Monday, November 12, 2012

20 days...Yeah!


Our house

We are certainly learning what it is to share a space. The house is so cute with such an amazing vibe, but it is 4 girls upstairs in a very small space. Shannon and I have to take turns yoga-ing. Amanda and I share a room, Shannon's bed is in the living room. Our kitchen table also serves as her nightstand. We're all the same height, though Amanda totes a half inch superiority. I bet she wishes she could gift that half inch, because none of us can stand up-right in the shower. We are certainly learning how to give space when there is none. 

The night life

The bar scene reminds me of Barcelona. I remember arriving in Spain and being mortified that I couldn't eat dinner until 10:00PM and that clubs were open all night. The same applies to Chile. Most clubs are not even into full swing until 2:00 AM and therefore it is but a simple skip to 5...6...7AM bedtimes. Amanda and Shannon have embraced this. Shannon being the writer and thriving in a Hemingway-esque lifestyle. Amanda being fresh from college and thriving in the freedom of a pos-graduate lifestyle. Me, I'm trying to adapt, and thus far have failed miserably. But it is a work and progress. 

On men

People warn you about Latin American men. But, I feel most independent women have this hubris about them. This feeling that they are not a "silly girl" and that they won't be fooled by false romance. However, these men have a refined-woo. A way to make you feel they see you, that they aren't looking at your breasts--they're staring at your soul through your chest. Our sample subject is Jaun. He owns a hostel here. Drives a BMW (which in my opinion screams douche,). Knows where the salsa nights are and took us on a free trek into the mountains.  With the amount of time Amanda and he spent together, it seemed absurd he could have a wife. It seemed equally absurd that this wife actually owned the BMW (an ironic turn of events). Further, how could "his" hostel that he toted as his prize possession also be owned...by his wife. I think, for wedding rings, we should check pockets before hands. 

Shannon and I are not impervious to this, but in our quest for male friends. For example, Shannon found this guru-esque Chilean man. I mean, they bonded over a pagan prayer circle they conducted outside of a bar. To further prove his "hippie" nature; he, Amanda and I were on a boat together. It started to rain, we all went to the covered portion of the boat...bc it was bloody pouring and freezing. We assumed he had passed out sitting, because they all had gotten in at 6am the night before. Nope. He was meditating. Anyhow, Shannon had been having, in her opinion, a-sexual, monk like conversations with him the whole night. Feeling she was forging a true friend bond. The four of us were walking home, (three girls because our roommate Sara was with us) he turns to us... and offers his bed to all three of us! 

Beauty

Whilst trekking, I found a photo card. Naturally, I figured man who lost the card was my future husband. I'd follow the photo the clues of his life, combing each photo, finding impossible details that would reveal his various locations. After a year, I'd find him, in his favorite, impossibly hipster cafe. We'd be wearing the same glasses, I'd hand him the artistically brilliant scrapbook I'd made of his prints, he'd cry because the book contained the only surviving portraits of his dead grandmother. He'd have a European passport, and we'd live happily ever-after in France. This fantasy was fully developed before I started to sift through the pictures and realize that he looked like this...

Jokes aside, it is sadly impossible to locate this man, but his pictures were amazing. He captured Chile the only way you can...in panoramic shots. The landscape is so vast, the scale is impossible to put into perspective. Simple photos are frustrating and not accurate representations of the majesty before you.  I like to pan-out of my perspective while running here, only in my mind eye can truly see how the lake and mountains are engulfing my small frame. I 'm in a constant state of awe. This is the landscape after which, I'm sure Never-Never Land was created. 




Monday, October 29, 2012

Damn Chilean Olivers!


We've arrived. I wonder if we had held out for a year, if we would have simply been beamed to Puerto Varas under the watchful eye of Scottie. But I don't think travel technology advances as quickly as cell phones. Therefore, as it was, it took... 4 planes, layovers totaling over 14 hours, a 13 hour bus journey and one very red-eyed Amanda to get us to our beautiful destination. My favorite moment was Amanda's realization that the plane ride from Miami to San Paulo was not the hour and a half she'd projected, it was in fact 10 hours. I've never seen a more dejected plane passenger. 

Some quickie points...
-We were initially denied entry into Chile. Amanda's face upon hearing that news was priceless.  Apparently, they don't want illegal immigrants, therefore, require proof of exit before they allow entry. Last minute we all had to buy tickets to Buenos Aires (250 dollars!), tickets i'm not sure we can use for fear of this exact scenario happening once more. We'll keep you updated as to our illegal status. 

-Life out of Asia is expensive! We bought coffee and sandwiches in a cute little cafe. Savoring the cookies and attractive waiter. Those cookies must have been baked by the Dali llama...he's known for his baking...because our bill was 52 dollars! 

-Life in Santiago is also expensive if one keeps donating their wallet to the locals. Outside the bus station I bought a strawberry smoothy. I was very excited to drink said strawberry smoothy, therefore, saved 10 seconds by putting my wallet into my backpack. The wallet was gone 30 minutes later when I went to put it in its proper location. As was my decoy wallet. As was our bus tickets. There was three of us. walking in broad daylight, not in crowds. I still can't tell you how it was done, except I am a shining beacon of blond. I do hope the pickpocket was Oliver (on holiday from London of course) and the10,000 pesos he stole will buy him some fancy Chilean gruel. 
*My important stuff was in my fanny-pack stuffed under my shirt so we were only inconvenienced when we had to rebuy our bus tickets because the thieves had already refunded them. Sly devils. They also got my American license, which is sad because I just got it back from the last time it was stolen in Vietnam.   

-Supermarkets are employed by Santa’s elves. Chileans are small and they all wear red uniforms….hence, my feeling surrounded by mythical little people.

-When traveling it is important to pack articles that can dress a person and table. We’ve decorated our rooms, however, the first night out our living space will look sadly bare as scarves serve as table clothes, glasses as wall decor and necklaces as garlands.

We are currently trying to get jobs/learn Spanish/stay warm/not accidently spend a fortune on cookies. Luz, the lady we are living with, is amazing! So warm and accepting. 

We are also living with an Iranian named Sarah. We've already gotten her drunk. The next morning she was less than happy, well I should say evening, the following sentence was over her first meal of the day at 7pm. "You American girls...I can't remember anything...where is my money? How did we get home? This is my breakfast lunch and dinner...!" Leslie enquires if she had fun. "Yes of course, if I could only remember."

I am going to force myself to blog once a week. I had such a great time being home around all of you that I want to make sure we remain connected this time around. No more disappearing for 4 years. I shall strive to be better. 

I love you all!!!




Saturday, August 18, 2012

Knitted Barriers to Meditation


The following is an attempt to explain how I feel when I meditate. I am in a constant battle with a knitting old lady, she is quite annoying and very accommodating of all my delinquent thoughts.

“For the final time, these thoughts…do not attach to them, do not invite them into Leslie’s mind. You may greet them, but at all costs you must refuse entry…your job is to simply NOT SEEM inhospitable.”
“But you’re saying we are inhospitable.”
“Well yes, but we needn’t appear so. Feign interest, compassion, whatever ….anything to be rid of them.”

The consciousness of Leslie Renee Russell looks at the elderly lady rocking leisurely on the front porch of Leslie’s mind. It had seemed a brilliant idea; hire an elderly consciousness to politely police Leslie’s thoughts during meditation. She had seemed a perfect fit with minimal costs, only requiring a rocker, yarn and knitting needles. But this woman had proven far more stubborn than any of Leslie’s deepest insecurities. Even Leslie’s toe fetish was easier to control than this this abhorrently kind looking woman soothingly rocking to and fro. 

“No, you hired me to handle thoughts—and I shall do so by my own discipline.”

Leslie’s consciousness looks down in exasperation. That statement was surprisingly firm for such a fragile woman almost completely engulfed by her own knitting. The knitting rustles as Leslie’s thought on American Consumerism stretches with devilish contentment in the ladies lap—purring in perfect imitation of a stray kitten.

“No this is my point! You can’t invite these thoughts into our home, let alone your lap! If you feed them and stroke them we shall never be rid of these infernal strays!!!”

Consciousness grabs American Consumerism by the scruff of the neck and unceremoniously casts it off the porch of the mind. But, Leslie’s thought on Matt (her ex-boyfriend) had been waiting in the wings. He jumps up and after several rotations settles in his newly claimed territory, eyeing the yarn with keen feline interest.

“I don’t want to be rid of them...like them. They keep me company whilst I knit.”

Consciousness looks down at what appears to be a massive knitted snake.
“What in god’s name is that?”
“It’s a scarf for Lefty.”

“Lefty”… “Lefty”…. the audacity of this woman! The Left Hemisphere has been a plague upon the Consciousness’s existence for years, a hindrance to almost all meditation sessions. Unable to relinquish control, naming every thought that comes calling, “Lefty” needs a gag not a scarf.

“This is outrageous, it’s as if you’re running a homeless shelter!”

As if on queue, thoughts of Leslie’s future children, come giggling and gallivanting onto the porch carrying Leslie’s high school insecurities on their backs.
“No! You’re not welcome here, shoo shoo…off this porch!”
The thoughts gaze up at the Consciousness standing strict and foreboding—hands on her hips. Then their eyes flit to the old lady on the rocker. She slightly nods. They smirk, blaze past Consciousness, pause to remove their muddy shoes, then skip gaily into the mind.

“This isn’t working. You need to leave!” Consciousness screams, unable to control the quiver in her voice.
“What are you going to do out-source me?” the lady smiles kindly but she knows she has struck a chord.
They had tried to outsource her many times. Mexican consciousnesses had brought their peyote, Amsterdam hippies their marijuana, countless substances from countless countries. Nothing had subdued the thoughts; many had simply fueled and enraged them.

“I think with the proper love and chocolate Leslie can learn to embrace these thoughts.”
Chocolate! Chocolate! You can’t give Leslie’s fear of rejection sugar! It will run rampant!
Utterly exasperated Consciousness drops to the steps of the porch. Four of Leslie’s future dreams lightly flutter to her shoulder singing as merrily as blue birds in fall. Consciousness puts her head in her hands, Leslie’s First Kiss, First Crush, and First Heartbreak crawl up her arm like ladybugs on a leaf. Leslie’s Creative Aspiration nuzzles between Consciousness’s hands, drooling profusely on her knee…begging to be loved wagging its tail furiously.

Consciousness looks at the old lady, the old lady looks at Consciousness. Eye contact is never broken, intensified by the slow creak of the chair. The old lady knows she isn’t going anywhere, for in her back pocket is the American torte system. The possible wrongful termination suit on the grounds of ageism is the private threat between them. Thusly empowering the rest of Leslie’s dreams, memories, fears, and anxieties to slowly creep from the forest of The Collective Unconsciousness and happily take refuge in the very hospital mind of Leslie Rene Russell.




Disabling adventures


Hello all : )

I wrote something. It can be read in segments or not at all. I know all of you are busy and have jobs and such, but if you are so inclined here is the story of my journey to my Ashram. It was amazing, and I'm having difficulty walking so Mom says I have to stay in bed and off my feet…hence lots of time to write.

I didn't put myself through proper basic training before I attempted the war zone that is train travel in India. Instead of distracting myself with barefooted running and yoga;  I should have been squatting in a box for at least 3 hours a day. I should have found every mosh pit in the greater South East Asian area, and jumped in. I should have sharpened my elbows and borrowed Amanda's man arms. I should't have let myself use the bathroom except in 15 hour intervals, forget a number 2 except but once a week.

I stayed in the small town Chiru took me to for 6 days. I can't tell you what amazing fuel chai and bananas are for running. I'm embarrassed to admit how much time I spent in a small used book store. I was such staple, they started to feed me chai with the employees. My days were spent simply soaking in the beautiful solitude and luscious green landscape. The only people I talked to were helping me stalk the author of the amazing book I was reading. but alas, my stake-outs saw no fruit. Its very hard to make it look like you're naturally bumping into someone, avoiding that awkward conversation as to why you've been hovering outside their door for hours…or why you have those binoculars (j/k, where would I get binoculars in India?).

Anyhow it was time to leave. I had a reserved ticket,  with a reserved seat to a small town three hours away. Then another reserved bed from that town (lets call it the Harlem of India) all the way to Rishikesh (the town of my ashram). 30 hour journey but in style. I arrive for the first leg of the trip. The train pulls into the station and the chaos commences. Those who don't have a reserved ticket (of which there seems to be hundreds) literally swarm the doors/window ruthlessly fighting to get in to get a seat.  Some of the windows of the trains don't have bars on them, so people jump through the window. One man was actually half way through the window, when a larger man grabbed him and threw him back to the platform so he himself could jump through the hole. Myself, I have nothing to worry about. I"m not one of these masses, I have a seat number and a smug attitude.

3 hours later, 8:30 at night, a pleasant first leg of the journey. Window seat and kind people feeding me chapati and complimenting my hat. We get off the train, there is an announcement, and what seems to be a simultaneous groan from all on the platform. All trains canceled. Electric storm. Shit.

Oh well. I'm sure, there will simply be another train, onto which I can transfer my ticket. A delay, but no problem. I"m here for my train, I"ve paid for a seat, this is their mistake. Like the airports, I'll probably get a fancy hotel for the night with vouchers for food. Laughable thought process in retrospect.

The counters are all closed. There are no trains anyway. I'm told to go to "Enquirery". "Enquirery" is a small window, swallowed by a mosh pit of a hundred, pissed-off Indian men. Not only am I the only westerner, but I'm one of a handful of females. I head to the station exit, thinking I'll just get a hotel for the night. I'm overtaken instantly. Dipiyoti Ray, Regional Business Manager for Troikaa Pharmaceuticals Ltd., literally plucks me from the crowd of homeless that are moths to my white face.

"Why are you here? You shouldn't be here. Come on."

The next day, at the ticket counter:
"No reserve seats Mame.  Waiting only, but you WILL get a refund."
"I'm sorry, but I need to get to Hardiwar station, is that possible?"
"Not until August 4th (in 5days), but you WILL get a refund"
"How close can you get me to Hardiwar?"
"New Dehli, but there are no seats either. but you WILL get a refund!"

I'm getting pissed. This refund is the equivalent of six dollars. I don't care about six dollars. I have just spent the night on my yoga mat in the corner of a female bathroom/waiting area, I want to be on a goddamn train.

Non-reserved seating to New Dehli (still 8 hours train from Rishikesh) it is. I am now apart of the fray. Waiting for the train, I draw. I've had a lot of time to draw lately, this one I started last night on the yoga mat, when I was too afraid to go to sleep. An Indian man in his 20s watches me draw for the 2 hours we wait for our train. He names the woman in the picture Lexa. He too is going to New Delhi. He speaks limited English, but he doesn't have to with that perfectly chiseled jaw. Train arrives. It is more frenzied than usual because a lot of people were stranded last night. I'm petrified watching men push old women onto the train to speed their own boarding. Chiseled Jaw (we never exchanged names) grabs my hand he leads me to the disabled car. Here is where I will remain for the next 15 hours.

Only 30% of the people in the car are actually disabled. The rest are poor unreserved people like myself. Those who are legitimately disabled (I say legitimate because there were those whose bandages miraculously switched hands) get choice of seats. The rest of us crowd around them. A crowd it was, but squatters rights eventually come into play. As the hours whittle away, Chiseled Jaw and I move closer and closer to the back of the car, eventually getting a prime seat on the floor under the window. There is a constant ebb and flow of people, sometimes I'm so crammed my knees are at my chin. Other times, Chiseled Jaw and I can both lean on my bag and stretch our legs.

(The car was an amazing cultural study. I could write pages on what I observed, but I dare say this email is long enough. Mostly, I was amazed by the good nature of everyone aboard (with the exception of a harping old woman who refused to take her dirty feet out of my lap). If you got up, you lost your seat (which is why I didn't pee for the entire journey), but no one was ill mannered about it. Everyone leaned on one another. Legs were intertwined to enable everyone to stretch their legs for periods. Peanuts were shared. Water bottles were community property. Babies were passed around. When it was particularly cramped and I had to squat…I almost jumped out of the train. When there was only 20 of us, and I could "comfortably" sit, I felt such a sense of camaraderie and affection for those who had been packed around me for hours. )

At 9:30 PM, after 15 hours, the train pulls into a large station. The air is festive. Countless sellers pass chai and other delicacies through the window of our car. Chiseled Jaw, hands me the food he had bought for the three of us (we had another friend who had been with us since hour 1). He refused money. Our friend hands me a chai. Again offended by the rupees I offer.

At that moment, armed Indian guards enter our car. Intimidating and yelling. I understand nothing, except they are clearly chastising the non-cripples for occupying the disabled car. It is clearly an empty display of authority, because they remove no one…until their flashlight land on me.

"You are not disabled…come with us"

I awkwardly hand the chai to Chiseled Jaw. Our friend helps me put on my backpack. The young boy who had slept on my shoulder in hours 4 and 5, sets my shoes in front of me so I can step into them. Someone else hands me my bag of fruit. I'm escorted out of the train, walked amongst three men with riffles hanging menacingly from their shoulders. I wonder if they'd let me sleep on my yoga mat in jail.

We arrive at our destination…a first class soft sleeper bed. "Sleep!" they order and leave.

Countless hours later, I run into Chiseled Jaw on Delhi station platform. He and our friend were clearly looking for me. I had already given up. The ticket counter had told me the final leg of my journey would be another 8 hours, and the train didn't' leave for another 12. I had my 6 dollar refund in my pocket, and lets be honest, a lot of privilaged American cash. A man was leading me to the private car I had hired to get me to this ashram (only 50 dollars for a 6 hour commute). The boys see me. "You got out…you ok...you got sleeper!"

I feel ashamed. They are so happy that I'm ok, no hint of resentment that I was given proper accommodation where they remained crammed on the floor. They protectively size up the man who takes my arm to lead me to the car. I feel embarrassed I got a sleeper. I feel even more embarrassed that I opted for the luxury of a car. As is... I'm limping. I messed up my foot squatting for so many hours. They are shaking my hand as I'm pulled away and put in my transport. The car feels like a helicopter, and I a wounded soldier deserting 'Nam.

I blame my lack of basic training. I was ill-prepared for war and I"m definitely experiencing survivors guilt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Slippier than banana peels

I have changed countries once more. Two weeks ago I moved from Matt's posh, air-conditioned, fully furnished, amazingly couched (yes couch as a verb) apartment...to a single room, living with a Vietnamese family. Minus the heartbreak, spontaneous crying and complete feeling of loneliness, the move has provided the same scalp tingle as a stamp in my passport.

A major characteristic of Vietnam is the divide of living standards. In this country, you will see an oil-soaked, one armed mechanic fixing a Mercedes-Benz. The average monthly salary is still under 200.00 a month, yet the money that is being poured into development and high-cost living is disgusting. Dare I compare it to an inflated bubble waiting to burst? Anyhow, this is how Matt and I could live in a beautiful, Western-style apartment, then I could move literally down the street and experience the opposite standard of living.

Quick description of the family....
"Home Mama", has three grown children. Two of which still live with her. She is abnormally divorced. They run a very popular business out of their "kitchen". I have no idea what food they concoct, but I hear it is delicious and none of their cooking practices are up to code. I mean the large cakes they make are often stored on-top of their motorbikes. No one in the family sleeps in the bedrooms of the house (with the exception of the oldest son and his wife, they sleep in the room opposite mine). Instead, one son sleeps on a hammock amongst the motorbikes, Home Mama sleeps on a cot on the first-floor landing, and when her grandson sleeps here he sleeps in a box...more later. The other three bedrooms are occupied by boarders, my good friend Jacklyn (first floor), me (second floor), Janel a hippie, Filipino, who is in a band and makes his own furniture from recycled items (third floor).

It is a full house, but we all fit very well. It is not abnormal for the Vietnamese to sleep on the floor of their living room. Beds are more of a western concept. I do enjoy the family environment, they look after me. However...

Sometimes I'm a bit of novelty act. I'm learning Vietnamese and they are super excited. So Home Mama sometimes calls the neighbors to watch my Vietnamese lessons with her daughter-in law.

Sometimes, it becomes a bit smothering. I went downstairs yesterday, to boil eggs. I'm 24, I've lived in three countries in the past four years... before yesterday I was under the impression I could boil my own eggs. A support crew of four, who refused to let me touch an egg, or even fill my own pot...told me otherwise.

Sometimes, it becomes a bit strange. I walked in this morning and the grandson was curled up in a box, sleeping as a cat would. Yesterday, I walked down the stairs and he was pooing in a bucket while playing with a Transformer robot....we have multiple bathrooms in the house, I can only describe if this behavior is youthful laziness.

Sometimes, it becomes a bit disgusting. This morning, I was kick starting, my beautiful, bright orange, 1960's Vespa. The noise of the Vespa and the sun reflecting off of my blond hair already draws enough eyes...however, this morning they certainly received and extra bang for their dong. My foot lost its tracking on the pavement, causing me to hurl forward and smack my head on the steering wheel. This drew sniggers in itself...then I look down to see the apparent banana peel I had slipped on...but this wasn't your usual rated PG, Charley Chaplin, slip...the bottom of my shoe was red-with guts. I had slipped on a dead rat.

Gag. Yet oddly, a shrug off moment, as I was late to class.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thailand

I’m sitting in an open air coffee shop, banana shake and coffee in front of me, Russians to my left (with an odd obsession for toast) and plants in all 360 of my vision. Amanda and I arrived in Bangkok 2 days ago. To be honest I threw Bangkok onto the itinerary because A. Amanda still giggles every time she says our location and B. it is blasphemy to travel Thailand and not sneak a peak at its Bangkok.

The waitress just answered her, bejeweled pink I-phone in the middle of my trying to order a coffee…yep still waiting….the caffeine deprived dirty looks are not phasing her…is a pinch inappropriate? Ok victory…refocus.

We got off our morning Air Asia flight and I instantly felt like I had dunked my head underwater. The absence of sound was deafening. I hadn’t realized how acclimatized I had become to constant commotion. The energy, I felt lost without, is best explained through Saigon's circular streets. Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) has a couple of main round-abouts. The Circle of death in the city center, this is the Pacific Gyro of Saigon, everyone in the city is collected in the gyro, violently mixed about, then thrust at random back into Saigon.

Side note: I have a manual motor bike, forces beyond my control sucked me into the gyro, my roommate (Sian) was on the back, I stalled four times in succession, I may have peed a little, I swore I saw the bright light of death, turned out it was just truck headlights coming straight for us, I still have night sweats about the experience, Sian just thought I was pausing to help her conveniently light a cigarette.

Anyhow, I expected Bangkok to be a huge Gyro of death the likes of which I had never seen. Not the case. It is…organized, clean and as previously stated, quiet. I think it helps that Thai is not as harsh as Vietnamese. A Vietnamese person could be having a conversation 100 yards away and it still stabs your ear drum repeatedly and sadistically. Also, I am sitting in a “real” chair right now: if I were in Vietnam I would be sitting in a lawn chair. Additionally, I am looking into a stream of traffic and can distinguish between those traveling north or south. I don’t like it… I prefer Ho chi min.

I am trying not hold its well maintained exterior against it…Amanda and I have had a glorious time. Two of my best friends from Korea have been living here for a month or two, so we have meandered with their guidance. Huge open air markets, fresh fruit, tattoos, dread locks, morbid manikins, pad thai, banana shakes, disturbing inanimate objects (I’m making a collage) tin cups and hues of orange… are Bangkok. Our favorite meal was given to us by Kitty, the taxi driver, (his mom made it) and our latest, great, conversation was instigated because the guy (the attractive guy) farted so loud, I couldn’t let it go uncommented.

Tonight we leave Bangkok. 7pm to be exact…we then are traveling down the coast by longest and cheapest means possible on route to Koh Pangan/the full moon party. The full moon party is a monthly party (obvious alert), started by travel hippies in the 60’s it has grown to a traveler’s spring break (exchange the drunk blonds for drunk blonds with dreads). There are live bands, “creative” fire games, and buckets of redbull and vodka. This year, the new year coincides with the full moon, this happens once every 26 years…this could be a bad idea. Nonetheless, we go armed with our rules (ok just one…stay away from the fire!) and other handy tips the farting foreigner bestowed upon us (the taxi drivers do not sell ecstasy).My only goal is to NOT add third degree burns to Manda’s laundry list of injuries!

PS I added this picture of Amanda's awesome sunburn...just as an added bonus. I will be constantly entertained until it evens out!


Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm not in Korea anymore

I came to Vietnam for an edge. So whenever I am clearly scammed I can't contain my jubilation. To be fair, at the time, I wasn't as thrilled as I am now. I had my first episode last week. This course is intense when it comes to work-load. So I left the coffee shop at 7am, to make it to my school by 7:05, to finish printing for my 9:00 class. Way too much time, but I had other work to do after I printed. I got into a cab thinking of the listening lesson I was about to teach... and paid no attention to the brand of taxi. Here you should only pick certain taxi companies...to avoid the story I am about to tell. The man started taking a different route. I told him he was wrong, and to turn right at the next street. "No, no, short cut, you relax," was his annoying response. 20 minutes later I was completely lost and hyperventilating. "Too much traffic," the taxi driver said. "You get out here, and walk straight, you school on left, very close." The school was neither close nor on the left. He had dropped me off in the middle of the city, 30 minutes from my school. I wander the street looking for a legitimate taxi, couldn't find one, so I hopped on a motor-bike taxi. This time, I negotiated my fare ahead of time (fool me once...etc). We get no more than 20 yards when the motor bike's back tire blew out. I billy-goated off the bike, luckily unscathed but I can't say the same for the driver. The man was livid with me. I think his gestures implied it was my obesity that ruined his bike. I wanted to to tell him I was just in America for 2 weeks, so a little weight gain was inevitable...but I swear I've been doing Yoga every day to compensate. We argued. I refused to apologize for my love handles and pay for the tire. In order to escape the escalating argument, I simply jumped on the next motor-bike I saw. I didn't negotiate the price...just told him the address and to hurry. We get to the school. I have less than a half an hour to prepare my classroom. Flustered I thrust the usual fare into the motor man's hands. He grabs my wrist. "60,000 dong," he says forcefully. This is more than motor bike's charge for an entire day of tooling around the city. I refuse. He is still grabbing my wrist. All he sees is a dissheveled blond. Here a damsel in distress is meant to be exploited not assisted. This is the first time I have used my Hapkido out of a play fight with Matt. I hoshinsel him...then run away...in heals. Please don't think me naive. I am vigilant, but I slacken in the morning. No one scams before 10:00 am. False.

I was so flustered and pissed by the time I taught my morning class but I couldn't take my aggression out on anyone but the poor man who my listening lesson was about. I was so mean, my teacher asked if I knew the man, whose life we were listening to, personally. So, Jeff Norman...if you are out there.... I'm sorry. I'm sure you're not a Micheal Moor wanna be, I'm sure your mom enjoys you living in her basement and there is nothing wrong with being a paper boy at 43. It could always be worse...you could be a soul sucking taxi driver in Ho Chi Min City. Move over Korean 50 bus drivers...I have a new arch nemesis.