The day before winter break started was my last day teaching junior high. I will miss Chestnut, No Eyebrows, Gorilla, Eggplant, Japanese Toilet, Potato, Sweet Potato, Panda, and Big Face. Well, maybe not Eggplant, whose nickname, from the amount of laughter that it caused when I mistakenly used it, is most likely a reference to the shape and/or color of his 13 year-old penis; it’s a small vegetable in Japan. High lights from my last day included receiving one card reading “I Hope You Will be Fine Forever! Maroni Love!” and having two good hearted, naughty girls who quit their clubs mid-year and have too much free time on their hands coming into the office at the end of the day, hugging me, saying they loved me, joining hands in the door way and yelling in unison, “Please, get married!” After which they slammed the sliding door. I looked around and some of the teachers just kept doing paperwork. The baseball team did a militaristic shout out to me and bowed in unison. Someone said let’s have the foreigner say good bye to the foreigner, and I realized that the boy I had been calling Edward Scissor Hands for the last nine months because he was always cutting his eyebrows, his eye lashes, his arm hair, his nails, his cuticles, and the piles of glue he let dry in his palms with scissors and/or an Exacto knife in class was in fact born in Thailand, had a Thai mom, and was probably unable to read Japanese or English. Awesome. Thank you, public school. No one ever told me. That explains why he was using the scissors to express himself. Poor Edward. At the end of the day one boy asked me where I was going and I said I had to go back to the U.S.; he said, “Pregnant?” All in all a pretty rad send off.
But I did not go to the U.S. not at first, anyway. First I went to Dubai, Because if I don’t review luxury hotels in an authoritative yet conversational tone for a wage that won’t cover my expenses, who will? I mean, besides everyone on TripAdvisor? I brought a friend/secondary reviewer who is from Germany but whose parents are from Afghanistan. He has relatives living in Dubai and in the lead up to going on this nothing-inclusive trip that I was wondering if I should really go on because I knew it was going to be money and dignity depleting at a time when I have little money or dignity to spare, he might have promised to try to take me under his wing and put me up in a relative’s place. I remember when I read that thinking, wait, he doesn’t have wings, he has arms, and if he takes me under his arm, then I will just be up in his young, human arm pit.
But in the end he didn’t take me in at all. When I met up with him in Dubai, he said he had lost standing in the family after setting up his cousin’s husband to get caught cheating in London so another cousin didn’t have to marry a relative of that one cousin’s husband. The whole thing went horribly (and unexpectedly?) wrong and he thinks he has been (unjustly?) blamed for everything because he was the youngest one involved and he was hoping the extended family in Dubai and Afghanistan would be over it by now, but they weren’t. If he’s making that excuse up, I give him credit for originality and dramatic plot twists. Anyway the family is Muslim, he explained, so we couldn’t stay in the same apartment anyway, and we had to work fast because he needed to get back to Germany for a court date for a minor pot conviction. So we were off to review the luxury resort scene while he stayed with family who he claimed were just waiting for an opportunity to settle the score, and I stayed in an overpriced skuzzy hotel filled with the new Russian middle class wearing shorts, stealing low quality food from the breakfast buffet, and mistaking me for one of their own. I don’t look good. Da. Da. And I too, dress for comfort above all else.
And as for Dubai? Dubai is a city built in the imaginations of foreigners by P.R. people. So once I got out of the area where I was staying and construction workers lived, It did end up looking just like how the New York Times travel section used to describe it in the late ’90’s when they were crushing on it. Unce. Unce. Unce. Party. Party. Party. It is true that it’s being built by Indian slave laborers who are transported around the city in what look like prison buses, but I heard a couple of years ago they used to be transported around the city in open backed trucks like animals on their way to slaughter, so the prison buses mark a step up in labor conditions. I left the slave labor thing out of the hotel reviews, though. I called some of the resorts “opulent” and “upscale” but none of them “built on the backs of slave labor”. It is interesting to note that I charge exactly $25 to compromise my morals.
Once my secondary reviewer went back to deal with his old and minor pot conviction in Germany, I continued to review hotels in the day, and I stayed with Yahya, a couch surfer I met at a Couch Surfing meet up, at night. I liked saying his name, Yahya, Yahya, Yahya. And spent most of my time with him over using his name. He’s pretty blind and on a couple of occasions when we went out, he didn’t use his cane but instead leaned on my arm. I was feeling pretty absent minded and unused to anyone blindly trusting me, so I walked him off little ledges, into things or people, and then I would say wow, I’m not good at this, and do it again. I told him it reminded me of the couple of times when I put my nephew in his baby carrier on my back, and then forgot he was on my back and jaywalked on busy streets. Yahya is good natured and something a beloved figure in the little Dubai couch surfing community. He squeezes earlobes and buys drinks. He was born in Somalia, went to a Muslim boarding school in Bahrain, lived in London, and moved to Dubai for an HR job at a T.V. channel and for the weather last year. He told me on several occasions that he didn’t want to live anywhere damp like London again, so any of the states around The Gulf that the TV channel had offices in would be fine to live in, but absolutely not Saudi Arabia because they didn’t have a movie theater.
It was unclear to me how much he could see. He used phrases like “I see,” and he showed me a video on his i-phone of himself on vacation in Sri Lanka washing an elephant, and he seemed to enjoy the video, but Siri read and wrote all his emails for him, and one day when his friend asked if Yahya had seen his blue swim trunks, and Yahya said no, I pointed out that Yahya had in fact worn his friend’s blue trunks to the beach that day. Finally I heard someone asked Yahya if he even watched movies, and he said not really, so I’m guessing that a nation without a movie theater is merely an indicator to Yahya of what else it lacks. I don’t think you can drink in Saudia Arabia. Yahya had a house party, and he put up decorations (that he couldn’t see) and the police came because of noise disturbances but it was all handled with grace by his one sober devout Muslim, Arabic-speaking friend. At the party I met the kind of foreigners that outnumber Emirates in their own country: an engineer in “oil’ngas,” a stewardess, a doctor, a nanny, a finance student looking for a job etc. all of them were from Africa, S.E. Asia, South Asia, and Europe, mostly England. They were mostly young and up beat. It kind of felt like they were living in a Club Med or a Las Vegas with beach. I think I could live there for a while as long as I didn’t have to work construction. Dubai has the Gulf and as Yahya pointed out, movie theaters, too.
I flew back to Oregon where I saw my four year-old niece among other people. My Brother says that she has a radio in her room, and she’s pretty into top forty. She wrote a letter to Katy Perry. “Dear Katy Perry, Please come to my house for dinner.” But she has a four year-old accent so she pronounces it “Katy Pe-a-wi.” My brother says that on the off chance that Katy accepts the invitation, it’s going to be pretty awkward because he and my sister in-law don’t really know her music and wouldn’t even know what to talk to her about at dinner. I think it would be okay, though because my niece makes a pretty good hostess. She has really high self esteem, she knows when to exaggerate to make a total non-event a good story, she sometimes closes her eyes for dramatic effect while she’s talking, and she doesn’t ever wear much clothing. She has little plastic pink high heels someone gave her for dress up, and I’ve seen her wear those around while she was buck naked with complete confidence. Good hostess/atrocious hostess it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. I’d have Katy, or any celebrity really, over on Mexican night at my brother’s because that’s pretty much the best night for dinner at their place. And on the invitation I would make a note for Katy not to wear black or white because they have animals with black hair and white hair so either way you end up leaving their house with visible animal hair on you. But I would also add to the invitation that for the younger residents at least, the place seems to be clothing optional at dinner, so Katy should just feel free to make herself comfortable.
I also saw my mom’s cat, Bitey, at Christmas. He and his sister were found in a box on the freeway in Washington State, and my brother called her up a couple of years ago to tell her that if she didn’t take them, they would be put to death, so he was bringing her two cats. I was there and she said,”Do. Not. Bring. Me. Cats. Do you hear me? Do-not-bring-me-those-cats.” And that’s how she got Bitey and his sister. In the Christmas spirit, right in front of them this year, she said that if they died, it would be easier for her to travel. Bitey is funny looking because he licks himself so much he looks like he sweats, he only has one good eye, and his whole tongue doesn’t fit in his mouth. There might be a reason he was found on the freeway. Also he bites even when he’s in a good mood, hence the name Bitey. I do feel he might be my spirit animal.
That brings me back to Japan, naturally, but this time up to the north to live in a ware house/dorm a 30 minute walk from town to waitress for 700 yen ($7) an hour in an all you can eat restaurant in a ski town dominated by Australian vacationers who do not understand Asian dipping sauces, particularly the fact that the ones with a high sugar content are not meant to be poured onto cast iron grills. It seemed like a necessary and inevitable step for the old career to take, and the opportunity presented itself, so here I am, covered in lamb fat, scrubbing endless cast iron pots covered in charred dipping sauces in a sink that is the right height for an older Japanese woman in the ’70’s. After five days of listening to J-pop all 5 p.m-1 a.m. shift I asked if we could listen to a new C.D. One of the waiters said the J-pop we were listening to was a new C.D. This seems like a natural place to end up after the kind of circumnavigation of the world I just did, really.