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18/08/13

It’s just after dawn in Washington, D.C., and I slept fitfully. It’s always like this with an unfamiliar bed, at least the first few nights. I feel the fatigue, but the body is on guard.

 This is my third foreign bed in four days – fourth if you count the Emirates plane Norwegian air borrowed for their new route. I am halfway between the America I know and Europe that I have been adopting for years. This suburb of Washington has trees splashed across everything, wide safe streets, terraces on the cafes, neat and posh residences. There are baseball diamonds, big fridges, gallons of milk, screens on the windows, granola as cereal. I can eavesdrop.

I fall into a new city, by train, plane, or bus, and can in a week discover the comings and goings of the new house, the city’s layout and feel, the features and monuments, the streets and directions. Except this time, I’m not leaving. How does one convince themselves of permanence? I will still need to explore, I will still need to learn, to get used to, and to understand. Traveling requires of the traveler to often submit to external circumstances, to decide, well, why not, and go with people and processes larger than themselves. They will be required to accept what they would normally not, and must be willing to live as a completely different person for short stretches.

After years of traveling, the one thing I know about my environment is that I want my lady love by my side, to have my best friend to come home to, or to have her come home and to fall asleep side by side after a long day, stroking her hair. To everything else, I want to throw up my hands and say, “No more! Just let me stay!” The adventurer and the grump have both gotten their wish. I am bewildered and exhausted.

-Schuyler

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Istanbul (Part 3)

I begin to walk to the footbridge, and there is a metrobüs sign in the middle, which leads down to the two middle lanes of the highway, which, I notice for the first time, are segregated by concrete barriers. Busses are flying by in both directions. And these are nice ones, too. Not like Seattle, San Francisco, or Oslo buses, but commandeered coaches outfitted with accordion ribs. I come down and look for a map, but the platform is roughly twice as wide as I am and people are streaming by in both directions as well.

The metro in Istanbul works by either buying a token or using an Istanbulkart which you can recharge with bills lower than 50 (guess the one bill I had), or you can buy a one-time token for 3TL (~$1.50). You either sacrifice a token or beep in with your card and you are permitted onto that part of the public transportation network – the charge is the same no matter how far you go. I had bought both a card and a couple tokens at the airport when I first got on the metro. I look for a slot to insert one of my two tokens, and there is none. I show it to the attendant who is right nearby, and he points to the card reader. I try to beep my card, but it doesn’t have enough on it (which is contrary to what I’ve read the public transport costs). He shrugs, but after a moment of seeing the hopelessness on my face, lets me through. I ask him how to get to Söğütlüçeşme.

“Bas…tirtyfour.” I look over and Bus 34 is pulling into the station. For some reason I take this to mean he’s mistaken, and ask again, “Bus 34? This one?” and I point.

“Tirtyfour,” he says again, very self-assured. It being here now seems to invalidate his answer again.

And all of a sudden a nice, suave, trendy youth swings in from the rafters and is immediately right next to me, “Where are you going?” he says with no hesitation. As it turns out, he knows exactly the bus, where to switch, and what bus to switch to, as well as roughly how long it will take. He is my golden god. We take bus 34 together, and I am certain we will be friends into our old age.

Here’s the really weird thing. I was on that other bus for an hour. Within three minutes, we are at a stop with the same name as the metro station I got off on. I search desperately for the metro station out the windows as we stop, but no luck. I consider this station cursed and am comfortable when we move on.

After the switch, my bus arrives at Söğütlüçeşme at about 9:40pm, the final stop on the line. I find my hastily drawn map with what I could understand on google maps the night before, and begin looking for street signs as I exit the station. Istanbul has a power which invades you like a gas where you don’t know which direction you’re facing, and the map in your head from before you arrived to wherever you are is almost antithetical to the map in your head once you’ve been walking around. Maybe a third of the streets connect at right angles, and only in clusters.

However, there was a street I wrote on my map in which a change in name occurs at a specific point, and though there are few street signs anywhere, I find this one, and attempt to orient myself. The road I’m looking for is to the south, and it’s a tiny street which is parallel to a highway, clearly under it. When the road I think I am on begins to rise, however, I ask a local to help. He speaks no English, but studies my map and the address, and points me in the opposite direction. I walk to that corner of this square of streets surrounding the station, and a guy points me to go right, but he isn’t sure. I ask three more people, and they all point me in different directions. There is an overpass I can see, but there’s no side road which runs parallel. One of the guys had pointed at a set of stairs while he was miming it to me, so I walk up the first set of stairs I can find until there’s a road running perpendicular to the street I was on. Again, no street signs.

I ask two old men who consult each other for a while, and one leads me away, with sparks hope, until he deposits me in a shop and motions for me to ask the shop attendant, a young man sitting next to his father, and his little brother in the side of the shop, staring at me. It’s so small, the counter divides the entire place in two – that sort of shop. I offer my map, which the man and his father study for some time, and talk at length. I’m arranging the words in my mouth to say, “It’s ok, I’ll find a hotel.” The man holds out his hand, palm down, for me to sit still. His father, gray haired and swinging his arms in an apparent move to maintain his walk, leads me outside. We walk across the street, and as I wonder where we’ll go, he motions to an SUV parked half on the road, half on the sidewalk. He opens the back, and points to my suitcase. I realize I do not even know “thank you” in Turkish.

I do acknowledge this was a violation of one of those early rules moms teach, like “look both ways before you cross the street” or “don’t stick a fork in the electrical outlet”. I was about to get in a stranger’s car. I was going to let my things be in his trunk. I was going to set myself up to get robbed pretty hard. He retrieved his keys, and we drove off.

With what I know of the area now, I can only say of his route, it was extremely convoluted, in such a way as befits the streets of Istanbul. We went down side streets. We got on the freeway. We got off the freeway. We drove back through the station. We drove up the hill I had first walked up. He turned right after it onto a side street I didn’t notice until we were on it. Finding the right building number, he took me to the door and motioned for me to buzz whichever apartment I was looking for.

Here’s the problem.

I only know the name Onur cause I exchanged messages with him on a site. I don’t know his last name. Hell, I still don’t know his last name – gmail can’t display it. I have a fifteen digit phone number, but my phone is dead. It’s also 10:15pm, and I’m about three hours late. I ask to use his phone, but I can’t get across the question “How many digits in a Turkish number?” I try all fifteen digits anyway, which predictably fails. He calls his son who speaks English well; it goes as well as you might think.

As we stand on the stoop of this apartment building, a woman walks down the street with her iphone in her hand and her headphones in. We’re both standing in the shadows and she doesn’t see us. She walks beyond us, and then stops. Arms flat at her side, she crosses one ankle behind the other, side steps and then moves a step diagonally backwards, and continues on regularly. A few steps later, she does the same thing, but with her arms getting involved. Normally if I caught someone doing this, I would leave them be, but instead I dropped my things there and bolted after her.

Here’s how nice Turkish people are. She stopped for me, lent me her phone, told me which part was his number, and while I was on the phone with Onur, explaining to him where I was (it turns out on the wrong street by one block anyway), she’s explaining to the man who drove me here and didn’t want to leave until I found where I was going what’s going on, and they’re developing a rapport. She offers to stay with me until he arrives even, so that I could use her phone again. I say I don’t want to keep her, but this older man stays with me and even asks if I’m not too cold. When Onur arrives, having never met before, they get on like old friends, and Onur thanks him too. I try desperately to show my gratitude, but am not sure how much is getting across, and when we make a motion to leave, he stops us and begins to grab my luggage from his trunk. Seriously, they may even beat out the Japanese for generosity to strangers. 

So now, minutes to 11pm, I make it to the place I will be staying. I have my room, all my things intact, a wireless internet connection, and several glasses of water. I settle in and meet my new German roommate who is studying here, and lives here with….her four year old daughter. And her friend is visiting. With her four year old son.

-Sky

Summation of the Action: I feel like I’m being pushed in the direction of working with kids. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Istanbul (Part 2)

The first thing some visitors must do upon arriving to Turkey is to purchase a tourist visa. The countries picked for this game were selected from a hat. Slovakia, yes; Czech Republic, no. Australia, yes; New Zealand, no. Albania and Moldova, yes; Croatia and Montenegro, no. Americans must pay $20 or €15 (in that currency, not the native lira) for 90 days; Canadians must pay three times as much for the same. And they inform you that it must be in cash only precisely when you must pay, and at no other time during the hour you must wait in this line. There is precisely one ATM available, and it is purely in Turkish. 

Onur had expected I would arrive near his place at 7pm with my plane scheduled to land at 5pm. I exit the airport at about 7:15pm, and begin to follow his directions. What I came to learn is not that these directions reflect poorly on Onur, because they are quite accurate once you know what you’re doing, but they reflect badly on the planning of the city of Istanbul. My final destination was Söğütlüçeşme, difficult to say, but easy enough to spot. I took the metro six stops from the airport as directed, ok. At that station, I trustingly go towards the signs that say Metrobüs, and when the signs stop, I search for a metrobüs. I find a collection of buses, and one goes to Söğütlüçeşme. It leaves finally at 8:30pm, but so long as I am going where I need to, I am content. 

I take the only available seat and the bus leaves to begin its round. I have no idea how long it will take, and the traffic is thick. It’s clogged like Paula Deen’s arteries pre-diagnosis. As we merge onto one highway in order to merge onto another in order to, as it appears, cross the street, the bus fills and fills and fills. The portly man on the seat next to me, who got on with me three stops ago, now gives up his seat to a self-concerned middle-aged woman with an infant, and with nowhere else he can stand, holds the rail over her, leaning over her in a covering way. We continue to drive. I can no longer stand or move; there is no room to do anything. I see out of the corner of my eye, the infant has started to look at me, staring for a period so long that it’s unavoidable, that it becomes something I need to address. I look over, and smile. It’s eyes are wide, and it looks to its mother, and to me. Failing any other conclusion, it begins crying as loudly as it can. She tries to comfort the baby, and when it finally settles down, it begins to look at me again. I smile with teeth this time, and the baby again begins to wail. The woman tries to console the child again, but her bumping it and cooing it no longer work. She held the child up and this man helped her pass it to someone else on the bus, out of sight, to someone who heretofor has not had any interaction with this woman. I was too engrossed in the silence to be concerned.

 That is, until, I look over. And the portly man is staring at me. The woman, too. Unabashedly, unconscious of social permit. I look at them when I can’t ignore it anymore, and he says something directly to me – my worst fear is confirmed. I reply that I don’t understand any Turkish in my nice, lovely, arcane, foreign English. This doesn’t stop him. He commented again, and I could only reply the same. They, along with the man with a very Turkish moustache beyond them, begin to laugh. The woman still has not received her infant back from the crowd, nor do I see her reclaim it before I get off.

Two high-school aged girls are in front of me, and I ask them if they understand any English. They do, and I eventually establish they want to know my station, and I hope it’s so that they no I won’t trouble anyone with all my luggage. I show them on my sheet where I’ve written my directions, and the two girls study this intensely. “This bus. Not go. Söğütlüçeşme.” (In case you’re wondering, it’s Suh-goot-loo-chesh-may).

I have to ask her to repeat this, and point to the sign on the bus with the final station when she does, “It says Söğütlüçeşme. It doesn’t go?” Something in me tells me that I can argue hard enough so that her warning will be invalidated. I decide I’m tired enough to gently pursue it. I see the error eventually, and all I can think to ask is, “Why does it not go to Söğütlüçeşme?”

“Two Söğütlüçeşme.” She points to my sheet, where I’ve written “near Kadıköy Spor Tesisleri” just in case, “Not here. It is in different place. You should,” and by this time the people in our bus proximity have all tuned in, and they laugh at something and disrupt her repeatedly. Finally she manages, “You should go next place.” And she points out the door.

After I get off,” I choose my sentence structure to be as easy as possible, “where do I go?” If she’s telling me to get off this bus, I feel I’m owed further directions.

“Ask someone.” 

I put my head in my hands. But I only have a moment because we are now at the stop. I get off, and there is no name of the stop and no distinguishing landmarks. There is no metro station. No maps. There is only a footbridge which goes over the highway. I look back to the bus for consolation, but they point me onwards enthusiastically. The bus pulls away. I’ve been on the bus for an hour at this point, and I have no idea where I am. It’s nearly 9pm, and my phone is out of credit. I later learn the bus has been gradually taking me via highway in exactly the opposite direction I needed to go.

Istanbul (Part 1)

11/5/13

 

“It will take you at least two hours to cross the city,” Onur informed me, as I told him I was landing on the European side of Istanbul. I was requesting directions to the Asian side, where his place, the place I wanted to rent, was. “You should take metro till zeytinburnu than you should switch to metrobus till the last station of it. You should change 1 or 2 time this metrobus the same line. Last station is ‘sogutlucesme’ on asian side. İt is just 1 minute to last metrobus stop. İf you check from (website hidden) maps you will see it.” [our medium, airbnb.com, redacted the name of the site; I’m not holding confidentiality here or something] He then gives his number in the following way: “My mobile is (phone number hidden) and one [next message] Doublezero and than ninety and later on five and three later five than doublefour and later three and three later three…” It goes on like this, to fifteen numbers.

I hesitated before typing a reply, wondering what I could say that would convey the appropriate incredulity. 

No no, my conscience said, don’t be a dick.

 “So I should get on the metro and go to zeytinburnu, and then get on a metrobus? Which one? And do I change metrobusses to get to sogutlucesme, or do I stay on the same line? Or does the bus end or something, and I need to get on a new bus that is the same number?”

 The eventual reply was marginally helpful. I wrote what I could, and looked up a bus to Gardermoen. My flight left precisely five hours before L’s. At first, she was unsure if she should go with me to the airport, or stay. She would be computerless and only have her books to read. Should she study? What would she do in an airport? I helped her weigh her options, what felt like several times the night prior and the morning of. Finally, as if with the clarity and directness of knocking on my head like some heavy door, she asked, “Do you want me to come with you?” 

“Yes,” I said, and cut myself off. From experience, I had known that this could be one of the situations where it is intuitive and incorrect to give one’s reasoning. One must always be extra careful when dealing with women.

“OK,” she piped, snapping instantly from her lull of indecision, and not unpreparedly one might note. We were soon at Gardermoen. 

Our separation was late, well into boarding time. Difficult though it was, I made it to passport control just about twenty-five minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off. I needn’t have searched my ticket, as it turns out, to find my gate. Rather, I needed only to follow the wails of the many children screaming into the silence like a lighthouse in the night to guide me. I stepped into line and identify the culprits immediately. Several parents were unable and/or unwilling to attempt to control this maelstrom of noise. I tracked their progress as their crying redshifted down the jetway. It’s not too late, I thought, this flight still could be saved.

 I thought that hopefully. I thought that with a sense of optimism, with a determination that things were going to be better, not just for the day, but my life in general. I thought that before I realized they all sat in a semi-circle around me, like kids encircling to beat me up at lunch. 

The flight was delayed half an hour, because, well, why not. As we took off, the screaming of the small children grew sharper, but began to die away. All except the kid sitting behind me, who must have been three or four, and one other unseen hellion. His screaming evolved, adapting to every attempt to flush out the noise, to drown it in music (metal, naturally). Screeching is the closest word I can think of – the type of screeching where even a bystander can understand the effort being intentionally put into it, beyond that of normal crying. This kid was not content with shifting himself into ‘cry’ and coasting; his tenacity can only be matched by that of T.E. Lawrence, sysadmins, and possibly cats chasing laser pointers.

 A Turkish Airlines flight from Oslo Gardermoen to Istanbul Ataturk airport lasts three hours and thirty minutes. This kid’s ability to screech like a banshee on fire lasts roughly the same length, so that he had (breaking for lunch) completed one full Europe without running out of tears or mucus. His father, apparently unable to cope with the situation, began to shout at him, sounding like a character from Banjo-Kazooie: exaggerated real words parsed up by syllable and then mixed randomly (here’s an example).

 During the flight, when he would pass the torch to another child who would begin to wail, he would free-roam the plane, inspecting his results. Suddenly dissatisfied with his replacement’s work, he would return to his seat, and industriously lead by example.

By the time we (new verb!) deplaned, he elected to stop. With no jetway available, we were shown to two large buses which serviced the front and rear exits of the plane. On the stairs departing the front of the craft, I made my choice and swore to avoid this child at all costs, taking the rear bus instead. The buses filled, and though he was only one seat behind me on the plane, this kid and his family were the last off. They walked straight for the bus nearest the door, problem child first. And as he neared the door, something called to him, starkly out of the blue. Literally stopping dead at the door, and making a ninety degree turn, he began walking straight for my bus, as if innocently curious. His father gave his shout-request of vivisected words, and, completely unable to influence the decisions of his child, powerlessly and hopelessly followed his wanderings. Just as they moved away, the front bus closed its doors and dashed away. By the time we reached the main building, I was less a man and more a flash of light, moving ever away.

-Sky

Do I?

16/4/13

 

I suppose the first in on the secret were my kids in Japan, “getting to” ask one question of me in English, sometimes with the help of the teacher, and my feeling there no harm from being frank and honest. The teachers knew of course, cause they were there, and once the secret was out, well, why not spread it like a smile on a good day? I wasn’t even sure I was in on the secret, and truth be told, until it happened, I hadn’t known about it’s coming.

 

Growing up can be frightening. When I go out to grab ice cream from the store right before they close and eat it while watching TV, I couldn’t help but think how much I love being an adult. And I love being an adult so much more than being a kid. Though it’s frightening sometimes to see parts of your life adjust to shape you into the person you will some day be. For you to move to the place you will some day live, and meet your some day friends.

 

We all have someone we will be, and there seems to be less and less suspense about it as we go on. Still, every now and then, people can be surprised. Even me. When something falls into place, it’s hard to see a lot of the time. And big things almost always start small. But when things add up the right way, and you come to a decision about your life organically, there’s nothing to be afraid of. As my arm says, ‘Be Courageous’.

 

L and I discussed our life plans. Where we wanted to be, how we wanted to live, what we wanted to do. We had somewhat different visions, not mutually exclusive, and less than a frank conversation away. But we agreed, whatever comes, we wanted to be with each other. And so, after passing up several clicks from the player, I picked the beat on which to start our song. I asked her, and she said yes. We’re engaged.

 

There was an xkcd.com comic where a character had changed her living room into a ballpit, because she determined that it was her turn to decide what being an adult was. Verene and Kelsey did the same, having their wedding as they chose it: being an adult wasn’t a script, but a time period. So with our engagement. It came as I wanted it to: organically, and not in a staged way. It came from us thinking about our futures. It came from us having the right night out. It came from us saying we loved each other. And it came from us being in love. This is the person I want to be, and the person I want beside me.

-Schuyler

 

Summation of the Action: Well, I suppose we can break it down into the list. I guess this means advancement on 32? I’ve joined a gym, so let’s try for 7. And the marching drums of law school inch closer.

Up High

13/03/13

 

Some months ago, one of my first year students (7th grade) saw me enter class, and with a trailing “eeeeeeeeeyyyeah!!!” as he ran towards me, he gave me what can only be described as a mighty and spirited high-five. I thought this was a natural extension of what he and his friends had been doing before I arrived. I was game, though, and thought nothing of it.

 

The next class, he did it again. And he was followed by two of his friends. Whenever I would step into class, there would be a trail of “eeeeeeeeyyyeah!!!” and we would make the hardest slap we could. I tried to teach him the name of this gesture, with hopes of continuing to the up high/down low distinction, and then maybe even moving onto “too slow” if they were receptive. But none of the boys were that interested. What we had was fine.

 

Over the months, I tried for accuracy, and would often have a rather red palm to show for it. But I remember how we treated our English teachers in America, and it’s kind of fun to do it every time I went to Kobayashi, once a week. It often reminded me of an old friend of mine, Shari. She taught some kindergarteners or pre-schoolers or something, I forget who and why, but what I remember was her describing why she loved it: walking into the room, and a bunch of kids shouting, “THERE’S MY FRIEND!!!” Honestly, if you’re making kids happy, how can you be depressed or dissatisfied?

 

In recent weeks, these students would not only zero in on me during the minutes before class, but when I joined them for lunch, after class, and sometimes during class. Last week, a couple of girls even joined in. There weren’t any words being exchanged, just us having fun.

 

Today was my last day at Kobayashi, and fifth period was my last class with the first-years. When I came in, I caught half the class’s hands, all with their own trailing “eeeeeeeyyyeah!!!” as they approached, like a passing car about to red-shift. We were doing show & tell in English, and as they practiced their speeches, I gave out a few more fives, all high, some left-handed. But as the speeches started, class resumed as normal. I tried to make a speech they would understand, as it was my last day, but I think some of the blank stares signaled my success. They thanked me in unison, and said goodbye, and I waved and they waved as they left class.

 

There was no sixth period, so when it was time for the weekly meeting, I got out early; with many bows, hand-shakes, thank-yous, and ganbattes, I made it to my car. The parking lot separates the school and the field, and I would often say goodbye to the kids as I left. I waved, they waved, as so many other days, and we said goodbye again. I thought that was the end for Kobayashi.

 

As I pulled out of the lot, two of the second-years came sprinting up to me, with a book they had made. Page after page of notes written by my students, tied with ribbon for binding. On the cover is my name and title (Sukaira-sensei) in Japanese. I opened it, and all of the notes are in Japanese, with complex kanji, and the occasional English word thrown in.

 

As I drove lengthwise across the school to exit, the kids from the tennis courts came out in front of my car, both first and second years, and I rolled down my window. They formed a ring around my car, giving me a high-five as they passed the driver’s window. They went through three rotations until I told them my hand hurt, and I shook a few more hands, and tried to say goodbye in some meaningful way, and not quite getting it.

 

As I drove away, I got the closest to crying that I’ve been in a long time.

-Sukaira

 

Summation of the Action: On Saturday, it’s Sayonara, Japan. I’ve seen so much and I have so much yet to see.

Staying Up Late

12/3/2

 

So I must be channeling my middle school kids. It is 1:30 in the morning, and I am staying up late for the sake of doing it. Some chocolate pudding mix has been my fuel on this nocturnal transmission, and I sit before you a man of little substance.

 

The night is not cold, nor is my heater too hot. My stomach rumbles from inactivity, rather than emptiness. My contacts are dry. The fifth or seventh or something playlist has ended, several times in fact. I’ve worked another movie into my brain, and I am talking to an old friend who is usually cordoned off from me by time zones (and schedules). This is the single prop holding me up and I am still sitting. Like a child I cling to the rebellion of staying up late, and having chocolate, even though last time I ate it before bed, I dreamed of being chased by Godzilla (this was about a week ago).

 

It’s cause I can, entirely cause I can and I don’t usually, even though it may be counter-productive towards tomorrow. Like a receding tide, the splash of staying up late doesn’t reach as high as it used to. It’s strange, when I was a kid I thought being an adult and having adult routines would be pressure from new responsibilities, ones I didn’t yet know. I was free as a kid, and I should enjoy it while I could. I didn’t think the change would be in my preferences rather than my schedule. But take my precedent: twenty minutes to eat something bad for you in your pajamas, or watch a movie, or read an extra chapter of a book. Do something useless (clearly I am). Enjoy the Friday night and Saturday morning, that’s what it’s for.

Maybe even makes me want to do some writin’.

-Schuyler

 

Summation of the Action: Just waiting on that going back to the girlfriend, and the going to the law school. But I still have one or two in the works…

 

Also, read Escape from Camp 14. I want to do more than just get up and grab my torch, I want to study what’s wrong so I can find a plausible way to fix it. Or maybe learn Korean. Yeah. Good luck with that one.