That One Time . . . In Mexico




October 11th, 2012
Time: 10:10 pm
Location: The House

Above my desk, tilted precariously to the right and sagging away from its frame, hangs a cork-board weighted down with snapshots of places I’ve been and people I love. And every time I sit down to try to do some work I’m transported back to “that one time” – which ever memory my eye happens to settle on. 

There was that one time I traveled to Mazatlan, Mexico with my best friend the summer after we graduated from high school.  Most evenings we would perch ourselves on the bar to enjoy happy hour and our newly discovered taste for Sex On the Beach and Miami Vice. We would read, listen to music, and mourn the fact there were no young men at our hotel to spy on. But there was this one late afternoon where we decided to leave the safety of our resort to venture into town to see what local color would offer.

Along with other hotel guests, we boarded a crowded bus into town, exchanging our pesos for paper tickets and pretending to ignore the intoxicated middle-aged men who chose to sit near us, but whom we surreptitiously glanced at and judged with slight shakes of our heads.

We disembarked near a Senor Frogs, but we didn’t go in.  I imagine we were escaping from the sunburned, cervaza flushed crowd back on the bus. I don’t recall much of what we did in town – although another round of Happy Hour did occur at some point, but I do remember when we decided to go to Wal-Mart.  This might seem strange to you, but for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, Wal-Mart was kind-of a thing we did on weekends. And so it seemed like a thing we should do in Mexico.

Erin, with her high school Spanish, deciphered the bus and I was left with the job of hailing it down.  After settling into the cracked plastic chairs, we chatted until the Wal-Mart came in sight.  Except that the Wal-Mart never did come in sight.  As the bus chugged along, it slowly emptied itself of tourists and refilled it with locals. And still we sat, each silently willing the courage to speak our fears, but deflecting to topics worthy of 18-year-old interests. With each passing mile we would receive questioning looks from fellow passengers and finally, amidst ramshackle huts with corrugated metal siding, we pulled ourselves from our seats and alighted in the middle of nowhere. 

There was a wide lane running between what seemed like fields of houses. Dusk was quickly becoming night and the only light was the occasional passing bus.  The plan had originally been to take a bus returning in the opposite direction but all were headed farther into the hinterlands and away from our desired goal.

Despite the fading horizon and our diminishing hope, we never acknowledged our fears to one another – as though cheerful smiles and strained laughter would somehow bind us to a solution.  Surveying the road for a bus I shot up quick, desperate prayers. And lo and behold, like an angel emerging in the dusky twilight, an off-duty taxi rumbled up. 
  
While I waited anxiously behind Erin, she ducked her head in the passenger window and stumbled and tripped her way over her Spanish and managed to maneuver us into the backseat of the cab for a mere 50 pesos. We held our breath for the next 30 minutes until the main drag was in sight, and only then did we unclench our fists and heave sighs of relief.  We tumbled out of the taxi with a million “¡Muchas Gracias, Señors!pouring from our lips, and whoops of exaltation as we finally admitted to each other that we had been scared witless.

We celebrated our survival with fruity ice-cream treats and a promise not to tell Erin’s parents the full tale of our supreme idiocy lest they trap us within the walls of the compound for the rest of the trip.

I don’t think we ever rode a bus together again.

The Rants & Raves of the Craigslist Lunatic



Date: October 7th, 2012
Time: 11:00 pm
Location: The House

If I read one more Craigslist job posting about wanting a “go-getter,” I’m going to pull my hair out.  Or book a flight back to Asia. Or give-up any hope of ever finding a job and moving out of my parents’ house, which will inevitably lead to my eventual psychotic breakdown in which I torch the house and end up on the 10 o’clock news with an exposé of the Craigslist Rants & Raves Lunatic.

Go-Getter.
 
Uck.

I understand that this world needs people like that:  Aggressive. Hustlers. Incorrigibly  obnoxious.
But for the love of all things beautiful in this world, can we all just agree that those people should be a minority?

They are the ones that order things like the chef salad, but hold the cheese, and change the egg to tofu, and instead of romaine, make it spinach and exactly 1 tablespoon of blue cheese on the side and be sure that it isn’t touching anything else on the plate.  The ones that will ask the minimum-wage teenage sales attendant at Nordstrom if she can do a little better on the price. The ones that will ask to stay at a friend’s college roommate’s aunt’s  (i.e., a complete stranger’s) house while passing through town.

Unabashedly shameless and oh so cringe-worthy.

A company of go-getters sounds like my idea of hell.

But would I hire one? Yes. Probably.

. . . 

Dammit.

Magic at Gate 2



Date: September 18th, 2012
Time: 8:26
Location: San Diego Airport

I’ve got about an hour until my flight back to Portland – a flight that was scheduled to take off 50 minutes ago.  If I could find a job that considered airport wait time as billable hours, I’d be filthy rich.  Ah, the dreams of the unemployed.

There’s something about airports that always urges me to dust off the ol’ blog. It must be the ample people-watching exercises it provides.  This wing of the airport (all two gates of it) is blessed with a bar.  Somehow, people have managed to turn this mundane waiting experience into a dating scene.  Or, I should probably say, a brief flirtation.  Dusting off skills 30 years in the closet, the middle-aged, pot-bellied, receding hairline men are doing their damndest to enthrall the bottled blondes while sipping on their vice of choice.  Watching a grown-man sucking on a straw is strangely off-putting.  

My favorite couple consists of the aforementioned blond in her vaguely translucent blouse and over-sized gold-laced shoulder bag.  She’s encouraging in her responses – a slight tilt of the head, a leaning of the body, a manicured hand on an arm. Her counterpart is the real show, though.  Replete in a dark bowling button-down, portly, greying hair, a tan bordering on orange, and to top it all off – a gleaming diamond glittering from his left lobe, he’s all game.  He’s pulling out all the stops – the hand on the small of the back, the endless barrage of red wines for her, mojitos for him.  He gaffs, she laughs, he leans in. It’s magic here at Gate 2, folks. Pure middle-aged magic.

Tonight they’ll go home to their respective spouses with a jounce in their step.  A fleeting reminder of what it feels like to be young and desirable.  

I’ll go home with a less desirable memory of gnarled hands drifting down backsides and a disillusioned hope of aging gracefully.

The Elephant Ride



August 6th, 2012
Place: Portland, OR
Time: 7:17 pm

So, I went to Thailand and haven’t written a word about it.  I’ve been home for five fruitless weeks now and have had more than enough time to do something to remedy that.  

As far as vacations go, Thailand was uneventful.  No unlawful trespassing and escorts by police to speak of.  There was an awful lot of traffic, sitting in cars, boat rides, and global buffets. Still, time spent with friends and beautiful weather is nothing to sneeze at.  

I can also proudly say that I’ve ridden an elephant.  Or maybe I shouldn’t necessarily use the word proud . . .
The day started out way before our usual wake-up; a good 5 or 6 hours before.  We met our driver at a hotel down the street from John’s apartment. Our day was spent at a cemetery (twice), a “museum” devoted to chronicling the POWs who worked on the death railroad in Thailand, a boat ride along the River Kwai, the infamous bridge over that water, a global buffet and finally (!) the long awaited elephant ride!  Complete with playing with the elephant and splashing about in the water!

No.

Instead, I may have partaken in some form of animal cruelty.  Sorry, PETA. 

We arrived at the elephant farm ?  - sure, I’m going to go with farm – to the delightful smell of dung.  They ushered the 3 people who had opted for this tour down to a platform overlooking the elephants.  The poor sad beasts.  Saddled with iron chairs and chained to the ground, it was enough to make Greenpeace cry.

Our mahout (that’s elephant rider to you laymen, or kwan-chang in Thai) was called away from his volleyball game and he clamored atop the elephant, sitting astride its neck.  My friend Pat was ushered on and told to scoot over to accommodate me.  I told them I wanted my own elephant but no dice.  Good bye picture opportunities, unless, of course, we wanted to pay the operation some money for using our own camera to snap a photo.  How accommodating.

So, there we were on this metal chair contraption thing with an elephant that did not want to be there and a mahout that did not want to be there.  Every time we came to a hill the elephant balked.  This interrupted the guide’s telephone conversation.  That’s right – little dude was on his cell phone the entire time.  So, we’d get to an incline or a decline and the elephant would stop.  The mahout would yell at it and jab him with his knees.  Meantime, I’m trying to figure out where I can put my feet because they won’t both fit on his  neck without doing one of those side twisty things and if I left one hanging the elephants ears kept flapping at it or he tried to slap me with his slimy trunk.   

So, I’m dangling and twisting and trying to avoid having the iron bar slam into my back with each jouncing plod of the elephant and the mahout is talking on his phone and digging his ankus into the elephant’s ear or mouth.  I looked up that word.  An ankus is sharp hook and kind-of reminds me of a sickle.  Not really the kind of thing you’d want in your mouth. 

The first time he dug that sucker in he glanced back at us, as though giving me a chance to protest. Uuuh. . . 

Shamed.

Our tour ended with a boat ride down the river where we passed a group of tourists laying across the backs of elephants, straddling their necks, and splashing about in the water while their smiling guides happily snapped picture after picture.

It made my elephant experience That. Much. Better.

I suppose PETA would say it was all my own dang fault. 

I would probably have to agree – should have picked a better tour.


The Floating Market
Island Hopping
The River Kwai


Ayutthaya   
Phuket

Homeless.


August 5th, 2012
Location: My parent’s house
Time: 6:54 pm

I debated the location of this post.  As I went to type home, my fingers hesitated over the keyboard.

Home.

A little bitty word with boat loads of connotation.

In Shanghai, I referred to home in two senses.  There was home and there was HOME. The place where I lived and the place where I thought my heart belonged.

And here I am, back in the house of my childhood surrounded by my family and all things familiar.  This is supposed to be HOME.  Instead, it’s just home.

Say it enough times and the word begins to lose meaning.  It sounds awkward rolling off my tongue and looks foreign on paper.

People ask me how it is to be back and what my plans are for the future.  In expected polite form I reply that it’s an adjustment.  In typing this I realize that statement is completely fanciful.  It’s not an “adjustment” because there has been no adjusting.  I’m stuck somewhere in the Pacific between China and Oregon and I don’t belong in either location any more. 

I haven’t adjusted – I’m lost.  And this time there are no bread crumbs to follow home.

3 Aussies, A Hostel, and Whole Lotta Alcohol



June 2nd, 2012
Location: Sanlitun Hostel, Beijing
Time: 8:18 am

It only took 21 months, but I finally made it to the Great Wall of China.  Worth it.  But this post isn’t about the Great Wall of China – it’s a story of a different kind. 

This tale begins in my eight-bed dormitory at Sanlitun Youth Hostel.  At around 5 in the morning I woke to the gentle stirring of the locks clicking back and a swath of light brushing past my face.  A young woman climbed the rungs of our shared bunk and settled in for the morning.  Moments later an Australian boy who she’d apparently been out with started to speak to her in what he thought was a low whisper.  It wasn’t.  He then hauled himself up the ladder two rungs, and proceeded to hang onto the side of the bed as he attempted to cajole the girl into letting him join her.  No dice.

Their back and forth went on for a good half-hour, with voices slowly but steadily rising to full-on I’m still at the bar with blasting music in my ear volume and the shaking of the bunk as he emphatically stated his cause. Right about here is when I not so politely suggested they take their conversation outside.  They returned to whispers long enough for me to drift off for another 10 minutes or so.

I then woke to a voice saying “You tried to rape me over there!” from across the room.  The girl had removed herself to a bunk with a different man and her ardent lover had followed her to that bed and was continuing the conversation from a new ladder.  Next look, he’d hoisted himself into the bed to have a little powwow with the other two occupants.  

The conversation continued like this for the next 45 minutes:

Girl: “Rape, blah, blah, blah.  Giggle, giggle.”

Boy 1: “I can’t believe you’d say that! I just like you.  Some nonsense about other girls, drinking, girls, bar, etc.”

Boy 2: “Mate, I like you but I don’t want to see your face.  F#@& Off, mate.

Boy 1: “What about your misses downstairs?”

Boy 2: “F-Off, mate.”

Girl: Giggle, giggle (Internal monologue: I can’t believe these boys are fighting over me.  This is just so silly.  I love it.)

Either I fell asleep through it, or Boy 1 finally gave it up for lost. I don’t know.  Here’s what I do know: when my alarm went off 45 minutes later, Boy 1 yelled “Turn of your f’ing phone!”

That’s rich, guy.  Really rich.

After my return from the Wall half a day later, I was not surprised to find Boy 1 and Girl still in bed, although for some reason I was to decipher later, they’d switched beds. 

I found out at 6 this morning when they stumbled back into our dorm.  

This time, Boy 1 returned first and quietly climbed into bed (again, the bunk above mine).  Moments later, Girl appeared.  I assume she did a quick assessment of the room and realized Boy 2 wasn’t there,  and attention whore that she obviously was, she started in on a conversation with Boy 1. Of course, Boy 1 was all game.  After a recap of the night where he kept saying something about trying to “pull” a girl, and some fat bird in a red dress, he once again tried to get the girl into bed.  Just spooning, mind.  No hands.  Well, like 70% of the time.  Okay, 80%.  Alright then, 97% of the time.  Giggle, giggle. I have to brush my teeth, let’s continue this conversation when I return.  Giggle.

Shoot me in the face.

Girl then proceeds to say she can’t get into the bunk because of her swollen ankle.  Ah, so now I get it. In an act of chivalry (or most likely just trying to get in her pants) Boy 1 had swapped bunks with Girl because of this supposed ankle injury that in no way impeded her ability to dance ‘til all hours of the night in heels, but certainly couldn’t handle a ladder.

Now, somewhere in this, Boy 2 returns.

Recap of night again: tried to pull, red dress, blah, blah.

And then Boy 2 crawls into bed with Girl and I decide sleeping is futile and I roll out of bed to see Boy 1 staring forlornly at the canoodling couple.

Can’t win em all, Boy 1. I suggest you try conquering the Wall instead.  It’s killer on the knees, but at least she isn’t a tease.