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PLACES (of the earth & mind)
Saturday
Jan212012

The "pinch-me-I-live-in-Europe" Edition

The rumors are true: I have up and moved to Prague, sight unseen. (You thought I was joking didn't you? Well you underestimated my total disregard for sense and accountability.) Let's see.....33 years old...career change...country change...life change. Yes, that sounds about right. 

And though there has been relative radio silence (excepting the occaisional Facebook status update) I am alive and well. Prague is....well....I'm sure you'll discover the exquisite details in many blog posts to come. 

Three days after my arrival, I started the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course at the The Language House. It's a month-long course that will TEFL certify me and help me find a job teaching English to Czechs. A course about teaching English, you ask?? Don't you already speak English (Valley slang notwithstanding)?? What more is there to learn?

We have this assumption that just because we are native speakers of Engish that we can easily walk into a classroom and teach a bunch of ESL students to appreciate Shakespeare in no time. HA! There is so much more to teaching a foreign language than I ever dreamed. Last week, I taught four 45-minute classes to a room of native Czech & Ukrainian students who are at the Advnaced level. it turns out I do not know my native tongue as well as I'd hoped. This will soon to be rectified (Phrasal verbs! Reported speech! It's a grammar weekend!). Next week I will try my hand at teaching Pre-Intermediates. I imagine I will feel like an AP Chemistry teacher who has been assigned to teach the periodic table to a group of Kindergardeners. Not an impossible task, but challenging nevertheless. 

I am one of 13 in my TEFL course and we have a really good synergy. I am never, ever bored in class, which is saying something since we arrive at 9:30 am and get home around 8:30 pm. We are all American, save one Brit who could be an extra from Harry Potter. More than half of the class are recent college graduates. I'm giving a really good impression of my 22-year old self...late nights in nightclubs, too many beers, studying until 2 am, steady diet of ramen. I've probably lost 10 pounds since I arrived from the miles I walk daily and from sheer exhaustion.

Here's a photo my friend Corey took of some of us last weekend in a nightclub in Old Town. More to come.

Meanwhile, you can Czech out my photo gallery of never before uploaded photos from the past 5 years of travel. Okay, no more puns, I promise.

Saturday
Jan212012

The Paradox of Developing World Tourism: Memories from India

Girls in Black. Pushkar, India.

I love this picture, but it brings up a less-than-friendly encounter I had in the small city of Pushkar.  I did not choose to stay in Pushkar because it was such a hot bed of tourism, and instead found a hotel in the nearby Ajmer instead.  When I did take a day-trip to the fabled city, I was immediately approached by several young people, insisting they be my “guides” to the city.  I turned down one offer after another, preferring to see the city on my own, and also because at that point I had become exhausted of people asking me for money for something that they initially seemed to be doing out of the kindness of their hearts. More on this later.

So these two girls approached me and I asked if I could take their picture. They were so incredibly striking with their black veils, charcoal rimmed-eyes and painted mouths. After I took the photo, they asked me if I wanted a Henna tattoo, which I politely refused, not wishing to spend the $1.50 I was sure they’d charge me at the end (which is more than the lunch I was about to eat). Then one of them grabbed my hand quite firmly and pulled it to the other one who immediately started decorating it with Henna. I tried to yank my hand back but she had a tight grip. When I finally did retrieve my hand, I was so frustrated that I walked around Pushkar clutching my purse and talking to no one.

This brings up a few points. First, as a Western traveler in certain countries, and particularly in India, you are constantly bombarded by requests for handouts. It can start to seem like you are marked. While we wander about the globe, we look for that picture-perfect encounter with a local that does not end with a request for cash. We long for an un-developed world not constrained by the dictates of our very consumerist culture, and are turned off when that consumerism follows us wherever we go. We’re irritated by the hustle, and yet, that hustle is a direct result of the developing countries trying to catch up to the status of the developed economies. In other words, we created the game, they just play it.

Secondly, another realization came to me over the course of the day as I looked at the photo I’d taken of those girls. It was this: I expected to get a gorgeous photo of them—for free—yet I was irritated that they tried to get money from me for a Henna tattoo. They could have declined to pose for my picture unless I paid them. After all, I bet hundereds of tourists try to sneak shots of them every week. The photos of my trip are, after all, the most precious souvenirs I took away from the sub-continent. But I wanted them for free, and couldn’t be bothered to spend the buck-fifty to buy what they were selling.

I relayed this story and realization to an Irish photographer. I told him that from then on, if I took a photo of someone who was selling something, I would give them some change. It seemed like a fair trade. He said I was ruining it for the rest of the tourist-photogs, and now all the Indians were going to start charging us to pose for pictures. 

I’m not sure what the answer is. I don’t like the idea of commodifying every little experience in a journey that is supposed to be about revelation and learning. Looking at this picture, though, I do wish I’d let the girls Henna my hands—I might have taken away something wonderful from the experience.

Friday
Jul162010

I won't say Sayonara, I'll just say "farewell"


Today marks my final blog post from Okinawa, that little green fuzzy island on the other side of the planet. What a time it's been! My paradigm was cracked open - worlds and people I never thought I'd be exposed to seeped in and became part of me. And I'm not just talking about the Texans.

"Sumeba Miyako" - wherever one lives, one comes to love it. It's all in the attitude, there's really no other way to to face a challenge like moving to Asia for 3 years.

When John got the call from the JAG corps, they offered him Dayton, Ohio or Okinawa, Japan as his assignment options. Neither were anywhere on the "dream sheet" he had submitted. (Dream sheets, as it turns out, are just that - 10 places you'll dream about but never get assigned.) We both went to work that day, totally bummed out. Sitting in our sterile air conditioned offices, we googled "Okinawa" and photos of the clearest blue seas and greenest jungles popped up. By noon, we were ready to give it a shot.

Living in Asia for a limited time forced us to seize every opportunity. How many experiences could we squeeze into 3 years? Turns out, quite a few. We each logged 5 new Asian countries onto our passports. We attempted a few new languages. We made more friends in 3 years than I've made since I was a kid. Good friends, too. The friends are what have made this the amazing experience what it was. I have no doubt that we will be close for years to come. The rub of it is, we keep meeting really fantastic and fun people up until the end - it makes it so hard to leave.

We climbed mountains (Fuji, Himalayas, Pizza in the Sky). Bore witness to Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal. Met Generals and a Prime Minister, Peace activists and Buddhist monks. We mountain biked, we scuba dived - swam with sea turtles and out-swam a REALLY BIG MAN-EATING shark. We sank deep into the tunnels underneath the land-mined border of North and South Korea. Cruised down the Mekong Delta and the Holy Ganges River. We took innumerable airplane flights. John even hitched a ride on an F-15 for a bird's eye view of Japan. I planted potatoes and cauliflower in India and John planted a "Hollywood" sign on the sandy mountains of an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. John got his chops trying eight courts martial, and I knocked out a grad degree. Best of all, we got married.

But most of our memories will come from just bumming around the island. Crocheting and watching movies on Cortney's couch, dropping by the Bowman's for some Mad Men and home cooking, or running into friends at Uroko's and sharing a bottle of Awamori. Living on the Sunabe Seawall reminded me what I loved so much about college, and what I've missed since then: living in a walkable community, surrounded by friends who take care of one another. It makes life so much more enjoyable. Doors on the seawall are always open. I hope we find the same sense of community in Spokane.

We even had some international visitors, who will forever hold special places in our hearts for braving the journey. Andre, Masumi, Scot, Renee and Mark, I hope you loved Japan as much as we did! (BTW...Prestons & Lawlors, you had better make it to Spokane, because John's side of the family is out-representing you big time!)

I think about where we'd be if we'd said "no" to this adventure. Would we always lament what we had missed? Or like the people who stayed in Plato's cave, would we not even know we missed anything at all? I have John to thank for putting the fire under me to close my eyes and jump. I always thought seeing the world was something I would do later in life, on my two weeks of vacation a year. I'm so grateful that I was forced to move out of my comfort zone. I hope that I never get too comfortable, and that I continue to seek out adventure every place we go.

Off to Spokane at 5 am tomorrow. Gunner Bunner is hiding under our hotel room bed right now, dreading the inevitable 25 hours and 4 flights of travel. Eegads, so am I.

I will especially miss the Okinawans I've gotten to know. When you say "goodbye" in Japan, you say "Mata ne" which is loosely translated as "see you later". You never say "Sayonara!" because that means a final goodbye. "Sayonara" is what action heros utter before they blow up the bad guy. It is permanent. My Japanese sensai, Miyagi-san, told me I could say it when I finally left the island. So, the other day, after waiting for 2.5 years, I said it to my wonderful hairdresser, Rumiko, after my last appointment. She said "No! No Sayonara! You must come back to Okinawa!" Maybe some day we will. But for now, all that's left to say is:

So long Okinawa, and thanks for all the fish!

Wednesday
Jun162010

Our lives on the Seawall

The family portraits are in! My friend Aviva gave me the most generous gift for graduation - she did a photo shoot for us!

The shots of Gunner are TO DIE. John looks pretty darn cute too. You can see more here on her blog:

Aviva-Photography

Aviva and her family have been some of our closes friends here on this island. Ever since the first day she stalked me on the internet (same way she found her husband) our lives together on the seawall have been an absolute blast. They feed us, entertain us, and keep me sane when John is deployed. I will miss them more than I can say.

Monday
Jun142010

writer's block.


I'm sitting here working on a project. School is done and jewelry is done until September so of course, and in typical fashion I find it IMPOSSIBLE to sit still for our remaining month on island, so I've got not one but two writing assignments I've given myself. One is a children's book and one is a grown-ups book. Both fiction. Both impossibly difficult and gut-wrenching. I am constantly beset with waves of inferiority complex, uncertainty and the urge to crawl back into my mother's womb and call for a rematch. On life. Good grief, no wonder writers drink.

Went to watch John's trial today. I have spent a good many years sitting in court watching trials - I always feel like I am watching Broadway performances of Law and Order. But when it's your husband who you knew way back when he was a goober, hockey-jersey-wearing-law-school-hopeful, it is easy to become swollen with pride. He has a natural way about the court room, and I could tell that he was putting the very nervous witnesses at ease, thereby getting the best testimony. I wish you all could see it first hand.

Must get back to the writing. Promised myself 1000 words a day. I'm using the "driving across country at night" approach - basically writing one sentence at a time. I have no idea where that sentence will take me, but all I can do is go along for the ride.

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