Of Marriageable Age: The Long, Dark Wedding Season of the Soul

Doom.

Doom.

The death certificate of my childhood arrived in a crimson red envelope.

I slipped the contents out onto my desk and unsealed them, unfolded them, unclasped them. I had never received a missive so delicate or so complex, and it took several moments for my baboon digits to free the contents to browse. What appeared from within shook my heart with horror. I trembled suddenly for reasons I could not then articulate. The sky outside seemed to darken, the clouds grew heavy with ash and smoke. Everything tasted like salt and copper and purple.

Tina is getting married in August. This was the first wedding invitation of my adult years.

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Visions of Sickness From Faraway Places

Friends, Romans, and countrymen and -women, I have fallen ill. It has been a gross several days of torturous hot-and-cold, toss-and-turn, binge-and-purge grossness, the details of which I will spare you. Well, mostly. I went to the doctor, who diagnosed me with tonsillitis. He helpfully described the pus forming on them as a “cheese.”

You will be proud of me in that I totally did not barf on his shoes at this description.

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Resurgent Useless Knowledge & The Joy of a Burning Brain

Vishnu and Pals

Hey, I remember you guys!

For many years, my grandfather would constantly tell me, “That’s one thing they can never take away from you. Your education.” I never asked who they were, although the way he said it implied that they were very intent on taking anything and everything else, and that also maybe they were waiting just outside. And if they were the kind of people who wanted to mug me, that maybe they would also take a bat to my head and there goes my education.

But I got his point.

My grandfather was an exceedingly generous man, and as his only grandson he was endlessly proud of everything I did and every dumb thing I ever said. I think, sometimes, that this statement was meant to be reassuring to me through my university years and the ones just beyond. The years where I realized that I had studied a lot of things that weren’t going to be terribly useful to life or gaining a career.  The years where I started to get a little academic’s remorse, as I considered my future and how the words “Starbucks barrista” fit into it.This statement was meant to encourage me to find my education fulfilling, as I would surely be sustaining myself on a pulpy milkshake I could make from old manuscripts and printer ink.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Bourgeoisie

La Valenciana I

Shellack it in gold and ship it to my summer home, will you?

The massage cost the equivalent of 4 Canadian dollars. The young Indonesian man who provided it – sprightly, pleasant, deserving more in life than my tepid fleshy torso – smiled pleasantly as we met, not looking me in the eyes, in case either of us were ashamed of what was to come.

I had never had a massage before. I knew, theoretically, that they were pleasant affairs, and was curious to experience one. However, they occupied a place in my mind that was reserved for people far richer than I. Massages were for the wealthy, for people who swam in Scrooge McDuckian pools of gold, for people who sampled caviar and spat it into their crystal spittoons once their palates had been stimulated.

And indeed it was pleasant: a thorough kneading, ambient south Asian muzaak, the humidity of the tropics. Our masseuses and masseurs even did us the solid of wiping down all the oil and grease we had accumulated so that we left the spa relaxed, refreshed, and even less slick than when we first entered. I was so mushy that my deep, writhing awkwardness, the uncomfortable knowledge that I had paid someone else to massage me and that it was really weird, was a distant emotion, like an anxious sunrise on a faraway shore.

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A Suitcase Full of Bones

Yangon Circle Line

Forever headed down new tracks.

I wonder, sometimes, what immigration officers must think of me.

As I pass through their lines, I am not always at my best. Typically dishevelled, bearded and sweaty and drooping, stinking of unbrushed teeth and unwashed armpits and as much free Heineken as the stewardesses will allow me. And then there are the times when I must be showing visible disturbance: agitation or discomfort; a sense of fear or anxiety of what lies before me; and, more than once, a stream of shaky tears forging new rivers down my trembling, tired face.

I wonder if they know what leaving looks like, if they know the smell of it, the quirk of a man’s eyebrow, the tremble on a woman’s lip. I wonder if they can differentiate the people who are off for a vacation, the sprightly and the excited, the people already pre-shellacked in sunscreen and tropical rum. I wonder if they can pick out the one-way tickets from the round-trips. I wonder if they can pick out those that are about to set off on a different journey, the kind that doesn’t always lead back home.

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The Language Babysitters and the Grown-Up Infant

In use

Don’t worry, my surrogate mom will deal with this.

I sat in my apartment, thumbs twiddling. I was waiting for a mysterious stranger. There was no way of contacting her–my cell phone and internet service had been cut off, which was what prompted her visit. I turned off the lights to wait in the dark, as being without internet or cellular made me feel like a caveman anyways.

My real estate agent had sent her. Charlie was twenty-something and awkwardly tall, as though the material that made up his body had been stretched too thin beyond the original blueprints. His English was superb, which was his purpose in my life. Aside from securing the apartment in which I currently dwell, he was also my personal caretaker. He dealt with my problems when they grew to a complexity beyond what cereal to buy or how to brush my teeth.

Confronted with a cell phone that no longer cell phoned, I grunted and bawked and mashed at it like a Neanderthal or a grandpa dealing with a DVD player. My technology no longer did technological things, and I was already out of ideas. I scratched at my heavy, sloped brow, and attempted to wifi-squat until I could contact Charlie and whine at him to solve my problems for me.

Within hours Charlie had conscripted a young woman to find me at my apartment and shepherd me through the city. She attempted to give me a ride on the back of her tiny, delicate scooter, but being twice her height and weight made the prospect unfeasible, and her offer to let me drive her vehicle through the rain in Chinese traffic terrified me to the core.

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The Saga of the Nineteenth Hole (Part Two)

A change in the winds.

Strange currents from distant shores, the tremble of change on the horizon. Upheaval and horror, upset and the quaking ground. I had experienced a variety of semi-lucid regimes at the golf course and had weathered them the way one does any particularly long, arduous storm of nonsense—with pluck, beer, and a heaping serving of not giving a crap. There was very little, I felt, that could damage my calm serenity, that could shake me from the peace I had made with this ridiculous job that I had. The golf course was my Bodhi tree, and under its boughs I would find the secrets of the universe. I would know enlightenment, and nothing the world did could possibly distract me from my journey.

This was because I could not fathom Rita.

Rita was Greek and cresting the latter days of her fifties, a shock of white forging through her bushel of dark hair. She looked the way a toad might look after it had been run over by an eighteen wheeler. Also, it was an ugly toad to start with. She spoke with unearned grandeur, and an implacable Eastern-European accent despite her constantly heralded roots. She was one of the most officious, unpleasant people I have ever met in my life; my coworkers on the golf cart, who would regularly come to the clubhouse to join me in the Simpsons or have a beer after work, now regularly fled when they spotted her black corvette approaching, as though the leitmotif of the Wicked Witch of the West was suddenly piped in over loudspeaker.

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I Don’t Know Who You Are, But I Promise I’m Not a Jerk

Sujin and Gyeongmin

And today in stretched correlations: look! A photograph with names in it.

Two high schoolers hovered outside of the staff room, angling around the door. They understood the sacredness of the threshold before them, the taboo they would shatter if they breached the barrier. Sirens, alarm, the ire of several dozen teachers who would certainly unleash the tentacles and claws housed within their carapaces and shred these kids limb from limb. Entering the teachers’ lounge without prior blessing was like summoning an Elder God. Still, worry showed across their sprightly features. I asked if they needed help with something.

“We need to talk to Mrs. Santos,” they murmured. One bit at his nails. “We think she’s in there, but we don’t want to disturb her.” They clearly wanted to disturb her, but were terrified of what might befall them if they tried. They seemed to think I might be sizing them up for ritualistic blood sacrifice for even getting this close to the door. (It had crossed my mind.)

“Okay,” I muttered, scrolling through my internal rolodex. There were hundreds of teachers at the school, dozens of which I had never seen before, as they worked in the far reaches, the terrifying hellscape that formed the high school. They may as well have worked in Mongolia. I came up blank. “Do you know her first name?”

The first name didn’t ring any bells either. Still I wandered into the staffroom prepared to be helpful, but utterly unable to help in any way.

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Existential Conundrums in a Chinese Supermarket

Trinket town

This is the Buddha head selection station. The Buddha head buying station is around the block.

I clutch the most boyish thermos I could find amongst the sea of shiny pink and purple aluminum. A Chinese mall thrums around me on all sides, and this one particular sector is dedicated only to mugs and coffee containers. A young saleswoman hovers around a laptop, scowling every time I turn her way, knowing our interaction will involve a lot of pantomime, frustration, and tedium. She awaits my dull, Mandarin-less grunts with dutiful stoicism.

When I move towards her and indicate that I have found my desired item, she asks me a few questions, to which I answer yes, as it is one of the few words I have learned thus far. She taps away at the laptop and then begins scribing an enormous, hand-written scroll of instructions and numbers and arcane glyphs, which I assume I will need as incantations to summon Pazuzu. She hands me the slip of paper, clutches my thermos loosely and waves me away with my desired possessions gripped possessively in her talons.

I stare around my surroundings, pondering my next step. Everywhere there are desks, laptops, angry and tired-looking staff waiting at the ready, taking things away from shoppers. I am more than a little dazed. I wonder if I need to go on some sort of scavenger hunt, if I am being summoned into a hero’s quest and will need to bring this woman back the Golden Fleece. Perhaps I will need to answer a troll’s riddle? Or slay a dragon. Or maybe this is an Ikea situation, and my theoretical thermos was only a floor model, and my little slip of paper was actually a map, a guide, a thorough set of instructions on how to spelunk the depths of the storehouse below us to find the shrink-wrapped and ready version of my cup.

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The Shoebox and the Palace

All clean on the western front.

It’s very cozy.

I remember the day when my main co-teacher showed me my Korean apartment. I was carrying two suitcases and was swaddled in a sopping-wet sweater vest, slick with Korean humidity and my own terror-sweat. I looked around my one room, my first apartment to myself, and was stunned by a sense of grandeur. There were walls and a ceiling, a bed and a couch, pots and pans and an entire bathroom, and they were just for me. They were mine. All twenty cubic metres of them.

My meagre collection of belongings easily slid under beds and into cupboards, my suitcases wedged below the couch and beside the wardrobe. I had no decorations to speak of, other than pictures I sellotaped to walls and whatever sea-creature decals I allowed to remain spread across the apartment in monument to its previous occupant.

I was a grown-up, and this was minimalist living, I thought. The lack of space necessitated the style, but it suited me fine. Extra room just meant more things to clean, more things to polish, more things to worry about damaging or coating in ice cream when I grew careless and sloppy. A one-room was the apartment for me, as it necessarily created a simplistic lifestyle, near monasticism in its quiet, lazy effortlessness. I felt moved in within an evening, and as much as the place could become recognizably mine, as much as a single room with a kitchenette and a single bed can become personalized, it was shaped in my image.

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