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.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Prepare yourself for a wave of jealousy unlike any you've ever felt before in your entire life.

Posted by Dakota on 1:21 PM link |

Monday, March 21, 2005

Amazon.com prime is DANGEROUS. It used to be that when I wanted something on Amazon, there was this long, drawn-out process of click-click-click, examine the shopping cart, do I really want this? select a credit card, maybe not I shouldn't get this, choose a shipping address, take out half the stuff in the cart, click click and DONE.

Now: Amazon has compelled me to turn on one-click shipping.

Which means that today I was looking at a fairly expensive and FASCINATING looking textbook on linguistics, and came across the following line in one of the reviews:

The subtitle "An Introduction" is perhaps a little over-optimistic, as a knowledge of basic linguistic terms is a definate pre-requisite. If you know your Dative from your Medio-passive, and you want a good, broad base of Indo-european, this is the book for you.

It goes without saying that I immediately clicked on the 'buy this book button.' One click later, my credit card had been billed and the book is rocketing towards me.


In related news, I had forgotten that like all academic disciplines, linguistics, from time to time, REEKS of academic snobbery. To wit: I hereby quote several lines from reviews of other linguistics textbooks which will be rocketing towards me as soon as I'm done with the aforementioned book.

Fortson's work is not perfect. He transliterates Greek words, resulting in text that is annoying for those who already have some experience with Greek in its own natural alphabet. Furthermore, do we really want to be inviting people into the field when they have no prior experience with Greek?

(No! My god, anything but that!)

He treats laryngeals as a matter of course.

(The bastard. How dare he.)

Anyhow, the long and short of it is that I look forward to bathing in linguistic snobbery myself (despite my lack of knowledge of (egads) greek). Until then, don't any of you dare take your laryngeals as a matter of course.

Posted by Dakota on 10:55 PM link |

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

This morning, NPR had an overwhelmingly good piece on Etta Baker, a 91 year old Piedmont Blues guitar player. I can't recommend listening to it enough.

In related news, I'm now an Amazon.com Prime member, and my new Piedmont Blues cds will be arriving tomorrow. 4 bucks for overnight shipping! This is the best thing EVER.

Posted by Dakota on 11:14 AM link |
Steve, in a rather bratish move, has deleted all the content of Orangelifesavers.blogspot.com. Thank god I saved the whole thing, and will be burning it to a CD. I'm strongly considered burning two copies, and mailing one off addressed to a certain Selma over at 624 Ridgewood Court.

It might be the best idea I've ever had.

Posted by Dakota on 11:09 AM link |

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Earlier this week, Susan walked into Urdu class carrying a plate of mini-muffins. Baked goods aren't uncommon from her, and they're never short of wonderful, but these were of a truly spectacular cut of cloth: spice cakes, topped with a small dab of cream cheese frosting. They were good with coffee, they were good without coffee. They were just damn near perfectr.

After tossing my seventh or so mini muffin into my mouth, I remembered that I should perhaps ask what the occasion was. "Anything special today?" I slurred, crumbs spewing across the table, "or you just felt like baking maybe?"

"No," she said, "it's International Women's Day. So I baked."

We spent the next four hours trying to explain to our subsequent Urdu teachers what the hell International Women's Day was. The thing is, none of us really had any clue. Susan mentioned that she had heard of it first when she was in Russia. And of course, I too had first heard of it in Russia.

In '99, I and two others went to Russia on whim, for spring break.

The thing is, you really don't just go to Russia on a whim. Russia's not an easy place to travel. Even St. Pete's is downright inhospitable to the uninitiated, and we, despite the bravado of self-proclaimed well-traveledness, were rank amateurs. Not a word of Russian between the three of us, coupled with the fact that it was February in the coldest, most inhospitable place on Earth.

Cheap flight to Finland via Frankfurt (stopping briefly in Germany to get sausages). Boat to Estonia (and my earliest ever alcoholic drink: 7:30 a.m., the 'Ship special,' something bright green, midori and lemon juice and god knows what else, a truly god awful concoction that I enjoyed for the novelty of booze at sunrise).

And then an overnight train to Saint Petersburg.

We get on, sleeper car, a fistful of Estonian Kroon and a couple US dollars between the three of us, no damn clue what the hell we're doing. At least our visas (printed on course brown paper that gave directions for filling out customs declaration before arrival in the USSR) were in order; that was the best we could do in advance. We also brought several packs of American cigarettes, apparantly under the impression that Russia (nay nay, the USSR, check the forms and you'll see) was still under embargo -- a few stale packs of Marlboro reds would no doubt win us friends in sticky situations.

The conductor came around shortly after the train started and growled at us in Russian. We stared blankly. He kept growling, we kept staring, until finally he rubbed his fingers together: rubles. I believe he even said it out loud: "ruble, ruble."

"I think he wants a bribe for something," we came up with. We scraped together a couple dollars to give him without having any idea why.

He came back later with sheets for the bed. If I recall correctly, we never figured out the he wanted to cash for the bed linens, and not to sneak us effortlessly through customs.

It was at this time that we decided: this train is full of drunks and is downright scary. And thus, we shouldn't go to bed. That would be a mistake. They'll gut us, rob us, and gut us again just to spite us if we're asleep! We should stay up for this trip.

Enter all-night rummy tournament. Thousands of points later, it's half past three in the morning and it occurs to all of us that we're starving. It goes without saying (rank amateurs that we were) that we didn't have a scrap of food between us. And even if there had been a place to buy something, we didn't have a lick of currency that we could do it with.

Customs comes. (so hungry!) Visas in order, so no need to break out the Marlboros; the customs inspector was portly, matronly and vicious. She pointed to Joshie and said: open your bag. She rifled through it, with no care whatsoever for his organization or folding schemae. He, recently diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder in a bid to get better housing at school, was less than pleased.

The passport stamper was a fit russian army guy with an crooked hat and an easy gap-toothed smile. I fell in love, asked one of the other two to take my picture with him. I've still got the photo: me, tired, hungry and generally unwashed (but grinning with unrequited sexual lust and the general air of merriment that international travel inspires), standing next to the guard, who's completely blotted out by someone's thumb.

Not that I'm still bitter about this.

We get through customs, continue the rummy, continue the trip. Arrive in St. Pete's (so hungry!) with temperature hovering around zero farenheit. Stumble off the train, blinded by the sunlight, slapped by the cold, and generally disoriented. Start wandering the streets looking for our hostel, but the only map we've got labels every fifth street and no others. We've got no compass, no money, and no food (so hungry!), and are generally out of sorts. We start wandering.

We've been joined at this point by another Westerner who found us on the train, a jackass named Graham with an accent from somewhere (Britain? Australia?) who's also going to our hostel. "It's ollraight," he drawls, "Aye speak some Russian, in fact."

Joshie and I are attempting to ask directions in a language I don't speak, at least ascertain if anyone speaks any English (none of them do), Steve's doing his surprising effective non-verbal communication to find the hostel, and all of us are coming up short. Graham's busy meanwhile running up to strangers, grabbing them by the arm and trying out his "russian" with the following line: "Hey, Rooski! Speak a bit o' English, do you then?"

This is, shockingly enough, less than effective.

We keep walking. I have no idea how we found the hostel. I remember thinking that I had two dollars in my pocket, and maybe I'd be able to bribe a taxi cab driver to take us there. I think we eventually found it on foot.

Hostel: intimidating, in that it's plastered with signs that indicate that drinking the water will give one Giardia, a parasite we weren't familiar with at the time. We didn't have to be familiar; the sign also included the words 'explosive diarrhea,' and that was enough to keep us from drinking from the tap. I recall feeling proud of myself for having brushed my teeth with bottled water before in my life, and thus was able to give the other two 'instruction' in how to do it. As if it's that complicatied.

The hotel was cash only -- not just cash, but US dollars only. I, who had lost my ATM card in Estonia (rank fucking amateur) was the only one with USD on hand. I payed the bill for the three of us, leaving me with absolutely no money, and absoluely no means of getting money.

A certain someone I was travelling with, when I asked to borrow money later on, went into that whiny obnoxious voice that he's spent years perfecting. "Ohhhhhhh, did SOMEBODY spend allllllll of their money on JUNK in the bazaar?" he falsoetto-whined. I snapped back: "yeah, junk like your fucking hotel room."

I wonder if he knows I'm still bitter about that.

(In his defense, duly cowed by my response, he was happy (or, if not happy, silently willing) to provide money for me from then until the end of the trip).

We go out, hit the town, see the church in the middle of the city that's so damn famous for the onion domes (Church of the Blood? Maybe it's called?).

There's a painter standing outside the church, a Chinese guy but speaks English (and theoretically Russian as well), doing his damndest to paint in the 10 degree below wind. He wants to know if we're interested in a painting. We aren't.

We leave, keep wandering around. Hit the Neva river, into which Joshie hurls a pair of shoes he'd been meaning to unload, matching Neva to Steve's earlier shoe-disposal in the Mississippi. The temperature hits negative 20 on the fahreneit scale, and I've officially never been that cold, either before or after. Steve-o shrieks out his now semi-famous line: Cold weather is a BATTLE between YOU and DEHYDRATION. AND WE ARE LOSING, PEOPLE!

We keep walking, get on the subway to try to find someplace to eat. But the subway is all in Russian, and it's confusing, and none of us are sure where we're going. A train comes, a train goes. Another train comes and we're still not sure if we should get on it.

The Chinese painter from the Onion Dome Church materializes out of nowhere. "Hey, it you guys! Where you trying to going?" he asks. We, somewhat resigned, tell him where we're headed. He looks delighted, tells us in return, "hey, me too! You follow me, ok no problem ok." We follow him, ok no problem ok. He directs us to exactly where we need to go, complete instructions on how to exit the station, everything.

The inevitable comes. "Ok, ok, now maybe you want to buy painting? Good gift for mom!" I take the bullet for all of us, purchase a three dollar watercolor of St. Pete's. Painter seems pleased; we all feel suckerpunched, but inside can't help but think maybe it'll end up being a good story. And painting or no, we ended up at a place with a restaurant that had Stroganoff on the menu, and, feeling appropriately Russian, proceeded to eat.

The next day we continue the process of seeing Petersburg, but we're noticing that a lot of sites are closed, tons of stores aren't opening and the city seems, in general, subdued. We hail a cab, the drivers speaks impeccable English, and we ask him: "hey, is there some kind of holiday going on or something?"

He swivels his head to the backseat, stared us straight in the eye and grits his teeth, before barking out, in that inimitable Russian accent, "yes... eet iz fucking VEEMAN'S day."

And that's how I came to learn about International Women's Day.

Hopefully it was joyous for you and yours.

There's so much more to this story that's being left out: Joshie having his bag searched AGAIN at customs on the way out, after purchasing tons black market porn from a man who dissuaded him from the rather cool looking Russian Playboy ("nyet, nyet, eez softcore, softcore"), leading him to tear into Russia in an OCD-feuled rant: "THIS IS WHY YOUR FUCKING COUNTRY WILL NEVER FUCKING AMOUNT TO FUCKING ANYTHING!" And me purchasing a beautiful Russian army greatcoat (gold buttons, featuring the double-headed Russian eagle insignia!) and then leaving it, in a soul-crushing tragedy, in a taxi cab. Arriving back in Finland, where the temperature was a balmy 30 degrees, ripping off our coats and running through the streets of Helsinki, having never felt so warm in our lives.

And then finally, arriving back on campus to see everyone else glowing with a caribbean tan, and wondering what the hell we were thinking going to RUSSIA for spring break.

Retrospectively, it was assuredly the right decision.

Posted by Dakota on 10:07 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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