Tag Archives: people you meet

A Goodbye to Chicago

Three years ago, or almost three years ago, on September 17th, 2011, I packed up everything I owned into the back of a borrowed minivan and moved to Chicago. I moved into an international student dormitory, a place where I met a huge number of amazing young people who were doing amazing things.

Now, about exactly three years later, I’m planning to pack up everything I own in (and on top of) my own Toyota Matrix to return back to the Twin Cities. I have a job, you see, and it’s very exciting! More news on that once I actually start–this is a Goodbye Chicago letter. Continue reading A Goodbye to Chicago

Creation celebrates you!

behappyLast week I had a job interview down at 95th and Pulaski. It took three buses to get there from Hyde Park–the 55 West to Garfield, the Red line down to 95th, then some pace bus all the way west down 95th. It was a frigid day, and I was frozen solid by the time I even got on the final bus. The 95th station terminal is a very busy station, with people running in and out and wandering around and going every which way in every which direction. All the while, the Dan Ryan is howling below you.

On my way back, I was waiting for this mysterious bus that traverses 95th street, once more in the frigid cold. This man, probably in his fifties or sixties, with a giant coat, a lumpy bag and a flappy hat comes sauntering down the sidewalk towards me.

(Sidewalks in Chicago in the winter, like any city with exorbitant snowfall, are no longer wide promenades, but rather tiny tracks of foot-packed snow that resemble yak-trails. They funnel traffic very well.)

He pauses at the bus stop that I am huddled inside and he exclaims: “It is too cold out here for you to be so beautiful!”

I laugh, and I respond: “Don’t worry, the longer I stand out here the uglier I get.”

Then, in all seriousness and with great sincerity, he replies: “No. You are beautiful. Every day you open your eyes–every day–creation celebrates you. Because you are so beautiful.”

I was stunned. This was not a curbside pickup, and honestly I felt no creepy vibes of any kind. This was just some old guy defending what he believed to be true: that women were beautiful, and that they needed to be told so.

He had a lollipop in his hand, and I think I was actively blushing when I asked him: “Where’d you get that at?”

“Just down at the doctor’s office there.” He waved with his arm in the direction that he came from.

“Aw I gotta get me one of those,” I replied.

“Well just you remember. Creation celebrates you. This country–it exploits women. But you’ve got to know that you are the most beautiful and strongest person, every day when you wake up.”


Still rather stunned, I just laughed. But there was something about this day that wasn’t quite like all the other days when I run into random people with prophetic talk at a bus stop. That day I was more receptive, ready to take in the world and what it had to say to me. It was early in the morning and the sun was out. I’d been feeling kind of low earlier in the week–distracted by school work and other tasks that were making me feel unavailable to the outside world. That was making me lonely. So instead of just blushing and wishing this guy on his way, I held out my head. “You know what, Thank you, man. I really needed to hear that.”

We chatted for a little while, and then he sauntered on off. I got on the bus, pretty happy. Looking out the window at a neighborhood I’d never been to before.

Several blocks down, he gets on the bus too–and like magic, as he walks past me towards the back of the bus, he slips a tootsie pop into my hands. No words. He’d just magically come up with a sucker and given it to me as a gift.

Humanity? Definitely not so bad after all.

I’m sorry, what? The year is over?

I can’t believe it’s done! This last month, especially, has been overly emotional and crazy–yet it’s just one more reason why I love the I-House. Let’s see…

1. The eightieth anniversary of the I-House took place over this past alumni weekend (May 31-June 1). It was a really tremendous affair. People came from all over the place. We had a tea on Saturday afternoon that was for all these couples that had met and married at the house. They all had similar stories… “I used to visit the dining hall, to get lunch, and then I lent this woman a newspaper…” or, “I was sitting in the courtyard and this young man sat down next to me.” It’s delightfully old world in some ways, to hear these stories, but it’s also really kind of magical because it’s my house, and with all this fantastic history and community that I’m a part of and I get to help build. Oh, and I found a picture of my boss in the year book from when she was a resident. Bwahahaha.

2. Saying goodbye to everyone was hard. I’ve done it before, you know–it’s not a new concept. But this time I’m the one staying, and they’re all leaving on to new things. I think maybe it was hard to get left behind, instead of being the one who leaves. My amazing Egyptian friends, who were here on a year long scholarship, left a few days ago. They got stuck in Chicago for some kind of crazy visa problem… but they might be on their way by now. I don’t know. I keep telling them that they saved my butt time and time again, when I was really depressed or angry with the way things were going in my studies, or at my school. They laughed it off, but I was pretty serious. These lovely ladies brought a joy and dedication and sincerity with them wherever they went and I’m going to miss them terribly. There were some pretty epic tears when that airport van pulled away, let me tell you.

3. I turned 25. Which I’ve heard is a great year. And the aforementioned amazing Egyptians bought me a cake and sang to me in Arabic, which just was awesome. Little paparazzi Miriam took a video and it’s on facebook.

4. I did actually finish my quarter. It was kind of low key… I turned in my theology final, I wrote my paper for the gospel of Luke… neither of which I was terribly proud of, persay, but I mean I don’t think they were absolute crap either. I’m looking forward to my book list this summer and my sketchbook, and all my processing that I will get to do. I have some epic, epic books. They are going to get the crap read out of them. Yeah.

5. Oh yeah, True Blood is back on. I haven’t watched it yet, but I will… oh, I will. And I will feel guilty because it is such a terrible, miserable, absurd and perhaps even dumb show. But I love it. And I might feel guilty but I definitely won’t apologize for it. Hah.

Merry Christmas! Trains, towns, and a much needed new year.

I’m here in Staunton, Virginia, getting some much needed out-of-the-city time. I always enjoy coming here because this town really has some great qualities. First of all, my dad’s church is a great gem of a church. Not only do they have a beautiful building, with a glorious Mary window (from which this post’s picture comes), but they also have a strong and prosperous lunch program. Every year I help out at their massive Christmas Eve dinner for people in local nursing homes or people down on their luck. Not only do they prepare an amazing turkey dinner for 175 people, but there’s also a guy who dresses up as Santa and distributes gifts. Last year, we had a bit of a scuffle at the beginning of the dinner with a couple of gentleman who started fighting. This year, though, the same gentleman showed up with his entire family–daughters, brothers, sisters, wife–everybody. He seemed awake in a way that he wasn’t last time I saw him. I’m glad. He doesn’t know me and I don’t know him at all, but it’s just good to see, on Christmas, someone whose life has improved.

I think that’s important, because this year has been a difficult one for everyone. People are down on their luck. Politics is an absolute mess. Money is a problem. It gets harder and harder to keep the things we love going, and joy seems to be slipping out of our fingers. I’m not one to be overly religious, but it is nice to know that at the darkest time of the year, I can stop in the midst of all this mess, and just celebrate miracles. Sometimes, especially at the end of a year like this, you just plain need it.

For the first time, I took the train to get here. The only mode of public transport that goes directly to Staunton is the Amtrak, which is a 20 hour direct train from Chicago. It costs WAY too much to get a room, but train seats are big and comfortable compared to plane or bus seats. And, since it’s a direct train, it’s not really a huge hassle. I was so, so excited. I love trains. They are my favorite mode of transportation in the world–except, perhaps, the trotro. I love the terrifying racket that they make, that deep roar that takes over every kind of sound as it passes you. I love the way they rock you to sleep. I love that you can get up and walk around, and on American trains, that you can go to the cafe car and just enjoy a cup of coffee at a table. I love that when you are on a train all night, you can just barely hear the horn blaring in front of you. It comes in and out with the click-clack over the trains, and you get the feeling that you have some kind of relationship with the dark world that you are rushing across.

The characters on trains are the greatest. For some reason, on a plane or on a bus, you don’t really want to put up with ‘characters’. But on a train, you have a lot more mobility, and so it is a bit easier to deal with people who like to talk. And people DO love to talk on the train. It was so full this time that we had assigned seats, and I was assigned to sit next to this lady. She was absolutely hysterical–an elderly black woman who had something to say about everything. She looked and acted younger than she was–sixty or so–and told me all about how she walks to the liquor store at night with her pistol, and how she fell in love with the perfect man, but just wasn’t ready for it, and how her ma was so worried about her getting pregnant early that she’d check her drawers each month. Turns out we were both preacher’s kids and both dedicated to working hard for ‘the good life’ she called it–fancy restaurants and nice things and living it up. She told me about how her and her sister used to take this train down to Florida, and they’d spend the whole night drinking in the club car. We talked until late, and she was swigging on a bottle of her own–vodka from the smell of it–wrapped up in a brown paper bag. We had some great laughs, and I enjoyed it terribly. It’s kind of amazing how two people can be so different, but still laugh together. That’s just one of my favorite facts of life.

courtesy of Chesapeake Railway Association

The next morning, after curling up in my chair for a good six hours or so, I went to have a cup of coffee in the cafe. An elderly white guy sat down across from me and started telling me HIS life story, and it was just as crazy and just as interesting. It was daytime now and we were going through the mountains. He told me all about his ex-wives, and his current wife, and his harley shop, and acting tough on the road so that cars stayed out of his way, and about this girl who ran away from home and came to work in his shop. We talked about hard times and Mc-Mansions. We talked about race in Chicago, and how weird it is–unintuitive, I think the best word might be.

I also learned that on American trains, you see a very different version of the world. These are like a relic from the old world, even though they are in many ways modern. The rails go through small towns and through mountains and wind alongside rivers. The train tracks go places that they highways can’t. You see a whole different version of the American landscape. When you drive to Staunton, you experience the long expanse of modern America, the grey and eternal highway that goes above all the houses and towns below. When you take train, you’re down there with those towns and houses and rivers. It’s like going back in time, in some ways, or maybe just having access to the places that time left behind. Passing through West Virginia, along a muddy brown river, we passed droves of double-wides, perched up on wooden and cement block stilts, five or eight or twelve feet above the ground. We went along through towns that were old and small enough that the train went right through downtown, and there are people sitting out on the street, watching you mosey on by–if you can imagine this huge ton of iron and steel and roaring mechanics ‘moseying’.

The station at Staunton is much the same way. The train goes straight through downtown. I just got off the train and walked up the hill to my dad’s house. Just like you might in the 1940s or earlier. It was a real tremendous experience. I certainly will do it again. Someday I’ll be rich enough to get rooms on the train so I could sleep better. But sleeping in train coach isn’t too bad, really. In fact, when I’m rich, I’ll become like a crazy train baron, and I will design all these amazing trains, and push train travel all across the country. Usher in the new era of American travel experience–on a retro platform, you know. Trains–the old future! It will satisfy the inner steampunk in everyone, I’m sure of it. Whoever’s in on this with me, please contact right away.

Moral of the story: Trains rule.

Living in Mumbai–it’s madness.

In the only Jewish studies class I ever took, my professor told me that the Hebrew Testament is full of the distrust of cities. I can see why. Cities have a mind of their own. They eat things and dissolve things, and turn people and buildings and trees and oceans into things they weren’t before. Life is more difficult in a city, but it is also so much more interesting. There are things you forget and things you learn, and once you are consumed by a city its pretty hard to fight your way out again.

I can’t imagine what these people would say if they came to Mumbai now. Actually, there was once a strong Jewish population here in Mumbai, one of the oldest and least accosted Jewish communities in the world. They were said to have come here after the destruction of one of the temples by Rome (first or second is undecided upon), and since then lived here in relative peace, absorbed by the world of many-faced gods. Now, or so my Holy Cow book tells me, most have moved to Israel, and the population here is almost none.

Mumbai is definitely one of those cities with a power to consume, absorb, elevate, and permanently change. The local trains are grated tin cans that shudder down the tracks, and people hang out the doors (that are never closed) and jump off as it is still moving. They fight to get on, and it is common to be blooded by entering and exiting the train. It’s like the new version of a child’s coming of age even–the day the boy enters the Men’s car on the Mumbai local train, he is no longer in the world of women, where they push and yell, but understand–now he is in the world of men, where you fight and maim and rage just to get on and off and ride along the tracks–he is in the world of men as he travels with thousands of people in the tide of the city.

Women, luckily, we get to stay in the ladies car our whole life, and never have to go through the jarring experience of that violent ride. Though, the fisherwomen and the commuters, and the sellers and everyone else, wearing full saris and dressed like flowers, these women can throw a good punch, catch you at the door of the train, sling a good curse word in your direction, and–as I discovered–steal your phone out of your bag without you even noticing. There’s less blood for sure, but probably just as much madness.

There’s something carnal yet warped about living in this kind of city. Like it’s full of ancient brutishness, but also a shrine to the mad god, part of a trance that the shaman goes on–part of a vision that makes no sense, yet somehow belongs in the grand scheme of a larger, less insane picture.

I was supposed to go to Bandstand today, just to go walking and exploring in my neighborhood. But I got busy with writing. I’ve been quite bad about blogging, but the internet comes in and out, and there are six of us sharing it. But I have been writing on my own computer. I’m preparing for Nano, and I’m journaling a lot there. I’ve also been playing an embarrassing amount of videogames, which make my neck hurt, but carry me far far away from this world for hours, and that makes me feel good when I need it. Doing this work is hard. It’s hard in a different way from Korea, and it’s easy in some ways–I don’t always have to be on my toes teaching. But it is hard, and it taxes you. I take so long to get acclimated to a place, and I don’t have much longer here. Twenty days, most of which will be working. I do have a couple weekend trips in mind, so I’m hoping to complete them, but I spend most of my energy on engaging with the students at the Khar school. Some of them have amazing stories.

Marc,one of our volunteers, is now working out at a gym that cost him five dollars for 3 months. He works out with Malesh, one of our students and construction/handy staff. Malesh lives, with his little sister, Parvati, at the school. He’s learning how to cook. There used to be a group of orphans at the school. One of them cooked, but something happened, and he’s disappeared. (I think it was something dishonorable, but it’s not my business.) So now Malesh is learning to cook. He cooks good Maggi noodles, and he tells me so. (Like in every country I go to, I am a kind of food. This time, I’m noodles, of the same brand from whence Maggi-cube came). Malesh was found living under a boat a few years back, with Parvati, who was dying of TB. He survived by begging. They were in and out of homes of family, orphanages, hospitals, everything, until they settled in the school. Now he works out with a Canadian man who, at mid life, quit his banking job to follow his passions, and cooks ramen noodles for his little sister, who is no longer dying, and can cling to your shoulders for hours on end.

It’s a pretty spectacular story, if you sit down to think about it. But these days, all the stories are like that, and in order not to be overwhelmed, I don’t think about it too terribly much. It’s odd, and kind of amazing, how people just become people as soon as they’re right in front of you. Once you enter into a certain kind of relationship with someone, their story can fade into the background, and you are person to person. When it’s teacher to student, or peer to peer, that’s spectacular. But sometimes that’s done on class lines, or racial lines, or other things–beggar to white girl, or man to woman (not always bad), or servant to master, or sometimes parent to child–you forget certain stories when you shouldn’t. Interesting, how humanity can do that, and how much it can sway in either direction.

Well I’ve been rather caught up in personal business this week.

I’m trying to step back and see things with the right glasses. Thinking a lot about the episodes of Greys Anatomy and Private Practice (and, embarrassingly, even Desperate Housewives) that I watched today. They’re substituting for good quality girl talk these days.

It’s February now, but I don’t really feel like much has happened around here. Next week is Lunar New Year and Stephanie is coming down–so I am uber excited. I haven’t seen her in like a month! And we’re in the same country! That’s absolutely bogus.

I bought a new sketchbook yesterday, and I spent almost all day working on a new drawing. It’s not my favorite black-spiral bound 9×12 Canson, but… well I have to learn how to see past the little things to make the right big picture. I spent this weekend pretty low key. Friday I went out and had a good time, at–of course–Sponge. I like getting to know people, but I’m so depressed about not speaking Korean sometimes. I know there are some really interesting people at Sponge… and I’m also kind of fascinated with the bartenders. Funny story about that, actually, I totally made a Korean fail-speak, and got the awesome female bartender’s attention by calling her “nuna” which is the word for older sister–when a boy speaks it. Haha, I realized a few days later why she gave me a weird look. Epic fail. 

Anyway not being able to figure out these folks’ stories is making me sad.

For instance, this one girl–a friend of a friend–I think she has this epicly cool personality. She’s a lot of fun, has a lot of energy, and seems like a strong, independent woman. But she speaks almost no English, and so whenever I communicate with her, it’s through another friend. We had an epic dance party one Saturday, and that’s about the extent of our ability to communicate. I’d love to get to know her better, but it’s impossible. But cheers to her, for being cool.

Anyway, since I’ve been so wrapped up, another friend told me that I should really try to just see everybody as everybody and try to love them just for what they are. I’ve been having some troubles with my coworker, and I know that I *should* just look at it like he’s my dumb big brother with no sense–but sometimes I just can’t get past the douchebaggery. I don’t know what the more mature thing to do is. Should I walk away and simply be civil at work, or should I make an effort to ‘see the good’ and return to ‘dumb big brother’ status? Which is healthier in the long run?

I’ve been thinking a lot about boundaries lately, and I’m realizing that I am often “all in” or “all out”–and often not in healthy ways. One thing can push me over the edge, and then I’m “all out”, because before I put forth an effort, and let people take pieces of me, so that I can be “all in.” This is certainly true about relationships, but when I’m abroad, or in a new place, this is true about almost all new friendships, too. How much do I let new friends “take from me”, so that I can be “all in”, when it comes to a certain place or a certain experience?

For example–when I first got here, I went out with Becca and her friends a lot on the weekend. Once I came over and they decided that my outfit wasn’t good enough, so they completely redressed me. And I looked hawt. Did they take a piece of me? Sort of–they conformed me to their fashion style. Did it hurt? No. Did I feel good about it? Yeah of course. I felt awesome and I really appreciated looking good and going to the bar. But the piece was there. Just like it’s there when people insist that I finish drinks at dinner. Or get another drink. Or when people at work pressure me into taking opinions that I don’t really want to take.

What I’m really thinking about are the pieces that I feel get taken when I’m in a “new” place. I meet new people and I find new ways to express myself, and I fit into a new social scene. And the pieces get taken, little pieces that I don’t notice. Like when I finish a drink that I know will make me drunk even though I don’t want to be drunk. Or when I put up with someone asking me personal questions that I find offensive, but I push away that feeling because I don’t want to be angry or cause trouble–and I just want to get along. I just want to be comfortable. I put up with it because in a foreign country you have less choices, and you just don’t want to be lonely.

So I put up with things that take pieces. I let people take pieces. That’s the most disturbing part of it. But I’m recognizing it now. I did this in Ghana too. I let people take parts of me that I didn’t want to give, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice, because… well when you’re in a foreign country, you need people around you who understand. You get the “I don’t want to give this” mixed up with the “I’m traveling and I have to be flexible”. The boundaries are so unclear between “healthy human” and “healthy traveler.” This time I understand what’s happening, though, and I’m debating: do I go “all out” and refuse to let any more pieces be taken (like cutting people off), or do I learn how to do certain things without loosing those pieces (like setting better boundaries, and speaking up for myself, and knowing more clearly what I think is appropriate and what isn’t)?

Obviously both are necessary, but how do you know when one is the more rational decision? How do you know when you’re doing one when you should be doing the other?

Anyway, just thinking. Now I’m going to go for a bike ride and turn in. Nice relaxing day. I finished my painting work and walked to the Noeun temple with Kristen and had a great talk. (Which prompted all this blahblahblah.)

The life of a trotro!

So this weekend was a lot of fun! I went out on Friday with a couple coworkers–danced off my issues with work, haha, and met some folks. It takes a while to find a niche here, but then again, in comparison to Hamline cliques, I suppose that’s probably a good thing. Finding your niche too early can guarantee that you’re stuck there, for better or worse.

On Saturday I met with my Ghanaian friend–the man I met at Homeplus last week–who was still in the country. He was leaving on Saturday, so I went to hang out with him while he packed his things. He is a fascinating man! His business is to come to Korea, pick spare parts from scrap yards like Samsung, and then ship them back to Ghana. It’s a tough business. Sometimes nothing good comes in. Sometimes things don’t sell back home–and he said that things were selling very slowly.

But in the long run, it seems like there are a lot of trotros who start their lives here in Korea! I don’t think he buys vans–he seemed more interested in trucks and 4x4s–but there are many other men like him. They stay in a company apartment for a few months, while they collect things for their containers, then ship their containers home. They haves someone meet the containers–a business partner, and then distribute their goods in various spare parts markets. There is a whole market in Accra devoted to spare parts! Of course, while I was there, I didn’t go–because why would I need spare car parts? But next time I will probably meet up with him, and he will show me!

Anyway I find this to be a fascinating business. Taking other people’s junk and turning it into a functioning car–the backbone of transportation in a country. These are the folks that make things spin around the world. It’s amazing how things go back and forth. I love it.

Yesterday I went to church again, but the Sunday message irked me. I don’t know if I will go back. Even still.. the church is a beautiful place and seems to be a good hub for English speakers doing various things. Though someone else told me that there was another English service over by one of the universities, and that I might have a better chance there.

After church I took a nice comfy afternoon nap, and then I went shopping. I didn’t really plan the shopping too well–I just went to the place where I always go, and explored that area. But I know there are better, cheaper areas. Next weekend maybe. On this adventure, I ended up downtown, in “The Galleria” which was INSANELY expensive. I was wearing a tshirt and a long skirt. People stared at me, haha–“What is this dirty foreigner doing in here?” I didn’t even explore all the floors before I knew I had to get out of there. So I wandered around the downtown area, took a few pictures, explored, and then ended up at Starbucks, haha, where I sat and drew for a little while. I haven’t seen any Starbucks’ yet, but this time I saw two literally facing each other from across an intersection. It’s so weird. Why does Starbucks do that? I mean… you would think that you could diversify a little. Of course, it is REALLY expensive, and maybe that was part of it.

I am growing eager to go on some trips outside of Daejeon, but I don’t know where! I have two days off for Chuseok, which is like the Korean thanksgiving. Stephanie is coming down, wooooo! But on Monday I will have enough time for a day trip, I think, so I am not sure what I will do! There are a few towns close to here that were the seat of ancient dynasties, which would probably make a good day trip. There are also mountains around here that need some serious climbing by Maggie-Cube. Anyway.. I’ll leave you now with a few photos!

This is where I went last night! Downtown! Shiny and expensive, but very pretty!

And this is what I see when I get off the subway at 5pm! A glorious mountain sunset. Wowza.

And here is a view of the other side of Daejeon, from the river, last week when I took a walk.

And one more… this is the commercial area on my way to work! My school is at the very end of this strip. Hello colors!!