Face The Sun: Let There Be Light!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are exclusively those of its author, and are not in any way meant to reflect the opinions or policies of the US Government.

Past Travelogues.

Finland, Estonia, Petersburg

Kirovograd, Ukraine


Tirana, Albania

Macedonia & Romania

Budapest to Bucharest

Balkans and Poland.

Christiania, Copenhagen.

Northern Norway

Northern Finland


Kashgar, briefly

More to come, Inshallah, as I go through old paper travel journals.

The DC experience, archived.

July '05
June '05
December '05
October '04
More to come should interesting things happen to me. Ever.

Blatent Plagiarism

The nation's largest chain bookstore has indicated that, due to lack of consumer interest, it has stopped selling books.
--Frederick Raphael, The Glittering Prizes

I feel this is the equivalent of a surgeon, skipping through a radiology department singing, 'I don't have cancer, I don't have cancer!'
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

Mum is crying with her faced turned away from me, gulping and honking like an injured seal. And I'm rolled up in the back seat wishing the old man would stop the car and make her walk. That or buy her a fish.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

I love it when well-educated women sweaar -- the words regain their original power and meaning when delivered unexpectedly with so much poise.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

She lived with her mother, who looked like an old labrador, and an old labrador.
--Will Self, Great Apes

When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God sitting on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Quality is merely the distribution aspect of Quantity.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

...In the frank brilliance of the bright sun, which, as we all know, is the friend of heroes.
--Jose Saramago, All the Names

He stuttered so badly that you could go out and buy yourself a chocolate bar while he was wrestling with an initial p or b; he would never try to bypass the obstacle by switching to a synonym, and when the explosion finally did occur, it convulsed his whole frame and sprayed the interlocutor with triumphant saliva.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

To Stand on Jericho's Walls and Face the Sun.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Rocketing towards nine p.m. and I'm still at work: inconceivable. Tomorrow night will almost undoubtedly be an at-the-office all-nighter.

Today I called the State Department to see if they had officially registered me as having passed the Chinese exam. They had. I asked: if I were to get my security clearance today and be added to the list, what rank would I have? They said: hmm... you'd be number one.

Honestly, I can't get hired FAST ENOUGH. Crushing me.

Posted by Dakota on 8:54 PM link |

Monday, February 23, 2004

Swimming in last minute MATO-2 task order proposal work leaves zero time for blogging.

But I couldn't pass on the opportunity to wish the world a happy Maslenitsa.

That's right. It's Butter Week. Let there be light!

Posted by Dakota on 3:13 PM link |

Sunday, February 22, 2004


Yeah, it works here too. Sweet.

Posted by Dakota on 3:42 PM link |
Tabitha is UP AND RUNNING, folks.

We're blogging in real time here at the cyberstop. (It's gonna be a long damn time before I et used to this size keyboard again).

Also up and running: Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Turkish and Greek fonts. Bring it, international community.

Posted by Dakota on 3:40 PM link |

Friday, February 20, 2004

Is the author a "scum-sucking bottom feeder?" Or is this simply the most brilliant idea for a cookbook in a long time? You be the judge.

Equally worth seeing: The Highway Patrol has a new crusade.

Posted by Dakota on 5:16 PM link |
Tabitha has arrived, and she is more beautiful than I ever anticipated.

Also careening towards me: A new messenger bag. Thank god, really.

Posted by Dakota on 3:33 PM link |
In the department of 'Oh Thank God':

My new laptop: On Truck for Delivery.

In related news, I would give away that new laptop for a pack of camel lights. They're DELICIOUS, after all.

Posted by Dakota on 12:05 PM link |

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Finished last night The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera's sentinal anti-Communist piece of literature. The whole time I was reading it I was sort of thinking-- who's idea was it to make this into a book on tape? No wonder I hated it when trying to listen to it.

It's stunningly good. It's horrible to listen to, though. Also, as previously mentioned, it was chock-full of sex, and god knows it's been a long time since I've read near-pornography in literature form (not since, I would say, finishing Portnoy's Complaint in November).

Posted by Dakota on 12:47 PM link |
Last night I dreampt that I was the inspiration for Rene Magritte's The Son of Man. I woke up at 6:45, on my own, feeling pretty good about having inspired such a piece of art, and it took a few minutes before it wore off and I realized that I haven't inspired very much at all in my 24 years on this earth.

6:45, thought I: I should go running. But it's too cold.

Roosevelt the cat crept into my room. Face batted, cat thrown, water flung, cat bolted. Repeat, every five minutes between 6:45 and 7:40 when I got up.

Showered, dressed, started walking to work and realized that it was the nicest day in the history of days. Should've gone running; this evening I will. Assuming I can locate pants. Pants are just so damn hard to come by these days.

Vis a vis The Son of Man: I could really go for an apple right now.

Posted by Dakota on 12:38 PM link |

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

You'll recall that TDJ and I are quitting smoking concurrently. Last night her came home from his Quit Smoking Therapy Group, and immediately knocked on my door: "TELL ME you have a cigarette for me." I told him that I was hoping he'd stored half a pack somewhere for just in case. Neither of us had a cigarette last night, although we both had a sugar-free 'OUT TO QUIT' lollipop (mine was grape) that was nowhere near as satisfying as a camel light. In related news, the quit-smoking group pairs off into quit-smoking-buddies; in standard AA fashion, if you want a cigarette, you call your buddy and they talk you out of it.

Upon going to group therapy yesterday, he discovered that his quit smoking buddy had quit the quitting smoking process.

TDJ has been emailing me this morning. We've been flirting with the idea of each bumming a cigarette and then meeting halfway betwen our two offices (he's 3 blocks from me) to smoke together and assuage our mutual guilt; still haven't. He's also been giving me advice. Quoth his support group, negative thoughts are the plague of the quitter-- so you should turn your "I'll never manage to quit!" into a simple "Quitting is the best thing to do for myself!"

Quoth TDJ in one of his latest emails: Watch negative self talk, turn it into a positive statement that details how rosey the world really fucking is.

That about sums it up.

Posted by Dakota on 12:50 PM link |
With WBB embroiled in the Edwards campaign (even still; god bless the tenacity), I think we can all take a moment to poke a bit of fun at his campaignee.

Allah Pundit has already done so for us: John Edwards Recruiting Posters.

If that's not brilliant, I don't know what is.

Posted by Dakota on 12:02 PM link |

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Why I hate Valentine's Day: A Treatise on Social Injustice

Happy week after Valentine's Day, a holiday which I, like most good Americans, cannot stand. But I don't hate it for the same reasons that most people do, and so I'd like to tap this out once and for all to discuss exactly why it is that the holiday makes me so dang upset.

Before we begin, I'd like to answer the obvious question: All right, then, Mr. Whiny, how exactly did YOU spend your valentine's day? The answer, in short: spent the bulk of the day helping a friend move in (with his girlfriend; it was my Valentine's Day Romance By Proxy). Was rewarded for my efforts with a bottle of vodka (Finlandia Lime), and spent the evening (post-attempting to vote, polls closed earlier than I expected) drinking the vodka and watching horrifically bad movies on television (Biker Boyz, Ocean's Eleven (A high point in what was otherwise a tremendously-bad-movie-fest), Kangaroo Jack). Attempted on several occasions to motivate and get my tail (and Walnut's tail) to a bar, but in the end we ordered pizza at one in the morning and went to sleep with a nice buzz and happy thoughts about Jerry O'Connell ('The Sliders Guy').

So why, then, am I so virulently anti Valentine's day?

It's just this: On Valentine's day, hundreds upon thousands of Americans lament the fact that they're alone. Boo hoo, woe is me, I have no one to have and to hold and it's the national secular day of Romance, martyr of the church notwithstanding.

And it makes me FURIOUS. Because WHAT THE HELL do you have to complain about, exactly? Consider this: Your diet is rich in vitamin A. So what? There are, in this world of ours, about 100 to 140 million CHILDREN ALONE (adults notwithstanding) who are Vitamin A deficient. To lack vitamin A-- you might know it better as Beta-Carotene leads first to a toughening of the retina called Xerophthalmia. Xerophthalmia, a curable condition that results in night-blindness, is followed quickly by permanent, irreversable blindness, and then by death.

100 to 140 million kids are vitamin A deficient. A vitamin A supplement, administered twice a year, costs literally PENNIES. And yet, scattered throughout this world (primarily in Southern Asia and Subsaharan Africa)the equivalent of about half the population of the US is going blind because they can't afford the supplement.

And you're complaining because you don't have a date? Shut the fuck up: You have no idea how good you have it.

So yes, that's why valentine's day pisses me off. Not conventional, no. But god's honest truth. And if you'd care to make a difference in this world, take the money you failed to spend on a date on saturday night, and send it here.

I'll put away the soap box now. Thank you.

Posted by Dakota on 2:59 PM link |

Friday, February 13, 2004

You'll recall that over Christmas, Esther and Joseph Smutny (ne "Grandma and Papap") (all right, so the weren't, perhaps, 'ne' as Grandma and Papap, per-se, but you see where I'm coming from here) were moved from their cozy house in Marietta, Georgia to an equally if not more cozy 'senior living community', also in sunny Marietta, Georgia.

Last night, the cozy Senior Living Community in question (the Parc at Piedmont), held its annual Valentine's Day Ball. A few days in advance, yes, but who doesn't love an opportunity to put on one of your old gowns and dance the night away? In addition to the fact that Grandma's closet is chock full of gowns (I mean, honestly), and the fact that Papap, at the sprightly age of 91, can still foxtrot in a such a way as to makes women want him and men want to be him (the guy's got hips; he does incredible work on the ball room floor)-- in addition to all these factors, I learned from my mother that Esther and Joseph Smutny were nominated, along with several other couples, as potential KING AND QUEEN OF THE VALENTINES BALL.

If that's not the most adorable thing I've ever heard, I can't say I know what is.

It goes without saying that I'll be calling them on my lunch break to see how the voting went, and if, after 65 years of wedded bliss, they in fact came through to snag the crown.

And really, as far as I'm concerned, the fact that I come from stock that's still got potential as king and queen of the ball after a combined total of 180 years on this earth (180!) shows that I come from good roots; if for no other reason than THAT, I consider myself imminently datable. All those wishing to dive on this opportunity should contact me via email, because while I may not be strikingly attractive now, you can bet that when I'm 91, I'll be winning prizes. If Esther and Joseph can do it, then damn it, so can I.

Posted by Dakota on 9:48 AM link |

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Started last night again studying Turkish. Turkish is a whole new world (Type III, the fully agglutinizing case study). Dr. Mark insists that it can't be learned without a teacher for the first year, but after that it becomes easy. But if Thane Gustafson can teach himself Turkish (admittedly, with the help of a Turkish wife), then damn it, so can I.

Turkish study was interrupted by the arrival of Gilla to the greater DC area. Good times.

Turkish study resumes this evening, in force. The problem, really, is that I'm using my ancient circa-1982 laptop, which has no cd-rom drive, and neither internet access nor windows CDs. My ability to install the requisite fonts (unlauts for o's and u's, cedilles for c's and s's, a hacek for the odd yumusak g, and an i that lacks a dot) means relying solely on the character map for typing in turkish, copying and pasting the necessary letters. Nothing could be slower or more frustrating. The concordant lack of cd or audio tape for the turkish book likewise makes the studying process complete guesswork, and it's all fairly annoying since I know I'll be abandoning the whole project once my new Russian books arrive. But for now, I'm convinced that the wonders of Excel are going to open the door to a whole new world of linguistics, and it's only a matter of time until I'm swapping my agglutanates like a damn pro.

I can't exactly when that 'time' will be, though.

Posted by Dakota on 1:56 PM link |
To try to map our tomorrows with the help of data supplied by our yesterdays means ignoring the basic element of the the future which is its complete non-existance. The giddy rush of the present into this vacuum is mistaken by us for a rational movement.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

Posted by Dakota on 1:48 PM link |

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

What's today's terror level?

Terror Alert Level

This really cracked me up.

The whole slew of them is found here.

Posted by Dakota on 2:55 PM link |
Holy Awkward, Batman:

TDJ last night was discussing his last job, as an executive assistant at Georgetown. Upon quitting, he had an exit interview with an elderly priest detailed to HR to grill outgoing employees.

The priest asked him: "So, how did you find your time at Georgetown?"

TDJ began to reply: "Well, I..." but before he could finish his first paragraph, the priest had fallen sound asleep. Not wanting to be rude and wake him up, but not wanting to sit in his office all day, Tom let him sleep for five or ten minutes before clearing his through loudly, theoretically in the middle of a sentence. The priest woke up, thanked Tom for his views on Georgetown, and escorted him out.

God bless the priesthood. Let there be light!

Posted by Dakota on 1:00 PM link |
This is stolen directly from someone else's blog (Logan Circle), but I thought it was brilliant, and so I'm pasting it here.

As certain politicians work diligently to prevent marriage between two people of the same sex, others of us have been busy drafting a Constitutional Amendment codifying all marriages entirely on biblical principles. After all, God wouldn't want us to pick and choose which of the Scriptures we elevate to civil law and which we choose to ignore:

Draft of a Constitutional Amendment to Defend Biblical Marriage:

1) Marriage in the United States of America shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5.)

2) Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in Addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

3) A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

4) Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

5) Since marriage is for life, neither the US Constitution nor any State law shall permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9-12)

6) If a married man dies without children, his brother must marry the widow. If the brother refuses to marry the widow, or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

7) In lieu of marriage (if there are no acceptable men to be found), a Woman shall get her father drunk and have sex with him.(Gen 19:31-36)

I hope this helps to clarify the finer details of the Government's Righteous struggle against the infidels and heathens among us.

Posted by Dakota on 12:57 PM link |

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Quoth ABCNews:
The State Department has fewer than 60 employees fluent in Arabic, out of a total of 279 Arabic speakers. Only five have the skills to go toe-to-toe with commentators on Middle Eastern television programs, according to an advisory commission Djerejian headed.

This is such a damn opportunity. Give me a dictionary and ten minutes, and I'll be the sixth.

Except, when I say 'Dictionary,' I mean 'intensive training,' and when I say 'ten minutes,' I mean 'two to five years immersed in an Arabic-Speaking Nation.'

But still: let's get started.

Posted by Dakota on 4:38 PM link |
Last night, my roommate (the German) bequethed to me two jars of peanut butter. His friend who stayed for the weekend ("McGregor") gave them to him. Apparantly it's been a tradition ever since they met in East Germany, in 1993, when peanut butter was a hard-to-come-by commodity. Mattias accepted it gracefully the first time (it was, after all, a hard to come by item, and the act of giving it was generous). Now, every time they see each other, he's gifted with peanut butter: old habits die hard. But the thing is, Mattias doesn't actually like peanut butter, and apparantly his old apartment is studded with jars of it. So his new-found peanut butter fell to me within the great American tradition of regifting. That said, while one of the jars was regular crunchy peanut butter ('superchunk', but with a german accent becoming 'Zuperr-chunk'), the other was peanut butter studded with chocolate chips.

Peanut butter pre-studded with chocolate chips is, in a word, proof that we are living in the FUTURE.

The future.

Posted by Dakota on 3:08 PM link |

Monday, February 09, 2004

Mother Jones provides a fascinating side-by-by comparison of the military careers of John Kerry and George W.

Posted by Dakota on 3:13 PM link |
Hey Dakie, apakah anda punya uang?

No, I've got no uang to speak of.

Really? Then knapa anda sudah membayar a laptop?

Karena saya MAU'ed it, alright? Stop yelling at me.

Laptop scheduled to arrive: hopefully by the end of this week.

I'm so poor it HURTS.

Posted by Dakota on 12:55 PM link |
...But Rico went a bit too far,
and Tony sailed across the bar

FastFest2004 was a bust. 22 hours sans caffeine, 24 hours (ish) without food, falling at least 48 hours shy of the goal. Quoth my officemates: Please eat something to prove to us that you're human. Quoth Buddha: You suck, Dakota. Quoth I: This isn't worth it.

And then the punches flew,
and chairs were smashed in two.

Restarted Ulysses. Over four hours later, upon reaching page 38, I put it back on my bookshelf. It's not worth my time as of now. Until I can afford an apartment large enough to house a desk, and until I can afford a desk, and until I'm sure I won't be leaving the country for at least the few months it'll take to read (an optimist would say it can be finished in the course of one intense month; I'd say it'll take two), then it's remaining where it belongs: untouched, bottom shelf, left hand side, 'wounded soldiers' section, sandwiched between Ada and Beloved.

There was blood and a single gunshot,
but just who shot who?

Started instead Bend Sinister, next up on the Nabokov Slate. 20 pages in, and it's already brilliant. They of the solar side saw heliocentrically what you Telurians saw geocentrically, and unless these two aspects are somehow combined, I, the visualized object, must keep shuttling in the universal night. Started also The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book I've never actually read but made the mistake of listening to, unabridged, as a book on tape while working a miserable temp job in Marietta, Georgia, in the summer of '99 before taking off for Indonesia. I can say on good authority: it's considerably better in book form than audio. Also, as previously mentioned, it's just chock full of sex, and that's really what I'm in it for.

Now it's a disco
But not for Lola

Weather is expected to be in the mid-40s and clear-ish (at least precipitation-free) for the next week (until Fridayish). In my right coat pocket there's a pack of Camel lights; in a few minutes I'll begin the process of chain smoking to ensure that I finish the pack by the end of the evening, and after work I'm re-picking up the patch (21 mg's, step one, ground zero, slate clean). Bed by 9:30, up by 6:30, 5 miles before work and the hacking should serve as inspiration in moving towards a smoke-free March and a sub-17 5k.

Still in that dress she used to wear
Faded feathers in her hair...

A sub-17 5k is an unattainable goal. (A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?) In related news, making 2004 The Year of the Movie has begun moving forward. I don't like movies. I'm willing to admit that. I don't abhor them like I abhor TV, but generally speaking I'm an antsy kid with twitchy legs and I hate sitting still for so long. And movies are expensive and I'm somehow always herded into the front row. But having suffered through Miracle, it put me in the mood to see something worthwhile. Tehran, 7 a.m. was both free and very sold-out, so instead we headed towards Tokyo Godfathers, and I'd like to say once again that Japan is a nation that does EVERYTHING RIGHT. This sweeping generalization includes the considerable subsection of the population that makes animation movies.

She sits there so refined,
and drinks herself half blind.

This weekend was a boozefest, and boozefests are not conducive to sub-17 5ks. Every time that I intend to take a hiatus from drinking, I end up so besotten that I ooze alcohol from my pores by the end of the night. I'm tempted again to swear off alcohol for the weekend, but that would so firmly ensure getting hammered that there's no point. I'm equally tempted to swear that this weekend I'll be drinking more than I've ever drank in my entire life, in the hopes that the reverse is true. But payday or no, rent is due and I can't afford it, so if I end up following through on my vow, I'll be (even more) destitute, and with Estonia departure date fast on us, I just can't afford it. Long weekend, Monday off, marks open-season for business pre-conference, March hits shortly thereafter and then it's off to Saint Louis (Franchicize, please: Sann Loo-EE), and by the time I get back it's just cleanup and packing before departure.

She lost her youth and she lost her Tony,
Now she's lost her mind

Restarted the epic battle of Chinese chess twixt young Walnut and I. The scorecard, kept neatly inside the chess box, nestled amongst the pieces, indicated that at last standing, Walnut lead the race 18 games to 15. I won three tidy games in a row (the chariot flying in to complement the cannon nestled in his last rank), but then slipped by two to leave the score at 18-20, his lead. Approaching double-digits in the number of times we've played chess, it has yet to score him any girls. Sad, really.

Posted by Dakota on 11:01 AM link |

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Back to flying solo.

I am already regretting this; the weight I expected lifted hasn't happened, but maybe when I wake up tomorrow it will. I want to be alone; but already I'm second guessing myself and thinking that encapsulating myself in forced loneliness might've been a mistake. It's like buyer's remorse: you never see it coming until after you get home and the receipt's been thrown away. Hopefully the fast will rip me out of this. But for now, I feel like doing nothing but going home, smoking a miserable cigarette and sobbing.

I feel like a self-serving asshole. I keep telling myself this is what I wanted. But I don't feel good about it at all.

Caffeine is coursing through my body, but I feel like I've dragged myself over rocks: I ache from the dread of this now post-event, and I could fall asleep under my desk if I could curl into a ball that small.

The other in question was civil enough to drive me back to Dupont, expressed disappointment but not surprise at this, and waved aside the possibility of seeing each other in a non-romantic setting. 'Everyone says that. It won't happen.' So much for the Alison-Steve model of relationship closure. It would've been much easier to move forward, to wave this aside as an interregnum, bump in the road, if he'd have gotten angry or disgruntled or upset. But I wasn't expecting that-- after a month I knew him too well for that to be a possibility. He's just not like that; no attempted violence or other signs of immaturity. Just disappointment, discontented silence.

Let there be light? Fuck that. Let there be darkness and solitude. It's what you wanted, asshole.

Posted by Dakota on 9:03 PM link |
Devastating news from Quixote:

Preparation H has bought the rights to the song "Ring of Fire" to use in commercials.

I'll just let that sink in as you realize how much is now ruined.

Posted by Dakota on 2:41 PM link |
Continuing the theme from this morning: That whole 'midwest' portion is awfully bleak. This map screams road trip like it's never been screamed before.

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

Posted by Dakota on 12:30 PM link |
Having finished 'Making the Corps' last night (which was really just fantastically HOOAH), I can now say on good authority:

1. I really want to be a Marine.
2. I could never, ever hack it at boot camp.
3. The Marine Corps haircut, the High and Tight, is a gift from god to this species.
4. I would hate everything about the Marines. They're so pro killing, and I'm so pro not killing. Buddha hates everything about Boot Camp. That said, it's vaguely monestary like, except instead of meditating a lot, you get to throw fragmentation grenades. The similarities abound, with Marines shouting 'KILL KILL, MARINE CORPS', and monks chanting some nonsense about the Jewel in the Lotus.

Kaboom. Om Mani Padme Hum. Kaboom.

In related news, we could go to Cambodia right now (or rather this weekend, but sadly the flight leaves from BWI and that's just too damn inconvenient) and throw fragmentation grenades. It's all of the fun of bootcamp, but lacks the
haircut, and I think we all know that's what I'm in it for. (The flight pattern to Cambodia: BWI-LAX-HKG-PNH-TPE-LAX-BWI; the $3,126 ticket gets you a stopover in both Hong Kong AND Taipei, and THAT, friends, is a phenomenol deal).

Posted by Dakota on 11:15 AM link |
All right, normally I hate crap like this. And yet, this website is totally addicting. We're at 38 countries and counting, folks:

create your own visited country map
or write about it on the open travel guide

Posted by Dakota on 10:49 AM link |

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

If you haven't seen this:

Bush In 30 Seconds

You should.

Posted by Dakota on 2:26 PM link |
Before we begin: a previous email (Quixoteward) which dovetails (vaguely) with the second half of this email.

While I was in Kashgar in the far northwest of China, I met a guy who had just biked up the Karakorum highway from Pakistan, into China, and was continuing eastward towards Beijing. He didn't know when he got there whether to head down to Qingdao, to catch a ferry to Korea, or if he should barrel south towards Vietnam and snake his way through Southeast Asia. He'd been on the bike for two years, started in the Basque country of northern Spain, his home, and had just kept moving to wherever the weather was hospitable and the sights and people worthwhile. I told him about Korea, mentioned Seoul but more the heartland of Korea, and the island at the southern tip called Chejudo that everyone says is amazing-- tropical forests, high waterfalls, mountain villages and striking coral reefs. "It's only a few hours by train to get to the interior plains of Korea, and a few hours more to get to the port to Cheju," I told him. He laughed at me, patted the keys to his bike and said, "I don't take trains."

The Basque had a companion whom he'd met in Pakistan, another chance long-distance biker met at a whistlestop hostel near the southern portion of the Khunjerab Pass. He introduced himself as MikeOnABike, and made no apologies for his long, greasy hair and five o'clock shadow from three days prior. He possessed an incredible wealth of knowledge on the subject of internal ailments that one can pick up while cycling the third world, and counselled the Basque on which drugs to take to knock out the nasty case of Giardia he had brewing in this small intestine.

MikeOnABike was fiery about his worldview, and gave the following advice: Never stop moving, but as you move don't focus entirely on what in front of you. Look left and right often, and keep in mind that the greatest scenery you'll ever see might be at your back. And no matter where you are or what you're doing, make an effort to read two books a week. It doesn't matter what they are, especially if you're in a place where reading material in a language you can understand is tight; take in two books a week, and you'll end up a better person.

So I suppose that my current push to record exactly what I've read this year, in a way, springs from MikeOnABike. He was unwashed after days on a bike, his table manners were course and unrefined, and he stared down local females in a way that made neutral observers uncomfortable. But MikeOnABike ultimately seemed happier than I'll ever be, and it makes considering his philosophies a worthwhile goal.

I now feel justified. Thank you for your time.

Posted by Dakota on 12:45 PM link |
Last night, in preperation for FastFest 2004, I skipped dinner. It wasn't a conscious decision so much as it was fueled by general lethargy, but making a decision on the order of: no, I'm not going to eat tonight, is an oddly soothing mindset. Hunger at bedtime is normally an annoyance of the highest order-- stomach-rumbling makes it harder to fall asleep, but eating right before bed is a cardinal no-no according to all magazines bearing variation on a theme of 'Men' in the title; those who wish to look like cover models on these magazines (greyscale sculptures of towering masculinity, displaced from shirtless tri-bladed razor advertisements) should avoid doing so at all costs.

So going to bed hungry is oddly nice. It puts me at odds with all branches of psychology, but I'm looking forward to this weekend with a degree of intensity lately lacking in my life. To that end, I haven't bothered to eat today. While I'm looking forward to having a meal, I suppose, I'm also not looking forward to the inevitable numbing effect that eating has on the rest of one's body and mind. Easing pangs of hunger comes at the cost of alertness, and it's a tradeoff that seems somehow not worth it.

Those reading into this the beginning of an eating disorder can put their minds at ease; food (and, I suppose, great works of literature) remain my only major impetus for getting out of bed in the morning.

On the subject of books: it is February third. An informal tally of this years reading puts the list at 8 books in one month and three days. Those books can be divided into three tiers.
1. The Earth-Shatteringly Good, Recommendable Without Hesitation
Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
The Life and Times of Michael K, J.M. Coetzee
All the Names, Jose Saramago

2. Good Books Rated Below Category One Most Likely Because I Didn't Understand Them, or Even Though Quite Smart, Weren't AS BRILLIANT As Category One Books Again Most Likely Because I Failed To Really Understand What The Author Was Trying To Communicate
The Defense, Vladimir Nabokov.
Transparent Things, Vladimir Nabokov (which toes the line between a Category One and Category Two)
TimeQuake, Kurt Vonnegut (another line-toer, falling into category two for lack of instantaneous recommendability, particularly to those unfamiliar with Vonnegut already)

and finally, 3. Books About Which I'm Indifferent, as well as Books I Failed to Like at All, as well as Non-Fiction And Other Uncategorizable Books.
Half a Life, V.S. Naipul (Nobel who?)
Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Yip Po-Ching (The Cantonese name should evoke your instant repugnance)

The next task for this rainy Tuesday will be the editing of my Blogstructure to make a chronological listing of all books completed this year a possibility. This will most likely be beyond my meager (dare I say non-existant) web-scripting abilities. While I recognize that NO ONE cares about this but me, it's a record I'd like to have, for me, personally.

Posted by Dakota on 12:07 PM link |

Monday, February 02, 2004

You know how my heartburn is normally bad? Well, after a night of dip-liciousness, we're at that point right after crushing but right before blacking out. But I will say: it was worth it for the dips.
--Quixote, eloquent as always.

Patriots failed to cover a seven-point spread: strike one. Patriots failed to hold the game to a low-scoring point total (under 38? Ha!): Strike two. The lack of funding for future endeavors (concerning, primarily, comestibles and fermented substances) is strike three, and my long autumnal dance with gambling on football, under the theoretically expert tutelage of Quixote, Walnut (AC forever more) and Rutz comes to a sparkling close with a total bank account deficit of $199.87 and thirteen cents lingering in my account at sportsinteraction.com.

Sunday pre-superbowl, began and completed Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut. In addition to being a brilliant and sparklingly witty read, it matched perfectly my mood from the past few weeks. Quoth Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut's alter ego: 'Being alive is a crock of shit.' I can't say I know why it fit my mood so well (winter, darkness, an overdose of nicotine coupled with a complete lack of physical exercise), but the freeform writing and generally reclusive nature of the books lead (to the extent that any vonnegut book can have a lead) seemed to justify my current desire to avoid people in all forms. Barring the requisite superbowl party on Sunday and birthday frolic (ghost clock, recessions) con frere y su girlfriend, I avoided everyone. Such reclusiveness (reclusivity?) is unjustifiable, but I enjoyed it. Had it come coupled with the ability to finally plow through and finish either Pale Fire or If on a winter's night a traveler, I'd feel considerably better about my self-styled alone time.

They say the first thing to go when you're old is your legs or your eyesight. It isn't true. The first thing to go is parallel parking. Again vonnegut, again words to live by.

Vonnegut is also bracingly anti-television and fiercely lefty-liberal (shades of socialism and worship of Eugene V. Debs). I, while not a socialist per-se, am still complete in line with his thinking.

I am too lazy to track down the exact quotation, but the British astronomer Fred Hoyle said something to this effect: That believing in Darwin's theoretical mechanisms of evolution was like believing that a hurricane could blow through a junkyard and build a Boeing 747.

No matter what is doing the creating, I have to say that the giraffe and the rhinocerous are ridiculous.

It's a shame that liking Vonnegut was so trendy in the late 80s and early 90s. Being seen carrying around a Vonnegut book automatically places you in ranks amongst the goateed coffee-shop dwellers who express appreciation through snapping, smoke european brand cigarettes for the packaging on the box and play chess for the sheer thrill of being seen playing chess; in general amongst those who move their lips when reading and other unacceptable types. (Yes, it goes without saying that Nabokov wrote those words well before I did. See: preface to Zaschita Luzhina.)

It's occured to me that one of my mini-resolutions for 2004 was to keep a complete list of every book that I drag my way through this calendar year. Mental note to begin cataloguing this evening. I'm way behind in my list-making.

Hoping to find an equally down-dragging book to complement Timequake, I raked my way across the bookshelf this morning. Unwilling to carry around either On Heroes and Tombs or I, The Supreme, (both huge and unweildy), I mulled over Saramago (he does excellent work with depressing material) but finally decided on The Unbearable Lightness of Being. While Milan Kundera might not be the downward spiral I'm looking for, at least it's bound to be chock full of nudity and sexual depravity. And totalitarianism always makes for light reading.

Some time this week before FastFest 2004, I'll need to hang out with Fang Meiang again. It goes without saying that it was infinitely good to see her last week. In addition to telling me the story of the countless men she's dated (assuredly into the double digits) who turned out to be either gay or taken (or, in one fantastically bizarre case, both), she also jabbed herself sharply in the nose with her straw after forgetting that the bar had provided her with one.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

I am craving tomato joice. Odd, since I don't really like tomato juice.

Posted by Dakota on 1:29 PM link |
Current Location:
The People's Republic of China.

Stop by any time: everyone's welcome.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem to Be Born

Comments and requests for dates should be directed to email.

And here I am.

And for all you random folks out there whom I don't know, for the love of god, email me. I'm abroad, know no one, and look forward to hearing from you. I'm especially looking at YOU, whomever YOU are who's Facing The Sun all the way from Kenya. And Sweden. And Canada. And whatnot.

Books Tackled, 2006:

1. Jarhead, Anthony Swofford
2. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington
3. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
4. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, Anonymous
5. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Dawn Prince-Hughes

This year's movies, in chronological order:

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Pi: Faith in Chaos
4. My Big Fat Independent Movie
5. The Winter Guest
6. Voices in Wartime
7. What Dreams May Come
8. Farewell My Concubine
9. The Ring
10. Like Water for Chocolate
11. Sahara

Foreign Service Officers by day, Bloggers by day as well.

The Diplodocus
(Islamabad, Pakistan).

The Permanent Mission of Joshie
(Zagreb; Libyaward).

Prince Roy
(Chennai; Taiwanward).

Sue and not You
(Tbilisi, Georgia).

Life on the Mekong
(Vientiane, Laos).

FSO Globe Trotter
(Lahore, Pakistan).

Vice Consul: Diplomatically Transformed
(New Delhi, India).

Adventures in Good Countries

Our Man in Tirana
(Tirana, Albania).

Anne's Blog
(Kazakhstan; Greeceward).

(Bogota, Colombia).

Furnish Worldwide

Tasman's World
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

(Lome, Togo).

World Adventurers
(Seoul, Korea).

Aaron Martz

A for Adventure
(Chennai, India).

The Excellent Adventures of Nickie P
(Paris, France).

Permanently Disco
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Consul At Arms
(Kingston, Jamaica).

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