Caveat: Tuesday Morning

A few blocks south of here there is a large park with a Lake in it.  Everyone seems to call it the Lake Park – I’m not sure if this an official name or not.  I walked down there this morning, and there’s a nice little pedestrian bridge that gives some good views of the area.  Below are 5 photos all taken from basically the same exact spot standing on this pedestrian bridge connecting the Ilsan neighborhood to this large park.

Looking east (well, kinda east-north-east, I think) there’s this weird looking bit of public art on the large plaza on the north side of the boulevard between Ilsan and the park.

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Looking north you can see the Homever store I mentioned (a Walmarty sorta place), and the little Jeongbalsan hill.  My apartment building is a few blocks behind the Homever store, and the subway station is a few blocks toward the little hill.

picture

Looking northwest, North Korea is only about 20 km thataway – after you go through Munsan on highway 1, which is where I was stationed in the US Army.

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Looking southwest, toward the Han River and then Incheon (which is where the international airport is, about 25 km), and then the West Sea (also called Yellow Sea) and, much beyond, Qingdao and Shanghai.

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Looking southeast, toward downtown Seoul (about 25 km) – it’s city all the way.

picture

In other news, I am coming to the stunning realization that most Koreans don’t know the names of their streets, and don’t particularly care – they often don’t put signs, they don’t put the names on maps, etc..  This is difficult for someone like me, who has always loved being able to study a map and then navegate around on this basis, and it’s surprising to me that it’s taken me so long to realize this.  Regardless, it leads to an interesting, networked-node sort of view of the world, an interconnected web of buildings and landmarks on nodes, with unnamed spaces connecting them.  I’ll get the hang of it, but getting directions is, well… interesting.

Caveat: A tough act to follow

Location:  Ilsan-gu

Soundtrack:  crickets, and morning city noise

The teacher whom I'm replacing is named Gary.  He's a very energetic, dynamic guy from Yorkshire.  I get to spend the next two days watching and working with him before he leaves, so there's an overlap to provide some transition for the students and for me.  There are two cohorts of students – a Monday/Wednesday/Friday group and a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday group, each subdivided into classes based on age and relative mastery of English – so two days of overlap provides at least one day of time with both teachers for each of the classes I'll be doing.

Abilities range from lower level "elementary" students to quite advanced "middle school" students.  I put the quotes as I think the terms aren't quite applicable as we would conceive them in the U.S. – the "elementary" are what I would think of a "middle school" – age 10 to 13 roughly, while "middle school" are more like high schoolers – age 13-16.  The oldest student is 17 I think.  The whole thing is compounded by the fact that Koreans are all 1 year "older," because they count the day of one's birth as the "first" birthday, and when they report their age to you, you never know whether they're subtracting that extra year because they know that we calculate from zero, or if they've forgotten and are doing a straight translation.

The advanced students are quite advanced – perfectly capable of having complex conversations on just about any topic, and toward the end of the evening Gary and I found ourselves enmeshed in a "discussion" (with the "T2" group) of Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" that would do a group of American college freshmen credit.   I put "discussion" in quotes as the whole classroom structure is, nevertheless, much more teacher-centered than I'm used to from the states – more "question and answer" than discussion.  And no doubt some of this I'll just have to adapt to, but other aspects I may begin to try to change as I get settled into the academy.

Gary and I walked down to a Dunkin Donuts (yes, they have those) on break and got some coffee.  He told me I had been very lucky, as I had landed in the best hagwon ("after-school academy") in Ilsan (and there are apparently 100's, many of which he's taught in over the last 6 years.  6 years!  Anyway, of course I asked "so why are you leaving?" and he explained that he and his wife are moving to southern Seoul (she's soon having a baby) and that the commute out to Ilsan would just be too much.  It's pretty clear that he's on great terms with the other staff members of the school and he said Danny (the director) is quite professional.

Most notably (in my opinion) he's on amazing terms with the students.  After we finished that last class of the evening we walked out into the hall and all the more advanced students were lining the hall to say "goodbye."  Many of them had cut out fat "tear drops" of blue paper and glued them to their cheeks ("see, we're crying because you're leaving" they explained), and they presented Gary with these large posters which everyone had signed with little paragraphs or anecdotes written with them, sort of the way kids sign yearbooks for each other in the U.S.  None of the staff were aware the students had prepared this "farewell party" for Gary.  I was touched and impressed by their degree of devotion to this guy.

He will be a tough act to follow.

urimbobo

The picture above shows my building, Urim Bobo County I.   Within blocks there is a McDonalds, a Burger King across the street from the McDonalds, a Starbucks, a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf franchise across the street from the Starbucks, a Homever (this is, roughly, a Carrefour store – and Carrefour is just French for Wal-Mart).  All amazingly high density.  But so far, I haven't even eaten in a restaurant (at 3 days, probably already some kind of record for me, at least when being abroad) – I've bought food (yogurt, ramyeon, fruit) and eaten in my little apartment, and there's also apparently a lot of free food flying around the school, too – last night I had some cold Bibimbap for dinner (my favorite Korean staple).  I have gone to the Homever store to get some houseold supplies and to be able to shop for food without overstretching my almost non-existent vocabulary.

Ok, well… day 3 begins now.  More later.

Caveat: Korea

Location:  경기도 일산구 (Ilsan-gu, Gyeonggi-do)

Soundtrack:  mostly sounds of crickets, cicadas, citysounds

I really meant to post more, sooner.  I am entering my 2nd day here in Korea.  I start my teaching job later this morning.  Right now it's 3 am and I'm unable to sleep, due to the confusion induced by the time-zone change.  But I'll adjust.

Last week was very hectic, in Minneapolis, getting packed up and all my stuff moved from my apartment to the storage unit I've rented in Eagan (near the airport).  I got checked out of my apartment on Thursday afternoon, and Friday morning I was on my way, Minneapolis to Chicago and direct from there to Incheon – a 14 hour flight and a 14 hour time difference meant 28 hours in a suspended state of intraplanetary teleportation. 

I slept a little on the plane, but never do much.  I watched two movies – from the Korean movie channel on the plane, to get myself in the right frame of mind.  They were actually very good movies:  "Highway Star" (Bokmyeon dalho) and  "Miracle on 1st street" (1Beonga-ui gijeok).  Subtitles in English, so I wasn't completely lost.  If you want to get a taste of contemporary Koreana these would be excellent choices, I think.

The flight arrived at Incheon almost 40 minutes earlier than scheduled, and by 5 pm local time on Saturday night I was through immigration and customs and boarding a bus for Ilsan.  I rented a temporary cellphone and was thus able to connect with my contact from my new job, who met me at a bus stop just west of Madu Station in Ilsan-gu and drove me from there several blocks to my apartment.

It's just a little studio, hotel-room-sized, but with a kitchenette.  And even has a washing machine.  It's in a highrise apartment building called Urim Bobo County.  I have no idea what they mean by this – bobo means, roughly, bourgeois, but without any negative connotations.  And "county" seems to imply a pleasant suburban living environment – it's a transliteration of the English word, not the Korean word that means "county".  Overall, I expect the intended effect is like the infinite number of apartment complexes in the U.S. with names like "Park View Terrace" or whatever.  Basically meaningless, but meant to evoke a kind of suburban arcadia. 

But, unlike suburbs in the U.S., Korean suburbs (and postwar urbanization patterns in general) are overwhelmingly high-density – thus this suburban community (45 minutes by train northwest of Seoul) feels more like Manhattan than like any socio-economically equivalent American suburb, e.g. Thousand Oaks in L.A. or Burnsville in Twin Cities.

firestation

This picture (above) shows the main street a block north of my apartment, and the fire station that will be my landmark for finding the place.  The school is northwest, about a 20 minute walk – I wasn't able to find it yesterday, walking around exploring, but I did find a nice park with a little hill in it, called Jeongbalsan (which is also the name of my rail station), and I had a strange moment when the pine forest smell and the humid, red, sandy soil evoked memories of marching through Korean woods on infantry exercises when I was stationed here in the U.S. Army all those years ago.  Smells are weird that way, so evocative.

fromhill

Above is a picture of the big buildings peeking through the trees of the park.

Anyway, I've been trying to get a lot of sleep since I arrived, so as to at least be well rested if not quite on schedule when I go into work later today.

In computer news… I am trying to get my Linux installation to allow me to type Hangul (Korean writing system).  I'm having some frustrations, but I can kind of get it to work through a bit of kludge at the moment, by typing in the one application I can get it to work in (gedit, the opensource equivalent to something like Wordpad under Windows) and then cut-n-pasting into the destination (e.g. Firefox browser, where I write this blog), hence: 정발산 (=jeongbalsan). 

Caveat: Blueberries, Beer, Boxes, Boxes, Boxes.

Locations:  Whitewater, WI; Chicago, IL; Minneapolis, MN; and roads in between

Soundtrack:  various, mostly NPR

I haven't written in a while.  Last Monday I got notification that my work visa number had come through from the Korean State Dept., so I drove to Chicago to shepherd my paperwork and passport through the consulate there, in order to ensure I had the actual paper visa in time for my departure for Seoul (now in 5 days!).

I spent 3 nights with Bob and Sarah in Whitewater, WI, and it was good to see them before my departure.  I enjoyed my time with Henry (their son of 9 months, now).   Bob is into this show he had DVDs of, called "Corner Gas" – a Saskatchewanian sit-com, basically.  Rather dry, but quite funny and entertaining.  My last night there, we watched a few episodes, and ate blueberries and drank beer (I know, I'm supposedly a teetotaler, but seems like I've been relaxing my dogma a bit, lately).

So then Thursday I drove back up to Minneapolis, but didn't get out of Chicago with my visa till nearly 5 pm, and between rush hour and the severe weather they were having (thunderstorms, high winds, power outages), I didn't get into Minneapolis until about 4 AM.  Oh well.   So Friday was a lost day, I was tired.  And so much to do!

Boxes, boxes, boxes, boxes.  I have packed 75 boxes with books (almost exclusively books!) over Saturday and today, and placed them into my storage unit.  Why couldn't I have opted to collecting something small and light, like stamps?  No… I collect books.  Oh well.  They're all packed away, now.  Must work on all my electronics stuff (5 computers, CDROMs, doohickeys galore), my paperwork (taxes for 2006 still due!), clothes, kitchen stuff.  But the worst is out of the way – all them dang books.

Meanwhile, I have a pleasing announcement to make:  I've got my new Sony Vaio running a "triple-boot":  Ubuntu-Linux, Windows Vista Business, and Windows Server 2003R2.  This is VERY cool.  And I've transfered my email to Mozilla Thunderbird (ending my last horrible Microsoft addiction), and I'm doing most of my work most of the time under the Linux platform.  I feel so… liberated!

I'll try to get my Win2K3R2 working well enough to run SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio, so I can continue to do my .NET development hacking and website stuff there – I'm not ready to take the huge step of migrating my DB work to Linux just yet.  But my desktop is FREE!

Ok… back to all that stuff to pack.

Caveat: Slate Sky

Location:  Minneapolis, MN

Soundtrack:  "The Current" (Minnesota Public Radio 89.3). 

One thing I love about Minnesota is the way that in a single summer week you can experience the various different weather patterns associated with an entire year in Los Angeles or even Arcata:  Hot and sunny (although you rarely get as dry in MN as in Calif), overcast, fog, rain and high 50's.  Last two days have been some of the latter – slate gray sky, rain on and off, 56 degrees. 

So, that's weather.  I was driving south on 35W across the Minnesota River yesterday, under that slate sky, and absorbing the incredibly lush greenery of the Minnesota valley, and was struck by an odd memory of a similar vista, years ago, coming down out of Tehuantepec into Villahermosa, Tabasco.  Different climate, but so similar in some ways – at least this time of year. 

Speaking of vistas, I'm hating Microsoft's Windows Vista enough that I've decided to try Linux on my brand new Vaio laptop.  This means hosing the factory-original OS install (as I've been learning!), and this undertaking has already had, and will continue to have, its major frustrations, but I'm committed at this point, and will be transferring my main functions – email, document editing, etc., to the Ubuntu Linux platform.  I will retain Vista for some multimedia functions – if I can get it so I'm happy with it at all.   What's with that weird new Vista bootloader, anyway? – what a piece of obfuscated crap!  And I may try for a triple-boot system, with Windows Server 2003 for my development work (e.g. website, etc. ), as I hate to have to try to get Mono (an ASP.NET compatible Linux hosting/development environment) working under Linux right now.  My website may have to just stagnate for a while.

Sorry for delay in new posts, here.  After getting back from my long road trip, I went into a bit of dormancy, obsessing over all the preparations I need to do for my move to Korea, and sort of bemusedly gazing at the immense amount of STUFF I own that needs to get put into storage.

Oh I love the rain, the overcast skies.  Happy Minnesota.  And, remembering Korea, I know I'll get plenty of that there, too!  And some delicious, Siberian,  intensely cold winters as well, though those tend to be drier than Minnesota's.

Caveat: A Wash

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Soundtrack: NPR News – debate about the replacement for the 35W bridge proceeds apace, already. There’s a big hue and cry about trying to ensure the new bridge is “light-rail” ready or incorporates a light-rail line, which to me is freakin obvious – they’re gonna have to build a bridge for the “central corridor” light-rail line at some point anyway, and if you just study the map, the 35W crossing would actually work quite well, allowing them to then use the old railroad right-of-way thru the U of MN campus (instead of tunneling under Washington Ave, which would be humongously expensive I suspect!) and integrating the north end of campus and Dinkytown to the LRT route, too, where you know you could accommodate lots of public-transit-minded residents. God I hope they don’t “pull an L.A.” as I call it, and allow short-sighted thinking to lead them into building transit component (bridge, etc.) that actually works against long-term needs and logic (I call it “pull an L.A.” because the L.A. “green line” is the most poorly planned piece of public transit I’ve ever examined). 

Ok, enough ranting about local public policy – I’m leaving MN for a bit, now, anyway, right? I face an enormous task in the next several weeks getting my stuff together for the move to Korea, and I’m not feeling motivated, rather, kind of exhausted from the long drive back. And now that I’m in my own place again, I miss my cat. But I spoke with my sister on the phone and she says Bernie is adapting well, assiduously but successfully avoiding the dog and behaving in a friendlycat way with the boys. I’m so glad for that.

Yesterday was a complete wash, as far as getting things done.

I love being back in the Midwest , despite the hotsticky weather – there was an enormous thunderstorm on Monday night, which was wonderful.

Caveat: Pretty good plains

Location: Bismarck, ND to Minneapolis, MN

Soundtrack: surfing the radio; Radiohead (great for road trips), Dylan (of course), Mexican Institute of Sound (something new)

On the radio, I heard: an opera called ‘The Greater Good’ as I drove into a vast cloud of forest-fire smoke west of Billings; a christian radio station that turned out to have a less-than-conventional twist, which lead me to evolutionarychristianity.org – very interesting; the news that Karl Rove (AKA "Bush's brain") is resigning; a country music top 20 countdown; a new version of “la guantanamera” in which the role of pure cuban girl is played by some innocent named “habeas corpus”; and more, more, more! Listening to the radio while driving cross country is second only to television as a way of sampling the cultural insanity that is the USA – and it’s easier to do while doing other things, e.g. driving across Montana, which, at 700 miles, is interminable and occasionally dull.

20070814_collisionwithbutterfly I had a head-on collision, somewhere west of Bismarck, ND – with a butterfly. I noticed it when I got out at a rest area (see picture).

The sky transitioned from the hazy, smoky mordor of Montana’s forest fires to the wide-open hugeness of the plains, as North Dakota gradually flattened out to the utterly circular horizon of the land just west of Fargo. They call these the Great Plains, and, although I like them a lot, calling them “great” seems extreme. Let’s call them the Pretty Good Plains, and leave it at that.

Caveat: Eastbound

Location: Portland, OR and environs; then EAST on I-84 to US-395 to I-90 east east east, Spokane, Missoula, etc.

Soundtrack: NPR and then the MP3 player on shuffle: tracks of KoRn, Grateful Dead, Jobim, Suzanne Vega, Chemical Brothers… all strung together.

I had those famous waffles for breakfast yesterday morning at Juli and Keith’s, and Latif and Peggy were there. It was a short visit, though, but good to see them. Then I drove into Portland and had lunch with a friend, Arun, and his family – he’d prepared some very good Indian cuisine in the style of his home, Tamil Nadu, I think. I enjoyed it. Arun left HealthSmart not long after I did, he was one of the best programmer/developer types there, and now he’s moved on to bigger and better jobs – unlike what I’ve done, wandering off into yet another adventurous but not so remunerative career. But I want to try to stay in touch with him.

After a long afternoon taking a walk around his neighborhood with him and his older son Kiyosh (about 3 and intermittently charming and mischievous), I departed for the long drive east and back to Minneapolis. I drove until I got to Spokane, but was feeling quite exhausted and decided to splurge a bit and stay in a motel instead of my normal sleep-at-the-rest-area routine. So now I’m in Missoula, and the air is filled with smoke from forest fires, and it might as well be L.A. or Mexico City out there. Lovely.

Not sure if I’ll make it to Minneapolis now in one straight shot or not. But I’ll give it a try.

Caveat: River of Madness

Location:  US-101 and roads from Humboldt to Cherry Grove, OR

Soundtrack:  KSLG (Nine Inch Nails, the new Modest Mouse, etc.) and then my MP3 player on ‘shuffle’

I drove up yesterday after getting an oil change for my truck and spending a bit over an hour out at Mad River beach west of Arcata (in picture).  I used to go out there a lot when I lived here, just to meditate on the ocean and be on the edge of the world.  I’ve actually rather enjoyed being in Humboldt this visit, but I still think there’d still be too many ghosts here to be able to live here permanently.

I have never seen the highway between Arcata and Portland up the coast quite so sunny – it’s almost disorienting.

Madness

Caveat: Firewood

Location: Arcata, CA

Soundtrack: Inner silence.

This is my home town – I was born here and, with a few interruptions, spent much of my first 18 years here. There are some ghosts, still, but mostly, when I come back, I’m overwhelmed by the natural beauty of this place I grew up, and the warmth and centeredness of the home I grew up, though now Peggy and Latif own it, they were part of the broader community that was involved in my upbringing all those years ago, and there’s huge continuity in things.

Arcata_008_2 The house where I grew up now has gardens all around it, and is very different from when I lived here, but it is strikingly beautiful – Peggy and Latif have done spectacular things with both the internal and external spaces.  All surrounded by gardens and greenery, the redwoods off to the northwest still, but both front yard and back now filled with paths and patches of plants.

Drove to David and Vivian’s “up the hill” and helped David move some firewood, and talked for a few hours.

Old books were found – I’ll take them with me back to Minneapolis to put into storage while I go off to Korea.

Caveat: Tree flesh [Cold – End of the World]

Location: US 101 to Humboldt County

Soundtrack: Cold’s “13 Ways to Bleed on Stage” (on of my favorite albums of all time).

[I retroactively added this embedded video on 2011-06-24 as part of my Background Noise project]

But then Beck’s “Loser” came on my MP3’s shuffle, and I remembered when that song first came on the radio, in 94-95, and I was commuting every night on the I-35W bridge across the Mississippi – the one that just collapsed – and I imagined that if the bridge had aged a little faster, it might have been me sampling the river bottom’s mud with my bumper… so I said goodbye to the bridge, even though I’m in Northern California.

By the time I got onto US 101 at Ukiah, the litter on the roads was no longer tomatoes, but instead the familiar fragments of redwood bark that falls off the log trucks. Because of the fibrous nature of the bark, and its reddish color, this, too, looks a quite a bit like road kill, at times. 

I think I would not do well, moving back to Humboldt (which is where I grew up) – but I always love that feeling of “coming home” that I get driving down into the greenness that is the far north coast.

Caveat: Tomatoes

Location: I-5 Up the Central Valley

Soundtrack: NPR via various valley stations

I left L.A. early – 4:30 am., to beat the traffic out of the city. Dawn at the summit of the Tehachapis. Then tomatoes littering the sides of the highway all the way up the valley, falling off of trucks from the harvest, I guess. A sort of vaguely macabre asphalt marinara.

Quote: “No animals were humped during the making of that song.” Meredith Brooks, regarding her 97 hit “I’m a Bitch”, during a discussion of a recent New York City Council initiative to “censure” the use of the word “bitch” in public discourse, in which she suggested the label was as much empowering as derogatory.

Caveat: Chupe de pescado [Korn – Evolution]

Location: Newport Beach, CA

Soundtrack: 

KLoVE (Spanish soft rock station in LA: más romántica);

KoRn’s new single _Evolution_

[I retroactively added this embedded video on 2011-06-24 as part of my Background Noise project]

I spent the morning in Burbank again, catching up with a few people (Vesper, Diana, Luz…) who I didn’t manage to see yesterday.  Then I drove all the way down to Newport to have lunch with Tyler (colleague from HealthSmart) at my favorite Peruvian restaurant, Inka Grill just across the line in Costa Mesa.  I love their Chupe de pescado, it’s possibly the most delicious soup in the known universe, in my opinion:  potatoes, egg, onion, fish, spices, something that makes it chowdery – I ate here often with Tyler and the rest of the HealthSmart crew during those long months now memorialized as the “battle of Lytec” (which we lost spectacularly to the enemy forces, which fought under the banner “poor project scoping and planning”). 

We went back to the Newport Beach offices and I chatted briefly with some of the other folks there, and I had weird flashbacks of T-SQL code as I walked the aisles between the cubicles.  Too many very late nights practicing slash-and-burn database programming,  I guess.  Visiting ARAMARK was better for my sense of accomplishment, and it stoked my ego to see the accomplishments of my era still percolating on the screens of the National Account Reps, but visiting HealthSmart’s IPM offices has served to remind me why I’ve decided to change careers and try something different:  more people-oriented, perhaps less remunerative, but hopefully more spiritually fulfilling.  Not that I’m particularly spiritual person, as many of you know, but I don’t know how else to express the idea I’m trying to get across.

Why do I listen to Spanish soft, romantic rock, when I abhor the same genre in English? It’s a nostalgia thing, I think.  It was the soundtrack of too many hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Mexico, too many 2nd class bus rides.  Not the same songs, 20 years ago, but the genre is full of songs that, 20 years on, can’t be differentiated from those older ones… it’s all a sort of weird slightly enchilada-flavored aural blur.

The smog in downtown LA was atrocious, driving down, I couldn’t even see downtown from the 5 as I went by  – much worse than anything we saw in Mexico City last week.  But this is smog season in Lalatopia, while this is precisely NOT smog season in Chilangolandia at the moment – which is why we went at this time, of course.  Which is why I always go to Mexico DF at this time of year. 

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Caveat: “There is great chaos under heaven, and the situation is excellent”

Location: Los Angeles

Soundtrack: my brother playing L7 and Echoboy on his turntable – good stuff

The quote above is from Mao Tse-tung. Many years ago (maybe 5? 6?) I had placed that quote on the home page (splash page) of my National Account Data Analysis intranet website that I built at ARAMARK (the application affectionately known as Reportomatic). At the time, it seemed very apropos to the IT/database situation there, but I’ve always assumed that the Reportomatic would eventually be upgraded or replaced. 

NadapageAt right is a screenshot of the page under discussion (click image to see larger).

Yet, yesterday morning I went to visit with old friends there: Joanne, Judy, Paul, Tom, Carol, and all the rest, and Joanne showed me that it was still there, exactly the same, all these years later. I was so pleased to have left such an ambiguous legacy!

Not surprising, perhaps, that things have changed so little there, but I still reflect that that company still seems so much more forward-looking and IT savvy than my more recent job, which was a sort of permanent IT disaster-in-progress.

Anyway, Paul and I went out to lunch in Burbank, and had some pretty good sushi at a place called Kabuki. Paul is the most brilliant database administrator I know, and I was surprised to learn he was still with ARAMARK at first, until I learned he’s a new father – this explains a great deal, as suddenly one’s need for stability and reliability in a job becomes more important than one’s frustration with the job’s nature, I suppose. I can sympathize if not quite relate. Anyway, he’s always great to talk with, and parenthood seems to agree with him.

My brother has the most amazing music collection – all kinds of ripped/burned CDs and tons of stuff on vinyl. He’s going through and playing stuff and it makes for a nice sound track.

Caveat: Vista

So… back in L.A., I bought my new computer on Friday.  A Sony Vaio, again, because, aside from this recent screen failure on my beloved laptop, I’ve had pretty good luck with these machines.  My new machine is not, strictly speaking, a clone or replacement of my previous – it’s a bigger machine, with shorter battery life (which is a sacrifice), but with a dual core processor, 160G harddrive, 2G RAM, it’s a much zippier little machine, and has a nice screen and graphics card, too.  I opted for it because, since I’m now definitely moving out of the country, I’ll not have a “desktop” anymore, so this will be my sole computer, and I wanted something a little more versatile for my programming and DVD-watching and so on.  But the big change – the huge difference – with this new machine is, of course, that it comes installed with Windows Vista.  And THAT is almost PURE suckiness.

It’s not that I’m adverse to change for change’s sake.  I understand the impulse.  But why must Microsoft change, for example, which “hot keys” cause things to happen, each time they upgrade?  And then document in such an obscure way what the new hot keys are?  There seems to be a belief in Redmond that no one actually uses hot keys, that everyone is slavishly devoted to their mouse and that hot keys are some weird concession to the handicapped and luddite faction and deserve minimal attention at best and downright obfuscation at worst.  And this happens not just in the operating system upgrades – it’s even more common in upgrades to, e.g. Microsoft Office.  God, what a ghastly new “look” they’ve managed there – do they believe users of word are illiterate, now?  As much as such a hypothesis has compelling aspects, it seems a bit contradictory to presume the user of a word-processor program can’t read labels on menus, and needs little Egyptian-looking hieroglyphics to know what gadget does what.  And these things are forced down your throat: there’s no “go back to the old look and feel” option – the help file even admits so, explicitly.

So I’ve spent my weekend learning, adapting, porting data and files from my old system over to the new one.  A decidedly unpleasant two days, after a great time visiting with my friend Jay and his friend Cuong on Friday afternoon/evening – we went to a Thai place on Wilshire in Santa Monica (Jay lives in Brentwood) and sat and talked politics, Jay’s amazing business plan, life, the universe and everything for at least four hours – I think the waitstaff at the place was getting a bit annoyed with us, even.  But it was good to see him.  I’m thinking of trying to reconnect with some other former coworkers today and tomorrow, before I begin the looping drive back to Minnesota.

Caveat: No sé nada, pero me la sé muy bien

Yesterday we returned from Xalapa.  A very clear day, but despite this the descent into the City from the east was still a sort of diving-into-smog. 

I've been struggling with a bit of bourgeois guilt (or first-world guilt if you prefer) – that feeling one gets when traveling in places like Mexico City (or south Chicago for that matter) when one resides comfortably.  The guy named Colin whom we met the other day here at the Casa accepted the label "freelance anthropologist" but my question is:  how is this different from being a sort of "cultural daredevil" – i.e. someone who goes out into the world from the safety of middle-class America, whether the urban nightmare labyrinths of Tepito or the destitution of rural Guatemala?

Not that I'm placing a value judgement on it – but let's not fool ourselves into thinking we're somehow helping or even showing solidarity with the "masses" – all we're doing is "having fun" exploring alien cultural spaces, aren't we?  Is this wrong?

Phil and I went to the main modern art museum at Chapultepec this morning, but he wasn't feeling too hot (maybe a bit of elevation sickness finally hitting?  not sure…), so we returned to the Casa for a few hours of relaxation before we run off to the airport this afternoon for the flight back to L.A.

I took a long walk toward Metro Hidalgo, the little park there where Aura and I used to rendezvous and go on our "dates" all those years ago.  Such fond memories of such dysfunctional relathionships… but haven't all my relationships been dysfunctional?

I then zig-zagged my way toward Chopo, enjoying the feel of the little neighborhoods; the streets; the school kids loitering; the policemen (and a few policewoman, in fact) chatting, guarding inobvious things; the vendors selling aguas and jugos; the old women begging; the young men with punk haircuts and a lot of body jewelry cursing; the dogs sleeping; the smells.

I love Mexico City.

Caveat: Jalapeños

We are in the Mexican city of Xalapa (or Jalapa), Veracruz.  This is where jalapeños come from, of course.  But it is also one of my favorite Mexican places, right on the edge of the altiplano as it drops to the rainforests of the gulf coast, it is a bit steamier and much wetter than mexico city, but still not like being at sea level.

This morning we went to the state anthropology museum, which is one of the best outside of the main, national one in the DF.  Lots of giant heads and interesting masks and statues.  I found myself thinking of a story that could develop in relation to confusing the statues with reality, somehow.  A hallucinatory experience inside the museum.  It was sunny when we got there, and cloudy, sporadically thunderstorming, when we left.  We had some chicken at a chain restaurant, and walked toward the centro again.  Stopped in a spectacular park, all jungly and in a sort of arroyo, birds and koi swimming in ponds at the bottom and flowers and children running about playing.  Quite idyllic and earthy.

It began to rain quite hard, and we sat on some steps of a building under construction, and watched the sky wash some motorcycles on sale on the sidewalk.  I took a photo of the license plate of the car in front of me, with a flower fallen from some tree above it on the bumper like a dead creature.  Striking and strange picture, I was thinking.  I will post when I get a chance to upload pictures.

So now we are back downtown xalapa, and Phil is resting in the hotel while I strolled downhill to this internet cafe.  Got an email from my new employer in Korea, confirming receipt of a photograph I emailed him since I had failed to include one with the packet of other documents sent by courier last week with the signed contract.  An emergency ad hoc photo taken by someone at the Casa in mexico city, I find it striking/weird that my visa photo for my new Korean job was thus taken of me standing against the wall of the lounge of my first overseas job 21 years ago.  I love little synchronicities of that nature.

Caveat: Historical Revisionism

I ask myself, what is this process of going back to "old" places (where I once lived or traveled) that I've been doing so much of?  Being here in Mexico City causes me to examine my "agenda" in remembering things, reciting old narratives, visiting with old people or remembering people.  Many people (most) acquire a sort of rose-tinted vision of the past, and conversations about "old" things seem fraught with "it used to better" kinds of remarks.  I, too, practice this rose-tinting – I know I do.  But perhaps that's the difference – it's intentional on my part, and there are other times when I can revise my own historical narratives in profoundly negative directions, too.  I feel that, objectively, the past is merely different – neither better nor worse.

I went to see Guti Aviles this morning – she was a former member of the Casa staff, and was a sort of godmother to me during my year and a half here, feeding me garlic and papaya ("para tu salud m'hijo") and such.  A very caring, gregarious person, now over 70 and with an inoperable brain tumor, nevertheless she seemed cogent and after a bit of chatting seemed to remember me at least enough to repeat my name a few times as we talked.

Yesterday, an afternoon in the Casa like so many from so long ago – long, long hours of political and cultural debate or discussion with interesting, engaging people – a young man named Colin from Seattle, anarcho-socialist and with experience in developing-world communities from western China to Guatemala.   Another mellow world traveler Yaniv from Israel (though currently resident in Madrid) with fond recuerdos de la casa and a very generous, wide-open personality.  These sorts of people and the wonderful, brief relationships that can be build are part of what make this "casa de gringos" (entre otros) so unique in my traveling experience.

Today Phil and I are going to leave for Xalapa for a day or two, so as to experience something external to the gran ciudad podrida.

Luego, más.

Caveat: “Un hombre que grita no es un oso que baila”

La frase citada arriba aparece en una columna llamada "navegaciones" en la edición de hoy de mi periódico favorito La Jornada (traducción del original en francés del poeta Aimé Césaire: "un homme que crie n'est pas un ours que danse").  El autor de la columna, Pedro Miguel (también tiene blog) lo cita aludiendo al fenómeno del reality show, esta tendencia en la cultura popular contemoránea del convertir todo en espectáculo, incluso la guerra en Iraq.  Acerta que la vida real no es espectáculo:  de acuerdo.  Sin embargo, yo he vivido y sigo viviendo, de cierta manera, una vida de espectador, y suelo mirar al mundo de una manera pasiva pero interesada.   ¿Significa ésto que me he sometido a esta cultura de epectáculo a que el autor alude?  ¿Representa entonces alguna deficiencia moral para mí?

Caveat: Lev Bromstein is still dead

This infinite city repossesses my soul.  Each street is a neighborhood, same-yet-different from any other:  poor or bourgeois; green with trees or grey with concrete; festive in colors of political advertisements or gang graffitti.  Last night Phil and I walked back to the 'casa' (the Casa de los Amigos, AC where I lived and worked for over a year in 1986-87) where we're staying as guests now, across the plaza that's in front of the Monumento de la Revolución, and at 8pm there were:  1) a marching band practicing (sound of cars crashing); 2) some boys playing football (americano! – not soccer – los chilangos love american football); 3) a permanent political protest encamped and playing traditional music through loudspeakers; 4) taxistas loitering; 5) men and women selling trinkets or candy or videos or music; 6) tourists strolling (that would have been us, I suppose).  It all felt vibrant, and so typical.  A city full of lives being lived.

This city.  And Manhattan, where I was a month ago, too.  These places always recall to me my untold tales of the truly infinite city.  A city in a Borgesian mode, genuinely devoid of limits or boundaries.  Some authors of science fiction have postulated cities that cover entire planets (Asimov or Walter Jon Williams), but I think there's a germ of something different, unique, evocative (and personally compelling?) in the notion of a city-universe. 

Yesterday, Phil and I took the bus from Autobuses del Norte (terminal) out to the pyramids at Teotihuacán.  We climbed the piramide del sol, saludabamos a los dioses moribundos y mirabamos a la muchedumbre de turistas que estaba ahí.  Sacabamos unas fotos.

We returned to the city, amid the haze of the north side of the valley and the grey suburbios climbing the hillsides, which were punctuated with occasional brightly colored declarations of incipient middle-class wealth in the form of well-built two story houses amid the slums.  Without map or guide I took us from Metro Indios Verdes to MA Quevedo at the south end of the city, and found unerringly but instinctually my favorite Mexican bookstore, la libería gandhi.  Once a sort of counter-cultural institution, this business has in recent decades grown to a sort of Border's-of-Mexico, with multiple locations and a very nifty website from which I've even ordered books from the states, although the cost of shipping is a tad exhorbitant – oddly, it's cheaper to order books shipped from Spain than Mexico.

I bought a spectacular book of short stories, very recent (2004?) entitled El materialismo histérico, by Xavier Velasco.  More on this gem, later?

This morning we went to the museo and casa de Leon Trotsky, who lived his final days here in exile before being murdered by a proto-KGB agent in 1940.  We walked around Coyoacán, had some lunch, and returned.  I met with Rosita, a woman who was one of the cleaning staff when I worked here 20 years ago, and now, despite her 70 years, is still spry and works occasionally to make ends meet.  We chatted and walked over to try to find Guti, another person who was like a godmother to me during my time here, who has been ill.  But she wasn't home or didn't hear us yelling up from the street ("mexican doorbell").  I know where she lives, though, and will try to come back to see her at some point again before we return to L.A.