October 25, 2009

The Sticker On The Bathroom Wall Asks The Question: "What Are We Going To Do About The U.S.A?"

I realize that I have been lazy. As it happens, just like with anything else, even the things we love doing most can begin to wear us down and become a chore rather than a pleasure if the proper steps aren't taken to fan the flames of enthusiasm. A couple of weeks ago I discovered that my blog entries totaled over one hundred pages - a good start to my novel, and an even better resting place. I needed to catch my breath. But I am back now and have decided that, thanks to some suggestions, I am going to try to do things a little differently. First, I am going to try to write less but say more, which is difficult for me because I love to ramble and use endless commas and semicolons. No one should ever accuse me of excessive conciseness or brevity in my life or my writing, but I have always admired those men who are described as being a "man of wisdom with little words". Perhaps I can be more like them. Secondly, now that a decent enough foundation of setting and mindset has been establish concerning the first week of my adventure, I plan on swinging back and forth between past and present, which will help show what I am doing NOW as well as the events that led me here. Although this might be devastating to my narrative cohesiveness, it will help me to stay inspired. Living in the past can be tiring even though I believe reflection is important. Besides, I can iron it all out later, and chronology isn't a huge concern for me right now; perhaps one day my publisher will disagree.

Last night I was invited to a birthday party by a girl named Janneke, a South African whom I met when I was trying to find an apartment in my first few days here. Janneke had listed a place on a popular expat Taiwanese website, and since our initial correspondence we have talked occasionally on the internet, me always promising to, in typical exaggerated Texas swagger, come out with them and show them how a real American could "drink them under the table". Having no excuse not to go (previously money has always been a deterrent), I walked the three minutes to the 7-11 across the street from the Hsinchu General Hospital and shared a cab with Janneke and her friends Robert and Lucy, all South Africans of varied ages. It was my first time meeting any of them, and they were friendly although they mostly spoke their first language, Afrikaans, which discovered is closely related to German or Dutch. I didn't mind, though, as I have become used to people speaking languages I cannot understand.

The night went exceptionally well, and evolved into something of a bar tour of Hsinchu. The first stop was at a tiny bar in Nanliao - the fishing harbor by the ocean. The establishment was run by a man named Ahur, who I likened to a Taiwanese hippie, and who was drunk when we arrived at 8:30 and continued to become friendlier and more talkative as the toasts went up and down. At one point in the evening he put his arm around me and we talked for a few minutes about his travels around the world and some of the things he has seen. His English was excellent, almost native sounding, and I was fascinated by his life.

The bar itself was even less formal than its proprietor. There was not actually any "bar", from what I could tell, and if one wanted a drink they simply had to find Ahur or one of his friends, who would cooly slip behind a curtain and disappear from sight, emerging seconds later with one's beverage of choice. The decor was amazing, the walls completely covered with posters, records, photographs, magazine cutouts; the furniture was warm and inviting, mostly couches and hand-carved wooden stools. The music was played through a small but powerful set of speakers connected to a computer in the corner, and the South Africans seemed comfortable enough to take control away from the deejay often, which contributed to a strange mix of techno, Afrikaans music and American pop as the soundtrack for the evening. When the small bar became too hot or crowded, or when one of the drunk South Africans shattered a glass of red wine on the floor, the party would spill into the street and onto the wooden dock opposite the bar, and dancing or smoking would ensue as the wet night air swept away the sweat and the darkness of the ocean lapped against the wooden pillars. I hadn't seen stars since leaving Texas on the night when Katherine and I had escaped into the night. In Nanliao, we were just far enough away from the city lights that the brightest ones burned through the cloudy atmosphere. It was nice, romantic, and the warm tequila and cold beer left my lips feeling numb and my head feeling light and carefree.

After midnight we took a cab back to Hsinchu where we stopped in a little bar district and had a couple drinks. Apparently, this area is where all the Westerners go during the weekends, and it was strange to see so many of us in one place. I met a girl named Emily from Ontario, a guy named Russell from Scotland, and a kid from Michigan who had arrived in Taiwan less than 24 hours earlier. I met an middle-aged man named Sean who told me he produced adult films because, and I quote: "The girls will do anything for almost no pay". After allowing me to awkwardly stutter some response about the value of pornography in today's society, he handed me his card which read "Sales Manager for the Gram English Center", and informed that he did not, actually, produce adult films. "When you told me you had only been here two months, I had to mess with you" he said. I drank to gullibility.

We finished the night at a "club", or possibly the closest thing to a club that Hsinchu has to offer. It was not my scene, but I didn't want to be rude and leave the party early, even though it was almost 4:00 in the morning. I didn't dance much, but made a new friend in Joanita, a very pretty South African girl with big dark eyes, and we talked loudly over the beating house music and watched the evening's stragglers dance clumsily on the lighted dance floor. Afterward, I showed the girls into the cab and walked home through the cool autumn air, the light from the new day whispering into the horizon and warming the grey-sky morning.

While this night was good and marks the first time I have really been "out" since my arrival in Taiwan, it was no different than anything I could've done back home in the States. The descriptions are mostly to lay foundation for my commentary which is as follows:

First, last night was the first time I have had to clarify the statement "I am from Texas" with "Texas...United States". In the U.S., it is a given that everyone you meet knows where Texas is, or has at least HEARD of Texas and understands it to be a part of America. However, as Americans we take this knowledge for granted and do not realize that our identities, insofar as our specific home makes up our identity, must be simplified as we broaden our horizons. No longer is my home a house or an address or a city or state; my home is now a NATION, which serves to both inspire pride and national identity, but also to create a small feeling of ambiguousness - a homeless feeling, like you belong everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

Secondly, last night is the first time I have ever been "attacked" for no other reason than because I am an American. This attack came from a South African girl, a friend of a friend of Janneke's, who was VERY drunk and very obviously wanted to take me home with her (I am not being arrogant here...she was disgustingly indiscreet). However, her tactics for wooing me was to continually insult my nationality, which she must have likened to flirting, but which I likened to insulting. On top of all this, she was far too drunk or too rude to learn my name and insisted on calling me "Bob", while I made a strong effort to learn everyone's name, as well as the correct pronunciation. I listened quietly along with other wide-eyed Taiwanese locals while famous South African songs were being played on the stereo and the South African National Anthem was being sung loudly throughout Ahur's bar . I tried to speak little of America, though it is difficult to speak of much else because it is all I have known in 25 years, and asked many questions about culture and language different from my own. Yet, despite my concentrated effort at open-mindedness, I was still accused of arrogance and small-thinking.

I realize now that this girl was probably too intoxicated to know how judgmental and hypocritical she was being, and she was definitely a poor representation of South Africans as a whole, who are very friendly and generally accepting. However, they are also passionate and they love their country and, from what I have seen, are not afraid to display their national pride. So why the double-standard? Why are South Africans allowed to revel in the colors of their country while American have to live in fear that we will be labeled as arrogant or boastful if we speak or celebrate our home? Perhaps, as I see more of this world and meet more fellow travelers who have left their homes I will understand and sympathize more, I will begin to see the ugliness of American pride. Or maybe, just like as a middle-class white male in America can never really identify with centuries of oppression or socioeconomic determinism that flourishes in the undercurrents of American society, I will always be blind to the reasons why Americans are despised because I am not on the outside looking in. Maybe my mere existence is a testament to the perceived superiority of American ideology. I hope all of this becomes more clear as the world gets smaller and the list of places I have called home gets bigger.

Ahur's bar in Nanliao (photo courtesy of Joanita Stander)

One of my favorite lines from the movie "Into The WIld":

Man: "Hello! Where are you from?"

Alexander Supertramp: "I haven't decided yet."

October 11, 2009

All The Roads That Lead Us There Are WInding, And All The Lights That Light The Way Are Blinding

Thursday morning I wake up refreshed but sore and roll slowly into a sitting position on the edge of my box spring, rubbing my eyes and willing myself to walk to the shower so that the day can begin. I faintly remember waking sometime last night to take out my contacts and put on boxers before returning to sleep, and now I undo both of these things and get in the shower. I have learned that the temperature of the water in the shower doesn't necessarily respond to the position of handle, and thus I usually settle for something CLOSE to satisfactory. Today the water is warmer than I would have preferred, but the heat seems to relax my muscles so I don't mess with it. After soaking up the soothing warmth for a few extra minutes, I turn off the shower and towel off, neglecting to shave. I usually don't like shaving everyday, and due to the lax working environment I doubt anyone will care, so I give my stubbly skin a break from the irritation of steel. Anyway, I think a hint of a beard makes me look more...genuine. As if my personality is so amiable that it does not need to be softened by a smooth exterior. That, and I am lazy.

Today is an exciting day, for today I begin working at the elementary school in addition to my morning shift as an English instructor for the Kindergartners. Although I am growing fonder of my Kindy kids by the day, all my previous experience with children has been with those a little older, mostly through my volunteer work as a counselor at Christian Hockey Camps in the hot St. Louis summers (where I usually mentored to 8-11 year old boys) and my limited stint as a substitute teacher in Louise, Texas (where I babysat middle-school and high-schoolers); therefore, I feel that I will be more comfortable around the elementary students and will be able to both teach and "control" them more effectively. I am not really sure what to expect - Connie has told me that I will be teaching a "summer school" class, but I have no idea what that entails, or why, suddenly, they have enlisted ME to teach the class which has been in session for weeks prior to my arrival. Not one to retreat from a new adventure and needing the hours in order to make enough money to pay the bills which seem closer than they really are, I walk to school briskly, looking forward to the afternoon.

The morning's patterns continue on as scheduled, and the fourth day of teaching my Kindergarten class goes better than each of it predecessors. Each day I am learning more and more, figuring out what works and what doesn't, adapting to each child's individual personality and reacting accordingly to how they each learn, communicate, and interact with me and with their classmates. I am sinking my teeth into the intangibles now, the things that no amount of college or instruction or reading or friendly warnings can prepare you for. Everything we do before we get to these intangibles teaches us WHAT it is to be something or to do something, but not until we are in over our heads do we actually learn HOW to be something or HOW to do something. I suppose this is why every employer is so insistent on job experience, because ultimately, this is the only experience that actually amounts to anything at all. As Henry Rollin says: "Knowledge without mileage equals bullshit" - this is fast becoming one of the favorite and most relevant proverbs in my life.

At 11:45 the Kindergarten class ends, and I exit to a few random "bye bye Teacher Tommy"s (although the word for "goodbye" in Chinese is "zia jian" - pronounced "zi [rhymes with 'die'] gen [as in 'genetic'], most Taiwanese people actually just say "bye bye", which is the less formal and friendlier way of saying goodbye - very easy for me to remember) and head upstairs to get lunch. Once again, lunch consists of rice, some seasoned beef, and a side of sliced guava. Very basic, but I suppose most Kindies in the States won't eat much outside of mac n' cheese and apple slices, so I blame the lack of culinary variety on the children's picky taste buds. It doesn't matter much to me anyway; all I taste is how "free" the food is. If there is one thing I have learned in my last two years of relative poverty, it's NEVER turn down free food.

After lunch, I walk up to the Elementary School, which takes about three minutes. The sun is doing some unknown, underhanded business behind a grey-tinted cloud, and the world can feel the effects of its shadiness as I glide along the sidewalk, catching fleeting reflections of myself in the mirrored shop windows. Upon entering the Elementary, I find Connie and ask her what exactly I am to be doing in this summer school class. I remind her that the class starts in less than an hour, and therefore I don't have much time to prepare anything, but she assures me that the class is extremely laid back and I should have no problem "winging it". Ahhh, yes. My specialty. Connie also tells me that this week in summer school the theme is "music", and that everyone is just learning about different instruments, musical styles, and making noise-making machines out of random scraps that are lying around; the one thing I DO need to prepare is a song that I will teach the children, and which we will perform on Friday (tomorrow). "The song should be something popular, but also something slow enough for them to learn the words and sing along to" she says, and I begin rifling through my massive mental library of music, sorting my favorites into "popular hits" and "unheard-ofs", then refining the category of popular hits into "slow songs" and "upbeat songs". Eventually, I feel like I have selected a good song, and Connie approves. The song is downloaded, put on a CD, and lyrics are printed. At 1:30, I climb the three flights on stairs to the small, drab classroom where eighteen 2nd and 3rd graders are waiting for me.

I am not nervous to be in front the grade-schoolers, but their apprehension feels more defined, and I am aware that these kids are old enough to smell fear. I use the same upbeat approach that has served me relatively well with the Kindergartners, speaking loudly and with enthusiasm, gesticulating with my arms and hands for emphasis. I introduce myself, telling the students that I am from "America", and their eyes light up with recognition. Apparently they have heard of America, and their attention has been momentarily captured. I ask each of their names, only understanding about half of the students due to their poor pronunciation skills or quiet speaking voices, but to keep them from getting frustrated I don't press them to articulate or speak up. (After all, I have an entire year to learn their names, and they won't really start to stick until the second or third week anyway).

After introductions are made, I begin to ask the kids what they have been doing up until my arrival, and they all seem eager to provide me with answers pertaining to the class. Although their English is not excellent, it is still refreshing to be able to communicate WITH my students rather than speaking AT them. With some difficulty and often having to ask for things to be repeated, I learn that earlier in the week they were introduced to musical styles and musical instruments. Using this as a segway, I find the large box of scrap paper, rubber bands, marbles, styrofoam, cardboard tubes, tape, and scissors that Connie had earlier said would be in the room, and drag it to the front of the class. "Now", I announce to my curious audience, "we are going to make instruments. The children seem very excited at this, and immediately begin digging into the box and working away, chattering excitedly in a combination on English and Chinese. I oversee production, and I'm genuinely impressed by some of their designs. There is something so beautiful about a child's mind; they are not concerned with functionality or symmetry or aesthetic beauty, they only want to create something unique, caring very little about how others will judge or interpret it. They put little pieces of themselves into everything they make, and send it out into the world proudly, allowing the world to be changed by their raw, beating creativity. For whatever reason, growing up suddenly makes us so concerned with how others view our work, we become so AFRAID that we will fail. We forget how it feels to invent something truly original and personal and unique, and keep all those pieces of ourselves locked inside where no one can laugh or scoff at our efforts. The world needs more pieces of me, pieces of you. It will grow cold without them.

After an hour or so, I think it is time to start learning our "class song", which I have chosen to be "Wonderwall" by Oasis. I find it fitting that my class is going to be singing this song, as Oasis' "What's The Story Morning Glory" was the first actual rock record I ever bought, and so many of the songs on that album still resonate so deeply as the music that opened my twelve year-old eyes to the world of rock n' roll, power chords, and thinly veiled lyrical metaphors about drugs and sex. I remember sitting and listening to the tracks over and over, allowing the music to fill me up and become a permeating soundtrack to my adolescence. Although I know that Oasis is now outdated and foreign and it will not have nearly the same effect on my class of 3rd grade Taiwanese kids as it did on me over a decade ago, it still hits a sentimental chord as I pass out the lyrics, press play on the CD player, and sing along loudly to a live version of "Wonderwall" that someone must have downloaded by mistake instead of the original version. We sing over the song five or six times, and I dodge questions between rehearsals: "What is wonderwall?" someone asks. Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe if we do some drugs we could find out.

Finally, class ends and I walk downstairs, ready to be finished for the day. Rehearsals went well and, although we are supposed to perform in front of the entire summer school tomorrow (not really as daunting as it seems, there are only around 40 kids total), I feel confident that we will do well. I chat with Connie for a minute and meet another teacher, Maynard, who is from the Philippines and speaks with a soft, soothing tenor voice. He seems friendly and experienced, and I feel he might be someone I could hang out with outside of school. I leave school around 4 o'clock, and the day is already feeling much cooler from the clouds and the setting sun. I walk home in a good mood, humming the tune to "Champagne Supernova" by Oasis in my head.

At home at last, I pass the rest of the evening reading and writing, and forgo dinner to save money. I also do my first load of laundry in my new apartment, which is a little confusing considering that ALL of the buttons on the small wash machine are in Chinese. I end up just smashing the controls until the machine starts filling up with water, then throw in what clothes will fit and closely monitor everything for the next 30 minutes to make sure nothing explodes and my clothes aren't destroyed. Everything seems to work out okay; my clothes smell better than before and don't seem to have holes in them. Success. I (miraculously) find a musty old box full of bent wire hangers out on my patio area, and use them to hang up my freshly washed t-shirts in my closet. My jeans I hang over a wooden rod that is suspended overhead on the patio, looking disapprovingly at them, knowing they will be stiff and uncomfortable in the morning. "Oh well", I think, "one more luxury you can learn to live without." I've gotten pretty good at roughing it.

October 2, 2009

Exploring Part II: The Gate To The Past And The Loss Of Humanity

I turn a corner, my eyes running along the street and eventually landing on East Gate, Hsinchu's most famous landmark and the unofficial heart of the city. I walk toward the giant stone structure, stopping to stand on the other side of the four-lane road that encircles the monument. Along the road, cars orbit clockwise and then tear from the landmark's gravity and carom off onto perpendicular streets, while along the outer circles of the sidewalk people move in all directions and without pattern or predictability. The entire spectacle reminds me of a solar system, or the structure of an atom, but without the laws of physics to govern the actions of the objects within the structure. There is only free will and change, and all of this spins madly around the sad, lonely relic of the past, its permanence a testament to both its integrity and its uselessness. "The world is moving much too fast for something so eternal. Buildings and people and beliefs and ideas must be born and die so that new ones can take their place. This world has no place for history" the people and cars say, failing to look up and see the beautiful sky darkening above the East Gate. "Remember" say the stone walls, but no one is listening.

I explore for a few hours, finding many shops that are of interest but nothing that carries any merchandise I cannot live without. The nice thing about having no money is that you begin to reevaluate what you truly need, and in the end, you realize that you can survive with almost nothing. Somewhere to sleep, somewhere to bathe. One meal a day. One pair of jeans, a couple t-shirts, a pair of shoes. A passport. These are the only things I truly need; everything else is a luxury that I can bypass at the moment. It seems that when the choice is present to "buy" or "not to buy", or deciding which thing to buy over some other thing to buy, an added element of stress is introduced into one's life. By completely removing the option of consumerism, I am no longer burdened by these choices and life becomes much simpler. That being said, I still believe that a pair of athletic shorts would improve the quality of my life, so these are fast becoming a part of my canon of "things I need to survive".

Eventually, I stumble upon a Nike outlet store not dissimilar to the one I saw at the RT Mart the day before, its entrance almost obscured by the sidewalk merchandise being flaunted by stores on either side. I go in, look around and am rather disappointed by the selection; after all, if I am going to be wearing these shorts every day, I want to feel comfortable - this means function AND fashion. I keep searching and soon find several more small outlet stores, each one much like the first in size and selection. (Note: One thing that is interesting about shoe stores in Taiwan is that ALL of the display shoes are wrapped in shiny plastic wrap to keep them looking new). After going in and out of several of these stores, I finally find one that has a pair of black Nike basketball shorts in my size. I don't bother trying them on, and pay almost $700 NT which I think is a little expensive by outlet standards, but the shorts seem pretty nice so I am not too concerned about spending a little extra. I'm sure I will get my money's worth from them. As I leave the outlet store with my small brown merchandise bag in hand I realize that I am very hungry and, having not eaten since lunch time, think that I cannot wait until I get home (because I have to FIND home first) before I eat. Once again, my familiar problem of not knowing any Chinese and thus not being able to place an food order plagues and limits my decision making, but I settle on a small shop called Pizza50 which is located right on the circle drive and stands in the shadow of the hulking, historic Gate. As I approach the window to order, I mentally justify my choice of restaurant - which most certainly is NOT a place specializing in local cuisine - by reminding myself how much I miss pizza and how hungry I am. We do not have Pizza50 in the States; therefore, it still counts as a cultural experience. Thankfully, the menu is subtitled in English, and although they have an expansive variety of pastas, wings, and other items one might find at a typical chain pizzeria-esqu place, I choose the "Hawaiian", which is topped with ham and pineapple. The teenager working the counter figures out what I want after I point and gesture in the shape of a large pizza with my hands (my options being an 20 cm [8 inch] pizza or smaller pizza-bagel) and my total comes to $180 NT, or about $5 US. Reasonable. I take a seat at one of the rusty patio-furnitute tables on the sidewalk and watch the cars pass, blurs of taillights and exhaust fumes.

The teenaged worker brings out my pizza about ten minutes later, and it is smaller than I expect it to be. I begin eating and notice several things immediately; first, there is no marinara sauce, or any sauce whatsoever, on my pizza. The cheese has been baked directly onto the crispy, thin crust, and thus the pizza is missing, in my opinion, one of the key elements of "pizza-ness" (to use Platonic terminology); second, there is CORN in the cheese. I'm not sure if this is a characteristic of my particular choice of pizza or of all Taiwanese pizza in general, but I am decidedly against it. I eat it anyway, not seeing a reason to waste perfectly good pizza corn, and the entire pizza is gone in less than five minutes. I am torn in my opinion of Pizza50, but my fullness and my relatively low starting expectations help to quell my disappointment in the lack of quality and, of course, the corn.

At this moment (I blame the corn), my stomach tells me that I must make way for the new addition to my digestive system. My stomach also makes it clear that this task cannot wait, it must be done NOW. Stupid, pushy stomach. Luckily, just as I am about to start panicking (as Hsinchu does not have an abundance of publicly accessible restroom facilities) I see a sign hanging from the corner of the Pizza50 building, brandishing a Pizza50 logo and an arrow that points down the alley along the side of the building. I follow the arrow and discover a small indoor dining room cleverly hidden in the dark avenue, inside the air-conditioning is burning and the tables and floors are clean. The room smells like disinfectant. I find a small hallway in the back of the room and make my way to the bathroom, my stomach beginning to knot in discomfort.

As I enter the bathroom, I am at a loss. There is no toilet. The only thing in the room, besides a single, bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, is a white porcelain bowl recessed into the ground with a small lever positioned behind it, a package of folded toilet tissues sitting on the sea-foam green tile floor at arm's length away. Well, hell. Now I remember reading about this in my research prior to leaving the States: Taiwan's infrastructure was not constructed with internal plumbing in mind, and therefore many public facilities, especially in older buildings, implement the "squatter toilet" for public use. I take a second to work out the logistics and positioning, and then... I will save anyone reading the unpleasantries. Suffice to say, it is a new and unforgettable experience. The luxuries we have become accustomed to at home do much to add a level of comfort to our lives, but also allows us to forget that, in essence, we are all nothing more than animals operating first on life's most basic levels. Money, clothing, fame, and power mean nothing when one is hovering six inches above a hole in the ground in the most degrading position known to man. It is truly a humbling experience. The squatter toilet is the great equalizer.

(Don't worry, my apartment has an ACTUAL toilet).

As I leave the bathroom and walk back out into the city street, I feel a clash between expectation and experience. The only other time I have had to "squat" to use the restroom has been on camping trips, and the closeness to nature allows one to ease more comfortably into undomesticated behavior, the trees and the feeling of seclusion easing the dissonance between the body's natural desires and the years of societal indoctrination regarding how a civilized person "ought to" behave. However, here there is no distance between civilization, with its norms and rules, and the natural and unapologetic acts that are so distinctly human. I feel a slight tinge of guilt, as if I had violated some unspoken statute and succumbed to the animalistic instincts that we are taught, from birth, to repress and to be ashamed of. I have desecrated the city. I look up to see the East Gate looking down on me, its illuminated face warmly watching me. It tells me not to worry, that it remembers when there were no buildings, no restaurants, no internal plumbing. It tells me it remembers a time when human beings embraced their humanity, their human-ess, instead of drowning themselves in technology, in materialism, in progress. Look how far we have come, but at what cost? Have we sacrificed what it means to be human, or enhanced it? The old Gate doesn't know the answer, so I start walking on.

I pretend to know the way home, but I am not fooling anyone. It is completely dark now, and as I walk my skin is showered in a endless multitude of colored lights, their reflections dancing on wide, wetted eyes. I try to remember the path that David and I went the other day, but cannot recall the specific street we took, so I settle for a general course of direction. All of the small shops begin to look the same, seemingly familiar but too analogous to give me any confidence in my bearings. I walk for a half-mile or so away from the busy commercial area around the East Gate, the sound from the people and cars dying away as the streets become less traveled, the lights becoming less generous. YES! Up ahead I see the Windance Center, letting me know I am on the right path. Thank God. It is getting late and, although I know crime is almost non-existant in Hsinchu, I still don't want to be slogging through the streets in the dead of night.

I keep walking for what seems like hours. I'm not exactly sure where I have gone wrong, but the street I am on does not lead me to my doorstep. In fact, it seems to be leading me out of town, but I have walked too far to turn around now. I continue on, fingers crossed, until I begin to pass some familiar sights. FInally, I run into my old friend Jinguo Rd, and I am ecstatic to have found my way back to my way back home. I walk the last mile or so home with a light heart, proud of myself for having navigated the city without using or map or once asking for directions, though I doubt it would have done much good anyway. At home, I immediately take off my clothes and get in the shower, washing the sweat from my body and the dirt and blood from my aching feet. I estimate that I have walked somewhere between four and six miles, and the toll is already being felt on my inactive muscles. After the shower, I put on my new shorts which fit perfectly and lay on my back on my "bed". The mesh of the shorts feels cool and soft against my legs, and I am grateful I now have a third option between khaki shorts and nudity. I close my eyes and fall asleep with all the lights still on, my hair still wet from the shower.