Monday, September 6, 2010

Room 203 (Don't read if you are already worried about my travels)

I woke up with an aching stomach and a severe headache--drinking rum(Tanduay)with Filipinos will leave you like this. As my friend Maggie continued to slumber through my whispers, I decided to venture outside of our hotel room and into the loud streets of Dumaguete, Philippines. Not knowing the time--I don’t have a watch--I figured I could go to a grocery store and pick out some fresh mangoes and healthy yogurts for breakfast.

I made my way down the spiral stair case and approached the lobby. In front of the sliding glass door two police officers stood talking with the hotel’s security man. I thought that was rather strange, but then, police are always roaming the streets and having casual conversations with locals anywhere you go.

After shopping and making some appointments, I came back to the hotel and found that the police officers had quadrupled, and this,of course, resurrected red flags in my head. The desk clerks were busy shuffling papers to avoid my eyes; there was a strange smell wafting in the air. Having a very sensitive nose, I can usually place smells, but this was a smell that I’ve never known. It was a mixture of dead fish, human excrement,and rotting. As I began to make my way closer to the stairs, the smell began to intensify. I wanted to ask questions, but decided it best to go to my room. As I began my ascent up the stairs, a police officer cut off my path and began to climb the stairs with a towel over his face. Curiosity got the best of me. I decided to ask a very non-ostentatious question, “Why do you have a towel over your face?”

The man stared at me for a millisecond, and with his cold dark eyes he replied, “Because there is a dead body.”

At that instant I froze in my tracks. I looked at the man searching for more of an explanation or sympathy for the corpse, but received nothing. The officer proceeded to head up the stairs and turned on the second floor--the same floor that my room was on. As soon as I turned the corner the scene unfolded to me:

An uncountable number of officers now stood in front of the room next to mine. Large camera lenses were pointing at something in the room and one could hear the loud fluttering sound of their flash, the tearing of duct tape, and the clattering of a gurney.

I sprinted to my room, pushing through the officers and attempting to arouse Maggie who had not been awakened by the forensic noise. Maggie had drank a little more than I the night before, and was still in a dream when I woke her up. She was lethargic and confused. She assumed that I was lying about it trying to get her up earlier than she wanted. But slowly she realized that I wasn’t playing my usual games and the sleep cloud began to clear into a small panic, “What if we see the body?” she said.

This hadn’t occurred to me before, but as soon as the words were uttered I decided this was something that I didn’t want to see. Luckily she agreed. Eventually we devised a plan to stay in the room for a little while longer to avoid seeing the police carry the body past our room. We also turned on the TV as loud as we could to muffle the sounds of a crime scene that was becoming more and more grusome as we waited patiently in our room.

Twenty minutes passed and I couldn’t stand to look at the peach walls any longer. I could only imagine that the next room was a mirror of our room, and knowing that what I was seeing could have been someone’s last image was starting to mess with my brain. The phone rang and the front desk informed us to leave as soon as possible. I asked her for some details about situation next door, but she told me it was under investigation, and she didn’t have the liberty to say. She simply said to put a towel over our faces because the smell has gotten much worse.

As we opened the door, we noticed most of the police officers had gone and there were just a couple of men with latex gloves. Maggie began to sprint down the stairs and I followed her. Outside on the streets a mob of Filipinos attempted to look into a black van that was acting as a temporary tomb for the 203 occupant. Once Maggie and I finally pushed our way through the door we began to run. We ran so fast and so far that we eventually made our way to the downtown, where a tricycle picked us up. We told the man to take us to the closest hostel. Once we arrived at the hostel, we didn’t negotiate the price and ended up paying triple the average fare, but we didn’t care: we were away from the mob, the smell, the unknown story.

I took a deep breath and looked at the clock--10:30 a.m. Thus, before 10 a.m. on September 1st, 2010 in Dumaguete, Philippines, Maggie and I slept next to a murdered body, ran from a mob and were screwed by a tricycle.

We could only go up from here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

To create more commerce and more community to the Continental Divide, America created railroads. All along the passage from East to West you find railroads. The East might house more subways and mass transit, but it is in the small towns of the West that you find the seemingly endless tracks.

My town in particular was a transit spot from Chicago to Seattle. Railroads made the town and my grandfather made the railroads. My father and mother both from the West of the Great Divide lived near a railroad and as small children could only fall asleep to the sound of distant train whistles. I too grew up near the tracks. My window faced a lake and the tracks were in the distance.

These tracks were always something that filled me with curiosity and fear. Late at night, when only the grasshoppers spoke, the whistle would blow and I would know that it was 3:35 a.m. If I was restless, I would always imagine what was in the cargo of the train. Could it be tons of chocolate milk cartons that would be on the lunch tables of my school? Could it be a hobo coming from Seattle to make a new life for him or herself in Chicago or was it a crazed serial killer –Angel Maturin was the famous ‘train killer’ of the 90s-- coming from the south ready to snatch and steal the kids living near the tracks?

When I moved from the tracks to go to college, I found that I couldn’t fall asleep as easily. I missed the sound of the iron pedals pumping to their location, the echo of a lone horn in the night, and the crickets among the grass. Mostly, I missed the thought that if things got really bad I couldn’t hop the train to a new place across the line that divided the relaxed from the uptight and separated Broadway from the Pacific. During my college years, I found other people fascinated with the tracks.

Some of my friends, all male, even decided to ride the rails down to California. They would clothe themselves in the perfect hobo masquerades, trading their well-educated speech for the peasantry slang in a Steinbeck novel. They would do this during Spring Break when I would flock to Florida or Las Vegas, any place that got me out of the Oregon rain. I would come back with a tan and they would come back with stories of how they were able to con train pirates and how the wind felt when you road on top ar’ train. The stories grew from jokes to legends and tactics for the future comrade who needed instructions on how to escape the FBI, while riding through the Red Woods.

In those two weeks, they had more adventure than I had growing up near the tracks. I was envious, not only that they had enough courage to go through with this, but that they would risk their lives to do something I had only dreamed about: entering a train cubby to ride to the next town, not really knowing where that next town was or who you might run into in one of the miscellaneous train cars.

Don’t worry mother, I’m not going to hop a train here in Korea, but I do think that life is worth taking risks.

The train tracks in the picture once tied South Korea to North Korea. They were blown up and all connection between the 38th parallel were lost. There are no free spirits that hitch a ride from Seoul to Pyongyang on a whim to visit a friend or just merely to see what stars look like on top of a train as it zooms through the night. Instead there is an empty passage way. There is a stop of a dream.

The tracks seemed to be like any I had seen and it reminded me of how connected we are in this world and how easy it is to end these connections. How we can get close, but sometimes cut all ties. We fear the tracks that are meant to make us united. In lieu of all the news going on between the South and North, I think these tracks will be mended again. I hope that one day a young Korean girl living on the boarder will be able to hear the train at night and dream about all the magical lands that she can travel to just over the 38th parallel... If she could just jump on the next train.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

When old men act like children and your food moves...

Just another beautiful day in Korea. My smile simply will not fade from the glorious day I had at an island near my town.

It began with hiking up cliff faces and crags to see the beautiful sea of my town. Picture below:

We experienced our own adrenalin pumping playtime by racing one another up cliff faces and almost falling to our doom:

A quick detour was made when my companions and I heard old men giggling like little school boys and drinking too much, but just enough Soju (traditional Korean alcohol). Nothing beats old men and board games for a way to put a smile on your face and feel at peace with your own aging:

And for dessert, we had raw fish that was brought to our plates still moving. Yummm, the smell of the salty sea:

I just wanted to share this adventure with you all as it made me so happy!!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bear Claw

Bear Claw (noun):
A term coined by the Sandpoint Tennis Team circa 2003 in reference to a ball that bounces over the fence or walls which surround a tennis court, after the player has just CRUSHED an over-head.

From the glazed donuts found in the bakery section of any given Safeway. Like the glazed doughnut, the 'Bear Claw" is in fact... delicious.

Well, just picture this...
Nadal, Spanish colored (not the archaic word used to describe African Americans, but in fact the feelings and wave lengths exuded during a Spanish film) tennis player, verse Murray, ugly English bloak, at the Australian Open 2010. It's the second set in a game that's not in favor of Nadal. Nadal is pissed, exhausted and utterly hot. Murray (struggling for the ball) hits a half ass lob, in an attempt to go over the well positioned Nadal.


Murray was not able to surpass the 6 foot something Spaniard and instead hit it at a perfect angle for the notorious Bear Claw. With one graceful hit, Nadal was able to Bear Claw at the Australian Open.

End of Story:
Nadal had some knee injuries in the third match and inevitably lost to Murray. But in the world of tennis, the only thing that really matters is the "Bear Claw." In the eyes of many and the hearts of the strong, Nadal came out victorious.

Also, I would like to say that I thank the Lord everyday because my gym finally is playing the tournament and I can finally stand something on Korean television.