Monday, June 27, 2011

Then and Now 6 - The Base

Then and Now 6 - The Base
Time: Mid-2007, at my bud's aunt's place.

A week or so after I stopped being a scrub, when I decided I was going to work hard and enjoy my unmarried life, my bud and I were having a good time, as usual.

The day started normally enough: we climbed the stairs of his aunt's place, which was one of a few residences and stores housed in one big building, to the laundry area. The early morning light was creepy that day. The stairs wound around and around a very dark pit that went to the basement, where a pool of mosquitoes lay in wait. The light threw humanoid-shaped shadows on the walls, and it was made only worse by the occasional (and surprising) buzzing of a nearby mosquito or fly. It was a very interesting sight, if a bit unsettling, and we went upstairs to his aunt's washing machine to take care of the week's clothes.

When that was done, we went back downstairs to play some Guitar Hero: his favorites, my favorites, a new song for exploration's sake, the usual. We had to keep the volume down because it wasn't our house, but it was still a nice warmup for the day ahead. After an hour or so, we finished, then dressed up and headed out to town to see what we could see.

We headed down to a local river, and it was hot. Diving in was out of the question, though, because back then, the city had a huge problem with trash and other junk in the water. We had a fun (if stupid) time pointing out the different and interesting kinds of trash in the water that we could see. After a short time of that nonsense, we headed along the waterfront until we came to a huge department store. They had a funny looking statue of their fish mascot our front, so I forced my cool-as-ice bud to take pictures of me making funny faces and poses in front of the thing. He didn't seem to be entertained, but hey, that's how my bud is.

We kind of meandered around for a bit, but nothing else really interesting came to our attention, so we just headed home to relax a bit. Before I could plan my escape from his aunt's place and go out on my own, my bud got a phone call. It was his uncle and aunt, and they wanted to take us out to dinner. We agreed, and after another hour or two of Guitar Hero and PSP, we all piled into his aunt's tiny car and were off to dinner.

It was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall place that served all kinds of food (my favorite kind of restaurant). I had my first beer in forever there, and surprisingly found myself getting pretty tipsy after only two or three. My bud was opening up really well, too, and pretty soon, everyone was laughing and eating well together. I even practiced my godawful language skills with his uncle and aunt, who I think were pretty amused by my poor attempts. Finally, when we had all finished our food and sobered up, night had set in... and we went to the place where this day went from fun to awesome.

It was a slow ride to our destination because of the narrow roads and numerous traffic lights, but once we got near the mountains, we were able to speed up pretty well. On our ascent up the mountain, I asked where we were heading. My bud partially answered my question: we were going somewhere interesting up in the mountains, past an army base. And indeed, when I looked out, I noticed that the houses that we were passing looked very cozy and well fortified. It seemed that the nation's soldiers had some very comfortable digs.

After a few minutes, passing many shadowed trees and under the glow of the moon, we parked outside of a little coffee hut a good ways up the mountain. We all got out of the car, and my bud's aunt invited me to get something to drink. I was going through my "manly man" stage at that point, so I ordered coffee: black, and cold.

Good lord, what a mistake. With the beer and food in my stomach already, I felt queasy in no time. Still, I nipped at that thing as best as I could, and when I was halfway through it, my bud and his uncle and aunt took us to the final part of this trip.

It was a scenic overlook, almost completely devoid of other people. The wind was blowing, and I forgot entirely that there were people behind me and a drink in my hand. The only thing I saw at that point was the view: the city in front of and around me spreading out for miles, was brilliantly, beautifully lit up with thousands upon thousands of lights. In the distance, vast neighborhoods and tall office buildings were just brightly lit rays of color, but just in front of and below me, I could see the headlights of little cars heading back and forth on that warm summer night.

A plane passed by above, its blinking red lights slowly drawing my eyes to the distant horizon, and then passed near an even greater sight: the glowing ferris wheel atop the mall from Then and Now 2. It was still spinning, no doubt taking another group of locals on a fun ride in the night air. The trees rustled in the breeze as I scanned the view. I quietly wondered how many people I was looking at, what dreams they had, what they were doing, and what they were like... and I felt a little sad. I wanted to know all of them, but I knew there wasn't enough time in the world to meet everybody.

A while later, I suddenly remembered that I had company with me. My drink was somehow empty, but my bud and his family were still there, at my side, watching the horizon with me. I felt in awe, at peace, happy, excited, relaxed, too many things to properly feel at the same time. I felt that things would be great for the rest of my life.

Not too long after, we got back in the car and headed back to the house. My bud and I went out again to get some flavored tea and coffee from a local shop, then headed back home for a little Guitar Hero and sleep.

As for today...

I woke up at 11:30 to an empty house.
I played video games.
My wife and son came home, so I turned off the computer.
I ate lunch.
I watched TV.
I roughhoused with my son.
I talked with my wife.
I watched TV.
My wife and son went to bed.
I spent an hour or two calling up places to find a new job, and wrote my resume to send out.
My wife and son woke up.
I watched internet movies with my son.
I surfed the net.
I played video games.
I watched internet movies with my son.
I folded and put away a mountain of dry clothes.
I hung up wet laundry.
I started a load of laundry.
I watched internet movies with my son.
I hung up wet laundry again.
I played video games.
I slept.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Then and Now 5 - Beach Town

Then and Now 5 - Beach Town
Time: Mid-2007, single and at the hostel.

Ken is the other person I met at the hostel, along with May. May was the local girl with a penchant for adventure, but Ken was the first, and one of the only, foreigners I've met abroad that truly gave me a brother's welcome.

On the street outside of the hostel, when I was going up to it for the first time, I felt the last of my fear and uncertainty leave me. Even though I was essentially homeless and without support from that moment on, I distinctly remember telling myself that everything was going to be all right. Nobody knew the scrub I was back home; this was my moment to finally put everything I worked for to use. At my bud's aunt's place, I spent an entire month practicing and training to be the man I wanted to be, and now, I was going to truly be him. My spirits lifted with every floor that the elevator climbed, and by the time I reached the hostel's reception area, I was shining brighter than I ever had before. I wasn't just acting like the man I wanted to be; I was him.

When I arrived at what would be my new home for the next few weeks, I took a look around. There was a reception area staffed by an older local lady, and her desk was covered with, and surrounded by, pamphlets and maps that detailed hundreds of spots around the country for people in the hostel to check out. To my left were a few more couches and a table where people ate and studied at all hours of the day and night, and behind them was a large window that provided an amazing view of the sleeping city at night.

After I finished checking in and paying for my bed, the hostel boss, a nice local woman in her mid-40s and a strong Christian, asked Ken to come over and say hello. It was pretty late, so he was kind of quiet and pretty tired, but he was still very welcoming and cracked several exhausted smiles. When we had gotten to know one another well enough, I took pity on the poor guy and let him go to sleep. I went to my dorm room, locked my stuff up, and went to sleep myself.

The next day, Ken and I talked again, and the awesome guy needlessly apologized for being so taciturn the previous night. I told him not to sweat it, and that I was glad to hang out with him. Soon, we went downstairs to get lunch, and he taught me some of the local language that he knew while we were eating; I learned "cheese" that day. Over the next few days, I had some great adventures and fun times, a couple of them with Ken. But this Then and Now is going to focus on the best time I had with my good friend about a week or so after I arrived at the hostel.

One day, I woke up to a phone call from Ken, telling me that he and several other of his friends from around the world were all going to go to the beach that day, and he wondered if I wanted to come along. I did of course, so in no time, we met up and he introduced me to four new friends at the bus/train/subway station:

- Harry was from America, and reminded me of an old roommate I once had. He was a funny, outgoing music lover with a bunch of stories to tell.
- Vicki was also from America, and she and Ken ended up getting together later. She was a religious girl with a confident and kind flair.
- Yuri was a hilarious guy from a neighboring country with a brilliant smile and ever present laugh. We talked a lot over the next few hours.
- Elle was a beautiful girl from another neighboring country. She was a bit quiet at first, but opened up the more we talked.

With introductions done, the six of us hopped a train to the beach, and we were off on a fun train ride. Ken, Yuri, Harry and I, being ever the gentlemen, stood for the entire long ride and let the ladies sit. They stood up too, because they felt embarrassed at relaxing while we were up.

Yuri and I talked a lot on that ride. He talked about how he liked the local girls of the country we were in, and how the girls in his home country were selfish and flaky. I laughed, and of course prodded him to give us some horror stories, which he happily provided. This was one of the first conversations I've had with a stranger that didn't consist mainly of awkward pauses and stupid topics I couldn't get off of. The mountains and trees outside whizzed by as Yuri and I shot the breeze, with Ken and Harry providing their own funny two cents here and there. The hour or two we all spent together felt like flowing along with a river, just kind of following it on its twists and turns to our destination. It was a new and remarkable sensation to me. With nature flashing past outside us, and the talk we had going on inside, I felt an incredible sense of simultaneous peace and excitement.

We got to the beach in no time, and everyone except me and Elle rushed ahead to get on the sand. I took the time to get to know her better, but her beauty was very distracting and made me talk like a bit of a goof. It was pretty funny.

Finally, we were on the sands and heading to the water. I went swimming out by myself for a bit while everyone else hung out on the beach to rent some umbrellas and stuff. Out in the ocean, I met a group of locals who were taking turns tossing one another into the water. I swam over to say hello, and with big smiles on their faces, they grabbed me, counted to three, then tossed me, too. When I surfaced, we were all laughing our butts off, they asked if I was ok, then we exchanged a couple of high fives before I went back to my friends. They were laughing too, saying how all they heard were some locals counting, then they saw a giant white shape fly out into the water.

After a few minutes more of joking around, I looked over and saw some other foreigners sitting and talking together, so I excused myself from the group to go say hello to them. Unfortunately, they were pretty shocked that a stranger would come up to see them, much less a fellow foreigner, so they were pretty hard to converse with. It felt like I had to pull every last bit of dialogue out of them, and after a few minutes, I just didn't have the patience to do it anymore. So, I said goodbye and headed back to my friends. After a bit more talking, we all went swimming in different spots for a bit, just kind of enjoying the waves and people around us.

We were all in the water for a while before we all headed back to shore together to play some volleyball. We took over one of the nets and began to play together: me, Ken and Elle vs. Harry, Yuri and Vicki. Awesomely enough, after a few minutes of playing, a group of locals came up and asked if they could play, too. We said of course, and had a huge six on six volleyball battle until the sun began to set. The locals thanked us for the good time, we exchanged hugs and handshakes and took some pictures, then my friends and I went off to the showers to clean up.

During that time, either Harry or Ken got the idea to speak only in the local language between all of us. It was a great idea, and we actually shocked a couple of the locals (one of whom asked us in English where we learned how to speak so well). I was still a neophyte at the language, so I was struggling to keep up with the others, but I took the compliment anyway.

Now it was Harry and my turn to talk. Walking by the trees and down the winding path of the park/shower area, we discussed music, clubbing, drugs, pretty much typical college kid stuff. It was very insightful, including an outsider's perspective on a really nasty marijuana episode I once experienced back in college.

The sun had completely set then, so the six of us hopped another train out to a beach town nearby where we could get something to eat. We kind of meandered down the darkened streets for a while, until eventually, we stumbled into an ice cream/drink shop, and just settled for some tea and coffee. I started feeling a bit sheepish at my poor language skills while a few of my friends were fluently conversing with the shop owner. Still, everyone was very forgiving and patient of my poor skills, and I vowed then to do my best to reach their level of language soon.

We were all pretty dog tired after the drinks, so we hopped another train back to the main city. Vicki took one of the rotating seats that could be swiveled around to talk to the people behind you, and accidentally slammed it really hard into the locked position and raised a huge clatter all around us. Despite our embarrassment, we all thought it was pretty funny, but I'm guessing the other passengers were a bit miffed.

Vicki and I talked about movies and stuff, and she was pretty shocked that I hadn't seen the bulk of the 007 library of movies. I told her that I fell asleep during Moonraker and saw some of the Pierce Brosnan ones, but she insisted that I see Casino Royale as soon as possible. Everyone else agreed and looked at me like I was some kind of alien. Elle fell asleep soon after, and it was a very quiet ride back to the main station. When we got back, the six of us hugged, handshaked, all that good stuff, and Ken and I headed back to the hostel to hit the hay.

I never saw Elle or Yuri again after that, but this day wasn't the end of the fun time between me, Ken, Harry and Vicki. I'll get to that story soon enough.

As for today...

I woke up at 10:30.
I went to work.
I ate lunch.
I taught students at this job for the last time.
I came home.
I watched internet movies with my son.
I played video games for about three minutes, then my son started throwing a tantrum, so I yelled at him and took him to bed to sleep early.
My mother-in-law yelled at me for yelling at him.
I ignored her.
I watched internet movies with my son.
I started a load of laundry.
I folded and put away dry clothes.
I hung up wet laundry.
I played video games.
I slept.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Everything changed when I got married and started to look after a wife and son. My money, my time, my freedom, my dreams, nothing was the same. But it wasn't just the pieces of my life that changed. My very outlook on the days I live, and even my ability to sense what was going on in the world, changed radically. I hardly notice what's going on around me nowadays:

- I don't see it unless it might kill me.
- I don't hear it unless it's coming towards me.
- I don't feel it unless it's too hot or sharp to handle.
- I don't even taste or smell the differences in my food in the way that I used to.

In addition, my overall feelings towards the day I'm living are not the same:

In the very early morning, with just a little light out, I wonder how long it will be until work starts. I do a mental check to see if I took care of all the chores in the house. I play a video game as I wait for my bedroom door to open, and my family to come out, so I have to turn it off.

In the morning, I feel nostalgic for my old life, and just plain bored. I wake myself up from my stupor to chat with my wife or play with my son and enjoy my time with them, but my mind ever tugs me back to the days that I used to live as an unmarried man.

In the afternoon, I'm counting the minutes until work starts. When I still taught children, this was the worst part of my day: constantly checking the clock until I had to go teach classes with random amounts of brats in each one, and all knowing that I wasn't going to keep more than $2 to $5 of the day's wages for myself.

In the late afternoon, I'm working.

At night, I don't have much to think. Usually it's just a "So that was ____day, huh?" and that's it. Now, this is the worst time of my life: coming home after hours and hours of work, making only a few dollars for myself and knowing the rest is going to be taken by my family, and knowing that 99% of the time, the house will be a disaster zone of dirty dishes and laundry and crap all over the place that I have to clean up.

Later, I'm usually watching my son, or playing a video game and distracted from the routine day I just lived. But when my eyes start to feel heavy, I know it's time to go to sleep so I can do it all again the next day.

So what does marriage feel like? It's like scuba diving at the bottom of the ocean while wearing a suit of armor, slowly trudging back to shore one step at a time. And this weight is a very literal one: in the last four years, my shoulders, back and chest have been tense and strained, like they're working against an invisible weight. I've never once had this feeling let up or leave me, but when an entire day's worth of work, a fight with my wife or something similar comes about, this weight becomes heavy to the point of physical pain.

Before I got married, though, life was an explosive, adventurous, surprising series of experiences, fun times, and limitless potential. Between the lost two weeks at my bud's aunt's place, and the day that I got the news my wife was pregnant, my senses ever worked on overdrive.

When I sat down on a bus seat, I could feel the comfort of the leather on my body. When I was on the subway, I felt the steady grip of the handle in my hand. When I held hands with my wife when she was still my girlfriend, it felt electric and exciting, and I could feel the blood rush to my face.

I could taste the subtle differences in the drinks and food I ate. This store's drinks were sweeter, but that one's had more tart to them. I loved the oversaltiness of this shop's hamburgers, but the cheese at that place was absolutely exquisite.

When a smell came to me from nowhere, my mind was overcome with the thoughts and memories of my entire life. Sandalwood... like my neighbor's house from back home. Asphalt... the time my friends and I went to that race track back in high school. Detergent... just like the smell of my bud's aunt's place, in that mosquito infested clothes washing area. Good times.

I had hearing that stretched out for miles. At any given moment, I was assailed with the sounds of construction crews, locals chatting, food being cooked, cars speeding by, the rushing of the wind, waving grass, everything at once. I could hear life pulsing around me in every direction.

My sight was constantly open in a wide arc in front of me, all the way to my peripherals. I took in the sight of tall apartment buildings sitting at the foot of beautiful, green mountains. I noticed the subtle ways that the people I talked to kept their hair or clothes, and what kind of impression they wanted to evoke. I saw the careful craftsmanship that went into the cars, store products and buildings around me. I noticed little things in people's body language when we talked, and was able to steer our conversations on the fly to make them as happy and entertained as I could.

The different parts of a day conjured up unique feelings for me, as well:

The early morning was one of my favorite times as an unmarried man. The sun's rays peeked over the horizon, and signalled the coming of a new day. At those times, I felt content and satisfied at the experiences I had had the day before, and knew that when the sun finally did rise, life would soon begin to swell all around me once more. Another day was dawning, and I was going to be there to experience it.

In the morning, I felt energized and ready to take on the town. My mind was a flurry of reviewing my previous day, planning my current one, and just all-around excitement for what was to come. Even on days I had to work, I was ready for it to be done as soon as possible so I could make my evening count even better than the one before.

In the afternoon, I was either working with an eye on the night, or currently in the middle of my adventures throughout town with good company, and millions of things to see and enjoy. Life was moving all about me, and I was along for the ride.

In the evening, when the sun was going to set, I felt sweaty, dirty, hot, tired... and absolutely satisfied. Hours had gone by where I had talked with friends, saw amazing sights, and led the best life I could have that day (or where I had made some nice money). Life was beginning to settle down around me, signifying the end of another fulfilling day.

At night, I felt beat and was relaxing at home to review the day I had just had and was planning my next day, which was only hours away. Or, if I still had the energy, I was out somewhere where people were still enjoying the fruits of the day by shopping, jogging, watching the city lights, or wherever else I could find other people to be around. Then, when I could hardly stand on my own two feet anymore, I was on my way home to a hot shower and comfortable bed, where another day would soon dawn, and life was waiting to be lived once more.

Overall, if you want to know what it felt like to be an unmarried man, I would advise you to do this:

Go somewhere really high, to the ocean, or somewhere else that you can see for miles. Stare out at the buildings, trees, water, boats, sky, cars, people or anything else you can see. When you feel your awareness open up, then feel a sense of both personal smallness and wonder at the many lives you are now looking upon, and finally have a sense of "there's so much to see; everything is all right," you'll know how it felt for me.

Even simpler, if you've ever had a rush of euphoria for no discernable reason, just a sudden feeling of peace that came out of the blue and vanished seconds later, then imagine feeling that every day. This feeling came to me at least once a day, every day. It wasn't a constant thing, just something that would shiver down my spine every couple of hours while I was out and enjoying my life.

That was the life of an unmarried man: launching sorties into a wild and adventurous world from a place of ultimate relaxation and healing, surrounded by friends, fun and freedom.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Then and Now 4 - Party Time

Then and Now 4 - Party Time
Time: Late 2007, single and at my apartment.

One Saturday, I decided to have a party at my apartment. It was the first party I had ever thrown in my life, and it was an excellent indicator of how much progress I had made in my life. Before, I didn't want to go to parties because I was ashamed at how much of a scrub I was, and because I was too nervous to talk to people. But abroad, I was hosting my own.

This wasn't a perfect day, because I had a few hours of work to do at a school where the kids had massive discipline issues, the co-teachers were unhelpful, and if that wasn't enough, the school reeked of urine. But as I said before, going to work at 8:00 in the morning and getting home around noon or so was a hidden blessing, because it got me out of bed, kickstarted my energy levels, and was perfect for getting me up and about to enjoy my unmarried life and get things done.

So when my work was done, I went home and called up all my friends, co-workers, acquaintances and so on to double check that everyone was coming. When all that was finished, my laundry was washed, dried and folded away, and I had moved all my furniture around to become makeshift couches and chairs, so I took an hour or two to play some video games to relax a bit.

4:00 rolled around, and I placed an order for several pizzas and giant bottles of coke, then got some packs of cups and plates from the local supermarket. After picking up the food and heading home, I set up my PS3 and Rock Band, and awaited the arrival of my guests. Almost everyone I knew was coming: Ken, his girlfriend Vicki, my co-workers, my young landlord Nate and his girlfriend Annie, several friends I had made on the internet (and who I will talk about in the future), and Sammi, a girl I wanted to date.

People started showing up in scattered groups, and it seemed like every few minutes I was getting up to answer another knock at the door, and more friends were coming in to enjoy the party. I did my best to show my first guests how to play Rock Band so they could teach the rest of the people at the party, and so I could welcome more guests in and do my rounds talking and joking around with everyone.

Ken and Vicki got lost on the way there because they took a bus in the wrong direction, so I directed them to the right one by phone. When they finally arrived an hour or two late, I ran downstairs to meet them at the bus stop and take them back to my place. I was so happy to see them, that even though Ken looked kind of annoyed at being late, I embraced them both in a massive bear hug that melted away all their unhappiness. And with that, we were up in my apartment in no time.

Finally, after the last of my guests arrived, my house was jammed with people rocking out on plastic guitars and drums, singing like fools, and with coke and pizza in hand. It was an amazing night; we groaned when people failed songs, cheered when the new players managed to get through one, talked about everything under the sun, and stuffed our faces with the greasiest pizza I could find. I took dozens of great pictures, too.

I tried to talk to Sammi a couple of times, but she was very unresponsive and a bit cold, which was par for the course for her. Still, even though I still tried to keep my attention on her, I didn't let her attitude spoil the night. We partied loud and hard up there for a good couple of hours until midnight rolled around. The party started petering out, and with full bellies and wide smiles, my guests left one by one.

Finally, after the last guest was gone, I cleaned up the discarded pizza boxes, greasy plates and game console, then had a little late night gaming session. I couldn't keep my eyes open after an hour or two, so I turned the computer off and went to sleep, a Sunday full of more travel and fun waiting patiently in the wings for me to wake up and enjoy it.

As for today...

I woke up at 8:00.
I read to my son.
I talked with my wife.
She took our son to his grandma's house.
I played video games.
My wife came home, so I turned off the computer.
I ate lunch.
I played video games.
I went to work.
I taught students.
I came home.
I slept.