and the “campfire” smell is always present.

Who’s lieing–Clemens or McNamee? I suspect they both are, but I don’t really care. The baseball season is upon us–the season when all of the Red Sox dreams of dynasty fade into harsh reality under the Yankee onslaught. Why? There’s a a new manager (Girardi), a potentially lethal crop of young, home-grown pitchers, and it’s the last year the team will play in The Old Stadium, before moving across the street to the new Yankee Stadium next year. The All Star Game will be played at the old ballpark this year, as will the World Series. The ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle and Co., though they’ll be making the short journey to the new ballpark, will make their presence felt throughout this final year in The House That Ruth Built. Contrary to Boston fans’ desperate hope that the Yanks are down and out, there are going to be many championships to come for the Bombers–more now, and many more later.