Christmas Lights

The Day After Thanksgiving

Christmas Lights

What we do after thanksgiving…

I never thought this would be me but here I am on November 23rd, listening to Christmas music while Annette decorates the house with lights. I’ve never liked Christmas much, except for advent calendars, which catered to both my obsessive-compulsive and chocolate-loving nature.

Writing a comic

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I’ve started writing a comic book. It’s going to be about 20 pages long and its about my ill-fated first day as a substitute teacher. Often with creative projects coming up with a useable workflow can be a substantial part of the battle. Currently I’m using Scrivener to outline and the ipad app Noteshelf to do the page thumbnails and rough outlines. Noteshelf is great because I can have a customizable background page template. I’m not sure what program I’ll use to draw the final artwork.

What’s your workflow? I’m very open to suggestions!

Sorting stuff with my mom

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This is what we do before we give away childhood toys.

iPad art

I got an iPad from work and I used it to make some drawings on the plane.

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I just got a bike

It’s not the best bike in the world but it only cost $30.  I got it from a girl at a party. She was moving and wanted to get rid of the bike because she’d bought a better one. We hit it off and she offered to sell it to me for $20 and I was going to buy it for Annette. Well, I hadn’t mentioned that it was for Annette… or anything about Annette, which might have been why it was only $20. The only issue was that there were a few things wrong with it and I doubted Annette was interested in installing a gear shifter before being able to use it.  So I really wanted the bike for myself but never called the girl, fearing the low price. Months later I ran into her at a veggie dog eating contest and she was upset that I’d never called. However, she still had the bike and, to compensate for any hurt feelings, I gave her $30.  It cost $17 for a very lazy bike store to install a new gear shifter… Plus another $30 for some slick tires for the road.

I changed the tires today and rode the bike to ColdTowne where I did the Sunday free Allstars show.  Halfway there it got really hard to pedal and I was wondering at how out of shape i was. I hardly made it!  Well, I dismounted near the theater and as I pushed the bike indoors, I noticed that the back wheel wasn’t even turning. I’d put the wheel on loose and it had become off center while I’d been riding.  So it turns out that I’m more in shape than I’d previously thought!

So now I have a bike and I’m very very happy.

Subbing: First Day

My first day of subbing was at a middle school on Austin’s east side. Later I found out from Annette’s mom, it was the worst part of the city in which to sub. It was far out of town in the middle of nowhere with only factories, strip-malls and pawnshops to dot the countryside. When I arrived I was told that there were 17 subs requested for the school that day. Partly it was because there was a teacher in-service that day but mostly it was because someone had shot at the police with an AK47 and now neighborhood was on lockdown and teachers were having trouble getting to work.

The teacher I was subbing for was doing the in-service onsite she told that she would be back at the end of the day. She also told me that they were great kids and that if they misbehaved to use the suspension forms. This should have given me a hint as to what was going to happen. Every teacher tells the sub that their class is good. She is the only one who ever told me to use suspension forms. All I had to do was hand out some tests and then an assignment. Easy.

First period was tired and they just tested me out a bit. They were loud and out of their chairs and screaming. The class talked, shouted, was rude, used foul language, etc. Second period was worse. They’d learned from the first period that I was unprepared. The kids thought the funniest thing was to ask for pencils and then break them, to ask for a test or handout and destroy it. I didn’t get a single test even handed back to me at the end.

In middle school teachers have little leverage because far and away the most important thing to most students is what their peers think of them. Every moment is an opportunity to be awesome or stupid in the eyes of their classmates. Cute girls who’re just becoming sexual and learning that they can command attention by getting boys to act out. In every class boys said and did all kinds of imbecilic things for the sexual bones that the girls threw their way: a smile here, a piece of eye contact there. While mysterious and seductive to their male peers, to someone twice their age their flirting was as subtle as a caveman dance. One 13 year old in first period left me a paper neatly folded on her desk: “My name is . My number is . Please call me.” It was shocking.

Paper was thrown; kids hit each other. When I got hit in the head with a rubber band I finally called school security. Without asking anything the man said “I’ll be right there’. Just before he arrived the kids shut up. They began working away quietly and when the security officer showed up at the door he asked what the problem was. I sheepishly told him that the kids had been out of control but they were fine now. He looked at the little angels and asked: “Are you guys being out of control?” That was all they needed and the room erupted in front of him in a blaze of insanity probably designed to show off how completely in control they were. “I wasn’t being disruptive. He was!!” said one. “It wasn’t me,” shouted his friend, hitting him. All hell broke loose. The security man made some brief threats about calling their parents and then he left and with him any semblance of authority. Looking back, it was all screwball comedy. This Asian kid who hardly spoke English came to me almost in tears. In a despairing voice: “Don’t call my parents! I’ve been working so hard!!!” As if there was any accountability at all.

The class’s reputation was so bad that by the last period, eight kids who wanted to do their work immediately abandoned ship and left for neighboring classrooms. “This sucks, is said one kid who stayed. Now it’s going to be all quiet in here.” And it was. Quiet and controllable. There was a conversation that went on and on… But that was ok. A cute girl flirting with her cute boys, an annoyance, not a threat.

While it felt like I was trying to stand in a cold rushing river for a few hours, for me the hardest part of the day was leaving. I tried to clean up the floor on which her class had used to store the contents of their backpacks. I wanted to let her know how the day had gone.

“It went ok.” I lied. “Nothing too bad.”
“Yeah, I heard they were out of control,” she said.
“Well, thanks.” I said.
“Thank you,” she said. And it was over.

She was stacking books and never looked at me during the exchange. The office told me I didn’t have to sign out. I left; feeling cheap, a call girl hired to keep the class busy while the girlfriend was away. Somehow I had misunderstood my role in the educational process and it stung. It was the toughest 75 bucks I’ve EVER earned.


the move ends

Change is stressful and requires a lot of attention. There are so many new things to learn and do that it’s easy to lose oneself in the muddle. The emotions you experience are more intense and you see things as if for the first time. Until now it’s been impossible for me to write to an audience about coming to Austin. Writing about things in the moment, as they are happening takes more self awareness and multitasking skill than I currently have.

But, like every other move I’ve made, the dust clears and you no longer need to find an apartment, get furniture, look for a job, etc. Well, perhaps I still do need to do a lot of those things but the urgency is gone. I have all those essential slots temporarily filled and I can concentrate on exploring where I have landed.

I want to start writing more about Austin, especially through the eyes of someone who is just returning to the United States after three years of being abroad and who has never before had pretensions of living in Texas. Austin is a really amazing and I can’t wait to start writing.

austin house hunt and alori property managers


I should warn you that this post is just a bunch of whining. Mostly about a really bad property management company. Coming to a new place is tough in a lot of ways. If one were all settled. One of the toughest is getting started (housing and job) while not having either of the two. Here’s a story of Alori Property Managementand how they made the process a little harder.

The first job is housing. It’s hard to apply to jobs without a home so it’s good to get that first. The last I looked for housing in the States was four years ago and craigslist was the way. Now, however, while there are lots of advertisements for places, it seems to have been co-opted by property managers or agents, both of which take their cut. Our experience was probably typical. In our first day looking we saw maybe 7 different places. There were a few nice ones and at the end of the day we decided on one we liked a lot.

The apartment was run by a property manager called Alori Apartments. We went to the place and filled out the application and put a deposit down. The first bad sign was that they seemed to have called it a day at 5:30 and were already drinking in the office. Everything seemed in order but it was odd because they didn’t seem excited about renting to us.

We both have impeccable credit but they were only interested in our rental history (we had none from the USA, only Buenos Aires) and if we had jobs (we just got into town). So they asked for a two guarantors. This was fine but when I asked if one would be ok, they got snippity. I asked for a few other questions like how the deposit worked, what happened in case of breaking the lease, and if we could look at the lease. They didn’t like answering any of them. I assume it was the alcohol.

My dad agreed to guarantee us they faxed him a blank form saying basically he guaranteed us. He asked for a copy of the lease (or something saying how much we were paying in rent, etc.) and they refused to provide it. He said he’d like to know what he was guaranteeing.

When I called at 11am the next day, they said that there’d been a terrible mistake and apparently they’d rented the apartment to someone else who had put in a deposit before us. I asked them why they’d accepted our deposit and he said it was a clerical error. He refused to say anything more or explain how it had happened. I asked him if it was usually their policy to accept deposits on a property while not telling applicants that they were considering other people. The man refused to answer.

It makes no sense why they did any of that. I really doubt someone was actually in front of us. Someone else just probably arrived after us but had a rental history and a job and so after taking our deposit they decided on someone else.

It was frustrating and emotionally draining because we had really like the apartment. It was strange too because Alori never actually told us that they preferred the other people, just that we weren’t fast enough in getting all our information in, something that they had been holding up.

So not a big deal, but it is really indicative of our experience here. It’s weird that a company like this could be so cavalier and unprofessional but it’s something that’s been coming up a lot. From the temp agency who doesn’t answer their phone to the tutoring agency who wanted me to sign a contract saying I wouldn’t tutor for any other company for two years.

It’s Texas and people here seem to make their own law.

e-learning

It’s ironic. I do so little but feel like things are moving so fast. Life is a whirl of meeting up with old friends and family who I haven’t seen in years.

Now that I have a nice new computer I can actually use it to do something. I’m taking full advantage of being in San Francisco to have my brother teach me what I need to know about creating interactive web apps (python, django, plone, etc.). My head is bursting with new information and my brain is craving more and more knowledge. Getting back in touch with this isde of my personality makes me feel stable and at home, an old friend I’d missed.

While I was away in Buenos Aires, I dropped all things computer. It’s interesting because while I was working in an e-learning company, I was shunted away from programming. Management didn’t like groups to interact or share each other’s skills. Not unlike the learning it instills, the job was an information production line, nothing more nor less. It’s exciting to think about another job where, like previous jobs, I will be encouraged to bring all my skills to the table.

I can hardly wait.

Reverse Culture Shock: Energy Drain

I’ve been back for about three weeks and shock is just about setting in. It’s as total as it is indescribable. I know it only by its symptoms. I am exhausted all the time. The actual tasks I need to do are easy: going to the mechanic, calling a friend, driving to the bank. It’s ironic because both the bureaucracy and the language is easier for me to navigate than it was in Buenos Aires.

The feeling is like having ice skated or roller bladed for a few hours, on taking the skates off you feel like you’re walking on air. You feel like you can run faster than a cheetah, nothing can stop you, your shoes have never been more comfy. But then you don’t know why you’ve walked just a few blocks and you’re out of breath already. The answer? Reverse culture shock.

Things seem like they should be easy, after all, I’ve done all this stuff and I didn’t even speak the language, I didn’t know anyone, I had fewer resources. I have none of these problems here in the States. It is not the difficulty of the tasks that is overwhelming, it’s that neurons in my brain are firing after having gone years without being accessed. My body is reconstructing relationships that it hasn’t considered in years.

Transport

“In my country there’s a problem, and that problem is transport.” -Borat

For my first year in Argentina my car (an 89 Camry) sat unused in my parents’ garage, so I gave it to a friend of mine who needed it. Now that I’ve returned she kindly fixed it up and handed it over. The car made it from Seattle to Portland just fine but then, on the way to Sacramento, the engine overheated and died.

It’s frightening to have your car die on the highway. When I started driving I used to imagine situations in which I’d imagine what I’d do in case I lost control of the vehicle. In this case the engine died and I lost power steering and brakes. Armed only with an unwhieldly wheel, an ebrake and some emergency blinkers for luck we somehow were able to coast into an Arco station. I poured in a $12 jug of coolant and it poured right out the bottom of the car. After some cajoling a guy working at the neighboring Subway came out and promptly disappeared under the car. He emerged, pronounced a leak in the water pump and recommended us a hotel where he and his girlfriend had spent the night the previous weekend.

We stayed at the Motel 6 slept hard. We’d spent so much time sitting and waiting for the car to cool, I’d eaten only some yogurt, a sandwich and some trailmix. Luckily we were just blocks away from Perry’s Automotive Service so we showed up bright and early with our broken car. They quoted us $460 to fix it (4 hours of labor at $80/hour) and, though it’s probably more than the price of the car, I decided to do the deed.

In Argentina I hardly ever used cars and never for long distance transportation as the interior of an Argentine bus looks more like an airplane than something you’d expect to have wheels. While I miss the freedom of the open road, it’s been wonderful to avoid the tragedy of a roadside breakdown. At least when you’re the one paying for it.

SIEMPRE HAY UNA SALIDA

Resignation

SIEMPRE HAY UNA SALIDA

SIEMPRE HAY UNA SALIDA


It was the last day of a coworker, a fellow expat. We had been hired on the same day almost three years earlier and now he’d decided to go back to England to try his luck. I asked him if he wasn’t worried about the economy. “When it’s time it’s time.” He said. And I knew in my heart that at that moment that it was my time too. But such a big move can be scary and and it can be easy to ignore your heart when a good paycheck and a comfortable life are on the chopping block.

Perhaps to make sure I wasn’t going to back out, about 4 months before my intended departure date I told my manager that I was leaving and asked him how much notice he wanted. He said a month would be ideal but that two weeks would suffice in a pinch. I assured him he’d get it. Then every two weeks or so he’d ask me about it and I would assure him that there was no change of plan. Then, one day, he said he would really like to know so he could plan a little. I said I’d let him know in a week, it depended on my friend taking vacations with me. A week rolls around and I haven’t talked to my friend (he’d been sick) and my manager wants me to give a month’s notice. I let him know about the situation and tell him I’ll let him know Monday (it’s Friday). He explodes.

Manager: You said you’d tell me today.
Me: Yes, and now i’m telling you it’ll be one workday later.
Manager: But I need to know today.
Me: Do you need this information for any particular reason? Are you going to do something today with it?
Manager: I told the owner I’d meet with him about what to do about your position.
Me: Well, it’s a month in advance so I can just get you off the hook and email him telling him that you were under a false impression and I’ll take full responsibility. It won’t be on you.
Manager: It’s not about that. He doesn’t care. But you gave me your word, this is about personal integrity.
Me: You told me you wanted a month’s advance notice and you’re going to get it. It’s more than a month. You don’t need the information today. You asked me for a favor. I said ok. Now I’m telling you that you’ll still get your favor but one day later. And you’re telling me that, though you don’t need it, it’s about personal integrity.
Manager: Well, if you don’t want to pick a day, I’ll just pick a day for you. We’ll say that your last day is July 11.
Me: You’re firing me?
Manager: [looking shocked] No. I’m just telling you when your last day is.
Me: Isn’t that the same as firing someone?

The conversation continued in about the same way for awhile and eventually ended with his taking the high ground and letting me have till monday to decide. My mind cleared of all doubts, it was a joy to tell him.

texnat?

Let me just briefly explain the title of the blog:

It started with EXNAT, my blog about being an expatriate in buenos aires (expat+nathan=exnat). Now, after what will be three years abroad, I’m moving to Texas. Yes, Texas.

I once drove around the country for 3 months visiting 36 of our 50 fine states but when I never messed with Texas. My friend and I drove over 20 hours across the state to avoid sleeping there. Texas has always been a bit of a scary place to me. It was the mythical place that cowboys came from. Not cowboys from Westerns, the cowboys in my high school who chewed tobacco and always looked like if they ever actually noticed me they would beat me up. I’m from Sacramento and the “cowboys” from Sacramento are just working class white idiots who dress that way for the image. They’re not idiots because of dressing that way. They’re idiots for the chewing tobacco, among other things.

But anyways, it’s time for me to ride off into the sunset towards Texas country. Why Texas? A girl. Her name is Annette.

 

ANNETTE

ANNETTE

Supermarkets: Buenos Aires

I had two great supermarket experiences yesterday:

LUNCH
I brought some nice lentil soup to work and then thought to run to the supermarket to buy some bread rolls. So it’s lunchtime and there’s tons of people at the bread counter. You grab a number. Unfortunately I was holding mine (98) upside down and I thought it was 86. So the helper lady calls out the next number (me) 98 and it takes me a second to recover. Only a second but in that time someone has already said “I’m number 99!” and been helped. She commiserates with me “Oh. You shouldn’t hold your ticket upside down” she says. Yeah. I know. So in theory I should be the next person. The lady behind the counter knows this but she still calls out “Ok. 100” WHILE LOOKING AT ME. So I say “Oh, I’m 98.” All I want is two pieces of bread. But then this guy (Number 100) says “Hey, all I want is…” and then he lists off a few things but he does it like he’s ordering it. He’s way sly, like he just completely cut in front of me, KNOWING that he’s screwing me over for the second time. I say “Ok. Well I’m first and all I want are two pieces of bread.” So he and I have both said what we want and as far as I’m concerned it’s up to her to decide who to serve first. The lady behind the counter looks at me, waits, almost as if to say “Do you really want to go first?” I get the distinct idea that I’m breaking some cultural rule by taking my rightful place in line. The guy chimes in in this pleading voice: “I have these raviolis and they’re getting cold. Please let me get out of here without my raviolis getting cold.” The counter lady slowly goes towards the bread and, still with this look on her face as if I am forcing her, takes out the bread, puts it in a bag, weighs it, and gives it to me. The guy says “Oh. you only wanted to get bread. I thought you wanted to get facturas and sandwiches and… Oh, you’re just like me. You just wanted to get something small.” He is still talking as I walk away.

It’s so crazy because when I first got here I would have just bowed out and let the guy go first. After all, I’m a guest in his country. I think becoming a legal resident has given me this kind of backbone I didn’t have before. It’s hard to respond quickly when you don’t speak the language (which is what started the whole episode) and when I return to the States I vow to respect people who don’t speak English as their first language a bit more.

DINNER
I was returning from work and I went to this large supermarket near my house. It’s an upscale neighborhood and I always see things in the supermarket that seem interesting and new. So this time near the cheese section I see this dried fish for really cheap. So I buy 5 pesos of it and am going to take it home to see what it is and what it tastes like. I feel adventurous, putting it in my basket.

What I really came to the store for was some onions and while I’m getting them the guy who weighs the vegetables asks me how to prepare my dried fish. “I know you can’t just take it home and eat it” he says. “Right” I say, faking like I know what I’m talking about. “So how do you prepare it?” he asks. “I don’t know exactly” I say. In reality I don’t even know what it is and if it didn’t say it was fish on the label, I wouldn’t have been able to tell him. “Right. But you have no idea at all?” “No. I really have no idea at all.” He looks at me like I’m crazy. I don’t know what to do so I just say “I’m buying it for a friend.” That seems to satisfy him. He finishes weighing my vegetables and, as I walk away adds, “I would buy some if I knew how to prepare it but I don’t have any idea. All I know is that you can’t eat it like it is now. You really have NO IDEA?” I smile bravely as I walk away, but as soon as he’s turned to help another customer I sneak the dried fish back to it’s place on the shelf, where it belongs.

Visiting Friends

One of the things all expats love and dread is the visiting friend. “Oh, you’re in Buenos Aires? How lovely! I’ll stop by. I only have a few days but we can go see all the sights together!” There is that delicate balance because living abroad means that you haven’t seen these guys for awhile and you aren’t going to see them again for awhile.

It’s great to see them but I get the same feeling as when I’m at a tourist site. It’s like I feel obligated to “do” things. Like there’s something I ought to be doing. This is, of course, all in my head. The friends actually don’t really care at all. Much like families at Christmas, expats tend to imagine the “ideal” visit to Buenos Aires and prepare it all for their friends.

For me there’s historically been a crazy: my world here is different than back home. I feel a bit schitzophrenic because they think I’ve changed but I haven’t. It’s more like I just have a different life because stuff here is different from home.

You realize all these crazy things about yourself, about your friends, about your life and about the city. It’s a crazy litmus test. It’s essentially travelling without travelling.

It’s pretty amazing to be able to invite another world to sleep on your couch.

checkmessenger.net

In Buenos Aires, the big craze is MSN messenger. The first thing we do when people start at my office is get them a .net account and download the latest version of messenger. It’s crazy. We all sit in rooms surrounded by people with headphones on and we “chat” by typing into our computer. It’s like a library. I feel bad to talk.

People live a lot on this thing. They use it to keep in contact with distant friends, to share pictures and songs. A little message displays their mood, a quote or even what song their listening to. Being someone’s internet buddy can be quite intimate.

But then the time comes to stop being internet buddies. Perhaps you broke up in real life, perhaps you just don’t want the bother of having to make idle chitchat with old friends. Whatever the reason, messenger includes the option of making yourself disappear completely from someone’s life. They can never tell if you’re online, any messages they send get lost in the mail, and the best part is that they don’t even know you blocked them. At least… until now.

For awhile now there’s been this thing called CheckMessenger which allows you to check to see who has blocked you. This revolutionizes the idea that you can anonymously disappear. Undesirables still can’t send you messages but now at least they know you don’t like them. Furthermore there’s a badge of shame associated with checkmessenger because if you use the service it temporarily replaces your name with an advertisement for their site. As you log in, there are a few seconds that all your friends can see that you don’t trust them and are checking to see if you don’t like them.

Villa Crespo or Bust

My philosophy up till this point has been to take whatever housing that destiny or chance offered me. I moved from living with friends in Caballito (2 months) to living in a stark one room cell with kitchenette and toilet in Congreso (5 months) to a nice 2 bedroom in snooty Palermo. Now I’ve been given the oppurtunity (spelled g-a-r-a-n-t-i-a) to live wherever I want and so I’m lifting up my skirts and hightailing it to Villa Crespo.

Everyone likes Villa Crespo except for some foreigners who count every block further from Palermo as blocks away from the fashionista bars they attend nightly. No worries expats, Villa Crespo is still comfortably near your nightclubs and, as a result, prices are soaring.

The Buenos Aires Job Hunt

Anna, who is also toying with the idea of living here, got great job listings from the French Embassy and everyone I talked to suggested the American Embassy would be an excellent resource. Armed with an up to date resume I marched off to find out for myself. When I went I was surprised American Embassy in Buenos Aires is attended almost entirely by people who do not speak English and not US citizens. After being told various things ranging from the Embassy was not open that day to being misdirected in various lines I finally found myself in a room containing people lounging around in chairs and waiting for something to happen. I took a number and waited with them. After half an hour of no one being called I asked them if there was anyone attending the window. “Oh yes,” they said, “You just go up and ring the bell.” I went up and rang the bell which was marked in Spanish “Ring for Immediate Attention” and I was served at once. It turns out that the only service they offer is providing the address of the American Chamber of Commerce website. This being done the lady promptly bid me a good day and disappeared, presumably until someone else rang the bill.

The American Chamber of Commerce is in on the 10th floor of a large building next to the courthouse. There were a large number of people and press gathered outside. I asked the doorman what was up and it turned out to be a protest against the sentencing of a boy accused of a serious crime. The crowd was friends and family who insisted on his innocence. My Spanish is poor and as a result I perceive the world through the eyes of a child. Because I get confused between words like “judge”, “court case”, “courthouse” and “sentencing proceedings” I must be content with overly simplified explanations: “There is a bad boy but we are not sure if he is bad. So now we are seeing and these people like him.”

My Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds. It is not consistently good or bad but rather fluctuates depending on my energy level, my level of comfort, the context of the conversation and who I am talking to. The most important factor seems to be comfortability with the conversation. If I am not comfortable then I simply cannot speak in Spanish.

The nice girl at the American Chamber of Commerce referred me to the website but agreed to take my resume and hand it on to interested parties. “The website is good though,” she confidently assured me, “companies log in and do a search of your qualifications and if you have skills that match what they’re looking for then they call you. You will be probably be looking for a job in…” She scanned my resume for a minute or two and then said, less confidently, “Oh I’m sure you’ll find something…”

Acclimatizing

The next day I decided to treat my hosts, Juan and Malena, to a dish from California. Because California cuisine is really a mixture of food from all the cultures that live there it’s hard to find things to single out as uniquely Californian. I decided on California rolls (vegetarian sushi that replaces fish with avocado) because tortillas for burritos are not available and, as I found out in Lima, I do not have a good tortilla recipe.

I did, however, need seaweed to wrap the sushi and for that I had to go to Chinatown. The materials were easily found if not expensive, actually about twice the price in the USA. But the notable part of the journey was when I saw an English teaching school with a girl outside handing out flyers for it. I asked her if she knew if they were hiring new teachers and she said I would have to inquire within but if I wanted to teach her friend, who was working next door, I was welcome to.

I went inside and asked how much I would be making were I to work for them: 8 pesos ($2.40) an hour and they couldn’t guarantee any amount of hours per week. Not a good job though I told them I’d call them when I had a resume for them. As I left the flyer-girl’s friend came out to convince me to take her on as a student and I said I’d call her as well. She would pay 8 pesos an hour for two hours a week. I returned home that day with sushi materials (which cost about 40 pesos all told) and one potential client.

As in Japan and the USA sushi is a delicacy and Juan had never tasted it before. He loved it and everyone was pleased. Afterwards, to compliment the dish I got my first sample of real matte etiquette.

Besides cheap, plentiful and organic wine, the official drink here is yerba matte. It is drunk in a traditional wooden cup with a metal straw. More ritual than thirstquencher, you cannot buy it in restaurants because it is a personal thing to be enjoyed at home. Despite this it is completely ubiquitous. You see people in the park, at the news stand, walking to work with their thermos and cup of matte. Police officers drink it on the street, sipping at their cups over the half hour period it takes to finish their thermos of hot water. Matte has lots of caffeine and helps with digestion. I have always dreamed of a city where slightly bitter herbal tea is considered the drink of choice.

MATE IS DRUNK IN OFFICE SITUATIONS

MATE IS DRUNK IN OFFICE SITUATIONS

Juan taught me how to make a wall with the leaves so that you could keep the same flavor for 20 cups in a row and how to pass the cup with the straw facing the recipient to signify friendship.

backpack

I’m obsessive about backpacks. Completely obsessive. I have the same backpack that I bought when i was 13 and starting high school. It’s an Eagle Creek bag rucksack. Nothing special, meant to hold books. I’ve had it for 12 years now and it’s covered with scars the scars of memories. I travelled with it for a month and a half in South Africa and Lesotho. It was wonderful to travel so light but it was embarrassing that every time I went to open it there was a loud “pop” as the contents of my bag exploded over the floor. I essentially wanted a small backpack that had side pockets for water. Well, I found it. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Porter 30L. It’s only 30 liters which means… not much room. Packing my backpack is almost like organizing very complicated military manouver and, sadly, it still makes a popping sound when I try to open it. It’s about the same size as my old one but has an internal frame for back support, tons of little straps, and side pockets for water so i don’t have to open my pack to drink something.

The following is going in the backpack:

TOILETRIES

  • toothbrush and paste
  • some anti diarhia medicines
  • mosquito repellent (100% DEET)
  • soap
  • razor and blades
  • shaving cream
  • grapefruit extract
  • dr bronners magic soap (dilute!!!! dilute!!!! dilute!!!!)
  • deodorant

CLOTHES (in backpack)

  • 1 pair pants
  • flipflops
  • 3 pairs socks
  • 4 pairs underwear
  • 3 shirts
  • swimsuit
  • jacket

MISC

  • sarong
  • sewing kit
  • sleeping bag
  • ziplock bags

RECORDING AND ENTERTAINMENT

  • tape recorder
  • one music tape and 3 blank tapes
  • camera and camera supplies
  • lonely planet guide to south america
  • pen and ink supplies
  • cards
  • 2 books
  • guitar strings

PAPERS

  • passport
  • shots record
  • important phone numbers and addresses
  • SERVAS papers and lists
  • envelopes
  • pens and pencils

and of course… my guitar

All of this obsessing about stuff strikes me as a little obsessive for someone who is bringing less cause he doesn’t want to be weighed down by stuff. And it’s really interesting how travelling can do that to you. A lot of what travelling about is finding a sense of home where you are and with what you have. With some luck (and a lot of time) I hope I can learn to do without. My bag is full now but my sleeping bag takes up about 1/3 of the room so when I leave the Andes and ditch my sleeping bag, I’ll have a lot of room, which is very exciting to me. It’s very odd thinking about packing for 6 months. It’s hard to fathom.

Oh, and I talked to my first SERVAS people on the phone. They’re in Lima. It was super exciting and I’ll write more about it later. I’m looking for ideas of some small something to bring to people I stay with. Any ideas?

I think a little about stuff I should pack but it’s all pretty much covered I think. No worries though, I still have one more day.

the long hard swim to the middle


This last weekend I went to San Francisco and hung out with Mary and Ben. Mary has an awesome new apartment in the Haight. I bought a camera off craigslist to replace the broken one and took a bunch of pictures to try it out.

On the way to get the camera Mary and I went to Ikea got a bookcase and a chest of drawers to put in her new room. In this picture Mary contemplates the strange relationship with my friends: I help them move into new places, to get more established, and live vicariously through them. Then I get mobile and travel and they live vicariously through me. The grass is always greener I guess.

I believe that it’s easy to become settled, to start a life, to go down one road that leads to a million more and on and on. Your resume leads you to jobs you have experience in. You become established, entrenched in your environment. Most of my friends, the ones who’re happy, have found something they love doing and have dedicated themselves towards it. Perhaps they don’t even realize that they have yet, but they have a directions and goals and with those come comfort.

Sacramento has been good to me in my time here. Especially working at Choices has been very healthy for me: giving me something to focus on before I go. I never realized how much I enjoy working on excel spreadsheets and solving math problems before I worked at that school.


It’s been really hard posting publically. Many of my thoughts and insights are about the people i’ve been interacting with daily and it’s hard to walk the tightrope of appeasing all my readers and myself and I’m looking forward to a much easier job in South America, where no one knows me and I can write about whatever I want without any reprecussions. The best I can hope for is that people who are interested in my life and want to know what I think and feel will come and read about the blog. I’m reminded of the HoboTraveler Blog where Andy takes some friends to Machu Pichu and then writes about how Machu Pichu is actually a big lame tourist trap. No doubt word got back.
Anyways, this is a picture of me in Utah, but it’s the picture I’m sending out with all my SERVAS emails.

semiannual checkin

So I’m sitting at a computer in the Seattle YMCA where I volunteer. It’s a one room classroom called the Seattle Rotary Education Center.

My life these days goes something like this:

At about 10-11 I roll up to the YMCA and volunteer till about 4. During lunch I make moves in my game of online diplomacy. After volunteering I work out for about an hour at the YMCA. I’ve never gone to a gym regularly before and it’s fun to get in the habit. They have rows of TVs in front of these exercise machines and people watch the news, MTV and, ironically, the food network.

I live with Dan in an apartment on Capitol Hill. It’s awesome: very beautiful, central, and it’s a few blocks from Felix so I get to see him a lot. I will soon be seeing Josh more as well because he’s moving to Capitol Hill as well, though a bit further away. Dan is working at the Cheesecake Factory.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Aviva. We’ve both been unemployed and loving it. This all is going to change, however, as she just got a job running Dan Beecroft for Portly Commissioner. I’m worried because this will mean she will be very busy (70 hour weeks) and she is worried cause she’s afraid the guy will back out of the race. Apropos that I’ve made the decision to leave the country in July and enjoy the last few months of unemployment looking for jobs in other countries.

So that’s the news from Lake Woebegone, enough background to set the stage for the new entries to come.

packing my library

I took down my bookcases today, packed up my library, and brought it over to my parents for safekeeping. Back at my apartment I’m writing in the blog. It’s strange being half moved out. I wanted to write in a quote from “Unpacking My Library” by Walter Binyamin but I turned around and, hey, all my books are gone!

Part of moving my stuff to my parents was going through all the stuff I have there that’s still in my room I lived in till college. It was exciting to go through all the junk, throwing out a lot and finding some useful tidbits that I’ll take with me for travelling. I found my old travel wallet: the kind that goes on your belt and hangs around in your crotch. Super comfy!

I was thinking about how I will not be taking any keys on this trip. This will be an odd feeling because I’m very absentminded and I lose things and every time I do pretty much anything (get up to get a get a beer, etc) I check my pockets to see if I have my 1)wallet, 2)cellphone and 3)keys. If I didn’t do this I’d lose them. But after years of this, now it’s hardwired in. I can imagine myself on the first three weeks of South Africa patting my pockets and panicking for a good 5 or 6 seconds while I try to figure out where I’ve put my keys. But it’s odd leaving keys behind. Keys provide you with a way of getting past barriers meant to keep certain people out and certain people in. Having keys means having built up credability, trust and/or responsability. Not having keys means being free. Sometimes we’re bound by the things that make us free.

So while my bookshelves and books are at my parent’s house, here at my apartment my room is covered with with all things nonbook (see figure below).


messyroom

Hopefully I’ll take care of this tomorrow but until I do my room will have a lonely, temporary feel to it. Tonight I will pack things into boxes while listening to This American Life.