Monday, October 31, 2011

A Bright Future

Well, a 2-month break from the blog is probably long enough; my sister Patty was asking when I was going to update it next because she doesn’t know what I’m up to otherwise. I kept my head down and worked my butt off at my new job, and then at my first performance review I did very well in all categories, as was my goal. Basically the only feedback I could get was “don’t change.” But anyways I’m sure you’re interested to hear about Thailand, especially if you know already what happened there.

To sum up the trip, it was busy but not extravagant like past excursions; most of my pictures are at restaurants eating awesome food. We went to all kinds of places and partook in a few too many Asian buffets. Because my mom mentioned duck a lot when we were in China Town in Japan, I ordered it for many meals; one small mom & pop restaurant was so delicious and cheap that I somehow put away 3 different meals in one sitting. Duck definitely has grown on me and I enjoyed it tremendously.

We spent the first couple nights renting one of Peter’s condos. (One of the travel agents I befriended years back). This is where Ann’s friends stay for cheap when they come to Thailand for a month every year when their restaurant in Switzerland gets snowed in.

It was there a couple mornings later when I walked up behind her while she was making coffee, and gently tried to reach for her hand from behind. Because she was a bit busy, I ended up making her knock some stuff over.

“What are you doing?” She asked me with a bit of frustration.

“Give me your hand.” Was my answer. When I had it, I gently slipped on my mother’s old engagement ring onto her finger. We didn’t say much, we didn’t have to; we just held each other tight. (Ann doesn’t like me to see her cry).

Later in the day we went to a jewelry shop where we had the ring re-sized. These first couple days were busy as I tried teaching her how to use her new computer and installed tons of updates. She went to English class the one day while I perused the nearby book store; buying her various comics from Anime cartoons that I love like One Piece, and a book I read years ago: Eragon. Once her class was over we were free for the weekend to visit her hometown of Surin.

It was almost a whole day trip. Saying her hometown is Surin is something of a misnomer as well; it’s the nearest big city where you can rent a hotel room or buy groceries from a supermarket. We stopped by there so we could get gifts for her family.

I was fully thinking gifts like chocolates and cookies, but right away I felt a bit foolish; Ann was picking up items like instant milk mix so her mom could get calcium, laundry detergent and a Styrofoam icebox to keep some fish we bought cold for them as they didn’t have a fridge. I had a hard time thinking of a sentence to explain how I felt then, but I guess you could say, “humbled.”

We woke up in the morning by something of a rude call from Ann’s mom. Apparently she wakes up at 4 in the morning every day and expects everyone else to do the same, so she called us at 7 in the morning asking why we were 3 hours late. Not the best first impression on the new in-laws, but I can roll with the punches.

We took the train to her ‘real’ hometown of Samrong Thap. From the train station we hired motorcycle taxis, as I don’t think they had taxi cars. We pulled up to her family’s house and I was able to meet everyone for the first time.

The house was a bit of a shanty; the first floor didn’t have walls, it was more pillars supporting the second floor where they slept, and in the middle was a small cattle pen holding 2 cows. I assume this is to help prevent thefts, as if you lose your livestock it’s a very serious hit to your livelihood. Like how I felt in the Dominican Republic, I held back from taking too many pictures of poverty, as I don’t like the impression that makes; these are people, not a side show for photos. A bunch of neighborhood kids had gathered to watch cartoons on the neighborhood 8” tv suspended from the ceiling, strung up to wires in a hazardous-looking self-repair effort.

Ann was the only translator for the entire group, so I didn’t have much to do but sit there and try not to gawk at things like chickens and their babies running free range in the dirt house. I heard the word “King Kong” once when they were talking about me; I had to duck to not hit my head on the 2nd floor support pieces. Ann’s mother swept dirt off the dirt floor so she could roll out some bamboo mats, as what’s used in formal occasions. We had come to announce our intention to marry, but it seems like they believed we had come there to marry instead.

Ann tried to explain how we wanted to get married next year, but she kept saying to me how they didn’t understand her. There may have been a language barrier for her too, as she was only able to come home once or twice a year in the past because her former jobs kept her too busy and/or too poor to visit more. They were also stuck in an old mindset so maybe they didn’t “understand” with quotation marks; like how some people believe how you can’t “live in sin.” They were disappointed my family didn’t come along with me to visit them too, and they were disappointed I didn’t have a ring there (it was still in the shop being resized).

Before long Ann’s cousin was instigating how much of a dowry I would pay. Again they didn’t “understand” we weren’t getting married yet. Although I don’t know Thai I could feel the stress through proxy with Ann and before I knew it we were on a motorcycle driving very slowly back to town so Ann could clean out her bank account for the dowry because I didn’t have much money on me at the time because I didn’t think I’d have to pay the dowry right away. It came down to: “You can pay a little now and more later, or just pay 20,000 baht (around $600) and be done with it.”

We chose just to be done with it.

So there we were, in this little town of Samrong Thrap, taking our sweet time to make our way back to the gauntlet that waited. I found it ironic in a way how I finally got to meet her family and now after an hour or so we were avoiding them. After Ann collected herself, we made our way back to our surprise Buddhist wedding.

The money was placed on a ceremonial dish along with a gold ring Ann bought with some birthday money I sent her. Everyone then took turns tying golden strings around our wrists while giving us their individual blessings. Her parents went last. After this the wedding was done. We took some photos, and interest in me was finally starting to drop a bit; now the men of the neighborhood were gathered around that same TV now showing Thai fighting.

I had the chance to meet Ann’s son, Pon. He is a very quiet and shy boy, but knowing how he likes video games I gave him my old Nintendo DS as a gift as I hardly play it anymore. What wasn’t worth much to me, you could tell was worth the world to him, so I’m glad I could make some impression. After about an hour, Ann and I left back to our hotel in Surin, as she wanted to leave “before everyone got drunk” in celebration.

That night we both read our books a little while before going to sleep early as we tried to recover from the crazy day we just had. I joked with her about how we became an old married couple on our first day of marriage. I asked Ann if she wanted to see her family again tomorrow and she said “No.” I guess things were even harder on her this time than normal, as having me around made neighborhood people she hadn’t spoken to in over 10 years come up to her and either ask for money, or try to sell her something stupid at a ridiculous price. When she visits her family she just wants to relax.

We made our way back to Bangkok where we spent an entire week trying to get papers ready for the wedding. The Canadian embassy has more security than staff working there during the 3 hours a day they’re open from Mon-Thurs so that was a problem. It was “go here, get this, go there, get translated…” etc for a week. In the midst of this, one of those steps made our wedding official, so as of July 28, 2011, Ann became Punyaporn Schoenroth.

That night over supper it just kinda came out: “So you’re my wife now?” I asked her, it was such a whirlwind. We still had a couple days of paper work and when it was finished as far as we could take it and I only had a couple days left of my holiday, so we had a brief honeymoon of sorts back at that beautiful hotel we stayed at years prior right on the beach of Pattaya.

Before I left Thailand, Ann wanted to make a special stop with me. While I was gone she went to various temples and shrines all around Thailand, praying for my safe return; the past year wasn’t just hell on me after all. After praying at one shrine in particular, as recommended by her friend, I gave her the news a couple days later of how I found a job and I was finally coming to visit her after more than a year; our prayers were finally answered.

Together we visited this small shrine on the side of the road, where we both gave thanks and made well wishes for our long and happy life together.

"When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky." -Buddha

Anthony and Punyaporn Schoenroth

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Around the World in 27 Hours

If you weren’t convinced not to fly United after my last entry, the next day’s plane was delayed 4 hours, long enough to miss any transportation out of Tokyo for the day. Now it was the long weekend, and to my surprise, all bus tickets everywhere were sold out until 9 that night. My only option was to stand on a train for 3 hours, packed like a sardine with all of my luggage. Instead of getting to Matsumoto Thursday night, I arrived there Saturday afternoon. The trip got good after that though; I surprised Neal by dropping in at his place, fresh out of the shower.

It was really strange being back in Japan. I had said my goodbyes and found the closure I needed, so being back initially felt unnecessary. Despite efforts and many conversations with myself, I had forgotten so much of my Japanese. Not only that, but it was too damn Hot! A hidden truth at the time, I was afraid to see Ann again after so long and suffering such hardships. I thought a year is a long time, and people change a lot in that time. I didn’t know what to expect, and Japan would be a good diversion along the way to see my friends off before they scatter around the planet again.

I’d say the majority of people I caught up with had something new entering their lives much like myself, but everyone was affected, mostly in subtle ways, to the devastation of the March earthquakes. What really stuck out to me was when Brian mentioned how he never eats at home anymore. “Life is too short: for the time you spend shopping, cooking, eating and cleaning, you could be out meeting people.” Profound and frightening, I recall it often.

In the end though, I was fairly happy to go back to my old stomping grounds. I had a checklist of all the foods I would savor again and very little else on the “to do” list. Luckily I have good friends to make suggestions: the first one being Richard’s: let’s visit the Komagane water hole. I had been there 2 times before: for my welcome and farewell parties respectively, but it was still enjoyable to escape the muggy hot air.

It was the plan that I would join in my old Oral Communication class, the best class I’d been able to teach, and I even bought presents for everyone. Alas, since my airline turned my 4-day trip into a 2-day trip, I could only stop by after hours. I was lucky to see one of my old teachers and leave a small gift for the other teachers through him.

One thing that shouldn’t have surprised me but did was just how beautiful and perfect everything in Japan seemed to be. The grass couldn’t be greener, the air couldn’t be cleaner, and the streets and roads couldn’t be more pristine.

That Saturday night was Dougal’s farewell party and a good chance to see many people off myself. I was able to meet his Thai fiancĂ© and hear about their immigration woes as well. She was lucky though, and later was able to visit Canada.

I was fortunate Neal gave me my own room, as it was so hot I slept with nothing on but underwear while the fan kept me from cooking. He even cooked a delicious breakfast for me both mornings.

Sunday was more a day of ‘shopping’ for stuff, though not much was bought. We mostly hung out and visited in the air-conditioned malls. In this time I was able to meet up with more friends, and we all went for sushi that night. Our group was so large that we sat at four different tables, where we all visited for hours while gorging on the treats.

That night I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to sleep, but it was my ‘last night.’ Fighting fatigue, we played “The Game of Things” that I had been ranting and raving about the last 2 days. It was still entertaining, but I had a headache from being overtired so it didn’t get crazy or anything. That said, it wasn’t a very late night, but a nice small hang out before my farewell.

Just like almost exactly a year prior (I was still on their records), a taxi picked my up from Neal’s house to take me to the airport. It was a good trip, but one I doubt I’ll repeat. Maybe I’ve become better at understanding how fleeting everything is and not to get too attached to any one thing; the food tasted exactly as I remembered it, my friends are all going their separate ways, and life is fragile. In an instant not only was a nation devastated, but also everyone in the country was subtly impacted.

I tried pushing these troubling thoughts out of my head during the next 12 hours or so to Thailand. Alas here is the moment I was waiting for, for over one long, arduous year. Why was I so nervous?

I got through customs into the meeting area and looked around for her. She was hopping up and down behind a group of taller people crowding the gate, and we both started walking to the opening where we could meet, faster and faster. Finally, there she was, held tightly in my arms again. I held her, she held me, and all the pain and frustration, and all the tears and devastation from the last year... just seemed to wash away.

I enjoyed that euphoria for days, medicine for my soul; every time I held Ann.

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." -Martin Luther King, Jr.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Brave New World

As it may have become apparent, the future of this blog is in uncertain waters.  My life definitely hasn’t been amazing, in Asia, or an adventure for quite some time, and I told myself I wouldn’t post again unless things changed.

I have gotten ‘out’, 2 or 3 times in the last 4 months, so I guess I can write about that.  My buddy Max had a birthday party so he invited friends and family to the park for celebrations.  I couldn’t find the place, so I waited at the local science center to meet up with Chris who could lead the way.  The center had some sex exhibit at the time and was selling adorable STD plush toys; I had found the perfect birthday present.

For my friend max, I gave him herpes.  It was a cute, ‘sun’ looking toy that quickly got passed around the party.  Some people got it on their lips, while most just got it on their hands.  You only get herpes once, and Max got it from me in front of everyone.  He later had a photo together with his new life-partner, and his girlfriend.

I had fun with this crowd a month later.  I only caught the tail end of the house warming party because I could only show up after work, but I brought my “Game of Things.”  A game so awesome and easy, it can be explained to drunk people.  If you don’t remember it from my Christmas post, basically all it is, is a bunch of cards with statements like “Things that are dirty” or “Things you would do if you were invisible.”  Everyone writes down something crazy, and then we take turns guessing who wrote what.

We laughed for hours.  I took turns picking on various people in the room all in good fun.  I’d love to give you examples, but I won’t publish the filth that came up.  I’m giggling now as I think about it, and remember I couldn’t sleep for hours thinking of the fun we had.

I got out for a family event when my aunt and uncle had an anniversary, but again I missed most of it because I worked.  I would have liked to visit more, but I was tired enough to hang out in the background.

Those would be the highlights of my time away from the restaurant.  Weeks came and went with little fanfare.  I won’t lie; I went for weeks without applying for jobs as well because it was so discouraging.  I had numerous people trying to help me out and sending me job links to apply for.  My buddy Lester sent me a bunch he found on, and I didn’t apply for several days later when I had time off from work and I wasn’t so exhausted and/or apathetic to the time sink job hunting is.

I had Monday off and finally got around to sending out applications.  This time, everything was game.  I was hoping to find a job close to Regina as my mom has a place for me to stay (with many exceptions of course) but now I was applying for anything, anywhere that said “engineer.”  (as opposed to just “anything”) An hour later as I was in the middle of making another cover letter, I got an unexpected phone call from Rem Enterprises in Swift Current.

As I talked with the HR lady, I quickly Googled the company to try and refresh my memory on what I applied for and tried not to be too surprised at this totally unexpected development.  I applied for a “process engineer” position, but she thought I would be better suited as a Mechanical Engineer.  Thinking about my fascination with robotics, I couldn’t agree more.

After a screening call that lasted almost an hour, she had set up a Skype interview for me the following morning with several other managers.  It went very well, and I was giving an IQ/aptitude/personality test to complete.  They set up an in-house interview for me at Swift Current 2 days later when I had my next day off from the Restaurant.

I went to the interview, where I demoed my robot from University, build 5 years earlier.  I was very successful with a drafting test, something I hadn’t done for almost 10 years, and there was another personality test.  I think the big thing behind that was I’m afraid of talking myself out of a job. 

It’s no secret that I’m fascinated with space and future technology, but I expect a lot from myself.  I don’t want my life’s work to be something petty and non-consequential; I want to be a part of something bigger than myself.  Agriculture is important in that respect, and the chance to work and get my hands dirty with mechanical innovation was definitely up my alley.

I heard back from the HR lady on Friday, but the managers who made the final decision were out for the week.  When I got in touch with her again the following week, she gave me a verbal job offering over the phone as an Engineering Technologist.  The conversation was very brief and positive, and after I hung up I continued to make my sandwich on my lunch break before it all hit me at once.   

I involuntarily jumped up and down while giggling and my eyes teared up.  My yearlong ordeal was over.  The living nightmare was about to end.  This perpetual limbo in a non-existential purgatory finally had a light at the end of the tunnel. 

It was so strange, but so refreshing to have a successful company aggressively recruiting me for such a desirable position.  The screening process was daunting, but I think I did very well all things considered.  Now that my life was finally out of the rut and back on the road, I could draw myself a road map again.

I gave my 2-week notice at the restaurant.  I bought plane tickets to Thailand to see Ann, as it has been over a year.  I’ll stop in Japan for 4 days before, so I bought presents and made plans to see my old students.  I was in Swift Current yesterday and found a nice place to rent for when I start work on August 8th.

It’s so exciting to make plans for my life again.  I couldn’t have done it without the help of my friends and family.  Jerry, Gary, Dougal, Steve, Chris, Lester and more, all gave me different advice of which I took and pieced together to make myself more marketable.  I had rebuilt my resume completely 4 times, each one better than the last.

I’m now sitting at the Chicago airport getting ready to go to Japan.  The plane has been delayed 2 hours, and I wish it were delayed yesterday.  I knew to never buy a plane ticket that transfers in the U.S. but now I will swear to never do it again. 

I was in line for hours to check through customs, watching the many lanes open for American citizens breeze through, then close later when they finished while the ‘visitor’ section had only a couple processing lines and the lineup of people was down the hallway.  No other country I have been to is this inconvenient; why do I need to get my passport stamped if I’m not visiting?  I’m transferring through.  By the time I got my luggage (that’s right, you have to get your luggage even though you’re not stopping here) my connecting flight had already left. 

Because my airline “isn’t responsible for the government” as I was told, they could only give me a discount for a nearby hotel; I still had to pay over $100.  Thank you for making me miss my flight, then charging me more for a hotel than I will spend on the entire 3 weeks.  It’s just a good thing I have a credit card.

I wanted to make the most of it and see Chicago, but my feet were aching from standing in line for 3 hours (remember, I still haven’t even gone to the right terminal and gone through the screening there yet either).  I guess I’m still quite angry, mostly because I can’t see my old students now, and possibly many friends.  I slept the day away in the hotel surprisingly; the last couple days have been crazier than I thought.

I had some “Chicago Style” pizza, which is pretty good I guess.  I only was able to eat ½ of it.  Maybe I’ll be back someday, but I will try to never transfer in the states again.

Being back on the road again really made me evaluate this last year and how hard it’s been.  I often forget it’s even 2011, because not many major things happened in my life since 2010 (of course there is a few).  At times I felt like I literally lost a year of my life, but as my new friend Dylan said to me: “well you met me!” 

Heh, he’s a great guy.  I have made some friends, and I have made some interesting experience.  I now have a greater respect for restaurant employees, even though I always tried to be polite to them anyways.  It’s a hard life and if I hadn’t been with my mom, I wouldn’t have been able to pay rent.

Last week I was out with Lester where we watched a couple movies and got some food.  I had to stop and thank him for getting me out of the house/work routine, and helping me feel like a person again.

But that’s enough from me for now.  I’ll keep waiting for my plane, and my next update will be about something fun: seeing Japan again.

"Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds." -Franklin Roosevelt


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Big Announcement and Easter

I needed a break from all these job applications, so why not write up a blog post eh?  It’s been a while, so you can probably guess how things went with the MP inquiry.  He’s still a good guy, but too bad his hands are tied.  The embassy faxed them back basically saying how they didn’t believe Ann was going to be a student, and how they figure her real motivation for studying in Canada was to come and see me.

I fail to see the problem with that, but what can I say.  Our last chance, literally, is either marriage or a permanent resident application.

It was ridiculous how many people were telling me: “just marry her already.”  It felt like suddenly I was in Thailand or Japan again where everyone said similar things.  If everyone thinks it is no big deal, then why do I?  Perhaps I blame the bad taste in my mouth from my own parents drawn out, and occasionally very bitter, divorce proceedings… 9 years in the making and no end in sight.  Maybe there is progress being made, I don’t know.  I just try to stay uninvolved, as it doesn’t concern me.

One thing I love about Ann is how she thinks.  She told me, that when her friends announce engagements to her, she always asks them: “oh… are you sure?”  She is strong and independent, innocent and always curious; she inspires me. 

I more than expected her to think marriage would be a far off plan like I did.  I prodded her thoughts on the subject, and was very surprised to here her tell me how marriage would be a great idea.  Paraphrased, it went a bit like this:

“But don’t you tease your friends when they say they are getting married?”
“Sure, but I’ve known you for 2 years.”  She had a very good point.
“Well, maybe we should get married then.”

I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I remember apologizing how unromantic the proposal was, being over the phone and all, and her crying with happiness.  I realized my biggest hang up, and kinda always has been, was the fact I haven’t met her 9-year-old son yet, whom doesn’t know a word of English.  That was my hang up, and hers was thinking how she thought I was too young to be interested in marriage.

It was a strange couple days to say the least.  I mentioned considering proposing off hand the previous day to my mom, and the next day I found myself on the phone with my sister Patty in Victoria, getting a lecture on how to propose properly as my mom couldn’t contain her excitement.  “Send her a ring in the mail, and have her open it when you can see her”

Odd vocabulary was suddenly coming at and out of me.  My boss Eric gave everyone a beer from his special supply after work the next day where I the first official announcement was made. 

“Tony is engaged” I heard him announce. 

“You’ll make a great husband and a wonderful Father” I heard from my friend Neal.

“I can see myself growing old with her” I mentioned to my mom.

You know, stuff like that.  Once I got over these strange new words and thoughts, I was more comfortable with sharing the news to others; my buds Lester and Mike went out for wings with me to celebrate.

Originally I was thinking of a May wedding, as Ann’s birthday is on the 11th, and to my surprised, many of my friends in Japan had holidays then and would love to attend the ceremony.  Unfortunately for things closer to home, it really is too short of notice. 

I’ve talked briefly with Ann over plans, and we had a great chat when she went to an Internet cafĂ© where we could see each other for the first time in many months.  It would just be best if I went to Thailand, visited her family to help Ann “receive blessings from her relatives.”

So at the moment things are on hold, though I’m hopeful for either an August wedding, or one next January similar to Melissa’s.  The wedding would have to be in Thailand, and during a holiday in Japan when my friends can attend.

I’m just somewhat surprised how Ann never mentioned how she wanted to get married to me earlier.  Like I said, she thought I didn’t want to get married, and one thing I notice about her, is how she hard she works to make this relationship work.  The first email I got from her after the crushing disappointment of the latest visa denial roughly said:

"I couldn’t pick up your phone because I was busy with my work, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to speak with you. I just felt sad for 2 days but now I am ok. I still love you, that will never change, Please do not worry.  I hope one day I will have a chance to visit your family again. Please take care of your self and don’t worry too much. You do the best for me already.”

One day in Japan I bugged her about how she hogged the bed one night and I had little room to sleep.  That very night I saw her cramming as far into the corner as she could to give me space, and I felt bad.  This wasn’t the first time I said something offhand or as a joke, and have seen her take extreme measures to make me happy.  Just being with her makes me happy, so I try and reassure her of that and try to help her relax.

That being said, there is a catch-22 situation coming up.  If I get a good job, I won’t be able to see Ann for however long it takes to reassure my new employers I am a good employee.  However if I hear nothing concrete by the end of this week, I’m going to make plans to go and see Ann for a week or two, around the time for her birthday on the 11th, possibly missing an interview or offer in the meantime.

The job front, as always, has been nothing but dismal unfortunately in this ‘booming’ province.  It feels like I’m relying almost entirely on networking at this point, as I was informed I might get a call from a nearby company to which I would need to assure them I was “available immediately.”

As I mentioned earlier, I have been applying for jobs for a good portion of today and yesterday as I got some time off from the restaurant.  Because of finals at the university, we have been very short staffed, and I put in over 40 hours a week for a couple weeks now.  Last Thursday 2 people didn’t come in so it was only the boss, the dishwasher, and I available to try and serve the many customers that flocked to the store before the long weekend.

Oh and some huge event came to town, a world curling championship or something.  I was working and couldn’t go, but my friend Ken sent me a picture so I could post it atleast.  Not much really new has been going on outside of work, sleep, and job applications.  Occasionally the family will get together for a large meal, or breakfast or something, like Easter Sunday.

It was a full day of turkey, games and visiting, followed by snacks for supper and a movie.  We started off by playing Mario, but John complained for something different.  We changed the game twice to appease him, before he fell asleep on the couch anyways.  We never did get to play Mario again that day, but maybe next time.

We did play games like crib and sequence, and I made marshmallow cheesecake for the first time since I was in Japan.  I had the very weird experience of knowing what I was looking for in a grocery store, and not being able to find it.  Had I been in Japan I would have found it immediately.  This was a scenario often repeated in Japan but with reverse circumstances.  In the end, instead of a concentrated mix of strawberry/blueberry flavour, I made up a batch of butterscotch pudding to give the cake beauty.

I was surprised at the number of compliments I received as well.  Like I said, all I’ve really done for weeks was work and sleep, so when everyone saw me they could see how I’ve lost over 5kg from work.  I was able to wear some shirts and pants I bought from Japan before I left, that I knew I’d be able to wear someday when I lost enough weight.  It’s just odd how I eat worse than I have in years, with all the burgers and fries I’m exposed to, yet I’m finally shedding the pounds.

Now that it’s starting to get nice out, I’m riding my bike to work.  The first 3 out of 4 times I went, it snowed heavily of course; Murphy’s law or something.  Now the weather is finally looking nice, and our cat Elvis is anxious to get outside and enjoy the weather.  We got a collar for him so that he doesn’t run away or get killed on the busy road behind the house before he can get to know the area better.

That’s enough for now, for my next entry hopefully you’ll hear a great story about my time in Thailand with Ann, or how I finally got a job from this ‘booming’ province.

"The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it." -Alan Saporta


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kicked Into the Abyss

Ann tried for an education Visa and was denied.  She didn’t want me to hear her crying, so she didn’t answer her phone for 3 days.  She sent me an email with her rejection letter, and their reasoning boiled down to Ann is too poor to visit Canada; invitation from the University and sponsorship or not.  They even told her not to apply for a Visa anymore.

I had a dull headache for 2 days after hearing the news, and Tylenol didn’t help much.  I was in so much shock, I felt numb to everything.  I remember lying in bed, feeling utterly hopeless, and knowing what I was going through paled in comparison to Ann’s pain.  I felt powerless about my own financial and professional situation, and was frustrated to the point of spitting rage with my country’s immigration laws, made in haste after 9/11.

For the first time I truly and deeply regretted leaving Japan.

In retrospect, that was a huge reason for staying a 3rd year; having the freedom to do all those things I did, and that 3rd year I really got to know Ann better.  In Japan I had a good paying job, and their embassy wasn’t an expensive, demanding vessel of pain and disappointment like the Canadian embassy.  I promoted my country heavily with passion and love for the last 3 years in Japan, but now I felt utterly betrayed.

In my state of despair, I wrote a letter to my local MP.  It detailed our struggles with the system.  After calling his office I was advised to send an email and his assistants would look after me.  I did, and the very same day I received a reply informing me that they sent a fax to the embassy requesting details on Ann’s denial.

Needless to say this took me by surprise.  “What does that mean?  Does she have a chance now?”  These thoughts erupted like wildfire and lifted me from my emotional numbness.  Try as I may to fight the (false?) hope, it was a restless night with visions of grandeur.  Our government working hard for its people, smacking down the incompetence of the embassy.  Ann and I walking in, holding hands, while flipping off every employee there for the suffering they doled out.  Of course, these were the fantasies of a traumatized person, not unlike a superhero smack down against a schoolyard bully. 

Today, the pain has mostly subsided, and I made a follow-up email today. Typically they don’t hear back for a couple weeks so I guess it’s still in the air?  If things don’t work out again, it seems I’ll be saving my money for an immigration lawyer to fight the bureaucracy at the embassy, or whatever needs to be done.

Another thing that helped me to feel better is I finally received my pension refund from Japan.  Since Wall Street and whoever does what they can to capitalize on the tragedy in Japan, the strength of the yen is unusually high, making an exceptional strong return for me.  I now have some spending money, but am at a crossroads what to do with it after dipping so heavily into my savings for so long.  Get a used car?  Buy a cell phone?  Go on a trip to see Ann? 

I decided against the former until I know what my plan is for the long term, and I was somewhat depressed thinking I could be washing dishes for the next 3 months or so.  Every time I hear about a company doing a mass hiring and having to import labour from places as far away as Europe, it feels like I’m getting kicked in the stomach because I still haven’t had an interview and I’ve been in Canada for a long, eight months already.

In my depressed state I contemplated just leaving everything and going to teach in Thailand to be with Ann again since it feels like my degree has let me down.  I went to school so I wouldn’t have to wash dishes.  It honestly felt like there was nothing for me here in Canada, my country that betrayed me.

The only thoughts I had against this were my feelings for my good friend Ken, who lent me his truck, and has been very good to me.  My brother John who drove me to the gym almost daily and enjoys my company, and my mom who feeds me and gives me a warm bed to sleep in.  Of course there are more people, but these 3 have been exceptional lights during my dark, dark days.

I recognize I am in a bad place right now.  After Ann stopped crying and my angsty teenage fantasies left, I could find little to talk about, and have been getting sick from menial things like the head cold I have right now.  When I do chat, with my good friend Neal for example, I can’t help but notice how negative and depressing the conversation turns.  I would rather not be a burden that way, and prefer not saying anything.  Misery loves company, sure, but it’s not right to put that on other people.

I knew I was in a bad place when I noticed I started to monologue to myself again.  When things got really bad in Japan, I would put it into words as if I was writing my blog, and I rediscovered how therapeutic this typing is.  Putting your thoughts into words is an ideal way to work out your problems, though maybe I’m struggling with this more because of just how powerless I feel with my biggest problems right now: Ann can’t come to Canada, and I can’t find an engineering job.

Because of my pension payout, I’m ok for money for now, even if it’s a little to play around with.  I like that quote though: “Money is like air, you only care about it if you don’t have enough.”  If more people thought like that, we’d probably have a lot less problems, but I digress.

I’m starting to feel a bit better now; I need to start writing these more regularly.  Naturally, I don’t want to leave off on such a low, depressing note either.  As far as jobs go, I feel like I’m lucky to be where I am.  My boss, Eric, is a really cool guy and most days after work I’ll stay after hours for drinks and conversation.  Tonight I’ll bring some of my rum from the Dominican Republic to share.

One of his friends, Jack, stayed and had a good chat with us last night as well.  He has already handed out my resume in the past, and wanted a copy to try at more locations for me.  Not only did he offer to critique it, he was going to talk with his friend to see if he can get Ann work here in Canada.  I know we didn’t really want to try it before, as it will be a 9-month process or more.  But like the Education Visa before it, we’re considering all options. 

One thing Eric mentioned, an immigrant to Canada himself, was a photo he had hanging up in his office: “Never Give Up.”  I feel it’s appropriate to put it up again for you, though I’m sure you’ve seen it before.

My dad treated me to Red Lobster on Sunday as well a belated birthday present.  Interestingly enough the conversation turned to Japan.  Try as I might, I couldn’t undo the damage and fear mongering our western media has put into people.  It’s times like that I feel like I need to carry around a fact sheet or memorizing my sources.

I read a comic not that long ago that hits the nail on the head: the more knowledgeable you are about something, the more uncertain you are about giving definite answers.  There are always variables, things can always change, and the more you learn about something, the more there will always be to learn.  “True knowledge is understanding that you know nothing.” 

Japan’s nuclear situation will be ok, and there will be no Chernobyl.  As far as I know, most of Nagano has been lucky, though many haven’t along the coast of Japan.  I wish there was more I could do to help out, but so far all I have done is donated to the Red Cross, and you should as well if you haven’t.  I have read some of my friends’ statuses mentioning the volunteer work for the relief effort they’ll be a part of.  Good on them I say, I wish I were there helping too.

On Monday night mom made a big chicken supper.  I was eating and then, almost strangely, I was way too full and couldn’t finish the rest of my plate.  It’s always neat when my stomach shrinks and I think my job has helped me trim down a bit.  A couple hours later John needed my help playing Volleyball, so all that chicken got a crazy rollercoaster ride; it was a struggle, but fun.   Kurt played with us too.

Here’s hoping for better days eh?  I keep saying: “cross your fingers” for good news, but that clearly isn’t working.  You make your own luck anyways I guess.

"How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours."  -Wayne Dyer 

Trying hard to keep my chin up,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saskatchewan’s Never Ending Winter

I’m inebriated, but desire a new blog entry… starting all the way back to the end of January, when we came back from Melissa’s wedding.  Patty and Chad stayed with us in Regina for a couple days before going back, which gave us more opportunities to corrupt Chad.  We got him casually calling Patty by her name “Patty” and not by the nickname she wants… Terran or something.  Her retaliation was swift and brutal against his slips, making it all the more amusing.

One morning the poor, naive Victoria-raised boy looked at our driveway with a child-like innocence.  “What is all this snow?” he seemed to ask himself, the same way we would ask ourselves: “What’s up with all this ocean?” for which every job in his life involved.  With his optimism burning and his damsel in distress Patty standing by, he courageously or foolishly proclaimed: “Let me shovel that driveway!” 

Perhaps seemingly speechless at his chivalry, Patty and I didn’t hesitate looking a gift horse in the mouth.  “Let me show you where those shovels are” I volunteered.  High in pride and spirit, off he marched into that white, packed mess of snow, and started shoveling the “wrong way” should there be one.

“Should we give him pointers on how to do it right?” Patty suggested to me.  As far as I was concerned, he was in God’s hands now.  Instead I suggested we simply stay inside where it was warm while he got his fill of Saskatchewan’s freezing love.  Sure enough when he came in later he was cold, tired, and was perfectly fine with never having to shovel a driveway again.  He’s a smart lad; catches on quick.

Luckily for me, they are also board game enthusiasts. I was able to play the game of “Life” with them that I stole from my Grandma a month earlier like a terrible grandchild (see the Christmas post, it was legal and not done in malice).

I picked a pink car and drove around with my husband.  Together we had atleast 4 sons, quickly filling the car with flamboyant men.  Later we had a daughter, and speculated on how her upbringing would be noteworthy to say the least.  Chad and I had great jobs, while Patty lost thousands on new businesses and whatever.  Chad ending up winning, and it was a lot of fun.

Later we played Settlers of Catan.  This game is all awesome to say the least.  Unquestionably, I got the two of them hooked, and can’t wait to see them again to play some more.  I think everyone was able to win a game each, and I finally was able to talk my mom into joining a round, her first since her obsessive addiction while visiting in Japan the year prior.  I guess she was afraid of playing again for so long lest she risk reigniting that previous passion.

Later we all shared a belated Christmas together.  We gathered at the tree and exchanged gifts.  Originally due to the (somewhat pricey) destination wedding, it was decided to not buy gifts for each other.  Things happened of course, maybe it started with my trip to Vegas and the procurement of gifts there, or perhaps it was Patty flying blatantly against the uneasy agreement.  Regardless of what started it, it left others, John in particular, scrambling to buy gifts for family members once again.  It’s good to buy that stuff after Christmas day anyways, so atleast we had that going for us.

It’s unnecessary to proclaim the enjoyment experienced.  I’m just happy the presents made of clothing, for which I try to never buy, were received so well.  More importantly, they were the correct sizes.  Even the shirts I bought for my dad were a good fit.

Lots ‘o food, lots ‘o fun.

With my Christmas money and gift certificate, I waited for a sale.  I knew what camera I wanted, (curse my lost old camera!  Wherever it may be…) A Canon Powershot SX210IS.  It was almost $100 off, and I got an open boxed item; a common occurrence around Christmas as people may not be gifted their colour of choosing.  This 15% off (or 5 maybe) was the deciding factor in getting a black model instead of purple; a less than desirable colour sure, but one fit to carry on the spirit of my previous pink models that have served me well.

The first 100 photos or so are of my cat, Elvis, and myself mostly screwing around with the many features.  It zooms up to 14x, and has features/modes that large expensive cameras need multi-hundred dollar lenses to achieve.  For example the earlier pic, where it focuses on one item while blurring its surroundings.  I was particularly impressed with its long exposure for those night shots I love so much, and a mini tripod to help capture them.

I think it was the next day when I went to the university.  You know how it is when you’re super duper extra special careful with something right?  It was a cold day, I took my new camera out of its special protective case and made sure its strap was secure around my one wrist.  My eyes not leaving it, I carefully put my glove on my left hand again.  I needed my right hand to take a shot, so I took my glove off.  One move, one thought, slow and steady.  Be careful and you’ll be ok, right?

The strap was around that glove and not my wrist, so as my glove came off, so too, did that new expensive fancy camera, down onto that nicely plowed sidewalk of cold, hard, concrete.

My stomach dropped and hit that concrete just as hard as the camera did.  I was positively Ill.  The case got scratched and bent, but I tried really hard to look at the positive side to it all.  Now that it was damaged, I won’t worry too much more about damaging it again, and the bottom line was it still works great.  I took a lot of photos of the university that day, and was surprised to see that ball of trash/art was still there taking up space.

I was there that day to pay for Ann’s ESL down payment.  Giving up on visiting and acquiring a job in Thailand (I’m still done with teaching), we’re trying to get her an Education Visa now.  ESL is the English as a Second Language program at the university.  They assured me it would be difficult to reject an invitation like this from an educational institution, but regardless, her interview is next Wednesday.  So from January, it's been another struggle with the Embassy for this piece of paper or that, to try and apply again.  It’s good we started so soon; classes start in May, and I’ve had to buy her plane tickets already as well.

Best-case scenario: Ann will come to Canada to study English at the end of April.  Worst-case scenario: Ann will be rejected, yet again… then who knows.  I would rather not think about it.  I haven’t seen her since June of last year.  I remember in the past I would think back to my years-ago relationship with Crystal when I lived in China; long distance is simply not worth it.  Alas, Ann is worth it, but if my government won’t let her come here, I’m at a loss for what to do short of marriage: an expensive and lengthy piece of paperwork itself.

Maybe more happened in January, maybe not.  My photos ran out.  As I opened up my February folder, my heart sank a bit to see a mere 49 photos in total.  I have vague memories of this time, but do know most of it wasn’t pretty.  Days came and went.  I tried to keep a ‘regular’ sleep schedule… but what was the point?  I had no reason to go to bed, and at the same that I had no reason to wake up in the morning.

Before I knew it I was watching cartoons at 3 in the morning on TV again, and sleeping past noon.  One weekend I played an awesome video game, Silent Storm, nonstop.  The next, I downloaded and started watching Star Trek: The Original Series just for something to do.  One time my mom walked in on me watching it, and it was probably worse than her catching me watching something naughty: “Why are you watching that?!? It’s so old!”  Steve explained it to me as my nerd reflex coming out.

Anyways the only thing different from my weeknights and my Saturday night was: I told myself “Hey it’s Saturday, I should drink” and poured myself a little alcohol I got in the Dominican.  That’s it.

I thought of the times I spent happily with my grandparents. I thought of the conversations I had with people I hadn’t seen in over 3 years.  I thought of all the family members I finally got to see and laugh with again over Christmas.  I thought of the friends that seemed just out of reach; most importantly I didn’t feel like I had money to spare to put gas in the truck that wasn’t even mine to see them again.

Sure sometimes I’d rarely see some friends (and order the cheapest thing on the menu) and tried to go to the gym with my brother as often as possible, but it’s still a depressing existence, that.  Nothing to do but sleep, waste time, and apply for jobs.  Oh did I apply for jobs.  I went to several places around the city in person.  I called many of them on the phone.  There was a job fair at the university in February.  There was a job fair at the Conexus Art Center last week.  I showed up, and tried to give my resume to anyone that would take it.

Many at the University fair would tell me to check out their website, which clearly wasn’t working for me.  Our local newspaper, The Leader Post, recently heavily advertised “Engineering Week” for Saskatchewan, boasting the need to hire 1000 engineers in mining alone.  I went to websites of many of the firms advertised, and was disappointed to read: “No opportunities currently available.”  My mom suggested writing the newspaper directly to vent my frustrations.  It got to the point where I would look at those ‘job openings’ and ‘lies’ was all I could think as I dismissed the propaganda.

I told my mom previously, should March come and I still don’t have work, I’ll join the army.  Not a particularly desirable option, but atleast I’ll be an Engineer again.  The closer the time came and the more I looked into it, the less viable it became.  Eventually, I was forced to consider less desirable markets.  One day my mom and I went out and applied to every local business in the area; Best Buy, Subway, Costco, Canadian Tire and more.  Since I had not even had an interview in 7 months, in that time I rebuilt my resume from top to bottom 3 times.

One of those places we drove by had a “Help Wanted” sign on the window.  This humble place is called “Smokin’ Okies” BBQ.  I walked in, handed in my resume, and almost immediately the owner Eric came to me and talked with me personally.  A quick look at my resume, and he told me I was “a bit over qualified to work at a restaurant.”  Unfortunately, that is probably the same thing everyone was thinking when my resume was tossed from consideration.

For the first time in years, I heard back from an employer.  Eric called me almost a week later, checked to see how my job hunt was going, and asked me to start in a couple hours.  I was more than happy to oblige.  Earlier, I briefly wondered if service industry work was “beneath me” but then thought that a man in my position doesn’t have much of a right to be asking that.  I also remember a quote from long ago: “If you are hired as a broom sweeper, then be the best damn broom sweeper they have ever had and go from there.”  So finally, at long last, after 7 months of despair, I had work again.

The first week was rather hard.  Hell, in the first 5 minutes I screwed up and broke something.  Regardless I did my best to stick to it, and be the best whatever-was-needed-at-the-moment kind of guy.  I was only 2 days in when I ran into someone I knew.

Until then I was half hoping to keep this a somewhat secret in my life, which would explain my deer-in-the-headlights moment when I saw my Aunt Wendy wave me down.  I didn’t know what else to say, but the truth never hurts:

It felt damn good to have a job again.

I had an income again. I was making new friends.  My time once again had a value.  But most importantly, I had a reason to wake up in the morning. 

I kept these positive thoughts in mind constantly.  For example on my first or second day a dude asked me what I wanted to do with my life.  There I was, me with my meat apron on while leaning on my mop stick, talking about the robots I wanted to build, the new technology I wanted to develop, the space agencies I was applying at, and how I wanted to dedicate my life to a purpose greater than my ego, for all of mankind.

If I didn’t already have an expensive 5-year university education, I probably would have looked like an optimistic but naive youngster, reaching for stars far out of reach…  Perhaps I still am. 

How close can I realistically come to my childhood dreams?  As the powerful quote goes: “Dreams don’t die, we kill them.”  There doesn’t seem to be much commercial interest in space, atleast not nearly as much as there is in the exploitation of our planet's finite resources.  That unfortunately seem to be the limited options I can apply my talents to, but at this point it's probably clear I'm open to many options, especially if it's a way to see Ann again.

Let’s take a quick break and talk about my birthday on March 1st. John, Melissa, Chris and his wife Fiona and I went to Sake on Albert St. for some all-you-can-eat sushi.  It was $22 or so, and was well worth it.  We ate, talked, and laughed until our stomachs hurt.  I used my birthday money/gifts to re-buy a game I lost in Japan: the New Super Mario Bros Wii, easily the best party game I’ve ever owned.

I also got my first paycheck in over 7 months!  Sure I only had worked 2 shifts, but I almost wanted to hang it in a picture frame more than cash it in.

That was Tuesday, and mom’s birthday was Friday.  She didn't do much either, but Melissa and I went out with her for some food.  It’s been a good March so far I guess, one week it was nice and spring-like, but the next week it snowed nonstop.   The only thing my breath is held for at the moment is Ann’s interview next week with the embassy. 

I remember (almost a year ago?) how I mentioned that another job in Japan would be a step backwards for me, while a job in Regina would be 2 steps back.  My how things have changed, unemployment does strange things to a person.  Whenever a young person I work with shows envy with my situation, I tell them “The first 3 months are fun, but 7 is just too much.”

It’s interesting to note how I’ve hit a noticeable generation gap.  Many of my co-workers are 10 years younger than me, rather than me being the youngest person at the company.  The first question asked to me by many of my coworkers is “how old are you?” followed by “how tall are you?”  One girl even asked me how many kids I have.  Today some of the highschoolers were bugging each other about crushes, making me feel old.  World perspectives seem to have changed in my time as well.

But here I am today.  I work hard at my job, and strive to be a valuable employee.  To my surprise, a number of people have connections to different Engineering establishments, so there is hope to draw from that as well.  In the end, it always comes down to whom you know rather than your own personal merits unfortunately.  As a social species, I suppose it makes alot of sense.  Regardless I’ll take any help I can get at this point; I even have my learner’s 1A license should I want to try and drive a Semi around the country for a while.

Until then the job is getting better all the time as I get more proficient and become more acquainted with the staff.  After work tonight I stayed for a drink or two with Jeff and Erik, which lead to my current sloshed state at 2 in the morning.  We chatted about several different things, and I think I’ve made new friends.

I’m beginning to believe this new job is my “turning point.”

"When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place." -Author Unknown