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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Americans

It appears that I've joined the work force again with an international hodge podge set of characters. This time, the group is limited to native English speakers. I believe we all hold degrees of some sort, but we've come from all over. Mostly South Africans, Canadians, Americans, the British, and a Kiwi. The ones living in this building, we are divided up between 2 schools owned by the same company called Jayeon. Besides me, there are 4 other Americans. One of these, is this girl from Texas who speaks fluent Korean; she's been here for 7 or 8 years. She's the manager of the foreign teachers here. And sort of helps run things regarding us. Though, she doesn't lord over us. I hardly see her now that I'm settling in. She's a professional. Hyper organized and super driven. You know, those types of people. I like her and I think she's incredibly good at what she does.

There is this other guy, a large fellow, named Bill who lives a floor down from me. A loud-talking, Soju-guzzling epicurean from North Carolina or Massachussetts. I think he was raised in the the latter state because he doesn't have an accent and doesn't act Southern. I mean, he's a Red Sox fan if that tells you anything. And he's got one of those Polish last names that only Northerners have. And I think he lived as an adult in North Carolina, after college and all that. I think he's afraid of religion. Brought up Catholic....that sorta thing. He's alot of fun though. He, apparently, sold lubricants to racing car companies and racing car drivers in NC before coming here. He likes to get drunk, and he likes to get loud, and I believe he likes to say offensive things in the presence of females, or really everyone for that matter. Its his way of bonding. But deep down, I think he's really a softie, very sensitive, and doesn't want many people to see it.

The other American is this girl that I've only had one conversation with. Mainly, because at this point I've only seen her once. She's from California and is dating this English guy who also lives in our building and whom I also have seen only a few times. The last American is an African-American from Oklahoma. He's a nice guy, humorous, highly effeminate. A homosexual. I was offered the extra room he had in his apartment. I'm not a homophobe and I can't stand all the condemnation...but I declined. It would be too awkward. But really, I guess the truth is, I would've turned down living with anyone for that matter. I'm in love with my own solitude. Especially after a day of teaching.

Well, looks like I covered the Americans. Hopefully, I'll get around to some of the other tenants from the other countries. Ones that I see more often. For all these Americans, are currently at the other school. I'm the only American at my school.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Lost Generation

One thing I must do soon. And that is tell you about the other foreign teachers at my school, that is the other tenants of the apartment where we all sort of live together teaching in South Korea while our homes are stretched far off in the distance . I must do this before I become facebook friends with all of them, not because I have any dirt to report about them. But mainly because, for the fact that I just met them, and it would be awkward for them to find out that they have become sort of characters in some new guys novel or play. I mean just the other day my neighbor Bill sat over cards and Soju and said something along the lines to the other poker players. "You know that, Brian, he's a writer...and what does he write about? He probably writes about all of us jackass fools." I only answered, "No. Not yet." Which was true...until now. But I should thank Bill for the tip.

I have worthy material right in front of me. On all 5 floors..in all of Suji City...in all of South Korea, in fact. But before I get into any of that. It should be noted that there is such a strong expatriate presence in South Korea, in fact, it seems almost cliche how so many teachers come over from the States, Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, and who knows where else...and expect to have some "out of home-culture" experience, only to ironically be immersed in a sort of "western-travellers" culture that is a bubble inside the Asian culture here. One has only to google "Korea blog" and a surprising quantity of blogs will pop up about So and So's One of a Kind Adventure Teaching in Korea. And then you'll be given quite the mundane details of them eating the food here, teaching, complaints about the school and the kids, and most probably going out with the other expats and getting hammered every other weekend. That's about the gist of it. Probably, it is a part of my pride, but I feel like I'm being cliche by writing about my life here. For I am merely doing what so many have done before me, it will not be unique, and after all there is nothing new under the sun. -But you see, I cave in. Perhaps really my pride, tells me that I'll spin it differently. That it will be broader, and yet deeper. So I write.

Now, before anyone takes the title of this post the wrong way, I should probably explain it. In my literary nerd, English majoring imagination, and in my present circumstances, I tend to remember, very often, the novel by Ernest Hemingway, "The Sun Also Rises". You must understand that Hemingway and Fitzgerald, as well as a good number of others from America and England, those guys, would write about an entire lifestyle in a foreign land. In "The Sun Also Rises" you have a mixed group of expats...all between their upper twenties to upper thirties living in Paris. Mostly going from cafe to cafe, drinking themselves silly, occassionally all going on a trip somewhere. In that novel, its Spain. What do they do for a living?...lots of them are aspiring artists of some brand or another. Though, all of them seem to be just escaping from the ordinary life back home, living an exciting life in a major world city. Flitting from city scene to city scene, No real purpose. - in and out of relationships, and perhaps, out of a sense of identity. -no stable ground. I guess you can see the correlation and where I am going. But some car mechanic, out of agitation, and noting the rootlessness and shiftlessness of these semi-young people during that time told Gertrude Stein, one of that generation's prominent authors, "You guys are all just a lost generation." And the term stuck.

Hemingway's generation had a better excuse. I mean, they had witnessed the most horrible war in the world up to that point. The pillars of the Old Western World had crumbled and what was left? Only the present. But now, I find a generation here, as well, as much of the backpacker hostels I've been to around the world, that is likewise very uprooted. And I, of course, include myself here. I could be something of a posterchild for it. -A prevalence of experience over effort or any kind of ties to tradition and perhaps, goals, really. The only ideals left standing are diversity, openness, and maybe a desire to see something new. Oh, and for the uber-idealistic, recycling and herbal gardening and medicines, there are those too.

But perhaps, I shouldn't be so negative or critical. I am merely stating the decorum around such circles. There is a lot of good in one's willingness to explore. Sometimes, when we are honest with ourselves, (quite the opposite of how we think it would be), it is easy to be so critical when it is a trait so prevalent in ourselves. Needless to say, there are alot of folks over here from various countries. Many have been over here for years and years, and I do not know yet, if its because they feel so rooted and grounded here, or for the fact that they feel so uprooted and disconnected back home, and here is a good place to just kick it around and enjoy life in the meantime.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Thing about all these Blasted Children...

I recall sometime ago on one of those golden afternoons that now that I'm further down the road, stands out a bit in my imagination. It was a magical time, I was with 2 of my friends and we had wandered off from this conference in Germany we were supposed to be attending. A train had carried us across the Ardennes Mountains into a Belgium that we hardly knew. Somehow we got turned around, almost lost, in this small country and ended up in a city called Namur...and everywhere we walked down the streets, and across the open city squares...there was nothing but children. I remember thinking how it was like the place where the Pied Piper of Hamlin lead all the children to. Either that or maybe the Lost Boys from Neverland had come back to the mundane earth and set up colonies there. Countless theories abounded. -The infamous Children's Crusades in the Middle Ages had really ended in a secluded town nestled in the Ardennes Mountains where they ruled the government with ice cream and pie fights. But either way it was strange and bizarre.

I guess in alot of ways, where I'm at now, is sort of similiar.
Of course, Korea just has tons and tons of people to begin with. But it seems that children are everywhere. The area where I am now seems to be swarming with the snaggletoothed vermin. You can't go down a road, however small, without it leading you to a playground. Now mind you, our foriegn teacher "villa", where I reside, is situated near a bunch of schools. In fact, if I were to take a taxi home, I would tell the taxi driver, "Suji City Jun Hakeyo". Which means Suji City Middle School and he'd know the area to drop me off at. But, it seems that EVERYWHERE I've been in Korea thus far has schools around it. Some public; many, many private. And alot of schools just mean that there are alot of children. I mean you gotta keep them from conspiring and causing a ruckus and schools have always been just that...enough busy work to keep the galley slaves from revolting. Or at least those were my thoughts on it when I was going through school.

Needless to say, even though I am surrounded by schools...the private school or "hagwon" that I teach at, is a good ways off. So I have to catch a bus in the mornings. And every morning while I'm waiting for the bus, I noticed all the children rushing frantically, some not so frantically...minding their time, going to their schools. The majority of them are decked out in school uniforms. -Blue blazers. The girls wearing plaid skirts. The boys that wear glasses look like they're assembling for an Asian Harry Potter fan club. A few children might be so little that their mothers are with them. But for the most part such an hour in the day, you feel that some sort of kids parade is happening. And its fortunate that you're on the opposite side of the road for if you were on the other side, they'd be no room for you, you'd be knocked out into the traffic or stampeded by shoes that light up in red lights with every step.

It seems that this isn't exactly new to me. I mean, when I lived in Russia. The nearest Metro stop to my apartment was called Akademichiskaya. Which translated rather roughly means the Academy. Apparently, where I lived in Moscow was an area famous for all the schools. But what's funny, comparatively with my situatin now, is that I don't recall whole migratory throngs of children in the area. I do remember a high school up the street, where a few young teens would be outside smoking all the time. The only memorable thought I have when I think back on it, was how there would be girls who looked no older than 14 holding beer bottles in one hand and a cigarrette in the other. There seemed to be dark circles under their eyes. It seemed they were children, but they weren't really children after all for they would adopt adult vices at such a young age. There was something very depressive and stifling about them too.

But in Korea, the youth have some sort of vital presence. They travel with their parents or maybe other kids, but they always seem doing kid things. And seem to be cheerful for the most part. Some even saying "Hello" if you are white. I guess it is a sign of a promising nation, maybe you could even venture to say, that it is taking the pulse of a nation, if there are alot of children and alot of energy around them, then it is a nation that is in good health as a whole. I don't know if that's true. I just made it up. But it sounds about right.

Korea has a strong drive towards educating its children. This is a brilliant move. And if you look at their economy, they are doing really well, especially considering how small a country it is. Because of this, there is such an ecstatic drive for them to learn English. Which gives me a job currently. And as one finds out, there is a whole booming population of expats teaching English here, not always, but alot of the time to children. This hiring, in the entire spectrum of history, is quite a phenomenon really. Or at least I think so.

But as a whole, because of this swelling population of children, I am in Korea. Being apart of this nation's future. I'd like to think that years from now, when South Korea through their prodigious efforts in scholastics, have colonized the moon, a time when us Americans are out of the limelight and notoriously only known for being the experts in worthless celebrity trivia, the President of the New Korean Republic of the Moon will speak up and say "I remember my English teacher back in kindergarten. He taught me, not only English, but how to share and love life. I played Simon Says with the guy, he'd draw crazy drawings on the board. I loved the guy."
Okay, so maybe I'm wishful thinking here. But at least one brilliant scientist or successful CEO is going to pass through my class, and I don't know...maybe be somewhat, if just a little, inspired.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Dire Situation and the Exploration of My School

I've already mentioned how my shower is a no good, dirty tyrant with a rare and capricious taste for hot water. It spews forth cold water and only intermittently, when the tenants on the lower levels aren't taking their showers does it become lenient and allow for something a bit warm. Even when it does work, it is a poor, stingy trickle. And then it is very hot; it almost scalds.

So just the other day, when I came home from school, I was immediately invited to go to shoot golf at a indoor facility with 2 of the guys in my building. Not that I can't wait to play golf. Quite the opposite, I saw it is an excellent opportunity to see something I've never seen before and to socialize with some of the other tenants. Now, it was Tuesday and I think it had been Sunday since I last showered. So, all I wanted to do was take a measly shower in my apartment. But after having the water on for maybe 5 minutes, the usual warm up time, the water instead of turning warm, it turned off. I was once again without a shower. So, I did something embarrassing. Though, true to my nature. I lost my temper and completely ripped the shower head off. I was like an irate Moses landing my frustration on the stupid rock, because there was no water. So there was to be no shower. Now, nor ever. I was pretty distraught right then and there.

So I resolved to rig something up to take showers. I found some spare tube and hose but couldn't connect it with the bathroom sink. In the meantime, I really needed to take a shower. But that would have to wait til tomorrow. I had to shortly scoot out for that strange and useless game called golf.
So this morning I woke up and it was Wednesday and I hadn't taken a shower since Sunday. So, I thought, "Surely in my school somewhere there is a shower. I mean there's a swimming pool. I'm left with no other real option."
So, I brought my shampoo, shower gel, and towel, if in the event that I should find a shower. In the middle of the day, from like 12:30 to 3:00, I have this long lunch and planning time. I'm already struggling to find something to fill the time. This would be perfect time to go on a exploration of this school in quest of a bath. But, I don't know if this is apparent to anyone else, but the awkwardness of trying to take a shower at an elementary school. I mean this could look bad. Real bad. What if I'm caught by one of the faculty? One must have ones clothes off to take a shower and being naked in an elementary school just doesn't sound nor look right. Or worse yet, what if one of the students wanders off and catches me taking a shower. Very awkward. And still it could even be worse, what if one of the students wanders off and catches me taking a shower but before they cry out or run off, maybe they're standing there bewildered at the naked white man drying off or what not, and a faculty member walks in, and sees me and this student in the same vicinity? I mean how horrible would that be? I don't think there could be a worse thing to happen. Dang it! And all I want is to be clean!

But something tells me this is so unlikely. I mean, the kids are way off in the cafeteria and various classrooms during this time. I'm sure if I found a shower it would be like one in a spare janitor's closet or a rarely used bathroom in a basement somewhere.

So I began my exploration of the school. The Jayeon School is divided up into two separate wings. One is primarily the English Language part (the part that I am only knowledgeable about.) And the other wing is the normal Korean school. On the English side there are 4 floors. The first floor is strictly administrative. Floor 2 and 3 is where all of us English teachers have our rooms. My room is on the 2nd Floor. One of the offices is on the 3rd Floor. And down in the basement is this swimming pool and a small kitchen. The kitchen is for the staff. The main kitchen and cafeteria for the children are all situated in the opposite wing.

I had no idea what was up in the 4th floor of our wing, no one ever went up there. It was quite the mystery. When much to my suprise, when I ventured through the shut door. Its what was called the English Village. And they all had these mock scenarios for the children to play and experience the world in English. Remember those little plastic kitchen sets that every little girl plays with? Yeah, my sister had one. It was like that...except it was the full works. They had an entire market with all the meat and can goods in plastic. They had the little shopping carts stacked against the wall. Then they had this little "play" airport with a toy security area that you walk through (Something tells me that these don't sell real well on the toy market.) They even had small airplane seats where the kids can pretend like they are actually on a plane. -And that was only the first main room.

I ventured over to another room and saw this mock beauty salon where all the little girls can even put on wigs and "get their hair and nails" done. I even think they had fake mascara for sell. They had a fake clothing store and such. It was like a little shopping mall.

What made matters more eerie is that the entire place was vacant. I mean, there was no sign of anyone else on this floor. The lights were out. And nothing was stirring. It was unnerving really. I continued to explore another hallway. I found this little area that was supposed to be the children's post office. They had fake currency. Some Korean, some euros, some American dollars, and even fake Canadian money. There was a little shelf with real post office forms, real Fed-ex looking boxes, and real envelopes. "So strange", I thought. I so hope that we foreign teachers get to teach lessons here. I hope I get to be the American postal worker.
And still, I went on. I saw this room that was supposed to like the children's pharmacy with a pharmacists station. And behind that was a mock hospital. With a hospital bed and even a play I-V. (The beds were real and looked comfortable; I now know where I can sneak off and loaf around.)
Yeah, the whole thing was so bizarre, but yet impressive. It was like a little people's ghost town. But still no shower.

I ventured into the other wing and made my way up onto the scenic roof. Very nice in the sunlight. They even had bushes up there. Then I went down, sneaking by the cafeteria where all the kids were busy making all kinds of racket with their tiny tin trays. (This was the first time I saw where they eat for I never wandered in this hall.) There was this other large room with a piano where I guess certain small performances are made. Whole closets were devoted to drums, tambourines, and other noisy instruments I'm sure the kids love banging the heck out of them. Then, I went down past the offices, and into the basement on this side and thats when I opened this door and through the crack saw these two older men laying down on mats taking naps. I think they were the bus drivers or maybe the Chinese teachers. I couldn't tell and I shut the door before they awoke. Yes, very strange indeed.

I next went to where the pool was, in the basement side of our wing. And that's where I found this little bathroom and a shower that had the most beautiful, hot water streaming from it. So I shut myself in the bathroom. And finally, took my shower without anyone walking in on me. And tomorrow I hope to see if I can fix my shower in my apartment so the above adventure does not become too frequent.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My Living Arrangements

I was driven on a tired Sunday night when all I wanted to do was find a bed anywhere and dive in and see when I woke up if all this horrible, surreal mess about Japan was really just a dream. Back to when things were normal, I'd wake up at DF again, next to a copy machine, and this sculptor-monk would knock on my door and ask me if I wanted to do Lauds (Catholic and Orthodox prayers) for the morning with all these strangely diverse characters that could be in some freakish sitcom in some freakish universe somewhere. Yes, wake up to my regular life and how it was. But things were far from normal now.

As you see, my previous living arrangement probably took the cake on eccentric accommodations, I could spend weeks writing about that...but that is, sadly, no more...and I must relate my life in Korea.

In South Korea, it has come to be so widely accepted, that for a school when hiring a foreign teacher, they have accommodation taken care of. So if someone takes a job as a teacher, they don't have to worry about rent. Though, I will have to pay for the electricity, but not the water.

On my ride from the main international airport in Korea, my ride told me I was staying in a "Villa" like a prince. A "villa" supposedly where all the foreign teachers lived. All 22 of us. And when she said that my hope in wonderful soltiude vanished. I didn't really want to share a room with some late-night bar-hopping Aussie, or some uber homesick American playing horrible rap music to appease his lack of things American. But probably, I just wanted to live alone, if even if its someone I like, I oftentimes like to have my own space. Which took some getting used to in my previous abode.

But what turned out being a villa, was really an apartment building like any other flat building in South Korea. There's a glass door with a code that most be punched to get in and then a series of apartments situated up the stairs. I was given the very top. The roof or the tower. And it was a single. I would be the only person there.
I was offered a "nicer" place rooming with another person. But if you know me, "nicer" was never a selling point. Besides I had everything I needed in this apartment. The guy I could room with, was this American from Oklahoma, and not to discriminate but a highly...umm, how to put this without sounding like some sort of bigot.. .you see, he's a flaming homosexual,...which would make for some interesting stories. But this roof flat was mysteriously equipped with a computer that the last tenant couldn't fit in her suitcase so she left it behind. So I chose this one where I can type my tales on a computer, in my underwear...and not worry about annoying or attracting anyone.

The room has one large room where my bed is and where it is a sort of living room as well. Kinda like a hotel. I have a kitchen on the other side. In the kitchen I have this little dwarf refrigator with some obscure Korean condiments left in it from the previous tenant and a bunch of coffee drinks that I placed there. I am furnished with dishes and glasses and utensils all of various makes and styles. Most impressive is this water cooler or warmer, it's both really. A state of the art water dispensor that has to be plugged in and cleaned often. In fact, 15 dollars of my salary will go for some person to come around and clean it. For they say that the water here is not the best to drink. So I can immediately get fresh, cold water or hot water for tea or coffee. I have a microwave, which believe it or not is not as big a thing to me as in the states. I don't have a stove. But I have some sort of rice cooker. I also have this little dining table and a chair or two, but I doubt I'll use these much.

My bathroom, like many places in the world, is divided. Between the actual bathing room, and another closet that is my toilet. The toilet closet opens directly into the main living room/bedroom area. Which is another reason why living alone is a good thing. I now, with the door wide open, can survey the widespread kingdom of my bed and computer and other stuff strewn about, from the prodigious perch of my throne.

I have a washer machine but I haven't used it yet. I hope that that doesn't prove too difficult. It is in this other little closet all by itself, along with the ironing board, but I doubt I'll use much of the latter. I don't have a dryer, but this huge drying rack that stretches itself across the front kitchen wall has this massive blanket on it that, I think belonged to the former tenant. I've hardly noticed this huge drying rack and how much space it takes up, how oblivious I am to things most of the time.

The main room has some really good heating, which I found out when I got here; it was so cold. The floor heats up and I kick my socks off which is new to someone that always has freezing feet. I have these huge white dressers to place my clothes inside, which I haven't yet. They still sit in my bag and suitcase in the floor. I wonder if this is some sort of psychological sign...that I don't really want to move in. Here, or perhaps, anywhere. Yes, I've put off placing my clothes in a permanent home.

My bed is wonderful. Its very hard and firm. The way all beds should be. I've oftened resorted to sleeping on the ground because I find alot of beds too soft. But this bed is perfect. I have a big window, with a big draper that I can control when the lights spill through. I have this computer at this glass top table and a simple wooden chair. I have this nice, leather lounging chair next to this desk, but it is covered by my backpack and all those clothes that I haven't put up yet. I also have a TV. But this, I haven't even turned on since I've been here. So I don't even know if it works. Just last night, I noticed that I have a DVD/VCR player but it was stashed ontop of my enormous dresser.

I only have two complaints about this aparment. One minor and the other major. The minor one is when walking from my main room to the kitchen or shower room, there is this low hanging arch that I have to duck whenever going that way. I've only banged my head once, but it smarted so much...and everytime I walk to the kitchen I feel like I'm in a submarine and am stooping through portal doors.

My major complaint is the shower. Because I live at the top of this building for some reason the water has very poor pressure. It takes a good 5 minutes for hot water to come on, if it does at all. I think if there are too many people in this apartment taking showers, then hot water is nonexistent for me. Which when the temparture is in the 20s like it seemed when I first got here, that is a big deal. And when I do have a hot water it is trickling and very, scalding hot. There is no in between. Either uncomforably hot, or quite frigid. I've only lathered up once, shampoo in hair, only to find out that all my hot water suddenly had turned to ice water. I was pretty ticked. But I waited maybe 5 or 10 minutes, shampoo streaming into my face and eventually someone down below stopped hogging all the hot water. It was enough to make me want to take up the offer of a roommate, any roommate, if only to have a good shower. So now, I only take showers when I guess that few other people in the building are taking theirs.

Because, the former tenant was a female, its starting to show. My apartment phone is nice but very pink. I keep discovering "Hello Kitty" stickers here and there. She had just left too. Another American. Supposedly, she was in the airport in Japan trying to get home when all the disasters happened and she was stuck there, while I was in Alaska.

The only thing that this aparment lacks than a sufficient shower, is a lamp. I think I will buy one the first chance I get, because if there is one thing that I am still sold on, its reading in bed by lamplight. Overhead lights are much too bright and don't cut it. I've already bought an alarm clock for I feared over sleeping. But my first week, this would've been impossible seeing how I've woken up at 5 every morning. Except for this morning, when the alarm clock proved useful.

I'm also gonna purchase a humidifier or some sort of air cleaning machine for the dust over here is horrible and my allergies are pretty bad. But that's enough. I don't think I've rambled so much about household appliances in my life. I feel like I'm the MC for a game show.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What I Saw in Japan

My stint in Alaska was short. And it wasn't too long that our infamous flight, those onboard flight 881, were called back to the original goal of our destination. We were headed to Japan only 2 days after the earthquake and tsunmai struck. We assembled early in the morning, packed in the Anchorage airport where we did a whole lot of waiting. -5 hours worth. I sat with the 2 Japanese girls and this Japanese guy. They didn't seem worried at all. It was as though, they had missed the anouncements about all the recent catastrophes. One of the girls, the one into elementary education was busy showing the other Japanese girl, pictures of a small child that was her relative. And then she showed me. I knew that I had some pictures somewhere in my carry-on, and I happened to find some that I have forgotten about. They were pictures taken in Africa, all of my niece, Baylor, whom I have yet to meet. She was with her dad, my brother, in one of them. And one with my sister, who had recently visited her. And with every picture that they flipped through, both Japanese girls would almost ring out across the terminal, "Kawaii!". Which means "cute" in Japanese.

The flight was about 6 hours or so. While in Alaska, I suspected they would try to avoid any flights to Japan, so I figured that they would redirect me straight to South Korea somehow. So I was a little surprised when they were sending everyone to Japan, anyways. That morning waiting in line, the airport television was showing the news and all the craziness that was going on. It felt stange to know you were heading to that place, and about to be greeted by smiling stewardesses who pass out quaint, complimentary beverages and snacks as you go there.

As we were about to land, it was announced that certain helicopters were in the area to blow away any potential radiation that may be in the air. But that the area that we were flying through was clean. We landed and amazingly people were not running around with their heads cut off. They were orderly and knew what they were doing. Because we were a massive flight that was rerouted to Alaska, it was going to take some time to accommodate everyone's travel plans. I stood in line with this American going to Bangkok for vacation. Apparently alot of people were headed to Bangkok. As well as Taipai and Hong Kong. Rumors began to circulate that they would have to stay the night in Japan and catch a flight to Singapore in order to get to where they were going. Eventually, we came to the line that was going to individually accommodate everyone on our huge flight. I was impressed with the way they...the people of Japan...were diligently working at our plight. And I realized that this was going to take a long time waiting in this line. But suddenly, a worker began calling for those going to Incheon/Seoul to step forward. We were lucky. They had already redirected our flights. But it would take a trip to 2 more airports in Japan to get there. We also had to hurry, we had little time to catch our next flight and it was an hours drive away.

This last part was a little unclear to me, at first. I had to go through Japanese customs and exit the airport, and then find somewhere the transportation that was offered to this other airport. Fortuately this young Korean guy saw me headed in the same direction and asked me if I was headed to Korea as well. I said "Yes." He introduced himself as Alex, and the two of us were busy trying to find this place to catch the bus. Eventually, two other Koreans, this young guy and girl were also looking for this bus. So the 4 of us were wandering all over this airport parking lot in Japan. It was a beautiful spring day. Not too hot and not too cold. The sky was clear. I had all my luggage on me. All that I was giong to call my possessions for a year. Nearby you'd see teams of individuals in bright orange or yellow suits. They were teams of relief workers from other parts of the world. I saw this one from Hungary. And this other large group of Germans getting on a bus. They had a dog with them to help them find bodies. Other than seeing these teams, you'd never think that anything out of the ordinary had happened. Mind you, I was a good ways off from where everything went down.

Our bus was incredibly difficult to find, but we found it. Apparently, us 4 were the only ones headed to Seoul on that flight, except for that large Taekwondo team that I mentioned at the very beginning. They obviously like to take their time, and we had very, very little time to catch our next flight. Besides they probably took a taxi. So, the bus pulled out and we began rolling through the highways of the greater Tokyo area.

You would think that I would've seen all kinds of mad, crazed dashes everywhere. People escaping, people fleeing. But instead, there were no buildings on fire, no massive ruptures in the ground where you could fall into the boiling heart of the earth. This was not a zombie apocalypse. The only thing odd I could see was the fact that the roads had very scarce amount of traffic on them. Everywhere you looked you saw buildings and signs that people lived everywhere, but you saw very little people. I mean, this is the largest city on earth and I felt like I was riding on an interstate road in Birmingham, AL on a Sunday morning.

I began to chat with the Korean girl next to me. She was from Incheon and was studying Human Physiology at a university in Boston. Her name was You Na and it was her Spring Break and she had come back home to visit her family.
And we talked for awhile. She was a Christian and was giving me contact information regarding a church in Korea. As we were talking, all of sudden as we got closer to the main part of Tokyo, we passed Disney World Tokyo. But it was shut down. Like some sort of ghost town that used to be a world of delight. The Korean I first met, Alex, allowed me to use his phone to call the lady who was supposed to pick me up in Incheon. That's the way I found the first Koreans I talked to, very very nice and easy to talk to. Alex ended up calling this lady in South Korea and having this conversation with her and letting her know that we were on our way and he gave her the time that we'd be landing.

When we finally arrived at this other airport that was closer to the main part of Tokyo, me and these 3 Koreans ended up hurrying through the airport to find these Japanese airline workers ready to assist. They knew we had a few minutes til our next flight, so two of these stewardesses ran beside us as we made our way down the terminal. It was a domestic airport. So there were tons of Japanese. Hardly any foreigners. I think I was the only Westerner, the only white guy, I spotted. Again, on the television at the gate, there was footage of what was going on only a few hours north. But the way everything was in this airport and the way everyone was acting normal and calm, it seemed like that footage was taken around the world from where we were all at.

One thing, I noticed in these airports was all the stewardesses. Its as though these companies only take application from beautiful Japanese girls to work for them. They all very pretty and have nice, official looking uniforms on. They all have flowers wrapped around their necks forming a type of exotic tie. They all smiled and tried accommodating you as best as possible and they ran beside you in order for you to make it to your next flight. I was highly impressed. Somewhere in paradise they have a corner of it laden with gorgeous Japanese flight attendants all with flowers wrapped around their necks while smiling their beaming smiles.. So beautiful, even when their nation is trembling, truly beautiful.

We got on that flight, only after finding out that one of the Koreans left his luggage behind at the airport in Nerita. Why he did that, I'll never know, but we had to continue on. We took a domestic flight to this other Japanese city in the south. Again, life was running normally. And it was there that we caught our flight to South Korea. The Japanese were so very efficient with us. I admire their ability to keep things going under such dire circumstances. I arrived in South Korea that evening. It was a Sunday night and I had started my journey on an early Thursday morning. In between those days, I had only 7 hours of sleep. So I couldn't wait to get to...not only my life...but my new bed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Traveling is Really about People...Meeting New Ones and Reconnecting with Old Ones.

I slept maybe 3 hours. I do not know why. I could've slept all day, but for some reason I woke up well before lunch. The wanderer inside me knew it was in a new, interesting place with little time. The sun was looking wonderful and sublime up in that sapphire sky, reflecting off the snow and all. I had to see this place that I'd always wanted to come to. Because it was March, however, the strange overabundance of day or night that Alaska is notorious for was not occuring . Day and night were in agreeance on how much time they had during the day. They had a deal, I guess you could say, just like most anyplace else.

So I phoned Andrea who I knew lived in the area. Though, I was taking a chance for I knew that she was probably very busy being a mother and all. And I was lucky, for she happened to be on her way to Anchorage anyway. They lived some way out. But she would be glad to pick me up at the Puffin Inn.

Excited about seeing my old friend and colleage, I went into the lobby of the Puffin Inn to wait. And there I found the two Japanese girls from the previous night, planning to go on their own excursion of this strange place fate had brought them, while the fires of their home country raged. They had maps in hand and strangely enough, had this cheery disposition. Both of these girls were about 20 and at the University. One was studying Japanese Literature. Later in our travels, I tried name tossing several names of authors around. But my knowledge of Japanese Literature being scant. I probably only confused her and myself. The other girl was studying Elementary Education and she was interested in the fact that I was going to Korea to teach children. She loved kids, you could tell, for whenever waiting in line, she'd glow any time a child was around. Their names was something very similiar like "Situka and Sutika". The consonants being all the same but the vowels being a pinch different. Oddly enough, they didn't even know each other before all this happened. Though they seemed inseparable. The Japanese Literature girl was traveling back from Disney World. The Education girl was traveling back from visiting some of her family in Ohio. Its just that this horrible catastrophe threw both their lives together. I would be willing to bet that they are best friends now. Dark times have a way of doing that. Since Andrea was driving in to pick me up, I offered them a ride to downtown Anchorage; I was sure Andrea wouldn't mind. And its better than them having to call a taxi.

When Andrea arrived they climbed in the back. Both of them sitting on either side of Andrea's daughter Clara who was in her car seat. The Education girl was beaming at how cute Clara was. And then we all rode to the central part of Anchorage, which was smaller than I had first thought. Andrea gave them clear directions on what there was all to see in town. They left going on their own and then Andrea, Clara and I traveled across town to meet Andrea's husband, James, for lunch.

I had first met Andrea way back in Texas at that missionary school I went to. At that time, I found it very cool that I knew someone from the Alaskan wilderness. She wore her dress long and her hair almost as long. She was probably the most mature person in our class, though I think she was only 18 at the time. She was a brilliant student. During our classes, we were at the top of our classes. I was a wild, creative person who for once in my life, if only once, decided to apply myself. But like a comet fizzles out. She was just a great student. Responsible, dutiful, and sharp. She was home-schooled and getting good grades and earning the respect of those older were probably 2nd nature to her. Then we ended being on the same team to Russia. She was in love with Russia from the beginning, had actually known a thing or two about the language and the people before she even knew she was going there. She proved a person full of wisdom and moral strength when there. I greatly respected her.

I recall before the days of Russia, when we were living in Texas, walking into Andrea's room. And seeing this young man in a framed picture sitting on her desk.
"Who's this?" I asked.
"Oh, that's James."
"Your boyfriend?'
"No. Just..(long pause)...James. A friend."
Right then and there, I knew something was up.
(She might've even had a flower beside the portrait but this could be in my imagination).
But she continued to talk about this friend back home in Alaska. How they had went to the same church and probably had the same snow ball fights outside of it when children.
And he even, a year later, went through the same missionary program and ended up going to the Ukraine. And after they had both got back to their home sweet home of Alaska. They got married and now they had their child, Clara. Wonderful news. It was good reconnecting with the both of them. For I had not seen Andrea since a few weeks after I got back from Russia, what seemed like ages ago. Though, it was strange, unforeseen circumstances that brought me hither. But how else does Brian Harrison wind up knocking on one's door?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

North to Alaska

Our flight to Japan being rerouted we touched down in Anchorage which was still looking like a snowglobe that had just settled. It was early in the morning, like 1 or 1:30. Though, not too bad a time for me to call my friend Daniel aka Adolph. He lives in Alaska and is usually up rummaging into something at that hour. But, no luck...even though he was awake as expected, my friend was working in the oil fields somewhere in the middle of nowhere, far north of Anchorage for that week. But I had another trusted friend in the Anchorage area, but she's got a family, and she doesn't rummage around at all hours of the night like Daniel. I would call her tomorrow.

For the time being our airline, United, was handing out free accommodations for the night. Flight 881, that's us, we were a large mob of confused people descending into the quietest of airports that was still locked in a Winter Wonderland. There was this stuffed grizzly bear greeting us as we entered the terminal. And we all assembled in the main lobby of this airport, around a stuffed polar bear in a glass case, no one really wanting to stay in the airport; no one daring to go outside in the cold. Above us was this large mural of an Eskimo who looked like he was living the dream playing on ice. Don't know what he was actually supposed to be doing other than looking like he was having the time of his life freezing his butt off.

Though we, the passengers, were all a bewildered rabble, the workers of the airport, who probably had to get their snowshoes extra-early that morning to help with this emergency, started passing out these little slips of paper with the names of hotels on them. Whatever slip you got, that is the hotel where you would wind up. I got this slip with the name the Millenium Hotel on it. I didn't know what to make of it.

And then we all waited for each of these hotels to send their shuttle buses to come pick us up and carry us all to our respective lodgings for the night. Alot of us ended up waiting a long time, I don't know if this was because it took a good while for the shuttle bus drivers to scrub the ice off their windshields or because they drive really slow because it was the kind of night stray mooses amble out in front of buses, but either way we were in the lobby quite awhile. But I shouldn't complain, for it was really nice of United to put us all up in hotels until we got back on a plane. They finally announced to us we were to meet back at the airport at 4 the following morning to complete our flight to Japan. By then the airport would be open. Actually the airport was already open, but it was good to let that Japanese airport of Nerita work through some things. I'm sure there were people stranded at that airport everywhere. We left all our checked-in luggage on board the belly of Flight 881, and equipped with only carry-ons we were to return in over 24 hours. Until then, we could sleep, kick it around Anchorage, eat salmon, make ice scupltures, hunt walruses, you know, all the things that one does in Alaska.

You must understand that for the most part I was very confused about the day. I mean we had just flown across the International Date Line twice. I actually consider it a great feat to have traveled into Tomorrow, and then turn around and fly back into Yesterday all within the same day. -But it was not the same day, or was it? Anyways, I'm quite thrilled about the mental mindbinder. There is something deeply metaphorically about it all, though, I can't tell why. I feel like "Doc" Emmett Brown.

A good portion of the people on our flight, who were now all waiting to be taken to their hotels, were Japanese. I cannot imagine what most of them were thinking. By now, we had learned more about what had happened in Japan. The TV in the Anchorage airport was covering it now. The Japanese seemed to hold themselves so well. No one was freaking out, no one was even crying. I guess that's a cultural thing.

I met these two Japanese girls from the Tokyo area. They had the same hotel written on their slips of paper, so we just hung out waiting for the shuttle. I couldn't help wanting to do something for them. And all the other Japanese people on our flight. I remember during 9/11 when I was living in Russia, all these Russians placed flowers outside the American Embassy. I thought that was really cool. And then I recall, this one Russian whom I had met only once called me up, and said something very hallmarky and sincere, "My profound condolescences, I send to you and the people of your nation." And I was truly touched. But yet, I couldn't think of how to do or say such a thing to any of the Japanese. It would sound awkward and sentimental. Russians can get away with things like that.

When the shuttle finally came, we hopped in and it took us to this mysterious Millenium Hotel. It was everything that a hotel in Alaska was supposed to be. There was another huge polar bear in a glass case, this time showing off his fangs. There was a bunch of mounted types of deer or caribou above the hearth. And below it crackled and popped this massive fire in the fireplace. There were old rifles and harpoons on the wall. Even a stuffed mountain goat. Off to the side, was this pub where they served hardy Alaskan beer in frothy mugs, that were clutched by the large, hairy forearms of lumberjacks and the ancestors of salty whale-hunters who told tales and swore by the magnitude of their opulent beards, that such tales of bear-wrestling and glacier trekking were all true. I grew excited.
But it was not to be. For not too long after arriving, we found out that this hotel had no rooms left. We had to wait on the shuttle to take us to the airport again. I was disappointed. Though, a large part of this was because I just wanted to sleep.

So we all climbed in this shuttle. There was hardly any room, I threw myself in the back of the shuttle where they keep the luggage. One of the Japanese girls followed. Back at the airport, the few of us turned out of the Millenium Hotel, were given new slips of paper with another hotel on it. This time it was the more modest, The Puffin Inn. And then we waited and waited once again. For some reason the shuttle driver for the Puffin Inn kept driving by the airport and would call and say that he didn't see anyone outside, so he figured that no one needed a place. Idiot! I mean, who waits outside at 4:00 in the morning when it is like 3 degress outside? No, we were all inside keeping warm and trying to fight the time and the urge to sleep by making fun of hotels that have silly names like the Puffin Inn.

Eventually, he came and we entered The Puffin Inn. It was a Motel. Which, I could care less. They had a bed. At that point, that's all I needed. Believe it or not, it took me awhile to get to sleep, though. Maybe 6 that morning. I fell asleep resolved that I would try to sleep as much as I could tomorrow. And then call the Smiths and maybe see what Alaska is all about.
....To Be Continued

Monday, March 14, 2011

Within 3 hours of Landing in Tokyo, We had to Turn Around...This is What Happened

We were suspended somewhere between Alaska and Japan, near the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia, when the announcement was made. It certainly was one of those surreal experiences that you may daydream about but you rarely expect for it to actually happen. We were only 3 hours away from landing, which on a 13 hour flight, you were close to landing. Suddenly, cracking through the late night movie and across the comfortless dozing of the passengers, the intercom reported cooly.

"There will be a change in our plans. Apparently, a massive earthquake has struck off the coast of Japan and a dangerous tsunami is reported to be hitting Japan soon. The airport of Nerita is closed, so we are turning around and landing in Anchorage, Alaska. Sorry for the inconvenience. These are extreme circumstances. We will do our best to work with you through this."

There was a general mayhem onboard, alot of curiosity. People began to rumage about the cabin, not in desperation or panic, but perhaps for fellowship and questions. Of course, that's how I found myself walking around the plane, trying to eavesdrop on all the more assertive passengers who storm the poor flight attendants with question after question. One flight attendant was astonished. He said that this main international airport of Japan has never closed in all the 20 something years that he's worked. This had to be something epic. And unfortunately, all communication with Tokyo was inacessible. All that the pilots knew was that this airport was closed. And even communication with Chicago was little for they were being swamped with all types of calls. So it appeared that Anchorage was the ideal place to land for we had just enough gas to get there.

Sure enough, the little cartoon plane on the map screen that is shown on all international flights, careened around and now soared back in a northeast direction. Surprisingly, nobody really panicked and I was impressed with the level-headedness of the Japanese passengers. I mean, this was their home we are talking about.

I was eavesdropping on this one conversation even engaging in it, when me and this Cuban, a guy from Miami, began to talk. He was some sort of doctor and was on vacation with his family. I could understand only a half of what he was saying his accent was so thick, even though he'd been living in the US half his life, that and the fact that he was so short, I had to stoop to hear him. He was thinking that since he was a tourist, it would take longer for him to get through to where he was going and by the time he figured we'd be out of Alaska, his vacation time would be up. So as soon as he got to Anchorage, he was going to see about calling it quits on his vacation time. Alot of people shared in that sentiment.

The whole flight I was squeezed between 2 men from Taiwan. One was old, the other was young. They were both headed to Taipei. The old man was the little guy who sat quietly the whole trip either staring out the window or reading this interesting looking novel. At times he would close his eyelids and just sort of bask in the streams of sunlight that were pouring in through the window. I wanted to talk to him, thought that he might have some sort of inner wisdom about life...and when the disaster was announced...about all this. His english was poor and I liked the way his thick accent said "Orange Juice" when the flight attendant came around asking if we wanted anything to drink. When it was still day, and it was day a long time for we were traveling West with the sun, I noticed the way this old man would never watch any of the movies, the movies that I was sucked into because there was little else to do and they were actually good movies for the most part. No, his eyes were glued to the dream-like formation of the clouds and the way the sunlight would bounce on these cotton-candy castles.

The young Taiwanese man to my right, in the aisle seat was a law student in St. Louis. He was going to visit some of his family in Taiwan for spring break. His english was exceptional and I could carry full conversations with him. I could see that he was very sharp, but I also got the sense that he knew that he was very sharp. And people that know they are very sharp tend to be either extraordinarily conceited or they seem to swim in an aura of cynicism. Sometimes both. Not that this fellow was unbearable. Not at all, I had no problem with him and I liked him. Its just that real connection during conversation is kinda blocked. However, maybe some of this is due to my own ego wanting to prove itself. I noticed before he told me he was a law student, he broke open this book that only a law student would be studying, and it just so happened that this movie was being shown that had everything to do with the practice of law. I saw him get interested in it and slam shut his book as though he was thinking, "What's the point, this movie will tell me more than this book." And later, I found out that all of this was true. He was also going to Taiwan for only 5 days. So he was pretty resolved that when we landed in Anchorage, he would catch the first flight back to St. Louis.

Another talkative fellow that I met while wandering about the plane was this other American. We had this long spilled out conversation sorta in the area where the stewardesses hang out and talk about the passengers they don't like while they get ready to pass out pretzels. The American was from Kentucky or Southern Indiana to be precise. He was an engineer and traveling to Hong Kong for a business trip. He was wearing this awful looking Hawaiian shirt and had this bristly moustache and coke-bottle glasses; he was loud and gregarious. I've long held the conspiracy theory, that America dutifully manufactures characters that fit the "American-Over Seas" stereotype, and then sends them all over the world to represent our country as a whole. Why the government does this, I will never know. But he fit the bill exactly. He couldn't count the number of times his company has sent him to Hong Kong, but he goes on these business trips twice a year. He was a Methodist and I could tell was worried about his son in college who was "majoring in Psychology, but more into studying booze, girls, and drugs". I made the quip that he was probably learning more about psychology than he thought.

That's what I like about long flights. You get a short glimpse into all these strangers crammed around you. For a brief spell you travel alongside them, hear a story or two, and then you continue on to wherever it is that you are going. And you find that this is true, people are everywhere going places. Some are only wanting to get home, some are only wanting to get away from home, some aren't even aware that there is a home. Meanwhile we talk and stretch our legs about the cabin, we are suspended way up into the clouds, oblivious to the strange fact we are flying. And then something horrible happens that cannot be explained, and even deeper, something significant is felt that we are all just travellers sharing in the same path with the same questions dealing with the same tragedy, however touched by the same light.

As we flew into Alaska it was 1 in the morning. All was dark. But one of the flight attendants announced on the PA that off to the left the Northern Lights could be seen. We were fortunate to be on that side of the plane, so the two Taiwanese and I, stretched our necks around and sat open eyed to the mystic play of the Aurora Borealis. It was this greenish hue that danced above the horizon. It was one of those things that I've always wanted to see. And luck would have it that even before I stepped a foot in Alaska, I would get to see it. There are many things within Nature that I don't understand, its seemingly savagery of quakes and tsunamis, and its tranquil beauty and mysterious serenity. A friend of mine just sent me a letter about this question. I think we all share in this great perplexity, yet wonder.

...To be Continued...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Flight to Japan and Korea: The Beginning

(The majority of the following was mostly written while on this flight before I had even known about the catastrophe in Japan. So this first part is light and flippant in tone.)

It began as much happenings of memorable stamp often do, -quite normally at first and everything was fine. It was only the night before when I found out at what time precisely I would be flying out the next day. I tend to be able to survive off of so little information.

The flight was to be from Birmingham to Chicago, from Chicago onto Tokyo and from Tokyo to Seoul. The first leg, everything went as normal. I arrived at the Chicago airport; a place that was suddenly familiar from my recent New Year's escapade. However, with the departure from Chicago headed to Tokyo, the plane was forever stalling.

A group that rivalled the size of a village sat in a Boeing 747, packed, elbows oblongly rubbing against each other in the seats, leg cramps already starting, and yet instead of clouds and the burst of sunlight a traveler receives when one mounts above the clouds, all that could be seen out the oval windows was Chicago cement and Chicago suitcase cars under that bleak Chicago sky. Apparently, we were waiting on a group of 26 stragglers to take their dallying parade and amble on board.

They fooled me, immensely. Because they were awkwardly late, I thought I had claimed as reclining plunder one, of their aisle seats, because no one was coming. But no, I had to squeeze myself back into the sardine-crammed middle and await my 12 hour sentence of probably no sleep and no easy visit to the can. (and I mean that last word almost literally.)

It turns out that the majority of these late folks and rebels of the clock, are all traveling to the East to kick butt in Taekwondo. They all had these shirts on detailing the fact that they were into trying to break things with their appendages, though this glaringly American group of people hardly looked the part. They obviously were NOT masters, nor even in the training for the special art of How-to-board-an-airplane-on-time. They entered smiling and joking as though they were having the time of their lives making everyone else possibly miss their connecting flights. I mean if you're gonna be late on a plane, at least look dour and nervous. And if you're gonna be one large Taekwondo team that's late on a plane, at least make it look like you had to fight and Karate kick your way to the gate. Have scratches and ripped clothes, several black eyes, busted lips and so forth. Someone could even have their arm twisted, contorted as though there was a last battle stand-off to get on that plane headed to Tokyo and appease all the other passengers.

But I guess in reality, they probably had their excuse for being late, some dodo head in their group left a pair of nunchuks in their carry-on bag, or some careless, thoughtless Bruce Lee left a few ninja stars in his britches, and they all had to stay behind and be strip-searched by security. And a security that doesn't play around with toothpaste, you know isn't going to let a class A ninja star or nunchuk through without calling the FBI, CIA, Bomb Squad, the A-Team, Sean Hannity and Fox News as well.

But regardless of their being late, that wasn't really the problem that made us real late. Our real tardiness was do to to some "simple malfunction that had to be checked on ONLY for legal reasons and had nothing whatsoever to do with our safety." Or that's at least what the guy on the intercom said. -I think that was a translation for "there is something really screwed up with this piece of crap engine, and we the crew, will wet our britches if we have to fly over the Pacific in it."

What's interesting about culture seeing how the same message was relayed in both English and Japanese, the guy probably spoke the first prettied up version for all the Americans, who if given the truth would start to whine and complain and theaten to hurl lawsuits all over the cabin at the first sign of danger, where the "real" version was said in Japanese knowing that they'd be calm and solid, maybe a few frowns here and there. So before that delightful rush down the runway and leap into the air, we had to turn this huge hulking dragon around and get some obscure check-up back at the terminal.

While the disgruntled passengers huffed about the plane, I paced about and began to notice more closely these Taekwondo practitioners. They certainly didn't look like martial artists, not in build, demeanor, nor expression. They more closely resembled a group of people that were going to an ice cream convention, or were part of a Disney World Fan Club. Some of them were very young, others were a bit old. I think they all wore their Taekwondo shirts, bags, swish pants, regalia, etc. to let everyone else know that they, believe it or not, were experts in the art of breaking boards with their knuckles. Because no one would think come to this conclusion by a first glance, or several glances for that matter, without they proudly announcing on their articles of clothing

When they first boarded the plane late, I thought that any potential hijackers would be shaking in their knife-concealing boots, thinking, "Goodness! Of all the planes I had to hijack, I had to pick the one with 30 black belts!" After examining them though, I began to suspect that maybe the Taekwondo Tournament phrases stitched all over their clothing was really, just after-all an exotic bland of ice cream.

But far outweighing this motley bunch of fighting cranes and squatting tigers, the most imposing figure on board was an older Japanese man who had nothing to do with them. It was really only because he was wearing one of those Michael Jackson surgeon masks that Asian people like to wear, to let you know that they are uncomfortable breathing in the same air that you just breathed out. Talk about menacing! The guy stood in the back like a statuesque villian in a Mortal Kombat game. Though he only came up to my nipple, he could probably whip the entire troop of Taekwondo poster-child wannabees with the bag of pretzels he was just given by the stewardess.

But perhaps, I am being an ignorant American. It is only because he was Asian and wearing one of these ridiculous masks did he look like the dazzling ninja of the watercloset, blocking the way, demanding a fight to death with katana blades for any who wish to use the toilet.

But as we took off and flew through the sapphire strastosphere, and after we finally arched over the Pacific while half-entranced and half-bored with the all the flight movies, something was churning and curdling far below, something down, down into the depths, in the discontent heart of the earth, in the ravaging bowels of the ocean. Someplace far under the area we were flying over, thousands and thousands of feet below the darkening sky and inside the quickening sea something was brewing, and we were flying high and had no clue.