Wednesday, July 30, 2008

scenes around our fairbanks home

most of these pics i took a while ago - before the kidney mishap
better late than never!

(at our apartment after a rainy afternoon - we're the green building, second floor; it was actually a double rainbow - one of them was backwards)
(drinkin' tea on the porch of our apartment)
(at pioneer park for the open arms daycare celebrating its accreditation; we rode the merry-go-round for free!!) (me and zasha - the daughter of one of the preschool teachers and a good friend of mine, Yulia, who is from russia; we also played mini-golf togehter^^)
(painting in our apartment on a quiet saturday)
(a magical ray of sunlight on a cold morning)(the sunrise at 4:00 am - sunset was an hour earlier)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

in a sea of madarin, rubber duck races, a fateful decision, new friends, and moose

already 2 weeks since my last post...
well quite a lot has happened since my run-in with those bacteria that attempted to devour my kidney
so i'll jump right into the story...

when we left our hero, he was attempting to find respite in the comfortable confines of the fairbanks public library
his arduous struggle and brush with death now overcome, he began to shift his focus to the dilemma of his future employment overseas
for the time being, the library remained his sanctuary within which our hero could browse all of the possible jobs made available by the internet and consider the potential benefits of each at his leisure
but despite the many seemingly beneficial options from which he could choose and the ease with which he could rest his rump in the library's comfy chair, he soon found this decision quite perplexing...

there i sat, confused and befuddled by array of the pretty looking English schools in Seoul before me
many boasted their superior curriculum and proudly proclaimed the many benefits they offered their teachers
with the many schools eagerly offering me contracts that appeared nice on the outside (with higher salaries than im used to and additional provision of housing) but that also seemed sinister in the words that were not included in them, i couldn't help but feel hesitant to readily agree to any of these job offers that seemed 'too good to be true'
so for days i kept searching, all the while preparing the documents I would need to submit once my preference finally rested on one single job prospect
i daily communicated with recruiters, managers, employees of various private institutes throughout seoul and daily commuted to the public library to continue attempting to dig up information that these institutes would not so readily reveal about themselves

one day, ginny received an invitation from another chinese student at the university to a friday night service held at a nearby presbyterian church for all of the local exchange students from china
so we biked there after i finished work at the daycare on friday and waited in front of a gas station convenience store for ginny's friend to arrive
we were in fact met by a drove of chinese exchange students who seemed to pour out of the university like a river in which we were caught and carried all the way to the church
as it was a dinner/devotion, there was a LOT of chinese food waiting for us and as a result, a LOT of chinese students waiting for the food
we learned that most of them had actually arrived just a few days previous and that this was their first time ever to leave their country
i imagined what it must have felt like to them; they must feel so excited and overwhelmed by the wirlwind of new experiences that affronted them
in some way i envied them too
the dinner was great!
ginny and i coincidentally sat accross from that little girl we saw swinging in pioneer park a few weeks ago (the one i put up a pic of on the blog)
after dinner was the devotion and introduction during which everyone stood up and said their name and the pastor explained (being periodically translated into chinese) the purpose of that night and the subsequent weekly meetings that would be held there on fridays
i actually thought his whole perspective was pretty good
he said they primarily wanted to offer these students a chance to develop a community at church, feed them, and help learn about christianity (he told them that they would not be expected to receive anything that was taught in any particular way and described the value of learning about christianity whether or not it is your religion)
he also said that the church offers TOEFL classes to people learning english which i thought was pretty cool
it was an interesting evening, and being surrounded by so much mandarin was a new thing for me (ginny could speak it, but with a cantonese accent, so she told me)
i couldnt help but be reminded of some of my experiences being in similar situations with koreans in hawaii...
for the next few days, the weather turned beautifully sunny, and biking to the normal places we had to go was a lot more fun

on one such day, ginny and i were biking through the downtown when we noticed many people conspicuously congregating along the chena river which runs through fairbanks
hundreds of people were lining the banks, their heads all pointed upstream as the avidly watched and waited for some mysterious signal or event
then i heard someone shout
before i could react or prepare, they came
first a few, then a dozen, then hundreds, even thousands; pouring down the river like some freak, vibrant yellow algal bloom
rubber ducks
they were little rubber bathtub ducks
and they casually floated downstream as the onlookers gave out startling roars and screams
it was a race
i was utterly lost and confused
as the race ran to its completion, i stared at this bizarre ritual, in awe of the rich local culture of fairbanks
then i bought steaming pork from a street vendor, ginny got a free chiropractic check, we ate some jelly beans, and continued on to the library

at the library, i discovered in a note from a friend of mine currently teaching in korea, that one of the schools associated with her company was looking for a teacher ASAP
the place seemed to fit the bill for what i was looking for (near to seoul, smaller school, reliable, well established, small class size, etc) so i expressed my interest
the good thing about it was that i could hear first hand from someone working there what the whole place was about
and as the week progressed i maintained communication with the manager, a mr. kwon
everything seemed okay except for how soon they needed a reply from me, and i dont feeling outside pressure in making a decision
i really took them to the wire
i kept searching for other schools and talking to recruiters on the phone and was really undecided up until the last few hours before which i had to submit my decision
but after some solid testimonies from my friend and another teacher working there, i felt satisfied that the place wasn't going to screw me over (like i have heard some schools will do to foreign teachers)
i made my choice and breathed a sigh of relief
i was all in

so my employer in korea will be gukje foreign language school
it's pretty well known, i think, around suwon, the city it in which it is located, which is about 45 min from seoul by bus or subway
everything in the contract seems pretty solid and i am definitely happy just to have the decision and search behind me
ginny has been a great support to me through this whole ordeal
i think what i appreciate most is how she doesn't get anxious over my dilemma, which helps me be more rational and tells me that she, too, is confident that everything will be fine no matter what happens

i also found surprising support from everyone ive intimated my situation too here in fairbanks: classmates, co-workers, and specifically a family that i've met through open arms, the henrys
i actually met them on my first day at work in open arms
i was helping out in one of the toddler rooms, and i had made a special friendship with one little girl named sophie who i had learned from the lead teacher was half japanese
i tried out some japanese with her and this quickly caught her attention, which was given sparingly otherwise due to her shyness
when her parents came to pick her up in the afternoon, i introduced myself to them and we quickly formed a bond
sophie's parents' names are david and chisato and both of them are professors of japanese and japanese studies at the university
patiently accepting my feeble but friendly attempts at japanese, they told me a little about themselves and gave me encouragement when i told them about my plans to teach english in asia soon, something which david had done after college in japan
not long after meeting, however, we were unable reconnect at open arms again for a while, as sophie and her mother were taking a trip to hiroshima
before they left, however, we made tenitive plans to have dinner sometime when they came back and when ginny arrived (she had not yet flown into fairbanks at that time)
it was last week that i was able to see chisato and her mother again at open arms
at one point i asked chisato how to make okonomiyaki correctly (one of my favorite japanese foods which i always screw up somehow) and right away she suggested we have an okonomiyaki party at their apartment in a few days
it was a great evening, and it was so nice for ginny and i to be able to spend some time with some friends in fairbanks; i realized that although we have met many friendly people here, we pretty much spend all of our free time as just the two of us

then, a few days later, they invited us to go with them to chena lake!
i was especially grateful, as i had just made my decision to work at gukje in suwon the day before and just needed a chance to get out and relax
we readily agreed and they picked us up and we rode together to chena lake park
while in the car, i realized that this was our first time to actually get out of fairbanks all summer!
it felt wonderful
after making a flirting pass at a hiking trail down which we didn't make it very far due to the bloodthirsty nature of the forest's resident mosquitoes, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the lake's edge

(some mushrooms on the trail)
we had a great time wading in the water with sophie, chatting and sharing snacks and drink, and playing はなふだ (hanafuda - a japanese flower card game)
during the time driving around the park, david stopped a few times to check the local flora for wildberries, a curious but contagious obsession he entertained during our time at the park
once we even were able to spot a mother moose and her baby!
we then stopped in north pole (the town that is actually SOUTH and east of fairbanks) to take a look at 'santa land' or something like that - a garishly decorated store with countless useless knickknacks, novelty items, and other random garbage
i was more than a little shocked when i nearly ran into santa as he came out of the store's bathroom
chisato and david then graciously treated us to dinner at a nearby chinese restaurant named pagoda which ginny classified officially as 'american food' (but it was delicious, nonetheless)
at this point sophie was a little stinker as she never got her nap that day, so david and chisato had to trade eating and parenting shifts
we went home, everyone feeling very satisfied
for once i can relax again a little here in fairbanks
no kidney ailments, no more job search
just new friends, sunny days, little kids, tea and anime mornings, and my wonderful hiuyan...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

california dreamin'

ever seen the movie 'chungking express' by wong kar wai?
i watched it like 2 weeks ago and i still cant get it out of my head
it rules
although i was pretty disappointed that there was no actual train in it
yeah, i know, you'd think there was from the title
and i was waiting FOREVER for the characters to get on board
and eventually i thought to myself, 'it's never gunna happen, dude'
what a downer
still, the movie was greatya know what sucks?
they hurt
if you ever have a chance to get one, dont
they start out as a knockout fever (remember how ginny had a nasty one last week?)
and then it hurts to pee
then you pee blood
and pus
it is not a fairy tale by any means
my experience is as follows (and i'll try to not get too graphic):
wednesday evening i suddenly had a bad headache and had to urinate a LOT (by this i mean frequently) and there was the strange sensation of needing to go again right after i had already gone
then i quickly became cold as hell, shivering everywhere
after cooking hamburgers (not my first choice of rations for the evening, but ginny wanted 'em) things were not looking good
i physically forced the burger down my throat (thinking that i may not get any more food in my belly for a while and i better give my body some energy for the fever, right?)
this almost proved disastrous in the middle of the night...
i couldnt sleep and had to urinate like every half hour
my head was splitting and eventually i took some fever reducer pain killers around 7am
well my fever went down alright and i was sweating like a bandit
i figured it was best to let myself sweat the fever out (since that seemed to work with ginny)
i felt like i was gunna barf that burger, but i held on
eventually i fell asleep
and man, was i gone
i felt like i slept for 10 hours, but when i woke up, it was only 8:30am!
and i felt fit as a fiddle, as they say somewhere
i took it easy, patted myself on the back, and thought i was well through this ordeal
for the next couple days, i kept having to pee with excessive frequency
and it was getting more painful
and my urine was cloudy and smelled foul (like, worse than a cat's)
then it slowly dawned on me that it might just be a bladder infection i was dealing with
'no problem,' i thought, just up the fluids and down a ton of cranberry juice, right?
friday night, my back started hurting
a deep pain, near the spine
i thought at first that this was due to the funny positions i had been sleeping in to prevent myself from wetting the bed (and i never did, by the way, to my credit)
saturday went fine, at first
i went to pioneer park again cuz my workplace, open arms, was celebrating their accreditation which happened a couple weeks ago
it was a beautiful day
i got to introduce ginny to a bunch of my coworkers and we played mini golf (i kicked ass, of course)
but when i got home, my bladder was hurting worse than ever
like someone was trying to tear it apart
and the pain in my back had gotten considerably worse
it was then that i suspected the infection had spread to my right kidney
due to my poverty, stubbornness, and lack of health insurance, i decided to try toughing it out
this was another mistake
the urgent care center closed for the day and i was left to settle down for a miserable night full of increasing pressure and pain in my kidney and bladder and the unrelenting urge to urinate (which i did, literally every 2 minutes)
i contemplated the fact that the mere $100 i had to my name would not cover medical expenses
fortunately my mom came to the rescue
she put $200 in my account and made me promise to see the doctor on sunday
this i promised, thankfully
but the whole sunday ordeal proved to be entirely frustrating and exhausting
first of all, the buses in fairbanks dont run on sundays
so i was left to traverse the 3+ miles to the clinic on my own
i decided to bike since it was faster
it was excruciating
every crack or odd-placed pebble in the road felt like a someone jumping me and knifing me in the side
finally i made it to find the doors to the clinic locked and nobody answering the doorbell
fortunately, the door just had some problem; someone let me in and got to wait 2+ hours for the doctor who met me only for a few minutes during which i told him to give me some antibiotics
with the $190 prescription in hand, i hobbled onto my bike once again and made it as best i could to fred meyer to fill out the prescription
eventually i somehow got my sweet pills (which i proceeded to take in the drinking fountain at freddies) and made it back home where i lay comatose for hours, waiting for the drugs to kick in
i wouldn't have made it without ginny showing me the way and providing emotional support
and that is the story
im mostly back to normal now
had to go to school today to take a test
but i called in sick at work
and now im spending the day at the public library trying to contact private english institutes in korea
cant wait to get there
even working in a crappy place, living in a seedy apartment, working for peanuts, and eating minimal amounts of nourishment, id be happy just being there
that's where i want to be
and what i want to be doing
ive found over the last few years, that as long as those two things are true, nothing else matters
i can survive
but im happy to stay here dreaming in fairbanks a little while longer...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

just to give you an idea of what fairbanks is like, here's a photo of our lovely town:
and now, the news:
several interesting developments have made this a particularly memorable 4th of july
but before I get into that, let me tell you about pioneer park

ever been a real yokel tourist trap?
well this place is their poster child
and it's so lovable
especially the people who work there... they are either incredibly bored or over-enthusiastic (the security guard was sleeping in his booth and barely lifted his head to glance at me biking by before returning to his slumber)
the place is huge, actually – ginny and i biked all over one evening(old town)
(at The Bag Ladies of Fairbanks store)
initially, we decided to meet there after i got off work because we found out you could rent canoes there and take a nice trip down the chena river which runs through fairbanks
but once we got there, the atmosphere of the place captivated us and we spent the evening soaking in the sights(hiuyan enjoying the local cuisine)
there’s actually a remade, old-style town with tons of shops, attractions, and even live music and an old hotrod exhibition(an accident in old town during the hotrod show)
we dined on questionable Mediterranean food (what it was even doing there, i couldn’t figure out) and spent some time playing in the park
the crazy thing about this jewel of a place is that it’s smack-dab in the middle of town – like the proverbial diamond-in-the-rough
(fun in the park)(a cute little kid on a swing)(a boat)

as i intimated in the last post, we've been getting anxious to take a sojourn outside of fairbanks
not that the place is boring, by any means
well, it is, sometimes, but that's neither here nor there
anyway, we were thinking that alaska provides some unique outdoor experiences so what are we waiting for?
the plan, as i described before, was to head out to denali ASAP
denali is definately prestigious and since we are so close (150 mi is close in AK) we thought "we have to go!"
preparations and logistics were another story, however, as we soon found out
especially transportation was a stickler, and who would pay $20 to set up a tent??
it became clear to us that denali is likely no more than a tourist trap
who wants to go to that crappy poo-hole anyways?
denali was out
but our enthusiasm was waning
i mean, where else could we go without a car?
then the clouds parted and a way was shone like a light before us
ginny discovered a local hiking club in fairbanks and we checked out their website
they were going on a hike this weekend!
the mountain was big, and the trail long, but we felt up for it
and we thumbed our noses at stupid loser-park denali
nature is everywhere in alaska!
it's ours for the taking!
@#%$ denali!
i called up john, the club leader, and found out some info on the upcoming hike
what a swell guy he seemed; i didnt mind him occasionally interrupting our conversation to answer his girlfriend's call
and there was no problem with getting a ride
everything was set
our minds were made
tomorrow: the vast unknown!
....the dam broke
without warning, in the middle of the night, hiuyan was suddenly overcome by horrendous spasms and convulsions
my first thought was that some vengeful demon had possessed her body
my second thought was that it was just gas
then i realized it was not as serious: she was only sick
but the ensuing fever that broke out was pretty intense and it was a long while before we could get any sleep
the next day i played witch doctor, forcing hiuyan to take hot baths and then apply ice-cold towels, i made her special pancakes most of which she turned down and i ate, i kept a cool towel applied to her forehead, read stories to her, made sure she didnt become dilerious, and ran to the store for pain-killers, m&ms, a thermometer, and gatorade
there were periods of calm interspersed within the storm
on one such respite, hiuyan suggested we shave our heads
actually, this was something we had discussed doing on the top of the mountain
during the conversation, i had asked ginny why she wanted to shave her head
"so that i can see deeper within myself," she said
i could not have come up with a better reason myself, so i was all for it
she went on to explain that when she has hair, she can still see inside herself, but removing this 'decoration' would allow her to see herself in a different, more 'raw', way
like, in a more universally human way, i think
and the potential of such an experience inspired the curiosity in both us
so we shaved our heads
it actually took much longer than we anticipated due to the wiry, untame nature of ginny's hair
she really looks like a buddhist monk nowor a boy :)
not really
it'd be one strange lookin' boy, at least (with klinefelter's syndrome, likely)
actually i agree with what my sister said about how it actually brings out real femininity more
anyway, this task accomplished, hiuyan promptly became sick again and we stayed at home again all the next day(our last photo w/ hair)

PS: it's not really a photo of fairbanks... :P
i actually just took a picture of a model of some alaskan town circa 100 year ago or something
pretty cool though, i guess