A Good Bad Example?

On one of the my missions trips to Thailand, I recall a story that bothers me, even to this day.

As you know, we visited an orphanage that was kind enough to house and feed us for about a week.  I imagine they did this often as there seemed to be more than enough rooms for our small team.  These rooms were unused by the kids themselves, but were certainly optimized for guests.  Not too long after we arrived, the orphanage welcomed in a group of missionaries from Hong Kong.

They arrived in a mini bus, similar to how the rest of team and I did.  But as they disembarked and unloaded, I couldn’t help but conclude that they were all very well off.  Lacoste polos, Gucci bags, among other designer brand things.  We were informed that they had their own agenda, so it’s not like we would interact with them.  The rest of the day and evening was spent settling in and acclimating to the heat and humidity.  Of course, as if a natural instinct, most of our team spent time playing with the kids despite the language barrier.  Admittedly, it was so hot and humid, I couldn’t function unless I was standing in front of or under a fan when outside.  

The next day was Sunday, where we woke up early to join the service held in the orphanage’s main hall.  For some context and visual aid, the main hall was set up like this:

Notice that the chalkboard and podium were on the right, in front of the right section of chairs.  And even as we got there, many of the kids were already sitting in the right section, where one of the orphanage leaders was also standing in front of.  I think you get the point that everything is on the right and that’s a natural prompt for you to sit there (on the right).

So, the Hong Kong missionaries came in and sat in the left section…  They certainly stuck out with their bright yellow team shirts as well.  Now, it all could have been a simple misunderstanding, and they could have migrated over, but no, they stayed there despite the urging of the pastor to shift over.  They elected to turn their heads to the right.  And it wasn’t an slight head turn either, it was an inconvenient chin hovering over your right shoulder head turn.

So service started with a couple of canaan hymns.  Afterward, there was a moment where we greeted those around us.  Despite some people on the right side greeting those on the left, the Hong Kong missionaries mostly remained to themselves.

Notice the word “mostly”.  Their saving grace?  ONE of them took the prompt to come over and sat with us during the sermon.  She spoke English and even translated most of the message.to me and others sitting nearby.

A couple days passed and we only really saw them in passing.  But there was one afternoon where we came back and they were gone.  I stumbled upon this information as I went to one of the rooms our team stayed in.  I was putting some things down when I heard a faint but constant noise.  We were in the mountains, so unless its the noise of big trucks driving by or kids playing, it was often pretty quiet.  I went outside and went over to the room next to ours to investigate.  It was one of the rooms the Hong Kong missionaries were staying in.  The room was cleared out, yet the fan was still on.  Upon closer inspection, they left a bunch of ash on the window sill where they had been burning their mosquito coils.  They also left a stack of mosquito coils and the room was a mess.  After turning off the fan. I still heard something.  It was the bathroom their room was next to, and the shower was left running.  For context, the first day we got there, the orphanage told us go easy on our water usage, as they were running low on it.  It’s as if they left in a hurry.

I want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they had a sudden change of plans or they were being hunted by the Thai police, and one of them had to leave mid-shower.  Maybe they were diseased and that’s why they didn’t want to sit or interact with us or the kids.  Or maybe they actually were a group of pretentious snobs.  I’ll never know

And it’s at this point in writing all of this, that it might just be me.  So, after those encounters I decided that as much as possible, I will do my best to not come off the way they did.

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Spanish

As mentioned a few times already on this blog, I was kind of an idiot in high school.  But despite it all, there were still a few classes that caught my interest and that I genuinely enjoyed.  One of those classes was Spanish.

Rewind back to 8th grade where we were first given an opportunity to take Spanish as an elective.  Although I don’t remember the criteria to qualify for Spanish 1-2, (it was probably just to be “smart” or something silly like that) us regular folk could freely elect to take a semester of Introduction to Spanish.  The beloved Senora Norberg did a great job of garnering our interest of Spanish in 8th grade (whether introductory class or not).  Yes, it’s a pretty easy language to learn, but I still picked it up quick and enjoyed learning and studying new vocabulary.  I thought it was such a fun subject, I actually contemplated being a Spanish translator when I grew up.

Moving on to high school, my joys of learning the subject carried over as I was taught by Señora Snider.  Conjugating verbs, practicing conversations in class, the Spanish alphabet.. It all came naturally to me.  This was probably the only subject where I could say I didn’t study but aced all the tests and quizzes.  Learning Spanish was fun for me; the cooking projects and watching movies in Spanish were just icing on the cake.  It was more of the same the following year with Señora Cobos.

And then junior year came around and I would be taught Spanish by Dr. Graciano (she prefered that we address her as ‘profe’).  Up to this point, every Spanish teacher’s classroom I’ve been in or simply passed by was decorated from floor to ceiling.  Posters, projects, pictures of food, pictures of the culture, anything and everything covered the walls of those classrooms.

I stepped into her classroom on the first day and there was.. nothing.  I didn’t know the walls were white until that day.  The whiteboards were spotless.  She had a small desk and podium in the front of the classroom, clear of any knick knacks, figurines or clutter.  The only thing that sat on the tables along the windows was a CD player boombox and this framed poster of Enrique Iglesias that leaned against the wall:

(I’m a little surprised I was able to find this poster via google)

Needless to say, there was nothing fun about this classroom.  I probably should have taken that as some sort of foreshadowing.

I want to say it was a culmination of the classroom, her teaching style and just her personality in general, as I didn’t do so well.  In fact, I’d venture to say that she sucked the fun out of Spanish for me.  More likely to be the reason would be trying to learn how to conjugate verbs in the tenses I didn’t even have a firm grasp of using in English yet (like future perfect continuous or future continuous tense).   I could no longer do well on tests without studying and my grades took a hit.  Although, my classmates actually did a pretty good job of convincing her to lighten up.  We got to watch some movies and have a food party in class.  By the end of the year, there was one row of projects taped to the wall.

But it wouldn’t be enough to reignite my joy in learning the language.  To my credit, I still remember some of it; I was able to use it the few times I went on trips or cruises to Mexico.  Later, I took one quarter of Spanish as a GE to get the easy A in college.  Other than that though, it’s all just another thing I learned now.

Macaroni and Lots of Things

It was another lazy Saturday afternoon at Stu’s house.  Matt and I were over and the three of us were having a blast doing nothing together.  Relevant Calvin and Hobbes comic.

At some point, we moved over to the piano to “jam” a bit.  I say “jam” because we’re 12 or 13 in this story and our musical potential had not been unlocked yet.  Stu still barely knew how to play the drums, I knew nothing outside of my classical music training and Matt hadn’t found his passion for jazz yet.

“Are you guys hungry?”, Stu asked.

Matt and I looked at each other before agreeing, “yeah, we could eat.”

“Okay cool, be right back”, Stu got up and left us as Matt and I continued experimenting on the piano.

Not too much time passed as Stu returned with a giant bowl of Mac and Cheese with cut up hot dogs and 3 spoons.  It was one of those big bowls you would normally use to toss or serve salads in.  And looking back at it now, Stu cooked that up really fast; is there a boy scout badge for speed cooking mac and cheese?

Anyway, we moved to the kitchen area and gathered around to eat his creation.  After a few spoonfuls, Matt spoke up and said “It tastes like it’s missing something..”  I thought maybe he meant a little salt and pepper, but he and Stu went into the fridge to see what we could add.  Matt found a small container of gravy from KFC.  “This!  Let’s add this!” Matt exclaimed.  Stu was hesitant about it.  After a small Benny Hill chase sequence, Matt was finally able to pour the gravy into the mac and cheese.  To Matt’s credit, it actually tasted pretty good.  After a few more spoonfuls, Matt once again posed the question:

“What else can we add to this?”

And right here is where we should have stopped this nonsense.  Instead, we went down an exponentially faster descent of adding things and then trying to save the integrity of the mac and cheese.

There were a handful of things we mixed into the mac and cheese at first that made it taste good.  Forgive my memory as I can’t quite seem to remember them (it was so long ago).  I think it was salt, pepper, ketchup, some hot sauce and I think eventually more cheese and more hotdogs.  The part I remember vividly was when things took a weird turn.

“Cap’n Crunch!”

Stu and I barely had a chance to stop Matt as he poured some into the bowl.  It might have been fine if it was regular Cap’n Crunch, but it was actually the berry version.  So now our mac was a weird savory mix, and from this point forward, it was gross.

In an attempt to bind the flavors together and mix savory with savory, Matt added a big spoonful of peanut butter.  Good idea, but still gross.

It was around this point that Marty joined us.  We filled him in with our current dilemma and he tried his best to help.  He found a bottle of thousand island dressing in the fridge and poured some in.  Still no good.

Finding a plate of soft boiled eggs I threw those into the mix.  For a moment, we thought the mac and cheese was saved as Marty tasted it and let out a satisfying “mmmm”.  It was then pointed out that he just had a spoonful of egg without the other elements.  Not too long after, I had a brilliant idea:

“Soy sauce saves everything, right?”

The others applauded my idea as I poured in what looked like just the right amount.  We each took another spoonful only to find that though it tasted better, it was still gross tasting.

We were just about to abandon it before Matt said “Wait! I think if we add more Cap’n Crunch it’ll taste good!”

Nope.  Should have just stopped at gravy..

Strength and Honor

Like many stories about us, it all kind of started as a joke.  It was a typical Sunday morning at church and we were doing the usual messing around in between services.  We were done being seniors in high school and were enjoying the last few days of Summer.  On this day we conversed with our Sunday school teacher, Ben, as he indulged in our nonsense.  This was somewhere around the time we were transitioning from calling him Ben-Dover to Ben-gaged to just Ben (because now he was married).

I forget what lead to it, but Ben just started grabbing each of our arms and saying “strength and honor” in a deep raspy voice.  Of course, a couple of us caught his reference to the beginning of the movie, Gladiator.

We chuckled and played along with Ben, trying to do our own impression of Russell Crowe’s voice.  For various reasons, this stuck in our minds.  

Later, on one of our last hangouts at Stu’s house before college, we were getting ready to go our separate ways, when, instead of saying “goodbye”, I extended my hand and said:

“Hey, Strength and Honor…”

There was a small pause as we all looked at each other with smirks on our faces.

“Yeah.. Strength and Honor..”, Matt said.

And so, it became it our thing.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Matt, Stu, Caleb, Marty and I went to schools that were still pretty close to home.  So it was very common for all of us to be at church together on a given Sunday.  After a week of school, homework, projects and tests, it was a joy to see one another again.

“Strength and Honor”

It was a greeting, a goodbye, an exhortation.  It kind of encompassed it all as we said it and made eye contact.  Eye contact that was akin to heading off to another battle (ie. another week of school).  Though it was just jokes, it felt very brotherly and real.  It was pretty cool.

We were college freshmen when this all began and it carried on until we were juniors.  Not so much because we grew out of it, but probably more so because we each started to spend more weekends on our respective campuses.  We enjoyed the novelty of it so much that it actually inspired the College Winter Retreat theme for one of the years I was the director.

“Strength and Honor: when Beauty and Religion just don’t cut it..”

Again, this was our thing.  So of course we wouldn’t acknowledge Jackie when she extended her hand for it.  She parodied it with my sister and the rest of their friends by making up their own, “beauty and religion”.  Hence, the tagline for the winter retreat theme.

I kind of miss those days where we used it so liberally.

The Last Summer Break

Summer 2012

This would be the last Summer break for me, and others like me that were taking a 5th year in college.

Kevin and Caleb were gearing up to go to Thailand again.  Marty was already working a little bit and getting ready to go back to school to get his credentials.  Stu was done with school, but still actively looking for a job.  Matt had a free Summer (for once); free from studying abroad or going on medical missions trips.  Me?  I failed to find an internship before the school year ended, yet I still tried putting my application out there.

This Summer is actually encompassed by one day in particular.  It was quite hot, so of course Matt and Stu rode their bikes over to my house to utilize the pool.  Stu was tired of applying to jobs, I was tired from finding an internship and Matt was tired from working out everyday, so we just used the day to relax.  We didn’t need to be adults quite yet anyway.

We got pruny, so we went inside.  Matt and Stu brought out their laptops, while I turned on my desktop.  It was around this time that Matt jokingly suggested that we find a game that we could play together.  He reminisced on all those times we played the Gauntlet series together.  Even pulling some late night sleepovers to enjoy it.  I then remembered downloading and playing a cooperative game from Steam a while back.  I pointed it out to them, and told them what the game was like.  Honestly, I didn’t even sell it very well.  After all, this was a game that didn’t excite me enough to want to keep playing then, why would it change now?  I figured it would be one of those times where there would be a unanimous “naaaaw” and then move on to the next idea.

That game was Spiral Knights.  And as it turns out, I was wrong.  They loved the concept so much they began downloading it immediately.  The funniest thing happened next:

Not too long after, my brother came home from a long day of work.  He was probably slightly annoyed at the fact that he came back to his room (we shared a room) and saw 3 half-naked guys (from swimming) playing computer games.  He questioned us on what we’ve done all day as he turned on his own computer.  Glancing at our monitors and hearing us out, he got really interested and began downloading Spiral Knights as well.  He even told us to wait for him.  We spent the remainder of the evening completing some missions together.  It was great!

Really, the title of this blog should be “A Summer of Spiral Knights” or “The Adventures of poostu, Maluweee, smhappyguy and gimsh”.  This was pretty much what we did for the rest of the Summer.  Exercise a little bit, have some fun in the sun and then play Spiral Knights (which we later codenamed “pumping iron” to sound less embarrassing when talking about it in public).

Perhaps more so because it was the last, but this Summer break was easily one of my most favorite.  I wouldn’t have traded having an internship for fellowship with friends during those months.  Alas, the nights came quicker and Summer came to a close.  As school started up and we did our respective things, our digital adventure came to an end.

Operation Cheesy Cat, Attempt #2

Our college days were over.  We graduated, got jobs and started growing up a little bit.  For Eddie, Lauren and I, our friendship continued in the form of a Facebook message thread and scattered hangouts.  At some point, Lauren would introduce us to the game Hearthstone.  An online collectible card game that was free to play, who could resist?  Not me.

Naturally, if I found out a friend played, I would add them to my friend list in the game.  One of these friends was Katrina.  She posted on Facebook that she played too, so I messaged her for her game ID.  I was a little surprised that she responded, I was afraid she would ignore me because the last time I spoke to her, we were sophomores.

Once a blue moon, I’d log on and see that she was playing too.  We’d chat a little bit, though it never moved too far from small talk.  It was kind of weird talking with her, because she basically didn’t exist socially from 2010 to 2013.  In those sparse conversations, I learned one piece of vital information; she had a boyfriend.  No, it didn’t mean she was off limits for me; rather she was off limits for Eddie.  At least for now.

Months would pass and the conversations continued.  And then something happened.  Since our conversations were usually 1 – 2 months apart, the question of “what’s new?” often had legitimate and fresh answers.  On this particular evening, I happened to ask how things were going with her boyfriend.  She said that they had broken up a while back and I expressed my sympathy.  At this point, a trigger went off in the back of my head.

DING ding DING! Operation Cheesy Cat Greenlighted! Go go go!

But I needed a catalyst of some sort..

Another grade hangout!

I just knew if I could get those two in contact again, something would happen.  All the magic, romance and cheesy stuff they experienced as Freshmen would come surging back.  I just needed them to look at each other again or something like that.

But first I needed to test the waters.  The next time I saw Katrina on Hearthstone, I talked to her about the idea of helping me plan a grade reunion.  She liked the idea too and I asked her to also help me hype it up and promote it too.  As soon as that Facebook event was made, I messaged Eddie.  Being upfront, I told him “I’m getting you back together with Katrina”.  I think he was skeptical again, but Lauren supported my idea.

The plan was simple.  Have a grade hangout, let them reacquaint and let the magic happen.  I even went as far as essentially structuring everything around her.  That is, scheduling the hangout on the only night and time frame she was free and such.

Little did I know there was still so much energy between them.

Again, not so much my story to tell, but before we even got to our grade hangout, Eddie and Katrina got back together and became official.  She ended up messaging him to make sure things wouldn’t be weird.  They met up for coffee and reconvened.  The grade hangout still happened, but it was now just a formal presentation of the new Eddie and Katrina.

Operation Cheesy Cat was a success.

After Eddie thanked me profusely, he told me I won the award for Wingman of the Year 2015.  I jokingly told him to commemorate that with a trophy or medal.  And now that they’re married, he did:

One of my finer moments in life, I’ll treasure this forever.

Operation Cheesy Cat, Attempt #1

When we were still in college, Eddie was never shy about telling the stories of his past.  Specifically, he enjoyed solemnly telling the story of how he dated Katrina during freshman year.  I won’t get into the details because it’s not for me to tell, though I’m sure he’d gladly tell it again if you asked him.  But basically, they met, they liked each other, they entered a relationship and it ended abruptly with Eddie having a dream/vision of God telling him “Eddie, I need you to be single right now.”; to which Eddie reluctantly obeyed.

Fast forward four years where Eddie and I are roommates.  We’re having tea with friends and I’ve finished hearing Eddie’s story for the third or fourth time.  As he finished, this time I couldn’t help but think:

“Your story doesn’t have to end here Eddie”

I didn’t say it out loud, but perhaps I should have for the drama factor.  Rooming together, Eddie and I learned we were both hopeless romantics.  Every now and then we’d come up with the silliest situations where one of us would be able to find that special someone.  For Eddie, sometimes a scenario would be dreamt up where he’d get back together with Katrina.  And it was only with those scenarios where Eddie would let out a big sad sigh and say “but that’ll never happen”.

Enter Josh and Operation Cheesy Cat

A small opportunity would arise in the form of an alumni friend visiting.  For whatever reason, I took charge and tried to get everyone together for dessert.  It was a shot in the dark, but I used this to reach out to the architecture majors (one of them being Katrina) in hopes that I could coerce them to come out.  After I made the Facebook event and everything, an idea popped into my head.  If the stars aligned, I could use this to get Eddie back together with Katrina; or at least get them in contact with one another again.  With little to no responses from the architects, I bugged Eddie to text her.

“I deleted her number a long time ago” he said.

That didn’t stop me.  I got her number from a friend and texted Eddie this:

He declined; he refused to do it.  I’d say the plan was falling apart, but honestly this whole thing was tenuous at best.  It relied heavily on Katrina physically being there for anything to happen.  In the end, it was a failure.  We still had a good time hanging out with the grade though.

Take note that I tried.

Locked Out

Remember when Razor Scooters were cool?

I owned one.  Rather, I should say I still own one.  It has been sitting in the garage for a long time now.  More importantly, I actually bought this scooter myself in 7th grade.  I scrounged up whatever lunch money, birthday money and whatever I had together to purchase one, back when it was still expensive from all the hype.  My parents didn’t have any intentions of buying me one anytime soon anyway.

I took pride in it; it was mine.

So, one day after school, my sister and I decided to ride our scooters around the backyard, because why not?  It was a pretty nice day outside and I wanted to ride my new scooter as much as possible.

I forget how or when, but our family was gifted a scooter about a year earlier for some reason, and my sister decided to claim it as her own for the longest time.  Though, probably due to poor storage, it was noticeably rusty and rickety.  The wear and tear on it made it slow and the wheels didn’t do a whole lot of spinning.

Seeing the pristine condition of my scooter and the soft glide it had with every stride, my sister wanted to use my new scooter.  I quickly said “no”, because 1. She has a scooter, 2. I was so happy to be riding my new scooter, and 3. She spent lots of time NOT letting me ride “her” scooter when we only had that one, so I was just returning the favor.

She pleaded a few times more before she stormed back into the house.  She was so mad she locked the door behind her.  Yes, because I let her taste her own medicine, she locked me out of the house.

12 years old, no cell phone or keys in pocket, no backpack, no water bottle, no snacks or food.  And I already conceded to the fact that my sister probably went straight to her room to take her typical 3 hour after school nap.  So I didn’t even waste my energy and time trying to knock on the doors or windows.

So I just scootered around and day dreamed.  What else could I do?  I couldn’t even work on my homework even if I wanted to.

It was nightfall by the time my dad got home.  He saw me scootering in the backyard like an idiot.  It was cold outside and I was only wearing only shorts and a t-shirt.  I told my dad what had happened, and I thought for sure my sister would be in big trouble.

My parents barely gave her a stern talking.  For locking me out, potentially getting me sick and what not, she was talked to as if she had accidentally left the milk out.

You know what the worst part is?  Two weeks later my dad bought my sister a new scooter because she really wanted one..

Feels Bad Man.

Sleepover Shenanigans

We were but 8th graders when this story took place.

Our grade’s guys were having a Sunday School social in the form of a sleepover.  Although, it might be better to call us boys at this time period.  Of course, the sleepover location of choice was the Leung mansion, complete with huge backyard, pool and indoor basketball court.

The afternoon and night was filled with countless multiplayer games of Halo, Risk, and other games you can play with a deck of cards.  As the night wore on, many succumbed to fatigue and went to go sleep.  It was down to Matt, Stu, Caleb, Marty, me and a couple others.  While the others did their own thing, we sat around discussing what we should do, for it wasn’t quite late enough to sleep yet.

With a single deck of cards and 5 of us, we couldn’t play Big 2, so we sought out to play poker instead.  We failed to find any sort of poker chips, or anything that resembled some, so someone had the grand idea of playing strip poker.  It’s totally fine; we were just a bunch of boys hoping to find some cheap laughs in our sleep deprived state.  And it’s not like we were going to play the whole thing out, the first few rounds were pretty lame in that most of us just lost our socks.  Except for Matt, he wasn’t wearing socks, so he lost his shirt right away, to which we ogled at his six pack (of course).

It got to a point where we were just about ready to go to bed, so we agreed to play one final round and loser had to strip down to their underwear.  But before that, Marty needed to use the bathroom.  As soon as he left the area, someone whispered:

“Hey, let’s rig the deck so Marty loses!”

Working fast, we also knew we had to make it look believable.  So we rigged it in such a way that the cards still needed to be dealt out and Marty would have a decent hand.  We made it so we would beat his hand with only slightly better cards.  So, being a good sport, Marty accepted his defeat and proceeded to carry out the deed.  Sporting a fancy camera flip phone, Matt took a multi-shot of the moment.  It was a super low quality four frames, but it would be a gem we would always reference.  While Marty was undressing, Matt and Stu would hum a song they were learning in band, which they coined as “the stripper song”.  According to Dr. McDaniel, their band teacher, it was a song for strippers.  So, I guess it was appropriate.

Normally, you might expect me to write “and here are those pictures revealed!” but no, those picture were lost with Matt’s first phone.  Though the pictures remained safely stored on it, Matt’s phone would be stolen about a year later by what he suspected to be high school upperclassmen.  Gone forever are those photos.

But as a consolation, with the help of Matt and Stu, we were able to hunt down the name of that song we so lovingly hummed countless times.  Now, just imagine us humming this:

Mmm, yes…

Diamond Formation

It was Summer and we were in middle school.  With our free time after church service on Sundays, we almost always made our way to the Lollicup a block away.  It was the best way to quench our thirst and satisfy our sugary needs.

But before we freely roamed the streets of Chinatown, we found ourselves asking the question “is it safe?”

There were a couple announcements made during youth service saying that kids like us really shouldn’t be wandering around Chinatown without any sort of adult supervision.  The overarching theme of this was to make it sound unappealing or unsafe.  Innocent and naive, we just took it for fact.  I’m sure there was good reasoning for this.  Looking back at it now, there were certainly some kids that would ditch service or Sunday School to roam around Chinatown instead, so I’m sure they were trying to discourage that.  On that note, the church was probably somewhat liable, in that parents expect their kids to be at certain locations at certain times.  Or maybe there was an incident I don’t know about.

Before it became all gentrified, I remember Chinatown looked a lot slummier when I was 6 or 7.  I clung close to my mom on the short walks to the restaurant we frequented on Sundays.  I remember seeing lots of poop, trash and smokers.  Of course, I’m sure my young self exaggerated the things I saw.

So, the very first time we took the streets on our own, Matt, Stu, Caleb and I invented the diamond formation.  Rather than walk around like a defenseless herd of sheep, we chose to instead walk in such a way that we could possibly defend against any sort of danger (strangers, crazy people. etc.)  This was our logic:

“Well, Matt is super buff, so he should walk in front.  Caleb and Stu are like 4 feet tall and probably weak, so they’ll walk behind Matt along his sides.  Josh is pretty strong, so he’ll walk in back, so he can watch all of our backs.”

Thus, we walked in the shape of a diamond.  We kept our heads on a swivel and remained in a tight formation and walked to Lollicup, got our drinks, and back with no trouble.  After that day, we concluded “well, I guess there’s nothing to be that afraid of”.

Even though we’re 11 or 12 in this story, I’m sure we were ready to throw down!

Oh, where was Marty?  Probably being super mature and hanging out with all the girls of course.

From then on we just freely walked to and from Lollicup after service.