Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Then and Now 64 - Coffee Shops

Then and Now 64 - Coffee Shops
Time: Mid-2007, at my bud's aunt's place.

There wasn't a whole lot to do at my bud's aunt's place, so we spent a lot of time going out and looking around stores and such to find something to do. I've told several stories of our daytime beach walks and market explorations, the mall, the movie theater, and many more, and I have several more stories to tell in other posts. But what I didn't quite detail yet was what happened for most of our nights.

Soon after I arrived, my bud got the idea to go out and get some coffee or tea at a different shop every night until it was time to move to the big city. I thought it was a great idea, and almost every time we had the chance, we went out to have new drinks at new places. In this post, I'll try to remember our times at as many shops as I can.

Store 1

This one was right next to the furniture shop where we stayed. It was a single block away, and the front of the store was open to the elements. I remember us going in one time, trying to order some of the drinks that were a little more complicated to say than strawberry or honey, and having to take guesses as to what we were going to drink before we drank them.

The place had a back room with some computers in it, which I don't know if they were for patrons or staff. The front was a collection of tables under pictures hanging on the walls, and the store was slightly cramped because it was only about twenty feet wide, but it made everything feel more cozy than claustrophobic.

One of the servers was a cute girl who never looked at me for longer than necessary, but I was just as afraid of her as she was of me back then, because when we first started getting drinks at this place, it was still in the middle of my lost two weeks where I was still working on uplifting myself into the man I eventually became.

Store 2

We found this store very far away from the others, maybe a fifteen minute walk away. We first saw it walking by on a little tour of the city, and it was on the corner of two side streets that housed many short apartment complexes. It had some large pillars out front like a Greek temple, but strangely enough, it seemed to be a jazz bar. My bud and I decided to come back later and check it out, because we were heading somewhere else that day.

After a few days of getting lost in that area and failing to find it, we finally stumbled across it one night and had our drinks there. It was indeed a jazz bar, but aside from a few pictures and some jazz piping in from the speakers, there wasn't much else to the atmosphere. The environment was excellent, and all the walls were glass windows from top to bottom so my bud and I could watch a few cars head by here and there while we drank.

Store 3

There was a shopping center with a dozen or two stores in it in the center of town, and it was at the bottom of some stairs that went about twenty or thirty feet underground, with the busy roads of the city winding around it. The stores formed a ring around a center food court area where people were eating, drinking, talking and laughing in numerous intimate groups.

That night, my bud and I took a walk from his aunt's place all the way over to the court, and we had a peaceful evening of drinks from a local hole-in-the-wall coffee house. It was so delicious that we actually came back with one of his college friends (who was also visiting the country) so I could practice my local language, and though I made many mistakes, I was improving rapidly and happily.

That's all I can remember for now. For every other night at my bud's aunt's place, I either mentioned the shops in other Then and Now posts, or we ate at a restaurant instead, or we just went back home to eat something his aunt had prepared, then play Guitar Hero.

I know it was just drinks, but as a married man, even getting a single night like the ones I had every night back then is a trial. I think after my son is on the plane to go to college, the first thing I'm going to do is go back to my bud's aunt's city and have the biggest drink that one of these stores can provide, to celebrate my newfound freedom.

As for today...

I woke up at 7:00.
I played video games.
My wife and son woke up, so I turned off the computer.
I watched DVDs with my wife.
I played cars with my son.
I surfed the net.
I roughhoused with my son.
I went to work by train, and played video games on the way.
I taught students.
I came home by train, and talked with my co-worker on the way.
I cleaned up the floor and table.
I started a load of laundry.
I played video games.
I slept.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Then and Now 63 - Odds and Ends 10

Then and Now 63 - Odds and Ends 10
Time: Before I got married.

One of my first trips outside of my bud's aunt's house was a few days after we got there, when we went out one night to look around and scout out the Mexican restaurant that we went to in Then and Now 42. We were out for a while, walking among the darkened streets in the warm summer night, and actually ended up blundering right into the place just a few minutes into the walk.

Once we knew where it was, we continued on to see what else there was to see, and we found a great sight: in the still of the night, completely dark except for some a neon cross upon it, was a church. And although I was still in the throes of the worst of my adjustment phase, I snapped out of it just long enough to admire its beauty, like a symbol of peace in an unsure world. I told my bud that it looked really nice and we should head in sometime to look around, but he just joked that I wanted to go in to convert.


I got an email from a girl, Laura, who wanted to hang out one day. She sent a picture and she looked pretty cute, but regardless of her charming appearance, I was going to meet her in my quest to be the popular man I wanted to be.

I met up with her at dusk outside of the main station, under a winding freeway overpass. She was very, very assertive, spoke directly and always had something to share or talk about. In fact, as we walked to a nearby restaurant, I noticed how difficult it was to get a word in edgewise. When we arrived at the restaurant, we got a few looks from other locals, though whether it was because it looked like we were on a date, or because of my new friend's chattiness, I'm still not sure.

Laura spoke for a long time about her college life and her friends there, about her dream to travel the world and model in as many as she could, and other inspiring tales of her future success. I wasn't quite as charming, content to let her speak and enjoy her enthusiasm. We ate heartily that night, and though I offered to pay for the meal, she insisted that she be the one to pay, stating that her family was somewhat rich and that it wasn't any trouble for her. Her pride was infectious.

After we ate, we headed straight back to the main station, where I finally got to tell her about my time in her country, sharing stories from my time in her country and my eagerness to explore. She seemed happy for me, but her tone and body language throughout the night told me the complete story: at first, she met up with me because she was looking for a boyfriend. The walk over, she was still interested in me. At dinner, I became a friend. On the way back, I had the strong impression that I wasn't going to see her again.

And I was right; that was the last night I saw her. It didn't matter much to me because there were other friends to make, and it was a fun night regardless of whether we ended up together, whatever the meaning of the phrase.


I don't remember where this place was, or how I got there. I get the feeling that it was a part of Then and Now 43, but the overall look of that part of the city, in my mind, looks different.

I came out of an industrial area full of factories and warehouses, and crossed over some railroad tracks to a place with a lot of schools teaching language, music, art and other subjects. There were a couple of quiet apartment buildings with a few grassy fields and trees about, and there were a lot of parks about the area. Everything there was so quiet and serene, that although I had no particular plan to see or anything do that day, I felt content knowing that there was no chores, work or other problems for me to take care of that day. It was just me and my travel.

I passed by a little ice cream store and would have bought some, were it not for my money troubles. I smiled, knowing that in a month or two, I would be back in the black, and returning to sample some of the delicious dessert.


My bud and I were taking a walk around his aunt's place one day, and we were out for a long time. We headed out around noon, passing by many wide streets and through construction zones, just wandering around for the sake of wandering. The construction was long and packed with ripped up roads and the skeletal frameworks of buildings still in the process of being made. After a block or two of this, we went down an alleyway to shave some time off of our trip. Just a few minutes later, we made it to a general store where I bought the notebook and lead pencil I would use to copy local words from the dictionary to become the semi-fluent speaker of the language that I eventually became.

After hours of wandering, we headed back to the general direction where his aunt's place was, and we walked by an ice cream shop. I saw some purple liquid in the pictures advertising the stuff inside, and I suddenly felt hungry and thirsty after the long trip. We went inside and both got a cup, and though the dessert wasn't as sweet as I imagined it to be, it was still a refreshing end to a long and free walk.

Moments later, we were home to watch B-movies and play Guitar Hero, then we were off to sleep.


A month or two after I had settled into my new apartment, job and life, another friend from America told me that he was in the country, and we set up a time to meet. He and his girlfriend took a train and bus to get a few blocks away from my house in the restaurant district, and I went to pick them up and take them to my pad. The first thing I welcomed them to was a platter of Mexican food, complete with my precious and irreplacable hot sauce that my mom sent from America. They both shouted, "Burritos!!" and ran in to snarf. Apparently, they had been away from America as long as I had.

My friend and I talked for a long time about old times, our college lives, what our old friends were up to, basically all that fun catch up stuff. I also talked with his girlfriend about her life and the things going on with her, because the last time I saw her was early 2007, where the three of us had a goodbye dinner for me before I headed abroad. She encouraged me then that I was going to be popular when I got to the country, and though I was still working on myself and my dented psyche back then, I was still appreciative of the vote of confidence, even if I didn't believe her then.

After a few hours, the three of us went onto my roof with the little garden there, and had a very peaceful smoke in the warm night, staring out at the distant lights of the windows of a thousand shorter buildings all around us. My friend's girlfriend smiled as she looked over the little garden, and my friend and I spent a half hour pointing out distant landmarks and wondering what everyone at them was doing.

It was a Saturday night, I remember. My work was done, I was happily enjoying my time with my old friends, and I had an entire Sunday coming to explore more of my new country.

As for today...

I woke up at 10:00.
I took my wife and son out to eat breakfast, then we went home.
I hung up wet laundry.
I played cars with my son.
I took him out on a big trip to the mountains where we drove around, saw a temple and ate at McDonald's, then we went to the arcade, then we went home.
I played cars with him.
I played video games with him.
I started a load of laundry.
I played video games
I cleaned up the floor and table.
I folded and put away dry clothes.
I did the dishes.
I hung up wet laundry again.
I slept.