Saturday, 6 January 2018

The Sound of Your Voice

There's a little Muslim noodle restaurant near my apartment where I often go for dinner. The food is both tasty and inexpensive. But it's got another draw: the young girl (I assume the daughter of the proprietors), maybe about ten years old, who often helps out around the shop with taking orders and clearing tables. I like the way her voice sounds.

Before you recoil at my creepiness, allow me to point out that when you don't understand the local language, what people say doesn't really have an effect on your mood, but the quality of their voices and the way they speak suddenly become much more salient in that regard. And I've noticed that many voices in this city, especially those of women, tend to be quite shrill and sharp. Loud. Often nasally. If I'm tired, they strike me as impatient and judgemental. This impression may be bolstered by the public tirades I've seen various women spew at whatever man has been unfortunate enough to tick her off. Male voices tend to be less demanding of attention. They can be a bit gruff sounding, but they're quieter and less in-a-hurry. Perhaps they're just less in general - I don't seem to hear them as much as female voices.

This young girl at the noodle shop has a quiet voice. Not a shy one - she has no problem with eye contact or approaching strangers - , just a relaxed and pleasant one, one that doesn't command anything or betray annoyance with the ignorant laowai that still can't remember the word for the thing she wants to eat. She told me the wrong price for a dish once (I had thought it was inordinately cheap) and had to chase me down in the street to apologize and ask for more money. Even then, her voice was still soft and unflustered.

After a long day of performing in front of students, the prospect of finding a place to eat sometimes seems so taxing because I'll have to deal with people in busy restaurants and I've hit my introvert limit. But the halal noodle shop remains an option because it's pleasant there, especially if it's Soft Voice who takes my order. And I've never heard her parents barking at each other, either.

I'm not suggesting that everyone here is constantly snarling. The proprietress at another nearby restaurant that I've been to has the shrill and sharp voice I described earlier. She's also extremely friendly and is the only restaurant owner who has attempted conversation with me while I eat (The conversation mostly consisted of her trying to figure out how old I was and then telling everyone else who was in the restaurant) and graciously ignored that I was crying from all the spice I had asked for. She remembered me when I came back a second time and welcomed me with a friendly punch in the arm. So my impression of what a voice means depends a lot on my mood and on the behaviour that accompanies the voice; it's just that some voices I'm much more likely to respond to in a certain way than others.

It's made me wonder what my own voice sounds like. I mean, I can hear it, but how do people respond to it?

This semester I had about 300 university students to get to know, and barring a few really gung-ho and boisterous exceptions, most of them started off painfully shy in class. There's an image that came to mind whenever I was trying to pull words out of them: I'm straining against a rope that's tied to a large animal (a donkey or a cow or something... maybe a giant rock) that has gotten stuck and sunk into a bog. I'm trying to pull it out... good luck!

Partway through the semester, I came down sick on the weekend. I was back up on my feet well enough to go to work on Monday, but whenever I recover from being sick, my voice seems to go on holiday. It hadn't left me entirely on Monday, but I was concerned that it would, given how much I would be required to use it. Thus, in a deep whisper, I croaked to my classes that "This is as loud as my voice can go today, so come sit closer to the front." They always chuckled, but then they moved without complaint (usually they drag their feet about that kind of thing) and were respectful.

To my surprise, my quietest, most reticent classes seemed to come (tentatively) alive. They volunteered answers without me having to coax, plead, beg, or wait through an embarrassingly long silence. Their confidence and willingness to participate seemed to magically increase by, like, 20 or 30%. And it must have had to do with my voice, because my behaviour otherwise hadn't changed. Normally, I project. I want everyone to hear me. I don't yell or shout (I loathe yelling and shouting), and my words are typically warm and encouraging. Yet nevertheless, I believe that I must have been intimidating many of them with my volume.

I mentioned this to one of the senior teachers, a woman from London with a classroom voice as big as my own. "I know!" she exclaimed, "I tried that once. I lied to them about losing my voice just so I could bring the volume down. And they really responded well."

Though I can't simply speak quietly all the time when I've got twenty-something students spread out trying to hear me, I am grateful for the awareness of how my voice affects both their confidence and our rapport.

Within same-language groups, voice quality naturally receives less emphasis than words spoken. Though parents may remark on a tone that a child uses or people may mock public speakers for voice idiosyncrasies, I don't know that we often notice the effect that various voices actually have on us - or think about our own. As much as possible, I'd like my voice to be one that soothes and encourages, rather than exhausts and pushes away.

“It only takes one voice, at the right pitch, to start an avalanche.” Dianna Hardy

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Shoes are for Losers

新年快乐!

I opened up my laptop to write a post looking back on this first semester abroad, but I'm Canadian, so what came out was a treatise on the local weather, instead.

The first thing you need to know about this place is that it's far enough north that the temperature has dropped almost to zero. I am told that sometimes it drops further. However, it is not far enough north to persuade developers to include furnaces in buildings. Sometimes, they slap on an A/C unit that does some convection heating (but your school's money-saving department will refuse to turn them on until "the weather drops"). The end result is that all the Russian and Canadian expats spend most of their time shivering and commiserating together about how stupid it is to have insides just as cold as outside, and fondly remembering how warm it is back home, while the expats from less frigid regions buy a couple of space heaters and stoically march on.

The second thing you need to know about this place is that it's wet. If I were to leave tomorrow, one of my primary memories would be of the colourful umbrellas. Everyone has an umbrella. They're parasols when it's hot and dry. They're handy when you want to sell your grandson or granddaughter in the park to be married.They're useless when the sky is doing that fine-misty-spit-at-you-from-every-direction thing. But most importantly, they are all lined up in the university halls, opened in colourful blooms to dry out from the rain while everyone is in class, or they're undulating down the walkway as the crowd streams out of the metro station. I had umbrellas in Canada - almost never used them. They are an utter necessity here, and there's just something that makes me undeniably happy about seeing a professionally outfitted businessman trotting down the street holding a dainty rainbow-coloured umbrella over his head.
Put these two things together - the temperature and the wetness, and what you get is a gross, chilly, and humid winter. No matter. I still had to buy a humidifier anyway, because the two convection A/C units warming my apartment (together with my space heater) are so constantly on that they suck all moisture out of the air and give me a sore throat. I should be grateful, though. A student expat buddy from Ghana spent his first semester here living in student dorms. He says that in addition to no furnaces, nobody bothered to put any insulation into his dorm, either. At night, he'd crank the A/C to its max 30 degrees, but convection heaters don't really do squat if the heat just waltzes out through your thin walls. He was trying to sleep while he could still see his breath.

My situation is much more manageable, except that since I've been getting to the office with soggy cold socks lately, it's made proper sitting uncomfortable. First I take off my shoes and socks because cold and dry feet are infinitely superior to cold and wet ones. Then I have to tuck my feet under me because that's much warmer than on the floor or dangling in the cold air. Most of my colleagues are professional and haven't made mention of my habits, but the guy who uses the desk next to mine did at one point have to stop grading papers to comment.

"You know," he chuckled, "You're reminding me of a character from an anime I used to watch."
For those of you who have watched Death Note, I'm sure you'll agree that he was referring to my intelligence.

Although, this position could also be influenced by the mess on my desk, which makes me want to be as small as possible in order to avoid adding additional chaos with flailing limbs.

Today, my director of studies (henceforth known as my DoS) came into the office to collect us all for a team picture.

"Everyone," he declared, "come on out for a group picture and is Carla wearing shoes?"

Indeed, I was not. But I put them on so I wouldn't look like a dweeb in the group picture. Here is it, by the way (minus two colleagues whom none of us apparently noticed were missing until after we were back in the office).
Maybe next time I'll tell you how the semester has gone. Maybe you'll get to know everything there is to know about my pet hamster, Chesterton, instead. Time will tell.
"Every man is worth an umbrella." from Dostoevsky's Demons

Monday, 25 December 2017

A Christmas Reckoning

When my friends invite me to their birthday celebrations, I like to put them on the spot by asking them a particular question. It's a three part question, but occasionally I pare it down to take pity on the poor fumbling recipient. Because, really, it was probably poor form on my part to just spring the question on them publicly, to begin with (On an unrelated note, I don't seem to receive as many birthday invitations as I once did).

But this year, for the first time I'm sitting around by myself on Christmas Day - a natural result of living and working in Asia while your family does not. It's not my birthday, but this time of year is meant for reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to the new one*, so endeavoring to answer the question myself seems to be a good way to mark the holiday, given that I don't have energy for a lot else, having just worked a normal day in the classrooms.

The question is "This year, what have you learned about other people, about yourself, and about God?"

Regarding other people, this year, I've been learning that people aren't necessarily what they say they are. This seems extraordinarily basic, and I could have told you this was true well over a decade ago, but I didn't really have the vision to be able to both accept that this is how someone sees themselves and that this also isn't how they actually are. It was a matter of eternally giving someone the benefit of the doubt, until they were clearly idiots. Naive, yes, but I didn't want to think poorly of anyone who was kind to me.

I don't know what (finally) triggered the increase in my perception, but it is developing - I can now notice that someone is not everything they believe they've cracked up to be while still liking and valuing and generally respecting someone. I know, it's a revelation a long time coming, but I've never been into the gossip and drama scene, so it's taken me a while to figure out.

For example - I've noticed that someone who prefaces a claim with "I don't usually do X, but...", where X is a negative action, such as complain or curse or raise their voice, generally does actually do X. Someone who slams someone else for how they behave likely has contributed a great deal to the conflict themselves. And someone who takes pride in being non-conventional is probably less non-conventional than they expect.

Yet, it doesn't matter so much. I don't have to condemn anyone or stop being friends with them or give them up as hopeless. The world just makes a little more sense when you believe what you see more than what others see in themselves.

Regarding myself, this year has been affirming. I'm coming to realize that people actually like me. I should remark that I've rarely had a problem getting along with anyone. I'm not suggesting that I've been perpetually worried about people disliking me. But "not having a problem" with people is quite a different thing from being actively liked and wanted around by people.

My close family and long-time friends aside, I guess that by-and-large I viewed myself as someone whose company wasn't resented but wasn't particularly sought, either. I don't know why. But for example, I remember once, maybe six years ago, staying for a few days without my family in the province where my cousins lived. Most weren't around while I was there, but one was... kind of. It was out of his way to come see me, and I knew it, so I texted him that I didn't want him to feel obligated to come see me if it was too inconvenient. He responded with an "Of course I want to see you!" - an enthusiasm that caught me off guard. It left impression enough that I still recall it.

This year, though, I have noticed that this kind of thing is not all that strange. People do actually seek me for my opinion. They confide in me things they don't tell everyone. They invite me to events that aren't open invitations to everyone. They jump at a chance to be part of my group or team or to sit beside me, and look forward to when I arrive. They learn from me. It's weird, man!

Not everyone, of course. Not all the time, of course. I'm not a hotshot superstar with a million drooling fans. And I doubt if people liking me is happening much more now than previously, except, perhaps that the contexts of the last year have taken me away from people who have known me for years upon years, and so there might be a little more intentionality in some relationships and a little less taking-for-granted.

Again, I don't know why it's changing, but I'm finally getting around to believing that the silly idea of "not resented but not sought out" is just that - silly.

With regards to what I've learned about God, I have two items here. The first one is that God sends me places for reasons I don't know.

I became a teacher partly because I want to invest in students. I've gone into my teaching assignments with the idea that I'm going to show them love and develop relationships with them and that this will be my primary contribution to society and the Community. Yet, in most cases so far, that hasn't be seemed to be the result. I get along with my students well. I'm a good teacher. But I haven't developed the relationships that I keep envisioning and that I hear of and see happening with other teachers and their students. So I scratch my head about what I'm doing wrong.

You know, though, that maybe my "primary" reason for being somewhere has more to do with the church community I'm a part of, or the colleagues I interact with, or the lessons I'm meant to learn from a particular situation, rather than the effect I keep hoping I'll have on my students. Even in retrospect, I don't know exactly why I'm anywhere I go (GPS wasn't working, maybe) but usually I can name some of them. They're just not what I expected.

Early on in my stay here in Asia, I was badgering God a little bit, asking, "Is this why I'm supposed to be here? Is this what you have in store for me?" and the thought came very clearly into my head (with a tone of amusement) that, "Oh, you have no idea what I have in store for you."

Of course, I want to strive for more effective teaching, but... maybe I'm not doing something wrong.

The second item is that God is a God of abundance. This has been particularly real to me since coming to Asia. I was concerned about how easily I would find the things I needed - an apartment, transportation, Community, and so on. God has not only provided (and He's always been very gentle with me), but He has unexpectedly provided in abundance! I look forward to recounting some of these blessings in a further post.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I would love to hear about what you've learned this year, if you're willing to share.

“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.” E. M. Forster ...especially when you figure things out as slowly as I do! :-D

*Ok, maybe that's more of a New Year's thing than a Christmas thing, but I want to write it now while I'm feeling inspired.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Tribute to Some Nameless Kick-Butt Women

I am currently in the midst of a long-overdue re-reading of the historical books of the Bible. It’s been a fascinating journey full of strange and entertaining characters. Sometimes they’re inspiring. Sometimes they’re infuriating. Sometimes they’re axe-crazy. I’m glad I do not live in ancient Israel.

Partly that’s because of the deep sexism of the culture. But while some biblical stories relating to women make me want to shriek and shake a bit of sense into the world, the backdrop of sexism ironically also provides for some of my favourite moments in the narrative.

Every now and again, the flow of man’s history will be interrupted and forced to change direction as some random woman abruptly pops into the story and leaves her mark. Sometimes, she is denied so much as a name in the telling, and yet the writers cannot ignore her and cannot write her out of the narrative. She shows up, changes the course of history – sometimes with only a verse or two – then disappears as suddenly as she arrived. Everyone goes along as best they can, trying to believe that only the men are consequential, but the nameless woman knows better.

I would like to remind you of three nameless kick-butt women from ancient Israel.

First: The nameless woman who killed just happened to be nearby when Abimelech died (Judges 9:50-54)

Abimelech, a depraved and blood-thirsty warlord wreaking havoc in pre-monarchy Israel, was running around trying to be king. He had a mercenary army and probably delusions of godhood. He murdered his seventy brothers, apparently all at once. He slaughtered the entire population of Shechem, the town that had first trusted him with the power to rule. He killed all the men, women, and even the babies, and sowed their land with salt.

Then he laid siege to the town of Thebez (the Bible doesn’t say why), which had a tower stronghold in the middle. He pressed the people so hard, that everyone in Thebez took part in its defense, including the women: while the men used bows and slings and spears to defend the keep, the women threw domestic implements over the wall.

Abimelech, who had survived the political machinations of Shechem; Abimelech, who had not been touched in numerous chaotic battles or by any of his seventy brothers; Abimelech, who the whole nation feared; Abimelech, who walked under the firing range of the wrong angry woman. She hucked an “upper millstone” at his head and that was the end of him.

Or almost. It was a clearly fatal wound, but not an immediate death, so Abimelech, realizing that it wouldn’t have been any man taking pot shots at him with kitchenware, made a desperate attempt to save his reputation. He told his armour bearer to run him through with his sword so that he wouldn’t be remembered as “that guy who got killed by a woman”.

His armour bearer obliged, but it didn’t matter. The woman’s actions ended the land’s immediate trials but also informed Israel’s future battle strategies. By the time of King David’s reign, every military commander knew not to get too close to the wall of the city you’re laying siege to. Not unless you wanted to end up like Abimelech, that schmuck who wasn’t truly suicided by his armour bearer. Abimelech, that schmuck who got too close to a woman with her millstone.
Second: The witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28)

Saul was duking things out with the Philistines, as he had spent most of his reign doing. He had a bad feeling about how this particular campaign was going to go, and his men advised him to seek out a local medium for a seance so that he could confer with the dead prophet Samuel. Despite having killed all the witches in the land earlier in his career, somehow this one had survived Saul's reach. And despite the general prohibition against witchcraft and the occult which we must hold to as Christians, we are also forced to admit that this woman’s interactions with King Saul are hilarious.

She was scared to help him, because she didn’t want to get killed, so he promised that he wouldn’t hurt her. She summoned up Samuel, as requested, and Samuel delivered some very bad news to Saul: he would be literally dead dog meat by the end of the coming battle. Saul was so distraught (as one might expect someone to be) to hear of his imminent death that he immediately fell face-first in the dirt, petrified. The witch, perhaps nervous about her own fate, given that bearers of bad news aren’t always looked upon kindly, told him what he should do about this horrible news.

He should eat his dinner.

When you’ve just learned that it is absolutely certain that you are going to, in very short order, meet your maker (who is very, very angry with you), it is always best to follow this up with a tasty meal.

“You’ll feel better,” she told him, and Saul’s men agreed. The witch cooked him up a fat young calf with all the fixings and served it to him. Saul ate it. He started to feel better. He left, not harming the witch in any way. He went to battle and got slaughtered with his sons.

Seriously. Perhaps she didn’t change history with her actions, but it does take a certain amount of guts to tell a condemned king to sit down and eat your supper. So though I disapprove of pagan practices and although I have no rights to this movie, allow me to offer up a certain scene from The Matrix as a toast to the witch of Endor:
Third: The nameless woman who nattered at Joab and solved a rebellion (2 Samuel 20:15-22)

The commander of David’s army, Joab, was a difficult man to control. Even David couldn’t do it. The most oft repeated thing that David has to say to Joab is “What is it with you, son of Zeruiah?!” Mostly he just seems to have been lucky that Joab didn’t betray him until he was a doddering old man and willing to abdicate, anyway.

As an aside, I am not aware of any other person in the Old Testament who is known primarily as the son of his mother, rather than of his father. Well, except for Joab’s brother, Abishai. (He also earns a few exclamations of “What is it with you, son of Zeruiah?!” from David.)

A man named Sheba had revolted against King David and Joab set off to track him down and kill him before the revolt grew out-of-control. David had recently deposed Joab as army commander and given the position to a different guy, so on the way to find Sheba, Joab murdered the new guy and took his position back. Then he traced Sheba to a town called Abel-Beth-Maacah. He began ripping apart the town’s walls (his hands probably still dripping with the blood of Amasa’s recent murder) to get inside.

Through the chaos, an unnamed woman popped out and demanded to talk to Joab. He identified himself (probably staying well back from the wall – he knew what had happened to Abimelech) and was met with a barrage of reprimands: “What the heck are you doing, man? This is a peaceful town! This is a wise town! People come to us for advice; we’re like everyone’s mother! What are you doing killing your mother?!”

There’s no note anywhere on any aspect of Zeruiah’s life or death, but apparently Joab was horrified by this charge. The NASB version of the Bible that I use is pretty clunky and doesn’t translate feeling very well. Yet nevertheless, in this instance, Joab uses exclamation marks and repetition to express his point.

“Far be it, far be it from me that I should swallow up or destroy!” protested the man who’d personally murdered at least three people (including his cousin) and slaughtered great numbers en masse in battle, “It’s just.... there’s this guy.... who’s trying to depose David.... please let me have him.”

I imagine him standing sheepishly, staring at his sandals, while the woman natters away at him. Joab, who can defy the king and kill with impunity, rendered helpless by the cross scolding of a random but unimpressed woman who makes him feel guilty and reminds him about his mother.

This fearless wise woman huffed. “I’ve got peeps inside the town. We’ll go deal with him. You wait here patiently.” Joab waited. The woman’s peeps tossed Sheba’s decapitated head over the town’s wall. Joab meekly went home.
“There was ‘nothing she could do’ but she did it anyway.” Bernard T. Adeney

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Buying Potatoes

I wrote this over a month ago, but didn’t want to post it because I thought posting it might make people worry about how I was adjusting. But I read it again just now, and it’s worth posting. So, I’ll post it. And, by the way, I wait in line at the grocery store now. 

September 12, 2017

I was at the supermarket today. I can’t even tell you which, because I can’t read the characters over the door. It wasn’t my first visit, and I’m starting to learn my way around, but today more than my previous visits, I started to flag. The newness is beginning to wear thin and my curiosity is lessening. I wanted to buy a few ingredients to make a simple meal back at my flat. I found the pasta alright, but there’s no such thing as pasta sauce. I found a rice cooker, but only the showcase on the shelf, not the one you can actually purchase. I couldn’t understand any of the food labels and I didn’t want to buy more ramen. I didn’t even have enough language to really ask for help. My frustration rising, I ended up buying a lot of sauces (not pasta sauce) so that the plain vegetables I intended to buy wouldn’t taste so plain.

In a Chinese supermarket, you put the produce you want into a bag, then hand it to an attendant at a special counter, who weighs your goods, puts a price sticker on it, and staples the bag shut. I had four potatoes in my bag. That’s all. When I arrived at the produce scale, there was a long line of several grocery carts. The older man who was currently monopolizing the attendant’s time had about ten thousand bags of produce still in his cart, waiting to be counted. The woman behind him looked to have a cart filled for a family of twenty.

Now, in China, cutting in line isn’t really considered rude like it is in the West. Half the time, there aren’t really lines to cut into, just crowds pressing in trying to get the staff’s attention. I was tired and impatient, and so I felt fully justified in trying to take advantage of the culture’s slackened line etiquette, despite the presence of a line in this instance. I planted myself near the attendant, grumpily holding my four potatoes.

The man with the ten thousand bags of greens put his hand out and stopped the attendant from grabbing his next bag, and then he gestured to me with a smile.

I warmed, and smiled, and felt a little less lonely. But the face of the attendant, as well, broke into a smile to witness his small kindness. She weighed my potatoes and handed them to me. I thanked her (and made eye contact!). She said no problem (in Chinese), still smiling, despite her mundane, tedious task.

I’m not saying that man’s a hero (though maybe he is, I don’t know anything about him), but his one simple, thoughtful gesture had a greater effect than just getting me through the line faster. Let’s all remember to be gracious, even to the impatient foreigner standing there like they hate the place.

*     *     *     *     *

“The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in.... I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do... This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.” David Foster Wallace

Monday, 23 October 2017

How Not to Sell a Car

In light of moving across the planet, I put my car up on Kijiji in mid August. It was a good little car and I was fond of it (manual transmission!) but it just wasn't going to cross the ocean with me, and it didn't seem wise to let it sit unused indefinitely.

Originally, I listed it at $3500, which may have been a bit on the pricey end, given Alberta's current recession, but far from a ridiculous price. And I was willing to negotiate.

Within a day or so, a guy came and gave it a test drive and said he was interested. He also said that he had previously lived in my soon-to-be home city (he was of Asian ethnicity), and warned me that its resident population would haggle for a dime all afternoon if I let them. He also said that the car was too expensive, showed me pictures of a "much better" car he was thinking of getting instead and then reiterated that he was interested in obtaining my vehicle and in giving me a little money to ease my transition to Asia (He did mean "a little"). Though entertained by his lowball tactics, I was neither impressed nor convinced and let him walk away.

Having listed it only a week or so before I flew out, it remained unsold by the time I left. I gave the documents and keys over to my father, and altered the contact number on the ad to my dad's cell (with his permission) to handle the sale in my absence.

Out of sight, out of mind. The distance combined with VPN issues meant that though I had already dropped the list price a few hundred bucks, I didn't monitor the sales situation or keep dropping the price incrementally as I should have. I got a few lowball offers (and, car buyers, please note: prefacing your lowball offers with “I don’t mean to lowball you, but...” is a lie), one of which I actually accepted. The guy didn’t follow up. The ad sat there, getting old, and so did the car. Canadian winter began rolling in. Dad messaged that he wanted the car dealt with soon. Further VPN issues made that impossible, so I had about a week of doing nothing about it but wishing the car had sold already.

With nobody we were connected to in apparent need of a car, I took drastic action next time I could get online.  If you ever sell a car in the future, please don't take drastic action while it's somebody else's cell phone number listed on the contact info.

Upon the ad going live, I immediately grabbed the phone and texted Dad to inform him that I had re-posted at the new and improved price of $1500 for a hopefully quick sale. It seemed like a good idea. See, I knew that was a lowball price, but I was beginning to believe that's all I could hope to get for it. If I'm going to get lowballed, at least let me lowball myself.

My text arrived shortly after Dad received a text from a potential buyer. Bear in mind, it wasn't yet seven in the morning. The guy called me, explained the circumstances resulting in his need of my car (I'm glad he didn't seem like a wheeler-dealer), and said he could arrange for a friend to drive him down from Red Deer so he could get the car, but he was concerned that he might make the trip only to find that I'd have sold it before he got there. I agreed to hold it for him if he showed up at my dad's earliest convenience, but didn’t foresee a problem on that count. Nobody seemed interested in my reliable little Honda.

I relayed the agreement to my dad then went off to have a shower. It's a good thing I didn't go off to bed.

After two months of near-silence on the customer front, I finally sold my car. To the man in need from Red Deer AND TO HALF THE CITY OF CALGARY. Apparently that’s what happens when you rocket yourself beyond the “good deal” line. Dad just about died under the frantic stampede trying to claim it! I returned from my shower after twenty minutes to see his pleas for help buzzing in to my phone:

 "Pull the ad!" "Arghhh!" "HELP!"

And see, my dad's not usually terribly emotive or expressive with his communications. But I guess he will start using exclamation marks when EVERY PERSON BROWSING CARS on Kijiji is simultaneously trying to contact him and to plead with him "Will you PLEASE take $2500 for it?! I’ll transfer you the money RIGHT NOW!" and it's not even nine in the morning yet. Of course, my VPN was down again, so poor Dad had to explain to his boss why his phone was incessantly vibrating. (She said she wanted to buy my car, too).

Eventually, I managed to log in and remove Dad's phone number from the ad, which immediately resulted in a string of desperate inquiry emails to my account, including one from a guy that offered me $1400 in the eventuality that nobody else wanted it. Dad kept fielding further texts and calls, presumably from people whose Kijiji pages hadn't yet refreshed. I killed the ad completely. Eventually, barely an hour-and-a-half after the post first going live, the frenzied dash for my Honda petered out.

So. At the end of the day, we made good on my word to hold the car for the first guy at the list price, which, while being honourable, wasn't exactly good business sense (the lack of which made my mom, who barters for 25 cent items at garage sales, have a fit, and also triggered my brother-in-law, Kirk, who first helped me ballpark the car's value). I didn’t quite make back the money I spent on it. But, uh, somebody in Red Deer has a car he needed, and next time I have to sell one, I'll do a few things differently.

In the meantime, I just remembered that I have to go cancel some insurance.

*     *     *     *     *

(From the Pink Panther)

Jacques Clouseau: What? What did you say?
Ponton: Nothing.
Jacques Clouseau: You mean, you didn't just say: “Stop the car, dear God, I beg of you? Stop the car?”

Friday, 22 September 2017

Where Hast I Gone?

The answer to that question, dear reader, is that I have wandered my way across the globe. From small-town Alberta, I now find myself in major-city Asia after having spent a brief stint in the Holy Land.

In summary, Canada is taking in immigrants at such a rate that we cannot fund them all as we have been doing up until this point. As a result, our government-funded ESL classes got slashed, leaving me in a position where going somewhere else to teach looked attractive. Some of my former classmates connected me with a reputable teaching organization, I utterly aced passed the interview (mostly by repeatedly asserting that my one friend once told me "Carla, do it your way; you're smart."), and next thing I knew, I was applying for a visa.

Now I'm in Asia. As I write this, I'm sitting in my little apartment, which sometimes smells like rotten eggs because I haven't been able to figure out what's wrong with the bathroom plumbing. I'm on the top floor of a building without a fire escape (and my shower has a ventilator fan plugged into an electrical socket), but if I look out the window into the night, I can see the city lights on the horizon glowing in a dozen colours and below, the fluffy darkness of the trees that give our residential complex its natural ambiance.

I'm told that over 30,000 people live in this complex. That's more than twice the number of people that lived in the town where I formerly resided. There are at least two other westerners among the population in this complex (I know because they're my colleagues), and on one occasion there was a random white guy going up the elevator of my building at the same time as me. He had headphones on, though, and seemed dead set of listening to his music, so I didn't interrupt him to say hello. But I discovered that I am developing a habit of gawking every time a white person or a black person walks by and I wonder what on earth brought them here and is their Chinese better than mine?

My many neighbours seem pleasant and try to make conversation whenever we're on the elevator together. Inevitably, the conversation begins with me saying in Chinese "Hello" and "Eighteen" (because that's where I get off the lift). This gives them false hope for my communicative ability and they begin plying me with questions. Eventually I say in heavily accented, tone-deaf Chinese, something like "Ting bu dong; wo shi Jianadaren," which means "I don't understand; I'm Canadian." This causes them to chuckle and repeat "Ting bu dong, ting bu dong," and then they point up to the nineteenth floor, where I live. On one occasion, the woman in the elevator with me happened to speak good English. She told me that she had "heard from the community" that I was there. Word on the street is that I'm a beautiful Canadian girl who lives on the nineteenth floor.

It's been about a month since I arrived. In that time, I have avoided being run down by the multitudinous scooters all zipping along the sidewalks and I haven't been eaten by the vast, labyrinthine metro transit system, or been kidnapped and sold for ransom by a wanton taxi driver.

I have survived an unexpected test of the city's air raid sirens, and oriented myself on the university campus where I will be doing most of my teaching. For the first time in my life, I find myself inexplicably starting to think in terms of the four cardinal directions instead of "left" and "right". This week marks the end of the first week teaching: I have just shy of 400 students. Most of the guys have named themselves "Eric" and most of the gals have named themselves "Sunny", with a few students here and there calling themselves things like "Zard" or "Cactus" or "Twinkling". Based on our first get-to-know-you lessons, they love pop stars and spicy food.

I intend to revive this blog somewhat in the coming months, but it's not always wise to be frank on social media when taking one's students, local and global politics, and the permanent publicity of the Internet into consideration. So please, be mindful of what I will and perhaps will not say, and in your own welcomed correspondence with me, please choose your comments carefully.

Who knows how long I'll be here? But for now, dao le!

At the risk of turning this beautiful quote cliche:

"It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." J. R. R. Tolkien