Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Moment of Weakness

Today is my last day in Canada for a while. How long, I don't know. The contract is for one year but if I like it I can renew it. Then there's always the option of going somewhere else to teach when the contract is up. Brazil? Spain? Ukraine? China? I just don't know how long I'll be gone or where I'll end up.

The past few days have been nice and relaxing. I spent Sunday evening with my mother, sister, her boyfriend and her boyfriend's sister, and then yesterday playing one last game of Axis & Allies with my brother and 3 of his friends.

Today I'm going to get 4 passport photos done (for registration with the authorities in Russia), get notarized copies of my documents (again, for registration) and get a haircut. Then I'm meeting the girl I was dating for a few months here in Ottawa for a beer, and then later I'm going out with my sister and her boyfriend and some of their friends for more beer. Somewhere in there I'm going to have one last Ottawa poutine.

I'm sick of goodbyes. I had a big goodbye when I left Port Hardy. Then another when I left Owen Sound. Then a series of them here in Ottawa. The fact of the matter is that I wouldn't mind finding a nice little corner of the earth where I can plop my stuff down and never leave again (discounting vacations, of course). Then I won't have to worry about anymore goodbyes.

That seems like a while away, however, as I have a few more years of travel in store for me. Russia is a place I've longed to see for most of my adult life now, and there are a couple of other places. The fact of the matter is that I'm getting older. I'm 33 and have no kids and no property of my own. In fact everything I own is in a few suitcases. I'm not getting younger and this lifestyle doesn't fit as comfortably as it once did.

I'm also nervous. Okay, maybe a more honest description would be 'terrified'. This is scary and I have no idea what I'm getting myself into. From what I hear there's every possibility that I'll get fucked around in Russia, most likely by my employers or the authorities. I'm going with about $500 to my name, which isn't enough to leave in an emergency.

Not only that, but even when I went to Korea I had a partner with me. I'm going completely alone this time and don't know anybody there. Yes, I'm afraid now.

Oh well. Tomorrow I have an 8 am train to Toronto (upgraded to 1st class!), and then a 6:30 pm flight to Vienna. Whether I'm afraid or want to just settle down or not is unimportant, at least for the next year or two.

In the meantime, I should stop procrastinating and start tying up all those loose-ends I need to take care of today. Da Svidanya!

Friday, September 11, 2009

How To Say "Cheers!" In Other Languages

Here's how to clink glasses in different languages:

Austrian: Prosit!
Indonesian: Pro!
Bengali: Joy!
Bosnian: Zivjeli!
Brazilian: Viva!
Bulgarian: Na Zdrave!
Spanish: Salut!
Chile: Salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo!
Chinese: Gan Bei!
Costa Rican: Pura Vida!
Czech: Na Zdravi!
Danish: Skaal!
Dutch: Proost!
Egyptian: Fee Sihetak!
Finnish: Kippis!
Indian: A la sature!
Ireland: Slante!
Italian: Salute!
Japanese: Kampai!
Korean: Gombay!
Maori: Kia Ora!
Phillipino: Mabuhay!
Qatar: n/a
Russia: Za Sdroviya!
Ukrainian: Budem!
Vietnamese: Chia!
Yiddish: Lech Haim!
Zulu: Oogy Wawa! (my fav)

Oogy Wawa to you!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Brothel In Seoul

Once myself and two other guys got loaded in Iteawon, the US Army district of Seoul. As we wandered to a different watering hole a beautiful Korean woman in tight-fitting dress beckoned us over to her. She was stunning. She was about 5'5" with long, thick black hair and smooth, round legs. The dress hugged her waist and...well, everyone knows what a woman in a dress looks like. She asked if we would like to have a beer at her establishment. We said "Sure!" and went inside. We were too drunk to notice that she had locked the door behind us.

Inside was a dimly-lit bar with two other girls who asked us to buy them "girly drinks". Ya, why not, we said. And get us a beer. The girly-drinks were shots of something fruity and cost 20,000 won a piece (about $20). Then one of the girls hit play on a crappy little ghetto blaster and bad Korean pop music started. All three girls tore off their dresses at the same time! It was almost an Olympic-worthy performance! Then each one climbed on top one of us and started to grind and oscillate. "You can touch wherever you want" the girl we had met outside who was now on my lap said. Then it dawned on me. Shit. We had just wandered into a brothel like drunken idiots. "You want rub? 30. You want blow? 50" She panted into my ear.

"Guys!" I yelled to the other two who were buried underneath breasts. "Let's get the fuck out of here!" One of my friends said "Okay!" While the other said "What? Are you crazy?!!?" Almost like magic one of our cell phones rang and my friend answered it. It was our girlfriends wanting to meet us at a club just down the street! I grabbed my girl by the waist and flung her off me and stood up and made a bee-line for the door, unlocked it and stood in the doorway. My friends, one relunctantly, followed me out.

I'm just not into the "pay-for-sex" scene. It's like buying a cup of water from a guy standing next to a water fountain: why pay for it? Maybe if the hookers were gold-plated, or came with a 20 oz sirloin steak and a nice peppercorn sauce...actually, that DOES sound like a deal. Steak dinner and a blow from a gold-plated hooker for fifty bucks...I'm in the wrong business.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Drinking, Debauchery and Teaching English

ESL teachers are usually a pretty debauched lot. There's always a wet sponge thrown in amongst them, as there is in any group (I've even met a righteous, high-and-mighty stripper), but for the most part ESL teachers are irrisponsible, heavy drinking, sin-filled individuals. They are on permanent vacation.

The ESL expat community in South Korea was no different. In fact, I really honed my drinking skills in South Korea and brought them to dizzying heights. Realizing that the expat life was turning me into a soju-and-beer-(and-rye-and-wine-and-vodka)-filled shell of my former self, I made the decision to return to Canada at the end of my second year, and not continue on to Taiwan as I was originally planning.

Oh, the horror...the horror...actually I still laugh at it all.

The ESL expat community in South Korea is made up of people from every English-speaking country in the world. Americans, Australians, Brits, Canadians, Irish, New Zealanders, Scots...and one South African. The resulting jumble of slightly-different cultures all hanging out and drinking heavily together means that I learned a fantastic array of drinking games, of which one, Titanic, is my favourite.

In the game of Titanic, there is a large pint of beer placed in the center of the table and an empty shot glass is floated in the middle. Everyone, in turn, attempts to poor a bit of vodka or soju or whatever into the shot-glass without sinking it. Whoever sinks it has to chug the whole beer. The more you lose, the worse you play and the more you continue to lose, at least in my experience.

So after a night of playing "Titanic" (and falling off the patio of the bar we were playing at) I had a kindergarten class to teach in the morning. It was a first class and the elementary school had rented an English teacher (me) from my director. I was supposedly really good with kids.

When I showed up at 8 am I was still hammered from the night before, but not in a fun and lovable way. The stairwell was spinning as the Korean principle showed me to my class. Inside were 20 or so 4 year olds staring at me with curious expressions.

I proceeded to do the old "No Speaka English" kindergarten routine of dancing around with them and keeping it active and trying to get them to communicate in words that closely resembled English, but on this day I was sweating profusely and my stomach started to contract and then crawl up my esophagus.

Without warning I knew I had to vomit and wouldn't make it to the washroom. The only thing around was their Korean teacher's garbage pail so I, in front of 20 wide-eyed Korean 4-year-olds, a Korean kindergarten teacher and the principle, grabbed the bucket and puked violently into it. It was one of those throwing-up sessions that start with a massive burst of chunky liquid but then develops into groaning dry-heaves and disgusting drips of bile.

I wiped my mouth with my forearm and proceeded to finish the class. I was never asked back.

It's no wonder Asians think of us as barbarians. We weren't good ambassadors from our countries.

One night a bunch of guys and I got smashed at a bar and...well, I really don't remember. I was woken up on a park bench by a jogging ajuma (grandmother) who was holding my ringing cell phone. My girlfriend at the time was calling and when she asked where I was I looked around and said "I don't know" The sun was up and birds were chirping and Koreans were walking dogs or jogging. The last I could remember was it being night and I was at a bar. I checked my pockets and everything was where it was supposed to be, including my kidneys (although, as a rule, I don't keep those in my pockets).

I found my way home and later on learned that one guy I was with woke up on the ground of a bus shelter surrounded by Korean high shcool kids in their uniforms. Another woke up in the doorway of a hagwon (an English school) that wasn't his, and the last woke up on an inter-city greyhound-like bus to a different town. As we were playing drinking games and drinking out of the same glass we all agreed that somebody must have dropped a roofy into our drink. At least we hoped so. The alternative, that we drank THAT much, was a scary thought.

The debauched life of an ESL-teacher expat is hard to sum up. I am honestly hoping that I'll be more responsible and professional in Russia. With a bit of luck I'll be as good an entertainer...er, teacher...as I was in Korea. Knowing my luck, however, and the fact that ESL teachers are all alike, I won't.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Owen Sound Video

I made this video in an attempt to capture the Summer of Beer (which was actually only 1 month but made up for the rest of the summer).

I have other videos on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/user/atethepaint

Russian Visa

Every source I came across warned me how difficult it is to obtain a Russian visa. I was told by some that the embassies are extremely bureaucratic and one needs a machete to get through all the red tape. I was told by others that, being Canadian, I would probably have to do the application twice because Russia and Canada aren't getting along right now (it's that old Arctic dispute). Even the Russian Embassy website said that there was a mandatory 15-day waiting period for all Canadians.

So I was pleasantly surprised to receive the visa without hassle in 5 business days! Here's what I had to do to obtain a Russian visa.

First off, I required an Official Letter of Invitation (OLI). Everyone who travels to Russia, be it for business or just passing through for a night, requires an OLI to obtain a visa. The OLI is issued by some Russian government agency in Russia and a certified sponsor is required to obtain it. For tourists, you need to pay a Russian company to get one. For ESL teachers, your sponsoring employer obtains it. Either way it can't be copied or printed but has to be the original. Mine was sent by UPS.

There was also a Russian health card (cool) and a letter from my employers, all in Russian, included in the UPS package.

Next I printed off the application form from the embassy website, had a passport photo taken, and an HIV/AIDS test done with an official letter from the clinic stating that I was AIDS-free (whew...I had one done after my ex started sleeping with fishermen but I've been with a few girls since then...of course I use protection but you never know...).

Then I had to get a money order for $75 CAD and a return-express post envelope and send everything to the Russian embassy in Ottawa via registered mail. The whole process cost me about $200.

Then I prepared to wait for 15 days so I can find out it had been denied or I was missing something or didn't pay enough or whatever. All that negative talk had shaken me a bit.

So I was pleasantly surprised when, 5 days later, my passport arrived with a shiny Russian visa in it! They also returned the health card because I imagine it's more useful in my hands than theirs.

Yesterday I bought a one-way flight to Moscow with a stopover in Vienna. I have less than two weeks left!

Getting a Russian visa was a lot simpler than all the nay-sayers on Dave's ESL cafe and other forums said it would be.

To Russia!

Summer of Beer: Tents

Ah, Owen Sound in the summer. Big sun, cool breezes off the bay, green trees and lots of beer. Lots. I mean A LOT of beer.

Every year in August Owen Sound puts on the Summerfolk festival. It's a mini-woodstock that's in it's 31st year. Folk bands play music while hippie chicks shop at homemade jewellery kiosks and I drink at the beer tent.

If you volunteer for set-up construction a week before the festival you get in free for the weekend, so for a fourth Summerfolk in my lifetime I helped set up the site, including lots of fencing and painting stages and kiosks and drinking beer.

During the festival my old friends (some of whom I haven't seen in years) and I hung out at the volunteer campgrounds or the beer tent and...drank beer. Thankfully, as opposed to a couple of years ago when I last went to Summerfolk, nobody brought their kids! So we drank more beer.

I think I spent about 20 minutes at the main stage and the rest of the weekend drinking beer. One night I smoked a little somethin-somethin that was rolled in tobacco leaves and was the size of a cuban cigar and ended up stumbling home at 3 am. My friend S***e, missing somewhere at Summerfolk, sent me a text that read "Help." I replied "With what?" to which he responded "I don't know where I am." Turns out he had wandered to the marina, puked and then passed out under a dry-docked boat.

The Summerfolk bar tent has its own stage where the livelier bands play. Don't get me wrong; the main stage had a few good bands (or so I heard) but there's no dancing or standing or smiling or looking at the stage with your head on an angle to the left. The bar stage had a few great bands, and one of them was a Celtic band from Nova Scotia that was the hit of the weekend.

There were about 8 guys in this band. In addition to the regular drums, bass and guitars they had a couple of fiddlers, a flute-like-thingy, and even a bag-piper! They were lively! I had wandered in to the beer tent when I heard them playing and stumbled upon some of my friends who were dancing so I joined them but, being able to barely stumble around let alone walk upright, I almost fell over a couple of times.

Man, this band was great! You really can't beat lively Celtic music.

Being too drunk does, on occasion, have its drawbacks. There was this beautiful, beautiful brunette in a light-blue dress and a cowboy hat that I started chatting up. We were hitting it off and she touched my arm a couple of times as we laughed and I was thinking "Sweet!" But then I had that prodigal 'one-beer-too-many', and in the way an accident occurs with no warning, I was suddenly too drunk to pass as a human.

As I was trying to look into those incredibly sexy big brown eyes of hers I found I couldn't focus, and her face looked like an out-of-focus picture, and I was aware of the rotation of the earth (except I wasn't keeping up).

I've made a fool of myself in this situation when I was younger and continued to pursue, but now I know that there's no point in reinforcing a defeat, so I stood up suddenly and said "Wow. I'm too loaded to pick you up. Have a great night!" and walked back to the campgrounds.

I never said I was smooth.

Summer of Beer: Beer

Owen Sound is a town of about 20,000 situated at the south-east base of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. Georgian Bay turns into an estuary and then a river at Owen Sound. Grains and minerals from the Canadian prairies and northern Ontario are shipped across Lake Superior and Lake Huron to Owen Sound, and from there they are transported to the U.S. and other markets.

But that's all the boring stuff.

I had one of the best summers in a long time last month. I stayed with my high-school friend Mr. GMC, who, since his divorce last year, has a 4-bedroom home. He rented one of the rooms out to me for the month.

In addition to hanging with Mr. GMC, I travelled to Hanover (1 hour south of Owen Sound) to visit my friend and Mr. GMC's younger sister Ms. Pickles and her husband Pie. They have a nice house with a big patio and a hot tub in their backyard. I was there at least once a week during the month. Ms. Pickles and Pie are fun, generous hosts and nobody was ever without a beer in their hand and food in the belly. They are vegetarians but they went out of their way to buy a couple of juicy steaks for me at a barbecue they were hosting.

I also went to Kitchener-Waterloo once a week to visit my friends Ms. Q and Mr. Dutch, who are always fun. Ms. Q and I always have a lot of laughs and, like her sister Ms. Pickles and brother Mr. GMC, is generous but in a dry, sarcastic way.

More in the next post.