Monday, October 22, 2012

Asia dear, is that you?

I have spent the past few months in south east Asia, most of it in Singapore, and some travelling to a couple of neighboring countries. For most part I have not had time much time for reflection, so things happen, but don't get much digested.

Before I came here, I distinctly recall thinking that when I finished school, I wouldn't mind working in Asia if a good opportunity were to come by. Now I am beginning to reconsider, which is a good thing, because this was exactly the purpose of spending some time living in Asia.

Being an African in south East Asia is a funny experience. When I said that I am reconsidering living here you're probably thinking that this is unpleasant. It's not. It's just weird. I can't imagine what it was like for Obama to live here in the 70s, because people here, from adults to children, are fascinated by African looks. I generalize as 'African', but in fact I'm not sure they fully realize that I am African  as the few times when I interacted with gawkers, they seemed to think that I'm Indian (my perpetual hat wearing hasn't helped the confusion). So basically people here are fascinated by any person who doesn't have their facial features and is (often times) darker. This is much like the way Ethiopian kids chase around white people in Ethiopia yelling, "Ferenj, ferenj!" Fortunately here they stare, or at most ask to have pictures taken on their mobile phones (thank god Ethio kids don't have smart phones ... yet!), but haven't so far resorted to yelling names of any sort.

My hair, when exposed, is an object of great curiosity. I have experienced what I have been calling "being petted" on a few occasions, i.e. person reaches out and touches my hair. I know this bothers people, but for most part I do not mind. It's just that sometimes it is very hard to explain to them, when they don't speak English (or Amharic!) and I don't speak the relevant local language, that my hair is curly because I haven't subjected it to any treatment, not the other way round.

There was also the experience of my unidentified Asian adoptive mom, who advised me to sit out of direct exposure to the sun. When I declined and remained seated in my lazy, sunny space, she explained her concern, pointing to my skin, "but you getttin' so dark!?" Yes, Asian-mom, but you see, I was born that way!

I find that growing up in a place like Ethiopia, and having spent too much time in a disinfected sub-continent like the US, I have become too sterile to embrace what my peers consider as normal living experience in Asia. If a restaurant is not spic and span clean, I am reluctant to eat anything that comes out of it that isn't cooked super-dead and sizzling hot upon serving. I want any diseases that can be eliminated by heat to be done so. I also avoid meals that cannot be prepared on the fly, for the same reason I'd rather have shiro or tibs when dining outside in Ethiopia, rather than my regular favorites like gomensiga or doro wot. Habesha dining basics: storage breeds problems! Curiously I have noticed that on the majority Europeans and Americans don't have similar reservations. Ah, the joy of growing up trusting!

I also cannot blindly taste random concoctions of food (so far dining tables where I have been present have hosted snakes, frogs and miscellaneous mysterious sea creatures described as "fish-la!") without first asking for detailed explanation of each ingredient (a severe challenge, given language barriers). As a result, I always tend to order the simplest dishes on hand, like veggie fried rice. Bo-ring! The one time I naively tasted an unidentified innocuous seeming drink, it turned out to be something called "bird's nest", which is basically the wash up of birds' mucus that comes out of a birds' nest. It's supposedly a Chinese delicacy (soup, drink). Seriously, people? Yebuwambwa wuha min godelew?

Finally, there was my experience at one of the region's airports that frazzled me a bit. My Nigerian friend had refused to come along on this trip proclaiming, "Are you kidding me? Those people will arrest me if I was found anywhere in a 100km radius of a drug bust." Of course, I had laughed off the humorous hyperbole, until I tried to skip along the express line of folks who didn't have checked in baggage at a south east Asian airport. Not so fast, Ethiopian. I was stopped by six or so "customs" agents, all men, some of whom happened to be armed and proceeded to frisk through my luggage, item by item. The more talkative one among them asked where I as from, and when I told him he responded, with a smile, "Aytobia! Not many Aytobians coming here! So long as you don't have the drugs, you welcome in my country!". I had heard what he said the first time, but reflexively ended up asking, "What?" Their attention to detail was quite impressive, as they examined each stitch of my hiking boots to make sure that I wasn't hiding drugs in the soles. I was even convinced that I left all my undergarmets behind, as I never saw any coming out for examination during this process (apparently the customs officers are shy, lol).

Anyway, apparently westerners think we're going to seek asylum, while easterners think we're drug dealers.

Still, la vie est belle! Isn't that something?

p.s. This post came after I randomly bumped into this article by an American guy in India. Some of what he says in there had me laughing, though I doubt he was trying to be funny: 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Interweb Abiyot

I have a vague recollection of why I decided to take a break from the Interwebs. Partly I remember being freaked out when I started meeting people in real life who referred to me as Tobian, rather than my real name. I didn't mind when people knew my real name and Tobian, but I realized there was another living entity out there called Tobian, and I was responsible for her. Creepy. Despite having chosen technology as my (past?) profession, I'm really not accustomed to netiquettes and netpurcussions.

There were some other details, but I forget.  I botched up the blog's template until all that was left was the image below. I kept writing in the background because ...  it's a good way to keep track of the passage of time, and life, and such.

Today I decided to look  up the details of why I muted this blog --  I know that I wrote the reason down, not sure if I published it. But I never got that far, I got distracted. Apparently I only publish only about 50% of the stuff I have spew in here.

I read and read, and now I've no patience to be meticulous about re-evaluating my old lines of reasoning.

So, just like that, this thingie is back.

This does not mean that I'll write! It just means it is back ;)

Sunday, July 01, 2012

"Je t'aime Paris"

Not really. I have been in France for the past 6 months, commuting to school in a town called Fontainebleau, and I don't know jack from s**t about Paris except the train station, Gare de Lyon, and some general workings of the train that takes me to/from Fontainebleau to Paris. To be specific, anything that is useless to the average person I know. (e.g. There appear to be about 2 suicides per month on our train tracks, which has me a bit concerned as the Fontainebleau/Paris track on one of hundreds of tracks around the country)

I don't speak much French. I took one month of intensive courses and now I know just enough to confuse the hell out of any French speaker. Hopefully I'll do more this summer to unconfuse them a bit.

(above and below: scenes from Chateau de Fontainebleau)

I actually came back to this blog, first time in almost a year becuase of a blog entry in NYT, about being busy ... which I wrote about a long time back. Since I've consciously gone out of my way to disable regular linking of this blog, here goes the original:

 Published on
5/3/06 10:04 PM
Eastern Daylight Time
The funny thing I have found about keeping journals/blogs is that they help you measure time. Wasted time. I dind't do anything I would consider fruitful in the past 3 weeks (besides going to work - not that I'd a choice. I guess time is, indeed, money. ) and yet I couldn't even bring myself to sit down for ten minutes and put down my thoughts.

Americans like claiming that they don't have time. But seriously, how busy can life really be? I think it has become a culture to think that Americans are busy.

If I fail to call home on a regular basis, other members of my family cover for me by saying i've been 'busy', and that excuse always works like a charm. In fact the standard habesha description for uncommunicative people is "min yidereg ingidih ... nuro'ko ruCHa new!".

Ok. I understand there are some people who work two jobs. Maybe those people are truly busy. But what's with the rest who work, say 10 hrs a day. Let's say they sleep 6-7 hrs, and commute for 30 - 60min round trip. That leaves 6 hours free per day. Lets say another hour or two for taking a shower, meals etc. Abesha people in America don't have to do zemed Tyeqa (ok, locations that are recreations of Ethiopia on the wrong side of the Atlantic, like DC, don't count), leqso, daily beteskian mesalem .... and to prove we've the time to waste, many among us will not miss the routine entertainment, be it a party or a wear-out-the-seats session at Starbucks. If there is a time and place for everything, then place seems to be the key word.

So how did we acquire the "ruCHa nuro" reputation? I for one feel like i'm wasting shitloads of time. Yes, time is flying ... but no, i'm not feeling cured.

As for you, Paris, this summer you're my project: je t'aimerai!