Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A year in review, part 2

Finally made my way out of bed, showered, taxied over to the Guamao district again, stopped for some sushi, and am now plopped down at Gusto coffee shop to continue start the review of 2012. Looks like I got here early enough to find one of the last comfy places to sit with a laptop.

Last night I watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and it quickly shot up to one of my top 5 favorite westerns. And not just because of the famous dialogue:

Dobbs: "If you're the police where are your badges?"
Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

Finally knowing the source of a quote that is so often quoted (or misquoted) makes me so stupidly, irrationally happy. To know that it didn't originate with Beavis & Butthead or Blazing Saddles or any of the other countless movies makes me feel like I solved a great mystery.

Just like earlier this year when I watched Raging Bull for the first time and saw the "I coulda been a contender" scene at the end and was like OH MY GOD now I know where that quote comes from! And then a friend was kind enough to inform me that De Niro in Raging Bull is simply quoting a line from another movie…On The Waterfront. It took the wind out of my sails, but I quickly downloaded the movie and watched it and felt much, much better.

Anyway TTOTSM is a great movie, and SPOILER ALERT Humphrey Bogart's character gets beheaded. But we don't get to see the beheading because the censors apparently made them remove the scene, so all we see is an extra whack of the machete and a splash in the water where the head supposedly rolled in. And that's not why it's such a good movie. It's got a whole lot more going for it than badges and beheadings. There's a pretty in-depth theme about human nature, trustworthiness, honesty, and conscience.

After The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was over (and that's another reason I know it was an awesome movie…I stayed awake for the whole thing) I watched Akira (1988). It's a new hobby I adopted this year: Watching old westerns and Japanese anime back to back. Give it a try, it's a whole new mind-expanding experience...

The Shootist to Cowboy Bepop
Red River to Ghost In The Shell
Shane to Princess Mononoke
Rio Bravo to Perfect Blue

Oh, and another thing I accomplished in 2012 (and you thought I would never get around to reviewing 2012…see, it's all related...) was watching (re-watching really) several of the old Akira Kurosawa samurai films and their western remakes back to back…

Seven Samurai to The Magnificent Seven
Rashomon to The Outrage
Yojimbo to A Fistful of Dollars

I've had a lot of free time on my hands this year. I think you'll agree that I put it to good use.

I watched the six-and-a-half-hour Lonesome Dove miniseries…..twice. I think I've mentioned how much I love Robert Duvall.

And since we're talking movies, another thing I accomplished this year is building up a pretty amazing movie collection. I…acquired…over 450 movies (and counting)…acquired OUTSIDE of the United States and for PERSONAL USE ONLY (necessary disclaimer).

Oh, and a few hundred albums of music, most of which I realized I had already purchased at some point in my life. And after acquiring all that awesome music, I finally got around to making some pretty respectable iTunes playlists. I know it may sound silly, but I've never found myself with enough free time to dedicate to cultivating a nice digital music collection. And I finally did it. And it feels good.

Another thing I'm pretty happy about is going a whole year without watching TV. Well, I haven't really watched TV in about 10+ years, but it's even easier to avoid it here in China where I've heard there's not much English-language programming on the basic access. And besides, the TV in my apartment broke months ago.

The "part 1" of the review was pretty linear, so this "part 2" is going to be extra jumpy-aroundy.

Anyway, building up such a massive digital library necessitated buying external storage since this laptop is already maxed out. Building up such a huge iTunes library on the local disk will do that. So I purchased a couple of 500GB external drives here in China, one of which crapped out recently (damn you, Toshiba…what was I thinking…) but the other one was Seagate and still works perfectly fine. So after the crapout, I went back to DC Cheng (I've mentioned this electronics mega-warehouse place recently in another post) and purchased a 1TB Seagate external drive. The prices are pretty good here. I'm pretty much in love with my new hard drive. It can be used on Mac and PC…simul-freaking-taneously. Yes, without reformatting. The next goal is to backup all of the many photos and videos I've taken on all my adventures over the past year.

Speaking of photos and videos, I'm going to have to wait until I return to the states before I upload and share most of them since I let my VPN expire and I can't get to Flickr or any other halfway decent social networking or photo-sharing site on the whole dang internet while here in China behind The Great Firewall.

I have some serious love for China (maybe not Haikou, per se) but if there was one thing that would keep me from living here again in the future it would be the restricted internet access. To have to pay for a VPN service (the more reliable ones aren't free) just to access the regular 'ol internet is not cool, not cool at all, China. Anyway...

Picking up where I left off yesterday, I flew from Madrid to Kathmandu by way of London and Delhi. The flight from London to Delhi was an overnight flight, and since I can sleep anywhere, any time, in any situation, I slept a big chunk of the long flight. Until…

The Indian man sitting next to me started making out with me in my sleep. That pretty much woke me up.

I'm not sure in what world it's totally normal and acceptable to make out with a stranger while they're sleeping, but it certainly isn't cool in my world. I snapped awake, stunned, unable to think of something to say. And what do you say in that situation anyway? There was still a lot of flight left to go. I realized my head had sunk down pretty far onto my right shoulder, which was pretty close to his left shoulder, but I know I wasn't sleeping on his shoulder, so I don't think he could have mistaken me trying to put the moves on him first.

We sat there in the dead-quiet of the cabin looking at each other for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably just a few seconds. It was pretty dark, but I think my look was something like "what the f*** are you doing?! Omg gross my lips are kinda wet" and his look was something like "uhhhmmm la la la oh no oh no oh no is she going to freak out??"

I didn't freak out, mostly because I was still half-stunned and also because I didn't want to wake anyone. The entire cabin was asleep. It was a packed flight and I couldn't move anywhere else, so I didn't want to cause a scene and still have to sit next to the make-out king for however many hours. But I did give him thee most intense laser death eyes I've ever given, and I think my kill-kill-kill stare got the point across. I turned all the way to the left, to the aisle, and tried to fall back to sleep. And you know what? It's pretty difficult to fall back to sleep after something like that.

I arrived in Delhi pretty darn tired, but thankfully it was a short layover and I was off to Nepal. I got bumped to first class since it was a mostly-empty flight. The flight into Kathmandu was amazingly gorgeous. Bright blue skies with snow-covered mountains in the distance. I took a photo of one of the peaks far off in the distance thinking it was probably Mt. Everest. I'll never forget those sights.

I spent six weeks in Nepal, four of which were dedicated to the TEFL course. I settled into a guest house, and stayed there for the entire six weeks. I had a small room with two single beds and a private bathroom. It was freezing cold in Kathmandu in January despite there being no snow. And I had hot water in the shower most of the time, but there were several morning showers that were painful, bordering on torturous. Kathmandu was under (and may still be experiencing) planned power outages for up to 14 hours per day. To stay warm, the guests would huddle around the space heater in the guest house lounge, when the power was on anyway. Thankfully the guest house had a generator that they were generous in running for their guests. So we had power more often than many of the surrounding guest houses, restaurants and shops. By the way, friends have asked me what a guest house is. From what I've experienced in Nepal, China and Cambodia, it's basically just a term used for smaller hotels, or privately-run hotels that sometimes have fewer rooms and often times offer better rates for extended stays. The ones I stayed in this past year were mostly run by families instead of big corporations. Anyway, I enjoyed my stay at the Tibet Guest House and even made a couple of friends while staying there. I spent the first week walking around the city, getting lost and getting found again, and even got scammed once or twice. Despite the scamming (which I treated as a naive traveller initiation or rite of passage), I found Nepal to be an extremely open and welcoming place for foreigners. I plan to return in the future and do some of that famous trekking since I didn't get the opportunity to do it last year.

The TEFL course was basically 40 hours per week, Mon-Fri and really homework-heavy. We had to prepare all of our own teaching materials since we were taken to several villages to teach real classes in real schools with real students. I think we had to teach 8 classes over the course of the month. Those were some of the best experiences of my life to date. It seems most of the people, especially younger people, in Nepal know some English and know it pretty well. So communicating with everyone was easy. I think it was easier communicating in Nepal than it was in Spain. I had forgotten way too much of my high school Spanish. In hindsight, spending time in Spain and Nepal was a good transition period before landing in China…moving slowly from all-English, to some-English, to absolutely-no-English. It probably gave my brain time to adjust and not freak out so much.

During my short stay in Nepal I had some unfortunate health-related things happen…

- Not one, but two sinus infections.
- One case of food poisoning.
- One case of oops-I-drank-too-much sickness (in my defense, the leaders of the TEFL course took us all out to celebrate the completion of the course and mucho mucho rice wine was forced on me…forced in a friendly way)

About halfway through January is when I started searching online for teaching positions in Asia. My first choice was Cambodia but quickly realized how difficult it was to find teaching positions online. And from everything I had read, it sounded like the best way to find work in Cambodia was to already be on the ground in Cambodia. Long story short, I narrowed it down to a position at a high school in Beijing and this position at the kindergarten here in Haikou. I weighed all of the factors and decided to try Haikou, mostly because it wasn't a top tier city. My friend lives in Beijing and I figured I could go visit him later and experience Beijing, so why not experience a lesser-known area of China? Well, this year was both awesome and miserable. Awesome because China is completely opposite to the US, and miserable because Hainan (the province where I live) is completely the same as hell…same temperature anyway. More on China later.

So I secured the teaching position, booked a flight to China for February 3rd since the semester was to begin on February 7th, finished the TEFL course, and then spent the next week in Nepal doing some sightseeing, mostly visiting several of the temples. I rented a car/driver to take me to a city outside of Kathmandu way up in the mountains and stayed at a beautiful cliffside hotel. The fog rolled in and out and when the skies were clear enough, I was surrounded by the most amazing views of snow-covered peaks with a lush green valley far below. Also during those few days of free time in Nepal I was invited to volunteer at an orphanage in one of the small villages way outside of Kathmandu for a day. It was an amazing experience. I sure wish I knew of a few more words besides amazing to describe my time in Nepal. I have so many vivid, inspiring memories from my short time there. The vibe of that place is completely unique and full of love and respect for life.

I think I'll stop there and let the love vibe linger before jumping into China. No offense, China.

To summarize some other happenings of 2012…

I read a lot of books in all this luscious free time. I learned that I can't control myself in a bookstore, even when I know I need to travel lightly, and ended up picking up several books at this wonderful tiny bookstore in Kathmandu. I downloaded and read a lot of other books, and read some books borrowed by new friends here in China. It was a good year for reading.

I also did a lot of writing, which is something I've always struggled to allow more time for. The two big writing-related things I accomplished in 2012, that I have wanted to do for years but never had time for, were…

NaPoWriMo - National Poetry Writing Month. The goal was to write a poem a day for the entire month of April. I think I wrote double or triple that many, most of which can be found on this blog under the April archive. It was a good opportunity to write a bunch of crap so the better stuff can start coming to the surface. Still waiting on that better stuff to start surfacing. Any day now. ::foot-tapping / finger-drumming motions:: I guess one of the shining moments of the month was when one of my poems was stumbled upon by someone at the Best American Poetry blog and they featured my poem on their blog (mine is called A Lecture From Heidegger). That was a very nice surprise.


NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. The goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. It was tough, even with all of this free time, but I did it. It's done. I may never do it again. And it is something I most definitely won't be posting on this here blog.

Another writing-related thing I did was keep a dream journal, where I tried to jot down all of my crazy dreams. I ended up writing all of them down between February and May-ish and then got lazy and just started posting them on Facebook, and posted some of them to this blog. A huge apology to all you Facebook friends who I bored (or freaked out) with all of my crazy dreams. Some of them were real doozies.

I also started writing a children's book. I have lots of ideas for children's books that I'd like to work on over the next year, and maybe even try submitting them for publication. I started researching the ins and outs of the children's book publishing industry and it doesn't seem so bad if you go into it with a lot of patience, thick skin and not a whole lot of grand expectations. Check, check and double-check. I am the queen of setting low expectations. And some say that's a bad thing.

Another big accomplishment of 2012 was becoming a real, live teacher. I may not have the degree in education or the many years of experience, but I got certified for a specific type of teaching, found a job, started teaching, and gradually improved over the course of the year. And throughout that process I learned that I have an amazing, seemingly unlimited capacity for love of other people's children. I really surprised myself with how much I love kids, love teaching them, love playing with them, love being around them, love comforting them, and love just being there to experience the world through their eyes. It's such a beautiful thing. My respect for teachers and parents quadrupled this year.

Let's see, what else…

Oh, another big thing for 2012 was getting to speak so many different languages all within one year: Spanish, Nepali, Chinese, Khmer, American Sign Language and English of course. I only learned a teensie bit of some of those, but it was so neat to be able to experience so many different cultures and dabble in their languages in such a short timeframe.

The one I'm really happy about is Chinese. I studied fairly consistently on my own and got to a point where I can understand quite a bit of what's going on around me. I can't hold in-depth conversations, especially about politics or literature, but I can navigate my daily Chinese life pretty well. I've also become a good eavesdropper and can understand when people are talking about me (not too many foreigners in these here parts, so we get talked about often)…and then I flash them a knowing glance and a big 'ol smile. Fun times.

So yeah, the sign language thing…that was unexpected. I watched a couple of movies where one of the main characters was deaf, and the movies did a great job of putting the viewer in their shoes. I found some great websites for learning ASL and started practicing. It's either surprisingly easy to pick up, or I have finally found something I have a natural knack for learning and retaining. Going to keep practicing.

Well, it's break time again. I think too much happened in 2012, and I guess brevity is not my middle name.

Random fact: Tomorrow (January 3rd) is my mom's 59th birthday!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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