spock: logic is sexy

5 things meme

thistlerose gave me 5 words she associates with me. I'm supposed to discuss them, but instead I dug up old entries from my personal journal that explain why I love them. Then I wrote a thing about Gaila, which is the 5th word on the list, but I posted it separately because my thoughts about her were just too large to be contained in a meme. You can comment if you want 5 words, and I will do my best even if I don't know you very well.

From 11/7/07 - half way through my first semester teaching

Fifth hour challenges me every day. They are the thugs, the jocks, the "at-risk" kids who are barely under my control on good days and explosive on bad ones. Today I say the word "tenet" while I am writing on the board. "Tenet," says a voice behind me. "Tenet, tenet," says one more. Later I say "indigenous" and another little chorus of "indigenous" echoes around the class. I narrow my eyes and prepare my best angry teacher stare, but when I look back, T., one of the kids whose struggling the hardest, is repeating the words like he's savoring them.

"I like it when you use big words," he says.

"Indigenous means 'native,'" I tell him. "Like Indians."

"Thank you," he says.


Samarkand, Uzbekistan - 7/25/06, the 53rd day of my trip around China and Central Asia

The steps of the minaret are nearly knee-high. The first staircase opens to a huge, dusty room. Bits of scrap metal prop up the brick walls and statues lie in the dust. Ahead of us, the next staircase is crumbling and only a corrugated metal roof keeps wind and rain out. We look questioningly at the police man who let us in -- is it really okay to be here? we ask. He motions for us to go on ahead. There's something faintly wrong about this. We never imagined that our sunrise trip to the Registan would involve bargaining with cops for entrance to forbidden parts of important historic sights. But now we're here, so up we go. The next section spirals up further than we can see, dimly lit by early morning light slanting through decayed window frames. At the top is a hole large enough for just one person to stand in. The stairs here are narrow and I realize that my knees are shaking. Right now, I am the tallest thing in Samarkand.

So travel isn't always easy. I've mostly written about the good here, leaving out the near-constant hassles with visa bureaucracy, my equally ominpresent gastrointestinal woes and the incredible frustration of trying to do simple things like buying train tickets. But the last 2 weeks have worn me down. This is the full story, taken from an email written to one of my friends at home...

The other passengers in our shared taxi to Uzbekistan arranged to use us as a drug mule. Basically, they got out of the car and crossed the border on foot, passing on a large wad of cash to our driver, half of which was then used to bribe the customs officials not to look through the car. The other half was a bribe for the driver to say that all the bags -- including the one from the other passengers, which I'm pretty sure contained drugs -- belonged to "the Americans." In retrospect, that's not as scary as it sounds because I know the police wouldn't have accepted the bribe and then searched the bags anyway -- otherwise, they'd undermine the bribery system and they wouldn't be able to "earn" quite so much money. But this whole thing meant we didn't get the customs forms we needed, which means we can't cash our traveler's checks.

Then we discover that the ATMs here don't take our Japanese bank cards. I have a Mastercard debit card so I'm okay (although it took 2 days of stress and a lot of searching for a viable ATM to ascertain this), but Kristy forgot the PIN for Visa, so I'm providing for us both for the next month. And that's 99% okay -- like, I'd want someone to do the same for me and we'd be trapped in Tashkent forever if we had to wait for a wire transfer from Australia. BUT she realized she'd forgotten the PIN for her card before we'd even left -- why would you leave without making sure you can use your back-up bank card? I only mind when it's hot and I'm sweaty and looking for the international ATM.

Two days ago, I lost a filling...in my front tooth...that I'd gotten just 2 months ago. The dentist here was not exactly kind and gentle, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. Like, everything was clean and modern and they were able to put a white filling in my tooth rather than a gold one. It's just that the day I spent worrying about how much pain they might cause me or how badly they might scar my appearance took quite a lot out of me.

And the police here! They're basically an organized crime syndicate. They'll ask to inspect your money for counterfeit notes and then confiscate as much as they can. Show them your passport and they'll find a reason to confiscate it and you'll never see it again. Don't show them your passport and they'll fine you for however much they think you can get. Most of them are in the metro, which means that we don't speak English there, always have to look like we know where we're going and never ask for directions. It's so stressful! Our second day here we got stopped anyway. The policeman was really insistant and kept trying to make us go into the men's toilet with him! I kept refusing to go with him or even show him my passport, but resisting the police is terrifying. Finally, after what felt like forever, his partner told him to back off and let us get off the train. Ever since then, we've been walking 15 minutes out of our way to a metro station with fewer cops, which sucks because it's 100 degrees outside every day. Oh, and I have diarrhea AGAIN and it's fuckign impossible to stay hydrated. And the toilet in our hotel doesn't flush 50% of the time.

We finally got all of our visas sorted out, so we can move on to Samarkand at last. But of course buying train tickets turned into a 2 hour ordeal. We went to window #1 and the clerk there said to go to #2. So we spent 20 minutes waiting in line, trying desperately to defend our place against all the people happy just to jump in front of us..only to be told to go to window #4. So we repeat the whole agonizing process, only to be told it's now lunch time and have the window slammed in our face. We ended up having to walk to a completely separate booking office.

I always have to make this disclaimer every time I admit that my life abroad isn't all shiny and happy -- I'm still having a good time. I want to be here. I do feel drained right now and part of me is wondering when my spirit will recover. But I'm writing this here because I feel the tiniest sliver of triumph -- I'm the kind of person who can be terrified without losing control of the situation. I'm the kind of person who can fight back against the police. I'm the kind of person who can handle all of these things and still think it's better than being at home, and that means that whenever I do get home, whatever problems I might face will be tiny in comparison. I travel not just to see things but because traveling makes me a bigger and stronger person.

Written at the end of a bad day a couple weeks ago

Tonight I smelled, touched, and finally ate salsa romesco. Sometimes cooking is a sensual, sensory experience, and tonight it enveloped me completely. I toasted hazelnuts in the oven and almonds on the stove, and the scent was warm and comforting. I roasted red bell peppers until they turned black, and the scent was sharp and smoky. My garlic was beautiful: white skins tinged pale pink, naked cloves shaped like teardrops that glistened in the light. Most people smash garlic cloves with the blade of a knife, but I crush them with the heel of my hand. I love the crunch and the smell that lingers for a day, a reminder of my secret pleasures in the kitchen. I peeled apart my ancho chiles with bare hands too, even though I could have done it with a knife. When I pulled them out of the package, they were black and wrinkled. Their aroma was piquant but faint. For 20 minutes, they soaked in boiling water, and when I opened the pot, they unleashed a heady, velvety scent as rich as chocolate or a bottle of fine red wine. I stripped their flesh from the skins, and it rubbed against my fingers, slick and wet.

Hm. I haven't written very much about writing, but I do have this little piece from when I was doing the writing exercises in Writing Down the Bones. I wrote it about a year ago, and it's a little weird, but I kind of like it anyway.

This is my image of myself writing. Cool water laps around my ankles. I look straight through it to the smooth round stones at the bottom of the pool. This is my heaven, so they do not hurt my feet. I bend over to pick one up -- cool water closing around my wrist, swallowing my hand -- and pull it up, inspecting it for only a second before putting it in my mouth. In my private heaven, this is not eccentric: it is unquestionably the right thing to do. That's what haven means -- it is the total security to do all the strange, beautiful, mysteriously appealing things I want to do. The stone in my mouth has no taste, only texture. I swirl my tongue around gray ones, white ones, pale pink ones, feeling their smooth curves. Is this one right? Is it my word? Is it worthy of joining my collection to be displayed for others? The coolness of the pool encircles my heart. This is how I find peace. Choosing things is what I love.
I love each of these entries. The bit about cooking is sensuous and delicious, displaying perfectly one of the many reasons I love to cook. And your teaching entry melted my heart.

I loved the book Writing Down the Bones. I still take it out every now-and-then for a boost.
Thank you!

I am still unsure about how I felt about Writing Down the Bones. Sometimes the writers seemed a little...intense. But then, the free writing definitely helped me, and it's something I need to get back to. Somehow I never mastered the art of writing freely while also keeping a subject in mind, or if that was even what I was supposed to do. I could often write and just let stuff come out, but it was much harder to use writing a self-examination tool that way.
Oh, romesco sauce is one of the best things in the world. I tend to use roasted tomatoes instead of ancho chiles and my own recipe is all almonds, no hazelnuts, but I love it in all its forms in the end.

Now I need to go grill some asparagus and tuna for dinner and whip up some romesco to serve with.
Hm. Maybe I need your recipe. Mine tasted good, but getting the shells off those hazelnuts was a bitch.
Beautifully written. :-) My favourite is perhaps the part about teaching.