Monday, 5 Aug 2002 (2)

When I got off the bus from Chicago in DC last Thursday, lugging my far-too-heavy bags (I’m sure they were over a hundred pounds, but I couldn’t say how far over. I can say, though, that I would have been better off mailing some of those books), I was intending to walk to the metro, two blocks from the Greyhound station.

But as soon as I got out the door, an old man with pop-eyes, crouching like a deaf, undernourished, stupid, hairless gorilla, said “Patrick?” I said “Yep,” which seems to have been accompanied, in his mind, with the implied continuation “I was indeed looking for a taxi, thanks”: he motioned me to follow him toward his.

I think it was either it was hot and I was tired, and it would have been stupid to carry my bags (I would have had to stop and put them down every twenty feet or so to rest for a few minutes), or I figured that my parents, who had promised to met me when I got off my bus, had decided to call a cab for me instead, and it would be unfilial of me to refuse. I usually like to meet a new place on public transportation or on foot, so we can get used to each other on a broad scale before I start getting used to the individuals who live there.

So I dragged myself and my stuff after him (he encouraged me: “I know you can carry that, Patrick, you can do it”) got in the cab, ready to be driven home, only he’d never heard of my neighborhood. After I had made a couple casts around for other nearby places he might know, we settled on a nearby road, which he said he knew. Unfortunately, it turned out, he didn’t know how to get there, a fact which we discovered halfway over the Potomac on a bridge of his (apparently random) choosing.

To add to my annoyance, he couldn’t hear barely at all, and his responses were very slow. A couple times we nearly caused an accident switching lanes far too late, long after I had initially suggested it. I became quite irritated with him, and may even have popped out my own eyes a little bit, trying to make them blaze with indignation.

As we neared the agreed-on street, I suddenly remembered a quicker way home from where we were, and recommended a new direction. That was nearly too much for him, and he, in his turn, became angry with me. “I thought we were going where you wanted,” he muttered, more than once, and struck his turn signal.

When we finally arrived, I had intended not to tip him at all, but he didn’t offer me any change, and I was busy dragging my bags out of the street, so I didn’t think to ask before he drove off.

So if that was my Askeladden test, I failed it.

Monday, 5 Aug 2002

After spending four days in Shennandoah County, I find, retrospectively, Chicago is very flat. I didn’t realize, or had forgotten, what terrain was like. It makes you live in places a little differently.

In Shennandoah, there’s usually only one way to get somewhere and that way is determined by the land it goes through. Directions are limited to from town and to town, and when you’re walking, to upstream, downstream, uphill, and downhill.

Chicago, on the other hand, has a way of stamping the four points of the compass on the brain. Other means of reference don’t seem as fundamental. Streets go straight, there are as many ways to get someplace as there are lateral blocks to the longer axis of your journey, and you need only know the address of a place to know how far it is.

I’m periodically struck by this difference. It differentiates the two places more, to my mind, than some of the differences between city and country that more readily spring to mind, when I consider the subject abstractly.

Thursday, 1 Aug 2002 (2)

So soon already, less than a month until I’ll be heading to Russia, to teach English. I’m extremely nervous. The high school where I’ll be teaching is in Aginskoe, Chita region, a predominately Buryat area. These people have arranged it for me, and I’ll be there all next year. I’ve never taught in a high school, and I wonder whether my Russian will be adequate: many of my students won’t have had English before I get there.

The region is interesting, though: the Buryats (in my area) have been Buddhist for some time, in fact they are one of the few indiginous peoples whose religion the Russians (and later the Soviets) didn’t manage to suppress. Then there’s Lake Baikal, one of the natural wonders of the world by any standard. So I don’t think I’ll be bored, just cold.

I also plan to visit Mongolia and China, while I’m in the neighborhood, if my money extends that far, so if anyone has any travel tips for those countries, let me know. And of course, if anyone is taking the Trans-Siberian and feels like a rest stop, I’m only two hours off the line…