Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Oh, My.

OK, I know, I know, I'm sorry. But seriously, I've had precious little time to update this bitch. And, there is no wireless at the new house I'm staying at so I had to wait until I got to school today and could use my computer. ANYWAY! I was in Thailand. It was amazing! I stayed with my friend (from good old e-town) Julia (http://something-shiny.tumblr.com/) who is currently living in Chiang Mai, a city about 10 hours north of Bangkok. But before I delve into our adventures, who wants to hear about my trip over here? I like to pretend that I'm some sort of Zach Morris/Dora the Explorer hybrid when I ask you all these clearly rhetorical questions, so just picture me turning and looking straight at you, asking a question, waiting a couple seconds for an answer, and then saying something awesome like, "Great! Bueno! Let's go! Vamanos!"

I'm like Dora's illegitimate half cousin who, like her Mexican counterpart, also has a passion for maps and a monkey for a best friend

I spent the Friday and Saturday before my departure in Le Mans, where I did a language exchange when I was in high school. I stayed with my old family, and had a really good time just hanging out with my buddy Anne Laure and watching the Olympics. Then, Sunday morning I left for the train station to begin my marathon journey to Chiang Mai. Le Mans is about a two-hour train ride away from Charles de Gaulle airport, and I spent the better part of that first leg of the trip making new play lists on Spartacus, III (my iPod...yeah, it has a name. But honestly, at this point are you really surprised?) and reading a french tabloid (which, by the way, is pretty much exactly like US or People but with a couple celebrities I don't know and more boobs). I decided against bringing my beloved Frye's to Thailand with me, so instead of clomping around in leather calf-high boots, I was squeaking around in my green and maroon Nike dunks. But don't worry guys, I was still wearing my LuluLemon yoga pants and LuluLemon wrap sweater and white Hane's v-neck tee-shirt. When you find a winning combination like that, you don't put it out to pasture. You work that shit till you get a hole in crotch of the pants and can't go out into public anymore (so you stay inside).

If you've ever been out shopping/traveling/to a movie/pretty much anything involving a line with me, you know that I have a rare and serious condition in which I am unable to chose any line except the one in which there will not only be a group of narcoleptic blind people, but there will also be several crying babies, geriatric patients, and probably a freak mudslide, thereby causing me and whatever poor souls are with me to have to wait in this longest and most obnoxious line. But of course, by the time one is IN that line, you can't switch. Cause the narcoleptic blind people will have the same idea and then cause you have to wait just as long (and then you'll probably kick yourself as you watch the crying baby give you the finger as he zooms by in his gigantic designer stroller). So, of course, as I'm waiting in line at the EgyptAir counter to check my bag, I realize that there is a group of about 10 retiree-aged German tourists; a woman with about 14 bags; and a family of 8 (including crying twin babies who are both giving me the stink-eye).

About twelve hours later I got my bag checked, made it through security, and went to chill out at my gate. Instead of said-chill-age commencing, I was forced to listen to a large group of high school students, apparently also bound for Cairo, laughing and throwing shit at each other and generally causing enough noise that I had no choice but to grumble under my breath and share a knowing look with the old man sitting next to me. That's right folks, I've turned into a crotchety old lady at the ripe old age of 22. Though in all honesty, those hooligans deserved to be subdued by my mighty fist.

The flight to Cairo was uneventful, minus the embarrassing moment I had when I forgot how to speak English/French/German and stared blankly at the flight attendant who asked me in all of those languages what I'd like to drink. The man sitting next to me looked at me and asked me in Arabic before I remembered what words were and answered in a mixture of English and French that I'd like a diet coke (ah, oui! desole, je would like une coca light, please).

It transcends all nationalities and cultural differences.

I got to Cairo at night, and can actually say that I set foot on the continent of Africa because we had to get off on one of those ladder things and walk to a shuttle from the plane. That's right, 3 continents in one trip. Bad. Ass.

I spent the two hours before my flight to Bangkok staring at a beautiful Spanish man (I caught sight of his passport...his name was David and I wanted to ask him if he'd like to watch Dexter or perhaps cuddle a little bit, but I held my tongue for fear that he'd report me to airport security for being a creepy-ass American and I'd spent the next six hours trying to explain what "spoon me" means and why I felt the need to scream it as I threw myself at an innocent Spanish tourist) and reading. I always love seeing people that I've been on another flight with and we're both catching this next one- it's like we share a special travel bond and we're old friends or something. "Oh hey, people from the row behind me CDG to Cairo! Can you believe this line? I know, right! Tourists...ugh. Remember when we watched All About Steve and we both laughed at that one part? Good times man, good times."

I love Sandra Bullock and I don't care who knows it.

I managed to sleep for about four hours on my flight to Bangkok, so that when I landed I was sufficiently dirty and gross looking to go through customs. And, just in case you're traveling to Bangkok soon, you should know that they take your picture when you give them your passport. So there will always be a permanent record of my hot, oven-baked ball of ass looking face in Thailand. Awesome.

I then boarded my one hour flight to Chiang Mai (yeah, I decided to take a plane. It was only about $60 and I thought that was reasonable considering that I'd rather chew off my own arm than to sit for another 13 hours on a train). So, I arrived safely, if slightly-less dignified, and much smellier than when I left Paris.

Julia and I spent the week frolicking around Chiang Mai looking at a bunch of different wats (temples) that are nestled neatly between modern buildings, riding around on her motorbike, sitting outside drinking Chang and Signha beers, eating a shit ton of Pad Thai (for a discussion of shit ton versus crap load, please refer to previous blogs), and soaking up some much-needed sun. Chiang Mai is a very interesting city: it has a bunch of different neighborhoods, and the central area is surrounded by a moat. There are pictures of the King everywhere, and there's even a video that's shown before movies begin that celebrates his life. After spending 10 days in Thailand, I have to be honest: I have a bit of a crush on the King. While he may be in his 80's, he was a cutie during WWII and he even wears nerdy round glasses.

Seriously. His Royal Highness King Bhumibol. Love him.

Over the weekend that I spent there Julia and I went to a small town even closer to the Myanmar border called Pai. Not only was it incredibly beautiful and full of really nice people, but we had hammocks in our bungalow. We met a man claiming to the be the first hippie in Pai, and I chatted with a cool Scottish couple en route to Australia during a bonfire and even got to speak in German to a cute backpacker from Stuttgart who informed me that my German was too polite and I needed to "loosen it up a bit".

Bungalows in Pai...as close to "roughing it" as I'm willing to get.

And then, the most highly anticipated moment of the trip: elephant riding. It's been my goal in life to meet, make friends with, and then get married atop one of these majestic creatures, but after this experience I have to say that I was a bit crestfallen with the whole thing. When we pulled up to the "elephant camp" we saw three elephants standing under a shaded area, the biggest of which was equipped with a large seat across his back that looked sort of like an amusement ride seat. Except, however, for the lack of seat belts and/or other safety implements. Julia and I were offered straw hats (which we refused...I am so not into putting other peoples' dirty hair molecules on my head) and we were instructed to just get on and hope for the best (read: the guide pantomimed to us to just get on and then he proceeded to chuckle when we stumbled nearly fell to our deaths getting adjusted). The guide, a small thai man wearing long sleeves and long pants in 80+ degree weather, sat at the head of the elephant and used a combination of high-pitched squeals, butt pushes, foot movements, and a hammer-like object to try and get the big guy to maneuver itself through the "jungle" (which looked a like Wisconsin or some other mid-west location). The elephant was having none of this, however, and every few seconds he would use his trunk to grab some leaves and chow down. The guide, during these brief pauses, would start going nuts and would use a combination of his yells and butt-pushes to get the elephant to move again. Instead of being productive, the elephant would turn in a big circle or shift suddenly to the right or left, soliciting gasps and sudden grabs from me and Julia. After that hour long trek, we returned to the shaded area with the other elephants, and were then told to get off. Relieved, we hurriedly scrambled off the back of the elephant and started to get down the ladder when we were signaled to stop and wait. We looked around, saw the guide un-doing the elephant's amusement-ride-seat, and realized we were now in for the "bareback" portion of the program. What. The. Crap. The next hour saw me and Julia grasping onto the world's roughest rope while the elephant lead us down to the Pai River. This round, however, instead of being side-by-side on a seat, I was in front and Julia was behind me, so not only was Julia forced to hold onto me like I were Brian, the hottie New Orleans-er we met on our journey to Pai, but she was also completely off the small blanket they had provided us as a barrier between our legs and the tough elephant hide. Hilarity did not ensue. Unless you count the insane Israeli guy who was riding another elephant (which he decided was a "lady-boy" elephant and kept shouting that) and kept trying to surf the poor thing. He was then dunked in the Pai River, which Julia and I refused to do on account of the large elephant turds floating by. Woof. Please see Julia's blog for photos.

After that (mis)adventure, Julia and I relaxed at the hot springs, then spent the rest of the evening shopping and eating. We were champions at seeking out mago-sticky rice and roti covered in chocolate. To say that I was a bad influence on Julia's healthy-eating-and-living kick is an understatement. I forced the poor child to drink diet coke, eat every four hours, and sleep until noon. I also forced her to watch soccer, including the Manchester United vs. Everton game that was on Friday night when we got to Pai. I was rooting for Everton to beat ManU so that they would lose points and Arsenal could try and recover some lost ground, so I was definitely in the minority of the British/Thai fans that were crowded into the small sports bar nestled in between tourist shops. I explained a lot of the rules and stuff to Julia, and she even started to appreciate the subtle art of checking out how hot a player is without drawing too much attention to oneself. When Jack Rodwell (an Everton midfielder) scored a goal and took off his shirt revealing some nicely defined abs, she muttered "oh my" and we continued watching without spilling too much drool and/or wolf-whistling.

Yes, please.

Leaving that vacation was the worst party. But what was even more shitty was the customs "line" at the Bangkok airport. Instead of a "line", it was a literal clusterfuck of tourists all smooshed together trying to get their departure stamp and make it to their gates on time. One Chinese girl fainted, and another puked. PUKED. The terminal then smelled like vomit, thereby causing the other travelers to gag and dry-heave. It was honestly one of the worst hours of my life. Yes, ONE. HOUR. Even though I had two hours to get to my gate, I barely made it on time. Sanity not in tact. Running through the Bangkok airport sweating and smelling like puke is definitely not one of my favorite memories from that vacation.

By Thursday night I was back in St Brieuc. Except that I'm no longer living in St Brieuc - I'm actually in Hillion, a small suburb more in the country and farther away from civilization than St Brieuc. But, it's really nice. It's very quiet, and the smell of cattle doesn't really bother me anymore. Plus, I can see a lot of stars. And now I live with one of the PE teachers at the lycee, her husband, and her two daughters (Camille, age 11 and Lea, age 8). It's fun having smaller kids around- they like to read stories in English and eat copious amounts of Nutella with me.

My favorite teaching tool. That, and a whip. Just kidding. But seriously. A whip.

I did get to watch the Olympics (Jeux Olympiques, or J.O as they're called here) last night: Canada vs. Les Etats-Unis. I managed to convince my host family that I am in fact mentally unstable as I was unable to stop my voice from rising four pitches when I saw Jonathan Toews' hot ass in a team Canada jersey and said, "il joue pour l'equippe de Chicago!! (he plays for Chicago)" and clapped my hands. And then every time another Chicago player was on the ice I would giggle and point like an idiot. I honestly don't know what's wrong with me, and I don't care to find out.

...for those of you expecting a photo of said hockey player and a witty caption, I hate to disappoint you but I got sidetracked after googling "Jonathan Toews" and read about the Blackhawks for a half an hour and now don't feel like going back. Yep, I'm that lazy. Also, the first thing that comes up as "did you mean" upon googling Jonathan Toews is "Jonathan Toews girlfriend". At least I know the rest of the female population is as insane as I am...woof.

Speaking of sports, I'm seriously jones-ing for some baseball/spring training news. So, if you wonderful people in the states (read: Max B, BSto, Nick, Maps Tubin, etc.) could send me some great anecdotes coming out of Ho-Ho-Kam Park, I would greatly appreciate it. And yes, Dad, I did know that our roster is chock-full of old farts. But not having Milton Bradley starting in right field is enough to carry me past such mundane issues as Derrek Lee's artificial hip and Big Z's prescription for Lipitor.

Or Mark Prior's artificial arm...I have a Mark Prior jersey hanging in my closet, but I refuse to wear it out of shame. To think that there was a time when Uncle Mush had to console me over his marriage. Those were the days...

So, it's Monday and I'm back in the teacher's lounge at St Pierre, downing coffee, reading Digg.com, and researching my upcoming weekend in Caen/Normandy/Cherbourg. Look for news stories discussing a crazy American tourist getting arrested for a variety of things, including but not limited to trying to re-create the storming of the beaches.

Maybe I'll pull a Gertrude Ederle and swim across the English Channel first...

During these upcoming weeks we'll be focusing on English grammar during class. That means ample opportunities for me to embarrass myself with my lack-of-knowledge regarding the way English language works. For example, we were doing a work sheet in relation to verb tenses. The sentence was: "I'll wake you up early for fear you (be) late for your exam." So, the students had to conjugate the verb "to be" into the correct form. I wrote "I'll wake you up for fear you will be late for your exam." The students all copied what I wrote, cause as the American I should know English. The correct way to write the sentence is: "I'll wake you up early for fear you should be late for your exam." The students were all like, "But Carolin said this was right!!!" I just sat there and turned red. Then apologized sheepishly. And stayed red in the face.

The red and black mean that I changed all my answers. At least once. #englishfail.

Currently listening to: Tegan and Sara "Under Feet Like Ours"
Currently reading: "Sartori in Paris" by Jack Kerouac
Currently craving: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 3

Although, I did have a dream about Dexter teaching his son how to properly dispose of a body, but then it turned out that all his son wanted to do was dance. Maybe I shouldn't tell people these things.

Peace, Love, and Awkward-blog-silences.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Your Mom is my Doppleganger

Superbowl Sunday in St Brieuc turned into “Katie Watches Rugby and Doesn’t Understand it but Wants to Watch Sports” Sunday...It did make me a bit homesick to be watching such a clearly European sport on the D-Day of the (American) Football season, but it was better than nothing. I spent the afternoon trying to keep up with the French commentary during the match between France and Scotland (Le XV de France contra Ecosse), and scouting out potential husbands amongst the players. And let me tell ya, there are some hotties on both sides. It makes me feel like a traitor to my sex to watch sports and be inevitably drawn to who’s eyes manage to convey the greatest insight into their soul (#16 for France, in case you were wondering), but hey, I can’t help it. It’s like a guy watching the cheerleaders that the television networks can’t help but zoom in on every five minutes and not noticing their racks/butts/whathaveyou while they’re jumping up and down waving shiny shit at your face.

Let's be honest. You're not thinking about that last play.

And neither am I.

I did, in fact, develop quite an affinity for the sport. It’s just as, if not more, physical than American Football, but it has less padding and a more non-sensical set of rules. Every couple seconds the players jump on each other and battle for a ball that’s clearly hit the ground but the play doesn’t stop. And I have no idea why the play does stop when it does. I felt annoying asking Gerard (my host dad) too many questions so I sat in silence trying to deign the rules by just watching. Didn’t work. So, wikipedia it is.

Most days I spend between fifteen and twenty minutes choosing an outfit for the day. I put an extreme amount of care into my appearance (seriously, I’ve turned a corner. No more LuluLemon-stretch-pants-American- Apparel-v-neck-and-zip-up-hoodie-to-class for this girl!) in order to wow the oh-so-fashionable French students/so the teachers take me seriously. Today, for example, I’ve paired a black blazer with a vintage-looking yellow silk blouse, boy-friend fit jeans, and red flats. I’m quite proud of this ensemble, but it seems to be for naught. I’m pretty sure that the professors still wouldn’t take me seriously if I were wearing a tee-shirt claiming my illustrious and expensive American degree in block letters. And, as for the 17-year-old for whom I’d forsake my goal of having British children, well, I’m just that 22-year-old American girl who stares a little too long and who makes comments under her breath in English about 17 being the age of consent in Illinois. Can I get arrested for this? Benson and Stabler would NOT approve. Woof.

Yeah, I stole them from my sister. I do what I want.

This grey Monday morning in St Brieuc has proved quite productive, despite a miserable beginning: when I arrived at school at 7:45 a.m. I found out that I didn’t actually have a class to teach until 11. That means that I could’ve slept until at least 10 a.m. I thought briefly about running back home and getting back in bed, but I resisted and instead spent the morning figuring out logistics for my trip to Thailand. After reading an e-mail from Julia, I realized that I’m not actually landing in Bangkok until 12 p.m. on Monday afternoon, and thus will not reach Chiang Mai until Tuesday morning due to the overnight train I have to take. Plus, I’m spending Friday evening - Sunday morning in Le Mans visiting my host family from the first time I was in France, so I have to book trains for that too. This whole Thailand experience will be infinitely more interesting due to my complete lack of ability to speak the Thai language. Also, I have to change planes in Cairo, and in case you were wondering, I don’t speak Arabic (yet). Luckily, “diet coke” or “coca light” translates into most languages without much trouble.

And, I hope I don't get stopped by a sphinx. I'd never be able to solve a riddle under that sort of pressure. Oedipus was a clever bugger, but apparently not too wise...

I had an anonymous (Aunt Tina) request to say a little something about my current host family. I have pictures of the house and my room, but because I don’t have the cable for Annie’s camera with me, you all will have to wait until I return to see them. Whoops. Anyway, I’m currently staying with an English teacher and her husband. They’re both in their mid-50’s, and very nice. Josiane speaks perfect English with a wonderful British accent; her husband speaks very little English but cause I’m a French rockstar (read: I can speak enough to request to watch the Arsenal game on TV) we’re all good. When I get back from Thailand, I’m going to be staying with one of the P.E. teachers and her family. She has two little daughters, and I’m super excited to get them to re-create the Capucine video with me. That, and to ask them to call me mean names and ridicule me about being a spinster with tons of cats just like Livi does, cause I do miss that little firecracker.

How do you say "Crazy cat lady" in French?

A slight problem I’m having here: I’m bored in the afternoons. I need a hobby. I bought the first season of Dexter on iTunes last week and watched all 12 episodes in the period of about three days. I already bought season 2 and it is waiting for me when I get home, but seeing as how there are only three seasons available for my consumption, I need a new hobby. Any ideas? I’ve been considering teaching myself Italian, but the only textbook I have access to for this are written in French. Although, it would be an interesting challenge to learn Italian from French...

I have this really weird habit of, when finding myself in an awkward and/or boring situation, coming up with the most outrageous and socially inappropriate action to take. For example, today during lunch I was eating a banana and trying to keep up with the conversation (I think it was about cell phones but I can’t be sure), when my mind began to wander. What would happen if I stood up, yelled “AMERICAAAAA!!!” and smashed the banana into someone’s entree? When I’m at a play or recital I often think about what would happen if I ran up on stage and started to tap dance... I don’t know why I get these impulses, but sometimes I think it’d make a good reality show. That, and get me committed. Said actions, however, remain ideas in my head...for the most part.

Banana: not for shenanigans.

And, just to blow your mind: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100208.html

Shameless plug: Go to Superdawg, now with a new location in Wheeling, Illinois!!!!

Currently reading: interesting question (that I pose to myself, I know). In the past week I read: “Fiesta/The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway and “Look Back In Anger” by John Osborne. I picked up “Lord Jim” by Joseph Conrad, but it lacks the grip of “Heart of Darkness” and I’m quickly losing interest. Big ups to BSto for recommending some good titles re: France during WWII...unfortunately I’d have to order them from Amazon or summat so I’m not sure I’m going to get around to reading those right now due to all of my funds being funneled into Thailand adventure.

Currently listening to: The Decemberists Castaways and Cutouts

Currently craving: Superdawg. Duh.

Always, always, always a good choice

Peace, Love, and 100% pure beef.

- Blowfish.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ink-Stained Fingers

I've been using this sweet-ass fountain pen that BSto got me from a flea market in Berlin in an attempt to blend in here better. The result is that my right hand constantly has blue smudges, and my ego is stroked cause, let's be honest, it increases my street-cred.

The students here (I imagine that it's not just in this high school, but all over France) take the most amazingly organized and color-coded notes I have ever seen. They have an arsenal of different colored pens and markers to make headings and bullet points, and they even have pen-erasers should they make a mistake in their writing. It's enough to make APat choked up.
The pen of (not-this-year) champions.

A sample day in the life of that American girl in St Brieuc:
6:45 a.m.: alarm goes off
7:10 a.m.: I get up, get dressed
7:45 a.m.: leave the house
8 - 9 a.m.: sit in the teacher's lounge and drink coffee; play on the computer; do the occasional crossword puzzle
9 a.m - 11 a.m. (-ish. This changes daily): teach the children how to talk pretty
12 - 2 p.m.: lunch break (aka I sit in the teacher's lounge after I eat and continue to play on computer)
2-5 p.m.: go to class with the Terminales (~seniors preparing to take the Bac)
3 p.m.: wonder if anyone else knows how smart I am cause I can understand French
3:02 p.m.: wonder if anyone else knows how stupid I am cause I can't understand French
5 p.m.: do the 10-minute walk home
6 p.m. - 8 p.m.: read, watch Buffy on my compy
8 p.m.: help with dinner; eat dinner; help clean up (trying to make Kathy proud)
9-10 p.m.: watch tv with the family
10:30 p.m.: sleep

...I'm incredibly tired here due to the amount of energy it takes to listen to, understand, and speak in French all day. If I'm awake at 11 p.m., shit's about to get real the next day when I down a record amount of caffeine in an attempt to stay awake. And then pee every 5 minutes. I think everyone at this school now thinks that I have a bladder problem. TMI? Probs. Whoops...

Teaching English to these kids has been a lot of fun, but it has made me question the influence of American pop culture. The questions these kids ask me...wow. Sometimes I laugh but then have to recover quickly so they don't think I'm laughing at their English-speaking ability (they're all actually quite advanced, even the 11-year olds that I teach on Monday mornings). Par example:
- do you know 50cent?
- do you have a gun?
- do you live in a mansion?
- do you know anyone in a gang?
- have you met the queen of England?
...apparently American tv and culture has caused the children of France to be under the impression that we are all rich drug lords who hang out with rappers. And the Queen. Of England.
Oh. That's why. And, let's be real here: I hang with 50 like all the weekends. And the queen.

I ate cow tongue yesterday. Yep, that happened. It actually wouldn't have been bad if I hadn't known that it was, in fact, a fucking cow's TONGUE. I told my family that I didn't eat pork in order to avoid it cause I don't like meat that much (that's what she said), so apparently that means they're going to have everything, everything, except pork. I wanted to be polite so I took some, but dear lord. The consistency...I just shivered. WOOF.

Yeah, it was cooked. BUT HONESTLY. THAT. HAPPENED.

I booked my ticket to Thailand last night, so I'll be making my innaugural visit to Asia on February 14. I'm Julia's valentine, and, not to toot my own horn, but I make a GREAT valentine (fellas????).
Julia: meet me at the train like this or we're not spooning for two weeks. Ok, we will, but I won't be as happy about it.

Currently listening to: Boy Omega...my penchant for wrist-cutting German folk music has increased since being in this land of permanently apathetic facial expressions. Don't judge me.
Currently reading: Well, I'm in limbo. I finished reading A Farewell to Arms (Hemingway...and it blew me away. If you haven't read it, go and pick up a copy NOW. It's amazing) last night and didn't have the energy to start anything new. Suggestions?
Currently craving: anything but beef tongue.
Boy Omega. Doesn't he just scream angst and German-type middle-class -self-loathing?

Peace, Love, and Vegetarianism.
- Blowfish