Friday, September 2, 2011

New Blog

My blog has moved (and will hopefully be updated more often)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

PF Flyers Make a Kid Run Faster and Jump Higher...

As I washed my dishes a few days ago, I realized the sponge with which I was scrubbing was getting worn. In a moment of MacGyver-esque resourcefulness I opened the cabinet and pulled out a package of new sponges. I unsheathed the dish-cleaning weaponry from the plastic scabbard and absent-mindedly read the packaging. In shock I let go of the British-made sponges. Time stood still as they careened towards the floor. They dramatically bounced of the tile floor and then pretty much just lay there. (The ordeal wasn’t quite as dramatic as when the cop drops the coffee mug at the end of The Usual Suspects.)

The words: “Sponges: Cleans, No Added Promises,” loomed at me from the plastic packaging .

I could not believe it. “Cleans, No Added Promises!!!” That’s it?! I stomped on the sponges in disgust and stormed back to my bedroom to clear my head.

American products change your life. It doesn’t matter what they are. I do not know how society functioned before advent of the Sham-Wow or the Snuggie. Advertisements for products in America promise to not only fulfill their intended purpose, they practically guarantee your life will never be the same after using them.

As far back as I can remember American products were bettering my life. My Trapper Keeper not only conveniently stored my papers and pencils, it made me popular and helped me achieve my wildest dreams. My new shoes not only provided arch support they increased my agility and quickness twenty-fold!

American advertisements portray their products delivering an unlimited supply of happiness and satisfaction. So you can imagine my disgust with these British sponges that only "Cleaned."

Most things in the United Kingdom only do what they say they are going to do. A bike will only get you from point A to point B, a coat will only keep you warm and dry, and sponges will only clean.

British people need to realize their lives are a gaping void and the only thing that can fill the hole is awesome-products that awesomely revolutionize their lives and provide awesome amounts of happiness. Dish sponges in America promise better families and home-lives, make you handsomer, wealthier, and better at sports. British sponges just clean. (Although to be fair, the sponges did clean fairly well.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Speak Amurican

It never occurred to me that I was speaking English. People speak Spanish. They speak Chinese. They speak Turkish. They may speak English with an English accent (which as I have been lovingly informed, apparently they are not the ones speaking with an accent (the language, I am told is called English after all not American)). You are probably sitting there thinking; “Geez Chris, what an amazing revelation! I didn’t know that I was speaking English! Thank you for bestowing this nugget of knowledge on me! You are my best friend… and incredibly handsome… and awesome…”
Okay… I may have known that I spoke English. I just wasn’t always conscious of the fact that the words I spoke or the thoughts I thought were in a language. To me it seemed like the world just worked in English. We know that a tree is a tree, it may be called an ağaç in Turkish or a árbol in Spanish but we can be certain that the tree-shaped structure I see out my window is, in fact, a tree.
I didn’t start thinking these thoughts until I lived in a country that functioned in another language. In Istanbul, those tree-shaped things actually are ağaçs they are merely called trees in English. Mind-blowing, I know. I could grasp the fact that I did not understand the secret code language that everyone around me was speaking, but surely they could understand me when I spoke the language that the universe works in. If they could not understand it, I would simply speak louder and slower.
Being an American, I think in the back of my mind I just assumed that I spoke a meta-language, a sort of way of talking that I assumed must even be the way God speaks. The place I grew up did not have a culture or a language (actually rural Arkansas has a very distinct culture and language). It was just simply they way the world worked. In America, I live in the real world and in other places they have funny things like culture and customs and languages. The way I interact with other people in my hometown is not a part of culture it is just the way people act. Central Asian people do things like take their shoes off before they enter a house, Russians won’t shake hands over the threshold of a door, or British people drive on the wrong side of the road and mispronounce lieutenant because they have a ‘culture.’ In America, the customs we have and even the way we think are not part of a culture; it is just the way the world works.
I was shocked to hear someone in the little English village I live in tell me that they could hear my accent. “Why no, you foolish Brit,” I wanted to inform them, “You are the one speaking with an accent, I am speaking the way people actually talk.”
Now I realize that I am breaking new ground here with the discovery that we are speaking English and that there is an American culture. You can send your royalty checks my way. I just think it was an interesting self-revelation. Like when you hear your voice on an answering machine, but on a grander scale. ‘Wow, that is the way I sound to the rest of the world, and it is kind of weird and unique.’
Now that I have blown your mind, (or you may have already known that you speak English), I will leave you with this. In Cappadocia, Turkey we had an old Turkish tour guide who was showing us around the underground cities and caves. He had a very thick mustache. (That is not part of it, it was just a very nice mustache.) At one point he started imitating tourists from different countries. Japanese people waddle out of the buses like penguins, say ‘oooh and aaah’ take a picture and then waddle back onto the bus. Italians apparently sing all of their observations. When asked what American tourists are like, he stuck out his chest and strutted around saying “Show me this. Show me that. I own everything!” It was like we are looking at the rest of the world like fish in an aquarium. (Actually he was very offensive and quite rascist.)
We have a place, as Americans, in this world and in history. And I typed this entire blog post in the English language, with an American accent.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wimbledon: The Real Story

A friend of mine and I went to Wimbledon last Friday. We planned ahead and decided to get there an hour and a half early. After all we did not want tickets on Centre court, we just wanted to sit on the hill in the grounds and watch. We had no idea what we were in for. What follows is what we made of the day...
Wimbledon, 2010: Would the practice and dedication pay off? People from all over the world converge on this posh corner of London. This quiet residential area is transformed into a place where the best come to prove themselves once a year. You can see the looks of concentration on their faces. Many have been working for this since childhood. Hopes and dreams ride on their performance…
Across the street from this showcase of monumental prowess, another tournament is played: the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. But is this game for women and children where the real talent actually lies? (Yeah, it probably is.) Or is it back across the street to what I was talking about earlier: the Queue for the Wimbledon Tennis Championship?!
British love to stand in line. They love it so much that they created a term for it; “queuing.” At first an explanation of the queue itself may seem as needless as the last four letters of the word ‘queue.’ However upon deeper investigation, one discovers an entire subculture; chock full of a gritty dose of patience and politeness.
“We have been coming to this queue to wait for the past ten years,” proudly exclaims one queuing supporter. “I have been queuing ever since I was a little boy!” exclaimed a pensioner who chooses to spend his free-time queuing. The diligence has paid off for him, because at 10 a.m. on Friday, he was the first person in queue for Saturday’s tennis matches. With a look of triumph, he goes back to perusing his manual on proper queue etiquette.
Over 7,000 queue enthusiasts form different sections of the queue in a field a half mile from the tennis grounds. Older queue attendants, called stewards, patrol the area and direct the slow plod of the queue. They solemnly warn stragglers that “the Wimbledon queue waits for no man.” The queue participants continue their march past posted signs that give the queue code of conduct such as: “Queue jumping is not acceptable and will not be tolerated” and “You may not reserve a place in the queue for somebody else, other than in their short term absence (eg: toilet break, purchase of refreshments etc.). If you have to leave the queue, you should negotiate your position with those around you and/or a steward.” These and other Spartan-esque guidelines are engrained into British progeny at an early age.
“We British will queue for anything,” says one waiting woman. “If we see a queue, we jump in it, afraid that we are going to miss something.”
As impressive as this display of queuemanship is, an even more elite group of queuesmiths position themselves to the side of the field in rows of tents. Not content to merely wait several hours to get into Wimbledon, these titans of timeliness are willing to wait for days. Entrenched in their nylon fortresses, the elite pass the time with conversation, tea, and a healthy helping of Pimm’s coupled with strawberries and cream (a Wimbledon tradition.) “We could have gotten tickets online, but waiting in the queue is what makes the experience what it is,” said a couple who were setting up their tent and digging in for the long haul.
The throngs of those waiting grow more and more patient as the queue snakes its way to the tennis grounds. Fueled into a frenzy of civility and politeness, the crowd patiently waits their turn for the chance… the chance to get tickets into Wimbledon grounds. As the fields are slowly evacuated, the wreckage from this proliferation of patience is all that remains; a few trash bags that the patrons have kindly stuffed their waste into. Sheer chaos…
After the smoke clears (metaphorically, of course, because the queue guidelines state that barbequing and camp fires of any type are strictly prohibited) fans make their way into the tennis grounds. They have earned a well-deserved respite of calm games of tennis after the excitement they faced outside in the queuing fields. Until next year’s showdown, Britons will be in training. One does not have to look far to see British politely queuing at restaurants, grocery stores, checkout counters, or any chance they get to display their waiting prowess. “To be British is to queue.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Tale From My Childhood: The Plight of Mr. Jenkins

The Lord of the Flies is a disturbing book. Boys on an island without adult supervision turn on each other and their tropical paradise descends into chaos. This book is a metaphor for the nature of man, society, the dangers of talking pig heads, and that glasses can be powerful tools. This book is a work of fiction. However, in my experience, the basic premise of the book is true; kids are crazy. The small English town I live in is overrun by kids (literally no older than fourteen) walking around the main street with bottles of alcohol, cigarettes, and babies in tow. I wish I could say that I was taken aback to witness this spectacle in the quaint English countryside where cottages abound, the tea flows like wine, and beautiful British accents instinctively flock like the Salmon of Capastrano, however I am not surprised. You see, since a young age I have witnessed mayhem wrought by children who have been left unsupervised.

Let me tell you a story…

I was maybe seven, no more than eight years old, and my family had moved to a new town in rural Arkansas. Going to a new school can be a scary thing for a child, but my parents reassured me that I was going to quickly make friends. On the first day of school, my mom dressed me in my best purple and green wind-suit and my dad drove me to school. We walked down the hall to my classroom past cardboard cutouts of the Berenstein Bears teaching us math and a poster of a pirate talking about the essential vitamins found in dairy products. (How a swashbuckling pirate had the time to become an expert on dietetics and nutrition I will never know.) We entered the classroom and my dad introduced me to the teacher and some of the kids. My fellow first graders all seemed nice enough. Little did I know that beneath the thin veneer of civility lurked an evil so insidious I cringe to recall it.
Things went well for a while. I made some friends on the playground and at the cafeteria, yet in the classroom I decided to busy myself on developing my artistic prowess. At the time I was dabbling in Impressionism (having not yet ventured into the more modern pointillism or cubism). I was mastering this craft through a practice which all of the Great Masters from Monet to Manet had employed; taking a piece of paper and tracing pictures out of a coloring book. I had Donald Duck down pat.
One fateful day I was at the back of the classroom working on a picture of a bear giving a badger a high five. Mrs. Vaughn had stepped out to the office for a few minutes. My fellow first graders were milling about at the front of the classroom, when in walked Mr. Jenkins carrying a stepladder and a spare fluorescent light. Mr. Jenkins* was a kindly old man who worked as the janitor in his spare time. He walked into the room, set up his stepladder and began to work on replacing the faulty light. The first graders walked forward, their curious glances turning into menacing glares. Apparently Mr. Jenkins had done something to upset the first grade crime family. I set my pencil down and looked up when I heard the yells.
“Okay children… take it easy… easy now,” said Mr. Jenkins as the kids moved closer. They began to grab him and the stepladder. (In reality, I honestly do not know what exactly they were trying to do.) I watched in shock as Mr. Jenkins let out a yell and fell to the floor. The children screamed in triumph. “That’ll teach him to come onto our turf and try to fix our lights!” yelled Kevin. (Kevin did not actually say that. That part is not true.)
The next thing I remember is Mrs. Vaughn coming back into the room and telling all of us that she was very disappointed in us and that Mr. Jenkins had broken his arm. From then on Mr. Jenkins walked around with a sling and gave Mrs. Vaughn’s classroom a wide berth.

-Kevin is now in a state penitentiary doing hard time for hate crimes against the service industry. (Not true)
-Mr. Jenkins entered the witness protection program and now lives in _______ working as a ______ under the name _________. (Not true)
-Mrs. Vaughn went on to teach us about how baby chicks hatch in an incubator. (True)
-Due to a shortage of coloring books, my foray into fine arts was cut short. (It is true that I did not pursue a career in the fine arts.)

The moral of this story is that whether kids have country accents or Cockney accents they will go crazy without adult supervision.

*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Requiem for a Dream, and other adventures

My apologies for the lapse in blogging activity as of late. I would like to blame this inactivity on a series of Indiana Jones-esque adventures that I have been in, however the real culprit is tavla. Tavla (or backgammon) is the Turkish national pastime. Some Turkish friends of mine taught me how to play and I was hooked. I began seeing tavla boards everywhere. Literally every street in Istanbul has about 20 or more tea/coffee shops and each of those have tavla boards on every table. I found a board behind our sofa in the apartment and my roommates and I could not stop playing. Every morning when we woke up we played. On the commute to work, we might stop at a teashop and play a game or seven. We would play before we went to bed. When a group of us would go out on the weekends, we would always end up sitting in a side street restaurant playing with any Turkish people who would happen by. We played the guys in the grocery store across the street. I won one Turkish lira off a guy in a heated match. Some of our deepest conversations and worst arguments happened across that board with the dice flying. I have never been addicted to illegal drugs or prescription nasal spray but I can’t imagine that hunger being more intense than the tavla-fueled frenzy that my friends and I found ourselves in.
And then I moved to England. It is just like Sandra Bullock in 28 Days (or 28 Days Later (one is a comedy about a drug and alcohol rehab and the other is about a zombie apocalypse I can’t remember which one is which.)) England is like a tavla rehab without the support groups. At night I wake up in a cold sweats wondering which pieces I will move around the board with my 5/2 dice combo. Trembling I struggle to go back to sleep. These are the dark times but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. A light that is shining on a big tavla board. I bought a set in the Grand Bazaar right before I left, it is just a matter of time before I can find people here who know how to play.
Apart from tavla, I will give a brief summary of what has gone on since I last blogged.

Here we go: I got caught in a communist parade, I nearly died falling down a very steep stair tunnel in a mountain fortress in eastern Turkey, I lead a scooter gang around a desert, I got yelled at by a Romanian hostel owner for not ‘properly’ flushing the toilet, I spent over a month battling mold in an underground soundproof booth we built (if you are ever in Central Asia and order lumber make sure to specify that you want it to be dry), I ate sheep intestines, I nearly got in a fight with a taxi driver when he accosted the driver of the car I was in, I went to a foreign soccer game, I nearly got caught in a riot when the soccer fans realized that their team had not won the championship after thinking they had, I nearly got beat up by guys in a store because I had another team’s soccer jersey in my hand, I ate 8 Krispy Kreme donuts, I grew a mustache, I had to escape out the back door of a restaurant in Istanbul after being accosted by some very forward Turkish women, I introduced a Ukrainian pastor to a movie called Everything Is Illuminated (it is a funny American movie set in the Ukraine,) I got my supervisor from London lost in Istanbul and found out four hours later via Twitter that he was lost, I watched from the backseat of a taxi as my driver got in 30 man brawl around the cab, I commandeered a paddle boat and swashbuckled around an island in the Marmara Sea with my friends, I learned a lot of Turkish cuss words from my friends on a Turkish football team, I successfully made it through a Turkish bath without flashing any of the guys who work there, I introduced a friend to the wonders of the American tradition of free refills at a Chili’s in Istanbul, I moved to England, I found out that the grocery store near my flat sells Dr. Pepper, I watched as a teenage British boy stumbled down the aisle in a movie theater and threw up vodka everywhere, I saw three British girls with nothing but bras on walking around main street in broad daylight, I had a group of British girls ask my roommate and I if they could have our babies, I am realizing that a British accent does not automatically make a person sophisticated, I got lost in London and then realized that unlike in Istanbul people here speak English and you can simply ask for directions, I think the English countryside is beautiful, I am quickly finding out what all those comedians were talking about when they made jokes about airline food.

That, in a nutshell, is what I have been doing the past few months. I will be more proactive in updating the blog from here on now that tavla is a non-factor. That is unless the USA team beats England in the World Cup in a few days and I get murdered.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Flowers Steal Oxygen!

I nearly made a bus crash a few days ago. How was I supposed to know that using a cell phone on a bus would make the brakes fail? Luckily, the bus driver was savvier than Sandra Bullock in Speed (or maybe the brakes didn’t really fail) but we made it out just fine. I am also sorry to say that I may have inadvertently caused several businesses to go under while I have been here. I am a pretty good whistler. I like to whistle in public to regale those around me with my whistling prowess. Apparently whistling in public makes people lose money in Central Asia. I apologize for being so inconsiderate.
Here are a few other things to know if you ever visit Central Asia. Knowing these things may help you avoid the chaos that I have rained down on the people since I have been here. Knowledge is power:

Open windows cause illnesses.
If your blanket comes off of you in your sleep you will get kidney stones.
Flowers are not allowed in hospital rooms because they steal the patient’s oxygen.
If you see bread on the ground, you must pick it up and put it on a table.
Air conditioners come with warning stickers that tell people not to lie under them, because they also cause illnesses.
If you compliment something, evil will get jealous and try to destroy it.
Pregnant women cannot use the internet or cell phones.
A woman cannot sit on the ground. She will become infertile because her ovaries will freeze. (This is solved by simply putting paper down and sitting on it.)

Here are some more knowledge bombs that I will lob your way:
Peach, sick or seek, and um are all (very) bad words in Turkish.

Please learn from my mistakes.

Thankfully, we are not plagued by these hardships in America, but before we start getting all ‘hoity-toity’ about how educated we are…
Do you know who the president of Turkey is? All of my Turkish friends know who the U.S president is. Do you know who the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is? My Turkish friends do. Many of my Turkish friends have been to parts of the U.S. that I have never been to.
One of my Turkish friends said that an American college student he met in Holland did not know that Washington D.C. was the capitol of the United States. He also said that most Americans believe him when he tells them that there are no cars in Turkey and that everyone rides camels. (I saw a Ferrari in my neighborhood here a few weeks ago.) It is a bit embarrassing talking with people overseas and finding out how little we Americans know about the rest of the world. (Myself included.)

I met a Turkish guy the other day that believed that all Texans carry six-shooters and ride horses everywhere. He told me that Texas must be a “very bad-a” place. Messing with people is cross-cultural.