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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Travelogue Slovakia (4)

Written August 17, 2006

This travelogue's a little early as I wanted to get it out before the weekend. I know I'm probably overwhelming everyone with all the pictures and stories. I promise to cut back on them to once every few weeks which was my original intent anyway. I've just been so excited about being here and wanted to share this excitement with my friends. Please try to tolerate this weakness of mine!

Well, I've been training my students for two weeks now and all I can say is that it's been wonderful. They are so motivated!! They do anything you ask of them. I caught myself whistling at 5am this morning while thinking about going to work. I don't think that's ever happened before. I sometimes go into the classroom during breaks just to talk to them. It's insane. They are good students and very interesting people.

By now, I thought the novelty of knowing an American would have worn off and I would have had fewer social obligations. It seems to be increasing if anything. I find this odd as, historically, a person's desire to be around me has been inversely proportional to how well they knew me. That doesn't seem to apply here. Well, there are 100,000 people in this city and I've probably already met about 1000 so I still have some work to do!

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia4

Okay, time for the pictures. A little bit of background . . . after classes today, some of my students invited me out for a walk around town. The first picture is a shot from the tower of a Catholic Church (St. Nicholas, built in 1347) of the downtown area in Presov. It was another steep climb up a spiraling staircase to get this picture. The next two pictures are of the inside of the same church. I especially like the stained glass windows in these ancient churches. Finally, the last picture is one of my students. As I said, they're great.

Next edition should be out in a few weeks. As always, feedback is appreciated.

Russ

Travelogue Japan (3)

Written April 8, 2007

It's time for another installment describing my travels. I have to admit to being tired and forcing myself to write this. I went out with some students/teachers Friday night and then another group Saturday afternoon. The latter was especially difficult due to a lack of sleep from the previous night. I'll describe that outing since it includes pictures.

In Japan, there is a custom called 'Hanami.' Literally translated, it means 'cherry-blossom viewing.' In practice, it means going to a public place in the late morning/early afternoon, eating, drinking, and enjoying the blossoms. It's especially beautiful when the wind blows and blossoms fall like snow sometimes getting caught in your hair. 'Dream-like' might be how I would describe it.

So, the plan was to meet at Komaki station at 1030 and walk over to the park together. Upon arrival, we laid out some kind of tarp and sat down for food and drink. One of the students offered me a beer to which I replied with my dry sense of humor, "Sure, I haven't had one in at least three hours (having recently left the other party)." The joke went over his head and he handed me a beer. Anyway, having not had much sleep, I think the atmosphere had a more profound effect on me than usual and I really enjoyed myself.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan3

In picture #1, you can see me with one of the Japanese instructors. Actually, she was at DLI last fall for AELIC while I was in Slovakia. #2 shows us with some of the students. #3 is some of the food we ate. #4 is heading up the hill to the castle. Cherry blossoms next, and the top of the castle above the blossoms. I had to reduce the size of some of the pictures to fit them all in.

One thing, there was an older gentleman with us who's an officer at the base. I hadn't met him before, but spoke with him extensively while viewing the castle. He was one of the most interesting people I've ever met and it was really enjoyable speaking with him.

Okay, time for some more cultural observations:

(1) In the Japanese workplace, everything is very regimented. I'm given some leeway, but the others are not. Still, there are ways to cope with such restrictions and the Japanese employees exploit them. For example, I think I'm well liked here and the teachers like speaking to me whenever they have the chance. However, the workplace is for work and they don't have many chances to socialize (improve their conversational ability!). So, when they get the urge to chat, they just ask me a linguistic question. I can always gage if a conversation will follow by the difficulty of the question. If it's truly difficult, then it's probably legitimate and the teacher will promptly return to his/her desk. On the other hand, if it's a really easy question, then I know I'm having a conversation. Friday's was my favorite . . . Why do you say 'The boat is ON the water?' These instructors are the best of the best and probably know grammar better than I do. A long conversation followed . . .

(2) Continuing with this theme . . . I have a spacious office to myself. Connecting to my door is a really big office where all the Japanese employees work. I also have a desk in there. It's called the 'MTT desk' and I eat lunch there every day. The desks are arranged in blocks of six and there are three groups of desks. I'm in group one and sit across from Miyuki (insert 'san' after each name). Mayumi is to her right and Mariko and Ruri (the new employees) are to my left. They replaced Saiyaka and another Mariko who went to group three. I will probably never eat lunch with them again since they're in a different group on the other side of the office. Anyway, I had a small problem with one of the new employees. When I finished my box lunch one day, she tried to take my containers away for me. I quickly told her that I could do that to which she replied, "I'm the new employee, it's my duty." I put up a fight but lost in the end. That's 44 years of egalitarian training down the drain.

(3) And more, having been to a few dinners at restaurants, I've picked up on a pattern in how the conversations proceed. It seems like people will be talking to each other and then all switch over to new partners every 10 minutes or so as if on command. In another 10 minutes, they switch back. There seems to be no random conversation with other partners during this time period. At first, it was quite disconcerting. I'm used to being cut off mid-sentence but this was ridiculous! I finally figured it out the other day, but am still worried about the future. What if I decide to propose marriage to someone? I can see the conversation going something like this. My love, I have a very important question to ask you. Would you . . . SWITCH!!!

You know, I'm having a great time over here. Before I arrived, I thought I would take some leave at the end of my MTT and tour other countries in Asia. Now, I've decided to stay in Japan during my leave time. I figure this is paradise and why would anyone leave paradise before they have to? Until the next time, Russ

Travelogue Djibouti (2)

Written on November 15, 2007. Please see link below for pictures.

Hi, Everyone!

Here is another entry from Djibouti, the country you've always wanted to know more about but were afraid to ask!

This time, I've enclosed some pictures and I'll explain these in the end. Right now, I just want to note some observations I've made in my first few weeks here. This may seem like stream of consciousness because I just finished a one hour walk in the blazing, afternoon sun. And, this is supposed to be winter time!

One thing unusual I've noticed is how the locals alternate between different languages. In some countries where more than one language is prevalent, you'll often hear vocabulary from different languages peppered into the speech. But, in Djibouti, you may hear Arabic exclusively for a period of time and then French and then some incomprehensible language that I assume is Somali and/or another tribal language. All of these are used between two people in conversation with no signals indicating when a language change is called for. I'll have to learn several languages to communicate here.

It's really convenient having access to an American military base. I'm able to shop at the BX, eat at the cafeteria, do my laundry, etc. One really nice perk is MWR. They schedule tours outside the city so you don't have to worry about finding your own way. I've signed up for an island tour for next weekend and this should yield some good pictures. I did drive to a town named 'Arta' which is about 30 minutes from Djibouti city. It was up in the mountains and overlooked the sea. I want to visit there again in the near future to stop and enjoy it for a while.

About my car, the embassy rented a Nissan 'Sunny' for me. It's actually quite a nice car or so I've been told by the Marine guards at Camp Lemonier. I drive it to work every day (about 10 km away) and to the American base. It's nice being mobile as I always relied on public transportation in my first two MTTs.

I won't say too much about the driving except for the following. The embassy told me that if I hit any livestock, don't offer to pay right away. Apparently, they will get involved and negotiate a fair price!

No McDonalds, no BK, no Pizza Hut, etc., but they have a Planet Hollywood right downtown! Why a Planet Hollywood? That's a little obscure, isn't it?

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueDjibouti2

The first picture is the downtown market where primarily fruit is sold. I'm not too happy with how these pictures turned out. I think it was the wrong time of day. Anyway, the second picture is taken from the terrace of a coffee shop and points to the PH that I mentioned above. The final picture is the view from my hotel window.

As always, I hope to hear from you with any questions/comments. All the best, Russ

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Weekend Plans

Let's see, what do I plan on posting this weekend? I think I'm going to post one each of my travelogues for Slovakia, Japan, and Djibouti. I'm also going to change my slideshow to a country that hasn't been featured on the site before. Be sure to check in on Thursday or Friday for the new content.

A new RSS icon has been added to the top of the page for subscriptions! If you click this, you can subscribe to my site on your homepage (for example) and be notified automatically when this site has been updated. This will save you the trouble of checking back so often.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Check out the Poll!!

Be sure to vote for your favorite country based on my totally objective posts.

'View by Topic'

You'll notice in the right margin, I've added categories by topic. So, in addition to reading posts by month/year, you can read by topic simply by clicking the subject matter that you prefer. For example, if you want to read exclusively about Japan, just click on the Japan link and all the relevant articles will appear. I've configured the site to only show three articles at one time on the intro page so you will need to check the topics often as articles will migrate off the intro page rather quickly.

Be on the lookout for a 'poll' as I would like to make this site more interactive.

Thanks for reading!

Travelogue Slovakia (3)

August 11, 2006 (Click link to see accompanying pictures)

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia3

Hey one and all!

You'll see from this letter that I still haven't lost my enthusiasm for Slovakia. Last weekend was great as the pictures should attest. So, let me start at the beginning.

On Friday, some friends of mine invited me out. First, we climbed the hill where 'Calvary' is located. Calvary is a church with surrounding structures that represent the 12 stations of Christ's crucifiction. I didn't take any pictures of these as I felt a little strange about doing so. I did, however, take some pictures of the surrounding area. Picture #1 is one of me with the city of Presov in the background. Can you tell I'm happy?

Next, we went back down into the city and by chance, ran into a college professor that my friends knew. His name is Jaro and he's actually a professor in the English department at the University of Presov. His English was fluent and not only was he urbane and erudite, he was also common and very friendly. In retrospect, I'm a little disturbed as I thought I was the only one in the world with all those qualities combined!! Anyway, he promised me a tour of the university once classes are back in session.

Saturday, we began our journey to Kosice. Kosice is the second biggest town in Slovakia (242,000) ahead of Presov, the third biggest (100,000). Fortunately, it's only 30 minutes away by train and we got there mid-morning. Upon exiting the train station, my eyes beheld this (see picture #2). Whereas the downtown area of Presov reminds you of a quaint Bavarian village, Kosice's reminds you of something more glorious such as you might see in Vienna.

Our first stop was an interesting water fountain. This fountain sprayed out water to the beat of music in the background. So, it was difficult taking a picture with the water at it's peak! Pictures 3 to 5 show me with my friends trying to time it perfectly. Also, notice the church behind us. We climbed up to the top of this church via a narrow, spiraling stairway. My shoulders were literally rubbing against the sides of the walls as we climbed. By the time we came back down, my legs were ready to buckle.

Well, the rest of the day, we basically just walked around, ate, and drank coffee while soaking it all in. It's amazing how much of the language I've picked up already. I attribute this to a desire to talk to the people I'm around. Strange that I never really learned much Arabic!!

Now, back to Presov and this week. On Tuesday, I went to a friend of a friend's apartment. He's the director of a bank and his wife is an ER doctor. We really hit it off and they've invited me to a house warming party for the apartment they just bought. This should be in a few weeks. I look forward to it.

Really, I don't make plans anymore. My ever increasing group of friends negotiate all week (with each other) about who will take me both during the week and on the weekends. I just wait to be informed about my schedule. My only rule is that Sunday evening is for me.

Oh, I met our trainees this week and they're the final piece to a perfect puzzle. They seem very mature and responsible. People I definitely will enjoy teaching.

And, I would be remiss in not mentioning this. It seems that I have acquired a Slovak nickname. Spelled phonetically, my name is 'Leeshka.' My friends don't even use my real name anymore! They just say Leeshka this and Leeshka that! I won't tell you the meaning though. Why, you ask? Well, it's borderline negative and also demonstrates the perceptiveness of the Slovaks for others' personalities.

And so the saga continues next week . . .

Keep Checking Back . . .

I still have three more Djibouti TLs to post in order to catch up to the present. I also have A LOT more Slovak and Japanese TLs from the past. Please keep checking back to see new postings.

Travelogue Djibouti (1)

This TL was written November 1, 2007.

Hi, all! Well this time, I'm writing you from Djibouti on the horn of Africa. I arrived here last Saturday and will be here a total of six months. I won't be enclosing any pictures in this letter just because I forgot to buy batteries for my camera. I will definitely include a couple in the next letter though.

First, I want to talk about my trip over. I was scheduled to fly out of San Antonio last Thursday evening at 630pm. Of course, the flight was delayed by one hour, but it didn't matter because my connection to Paris via Houston was delayed by the exact amount of time. I do believe that the airlines know what they're doing. Anyway, I arrived in Paris on Friday at two in the afternoon. As I was waiting for transport to the hotel, I heard some fellow Americans complaining they had been delayed a few days due to an ongoing Air France strike. I was shocked to say the least as I've never known the French to go on strike! I was also concerned that my flight later that evening might be canceled. The word on the street was thirty percent of flights were withdrawn.

Fortunately, my flight flew as scheduled. I later learned that it was just a flight attendant strike; had it been an American airline, I believe none of the flights would have been canceled as there would have been minimal mission impact. Anyway, I arrived in Djibouti bright and early on Saturday morning and was picked up by embassy staff. They showed me around Djibouti city that same morning and I was amazed by what I saw. Slovakia was different and Japan was very different from the US, but Djibouti is other-worldly and I mean that in a positive way. The architecture, the streets, the weather, etc., all of it blew me away. One week later and I'm still trying to take it all in.

The people are very nice and they have this uncanny ability to anticipate my needs. For example, I'd been issued a rental car and was wondering where the local car wash was. That same morning, I went outside and a gentleman had just finished washing my car! How did he know I was looking for this service? I promptly paid him and worked out a regular washing schedule with him. There have been other examples of such prescience from the vendors and men on the street knowing I was looking for a place to eat. I need not think for myself!!

Let's see, what else . . . I visit the embassy quite often. Mostly, I go there to use the gym and/or participate in pick-up basketball games with the staff. I can also write checks for cash and receive mail there. The staff has really made me feel welcome. I've even signed up for French lessons at the embassy. Finally, I'm learning a language that should be relatively easy!

Oh! Every day, I drive out to Camp Lemonier, the American military base. I eat, get my laundry done, shop at the BX, etc. My first day out there, I saw a sign that said 'Somalie' 50km. I thought it was a joke but found out that we're actually that close. I would drive to Mogadishu if not for fear that my insurance does not cover other countries. . .

Okay, I think that's enough for this letter. I'm still just a little jet-lagged and need to take a break now. If you have any specific questions, please write and I'll try to answer.

Russ

Monday, January 21, 2008

Three Month Anniversary

Well, there comes a time when you realize you have fewer days left than you've already finished. I'm not talking about old age; I'm talking about my time overseas. On January 19, I hit the three month mark of my six month TDY in Djibouti. Now, the rest of the way is downhill. I wonder what new assignment I'll get at the end of this one or will I be in the US for a while? As they say in Djibouti, "Insha'allah."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Travelogue Japan (2)

This TL was written on March 25, 2007. Please see the link for accompanying picture.



Well, it's been an interesting few weeks in Japan and I continue to enjoy. I can't believe that on Monday I will have been here for one month. Where did the time go? I'm already lamenting the end of this tour.

Now, let me tell you about two outings I had in the last week. Last Sunday, I went to the Tokugawa Art Museum here in Nagoya. When I hear 'art museum,' my eyes start to get heavy because looking at paintings all afternoon can be a little boring. But, when I went to this museum, I had a pleasant surprise. It holds an art collection from the Tokugawa family who reigned in this part of Japan. They are an ancient Samurai family whose ancestor unified Japan as Shogun in the late 16th century. Essentially, he is the historical equivalent of Toronaga in James Clavell's 'Shogun.' Anyway, during the tour, we saw so many interesting things. For example, we saw Samurai armor, weapons, and even some spoils of war. As for the more genteel side of Japanese life, we viewed a tea ceremony in it's natural setting. We were there about two hours, but the time flew by.

At this point, you may want to look at the picture that I've attached. It was taken in front of the museum. Believe it or not, these are some of my colleagues and no, I haven't had a growth spurt in the last few weeks nor have I aged that much. The people here take really good care of themselves and look younger than their actual ages.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan2

The second outing was with some of our trainees. These particular students are pilots and they wanted to take me out this week since some of them are graduating next week. I agreed to go, but also must admit to some misgivings about the event. I still remember my time before in Asia when I went out with colleagues and the night would never seem to end. However, this outing was exactly the opposite. We met at 7pm and went to a restaurant that served chicken wings and other assorted side dishes. The food and drink were great as well as the company. It all ended at a reasonable hour (1030) and I felt great the next day. I look forward to the next invitation.

One thing, I expected most of the conversation to be in Japanese, but they spoke English for most of the evening. As a matter of fact, their English improved dramatically as the evening went on. I can't say what the catalyst was for this, but I'm happy it was the case.

At this point, I'd like to point out some elements of Japanese culture that have intrigued me. To illustrate these, I'll use real situations from my time here. I hope you find this as interesting as I do.

(1) A friend of mine had invited me to view some temples outside the city. When I asked her when we would go, she told me 'sometime next month.' When I asked her why so far in the future, she told me that she needed time to do research. At first, I thought that maybe she had changed her mind about the trip and was putting it off. But then, I realized that she was being quite literal when saying she needed to do research. Apparently, the Japanese don't like to do anything without covering all the details. Another westerner told me that this is common and the person wants to be ready to answer all my questions about temples, etc. If I say I'm in the mood for Moroccan food, they want to be able to take me to the nearest Moroccan restaurant. If I say that this food is from south Morocco and I prefer the northern cuisine, they want to know (in advance) the fastest route to the alternate restaurant. I think this cultural feature explains why those Toyota cars are so darn good!

(2) In Japan, sometimes it's important to speak in an indirect way to get what you want. For example, a few weeks ago, I asked for some supplies for my office. The person I asked got a little nervous because she was not in charge of the supplies and didn't want to exceed her authority by getting them. Because of her nervousness, it made for a slightly uncomfortable situation. Since then, I don't ask for things directly; I just ask for them indirectly. I might say something like, "hmmm, I could really use a new eraser because I keep making so many mistakes." Then, I drop it and at some point in the near future, an eraser magically appears on my desk. I think it's a good system. I guess my biggest fear is not whether I can adapt to Japanese culture but adapting too much. I fear that when I return home, I'll have 'reverse' culture shock. Imagine when someone asks me to help them out with just a few minutes notice. I may say, "I need a few days to prepare for that if you don't mind." Or, when it's time to get new supplies, I may just tell the person that it would be great to have some pencils and then be surprised when they're not delivered to my room in a few minutes. Ohhh, I'll probably find a way to cope. Okay, I know I'm thinking out loud here, but if I accomplish one thing in Japan, it must be this. I have to find out who keeps topping off the paper in the copy machine. Somehow, the paper is never below full level when I make copies. Still, I never see anyone putting paper in the machine. This efficiency is driving me crazy! Ha, ha, ha! As always, feedback is appreciated . . .

Your loyal correspondent from Japan, Russ

Friday, January 18, 2008

Coincidence or Not??

A reader from Slovakia contacted me and suggested that the mountain in the recently posted Slovak travelogue bears a striking resemblance to the mountain in my Djibouti travelogue. That is eerie and my only explanation is, on some subconscious level, I snapped the picture of that particular mountain because it reminded me of the one in Slovakia.

Take a look and see if you agree . . .

Travelogue Slovakia (2)

Written in fall '06 . . .


Hi, all!

I hope everyone is well back there. I continue to enjoy myself here. Actually, I love everything about this place. I love the people, my job, the weather, etc. I think I'll address those in the order given.

THE PEOPLE

The Slovak people are wonderful and oh so helpful! If I had any complaint at all, it would be that they are too helpful. By that I mean I can't learn how to do anything by myself. At the bus stops, people help me with the ticket machines if I hesitate one moment to read something. I can't mention any needs to my coworkers or they'll spend the whole evening trying to help me. For example, I wanted to sign up at a gym the other day. The next thing I know my supervisor picks me up after work and we walk for two hours around town looking for one. After that walk, I didn't need to go to a gym! I can't even ask about bus numbers and their destinations. A typical response would be "Where are you going? I'll go with you and show you the way."

To continue with the theme above, I'm going to Kosice (a nearby city) on Saturday with some friends that were introduced to me by one of my coworkers. After deciding on Saturday, they asked me about Friday and Sunday. I told them that I wouldn't be traveling anywhere on those days to which they responded "But who will take care of you?" Ahhh, what a cross I have to bear . . .

THE JOB

I can't really comment on the trainees yet because they don't come until next week. Right now, we are just prepping for their arrival. I can say, however, that this is a great group of people I work with. Very supportive and always eager to answer my questions. Right now, I can't imagine having any problems with them. It's a small group of only three but will increase to five in September. We have a lot of audio equipment and a good variety of resources. I couldn't ask for anything more.

THE WEATHER

I know, I know . . . a boring subject to be sure. I just ask that you be patient with me while I describe it. First of all, there hasn't been a day over 75F since I arrived. In the mornings and the evenings I'm tempted to put on a jacket but I see that no one else is wearing one so I endure. Yesterday evening was surreal. It began to shower about 4pm and that lasted for about 30 minutes. Then, the sun came out again (only more subdued than before) illuminating the pastel-colored buildings on main street. As I was walking down this street, I inhaled the air and it was so fresh/pure after the rain. Then, I looked up and saw the first rainbow I had seen in ages! And, it was a really magnificent one, too. It crossed my mind that I might actually be dreaming.

Okay, here are some pictures. All of these were taken this evening around 7pm and within 100 meters of my hotel.

#1 This is the view from my hotel room right before I went out to take other pictures. It's an old Catholic Church but I don't know the history of it yet.

#2 A typical view of main street. My hotel is just around the corner. I love the colors of the buildings, don't you?

#3 The same church as #1 but closer

#4 Another view of the square

#5 A passageway to somewhere.

#6 I don't know what this building is yet, but I will find out!

Don't you just love Europe?

Anyway, I'm sending this one out sooner because I have a busy weekend ahead of me. Coming next week, pictures of Kosice and some of my friends.

All the best, Russ

Here is the link: http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueSlovakia2

Monday, January 14, 2008

"The Kite Runner"

Recently, based on a friend's recommendation, I started reading the book "The Kite Runner." I had heard a lot about this book and also the movie which was released in the US just a few weeks ago. Mainly, I had heard that the two young stars were under threat in their native Afghanistan because of perceived insults to the culture as portrayed in the movie. Apparently, fearing for their safety, the movie company whisked them away to the UAE. This episode probably did more to publicize the story than anything else.

Well, I don't want to turn this blog into a forum for book reviews (albeit a book about a fascinating country). Let me just say that I have enjoyed it so far and highly recommend it as a wonderful story and a way to become familiar with Afghani culture. You'll find yourself not only condemning one of the character's actions (or should I say inaction) and, at the same time, trying to convince yourself that you would have been nobler at such a young age. This is a book that really inspires introspection on the part of the reader. Please give it a read.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Travelogue Japan (1)

Confused? I can certainly understand that. Well, what I'm trying to do is catch up with posting all the travelogues that I've written the last few years. So, you'll see TLs from Slovakia (from 2006), Japan (2007), and Djibouti where I am now. Although I may bounce back and forth between countries, the order of when they were sent (within each country) will be the same. You just have to keep checking back for new TLs.

Oh, and for those of you who have received TLs from me in the past, I plan a few surprises with new pictures and stories so don't take this blog for granted. You need to check in quite often!! Anyway, below is the first TL from Japan. Hope you enjoy it.

Hello, All! This is my first submission from Japan.

Well, let's get right to it. I arrived in Japan almost two weeks ago. Surprisingly, I got over the jetlag within the first few days and was pretty much back to normal by the first weekend. I attribute this to having upgraded to business class using my United miles. Had I not done this, I would have been in agony during the trip and for many days thereafter.

Brenda was here to show me around and this also made my indoctrination to Japan much easier. I quickly learned how to use the subway to go to work, downtown, and to all the points of interest in the city. Overlap between the MTTs is a great idea if feasible.

Everyone at work has been great although they were a little shy at first. Two of my coworkers came to my office (I have my own office) last Friday and asked me a question about the word 'splice.' They wanted to know if splice meant connecting only two wires or could it mean more than two. I suspect this question was a way to break the ice as they later asked me why I hadn't come to speak to them more often. I told them it was because they always looked so busy. To this they replied "We may look busy, but we're really not." I'm already learning a lot about Japanese culture!

As for my charges, they are so polite and hardworking. Again, they are a little shy, but they're starting to come out of it. Wonderful behavior--when I asked about how one records tardiness/absences, I received blank looks from the others. They didn't have any cultural references for situations where someone might not attend class. As they told me, it just doesn't happen! Did I die and go to heaven?

I still can't get used to being saluted when on the base either.

Let's see, what else? Ah! I signed up for Japanese classes already at a private school downtown. My first class is Wednesday and I'm really looking forward to it. I haven't seen too many westerners so far, but I know there are a lot here. Maybe, I'll be able to meet a few in the class.

Okay, I know I'm forgetting a few things but maybe I can include them next time. I'm attaching two photos--nothing really fascinating like mountain climbing or rafting, but I've been told that I'm going to an art museum next week. And, of course, at some point I'll attack Mt. Fuji!

One of the photos was taken downtown and the other from my balcony. As always, feedback is much appreciated.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan1

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Travelogue Djibouti (5)

Hello to everyone! This is the fifth installment of my travelogue for Djibouti. I think you'll enjoy the pictures and the story of how I got them this morning. Here is the link for the pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueDjibouti5

Now, on with the story. I woke up this morning and felt unusually energetic. Therefore, I decided to take a drive outside of the city where things can get really interesting. I figured that the traffic wouldn't be so bad early in the morning and I could make better time. For the most part this was true although there were also a lot of truckers on the road. They take the East-West highway to deliver goods back and forth to Ethiopia. Anyway, I drove on this road for about 50 kilometers until I reached a fork in the road. To the right, you will go to Arta where I've already been twice. To the left, you will head to Al-Sabieh and ultimately, the Ethiopian border although that would be quite a drive further. I decided to go left and explore as long as the road stayed navigable.

Wow! I was really headed into the wilds of Africa. In the first small town I passed through, pedestrians had a hard time distinguishing the sidewalks from the road and I had to weave my way through them. Once I exited this town, I thought it would be a good opportunity to snap some pictures. In the first picture, you can see a lone hill that gave me a peaceful feeling in the early morning hours. However, that peace was broken by shouts from a teenage boy who was about 100 meters away. I noticed he was moving towards me, but decided to continue enjoying the scene. He kept coming and shouting and I started to think it might be time to get in the car and leave. He ran right up to the car and started pounding on the window. In retrospect, I believe he just wanted to ask for money or food, but my feeling was he wouldn't have taken kindly to no for an answer.

Well, after that adrenaline rush, I continued on down the road. I took more pictures of the topography as you can see in the second and third pictures. It looked pretty much the same the whole way, but was not boring at all. After a while, I decided to turn around and come back. In picture number four, you can see part of the small town that I passed through on my way out. I had to take pictures from the car because I didn't want to stop and be the center of attention.

On the way out of that town, I had a nice surprise. As you can see in picture five, I ran into some wildlife that was slightly more dangerous than what I'd encountered before. I wanted to get out and pet them, but figured they were busy gathering food and whatnot. You just never know what will be around the next corner in Africa.

As always, I look forward to your feedback.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Holiday Weekend

Whew! It's been a long week. Fortunately, I'm off for the next three days so I should be able to write a few posts including a new travelogue for Djibouti. I just need to make another foray into the wilds for some pictures. Tomorrow, is the Muslim New Year which arrived about eight days after the Western one. I've learned a lot more about the Muslim holidays by living here. In Saudi Arabia, people are aware of all the holidays, but only Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha are celebrated with days off.

Anyway, keep checking back for the new posts.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Basketball Today!

One thing different about my assignment here from those in Slovakia and Japan is the proximity to the embassy. In both those countries, I never went to the embassy because they were too far away. But, in Djibouti, I can visit the embassy anytime I want. I play basketball every Monday and Friday with embassy personnel and military from Camp Le Monier. As a matter of fact, I just got back from playing. I did pretty well for an old guy and I discovered something. Just because you're a Marine, it doesn't mean you can play basketball well. They were athletic but they couldn't put the ball in the hoop!

So, time to get psyched up for work tomorrow. My weekend is Thursday/Friday unfortunately. I hope you all enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I'm Euphoric!!

The internet's back up and I'm surfing at high speed! I will do my best to post a new Djiboutian travelogue tomorrow. If not, it should come out no later than Sunday. I'm going to change the usual theme, i.e., encountering dangerous animals, to something a little tamer. Hope you enjoy it.

I had a 'Seinfeld' moment this evening. I've mentioned the street vendors before but I haven't talked about the taxi drivers. They can be even worse, but I wonder; what do they hope to achieve by getting you to change your mind and buy their service? If you're selling sunglasses, persistence can pay off by selling me the glasses. But, if a taxi driver convinces me to get in his cab, where are we going? I didn't need a cab, so, do I make up a destination? I just don't get it!

Really, I should be thankful and just laugh at these cultural experiences. I am so lucky to have a job that not only allows me to travel but also to live overseas for extended periods of time. Still, it's good to vent on occasion.

Until the next time . . .

Slow Internet!!

I may not be posting as much today as I originally intended because the internet has slowed to a crawl. I don't know if it's a provider problem or a problem with the router in the hotel. I couldn't ask the receptionist this morning because he was sleeping on the sofa in the lobby. I tried to wake him, but he mumbled something and then rolled over on his stomach. I felt sorry for him so I picked up his socks and shoes and put them away from the lobby door. I was afraid someone would trip on them and damage them. Anyway, I've done my good deed for the day. Hope to post more later!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Is that spelled 'Ghat' or 'Khat?'

You may or may not have heard of 'Khat.' I first heard of it when I was living in Saudi Arabia. Some of my Saudi friends would talk about it in hushed tones and say that it was 'haram' (forbidden). I eventually pieced together that Khat is a kind of plant usually chewed in the Middle East and East Africa and has addictive qualities. Unlike Saudi Arabia, in Djibouti it is legal and most men will chew it on a regular basis. Having never used it myself, I can't describe the feeling, but I can describe the effect it has on the downtown area. Basically, from early to late afternoon, downtown is virtually devoid of people. Apparently, after purchasing their Khat, everyone retires to secluded areas and enjoys the Khat experience. I really should go no further because there's no way I could describe the phenomonem better than this article by Esquire magazine published last year. Please check it out:

http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0906KHAT_182