I am clearly going to have to start tagging these posts with keywords indicating their contents. I find myself thinking, “Oh, I should mention ‘X’ in the next blog. Wait… did I talk about that already?” If I were tagging, I could search for them. ‘Oh, yes, I did tell the story about the lizard and the clergyman already. No need to bring that up again. I can just say, ‘Albuquerque is weird,’ and everyone will remember what I’m talking about.”
Otherwise, I’ll end up like my grandfather, bald and telling the same joke about how you avoid falling hair (step quickly to one side) every night at dinner for my entire childhood. Of course, that might not be so bad: I’m still fond of that joke. It’s one of those memories that says “Home” to me, just as much as my grandmother’s books or the sound of cicadas on a summer night. (Gods, I hated that drone at the time. Now? Nostalgia City.)
I’m in Washington State now, staying with my sister in her house on a lake a little north of Seattle. Here’s the view as I write this:
If you want more cool photos, skip to the bottom. The next few paragraphs are all about travel minutiae, and you’ve been warned.
I was in Albu… sigh… “that city” until Monday. Sunday started off with lots of Elder Scrolls Online, first with my cousin and her husband packed into their gaming office, all on our separate computers and talking to each other as we played, which was really fun, and then (from 10-1) with my sister and mum. That got a little harder; hearing their voices through my headset in RaidCall, hearing Lorrie and Shawn in RaidCall 1/4 second after hearing them live, trying to avoid audio feedback, etc. It wasn’t really too bad, but it took some managing. That said, online gaming with friends in the same room was fantastic. It definitely added to the experience — which, up until now, has only been me alone with the voices in my headset. (They’re talking to me now… “Kill the orc! The one walking up the drive in the postman’s uniform. It a ruse, he wants you dead. Quickly, attack now!” How strange that the power light on the headphones is off. And they’re on the coffee table. Oh no, the orc’s ringing the doorbell! Be right back.)
Ok, now that I’ve cleaned off, where was I? Oh right, gaming. So, playing an MMO with other people physically present was a lot more fun, and I now envy Shawn and Lorrie for their ability to share the ongoing experience. Clearly I need to find a fellow gamer in Chiang Mai — how hard can that be?
So the rest of the day after the game was conversation, Youtube, movies, etc. Shawn tried to rope me into karaoke, but I need to be a lot more drunk for that, and I was flying the next day so that wasn’t going to happen. But we did watch an awesome little movie called The One I Love. I’d heard of this from an article I read about the best weird movies of 2014, in which the author related that the movie studio had carefully avoided putting any spoilers in the trailers because the twist would be totally ruined if they gave away clues. I mentioned have read that, and everyone was immediately on board.
Here’s the trailer for it: http://youtu.be/jCOvhojlZzQ
(My first video embed in WordPress! Yaaay!)
I, of course, also won’t say anything about what happens. But if you think of Terry Gilliam being invited to write an episode of Portlandia, you wouldn’t be far off from how the movie feels. I very much recommend it.
Monday, Lorrie was off to work early, Shawn and I hung out and played some ESO. Also, I got an e-mail from the Thai visa people. I’d sent them a couple of prods over New Year’s saying, “Hey, you guys said we could wait on this, since I wasn’t heading to Thailand before the end of January, but it’s now early January so when did you guys want to get that started?” They replied Monday with a set of instructions and 3 documents that I’d need, two of which had my “official” (mailing) address misspelled. Sigh. I replied with a “thank you, but… um…”, and hoped for the best.
Shawn dropped me at the airport around 11:30 and headed in to work. (He’s got his own healthcare software consulting business.) The two of them left for Hawaii the next day, so hopefully they’re now enjoying themselves with sun, surf, greater-than-zero-percent-humidity, and way too much food and drink. Thanks for a great time, guys. 🙂
My trekking pack, again, avoided notice crammed under the seat in front of me in the tiny-ish plane, and I made it back to LA safely, making my way from the plane, through the 3rd world back corridors and out to the blue skies in a reverse of my previous descent to the underworld. I did not return with fire — the TSA confiscated it on my way out, so sorry mankind — but at least I did not look behind me and remain trapped there forever, so I’m taking it as a win. I made my way to the Virgin America terminal for my flight to Seattle a few hours later, and had a great fish and chips lunch at Gladstones in terminal 3. The Seattle flight was like all Virgin America flights: awesome. Plenty of room, my trekking backpack slid into the overhead like a chili dog into a Mets fan’s spacious maw, and I was seated and we were off.
I should mention that, on the way to and from That City I read 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights, by Ryu Mitsuse. This is a classic work of Japanese scifi from the 60s, only recently translated into English.
I’d like to say that it’s good. In fairness, it *is* good, by which I mean well-written in the achievement of what the author was trying to achieve. And the front bits were fascinating. But then it drew into an extended sequence of historical saviors confronting the innate evil in mankind generated by an extra-universal entity who hated life and wanted it to self-destruct. Which is a cool concept, but it meandered around setting up a final battle and then ending in ennui while the universe slowly drained of energy and the stars died. Asian authors are often driven by different narrative structures than Western ones, and draw on different mythological roots, and I often love that, and I can see the Hindu creation/destruction myths that this reflects. But it quit before the rebirth of the next cycle, leaving you with the despair of the heroes and zero sense that the next cycle would ever arise. And not even a ironic, cackling-triumphant-villain defeat, just… blah, with an afterword by someone else suggesting that the story reflected the isolation of lost romantic love. So, yeah. Kind of a bummer. But I finished it just before we arrived in Seattle, and then I was distracted, so the bummeriness had little lasting impact.
My sister Sarah picked me up in Seattle and the drive to her place was quick and entertaining, and had a point, and did not end in ennui. But it was pretty much past both our bedtimes when we got home, so we didn’t do much once we arrived beyond unpack the groceries, make up the murphy bed in the living room of their one bedroom place, and go to our respective slumbers. (Les, Sarah’s husband, was away on business, so I guess I won’t see him until my next pass through here in a year.) The murphy bed was comfortable, but we ended up pulling the mattress into their office for the next night, which considerably diminished the attempts of their two cats to wake me up to play with them.
Just before bed, the Thai visa guy replied (much faster than I expected, given the time difference) with corrected documents. Sadly, one of them, the visa application form, now appeared completely blank, with none of my info. The other one was corrected, though, and I figured I could fill out the blank one myself, so I sent him a polite reply to that effect and went to bed. After I was asleep, he replied with another attempt, so I got it when I woke up — and it was still blank. At this point, it was looking more like a weird, PDF, tech problem, more than it looked like him saying, “Fine! You don’t like it? Fill it out yourself!” So, instead of looking at it on my iPad, I looked at it on my Mac laptop and, low and behold, all the fields were there. They were there in the prior one, too. Don’t know why the iPad couldn’t show them, but I’ll remember that bug for future reference.
Tuesday, Sarah and I had planned to go to her mailbox place to properly register me in their system — Sarah’s going to be getting all my mail, and letting me know of anything important (all 0.005% of it). Now that I had the visa paperwork, Tuesday turned into a weirdly elaborate process of trying to send it. The checklist of stuff to send to the consulate (in Portland, Oregon, of all places) included the visa people’s 3 documents, my passport, a copy of plane ticket confirmation e-mail and a copy of my bank statement (proving that I wasn’t coming there to mooch off the Thai people), a $200 money order to pay for the privilege, and 2 passport photos. This was when I realized that, although I’d had a dozen passport photos made for future use, I’d accidentally sent them all to New York (my last stop on the US tour) along with some other stuff I was going to be dealing with while I was there. Much frustration. So aaaaargh. But, post offices can do money orders and can often do passport photos, and could express mail the paperwork (as the checklist required), so we cheerily headed off to the local PO, only to find that this one didn’t do photos. But they recommended the PO in a nearby town, so we drove there — through the circuitous route Google’s turn-by-turn instructions recommended. We waited in line there, got to the front, discovered that they normally can do photos, but their photo guy wasn’t in that day. ‘Cause taking a photo? Jeez, that’s a specialty. It’s not like anyone can just whip out a piece of electronics and take a photo. That’s rocket science shit, that is. (They seemed like perfectly nice people, and I just smiled and said Ok, but… come on!)
The PO guy suggested a nearby drug store, or CostCo. Sarah’s a CostCo member, and it sounded more reliable, and we knew they’d have someone competent to take a photograph, so we went there. They could give me a set of 4 pictures (passport photos only come in sets of 4 — don’t ask me why) for $4.99, so they took the picture in 10 seconds and told me to come back in 20 minutes to get them. Despite the serious temptation to buy a giant box of goldfish crackers, we wandered out of CostCo and into a nearby restaurant for a salad for Sarah and some passable fish and chips for me. (Not Gladstones quality, but they were fine.) One perfectly nice meal later, we wandered back, got the photos, and then headed back to the original post office.
I needed a new pair of shoes, and hadn’t been able to find any I like. Sarah mentioned an outlet mall nearby and suggested we go. I’ll skip over the painful, futile process that followed, but let me just summarize by saying that, 90 minutes later, Sarah had a new pair of shoes and I did not. So, clearly, not futile for her. Let’s just pretend that wasn’t her intention all along, shall we?
So, then back to her local post office, and a long line that she stands in while I (a) double-check that I have everything, (b) fill out an Express mail envelope to go to the Thai consulate, (c) fill out a return Express mail envelope to send everything back with (but to New York, where I’ll be by then), and (d) rejoin her in line. I get to the counter, get the money order — thank gods I just barely had the $200 in travel cash, because it turns out they don’t take credit cards to pay for money orders — and then stuff everything into the first Express mail envelope and off it goes. Exactly as easy as it should have been 5 hours earlier. Wait, what’s that grinding sound? Oh, right, that’s my teeth.
Then we went across the street to Sarah’s mailbox store to confirm my identity and right to have a mailbox — where I then cursed myself for not having done that first because I’d just sent one of my two main forms of Id to a consulate in Oregon. Thankfully, Sarah was driving a car which had my name on the lease as well as hers, so its registration papers were a valid second Id. Whew. Then we went to Wells Fargo bank to replace my cash, return home a little after 4, joined my mother online for a few hours of Elder Scrolls gaming, and that was pretty much the day.
Today, Sarah’s at work, and I’ve been spending the day reading, and trying to get my phone switched over to T-mobile. Don’t get me started.
Thankfully, in addition to trying to switch my phone — which, like most humans, is resisting change, and doesn’t appear to be unlocked in spite of the approving e-mail from AT&T — I’ve at least had time to sit and read on the porch outside. My sister and her husband rent this great little house on a lake, with ducks and geese and a vegetable garden and a few sheds and now a shipping container with all of my stuff in it. Here was the view this morning, when the sun was just coming over the horizon:
And here’s a quick one of the ducks, hoping that someone here will feed them (as someone normally does). These 4 ducks seem to live here, and have some strange names that I don’t really remember clearly but are something like Huey, Dewey, Old Netch, and Miss Rancible. (I’m pretty sure I don’t have all of those right, but they were odd names.)
This is a beautiful location, and the little house is lovely. I’m sure reading on the porch is pretty awesome in non-winter seasons, but even now it’s great. On the porch with a cup of hot tea in a thermos mug, a warm jacket, a blanket over my legs, it’s exactly what I want from winter. (For the record, I’ve done this in Montana in below-30 weather too.) And the weather’s better than I expected — it was chilly and overcast most of the day yesterday, but it’s been blue skies most of today. Still chilly — a high of 47°, and 85% humidity. And the ground almost never looks dry: I keep thinking it must have just rained a bit while I wasn’t looking, but nope. It’s just a literal rainforest, and that’s that. But I could totally live here. Or someplace very much like it. I love this sort of climate. (Good thing I’m moving to an equatorial country, where this never happens! Le Sigh.)
Of course, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a nice place to sit and read must be in want of a book. So I’m reading another of my Christmas presents: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman:
It’s not a long book, and I’m about 1/2-way through an hour in. I might have a chance to read it to my nieces in New York, if they’re into it. 8-year old twin girls, smart and charming, and pretty active readers… they might like it. It’s a bit scary, but Neil is famous for writing scary books that kids love. It is, obviously, quite good, and I hardly need to expound the virtues of a Neil Gaiman book to anyone who knows me well enough to read my blog. You know Neil. You know How He Is.
I was encouraged in my reading by the fact that the power went out for 2 hours, but it came on again (as power often does), so all’s well. And I had the two cats for company, named <something> and Sushi. (I really need to get better with animal’s names. And people’s names. But I guess I repeat myself.) In my experience, cats come in 3 varieties:
Sarah has #’s 2 and 3. I’ve numbered the types in the order that I like them the most, but I like nearly all cats, regardless of type, and these are fine examples of the species. They both go in and out all day, roaming the lakeside and knocking at the door to be let in for snacks. I’m not kidding. The #2 type knocks at the back screen door. The #3 type scratches at the front door — in a way that I thought was squirrels chewing on the house until I figured out that it was a cat — then I’d open the door, it would see me, and change its mind. Typical type 3. After a few rounds of this, it ended up coming in with the #2, emboldened by its company, and it’s remained inside ever since.
While I was sitting and reading, I heard a sharp whistle, and turned to see a guy on what looked like a combine/mower/harvester thingy waving at me from the next yard, where Sarah had said her nice, neighborly old guy lived. I stared at him, trying to adjust the focal length of my eyes from my iPad and figure out if he could possibly be waving at me. So, I tentatively waved back and he seemed satisfied and drove off to his harvesting/mowing/combining, but I knew it wouldn’t end there. It never does. After a bit, I became aware of someone coming towards the back porch, and sure enough there was. I smiled externally and sighed, internally. Human contact. The old guy said hello, by which I knew he meant, “Who are you and why are you in my neighborhood?” So I cheerfully said hello back, and that I was Sarah’s brother, staying with her for a few days. We exchanged a few agreeable words, in which he said he’d wondered if I was someone else now renting the place (as if Sarah wouldn’t have said goodbye, but perhaps the movers loading my stuff into the new shipping container had confused him), and then he confused me as being Sarah’s husband’s brother, and mentioned that they were both nice people. I agreed, and noted that his face was bleeding. (I never know, when people’s faces are bleeding, which side on my own face to indicate. If it’s on their right, do I paw at my own right side, or at my left as if I was a mirror? I chose the same side on me, and he treated me like a mirror and touched the wrong side. Oh well.) He said that wasn’t surprising, he’d been hacking at some brambles. He’s in his 80s and still chops wood and all that Clean Living sort of stuff. (My words, not his.) Good for him. Anyway, he left after that, and I went back to my book. Such is the excitement of country living. (And, yes, I just used “living” twice in too few sentences. Can’t come up with a synonym that sounds better for either use. Sorry, it’s been a slow day.)
And that’s it. I cannot help but feel that this was all a little too detailed, but there we are. I’ll try to do better (that is, less) next time. 😉