Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gone to Hilo

Tommy’s gone on a whaling ship, Away to Hilo
Oh Tommy’s gone on a damn long trip
Tom’s Gone to Hilo
He never kissed his girl good bye,
Away to Hilo, he left her and he told her why;
Tom’s gone to Hilo
She’d robbed him blind and left him broke, Away to Hilo
He’d had enough, gave her the poke
Tom’s gone to Hilo
Oh Tommy’s gone, and he won’t come back
Tom’s gone to Hilo

I’m sitting here in the flat, after an evening of drinking on a Monday night. I started with a few swigs of Cognac, a mix of (very bad) wine, (flat) beer, vodka (God I hate the stuff), a bit more cognac, and some of that “Maxi Chai” Lemon tea garbage. The mix was actually really good before Jake suggested we add that “Maxi Chai”. I’m serious, something about the poor quality of the wine (tasted like grape juice with a shot of vodka aftertaste—probably what it was, it’s a Kazakh wine) and the flat beer gave it a bit of a wheaty-grape juice taste, with the vodka not being too strong for once. Adding the cognac just sweetened the whole shebang. After that we (Jake and I) mixed some diet coke with Finka Vodka, which really made that awful stuff bearable. The two of us spent the rest of the night sharing swigs of Cognac and smoking the cheap cigarillos we spent most of the earlier evening scrounging around town for. Can’t really say why we drank last night; just had an unbearable feeling of sadness on both of our accounts.
Jake’s a bit lovesick at the moment; he’s made his choice to pursue the girl here in Kazakhstan and now he’s worried of rejection, et al. and so forth. Also, he’s worried that something’ll go wrong with her transfer to PSU, which is a legitimate concern as you don’t see many Kazakhs walking around down town Pittsburg. My own melancholy is dramatically different as it’s the same old same old with me. Don’t know why, but I’m often very low. I read in a book somewhere that Winston Churchill called feelings like this his “Black Dog Days”. Now it’s been a long time since I read that and I might have missed the point, but it sure sounds accurate for me right now. It’s just the same old fear of the future that I always have and my own inner demons and other poetic type stuff. Not trying to be too depressing or open here, but just sometimes I just can’t see any good about myself and I have little hope that I’ll be able to withstand the challenges of LDAC and what the army will have in store with me.
Today’ll be an easy day though, so I’m not so worried. We’re watching Gettysburg because I’ve been doing a unit on the Civil War. Not sure if we’ll finish the movie today; probably can’t, so that’ll be good. Give us a little more time here. I’ve been really enjoying the Civil War section—we sang “Dixie”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, and “The Battle Cry of Freedom”. God bless good ol’ Bobby Horton. Plan on singing a few more songs after we finish this movie; show the evolution of music throughout the war.
We’ve had a few interesting events happen since the last update. Recently, we’ve had some problems with the inner door not wanting to lock for us, nothing major, just a bit frustrating. However, on Friday after work, we discovered that the door would not unlock what-so-ever. We had to call the school, to get them to call our landlord, who took a while to show up and when he arrived he first just attempted to use our keys to unlock the door—as if we hadn’t try that. Eventually he got a hammer, chisel, screwdriver, and when to work on the door, busting the lock out and finally getting our inner door open. So now we can get in and out of our flat, at the expense of only have one door that locks.
Saturday night we had two of our students come over and I tried to make my favorite spaghetti meal. Unfortunately, that failed pretty spectacularly. I went with my mother’s advise of just buying cheap wine, which in U.S. dollars cost about $1.20, so I might have gone a little bit too cheap (if you’re wondered why we had wine in that mix above, here we are). Also, this country does not have any oregano. I mean none, what so ever. They hadn’t even heard of it, even when I looked it up in the dictionary (five of the dictionaries didn’t even have it as a word…) and the basil didn’t really taste correct either. Another problem was the lack of spicy Italian sausage, which would have given it some more flavor; that and the beef here (hamburger is what we used) kind of smells and tastes different than it does in the US.
The girls said the food was good but even if they were being honest it didn’t taste right. I was extremely disappointed in it and I promised that if they ever came to the U.S. we’d get it proper. I think though that’s probably the first home cooked meal I want—to make up for the dismal failure.
Sunday night one of our students and his friend showed up drunk on our door, but for some reason we decided it was a good idea to grab dinner at a café. Not a good plan…but we did it anyway. It probably was because he got us to take a few shots of Vodka when he arrived (he brought his own bottle). Getting there was an adventure, he was almost hit by a car, gave the driver the finger, the driver pulled over and started to get out of the car—luckily his friend (who spoke no English) defused the situation and we proceeded to outdoor café. Except he decided this place wasn’t good enough (this place has a bit of a history of tolerating drunks—one came up to us and started chatting with our female students when we had gone there once, before his friend dragged him away), so we went to a more upscale one—another mistake. Our friend kept confusing his friend and the wait staff by talking to them in English—sometimes we had to order for him. It was also compounded by the fact that he insisted that we have beer, but they would not bring him any. It was a scary night, I was always worried we’d be ejected from the restaurant due to his loudness, but we made it through all right.
Now that it is almost time for us to be leaving, I guess I should go ahead and start listing a few things I’ve noticed about Kazakhstan and its people. I’m going to try and do it like that “American Ways” book does it for Americans. Take the good and the bad, then look how they might be related and just accept it like that.
So the good, the bad, and the downright ugly:
Good: People here are extremely generous and hospitable. Whenever they invite a guest out, they pay for their guest and they take very good care of their guest. They’ll be sure to make sure their guest is safely home.
Bad: They won’t allow you to pay for yourself at all, no matter what. Whether it’s expensive or just petty, they don’t let you do that. Even if you’re being taken out by a group of 14-17 year olds. Or if it’s a group of girls. What’s worse, is this is a complete double standard—one of the students met me to take me to the bazaar, she paid for my bus ticket. However later that night after all the other students were leaving and we were trying to get her home, but the buses were supposed to have stopped at 2000 or 2100 (we couldn’t be sure). Being 2105, I had little hope that she’d find the bus there, so I offered to lend her the 500 tenge she would need to take the taxi (because she didn’t have any money on her for it) and she flatly refuses it. I tried everything, from assuring her that she could pay it back later, asking whether or not it was because I was a guy or a “guest”. Nothing, but a horrible double standard. Luckily, a bus was running late and at about 2120 she got on it and I could go home.
To add insult to injury, the last thing she said as she got onto the bus was “Are you sure you can find your way back home from here?” Such patronization…home was within sight of the bus stop. It’s like they think we’re made of stupid. This isn’t the only case of this kind of thinking—we have a student escort us to and from school because they’re afraid that “You’ll get lost”. Like we haven’t walked this way for the entire time we’ve been here. Or when we got off the bus yesterday, the student asked us if he needed to help us find our way home or if we could do it ourselves—again within sight of the stop.
This behavior is rather infuriating, but let’s look at it objectively: this is probably directly related to the hospitality of generosity of the people here. They probably feel that they have to do everything to make the guest feel comfortable and to keep the guest safe. It just so happens to offend the American sense of “independency” and “self-reliance” (whenever I hear that word I always imagine Sean Connery saying that from Indiana Jones III) then so be it. I’m over here, I’ve just got to bend to it, no matter how bad it tastes in my mouth.
The Ugly: Again, going to have to complain about body odor. Just can’t stand it. It ain’t everyone, but Christ there are some people that just make you gag here. Ain’t nothing I can do about that, but just go to live with it. Just ain’t easy boys and girls. Literally this morning, I was checking emails from Dr. Lee and a student just walked by, about 10 feet away into another room and it just hit me in the nose like a giant fist wrapped in a dirty diaper from a sewage plant that’s been held under a 500 pound sweaty man’s armpit.
Enough of that. Later all; by the way, this is my cell phone number here, if anyone wants to try it; I have no idea whether or not it’ll work. 877775431576. I think that’s it anyway, on my phone it says +77775431576, and I think the +=8 (or 87-not sure). For some reason our home phone just don’t work.


  1. Great insights and update. I’ll try the phone number a little later. Have you thought of a class on American hygiene and the use of deodorant? And as a Dad, I need to add, in case you haven’t figured it out, that drinking alcohol, a DEPRESSANT, when you are, let’s say, depressed, only makes you REALLY depressed. Duh.

  2. Thanks cap'n. Glad your only objection is that I was drinking stupidly.