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, July 26, 2005

Oh god, oh god, oh god, I've finally taken the plunge and become one of THOSE people.

And by that I of course mean: I've finally posted an I-Saw-You ad.

We'll just where this goes.

Posted by Dakota on 8:39 PM link |
Picture this:

The men's locker room of the National Capital YMCA has rows and rows and rows of lockers, which, if you pass through, lead to a door. On the other side of the door is the another hall, first with a sauna, and then after that with shower stalls on the left and right hand sides. The showers on the left have curtains; on the right, none. Past the showers is the door that leads, after the interregnum of a staircase, to the pool.

This evening as I passed by the sauna on my way to the pool, I glanced in through the window and saw a homeless man sitting there. I've seen him before at the Y. I have no proof that he's homeless, but I'm making an educated guess based on his lion-like mane of flowing white hair, as well as his eyebrows and frankly awe-inspiring white beard which people with homes just can't be bothered to grow.

I pass by. I shower. I swim. 1500 meters today, which is a very, very long swim for me because I am, when it comes to swimming, categorically out of shape. It took a just shy of an hour -- 45, 50 minutes or so. Back upstairs, locker roomward, to put away my goggles (which, if I take into the shower, I'll forget and leave behind) and get a fresh towel.

As I pass the sauna for the second time, I notice that the homeless man is still sitting there, in the 100 plus degree cedar-lined room. I am impressed with his fortitude, but wonder briefly if he's still alive.

I get myself a fresh towel, toss the goggles in my locker, and then weigh myself. Back to the room with the showers.

The homeless man has removed himself from the sauna, and is now standing stark naked in front of one of the showers on the right, which, you'll recall, have no curtain. The shower is on. He's standing in the aisle, looking intently at the shower head, and growling like a ferocious dog at the sight of the water.

I shower quickly. Homeless man is still growling when I exit the shower and notice the fat guy across the way from me. He's hard to miss, since he's, shall we say, taking matters into his own hands, and really trying to make eye contact with me. I wonder briefly why the few truly spectacularly attractive men at the Y are never the one's servicing themselves in the shower, but this thought is quickly replaced by wonder at the fact that 3 minutes later, the homeless guy is still growling at the shower head like a maligned doberman.

I turn quickly and move towards the lockers. I slip into my shorts, grab my keys and goggles and am making a move for the t-shirt when a hand falls on my shoulder.

I'm not expecting a hand on my shoulder. No. Not at all. I fall a step forward and sort of hit the locker with my hand as I spin around. It's fat man, of shower masturbation fame.

This is more unexpected than I can possibly relate.

I gape at him. His opening line: 'Hi.'

I'm caught off guard. But I've sort of got the upper hand, because I'm wearing all of my clothes less t-shirt, and he's only wearing a towel, or at least was wearing, but is about to let fall as he attempts to initiate a conversation with me.

I am briefly stricken with the thought that I might know this man from work or from running or somewhere else more legitimate than the shower room, and this worries me; the rational thought that I have just seen this man's hand working furiously between his legs in an open stall at a public gym makes it unlikely that he's my colleague does not cross my mind until long after I have left the gym.

I respond: 'hi...?'

He lets the towel fall and uses it to sort of dry-rub his face. "Do you wanna... go somewhere?" he asks.

I am stunned by his boldness. I'm also a little impressed, against my will, but when it comes down to it, I'm being propositioned by a very, very, VERY out-of-shape and remarkably naked man in the fairly foul smelling locker room of a gym populated by the sort of people that find themselves growling at shower heads. I respond: "I have to go."

I go. I'm walking towards home, and there's another homeless man just outside the Y on 17th, a small wiry black guy with a bushy beard who is, thankfully, fully clothed. We make eye contact and he smiles broadly. "You know, you know -- I've been waitin' for you. I have. I've been waitin' for you because you strike me as the kind of guy who's got quarters to give away, and I'll be quite frank with you here -- I'm a guy who's looking for quarters." All this comes in a fast patter that's remarkably like the banter that happens between my friends and I. I'm caught off guard, but he's out of luck because I'll I've got on me is my Y card.

"Sorry, buddy, no change today," I tell him. This isn't surprising to him, and he changes tact immediately: "No quarters in no problem, because I'll tell it to you straight, my man, it's absolutely no problem whatsoever for me to take paper dollars, that's perfectly fine with me as well, and in fact in this weather I'd almost prefer a bill because it's quite hot out here and a dollar bill weighs a lot less than 4 quarters."

"I'm really sorry," I tell him, "no wallet." Which is true, but later I go on to feel bad because I go home and get my wallet, but I don't return to this amiable homeless man and give him the dollar that I feel he's rightfully earned for this stream of patter. Instead, I take my wallet and go to the safeway.

I peruse the frozen foods but find nothing on sale that looks good. I abandon this aisle, and settle instead for half of a rotiserrie chicken for a scant $3.49, a bargain given how tasty the chicken looks. I'm pretending it's healthy, even though the chicken is all clearly fat and skin. Upon consuming it later, I discover that $3.49 is not a bargain for such chicken, because it was, in pretty much every way, identical to the turkey in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: golden brown, steaming hot, and leather tough.

I'm walking home towards having my chicken but get stopped at the light at 17th and Q. An old man walks up to me as the light changes and tells me: "I've got a thermometer in my apartment, and I looked at it as I left, and right now it is exactly one hundred degrees." "It's unbelievably unpleasant out here," I commiserate.

"I hate this weather. I hate it, I hate it, I hate," he says. I understand his complaint because he's very old and old people do tend to hate 100 degree temperatures, but I'm in a hurry because my chicken is waiting for me and I am starving. I hustle away from him and towards my apartment. "Well, have a good day!" I say, amicably, as I break away from him.

"No. No, no no," he responds. "This can't be a good day. It CAN'T." His voice, previously sotto voce enough that I had to lean in to hear him, is rising a little bit with each word he says. "It's a Bad Day. A BAD DAY." He stops halfway across the street, mired in the middle of the intersection where Q meets 17th, and with his hands on his hips, he throws his head backwards and shouts at the top of his lungs: "IT'S A VERY BAAAAAAAAD DAY TO BE ALIVE!!"

So then, if you've missed the point of this, let me clarify: my god I'm going to miss this town. Honestly.

Posted by Dakota on 4:33 PM link |

Monday, July 25, 2005

In checking off the massive to-do list that is Leaving The Country Forever, I have now come across the item of immunizations.

State provides. They're free. Lollipops: not included.

That said, in order to get the immunizations, I have to provide them with a record of all previous shots. Georgetown: telephoned. Transferred to Student Health.

Recorded message, male voice, speaking slowly: Thank you for calling Student Health. If your call is an emergency, please hang up and call nine-one (pause) (pause) one.

For some reason, this pause freaked me out.

The message went on for what seemed like 9 years, before disconnecting me without giving me the option of speaking to someone. I call the operator again, am again transferred to student health.

Recorded message, female voice. Already I'm off guard (they have 2 messages?). The voice: Thank you for calling student health. If your call is an emergency, pleace hang up and call nine-one-one, or go to the nearest (pause) (pause) um... emergency room.

You may draw your own conclusions here. I felt this was noteworthy. Others might not. As you can perhaps tell, there isn't a whole lot in my life right now that's blogworthy.

Posted by Dakota on 2:32 PM link |

Monday, July 18, 2005

Well, it's official. I now hold a document in my hand that says: it's real. You're on your way out.

When it's all happening:

Sunday, August 28th, 6 p.m.
DC to La Guardia

Tuesday, August 30th, 9:30 pm
JFK to Heathrow

Wednesday, August 31st, 11:00 am
Heathrow to Abu Dhabi

Thursday, September 1st, 5 minutes past midnight
Abu Dhabi to Islamabad

Time of arrival in Islamabad: 4:15 a.m.

It's going to be a long 2 days. But now that it's official, you can all start the process of offering to buy me farewell dinners. Begin!

Posted by Dakota on 12:40 PM link |

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Saturday, 16 July
Rockville Twilight 8k

So, having never run a roadrace in the dead center of a electrical storm, it was, I suppose, an interesting experience.

But it was 8 thoasand degrees before the storm broke (between miles 3 and 4, at about the 26 minute mark), and just because of large amounts of electricity arcing through the air, they had the audacity to cancel the free beer afterwards. As if ANYONE goes to Rockville, Md for any reason BESIDES free beer!

Unrealistic pace goal, 8k: 6:30 per mile
More realistic pace goal, 8k: Under 7 per mile

Actual pace, 8k: 7:43 per mile
Actual time, per Championchip: 38:18

So... that sucked. I'm blaming the heat, the puddles, the crowds, and the heartburn that ripper me apart between miles 1 and 3. Unexpected, and bracingly unpleasant.

By age (Males, 25 to 29): Of 196, placed 109th; 56th percentile.
Overall: Of 1945, placed 609th; 31st percentile.

Could've been worse.

But then, after the race I lost my car and had to pace up and down historic rockville for an hour to find it. Because I'm THAT smart.

Haysus Maria.

Next race: August 7th, Culpeper Sprint triathlon.

Posted by Dakota on 11:54 AM link |

Friday, July 15, 2005

I can't help but wonder if this is Quixote.

Would I applaud that he (shaved head, pink pants) was SEEN in an I saw you ad? Or would I be overwhelmed with jealousy that he was seen before me, and in an M4M posting, no less? I think the former.

Well done, sir. It's the pants that do it, no doubt.

Posted by Dakota on 3:20 PM link |
So then, the photos are in, triathlekota in all his glory.

That said, the photos suck. Specifically, of the 5 or so categories of pictures, only two are actually OF me. The rest are mistakenly filed. You'll note that the picture of "me" at the swim start is some guy (admittedly, a handsome individual in a nice wet suit) wearing a purple swim cap. Purple swim caps denote males aged 40 and over. Their filing system could use a bit of work, but whatever.

That said, you can see me at the swim finish (so pale!) and at the run finish (so tired looking! But such well coordinated lycra!). Mommy and daddy will be getting a run-finish photo, but really, it's an awful picture. They'll appreciate it, I assume, but I wish I didn't look so close to collapse.

I never gave the triathlon de-brief here, so let's go over it, shall we?

The 21st Annual Pohanka Colonial Beach Triathlon,
July 10, 2005

General Observations
1. Triathlons are like golf. You don't really care how the guy next to you does; it's really more about you vs. yourself. If you can knock your own personal time down, then well done. If not, hopefully it was at least a nice day and you had a good time.

2. Due to the fact that you're not really competing, triathletes are a great group of people. They're in great shape, but unlike people at the start of a 5 or 10k with 1000+ participants, they're all friendly. Everyone chit chats. People share equipment (I forgot goggles; they loaned me a pair. I needed a bike pump; someone handed me theirs), offer water and goo to one another. Bizarrely friendly.

3. Triathletes are the most beautiful people on the planet. 70 to 75 percent of the race were male, of which 90 to 98 percent were gorgeous.

4. See 3, and then recall that everyone's decked out in lycra. Helllllloooo, Mr. Triathlete.

Like a fish out of...

Primary Goal: Not Drown.
Secondary Goal: 1k swim, less than 20 minutes

The swim. The swim the swim the swim. My god, did THAT suck.

It's 6:45 in the morning and everyone's milling about asking the question "What's the water temperature, anyone know the water temperature?" and I'm thinking, does it really matter? I mean, it's summer, 90 degree days, it can't be that cold can it?

And then the announcement, water temperature is 76 degree! and there's an audible murmur of relief and a few people shout YES! and someone else comments, close, cutting it way close, and I'm still totally out of the loop and so I ask the triathlete next to me (perfectly sculpted, high-and-tight, helloooooo Mr. Triathlete), what's the big deal? And he tells me, water's 76 degrees; if it's 78 degrees or above, you can't wear a wetsuit, USAT regulations.

Effect of water temperature on Dakota: zero.

Quouth he: it's your first triathlon? Then make it your goal to finish the swim. It's the shortest part, and you can make up time on the other two. I: took this to heart.

Swim start. Everyone into a pen, where they give us final instructions ("See that canoe? It's on top of some jagged wood and rocks. Avoid that canoe") and then they count us so if someone drowns, they'll know, and then into the water, tread, tread, and with very little warning, "GO!" and suddenly the water is full of 150 people thrashing for position.

Now, I swim at the Y. I swim in the slow lane, with the old people and the paraplegics, where there are no coast guardsmen pacing looking for bodies, and no canoes in case of drowning, where if you're tired, you grab the side of the pool or get out for a while.

Open water swimming is not like swimming at the Y for the following reasons:
1. With 150 people in the water, people are ALL OVER YOU. Their arms hit your legs, their legs kick water in your face, and it's all generally unpleasant.

2. There are waves. Lots of waves. These come in part from the people (see #1, above), and partly from the god damn coast guard cutters that circle the swimmers and create wake. It's impossible to do a graceful freestyle stroke with waves. Can't be done.

3. There are no lanes. Which is to say, with your head down, in the water, you can't see the bouey you're swimming towards. So you've got to look up every few seconds and see if you're on track. This is more distracting then you'd think.

4. The water is salt water. This seems like it wouldn't influence much, EXCEPT that the second you get it in your mouth, it makes you choke, makes you thirsty, and makes you lose your breath. Harder to regain then you'd think when you're so far from the shore.

So then, final swim results:
Distance: Changed from 1000 meters to 750 meters.
Primary Goal: Not dying. (Goal: met!)
Secondary Goal: 1000 meters, 20 minutes.
Actualy accomplished:750 meters, 19 minutes, 36 seconds. At that pace, time to complete 1000 meters: 26 minutes, 8 seconds.
Secondary Goal: Emphatically not met. but who cares?

Placement during swim: Of 220 individual competitors, placed 190th, damn near dead last.
Percentage of people in swim who finished ahead of me: 86.
Percentage behind me: 14.

Fastest time in the swim: Just over 6 minutes.
Age of girl who swam the damn thing in just over 6 minutes: 14. Intimidating.

Age group Results:
Number of finishers, age 25 to 29: 8
My place in the swim, amongst those 8: 6th

Gonna be your man in motion; all I need is a pair of wings

Then the bike. Finish the swim, hit the transition area, and I ain't hustling. Because I'm POOPED from the swim. Toss on my bike shorts, have a little goo (with caffeine!), have a little water, struggle to get my lycra shirt on (find out later a shirt isn't required for the bike), more forward.

What I wasn't expecting about the bike is that everyone chit chats. The hardcore athletes (ie the assholes, the maybe 5 percent of competitors who were too good to talk to the other athletes) by this point are long gone, long since past me. The people getting on the bike when I am are all friendly, having a great time, and everyone talks to each other, and I'm thinking, you know, you're really far too attractive to be talking to me, but no one really takes that into account, they just talk.

Such nice people. Such well rounded tails!

Bike Goal: Average MPH at or above 20 miles per hour for the entire 25 mile stretch.
Actual MPH for 25 miles: 19.2. (Damn, damn, damn! so close! so far away!).
Time for bike portion of the race: One hour, seventeen minutes, 23 seconds.

Age group results: Of 8, finished 6th in the bike

Overall bike results: of 220 finishers, placed 147th.
Percent ahead of me: 67,
Behind me: 33

Run like the...

And then the run.

This is where I shine. My god I love running, honestly. And the BGRC has taught me well: 6 miles is honestly as close to nothing as a distance run can be. So I hit the ground, and FLEW. After being passed by EVERYONE on the swim, and most people on the bike, it was so damn satisfying to turn around and pass OTHER people for a change.

And so I did.

At one point I passed a guy who looked really old, and the guy next to me said, do you know who we just passed? He's 71. Everyone knows him because he's 71 and still doing triathlons. And we just passed him on the run. Which means he passed us on the bike AND the swim.


So then:

Note: Race distance changed from 10k (6.25 miles) to 6 miles even.
Goal, Run Pace: 7 minute miles or below.
Actual run pace: 8:09 minute miles. Not even close
Run time: 48 minutes, 51 seconds.

Age Results: Of 8, finished 3rd! Huzzah!

Overall run results: Of 220, finished 88th
Which of course means:
Percentage ahead of me: 40
Percentage behind me: 60!

Which then brings us to the overall results:

Final Age Results: Of 8, placed 5th

Final Place, overall: Of 220, placed 144th
Percentage ahead of me: 65
Percentage behind me: 35

Overall time goal: Less then three hours
Overall time: 2 hours, 31 minutes, 20 seconds
Overall time goal: Very much met. Huzzah!

So then, basically, my times suck but I don't give a shit. Had a ridiculously good time, and can't wait for the next 'thlon, August 7th, Culpeper VA. Winners in age groups got these REALLY nice fleece blankets that I was VERY jealous of. Suddenly I have a goal. And damn it, I'm going to place in my age group next time.


Posted by Dakota on 9:21 AM 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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