Monday, May 9, 2011

Then and Now 1 - Lost and Found

I've discussed the things I've lost and the troubles I've gained from marriage, and I've written why I think marriage is a bad idea all around. I haven't gotten to all the essays and points I wanted to get to just yet, but I will in time. This post is Then and Now. In these, I will give a brief synopsis of the day I just zoned through and a look into the happenings of a married man's life. In addition, I will share a story of what I used to do in a single day as an unmarried man, and compare it to what I do now as a married man.

My unmarried time abroad was very short: just six months, between first leaving America and getting the news of my wife's pregnancy, from mid-2007 to very early 2008. Not only are the days limited, but there were also complications with my best time: I felt like a real fish out of water and was a depressing homebody for about two weeks before I really started to live it up, and later, I had a job that cut into my life and free time.

But even then, I lived more during this period of time than every other year of my life combined; I have hundreds of experiences and stories to share from those six months alone. Who knows how many more thousands of experiences I could have had in my life if I hadn't gotten married... and not just in the past three years that I've been married, but for the next decade that I'll be holed up in this apartment.

Then and Now 1 - Lost and Found
Time: Late 2007, dating my wife.

One Tuesday morning, on a day off sandwiched between two ten hour work days, my wife (girlfriend at the time) called me up and wanted to meet me in the main city. So I dressed up, spiked my hair and jumped a bus and a subway car to get to the combination subway/train/bus station. We had spent the previous weekend together (and several more before), so I think she was willing to give me some time alone that day to travel the city. Sure enough, after a brief lunch and coffee date together, she kissed me goodbye and went home, and I was left to adventure.

My plan at that point was to go back to my apartment and just play video games all day, because I felt like I didn't have the energy to go out and adventure that day. But since my girlfriend got me out of bed and out of the house, I realized my body was just trying to trick me into staying inside so it could rest or something. Now that I was out, I was full of energy, and ready to take on the town. So I took out my trusty (if somewhat ragged and marked up) subway map, to see which of the city's many sights I hadn't seen and checked off just yet.

I scanned the map from top to bottom, checking past some theaters, parks, museums, shopping districts and other things, and noticed something unusual: the subway system was basically two main rails, one heading east-west and the other north-south, with a couple of smaller rails jutting off from the main lines at the far ends of the city. Oddly enough, in the middle of one of the lines, I noticed that there was a single car going from a big rail line to a single stop. There wasn't much written on my map as to what important sights or buildings stood there, so I was curious as to what necessitated a train car to run endlessly between these two stops. I smiled a bit, and hopped the nearest train to go there and find out.

The subway car took me up to the spot in less than an hour. On it, I always enjoyed looking around and doing a little people watching with the locals around me. When the car arrived, I hopped out and made my way to the information booth to see if there were any maps of the surrounding area that could satisfy my curiosity for this place. But aside from a museum pamphlet, there was nothing else. It looked like I had to wing this one and find out for myself what was so interesting about this place.

I went outside, and noticed that the street curved into the station in an odd manner, which caused some real traffic problems as people hopped in and out of cars to get into the station. So, I carefully navigated my way through the mess, and was off.

I walked up an ascending street, and was enamored by the sights around me. Tall apartment buildings rose to my left and were decorated with signs, plants and even people's wet laundry. On my right, there was a school that had just let out, and there were kids pouring into the massive park that sat next to it. Some of the kids kept saying hello to me, so I smiled and waved back, and continued down the road. I ended up outside of an interesting wooden building with people milling about inside. I got closer, and saw that it was the museum from the station pamphlets, so I dropped off a donation and went inside.

I don't remember what the museum was about, because it's been years since I went there, but I do remember two things about it: one, they had an aquarium in the floor with fish swimming around, and two, that there were some very awesome movie posters on the wall outside. They looked really old, and the art style reminded me of those old 1950s Sci-Fi B-movies, like "Bride of the Swamp Thing" or "Invasion of the Martian Ants," but they were written in the local language. I thought it was really interesting to see those kinds of posters, only with actors from this country in the starring roles, and I wondered what kind of cultural sharing took place to get those movies made (or if the movies even existed). In any case, I wanted to see them.

I left the museum a short while later and continued up the road, when I smelled a really foul smell. It only took a second to tell what it was: hot sulfur. A little up the road, there were massive, steaming pools of hot water that were completely fenced off and only open to look at (and smell, apparently). It was still a beautiful sight, with the translucent waters of the spring sitting just in front of a very thick forest behind it. I wondered if people actually swam in there. After I hit a dead end and turned around, an old local walked by me, and seemed shocked to see a foreigner just a few feet away from him. He looked even more shocked when I said hello to him in the country's language, but after he failed to respond, I just figured he was too shy to talk and moved on.

The road continued even higher, up into the mountains. Soon, all the buildings, the school, the park and everything behind me retreated and gave way to a road winding around massive cliffs to my right, and a huge, snaking valley down and to my left. The latter was an incredible sight: the grassland where they were building something just seemed to shoot out of a forest far below and behind me, and I was so high up that the trees looked like twigs, the excavators in the middle of the construction project looked like toys, and the people working were like ants. I snapped a lot of pictures up there.

The road continued for miles, past some really nice looking apartments and a couple of other construction crews. A bit later, I came across a restaurant at the end of a descending road that sat overlooking the forest below. It was completely empty, except for a bunch of clean tables and chairs and a woman who came to greet me. I didn't have the money to eat there, but I did ask for something to drink. Unfortunately, the place was closed, but I still had the chance to see the view from the window and chat with the boss for a while.

I went out, and finally, after about an hour of walking, I came to a great four-way intersection. I was on the north-south road heading north, and the east-west road seemed to be some kind of mini-highway, so I decided to just keep heading up the road I was going. But before that, on the corner of the intersection was a woman working a fruit stand. I felt kind of hungry, so I bought a bunch of bananas from her and snarfed them all down. Continuing up the road to the north, I came to another bastion of civilization, and not a moment too soon because those bananas made me thirsty. I stopped off at a local convenience store and got a soda, drank it up, then found some bins for my banana peels and pop can.

The road continued even farther up, even after I had climbed so high, and I was pretty sure it was going straight to the top of the mountain. In just a few minutes, my suspicions were confirmed... and I realized why this area needed a train stop. I followed a crowd of people up the side of this huge mountain, and after a couple of minutes, I found myself near its summit. There was a huge garden up there, dotted with flowers and trees of every shape, color and size.

My camera never got such a massive workout as it did at the top of this place. I walked up a path that wound its way around the huge garden, and provided several amazing vantage points of not only the flora atop the mountain, but of the winding valley and huge forests at the foot of it. Then, some local girls approached me up there and asked me to take some pictures of them in front of the flowers, so I happily obliged. We chatted for a bit, then went our separate ways.

The day was starting to run out, so I walked back down the mountain to the bus stop outside of the garden, and waited for the bus to take me to the nearest train stop. On the way, I met a man who spoke very little English, so I spoke to him with what I knew of his language. He seemed happy and willing to speak slowly and easily, and I learned that he was a businessman, and he made his living traveling around the world (much like myself). After a nice talk about the history of his country and some suggestions on what else I could see in the city, the bus arrived at a train stop and I boarded the next car out.

But I still wasn't tired.

Since I was in an "off the map" kind of mood, I decided to see what there was to see at another set of short train lines. This time, it was a fork at the very end of another subway line, with only a couple of stops on each "prong." I started with the prong on the left, and got to the very last stop. By the time I went outside, it was almost completely dark, and it was getting hard to see.

There wasn't much to see here, other than an outdoor market, but I still took the chance to go into an antique furniture shop and peruse the beautiful statues, pictures and other assorted things that were way out of my price range. The lady there was very nice, and I spent a good couple of minutes just admiring the masterful work that had been done on the art pieces and furniture around her shop.

With that stop partially seen, I went to the end of the other subway prong to see what was what. At first, I didn't see much of interest (but then again, it was pitch dark). It was just a street that led between two tall rows of apartment buildings, with some street vendors selling their wares between them. I bought some sort of fried bread/meat thing from one of them, and it tasted really good. As I turned down an alley to take a shortcut back to the train, however, I saw it.

Spanning over the waters and shining in the darkness, I saw a huge suspension bridge, lit up in a dozen colors. On my side of the river that it spanned, it was pitch dark, but on the other side, there were hundreds of office and apartment buildings lit up beneath the night sky. It was an amazing sight, and I spent a good while just taking pictures and happily watching cars pass along the bridge and into the night. I don't know if I would have been as amazed with the sight if I had gone to that train stop during the day, but I'm glad things worked out as they did. The lights of the buildings behind it, coupled with the brilliance of the bridge and the cars upon it, was a sight to behold.

I was starting to get pretty tired at that point, so I went back to the station and boarded the train to head back home. On the way, though, I decided to see some of the last tourist attractions that were in the center of the city on my subway map, leaving the outskirts of the city for another day. All three of the attractions were outdoor markets.

The first was jam packed when I got to it, and I was really fatigued at that point, but I still noticed the fantastic welcome arch that bore the market's name, and I still made an effort to look around all the shops selling delicious foods, old electronics and hot clothes. The second and third markets were so close to each other that I just walked straight from one to the other. Again, fatigue makes my memory of this place a little hazy, but I remember seeing a lot of masseuses plying their trade, and a local woman who was running an outdoor shooting gallery. She called me over in English and we talked for a while, and I was surprised by how fluent she was. I don't think I made the best conversation partner, as tired as I was (and I don't even remember her name or what we talked about), but I still tried my best all the same.

With those three markets quickly seen, and hopefully saved for another day to check out in more detail, I boarded my final train ride home, then hopped a bus back to my apartment. After a quick shower, I collapsed in bed and was asleep in less than a minute.

That was Tuesday. Not a celebratory day of my first paycheck, a birthday trip, or anything else special or out of the ordinary. It was just Tuesday, a single day in the life of an unmarried man.

As for today...

I woke up at 10:00.
I roughhoused with my son.
I went to work.
I taught students.
I came home.
I started a load of laundry.
I roughhoused with my son.
I folded and put away dry clothes.
I hung up wet laundry.
I cleaned up the floor and table.
I watched internet movies with my son.
I slept.

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