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Monthly Archives: February 2012

When I Knew I Was Elsewhere

My time in Thailand’s winding down; I’m mentally sorting the shit I’ll take from the shit I’ll leave behind, prioritizing and initiating remaining travel-destinations, and monitoring Kayak notifications for flights back to the US.

I’ve planned this much in advance two or three times in my entire life and, honestly, it makes me really uncomfortable, as if I’m wearing my pack backwards.

As it often goes, forethought has become accompanied by backthink (and, apparently, a love for neologisms). I still have more than two months before I return to the States, but I cannot help but reflect on what has been—not really in a halcyon or heavy way, but rather in a what-the-hell-just-happened way. Besides, the number of people who’ve insisted on my “adventure”—not scare quotes, but quote-quotes—have consequently sparked some kind of reflection.

At the top, at least for blog and self-amusement purposes, has been trying to determine the moment when I felt most foreign–incontrovertibly farang.

The language? Don’t be silly.

The height and size differences? More like a self-high five.

The poverty that screams from under a bridge or within a hut? That stabs more than isolates.

The ubiquitous trans-community? Nope; have you seen my Halloween costumes?

These things, along with many others, were expected to be different. For example, if you come to Thailand and don’t expect another language, I hate you. These differences, rather, are things around which one begins to adapt. They’re part of the list of things of things that one knows will probably be strange. They’re known unknowns.

What got me, rather, was an unknown unknown (or maybe an unknown known, but let’s leave that alone for these immediate purposes):

William Faulkner in Thailand.

From 15 – 16 December, I participated in the Third Annual International Conference on Linguistics and Communication in Bangkok. For two days, I got to nerd out and listen to academics (some alleged) do academic things. I miss grad school terribly sometimes, so an academic conference sounded great. Plus, giving a paper at an international conference probably wouldn’t hurt the C.V. if I ever decide to apply to PhD programs.

Fast forward to my paper, “’Smelling the Bright Cold’: Benjy’s Linguistic Synaesthesia in The Sound and the Fury.” (I should have said Semantic Synaesthesia, but whatever.) The actual reading of the paper somewhat flustered me; the original 30-minute allotment changed to 20 minutes when the conference started, but ended up being 15 minutes when I actually read the motherfucker. As a result, I had to go off-script to compress and wing the final 70% of the paper. So it goes.

But then came the questions.

Ten minutes into the conference, I realized I did not belong. Most other papers were about statistical analysis of phonemes, grammatical structures, and inter-language differences. Conversely, I read a book and blathered about it—even throwing in a subtle crack about love juices. Therefore, I wasn’t really expecting any questions—at most, maybe something generic from the panel chair—who’s supposed to read the panel members’ papers and have a question or two in her/his back pocket—about semantics.

Nope. Instead, I got one about the author.

Panel Chair: “So, I have a question. This author—“ (Pause)

Me: “William Faulkner?”

Panel Chair: “Yes, him. Is he a very unknown writer? Where could I find his books? a rare bookstore?”

Let me explain my relationship with Faulkner: at least one of his books has been on my Top-5-Books List since high school; I’ve written a paper about him at every macro-level of my education since high school, including my capstone for my MA, which took more than a year total to research, compose, recompose, and argue. He’s even had stints as my desktop image. I may be as familiar with him as I am with many members of my extended family.

What’s more, I come from America and a mostly conventionally American education system, with an emphasis on literature. To imply the rarity of William Faulkner, for me, is like asking, “Does everyone have these opposable thumbs? They’re crazy useful.”

Thank the gods above, below, without, and within that I’m quick on my feet and have a poker face like a dead person. After shrouding my shock with a veil of contrived contemplation, I fired off a quick answer about probably finding him in backpacker and English-language bookstores since he probably hasn’t been translated into most Southeast Asian languages.

True or not, a string of pearls pulled directly from my ass.

To be clear, my shock wasn’t because of Faulkner’s merits as an author and examiner of the/a human condition. I’m not nearly arrogant or closed-minded enough to think that any author, let alone one of my favorites, deserves such acclaim, particularly globally. Rather, yet somewhat related, I was taken back because of my presumptions about Faulkner’s proliferation. “Of course his name rattles around the ivory tower. I could walk into any physics department, drop his name, and expect a rant about the increasing speed of entropy as evidenced by the American South,” I used to think.

My problems, as you can see, began with ‘the’ ivory tower; there isn’t a ‘the’ anything—I think.

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Posted by on February 19, 2012 in Uncategorized, Where else?

 

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Premature Ejaculator? No Worries in Kuala Lumpur

Lights of KL

I was barely into my first big beer before some guy sat down at my table.

“Hello,” he may have said—“may” because his accent was so thick it was almost opaque.

This situation was exactly what I didn’t want: some possibly drunk and/or stoned boner twisting my ear in English more broken than his teeth. Besides, my friend and I were momentarily burned out on each other and, to exacerbate things, Chinese New Year in Malaysia was thwarting most attempts made at travel and lodging. We just needed some street noodles and beers to unwind. But while she was in the bathroom (and I was criminally eating her noodles), this stick of a man slithered into the open seat.

His black shirt, hanging onto his body only slightly looser than his skin, was tucked into his black jeans, at the front of which was an obnoxious, silver belt-buckle.

I have no fucking idea what he and I talked about before my friend got back. I was so peeved and pissy that I barely mustered the good nature to proffer one-word answers to his awkward chatter. It was during one of my space-outs into the fluorescent-lit streets of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown that I saw my friend returning. I quickly shook my head to hint that she stay away, but she was already annoyed with me (seeing that I had eaten her noodles didn’t help—at all), so she plopped down at the table’s third seat. I braced for the terse conversation I was sure would follow.

Consequently, I also have no fucking idea when we all started to have a great time.

Lights of KL, and some broad

All of a sudden, the three of us were cracking up. David went from a unwelcome, Johnny-Cash-looking pain in the ass to the remedy for our travel malaise. We had bought ourselves a round and were laughing away as the wait staff sat and watched.

David insisted they were jealous. I’m still inclined to agree.

Petronas Towers

He was thrilled when he learned we’re English-language teachers. He told us about his English lessons; apparently, he was at the top of his class.

“That’s right! Number one!” he said.

But what he said was much less memorable than how he displayed ‘number one’.

Whenever he’d get excited and need to emphasize something’s supremacy, David employed a very specific motion: his left arm would lift, his arm perpendicular to the ground before his elbow would rise away from his body, and his loose fist would flutter before his gangly index finger rose from the shaky mess into a rigid, erect indication of what he meant.

(He made us promise to bring his gesture worldwide. Now that you know about the motion, consider yourself implicated.)

“Number one!”

Why was anything number one?

“It has P – O – W – E – RRRRRRRRRRRRRR,” according to David.

Fucking everything was number one to this guy: English; our beer; his English; his shit-awful cigarettes; our English. The man was nothing if not enthusiastic.

More to the point, my sexual prowess was tops too—at least until my friend told him I was a habitual premature ejaculator.

Cat Nap, and other puns

See, David refused to believe that we were anything less than bang buddies. It took us three minutes to talk him down from marriage:

“You married, no?”

“Nope.”

“No? Don’t lie.”

“David, we promise.”

“But she’s your wife, no?

“Nope.”

And so forth.

City of Street Art

When he heard “friends” numerous times, he finally settled on ‘special friends’. It seemed like a reasonable place to end the shenanigans. It also opened a window for a joke:

“Yea, but David, she has many special friends.”

I forgot that sarcasm doesn’t translate across languages so well—damn beers—and that my friend can give as good as she gets—damn beers. I just had to wait for the revenge.

My friend and I started to fabricate how we became special friends. It eventually came about that I was the artist for her back tattoo (a gorgeous cherry blossom, so I was flattered), and after those four hours getting tattooed in my chair, she was hooked.

“Four hours?!” David exclaimed. His excitement, barely containable, eventually exploded out of his left hand:

“Number one!”

Thus, the stage was set for my friend.

“Yea, but David, he lasts only two seconds,” she revealed, tipping her head to imply he think about this statement.

He didn’t need to think; his eyes, once proud, shot back to me with disbelief.

“Two seconds? No!”

I got too excited. I saw a hook, well baited: an opportunity to continue the laughs and general revelry, even if at my expense. I couldn’t keep it in. Without control, I quickly blurted:

“Yes, David. Two seconds.”

His jaw dropped. His shit-awful cigarette nearly ended up on his obnoxious belt buckle. Sure, I could get a pretty girl in four hours, but I was finished after two seconds.

“But David, I can have sex, like, twelve times a day.”

He seemed impressed, at least for a bit. Then, I think, he did the math:

2 seconds x 12 sex-romps = 24 seconds of sex-romps. That number’s still far south of stellar. David, much older than myself, knew he needed to proffer some wisdom.

“Two seconds no problem. You know what you do?”

I did not, and I needed to know.

He removed his shit-awful cigarette so he could stick his tongue.

“Lick,” he coyly whispered, pointing to his, apparently, most prized muscle.

Shit officially got weird.

After we three nearly pissed ourselves laughing, we got back to our basic patterns of discussion: being number one, what does and does not have POWERRRRRRRRRRRRRR, the virtues of speaking English (David was a full-on acolyte), and the reported special friendship between my friend and me.

Looking back at our trip to Malaysia, all events—the 9-hour bus ride with one pit stop at a flooded bathroom; the undulating verdure of the Cameron Highlands; the self-inflated, giant, German doucher who tried to ruin said undulation; the expensive but rejuvenating hotel at which we stayed there; jelly-pla stings and non-overreactions in Batu Ferringhi, Penang; tremendously helpful cabbies all over Penang; the silence of Georgetown on the night of Chinese New Year—pass through and/or recall the memory of David. He picked us up when we were down, and continued to hoist us when we needed a quick chuckle elsewhere.

Overcast with a chance of awkward

Until, at least, shit got too weird.

My friend and I were two or three big beers deep and David had arrived already half in some bag, so things devolved kind of quickly—as they are wont to do—after the premature ejaculation talk. We two travelers were hitting a wall as David’s pronunciation was coming up to its own. These two events would have been enough to warrant an exit, but the lack of David’s topics expedited the shit out of the process: he kept returning to cuming early and going down on a chick afterwards.

The conversation had clearly peaked. It was time for a quick cleanup and for us to collect our things so we could bounce. There would be no conversational cuddling after the fact.

Nevertheless, once back in our room, David’s shadow had already begun to cast itself:

“Hey, tonight: number one!” we said with fluttering fists and indicative index fingers.

Yup.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Happiness, Malaysia, Misadventure

 

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