Thursday, May 10, 2012

Then and Now 36 - Odds and Ends 4

Then and Now 36 - Odds and Ends 4
Time: Before I got married.

In the last week of my hostel stay, I was walking the long street between the hostel and the junction train station, where I met a lot of my tutor students and friends. On the way, I saw a man approaching me, so I slowed down to say hello. "I'm really sorry to bother you," he said, "but I immigrated here a few months ago, and I've completely run out of money. I haven't eaten anything in days. Can you help me?"

I didn't have much money to give, he was dressed well enough, and he didn't have the low energy of a starving man. But I didn't turn him away, and for a few reasons:

- I was dressed well enough as well, so I knew that what he was wearing was no indication of his plight.
- I, too, was running out of money. I knew what it felt like to have to eat cheaply and sparsely, and to watch a static amount of money dwindle slowly with every meal I ate.
- Most importantly, even though he might have been faking, just the chance that he might have been in a situation like me was reason enough for me to share what I had.

I told him it was no problem, and took him to a convenience store just across the street. I told him to go ahead and pick what he wanted to eat, and I would take care of it. He smiled broadly and rushed around the store, picking up a sandwich, some bread, and a box of juice. After I paid for him, I gave him the equivalent of about $5, in case he couldn't find someone else to help him. He thanked me over and over, and after we walked outside, he asked me if I was interested in meeting some women that he knew. I said sure, and gave him my phone number. He punched it into his own cellphone (kind of a red flag, but I had one too and was also low on money), then said that he would get back to me as soon as possible. I thanked him, then continued on to the train station.

I never got a call from him or his girls, but I never got any robocalls or telemarketers either, so I'm guessing he was on the level. Didn't matter either way: either he was lying and I gave an otherwise nice guy a free meal, or he was telling the truth and I helped him to survive another day or two.


In the first few days during my stay at the hostel, I made a concerted and earnest effort to talk to anyone and everyone I could while in the dorms. Men, women, foreigners, locals, didn't matter: I wanted to make friends, and practice being the new man I had set out to be. One of these great people was another foreigner, who made his living as an international salesman of beauty products. I don't remember his name because I only spoke to him once, but he was a man in his thirties or fourties, had an ever-present smile and a cheerful personality, and English was his second language. We spent most of our time talking about his business, selling beauty products either individually, or in bulk to companies all over the world. He offered me a look through one of his brochures, and I flipped through a couple of the pages to see what he had to sell. I stopped on a smiling family over an ad for some toothpaste, and I asked him, "Do you know these people?"

He smiled and said, "No, they're just models."

The best part of our time together was how we talked: this man was from a country whose language I had studied for years, and he was studying the local language like I was. And of course, he also spoke some English, being the international language and all. The result was the two of us constantly switching the languages we were using to speak, mixing and matching words we knew into sentences that probably sounded like gibberish to anybody but us. I felt very satisfied and happy that we were able to talk for so long in that puzzle-like way.


I got an email from a girl, Enid, while I was living at my apartment, and she wanted to meet up with me. When I met her, she was very shy and didn't talk much, probably because of her weight. While we were walking the streets outside of the main station, I got a call on my cell. It was Andrew, and he wanted to know if I wanted to hang out that night. I asked Enid if she wanted to hang out with some other friends and have dinner together, and she said it was ok. Shortly after, Andrew, his girlfriend and a friend of his met up with Enid and me, and we went to a nearby department store with a great restaurant at the top.

We didn't want to walk all the way around to the front of the building, so Andrew beckoned us all to the employee entrance in the back, and we snuck up about five or ten floors of stairs, our footsteps and hushed voices echoing throughout the massive shaft. When we got to the restaurant's floor, Andrew peeked his head in and waited until the coast was clear, then we all crept through the doorway and into the restaurant. We got seated, and I tried to talk to Enid several times in English, but it was difficult pulling stuff out of her, so I switched to the local language. She still seemed really shy, so I introduced her formally to Andrew and co., and she seemed to open up quite a bit more.

My dinner was a delicious plate of breaded meat, and while Andrew and them ate heartily, Enid really took it easy, and quietly, with a salad and water. I engaged with everyone I could that night, person to person, friend to friend, until it was time for us all to go home. That was the last time I ever saw Andrew, and the only time I ever saw Enid, on that great night.


My bud and I got bored one night at his aunt's place, so we started channel surfing. Eventually, we came to a channel that was flickered and scrambled for the few times it came in for more than ten seconds. I asked him what channel it was, maybe a premium movie channel or something, and he said it was a porn channel. I laughed and said that it probably wasn't something his aunt would be interested in paying for. We were watching on one of those old CRT TVs that weigh eight thousand pounds and take up the entire room, so the picture didn't turn completely blue or white like new TVs do when they can't find a channel. So we watched the scrambled program for quite a while, trying to pick out what was going on.

"Is that...?" my bud started to ask before trailing off.

"Uh... I think it's an elbow," I answered.

After a few minutes, I told my bud that I had an idea. I picked up a coat hangar, then I put one arm out and raised the other above my head, and lifted up a knee. "Ok, you stand next to the window and start waving your arms," I said. "Maybe the signal will come in better." My bud laughed loudly, then played along by standing on his toes a little to the right of the TV, and slowly waved his arms. A little bit later, the picture seemed to come in really clear for about five seconds.

"Yeah!" my bud said.

"Yep!" I replied. "She's goin' at it."


I went to the main city one night to a stop that I had never been to. It was night, and I exited the subway station to find a ring of apartment buildings in front of me. Around the ring wound a circular street, and on its outer edges were a string of stores. Nestled in the middle of the independent stores, I found a huge shopping mall opposite the subway station and over the ring of apartments. It had a grand entrance with a huge escalator leading up, and hundreds of stores that I don't remember much about. But this experience wasn't about the mall; it was about what happened when I was heading home. On the subway train, I was standing and grasping the handhold above me, looking at the open door of the car. And after only a few seconds, he came in.

He was a foreigner, looking to be in his early to mid 30s, with short dark hair and a black turtleneck sweater and dark jeans. He walked in, and establishing eye contact with me for just a fraction of a second, he turned his back on me and stood with one hand holding a leather loop above him, and the other behind his back like a soldier standing at ease. I figured he was going to be another one of those typical foreigners who avoided contact with anyone who wasn't a local woman, but then, he turned his head around to look at me.

I smiled and raised my head slightly in greeting. He locked eyes with me for a half second, then he darted a quick look at my spiked hair. Then, his eyes slowly traveled down to my black shirt, my blue jeans and finally to my black sneakers, lingering on each piece of clothing for a full second. Finally, after slowly drawing his gaze back up to my eyes once more, he wrinkled his nose, bared his teeth slightly and scowled intensely before turning back to the door.

I blinked a few times in surprise, then looked to my left at a surprised local woman who was watching the entire scene play out from beginning to end. I shrugged at her, then stood my ground, staring down the back of the idiot's head with narrow eyes and a smug look on my face. Without looking back, he got off at the next stop. Typical sex-starved foreigner abroad who couldn't stand competition from people better-looking than he was; it felt good to be me.

As for today...

I woke up at 7:00.
I played video games.
My wife and son woke up, so I turned off the game.
I ate lunch.
I did the dishes.
I watched TV.
I played Play-Doh with my son.
I went to work.
I taught students.
I went out to tutor a student.
I came home.
I showered my son.
I started a load of laundry.
I folded and put away dry clothes.
I cleaned up the floor and table.
I slept.

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