Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hitting a Wall

Just three more days til I return to Korea and my one true love...dalkgalbi!

There comes a time in every expat adventure when you feel like you've seen it all.  (This is not to say that it's true...there is still lots more to experience, but the feeling remains.)  When that happens, the time has come to wander a little further afield.  It's been ten years since some of my homegirls and I decided we would hike the walls of Hwaseong, the fortress in Suwon, but I'm pretty sure that was our thought process.  Seoul was played out like snap bracelets, but Suwon had exciting possibilities.  Or at least one exciting possibility.

However, I think it took us two tries to actually do it.  The first time, the three of us came from different directions, and since none of us had been to Suwon before, I set the meeting place at Suwon Station, exit one.  If you're not sure what exit to meet at, I say go for exit 1.  If there are multiple exits, there will definitely be an exit 1, and if not, you'll find each other regardless.  The problem was that Suwon Station had both metro exits and KTX exits, and way back in 2005 the three of us were wandering Korea without cell phones.  People used to do that back then.  I promise.
Anyway, in this case, the second time proved to be the charm, and we met up and found our way to the walls.  Hwaseong is fantastic.  It's historic, but like I give much of a crap about that.  Ringing gigantic bells, on the other hand...  The hike itself is gorgeous, and the company - Heather and Jen - were the kind of friends that I could be myself with and not worry about them thinking that I was going to hell for every other thing that came out of my mouth.

Expat living: it attracts the black sheep.

This is true even amongst Mormons.  Jen and Heather were both church friends (as opposed to my degenerate GDA friends, who were also black sheep, just the kind that needed a few grown-up drinks to hit the noraebang...)  Well, here is a little bit of Mormon trivia for you - we are cheesy as...well, something that's extraordinarily cheesy.  As we passed one of the towers on the wall, one of us noted the similarity to this tower in the Book of Mormon called the rameumpton.  Basically the function of this tower was people would go up on it to pray about how much better they were than everyone else (FYI: these weren't the good guys).  So we decided that this would make an excellent photo op, and being the person who doesn't mind being slightly (or more) blasphemous for the sake of a good picture, I got tapped to climb up the tower and pretend to be a Zoramite.

It was a fairly clear day.  I was pretty sure I wasn't going to get struck by lightning...

On the way to the wall, we passed a variety of vendors and I was happy to find one that had these really cool, fold-up hats.  I bought two of them.  When we met up, it had actually been really sunny, so I was happy when the clouds gathered - I was pretty much as paranoid about skin cancer then as I am now.  I'm pretty sure my friends thought I looked like an idiot (or an ajjumma...possibly both), but they were good sports and had a high tolerance for dorkiness.

We didn't make it all the way around the walls...at some point - I believe around the time we decided to go wading in the stream - we decided we were hot and thirsty and needed melon bars.  We veered away from the wall into a market area, where old men were paying paduk or something, and wandered in and out of shops until we made our way back to the station.

People always ask if I'd go back to Seoul to work.  It's a complicated question.  I was a lot healthier then, and I love the fact that there's always something to do.  I really consider Seoul to be my second home...but like my first home, that life's moved on without me.  Most of the people I loved there are gone, and I don't know if I have the guts to go back to an empty house and build the thing up again.  That didn't stop me from applying to a job there when Belynda told me about an IB school that was advertising for an art teacher - although it did cut the disappointment when they wrote to tell me they'd just offered the job to someone else.  Thus, the search continues.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Take a Hike

Here is a lesson for you all, in a "Give a cat a cupcake" sort of way.  If you give an art teacher a primary lesson to teach on her so-called day of rest, she'll feel a little bitter.  If she feels a little bitter, she'll probably procrastinate actually preparing it.  If she procrastinates, she'll need something to do instead.  She might think about putting her laundry away.  If she looks in her closet, she will probably realize that she HASN'T EVEN STARTED PACKING TO GO TO SEOUL ON FRIDAY!!!*  That, of course, will make her realize she hasn't really thought too much about what she's going to do there (besides catching up with Belynda, her Dark Lord and Master, and shopping at the Dongdaemun Fabric Market).  She'll need to check out Atlas Obscura, since she lived in Seoul for three years already.  This will get her thinking about all the things she did when she lived in Seoul, that she didn't blog about because she didn't have a computer back then.  Knowing she didn't have a computer back then will make her feel lucky to have one now.  And if an art teacher feels lucky, she will probably sit down at her computer and procrastinate planning the primary lesson she's supposed to be teaching.

So a couple of weeks ago, when I, you know, had job prospects, I felt like there was a very real chance that I might be out of Asia next year.  (Now?  Who knows.)  This prompted me to crunch some numbers and decide that I should spend my last Tsagaan Sar not in Mongolia, but in Seoul, so I booked a flight for Friday.  I have waxed poetic on numerous occasions about how much I love Korea, but not actually written about most of the things I enjoyed there.  To get me in shape for the upcoming blog-a-thon, I'm writing about a few of those things this week.
Korea has some great hiking.  I was just about as lazy then as I am now, but the weather was nicer for more of the year, so I actually went on a few more hikes.  Smack dab in the middle of Seoul is a hill called Namsan, and one weekend my friend Anika and I decided we'd meet in Myeongdong and hike it.  Neither of us actually knew what the route was, but we figured if we kept heading uphill we'd get there by and by, and we did. 
It was a bright spring day, and we enjoyed the view at the top of the city.  After some cotton candy in the park around Seoul Tower, we decided to start hiking down the other side.  I loved being able to rely on chance like that when I lived there...just choosing a path and wandering along.  On this particular auspicious day, we ended up at the bottom of the hill where Noksapyeong Station sits, walking past a place called Chili Chili Taco, which stopped us in our tracks.  After our hike, we decided it was a perfect time for some food, and since neither of us had had Mexican in a long time, we stopped in and discovered their burritos, which I still consider to be one of my top five finds during all my years in Korea.
I loved this experience so much that when my mom came to visit me, right before I left Korea for the last time, I decided I would take her up Namsan.  Gracie is NOT much of a hiker, but when Anika and I hiked Namsan, I noticed the cable car, and decided it would be just fine. 

My mom did not agree with my assessment.  See, first you have to walk uphill a little ways to get to the cable car.  Then, of course, you have to ride the cable car up the hill.  Maybe this probably shows the self-centeredness of youth, but I wasn't actually aware that my mom was afraid of heights until she got panicky on the ride.  Oops.  But eventually we made it...to the exit.  Which was not, apparently, on the peak of the hill, so I heard a lot of complaining as we huffed and puffed our way up the last of the steps.  But we finally made it, and Gracie agreed that the view was very nice.

She hasn't visited me overseas since.  I wonder why...

*I've actually given more thought to the perfect wardrobe for me and Five's nerdy-nerdy Japan holiday than packing for Seoul.  It's how I roll.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Buy it Here: Plants

It is tempting to tell you that my students are my pride and joy.  While it is certainly true that I love them dearly - you know this already if you've read my blog for any length of time - there are also days when I want to smack them around a little.  They're kids, after all - they sometimes do dumb things.
My orchid, on the other hand...  I've had my orchid longer than most of my students, and although they are supposed to be persnickety flowers, it's never caused me any problems.  It blooms on and on, and when it loses it's flowers, all I have to do it be patient and water it, and eventually it puts out a new vine and blooms again.  So, it's possible that I might say my orchid is my pride and joy.

I never considered myself to be much of a green thumb.  I like plants and flowers...I've just never been that successful at...you know...keeping them alive. When I was in elementary, I remember my paternal grandmother - who could grow moss on sand, I swear - supplying me with various green things to grow.  I invariably killed them.  In middle school, my dad - an avid gardener, occasionally to my mom's consternation, as she was not an avid canner - let me attempt to plant rose bushes and irises, neither of which ever bloomed.  In high school and college I bought bonsai trees off the back of trucks at gas stations, and regardless of whether or not my cat managed to pee it them, they slowly dried up and died.  In fact, the only plants I recall keeping for any length of time were the lilies that lived in my fishbowl in Shanghai - they had water to drink and fish poop for fertilizer.  I really had nothing to do with them, and even they always kicked the bucket in the end.
So when I "borrowed" one of the ivy plants around the school my first month in Mongolia to put in my window seat, a betting person would have placed odds on it dying.  Certainly I felt a little bad, taking a plant from school knowing it would probably not be alive when it came back.  But four and a half years later, it has managed to grow longer than Rapunzel's hair.  In fact, I've managed to keep quite a few plants alive - not all of them, because I do travel and they get abused quite a bit, especially during the summer.  My first orchid, for that matter, only lasted a year.  However, I've never felt like I needed an air purifier, even in the worst months of UB smoke, because my plants were producing oxygen for me.

So this week I'm bringing you all the information* on growing your own oxygen supply.  The first place I actually found plants for sale was in Builder's Square - my first year Five and I went to the UB Art Fair at the Zanabazar Museum, and while waiting for the museum to open found a variety of tents and greenhouses.  I've seen them up on occasion since then, but not always, so if you're dying for something green at home, this might not be the place to go.
The Flower Center is a UB landmark (or at least, that's what some of the other teachers told me when I came...they may have been full of crap, though, since I've never used it to give directions or to meet up with someone).  Situated at the western intersection of Peace Avenue and Baga Toiruu (and right next to a Burger King, which coincidentally occupies half of the Flower Center's former glory), they mostly sell silk and cut flowers, although they have a few potted plants as well. 
Inside the Flower Center

As always, the State Department Store has a little bit of everything, and plants are no exception.  The vast majority of what they sell is cut flowers, although last summer I picked up pots and soil here, and I've bought plants before as well.  Most everything is on the first floor in the corner by the Cinnabon, although there are more pots upstairs if the ones downstairs don't appeal.
The State Department's flower department

The best place to go, though, is on the opposite corner from the Children's Park, on Narnii Road and Olympic Street.  Nomin Soyolj has potted plants, pots, soil, seeds...everything you need to grow your own rainforest, except possibly the rain.  Sorry, rock fans, I have no pictures because I was lazy yesterday (and, you know, pretty much all winter long...)  If you look it up on Google Maps, it will be the first result, classified as building materials.  Just look for the greenhouses.

Well, that's all for this week - I gotta wrap this up and get downstairs to Dougie-Poo's apartment for dinner.  His lovely wife is making Thai food and we haven't had a good chat in a long time.  Next week will >probably< be the long-awaited art post...we'll see if Five and I come up with something better to do...

*Rough approximation.  Probably not accurate.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mush Ado About Nothing

I've tried out more forms of transportation than the average person.  Hell, just in my trek from Greece to Egypt in 2008 I used planes, trains, cars, buses, trams, a ferry, a camel, a horse, a felucca, and probably one or two that I've forgotten.  One form that has been tempting me for the four years I've lived in Mongolia, though, is dog sledding.  Every winter, Engrish and I talk about wanting to do it, and every winter, we fail to get out acts together and actually go.  Until now.

With Five and I leaving at the end of the year, this was going to have to be the year.  Five took point on this one and contacted one agency - a French guy who does longer treks - only to be told that he was booked solid (for which, in retrospect, I thank all that is good in the world).  She didn't let this stop her, and imposed upon Wild Ass to help her contact some of the Mongolian agencies who offer dogsledding, and eventually Engrish and I were informed that we were ger camping at UB2 this weekend after a delightful dog sledding experience.

Enkhaa drove us up to Terelj, and we set about finding them.  The owner said that it was next to the river, near the bridge at the entrance to the park, but we went there and waited for a while, but didn't see them.  Finally we called again, and again, and again, each time getting a little closer to where we were supposed to be.  Eventually we saw the teams mushing along, and found our way to the meet-up point.
We waited a few minutes while the dogs had a chance to catch their breath, and then we were each told to go get on a sled.  Up until that point, I don't think any of us had really thought too hard about the concept of dog sled, but actually sitting on one, I found myself feeling pretty bad for the dogs.  It was cold out - not the coldest day by far this winter, but still pretty uncomfortable for my toes.  At the starting point the dogs were tethered to a fence, and they were yipping and whining as they waited.  In my mind, I realized they were working dogs, and teams like these have been pulling far more than my weight over greater distances in less hospitable climates, but I still felt like a terrible person.
Finally, the drivers were ready and we set off.  Engrish and Five got off to a good start, but as soon as my lead dog was unclipped they began...champing at the bit?  You probably can't apply horse terms to dog sleds, but regardless, they were raring to go, and my driver couldn't untie the knot at first...he had to re-tether the lead dog and back everyone up before getting us loose.  Finally, we were gliding over the ice, and I found myself torn between continuing to feel sorry for the dogs and fear that the sled would turn over, spilling me onto the hard ice and smashing my precious camera.
There's a saying that unless you're the lead dog, the view never changes, and from my seat on the sled, I realized that this was true.  What the saying does NOT adequately express is that unless you're the lead dog, you also expose yourself to the very real threat of flying turd.  As we followed the trail along the river and then through some trees, the delightful aroma of feces wafted up to me, and I realized why the dog in front of me was running weirdly...someone didn't go before we left the house.  Luckily there were no fatalities.
It was about 30 minutes from start to finish, but my toes were done after five.  They felt like blocks of ice, and when the driver stopped the sled to let me try driving, and I felt bad for the dogs...and Engrish, whose team seemed to have a couple of Dugs in it, wanting to chase after squirrels.  Actually, Engrish could have run faster than the teams, although probably not while she was dragging either me or Five along behind her. As I stood on the back of the sled, I was a little bit terrified.  I'm not exactly the best driver when the vehicle is fully automatic with power steering.  I'd been paying attention during the ride - trying to ignore the pain in my toes - and it seemed like the driver kept the sled balanced by shifting his weight from side to side.  Up til then, I had no clue how the dogs stopped - it seemed to be by telepathy - but it turned out you put your weight on a pedal that brakes the sled.  There was also the fact that there were unfrozen patches of the river along this part of the route, and I now had visions of myself capsizing the sled - you can ask Babysis how good I am at flipping vehicles over sometime - and freezing to death.  But alas, we got back to the starting point safely, and the three of us vowed that we would never do it again.
Don't get me wrong - I feel that there was value in the experience.  I can understand how difficult life was for the teams that helped deliver supplies and news to early Alaskan settlers, and I have more respect for those people who keep the tradition alive by participating in the Iditarod each year.  But once is enough, and I sort of wish I'd known more about the company before we booked it - without going into too much detail about things I don't really understand, I don't think the dogs were treated as well as they should have been.  I wanted to give a big steak to each of my dogs for being such a great team, and let them sleep in our nice warm ger for the night - and if you've been paying attention, you know I'm not a dog person, so this is saying a lot.  Instead we left, with Enkhaa telling us, "I told you so."  We offered to let him try it, too, and he said he didn't want to, that it felt disrespectful to him.

Back at UB2 Enkhaa and Engrish went for a run while Five and I pretended to take naps but actually talked.  I gave up on napping and started sewing, and when Engrish got back she convinced Five to go for a hike.  Later on, after a round of their favorite game, Quiddler, they made the best damn shashlik I've ever had, proving that Engrish is a true ger-camp gourmand.  We talked into the night, having one of the best catch-ups we've had in a while, and not just because we were discussing the interview I'd gotten up at 5 that morning for.  After breakfast we went out for a walk, with Five and I nerding out over our upcoming trip to Japan, especially everything we were going to do in Universal Studios.

It's hard to believe I'll be gone in five months.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

When It Hurts to Breathe

There are three things that absolutely suck about Mongolia - the traffic, the cold, and the pollution.  Most of the year, life is fine - the air is clean, the weather is brisk, and if the traffic's bad, it's not that far to walk.  Unfortunately, during the winter there is a limit to what you can do about any of them.
But at least you get to experience driving on the river
Before the Christmas break, everything seemed to be going wrong.  I had my first bad fall of the winter on a Sunday (blame it on one of the cars stuck in traffic scaring the heck out of me by blaring their horns, although packed-snow sidewalks glazed in I-don't-want-to-know-what didn't help), I spent so long waiting for a taxi a few nights later that I had to take off my shoes once I got picked up to massage the life back into them, and then the following day walking to dinner I very nearly impaled my head on a tree, and one of the bells in my hair ('twas the season!) swung around and hit me in the lip, which it immediately froze to. It is not encouraging when you feel like the entire country is trolling you.  Up until that point, I figured if I couldn't find a job, well, I had a perfectly good one right here - I could stay another year in Mongolia and try for Japan next year.

But that week changed things - I was over it all.  Since I'm trying to get back in the blogging habit, today I'm writing about that special weather condition unique to Ulaanbaatar - smoke.  Yesterday there was a protest for cleaner air, but I had to errands to run and report cards to write (did I actually do any reports yesterday?  Nope - I still have today to get them done).  But I was with them in spirit, because it's out of control.  There is an official air quality index thing with numbers and stuff, but I'm an art teacher with literary leanings, so I've classified the air in 8 easy-to-understand levels.  Observe:
Green alert - The skies are eye-wateringly blue.  You can see the Great Wall of China from the top of Bogd Khan Uul.  You think you've got freaking elf-eyes, like you're channeling Legolas or some shit.  You could can this air and sell it to China and make a killing.
Yellow Alert - There's a bit of haze in the air.  You can see everything in a 360-degree range, hilltop to hilltop.  The skies are still blue - it just doesn't hurt to look at them.

Orange Alert - There's a slight tang in the air downtown.  That beautiful blue has become discolored, but is still recognizable as blue.  Koreans start wearing face masks.

Red Alert - You can't see the hills on the other side of the city.  It smells like burning downtown, but it's not too bad in Zaisan.  White people start wearing face masks.

Defcon1 - You can't see the buildings on the other side of the city.  If you go outside, you will smell like smoke until your clothes have a chance to air out.  Mongolians start wearing face masks.

Defcon2 - You can't see the buildings on the other side of the Tuul River...or the slopes going into Bogd Khan.  If you go outside, you will smell like smoke unless you change your clothes.  Chinese people start wearing face masks.

Defcon3 - You can't see Zaisan Hill.  You'd willingly buy canned air from China - it would be fresher - that's how much it hurts to breathe.  Hell, it hurts to think.  If you go outside, you will smell like smoke until you shower.  

Apocalypse Now - You can't see the school on the other side of the parking lot.  You're considering taking up smoking because you're sure it would be an improvement on what you're currently breathing.  If you go outside, you will smell like smoke until you die...or visit a Korean bath house and get the top layers of skin scrubbed off your body.
From the Siloam Website

Actually, a good jjimjjilbang would not go amiss here.  On our way home at Christmas, Five, Engrish, and I stayed at Siloam, and I convinced them to try their first scrub, which makes you feel super squeaky clean.  Later we ventured upstairs and sat in the oxygen room for a while...well, Five did, anyways - there were too many men sacked out for all of us, but I got some on my way back.  My main problem with this strategy for dealing with the air is that I'd never want to leave - I'd have to teach my classes remotely, or have them all join me.  Our new school uniform could be the sauna t-shirt and shorts!  We could have figure drawing in the bathing area!

Yeah.  Or not.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Epilogue: Unpacking

The fatted calf was mere bones for the Divine Madman to reanimate as I sat at Eppley, waiting to fly out.  I watched a parade of camo and plaid walk past as the clock ticked down towards boarding.  It's the biggest airport in all of Nebraska...which seems hilarious until I remember that it's still bigger than Chinggis Khaan airport - the biggest in Mongolia, a country much bigger geographically if not in population.  I had mixed feelings.  On one hand, it is hard to have good habits when you have no routine and you're surrounded by junk food.  (My Babysis would probably point out that nobody is holding a gun to my head and forcing me to eat it, and it's true.  My self-control is shit).
Seatbelt fastened?  Dattebayo!

On the other hand, it is precisely because I had nothing else to do that I was able to get so much done.  My manga-style resume (I'm an art teacher, and I want to work in Japan.  This is probably not as crazy as it sounds) was about 75% finished by the time I left the States.  I also got to work on my first plushie in a while, Naruto here (my original plan was to finally do Yato, but then I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and their remnants were 75% off and they had the PERFECT Naruto orange, so I let myself chicken out on Yato).  Was it annoying, sometimes, relying on internet that is slower than dial-up?  Absolutely, but at home in Mongolia, it's possible I would have found other distractions.

I've been back in UB for almost three weeks now.  It's a good thing I resigned my position over the holidays, or I might never have left again.  The trip back was hellatraumatic.  After boarding the plane in Omaha, we were informed that the water in the pipes had frozen (REALLY!?!  I mean, I know it's the Midwest and this sort of thing happens, but come ON, it's much colder in Mongolia!), and they were working on thawing it out.  Three hours later - and a disgruntled 30 minute call using my Skype credit and the shitty Boingo wifi - I was reboarding the plane with the knowledge that I was missing my connection and routing through Honolulu to Beijing to get home.  This pissed me off because not only did it mean flying through bloody Beijing, it meant that I didn't get to have my rendezvous with my Dark Lord and Master during my layover in Seoul.

Well, when I got to San Francisco, my mother convinced me I should check in with the United desk to be sure my luggage was okay.  This ended with me on a flight the next day to Seoul via Narita, which was much more my speed - although a complete tease at the same time, because when I got into the terminal and saw the duty-free shop called Akihabara, I might have cried a little.  Along the way I swear I met an actual angel.  The lady that helped me at the United desk in SFO was super-patient and didn't get at all flustered when it took over an hour to get me sorted out...AND she gave me a room and $30 in food vouchers.  It wasn't her fault that my luggage decided, "Screw you, and screw Ulaanbaatar, I'd like an extended vacation in tropical Hawaii."  Because when I checked in at the reclaimed luggage area, that's exactly what had happened.
So.  I got to Korea, but it was too late by then to meet up with my Master in Bundang.  I was also pretty stinky by then, so c'est la vie.  I went to Siloam, which is only the best jjimjjilbang in Seoul, had a good bath, had a maesil and the popcorn chicken from the snack bar on the fourth floor, and eventually snoozed...although I very nearly got spooned by neighboring Korean nappers a couple of times.  In the morning, I was torn between going to Butterfinger Pancakes again (I took Engrish there on our way home) and heading back to the airport.  In the end, the airport won because my feet hurt, and it was just as well, because when I went to check in, I wasn't reserved on the flight for that day.  I had to pay $50 and maybe cry a little (I don't feel bad - the emotions were real and the agent on the phone had TOLD me I was reserved on the Sunday flight!) before she gave me a receipt thing and told me to go stand in the check in line.  Which was an hour and a half long (I know...I could see the clock in the departures hall the entire time).  By the time I stumbled through the doors on the other side of immigration, I was done.  I went to Burger King and had my first - but not last, sadly - coke of the day.  I finished and was headed I don't even know where - literally, I'd been in transit for about 60 hours at that point - when I caught sight of Engrish.  She made me her plus-1 and took me to the Korean air lounge, where we met up with Five.  That was the high point of my way back.  Sitting there with a free fountain of coke (see, told you it wasn't the last) with my homegirls, on the way back to my beloved brats, everything was almost right with the world. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky:
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Writing this post was difficult, because I kept wanting to refer to places as home, but never really felt able to apply that word.  I worry that it hurts my family, that I don't consider their home to be my home anymore, even though I know it will always be there for me and I will always return.  At the same time, no matter how long I've been in UB, I know that just like in that Postal Service song, I'm just visiting.  I am not permanent.  At the same time, I wouldn't trade it for anything.  If the trade-off is new eyes and extra colors, I'll pay that price.  I am an art teacher after all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Vignette 3: Friends Will Be Friends

As I sat in the Pizza Hut, a little boy peeked over the booth.  I smiled and he reported to his mother, "I can see her, mama."  I didn't look at the parents' faces.  There was a chance I'd gone to school with one or both of them.  In fact, that could be said about many of my fellow diners.  But if so, I didn't recognize them.  Possibly because I didn't want to recognize them.
Not Glenwood people - I didn't have any good photos for this post

Glenwood doesn't seem like the kind of place people move to - although, of course, my family did.  People stay, though, held in place by the inertia of ties, a good school district (I can't fault it for that), and a setting that, overall, is safe.

I wrote about my mom and her peeps before, but not at length.  Most of them are Glenwood legacies: those people whose families have lived in Midwestern small towns since the dawn of time.  My mom ended up in their mix because she was a band parent: another common trait of the ladies who lunch.  This meant that I also knew many of them from when I was a young, flute-wielding band nerd.  And - in turn - that means I knew their children.  I didn't feel like I knew Angie very well when we were both in band.  She was a freshman, her cousin and I were seniors, and we were all rivals (if you've never been a high school flutist, you can't imagine the intensity this entails.  When I call us rivals, I mean it in the truest sense of the word).  

But thanks to our Moms and their weekly lunch dates, I've come to understand - just barely - how incredibly fucking cool she is.  My penultimate night home we met up for dinner and talked for 2 hours straight.  Some people think that you are really comfortable with a person when you can just sit quietly together without feeling like you have to make conversation.  While that's nice, and may be true for some people, I find that the people I'm most comfortable with are the ones to whom I can talk non-stop.  We talked down memory lane, our shared people, experiences, and things we never knew.  Although I teach art and she is a graphic designer, neither of us realized we were both artists in high school; our relationship was defined by our rivalry, and our high school art teacher, while entertaining, didn't do a lot of teaching.  And that's a shame, because after chatting for two hours, she had to go, and I found myself wishing we could do the same thing the next week.
Among other things, we talked about Glenwood people.  It was surprising to me that we both felt pretty much the same way about bumping into many of our classmates - acknowledge, if you must, but really, evacuate the premises as quickly as possible.  Small town life breeds a certain mentality, and nowhere has this been so apparent to me as with this current election...ugh, I guess I finally have to say it - with our new president.  The photo above was taken by a member of my graduating class and his wife, who went to DC for what he called a "historic day."  It wasn't the Women's March.  The thing that I found most striking (and that I have - for the most part - obliterated, since I don't have rights to the original photo) is how very privileged they look.  Not just white, but upper-middle class, shiny in the early-morning sun.  See, my problem with Trump supporters (besides the fact that they voted for a guy who can check every -Ism box and be compared to the scariest things...), is that they already have what they need.  They can get married.  Become educated.  Get medical care.  They are safe - whether or not they choose to believe it.  America is already pretty damn great for them.

For many other people in my home nation, those things are not a given.  Now I'm not saying that Obama was a perfect president, but for the last 8 years, he led America with class.  My viewers at home may not realize this (although they should, since they do it to the "others" in their community), but living overseas means being associated with your home, and as an American the president is a big part of that.  Because of president Obama, people couldn't automatically assume I was one of a horde of ignorant, greedy bigots.

Those days are gone.

Now that I'm back in Mongolia, my job hunt continues.  At this point, I'm losing hope that it will end with a job in Japan, so I've started to consider other things, such as whether or not I'd have things to write about, what curriculum I'd be teaching, and how much it would cost to visit Japan on the holidays (I'm mostly joking about that one...I don't really want to have to fly to Tokyo, then take a train up the coast, and THEN take a ferry to Tashirojima, the island of feral cats.  But if I have to...)  As I'm looking at other possibilities, I've found that when I see a start date of July 24 I think to myself, "That doesn't give me much time for vacation."  I don't actually have a big trip planned - the next jump is my big trip of the summer, although I might visit Montreal with my favorite Chingu if she's still up for it - but I think that's okay.  There are things I want to accomplish while I'm home.  I'm applying to start a master's degree over the summer.  I'd like to go back to Rainbow Artistic Glass, where Babysis took me a long time ago, and learn how to cut and join stained glass.  And I'd like to explore Omaha's art scene with my former rival.  Omaha's Benson neighborhood has a First-Friday art event every month, and it's been a long time since I got to talk about art with a friend who gets it.

I just hope that organizations like this will still have the funding to operate by then.