Posts Tagged ‘English’

“Take care of these two girls,” the hostel owner pulled me aside as we walked into the bar.  This was my job for the night, helping these guests have fun in Istanbul.  Not a serious responsibility, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

After drinking beers and booze and more beers with these two kids in the hostel before we all stumbled out into the night, I had gotten to know a few things about their lives.  They were gap-year girls, traveling from Australia around Europe, sharing costs and experiences.  They were nice kids–just graduated high school, even.  Their plan was to linger in Europe for months, staying with friends along the way.

I hung around outside on the club’s balcony while they danced inside.  It was the usual Turkish fare, astral music sounding more appropriate for a bar on Tatoonie.  Between glasses of raki, Turkey’s national stiff drink, I stared at the city, blanketed in light.  I downed another glass of raki and walked to the bathroom, checking on them as I left.

I didn’t even have time to wash my hands before they approached me in the hall.  They announced that they wanted to go with me to find “bread.”  I looked them over.  There was no hint of joking.  They really wanted bread, and they wanted it now.  We hiked six floors downstairs to the entrance, passing a gay bar outside.

“Josh, can we go to the gay club?”

“No, I’m not gay yet.”

“OK, we’ll go tomorrow.”

Out on the street and on the hunt for “bread,” I led them to a nearby buffet restaurant.  After three weeks in Istanbul, I’ve learned that it’s a cheap place.  More importantly, they also serve bread, the holy grail of our misguided crusade.  I’m a very frequent customer–I eat there almost every day, returning for the low prices and good quality.  It’s a favorite of mine.

“You can look around and see if you like anything. There’s a lot and there’s the bread so maybe–“

“Josh, this food is all shit.  I want a kebap.”

“…OK.  Yeah, let’s go find one.  That’s easy.  They’re everywhere.”

They were everywhere and nowhere.  We weaved through Istiklal, the main thoroughfare for night-life boasting 3,000,000 visitors daily, but nothing seemed to be open.  In the meantime, the girls bargained with an ice cream vendor for a deal, then asked for an extra empty cone to really sweeten the pot.  We took to the sidestreets, the meandering dark alleys and cobblestone paths, hunting down a local shop.  Along the way, one of the girls discovered she had the innante ability to speak to cats, so she made sure to chat with and throw ice cream cones at every stray animal we saw along the way.  With all of this going on, taxis harassing us, drunk men following us, and a litter of cats mewing for more ice cream, our cat whisperer announced that she had to wee.

“Go in the corner next to the cat you fed,” I helpfully suggested.

“That’s not nice.  Oh, there’s a bar here, let’s go in!”

Before I could say no, I was walking into a smoky Turkish lounge bar.  The lighting was subdued candlelight.  A female singer was on stage, surrounded by several local couples enjoying a romantic dinner.  We were seated in the very front of the room, immediately in front of the singer, who smiled at us.  While Catwoman used the restroom, I looked around and surveyed the room.  The cuisine was overpriced finger food.  All the couples I had seen when we walked in were definitely staring at us.  Staring us down.  I started to wonder if they were really couples at all.  The men seemed much older than the women accompanying them.  Was this one of those scam places that slap hapless foreigners with overpriced bills at the end?  I competed with the amps to communicate with the kids.

“Shit guys, I think we need to get the hell out of here.”

“WHAT?”

“I SAID WE SHOULD GO!”

“WHAT?  WHY?”

“BECAUSE THIS PLACE COSTS A LOT AND THESE WOMEN LOOK LIKE THEY HAVE FATHER ISSUES.”

We ran out with our heads held low, following the increasingly dark alleys until we stumbled on the light of the main strip.  Now near the hostel, a line of kebap restaurants were hustling.  The girls’ eyes lit up with joy.  We sat inside a restaurant with a particularly hawkish waiter and ordered meals; he took it upon himself to sit at our table and flirt.  Only not with me, so that was a bit off-putting.  It wasn’t long after the kebaps arrived that the girl who had started this nonsense announced she wasn’t all that hungry.  In fact, she seemed so not hungry that she couldn’t wait to get all her food out of her body, throwing up more colors than can be found in a bag of Skittles.  The manager rushed over with a plastic bag.  Catwoman and I each held one handle of the bag in front of her face like she was a horse feeding at the trough.  Both the bag and my hands were filled with bile.  Before the liquid could dissolve my skin, I handed it off to the hawkish waiter who had brought us inside, the poor fool.  The manager pointed outside, making vague promises of a bathroom, and ushered the girls out personally.

They all left for the bathroom, following the manager’s instructions.  I continued eating my kebap, because, shit, it tasted good, and the waiter was staring at me from the corner, the frown on his face not turning upside-down anytime in the near future.  I looked down at my food.  Then I remembered the mission objective from before we entered the bar and grudgingly left to follow them.  I told the waiter I’d be right back.  His eyes were a thousand-yard stare; I don’t think he even heard.  It didn’t take long to find them; instead of a bathroom, the girl was leaning over a public trash can.  Tourists were taking photos.  They noticed me approaching.

“Josh!  What are you doing?  Go back inside!”

Dry heaving.

“What the hell are you talking… what?  She’s sick!”

Choking.

“Yeah, but our food’s alone in there!  Go save our food!”

Gurgling.

“The food!”

I looked at her.  She was serious, again.  I couldn’t find fault in those priorities or that level of resolve, so I turned back to the restaurant.  I immediately heard the manager from across the square.

“My friend, you catch!”

Without warning, this middle-aged man threw an indeterminate object across the entire line of kebap vendors.  My first instinct was to cringe, anticipating a tomahawk.  In its mid-air tumble, I gradually worked out that it was actually just a water bottle, and that this was a good thing, since it was something I could give it to the girl.  Unfortunately, even with all these calculations running, I didn’t have time to process how to catch the damn thing, so it smacked me in the head.  The vendors cackled.

“Sorry, my friend,” the doubled-over manager huffed.

I trotted over to the girls and waved the water.  But the kid refused, assuring me everything was wonderful. 

“Are you OK?”

“…yesh.”

“Try again.  Are you really OK?”

“…yesh.”

“…cool.  Well, let’s eat.  This night is weird as shit, huh?  I just got hit in the fucking head by…”

“Josh, we don’t have money.”

“YOU WHAT?”

She explained that she meant she wanted to take as much of the food as possible back to the hostel to save on eating costs.  That’s admittedly better than the beating I assumed we’d all be getting from the manager.  I was already well-versed with the strength of his throwing arm.  We entered the restaurant and were greeted with smiles.  We took our seats.  My meat had already gotten cold.  The ill girl decided it was as good a time as any to take a nap, so she laid her head in a puddle of spilled lemonade.   Me and Catwoman began chatting some more, sharing travel stories, pilfering chicken kebap morsels from the napper.  Suddenly the girl sprang up, motioning for a plate.  Her friend held a dish in front of her mouth, and a most disturbing deluge of stomach juice was unceremoniously deposited upon it.  The waiter, who had by now snapped out of his existential crisis, ran over with wetnaps.  Catwoman looked at me.  I looked at my food.  Then we all looked at the manager and pleaded, almost in unison:

“Check, please.”

“I’d like this to go.”

“BLEEEEEEEERGH!!”

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After hanging out exclusively with goats for a week on the very off-season island of Santorini, one day I wondered how I would react if one of them began to like me as more than a friend.  Initially shrugging off the thought of something so unlikely, I found myself more wrapped up in it as the lonely days progressed.  Finally I decided to sit down and write this power ballad, sifting through my own feelings and hopefully explaining them to the amorous ungulate.

I call it “Bleating Heart.”

 

Oowee girl. 

 

Laughing in the fields with mouthfuls of oats

You were my favorite goat

Spring days spent running back and forth

The me of then did not yet know

 

I’m not sure how to break it to you

But I just came to play with you

And I really don’t mean to gloat

To me you’re just a goat

 

I mean, sure I think you’re cute and all

But it’s not worth the life I’d give up

Love for a small-town grazer

Me, out there a world player

 

I’m not about to let you convince me to

Even though your friends thought I’d want it too

So I really think you should know

To me you’re just a goat

 

I guess it would be good to establish the scene.


I’m sitting in a freezing tent overlooking Rome’s Tiber River.  The time is hovering around 1:00 AM.  It has been a drizzly day, a rainy week, and a boozy binge.  Wine is cheap in Italy, but its quality is not.


I’ve been going at this trip for three months now.  Grazing glaciers, inside ruins, under seas, over seas, through valleys, above mountains, 12,000 kilometers by rail, boat, bus, bike, plane and foot–this is the easy part of my plan.  I never, ever know where I will be two days from the current day.  I usually don’t know what day of the week it is.  Sometimes I’ve had to sleep in a different place every night.  I’ve woken up once and forgotten which country I was in.  People I meet along the way ask me what my plans are, where I’m going, or how long I’m going to do this.  I just don’t know.  There is no hint in my answer as to whether this is a good or bad deal; it is the deal, and I neither mind it nor relish it.  I appreciate the rush of cultures and the chance it provides to meet the world on my own terms.  I regret the missed opportunities to stay and learn more.  I am very fortunate.  I am whittling away mispent youth.  I am happy.  I am happy.


They ask me if I’m traveling alone.  The most common question.  They look at my backpack and ask.  Well, yeah, I am.  Of course.  Except that I’m not.  Physically, yes, but I’m connected with friends old and new, the people I’ve known and the people I’m coming to know.  I’m always missing people.  The pattern: I meet people, get to know them, escalate a friendship, we have fun, maybe some mutual epiphanies or two, then abruptly separate.  This trip is supposed to help me connect with people, and every day, it is.  But I guess I never stopped to think for how long I could be connected.


Then there’s Caligula.  They always ask me about Caligula.  I enthusiastically explain that he’s a 1979 historical pornography.  They invariably knod their heads in silence.   It makes me think I’m the only person who can appreciate Caligula for who he is.

 

 

“This place has really gone to shit.”

 


I stand in front of ruins, or, if I’m lucky enough, in them.  I think about the people who used to stand and walk and talk where I am now, and how much we would have in common.  But that’s just the effect of ruins: by definition they evoke thoughts of the past and a future without us in which everything we’ve ever known will have similarly eroded.  I think about the people I’ve met and I wonder what they’re doing right at that moment.


Like now, my host in Reykjavik.  What’s she doing?  Scuba diving?  She was an instructor.  Or Ewen in Dunoon?  He fucked up his leg.  Probably having sex with sheep.  Taro in dirty Wales?  Could be watching Ewen’s sheep sex via camchat.  Kristina in London?  Reading would be a good guess.  Friends from Amsterdam?  Back to real life.  And the Erasmus students, my God, the students from Brno!  They’re probably just getting really drunk or dancing, but definitely not dying anywhere.  The Japanese friends I met in Prague?  Back in Japan, but doing what?  Karaoke?  And this one other guy who got banned from Europe.  Not any specific country, but Europe.  The whole thing.  How much of a badass do you have to be to get blacklisted from an entire continent?  Apparently, as much of one as he was.  The Slovenian who designed a spaceship powered by bearshit and hosted me for a week?  Moving on to the building phase?  I wonder.  All these things, I wonder while I wander.


It’s freezing in this tent.  I don’t know why I thought this might be a good idea.  The tent, I mean.  I also don’t know why I wrote this out, but then again, I still don’t know where I’ll even be tomorrow.  Taking a cheap train south, but then what?  I’m running out of Europe; only Greece is left.  I have to climb Mt. Olympus in a Kratos costume and topple Zeus before I start to enter the long string of countries I couldn’t even place on a map.  The main part of the trip.  The long part.  Then, finally, at the end where these sorts of things tend to be, is the goal.


And I wonder what will happen then.

 

A hurried, consonant-heavy language with no time for vowels, the newborn Czech Republic prudently decided to adopt its namesake language in 1993.  Pronounced “Czech me out” by clever tourists who somehow have never been tapped as poet laureate, Czech is the native tongue of some 13 million people worldwide.  With an Omega-level mutant ability to form entirely vowel-less sentences like “plch pln skvrn prch skrz drn prv zhlt čtvrt hrst zrn” (“a doormouse full of stains escaped through grass after first eating a quarter-handful of grain”), it’s surprising that the language hasn’t just given up on phonemes all together.  Here are the seven phrases and words that will help me to survive and reproduce in the Czech Republic, the ninth country on my trip around the world.

 

1. Hello/Hi.      “Dobrý den/Ahoj.”      [DOH-bree dehn/ah-HOY]

This “hello” can be used when entering stores or approaching people on the streets.

2. Yes/No.     “Ano/Ne.”     [AH-no/neh]

A bi-syllabled “yes.” 

3. Do you speak English?     “Mluvíte anglicky?”     [MLOO-vee-te AHN-glee-skay?]

Don’t expect the locals to shoulder the entire burden.

4. Where is…?     “Kde je…?”     [kday yah…?]

Very useful in Prague, full as it is with fairytale winding cobblestone roads.

5. How much?      “Kolik to stojí?”      [ko-lick toh sto-yi?]

Cheap.  It’s cheap; no need to ask.

6. Delicious!      “Lahodný!”      [lah-hod-nee]

Czech food is emphasizes meaty meals, with pork the most likely meat on your plate.

7. Thank you.      “Děkuji.”      [dyeh-ku-yi]

You’ve just been helped and/or fed. Congratulate your partner on becoming a bit more internationalized. If you are carrying prize ribbons or certificates of achievement, give one to your new friend.

 

Notable customs:

  • Per capita, Czech people consume more beer than anyone else in the world, outclassing such luminaries as the Irish, the Germans, and John Belushi.
  • Czech and Slovak are mutually intelligible, to a similar extent that Spanish and Portuguese speakers can understand each other’s language.
  • Franz Kafka lived and wrote in Prague, but his stories aren’t exactly a reflection on the rest of the Czech literary tradition.

 

But if you wake up one morning and find yourself transformed into a giant insect, you might as well just run with it.

 

Honorable mentions:

I don’t understand.      “Nerozumín.”     [neh-ro-zou-meen]

Fetch! (inf., to a dog)     “Aport!”     [AH-port!]

Good dog! (inf., to a dog)     “Hodnej!”     [HOHD-nay!]

 

The most common first language within the European Union, German is spoken by nearly 100,000,000 people.  Not limited to Germany alone, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and tiny Liechtenstein all feature large contingents of German speakers and varying degrees of official state recognition.  With a hefty alphabet just foreign enough to throw umlauts over three–count ’em–THREE vowels, one can only imagine that they must have simply run out of elbow strength by the time their pen reached the letter ß, thereby saving it to be mispronounced in an entirely different manner.  Here are the seven phrases and words that will help me to survive and reproduce in Germany, the eighth country on my trip around the world.

1. Hello.     “Hallo.”     [HAH-loh]

Dutch, German, English–all the same, save for a few scrambled letters.

2. Yes/No.     “Ja/Nein.”     [yah/nine]

Very similar to Dutch, nein?

3. Do you speak English?     “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”     [SRAHK-en zee ANG-lish?]

It works more often than you’d expect.

4. Where is…?     “Wo ist…?”     [voh ist…?]

Now wait a minute–this is just a poor man’s Dutch!

5. How much?     “Wie viel kostet das?”     [vee feel KOS-tet das?]

Uncanny, once again.

6. That tastes good!     “Das schmeckt gut!”     [dahs schmekt goot!]

German food is meaty; vegetarians need not learn this phrase.

7. Thank you.     “Danke.”     [DAHN-kuh]

You’ve just been helped and/or fed. Congratulate your partner on becoming a bit more internationalized. If you are carrying prize ribbons or certificates of achievement, give one to your new friend.

Notable customs:

  • Germans often tip by rounding up the bill, but rarely bill by rounding off the tip.
  • Don’t drink until a toast has been said, and stay away from Heineken, because PABST BLUE RIBBON!


 “Heineken?  Fuck that shit!  PABST BLUE RIBBON.”

Honorable mentions:

Bless you!     “Gesundheit!”     [geh-soond-hait!]

“A cataclysmic downfall or momentous, apocalpytic event!”   “Götterdämmerung!”   [goy-te-deh-me-rung!]

Happy Hanakah!      “Glücklicher Hanukkah!”      [GLOOK-leesh-er hah-na-kah!]

Back when I first arrived in Japan three-and-a-half years ago, I was deeply in lust.  The cashier at my local McDonald’s (the one just past the rice fields) caught my eye and I wrote a power ballad on a series of napkins, lamenting the unattainable.  Although I later learned that she may have been, in fact, a teenager, that didn’t alter the fundamental dynamics of our relationship.  I associated McPork sandwiches with pleasure and those who handled my McPork sandwiches with all the trappings of a common streetwalker.  Pleasure was provided at a cost–120 yen for two buns–and I could scarcely hide the euphoria of interaction from my young students, who brought our relationship to a climax by confronting both of us at the counter: “Joshu, is she your type?”

“O damnation, children; it is not for you to bring into the light that which survives only when nurtured in the darkest recesses of our subconscious.”  Ours was the bread mold of love.

McDonald’s Girl, although your smile eventually faded as more stable and long-term relationships truly impacted more than my colon alone, one of whom is at the very heart of my trip around the world, I want to thank you for briefly making me feel like a schoolboy. I’ve thought about you and the fascinating 1:1 correspondence between food and romance.  I fear you would not recognize me anymore.  I’m much more confident.  I also hate your former employer.  And I don’t even really eat beef so much now.  But thanks to you, I once was lovin’ it.

 

Like this, except with more lotion.

 

To all the unrequited lovers out there, supersize your hearts and hear my sad story:

 

Ode to the McDonald’s Girl

Oh, McDonald’s Girl!

The way

You tilt your head

Your eyes light up

You stare at me

–And giggle!–

When I try to order every night, stammering

“Uhh, yes, good evening…I…umm…hmm…well…I want…”

But you

Just cut me off now,

Already knowing my order full well.

I pay you, briefly touching

And out from the fryer come

Two hot McPork sandwiches

My favorite.

Oh, you know me too well!

Just not Biblically,

But, oh,

How I would love to see you smile.

 

 

Oh, McDonald’s Girl!

I have been

So patient

Waiting in line for you

Behind all these other suitors.

How I

Would love for you to say,

“Welcome. Can I take your order?”

But until then

I wait,

Thinking

When will you let me

Have you to go?

Super-size our love?

Get free refills?

I want to do

Everything.

I’m lovin’ it.

 

 

Oh, McDonald’s Girl!

Why do you even ask?

You know

The only combo I want is

Me

And

You

And maybe

Your sister

Space permitting.

But please,

Hold the pickles.

Especially mine.

 

 

Oh, McDonald’s Girl!

Your food, it is

So bad

Yet it tastes

So good.

I wonder–

Is it cooked

With love?

Or is it

Something else–

Hydrogenated bean oil,

Perhaps?

But now there is no time,

Not to think

Not to muse

Not to ogle

Because my sandwiches

Are done,

Already.

Wow,

That’s the fastest

That’s ever happened,

I swear.

 

 

Oh, McDonald’s Girl!

I have to know:

Am I your only regular customer?

I sit at the booth and

I think about

The things I would do to you

If I knew your name

If I knew you consented

If I knew you were legal

But

Until I know your language,

I will never know you,

Biblically

Or otherwise.