Sunday, August 25, 2013

Then and Now 75 - Odds and Ends 13

Then and Now 75 - Odds and Ends 13
Time: Before I got married.

This is my final Then and Now, where I'll share my favorite little stories from each of my different times abroad.


In Then and Now 70, I described a building that my bud and I used as a compass to get around the city, but we actually went up to the top of it once to look around.

I don't think we actually planned on going up that day, but as we were walking past a shopping mall, my bud suddenly got the idea to go in and take a look. I agreed, and a few minutes later, we were standing at its base. There was a huge, dark pseudo alley (actually an outdoor part of the building) that led through some artificial ponds with a few fish inside. Beyond that was the building's main lobby, which was much more brightly lit and full of a gaggle of boring shops that sold nothing but cosmetics and jewelry. My bud and I went inside and took an elevator up this mammoth building, and walked past a scenic restaurant on our way to its very top.

The view was absolutely amazing. We could see the ocean from one side, and at another, the high rises of the city gave way to the more suburban parts beyond them. We took turns finding interesting things to point out below, including a tennis court on the roof of one particularly large apartment building.

After about twenty minutes of looking around and shooting the breeze, a group of older ladies came in. They were from a country whose language I had studied for years, but because I was so out of practice from studying the local language here, I could only understand what they were saying about the beautiful view; I couldn't converse. I probably should have tried, even if I looked like a fool, but I was still in my adjustment phase, so I ended up just smiling and waving.

After another half hour or so, my bud and I went downstairs to check out, then immediately leave, the restaurant with the absurdly high prices, then went back downstairs to get some grub at a more affordable (and probably more delicious) local place.


Near the middle to the end of my stay at the hostel, I had a much better understanding of the city than when I had first come. In fact, the bus route map and a second, unmarked subway map, the former given to me by Ken and the latter that I picked up at the station, were things I hardly ever used anymore.

One day, as I was looking around the lobby of the hostel and checking out some brochures and pictures, a new arrival came up the elevator. He was a foreigner like me, except he looked ready to take on the city: sun hat with strap, huge backpack, camo jeans, the works. I smiled, and decided to welcome him like Ken had welcomed me. I introduced myself, shook his hand, and asked him questions about his home country, showed him around the hostel, told him of some places he could see, the works.

He said he wanted to visit some old palace, and since it was still noon, that he was going to head there right then. I asked if he knew how to work the subway system, and he said no, so I offered to accompany him and show him around. He politely refused, but after a little insistence, he agreed to let me play tour guide, and we went down the elevator to go check out the city.

We talked on the way up the road to the junction station that I had used hundreds of times by then, and got ourselves down to the subway cars, where I showed him how to pay and board. When I was done, he said that he could probably take it from there, but I said that I had nothing but free time while I was at the hostel, so I could take him to the junction station to show him where to transfer.

He seemed grateful, and we kept on going, talking about sights to see and the like, until we came to the main station where almost all the cars met up. Since his destination was to the west, and I wanted to head north, that was where we parted. But before he headed out, I gave him both of my maps so he wouldn't get lost. He took them with reluctance, saying I might need them more, but I smiled and told him that if he spent a few weeks here like I did, he'd be an expert, too.

Then, repeating Ken's words to me, I said, "They'll save your life, too."

He smiled, we shook hands, and we went on our ways to enjoy our lives as single men abroad.


One day off from work, I decided it was time to be a tourist. I took a subway ride to a spot in the center of town, and came out at the station there, ready to see the sight for the day: an old mansion turned tourist spot.

I don't remember much of the trip there. There was only one little memory I had of the way in, and it was when I got a little lost about halfway there. I was standing next to a very large grassy median in the center of a ring of very tall buildings. The area was an absolute mess of twisting, car-glutted roads. I think almost every city in the world has a place like this: where all the main streets seem to converge in a huge, insane mishmash of traffic lights and winding streets. I zigzagged my way through several green lights before I made my way out of there.

Before I knew it, I was at the mansion. I don't know what happened to the family there, whether they all passed away, lost their fortune or just decided to sell/give their estate up to become a national monument, but there it was. The two entrances were both surrounded by little fountains and well-tended gardens of multicolored flowers. The stone roads that led in also split off in multiple directions, and there were awnings over almost every one of the little paths.

There really wasn't much else to see there. There were a couple of locals walking and looking around, but the stone paths that led all around the estate ended up in largely empty rooms. There were a couple of pictures and portraits of landscapes in a couple of them, and there was a DVD being projected in another about the history of the family, but otherwise, not much. Still, it was a nice enough walk, so I enjoyed myself.

I left the estate not long after seeing the last empty room, and headed away from the bustle of the busy streets to some place a little more relaxed. I wandered down a couple of narrow alleys between buildings, and knew I was on to something when the ground started to slope up. After passing a little garage and a smiling local working on his car, I came to the summit of the little slope: it was a wide field of grass that spread out as far as the eye could see to my left and right, and dropped sharply and suddenly to the banks of a tame river below.

I got as close as I could to the side to peek down, and the view was amazing. It was serene the way the sun glinted off of the water, and how wild, leaning shrubs clung to the grassy slopes for dear life on both sides with proud trees above them. On my left and right, running over the river, were a pair of suspension bridges. I watched a couple of cars travel over the both of them, and I started to really miss my motorcycle at that point. I knew I wanted to get another one while I was here, so I could visit more places in a single day than I could just traveling on foot. I was there for a half hour or so, then started the walk back to the subway.


I took a trip with a one-time internet friend to a town with a bunch of movie theaters and restaurants. She took me to a restaurant that sold really popular meat soup, and asked me to try some. I asked what was in it, but she refused to tell me until I was done eating. I figured out exactly what it was before I had my first slurp, but I played dumb and downed it all anyway, keeping my gag reflex in check until I was done. Then, of course, she told me it was entrails, I faked looking sick for a few seconds, and she laughed. It didn't taste that bad, actually. In fact, it really didn't taste like anything, but it had the texture of rubber, and that was kind of nasty.

The movie town was several blocks of the city closed off so that only pedestrians could go through it; my friend and I walked straight down roads that cars had driven on just a bit before. We walked past a bunch of movie theaters and crowds of high school and college kids, all of them trying to one-up each other with their fashion sense: long hair and loud T-shirts for the boys, heavy makeup and short skirts on the girls. Just like back home, I thought. On the edge of the movie town, there was a square clearing between a bunch of tall buildings, some that had movie theaters on every floor, others which were restaurants piled on top of each other. In the clearing were several people selling artsy things: pictures, CDs, movies and more.

A bit away, I felt my heart skip a beat and felt a little nervous. Next to a rack of used CDs was someone dressed as No-Face from my littlest sister's favorite movie of all time, Spirited Away. The costume was so well made that I thought it was real. The boss' white face slowly turned around the clearing, looking for customers to assist, and I felt even more nervous when the face looked directly at me, then turned away a few seconds later.

Nonetheless, I knew I had to get a picture of the boss and give it to my sister later, so I slowly approached from a blind spot to the side, and spoke up. "Excuse me," I said in the local language, and No-Face's face turned to look at me. A shiver went down my spine. "Can I take a picture with you?"

"Sure!" a girl's squeaky voice came out. I stifled a laugh, smiled a big smile, and the big chicken got his picture.


For my final Odds and Ends experience, I wanted to bring everything full circle and describe my very first experience coming here. There's nothing really special about that time, but the difference between that time and my eventual single life are very telling.

I didn't do much on the plane besides watch movies, but I spent portions of the flight nervously talking to a beautiful woman and got her email address, but I fell out of contact with her after a few weeks. When I arrived in the country, I told myself that I had to start putting out an air of confidence and I needed to start talking to more people. On the way through the airport terminal, I made an effort to smile and nod at other people, but I was still nervous, and it all felt so fake (it was just my old mind's way of trying to hold onto old habits). I went through customs and out to the front of the airport where I waited for my bud and his uncle and aunt, and they were about half an hour late, so I got nervous again about being stranded with no support. Eventually we met up, and I got into the car and we drove to his aunt's place, where I climbed the stairwell up to our room and dumped my stuff out.

It started pouring rain about then, but my bud and I went outside anyway so he could teach me how to change my money at the bank, and I picked up a couple hundred dollars worth of the local currency. While we were outside, I felt a little depressed because I wanted to start being a leader and work on my confidence, but there I was, just following my bud around like a puppy.

After that, we headed back to our room, where I felt absolutely exhausted from the jet lag. My bud warned me not to go to sleep until nighttime, and knowing he was right, we spent a couple of hours upstairs playing PSP together. Unfortunately, because he played copied games and I didn't, we played next to each other, but on our own. Night rolled around rather soon after that, so after PSPing and talking about old times for a few hours, my bud and I got ready to sleep.

Before I drifted off, I took a picture of myself as a "Before" photo, knowing that at the time, I wasn't a very attractive guy in any sense of the word. It wasn't a bad picture, but it certainly wasn't anything special: my hair was really short, I had a nervous smile on, I was about twenty pounds overweight and my eyes told the world that I was afraid.

A little over a month later, I took the internet profile "After" picture of myself at the hostel: spiked hair, confident "bad boy" smile, perfect weight and piercingly direct eyes. It took a little time, but I had arrived.

When I first got on the plane in June of 2007, I had no idea that I was going to be heading to the place where I would spend the best six months of my life, and I think my Then and Now posts really bring that out. I also had no idea that I would cap that experience off with marriage, which would destroy everything I had ever worked for. I should have thought things through and realized what I had, instead of believing the metric tons of tripe that society and the media had fed me about the non-existent benefits of this ruinous institution. All I have left of my old days now are my memories, and the fourteen year wait until I can have that life again.

As for today...

I woke up at 6:00.
I played video games.
My son woke up, so I turned off the game.
I played video games with him.
I prepared teaching lessons.
I went to work.
I taught students.
I came home.
I ate dinner.
I roughhoused with my son.
I watched TV.
I played video games with my son.
I started a load of laundry.
I folded and put away dry clothes.
I played cell phone games with my son.
I hung up wet laundry.
I slept.

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