Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Then and Now 57 - Odds and Ends 8

Then and Now 57 - Odds and Ends 8
Time: Before I got married.

While this Odds and Ends post will probably be less interesting than other tales of my single life, I think it really illustrates perfectly the difference between life as a single man, and life as a married one. I'll save the explanation for the end, and hope the stories themselves are clear enough to prove my point.


Because I had spent so long finding a job, and spent so much time messing around in the hostel and enjoying my newfound freedom, I had to extend my visa before I found a job. There needed to be a certain amount of time left on it before my company would offer an official contract, then I could apply for a temporary ID. Unfortunately, I did the latter step first.

On my way to the immigration office, I got lost. I had some basic directions and assumed there would be a sign or two that would direct me there, but no such luck. I ended up wandering around a park for a little while, which was on an entire city block surrounded by small, quiet streets. It was shaded and peaceful, but there weren't many people around. I walked through a few trees and past some slides when I saw a local family walking on the sidewalk with their little girl. I used my developed skill at the local language to ask where I could find the place where "I can get my passport and ID done," and they pointed me down a large street just a block away. I thanked them, and went on up.

The street was very nicely designed: there was a long and raised median running between streets running in either direction, and it had a long row of trees lining the entire street all the way down on it, all with colored banners running down the street through their branches.

In no time, I was outside the immigration office, which was a floor down and glutted with people of every color and nationality. I took a number and surreptitiously listened in on a few conversations, but while I could understand one or two, the vast majority of them were, to me, just so much jibbajabba.

When my turn came, I talked with the lady there about filing my paperwork and turning in my contract to finally get my temporary ID, but because my visa was going to expire in a few days, she absolutely refused to apply for the card, then directed me to a place several towns over where I could do that first. "I can't help you," I remember her exact words being.

I took my things and left, trying not to grind my teeth in frustration at yet another bureaucratic roadblock that seemed created just to encourage me to leave and go home. Still, I settled down after a few minutes, and decided to take a walk around to turn this failed task into something more interesting. After an hour or two of seeing some local businesses, the mountains in the distance, a few bus stations and some residences, I felt at peace again and got myself to the subway to get home, then prepared myself to get that authorization as soon as possible.


One day, I had to head to the embassy to do something or another with my passport, and though I don't remember exactly what it was, it was urgent. I had an appointment at 3:00 or so, but I soon found that I had left my house too late to get there on time. I took the bus directly there on advice from my girlfriend, but I had no idea that the traffic would be so horrendous from my apartment to the main city. As the bus inched along packed highways and through squeezed streets, I kept looking at my cell phone, praying time would go backwards. 2:30... 2:33... 2:40... until finally, the scheduled time came and passed.

I was in deep trouble. If I didn't take care of this problem, I might have gotten booted out of the country, or at the very least, had to file some expensive paperwork.

On the way, an older gentleman saw me constantly pulling my phone out and checking the time with looks of anxiety, and he asked me what was wrong. I smiled nervously and told him that I was late for an embassy appointment, but he just smiled and said I would be ok, and then asked me some questions about myself to keep me calm. I didn't really believe his reassurances, but by the time the bus had arrived, we said goodbye, I sprinted to the embassy and I got myself into the interview area, even though I was about fifteen or twenty minutes late, my number still hadn't been called.

I breathed a sigh of relief, and mentally thanked that kind man for trying to keep me calm about something that turned out not to be a problem at all.


Before I took my trip back to America for my final Christmas, I decided to have a travel agent help me find the cheapest flight back, so I had more money to spend on presents and fun when I got back. My boss told me about a friend of hers who worked for a travel company in the main city, and after a quick introduction over the phone, I went on over to get my ticket ready. The trip to and from the travel agency, and the time spent there, weren't too special. I got a bit lost outside of the agency and had to ask the security guard in the local language where it was, and there were some cozy shops behind rows of trees around the area, but after getting my ticket, that was about it.

It was what I saw above the big street a few blocks away from the travel agency that made me laugh out loud: Big Mac. Not the hamburger, but the cool moon in the sunglasses and suit that I hadn't seen in decades. I smiled and laughed at that blast from the past, interested to see some classic American culture making waves around the world.


Continuing from my failure to get the temporary ID, I had just taken the subway to the main city and was approaching the immigration office. The subway led out on a large street that dipped far, far down towards some office buildings, and there were several people hiking up and down the daunting hill.

A really nice woman in her 30s saw me meandering around out there, checking a map, and asked me if I needed help finding something. I told her I was looking for the visa office, and she smiled and showed me where it was on my the map. I thanked her (probably should have asked her to dinner, too), then went down the hill and turned left onto a large street to get to the office.

There was a large wall to the side of the road on my left, and it was obscuring some sort of warehouse district or government building, but the trip wasn't as interesting as the pottery shop I saw on the way there. After finishing my business at the office, I came back to check out the wares inside: statues, jewelry, crafts, pictures, stylized furniture, and even T-shirts pointing out the foibles of the country, it was an amazing little shop. Though I didn't have any money to spend on anything that day, I did really enjoy myself looking around at the intricate and well-built wares of an obvious artisan.


I don't remember what I was looking for this day, but it had something to do with my job or taxes or something. I headed out in the same general area as when I started wandering around after the temporary ID rejection, but in a different direction. This area was under more construction than the rest of the town, and I walked under several overhangs that protected pedestrians from falling debris from towering, but not yet built, office buildings.

Across from a bus station, I came across a foreigner with his local girlfriend. He was extremely built and she was cute as a button, but unlike today, I had no jealousy in my heart then: my time would come to find a great relationship, and I was going to be the reason I succeeded. As they got closer, I noticed something odd: the foreigner had a horrendous, snarling look of rage on his face, and the girl was smiling happily as if nothing were wrong. They held hands as they passed, and even though I smiled at them, the foreigner ignored me, and the girl just looked away.

Were they teasing me? Was it the Dark Triad in action? I have no idea, but that guy's face is still burned into my mind to this day.

I continued on to a towering office building that I thought was the place I wanted to get to, but it wasn't. The security guards, obviously unused to seeing a foreigner, much less any visitor at all to the deserted place, met me outside, and we talked in the local language. They gave me good directions to the next place, and I even got a bottle of water from one of them when I told them how long I had been walking.

It started to rain after I left, and because I forgot my umbrella, my hair gel was coming off my spikes and leaving my hair a matted mess. After I finished my business, I figured that was as good a time as any to head home, so back I went to my apartment to shower and enjoy the soothing hiss of the rain outside of my cozy pad.


So that's the end of this Then and Now. While I did have a common thread of nice people helping me through most of these stories, the point I was trying to describe was what linked all of these stories together: paperwork, errands and other bureaucratic things that nobody in their right mind enjoys doing. Imagining these times as the married man I am, I have pangs of nostalgia. Even when I was doing nothing more than visa runs or applications, my life as a single man was still much, much more adventurous, interesting, varied... and most importantly, free... than my life is now.

As for today...

I woke up at 6:30.
I played video games.
My wife and son woke up, so I turned off the game.
I took them to the arcade, then we went home.
I surfed the net.
I watched TV.
I went to work.
I taught students.
I came home.
I cleaned up the floor and table.
I folded and put away dry clothes.
I fixed the computer.
I slept.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

New methods

My wife promised me sex tonight; I pretended to agree with her, but mostly ignored her obvious lie. It's been over two months.

Today, I took my son on a big trip to the main city to see a dinosaur expo; my wife couldn't go because she had a meeting at work. We got lunch at Burger King, then we went to the expo to see some dinosaur robots roaring around. Later, I accidentally took us on a train heading to the wrong side of the country, and we were out and lost for about five hours, spending the entire time talking, looking at sights out the window and laughing.

My wife called me four or five times, each time nagging me about taking off his jacket, getting him water or something else that she knew I was already doing. As soon as she said any of the magic words:

"Could you..."
"Did you..."
"You should..."

Or whatever else, I hung up on her mid-sentence. Eventually, I just turned the phone off.

Surprise surprise, later that night: no sex. Wouldn't have been any different if I just took her nagging; this is what marriage is like. Accept low level control and abuse to have a fraction of a percent chance to get laid, or don't accept it and take the steady "no chance in hell." It's happened hundreds of times before, it will happen thousands more.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Choices made

I came home by train, and talked with my co-worker on the way. We discussed marriage again, and I warned her once more not to do it. During the course of the dialogue, I told her that I work seven days a week and come home to chores every night, and she said my wife was lucky to have me, and wondered why it wasn't enough for her. Then she said that if she got married with me, she would be really happy. I don't think she would be. As a woman, she'd probably start to resent me for all the work I do, which is as bass-ackwards, but true, a lesson I've learned from being married. In any event, I do wish I had the chance to date this awesome girl, but it's impossible.

I met up with my son and his grandma at a convenience store and they did a little shopping, then we went back to the apartment together. Entering, I saw my former co-worker and his hot girlfriend walking out of the complex again. He was carrying a huge monitor to her car, and she was smiling a huge smile at her helpful boyfriend. I hope he never marries her and turns that thankful smile into a dismissive scowl for the rest of his days.

I went upstairs, cleaned up the floor and table, folded and put away dry clothes, did the dishes, searched around for the remote control for about twenty minutes before finding it, fixed the computer again, showered my son, finished fixing the computer, then went to sleep, knowing that the only thanks I'll be getting for everything involves blue balls, and the Sisyphean process of another appropriated paycheck and a messed up house for me to clean, tomorrow.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Then and Now 56 - My Studies

Then and Now 56 - My Studies
Time: Before I got married.

I've learned three foreign languages in my life. I learned the first in high school, and it took me three years to become semi-capable in it. The second I learned in college, and it took me five years to become pretty good at it. The local language of this country, on the other hand, I mostly learned in just three months. It's not because it was easy or anything; it's because I found a way to remember things extremely efficiently, and from that skill, I devoured the local language through a dictionary in just a handful of months. But I'll back up a bit.

I actually took some time to learn the local language in college, but over the nine or so months I was learning it, I didn't get much else besides very basic grammar and a handful of words like "I" "student" "book" and "dog." It's no surprise that I was such a bad student when I was in college, seeing as how I was so self-destructive during its first half. In primary school I got straight A's and B's, but when I got to college, everything about my life, including my memory and grades, slipped heavily. I still remember being so frustrated in my apartment at college, looking at a word list from one of my language classes and trying to remember just one simple word: "confirm." I even repeated the word and its translation a hundred times each in succession, and still forgot the next day.

It wasn't until I was a few months from moving here that I had had enough. I was improving my character, and next, I had to improve my memory. I went on Google and typed something along the lines of "remember things quickly easily." And one of the top results was the page that would make me the semi-fluent speaker of the local language today: mnemonics. It's annoying to spell, though, so from here on out, I'll just call it "nicking."

I still remember the first thing I nicked, which was an example from that page: remembering to go buy some milk and fix the door by imagining myself pouring milk on a door. The image was so disgusting to me, and involved two things in my permanent memory (milk and door), so it was the perfect way to remember those two concepts as they applied to daily chores.

A few days after I got to the country, my bud and I went to a local bookshop to get me an English-localspeak dictionary, and I spent every night writing down simple words from it, and into a notebook, to learn for later. It was only a short time after I first got to the country that I found myself missing an opportunity because of my poor language skill in Then and Now 54, and that was the moment I really started to dig deep into my studies.

My notebook filled very quickly as I worked my way from A to Z. I wrote down every single simple word, and its translation, on the notebook to learn for later. Directions, prepositions, animals, colors, clothes, body parts, basic verbs, countries, furniture, languages, materials, the all-important language-doubling word "opposite," and so many more. Day by day and page by page, I went through the dictionary until I hit the last word and was done. In the process, I even copied some dubiously useful oddballs, like "cancer," "holy" and "surf."

When I was done writing all these words down and had worked through about a hundred or two, I was only a few days away from moving out of my bud's aunt's house and to the hostel. Every night there, after having a fun adventure through the day and talking with friends at night, I created stories and nicked another dozen or so words every night. And whenever I wanted to learn a new word from someone who didn't speak English, all I had to do was combine simple words into a question, hear the more complicated word from them, then finally nick it, and I was even further along towards fluency.

I even taught Ken how to nick while we were taking a bus back to the hostel together, by giving him a simple, easy and fun story to remember the word "protect." After that, he never forgot the word. Another time, when he and I were in a taxi heading home, he asked the driver what "the line that protects my body in the car" is. We both learned "seat belt" right then and there.

I was practicing these words on Ken, local friends and tutor students all over the country, and they all taught me even more: my bud's aunt taught me "polite," Ken taught me "cheese," Tina taught me "hate," Eli taught me "french fries," Nate taught me "ticker" (the little news bytes running by on the bottom of news channels), and the "Three Musketeers" taught me "scary" and "scared."

Unfortunately, the weakness in my studies revealed itself when I realized that my dictionary taught me the formal/scientific/legal versions of many words, like "present" instead of "show," or "sputum" instead of "snot." When I realized that about a quarter of my words were overly formal and causing confused stares, I had to review and double check my entire vocabulary list with Tim and Jessie, and later Nate. I'm still in their debt for their kind help.

Even after that hiccup, and after settling into my apartment, I had successfully nicked over a thousand words. Then, with more free time on my hands at night and on the weekends, I upped my studying from a dozen words a night to twenty or thirty. And in just a week or two, I was completely done.

I still remember the day I nicked my final hundred words: I was playing Samurai Warriors on my PSP and using it as a "dog treat" reward for memorizing ten words at a time. Memorize the words, fight one battle, review them, fight one battle, memorize another ten (including any I forgot in the first place), etc... At the exact same time that I finished the game with my last general Ina, I had nicked my final ten words. I set the game aside, watched TV for a bit, had a smoke, then spent about an hour testing myself a final time on every single word I had learned since I got abroad... and I remembered them all. Seconds later, I crumpled up my vocabulary papers, all of them, and threw them in the trash. And I never needed to use them again.

Thanks to my dedication in learning the local language, I had the impressive skill that I had back in my single days. It helped me make hundreds of friends and several job prospects, and almost a dozen girls wanted to date me. People to this day compliment me on my skill, which doesn't say much for the other foreigners here.

Today, I still learn words where I can, usually filling in gaps in my knowledge for my classes and stuff. In the past few years, I've learned such words as "diamond," "mist," "criminal," "raft" and "limit," which have served me well in my English lessons. But other than filling in gaps in my language skill, there's not much point in learning any more. Marriage has robbed me of my friends and free time, and there are very few people I can talk to while I'm stuck in my house, working or dealing with chores all day. It also makes little sense to learn any other language now, because I'm not leaving this country for another fourteen years so I'll never use any other languages until then. Also, with my 95% successful first attempt retention skill at nicking, I'll be able to semi-master any language I shoot for in less than a month when I finally get my freedom back.

I learned more of the local language in three months than most men who come here have learned in decades, grunting and gesturing like cavemen when they interact with the local populace. And yet, they are the ones who get dates, money and adventure, while I'm left to stagnate in this wedded prison. I've attempted to share the concept of nicking with almost a dozen foreigners whose language skills were pathetic and infant-like to give them the best possible time they could have here. Every last one of them thanked me, then when I checked up on them a few months later, they all admitted that they hadn't even started. Even though it would take them twenty minutes a night to permanently learn fifty to a hundred words, most of them fed me the lie that they had no time, and then continued on with their disrespectful life of ignorance.

In fourteen years, I will be a new man. Jealous thoughts will have no place in my mind, and I'll continue my ascent up the mountain of life, with no marriage to ever shackle me again. Perhaps I'll learn ten more languages before I pass, when I will be eternally free from this enslavement.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Then and Now 55 - Bear Tea

Then and Now 55 - Bear Tea
Time: Mid-2007, single and at my apartment.

I got an email from a guy, Mack, one day, asking if I wanted to hang out with him and some of his college friends. I agreed and we set up a time to say hello in the main city. The subway took me past many stops that I had never explored before, and when I arrived at the correct one to meet my new friend, I was kind of shocked by how many people there were on the street.

It was the perfect time for shopping, I guess: it was on the weekend and around 8:00 at night, so there were locals walking in every direction in throngs. Fashion and speed were the name of the night walkers' game. Carefully pushing through the crowds of people, Mack, his friends and I found a side street where almost nobody was walking through. People passed behind us, happily talking and laughing with one another, and their voices slowly faded as we continued down the smaller street.

I saw something weird that night: it was a piece of grafitti on the wall of a happy teddy bear. I'm not sure if one person did the picture and someone else wrote the words later, but the cute teddy bear had a speech bubble that said, in English, "It's time to say f***!" I laughed and pointed it out to Mack and his friends, but only Mack seemed to get the awkwardness of the English and chuckled.

All of us came to a tea shop a little ways away, with the entrance facing towards one of the busy streets outside. After ordering at the front desk, we all sat and began to talk. Mack and his friends seemed to get a little more quiet as time went on, like they were enjoying the quiet atmosphere (or just being shy), so I decided to start overpowering everyone with my awesomeoness by leading a bunch of conversations at once, just like I did in Then and Now 31.

With that previous practice under my belt, I was easily able to get everyone talking and laughing together, and I quietly beamed with pride at how much progress I was making with my life. In high school and most of college, I practically glued my back to the wall, eyes downcast, and let others talk without me. But here, I was making news friends happy with fun stories about my time in their country, and getting them to tell their own.

We all nursed our drinks slowly so we could keep the conversation going, until friend after friend had to return to their apartments, houses and dorms and leave everyone else behind. Finally, when only Mack and I were left, we went back to the subway, said goodbye and headed off in different directions.

Right after, I got in touch with May, and she and I met up at an outdoor market. I had already been there in Then and Now 1 to see the expensive statue and furniture shop, but May took me down a different side of it. The main path of the outdoor market was spacious enough to let five or so people walk together through it, but May took me down the smaller side path that went past some food places, barely enough room for two to walk abreast.

One of them was a place that was lit like a bar, and had roughed up wooden tables like it was a bar, but they only sold fruit drinks, tea and coffee. We went inside to get a quick drink, talking about her college life and my work, until her phone started to ring; it was more of her friends asking her if she wanted to hang out. They were in the neighborhood, so we met up on the big path outside of a toy store.

Three of them were locals, but one of them was an American that May knew from college. He was a confident, friendly gentleman, and introduced himself in a welcoming way that I hadn't experienced since I first met Ken at the hostel. We chatted for a bit about America and the things we missed (and I had to mention burritos), but I started feeling really sleepy as the conversation continued. I apologized to everyone and said I had to go, and promised May that I would see her again later. Strongly shaking hands with the American, we smiled big smiles and made half-hearted promises to keep in touch. We never spoke again, but it was still nice to meet him.

Soon enough, I was on the train back home, and after the final bus ride, I was home for a shower, sleep, and a coming Sunday with nothing but relaxation and fun to look forward to.

As for today...

I woke up at 8:00.
I surfed the net.
I played video games.
My wife and son woke up, so I turned off the game.
I ate lunch.
I took my wife and son to the arcade, then we went home.
I played blocks with my son.
I watched TV.
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 played video games on the way.
I cleaned up the floor and table.
I did the dishes.
I folded and put away dry clothes.
I slept.