Sunday, November 28, 2010

Surprising South Korea Stats

I was debating with a long-time reader on the sensibility of South Korea attacking North Korea and putting an end to the Korean War now — rather than later — because of various strategic benefits I feel to exist.

However, one thing we both agreed on was that such a South-Korean-initiated fight would not happen: South Koreans don't have the stomach for a hot war.

45 percent of South Koreans support a stern response to the artillery attack "even if it would escalate arms clash with North Korea," according to The Korea Times. ... But If there is another attack, these responses suggests around three in four South Koreans would support military response.
In this other article, a post-attack analysis proves that North Korea may be even weaker and inept than analysts originally thought:
South Korea's military concludes the attack was meticulously planned, although much more damage would have been caused if the North's equipment wasn't so old and faulty. A high-ranking South Korean military official said that North Korea used thermobaric bombs, or "fuel-air bombs," to wreak havoc on Yeonpyeong Island, the first time it has done so.

The South Korean military is examining around twenty North Korean shells that failed to explode and were found lodged in concrete walls and in tree branches. Eighty of the 170 shells fired managed to land on the island. Roughly 90 rounds fell into the sea.

The number of duds is expected to increase, as troops are still combing the island for shells. South Korean authorities believe the duds and the shells that failed to reach the island were the result of North Korea's aged equipment or flawed gunpowder and detonators.
Think about that: 170 shells fired on a completely unsuspecting population with what was termed "meticulous planning": almost two thirds of those fired shells failed to work properly, and those that did work caused only 4 deaths? Do you think North Korea used such unreliable, ineffective, inaccurate weaponry on purpose? I don't. I think that's the best they have. It is what I've suspected for a while... and again, is the reason why South Korea should take out North Korea now before the North manages to cobble together a nuclear weapon that might actually work.

In this article, Popular Mechanics busts the theory that North Korea could "flatten" Seoul in a surprise attack.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What's Wrong With A President Palin

I've never thought that knowledge is the most important aspect of being President Of The United States: as President, you have other people to remember details, provide background, and come up with ideas. It is wisdom, logic, reasoning, and critical thought that supersede knowledge in making good presidential judgements.

What is most important in a President is, first and foremost, dignity, self control, and maturity. Naturally, nobody normally mentions such aspects as being important in an American President because they are sine qua non... or at least were, until Sarah Palin came along.

Sarah Palin is the first potential major presidential candidate to lack the dignity, self control, and maturity necessary for a President. To put it simply, she really shoots her mouth off... and childishly as well.

Seriously: Read some of Sarah Palin's "tweets" and Facebook posts and try imagine any other past American president (or candidate thereto) speaking in such a way.

Andrew Sullivan said it very well today:
"[This] isn't is anything approaching the kind of character we expect in a president. A simple respect for the office she seeks would not reflect itself in these increasingly callow, sarcastic, cheap jibes at a sitting president. But sadly, like so many now purporting to represent conservatism, there is, behind the faux awe before the constitution, a contempt for the restraint and dignity a polity's institutions require from its leaders.

There is no maturity here; no self-reflection; no capacity even to think how to appeal to the half of Americans who are already so appalled by her trashy behavior and cheap publicity stunts. There is a meanness, a disrespect, a vicious partisanship that, if allowed to gain more power, would split this country more deeply and more rancorously than at any time in recent years. And that's saying something."
Amen. America needs a genuinely respected President representing it, not a shallow twerp with a rhetorical arsenal limited to low-brow populisms, threadbare aphorisms, redneck sensibilities, and a seventh-grade girl's sense of humor and propriety.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Daily Report: Miscellaneous Thoughts

Wizard of Oz... first time in 25 years. (No, I didn't put on "Dark Side Of The Moon.") I've assigned Epril the task of watching that movie before our next chat. I told her a quiz would be forthcoming. (How the hell can you know the lyrics to every Tom Jones song, but not know "If I only had a brain... a heart... a home... the noive"?)

Rain in Florida looks a whole hell of a lot colder than it actually is.

One part coffee, one part gold rum, one part creme de cacao, and a big pressurized bottle of whipped cream: Danger Will Robinson!

I, by myself, will never dirty enough dishes in enough time to justify using a dishwasher, so I'm just forgetting I have one. Similarly, I have to soil every piece of clothing I own just to create a "medium" load in my mother's cement-mixer sized washing machine.

If you don't have a hot water heater stuck to the wall of your shower cubicle with the pipes running in and out of it, Asian style, you will eventually run out of hot water. Then you will discover that certain temperatures in Florida are actually substantially colder than expected.

The movie called "Elf": Best Christmas movie ever. "Hello! I'm Buddy The Elf! What's your favorite color!?" Above mentioned coffee/rum/cacao mix shot straight out the nose.

They should schedule more mine accidents in places like Afghanistan. Then Americans would pay more attention to the place.

Smell is the strongest memory trigger. This old Florida house used to belong to my (maternal) grandparents. There used to be a smell on the back veranda caused by a liquor cabinet that used to sit there in the corner (a combination of Grandpa's cherry carpentry, the plastic inside of an ice bucket, spilled scotch, and rubber coasters). That cabinet has been gone for a decade, but the ghost of the scent of that thing still lingers. Every time I walk by... not exactly my nose... but the uttermost back of my brain... perks right up and remembers Grandma and Grandpa's cocktail hours of 30 years ago. I can still see my grandmother Ethel sitting on the yellow/white patio furniture in her Florida-issue white slacks and green/white tropical shirt, chatting and laughing with Aunt Dotty... who had the whitest hair ever and wore pink. My grandfather Howard would be in grey slacks and a drab knit golf shirt... smiling, always smiling. That was his bar in the corner. That smell was his smell.

More Americans got Pay-Per-View for Manny Pacquiao than they ever did for Mike Tyson. LOTS more.

There never has been, there is not, and there never will be — all evidence you may see to the contrary — an American version of the show, "Top Gear" or an American version of the show "Iron Chef". The British have been sensible enough not to try to recreate The Simpsons, and the Japanese have been smart enough not to try to recreate Buffy The Vampire Slayer... we Americans should leave well enough alone as well.

Florida doesn't have any small birds because all of these frickin giant birds the size of kites ate them. Geckos here are not nearly as cool as their Asian counterparts.

Stir fry a bag of pre-mixed salad, chopped up leftover steak, and ginger-garlic marinade and you've got a heck of a 3-minute meal.

I-Phones suck in America too.

If somebody assures you that they will undoubtedly forget to do something on Thursday night, you should probably believe them.

I'm a genuinely smart guy... but the only way I could stop this f**kin clock radio alarm from going off every morning was to unplug it.

Milk plus creme de cacao, microwaved for 2 minutes, equals "good night."

My Thanksgivings Of Yore

My formative memories of Thanksgiving are a true Rockwellian version of the holiday: My (paternal) grandparent's stately old farmhouse nestled in a small offshoot of the Hudson valley 30 miles south of Albany, surrounded by a great green lawn and maple trees still speckled with brown marcescent autumn leaves, tapped and hung with buckets for syrup. Outdoors, there were the barns, riding on the tractors (one red and one gray, which I preferred), petting the black Angus... the giant pond too cold for swimming, but good for throwing pebbles and floating handfuls of grass... the mysterious mazy hayloft... the banks of the Kinderhook River... the long empty dirt road called Kinderhook Lane leading back along the river through the forest to the town of Brainard. It's all still there of course.

Inside, the rustic den decorated by my grandfather's hunting victories was filled with the glow of football on the TV, the sound of my father and uncle talking some grown-up subject, the smell of my grandfather's cigar as he sat and played some hundred-year-old folk song on his Hammond... Joplin featured prominently. I'd sit on the floor and watch his left gray sock bounce around on the bass pedals and his right gray sock work a crescendo on the giant volume pedal.

In the kitchen, my Grandmother would march back and forth from various appliances, head down, moving with a certainty and inevitability surprising for her small size. She was always talking to somebody in the kitchen as she cooked... but her eyes were always on what she was doing. She was far too purposeful in the kitchen to actually take the time to look at people.

The house had two upstairs: One still used, the other an apartment that served as the kids' play area. There was a long-unused door behind the beds that none of us ever tried to open. There were some baby's toys there that we tried to convert to more-adult play activities. There was a little white closet with a big sunny window behind the staircase where we could spend afternoons chasing / capturing / teasing the black flies that always show up in late Autumn in upstate New York.

Everything in the house just seemed to be from a time when Pilgrims and Indians lived nearby.

All the expansion leaves were put into the already-large dining room table and an accompanying card table was set up for us kids. A giant centerpiece of fall vegetables flanked by a dozen candles was on the main table, and every place setting had a dozen eating utensils, a green napkin in a silver ring, and a big red goblet. We kids got our own 2-pronged candelabra, in the flames of which my cousin Andy would stick his fingers (and encourage the rest of us to try) in a little game of pain tolerance.

Then of course came the food: All of the dishes, right and proper, perfectly done as such memories ought to be. To this day I really think I ate more then, as a young boy, than I eat now at my adult Thanksgivings. Pumpkin and apple pies were always the finishing touch, usually eaten in the grand living room in front of the fireplace. (I loved playing with the bellows: it made a neat whistling sound as I pumped.)

After that, came the goodbyes as the cousins all bundled up, and were led out through the back door to the cars, lights on, warming up in the chill night. An early winter breeze coming through the door would make me long for my pajamas and one of the warm beds upstairs in my aunt's old bedroom... the smell of mothballs from the closet there is still fresh in my memory.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Daily Report: Weekly Report... Whatever

I got my driver's license on Monday. Drove 3 minutes to the DMV, and within 30 minutes, I had a brand new Florida driver's license. Unfortunately, unlike Asia, I cannot just hop on a motorcycle and go now. Nope: A special license after a special course for motorcycle driving. I'm thinking about buying a scooter... but a large one like a Yamaha Majesty. Compared to costs in Asia, big scooters aren't that expensive. Plus the insurance is less than a car, plus the gas mileage is much better. And in Florida, you can drive 2-wheeled year round. Granted, I have my mother's brand new Toyota Corolla in the garage at my disposal... but I'd rather have my own ride. Oh: I also like the Nissan Juke for $19,000 (760,000 pisos) if I were to go the 4-wheel route.

On Tuesday, Mom and Paul left for Gainseville (where Paul's son's family lives) for Thanksgiving, leaving me alone. I didn't do much all day except work. (That's still going well.)

On Wednesday, my new team leader moved me off of "training", so I can go back to working nights now whenever I want. Uncle Bob came over for a drink and we chatted for an hour. (He brought this huge jug of pretzels with him.) Then I cooked a ham steak for dinner and chatted with Epril online. She got all the paperwork for the initial I-130 form mailed out to me today. My expectation is still for her to be arriving around the end of March or beginning of April.

Yes... all in all a bit tedious and boring. Hell, I would dare accuse things of being typical (a word and condition which I have striven to avoid for my entire life). Well... it's still sunny and 80 degrees. The St. Augustine grass is green, the grapefruit tree next to the veranda is sagging with fresh fruit, and a sandhill crane is majestically high-stepping through the back yard. A gentle breeze is waving the curtains as I type, and other than Uncle Bob's air conditioning unit humming next door and the rustle of palm fronds in the breeze, everything is beautifully silent. Maybe things aren't as typical as I feared.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dale Chihuly Is Cool

In the common happenstance of not turning the channel after something I was watching on television had finished... and some unknown subject began to air on my television, I have discovered the beautiful glass artwork of Dale Chihuly.

Having grown up near Corning, New York -- one of the world's capitals of artistic glass art -- I spent more than a few moments of my life watching trained artisans creating glass artwork, some of which (Steuben Glass) would become some of the most valuable contemporary glass on the planet. Therefore I have an appreciation of artwork like this. This is simply incredible stuff.

Thoughts On North Korea

One of my hobbies — or, whatever you call some subject you pay particularly close attention to — is North Korea. I've been following that country closely for years, especially via great blogs like One Free Korea.

Here are my thoughts:

1. North Korea is not going to go away USSR style, with oppressed citizens suddenly standing on the NK equivalent of the Berlin Wall. Instead, North Korea is going to go out like the crazy uncle with a gun collection: quickly, ugly, and most obviously violently.

2. Now that South Korea has an excuse, they might as well get it over with: Evacuate the DMZ plus 50 miles — and yes, that includes all Seoul — and do what is going to happen eventually anyway: Take out North Korea... but on South Korea's own terms.

Seriously: Why wait for North Korea to determine the rules of engagement? The engagement is going to happen, and sooner — not "or"... but rather "than" — later. This is a fact that is painfully obvious for those of us who understand what is happening in North Korea. North Korea has absolutely no strengths now (other than the ability to shell Seoul), but can only become stronger as time goes on (as the discovery of 2000 new North Korean centrifuges hints at). The longer South Korea waits, the more damaging the destruction of North Korean military capability may be once the decision is made (or forced) to do so.

South Korea, with this recent shelling of their territory, has been given what is essentially full diplomatic immunity to solve their 50-year headache in one fell swoop. They should simply put North Korea out of its misery now.

Oh... and p.s.: Nothing would set China flat on its uppity diplomatic ass more than a shooting war between the Koreas. And that is, regarding China, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, a fantastically good thing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jungle Jil PSA

My old classmate and Hollywood's most popular musical act, Dan Finnerty and The Dan Band, will be on The American Music Awards tonight... performing with Pink. Tune in if you can.

Daily Report: Yeah, That's More Expensive

Sunday: It's not quite the same here in Florida. I'll miss Sundays in The Philippines most, because those were the days spent with family doing fun stuff... that usually involved bathing suits, picnic tables, big pots of food, and lots of photographs. Here, it's more just a quiet day that doesn't hold the promise of jungle fun that it used to.

I did a bit of work today, then watched some TV ("Pawn Stars" marathon, History Channel), joined Mom, Paul, and Uncle Bob for cocktails, and then had steak for dinner.

I did go out to the movies tonight... Harry Potter. The ticket was $9 (360 pisos) and a 1-liter soda was $4.50 (180 pisos). Actually, I think that the U.S. theater soda prices weren't that much higher than The Philippines when you factor in the small cup sizes over there. But the ticket prices in The Philippines were 100 pisos... so almost 25% the cost of U.S. But, the U.S. theater seats were much more comfortable, and the sound system was substantially better. I'm not sure what the absolute value of those features are, but they should count for something.

By the way (since it doesn't make any difference: if you've seen the first 6 movies, you aren't going to skip the 7th and 8th) I didn't think the movie was all that good. The slow parts were too slow, and the fast parts were too fast. And the washed-out grisaille palette of the movie really muted the whole visual experience.

Stepdad Paul mentioned that there are discount movie theaters here that show a lot of the same movies for only $3 per ticket... 120 pisos. He did not know the cost of a soda at the discount theaters, so those I cannot compare. But, if you stick with the discount theaters, and their chairs too are more comfortable, sound system better, and soda prices comparable... then yes, the one example I liked to use to show how costs in The Philippines are substantially less than The U.S. — going to the movies — may not be nearly as good as I originally suspected. (Anybody with more knowledge of the discount theaters in America, who can add to / subtract from what I just said, leave a comment.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Daily Report: No Remote Control

We finally figured out that Tyson has a better reaction to my voice over the computer if we hook up some proper speakers to it instead of just the little laptop ones. He still doesn't know that it is me... but he is more interested than before.

Epril left the webcam on the laptop running up in the bedroom while she went out, and Tyson came in and proceeded to grab a roll of toilet paper out of the linen closet, jump up on the bed, and destroy it in a display of unmitigated glee, as is his wont. I had never seen him do that before, as he normally flees the scene and postures innocence out in the hallway as soon as he hears someone coming... so I never realized how much joy he got from that behavior as he laid on his back, legs in the air, munching a roll of toilet paper. No wonder he risks a beating for the experience. I've seen porn movies with less passion than the Tyson Does Tissue video I watched. (Naturally, shouting at him via the computer, "Tyson! Get down! Tyson! Bad Dog! Tyson! Drop it! Tyson! I've got my shoe! [My spanking implement] Tyyyy-SON!" had no effect on him.)

Epril and her friends are really fluttering the dovecotes in Jasaan: Big house, lots of young and good-looking people hanging out watching BluRay movies on the big-screen TV, eating big meals, and laughing and having a good time day and night. According to Epril, the neighbors' jealously level is rising precipitously.

But it's what I want Epril to do: I'm not there, so Epril doesn't have anybody else to take care of, nothing to do but wait for me to get her visa, and obviously nobody to keep her company but her sister. Why not have everybody come over and watch movies, play games, eat, drink, and be merry? (And no, they aren't loud at all... especially compared to our chainsaw-motorcycle, puppy-dog-yapping, cock-crowing, board-sawing-hammering neighbor across the street. In fact: Epril... Crank it up! Piss those people off as much as they pissed me off when I was there. Revenge time.)

Work is still going well. I managed to do above my old 7-day average (7000 "lines"... 1000 lines per day) in just 5 days this week. (The 2-day shortfall was due to training.) That's pretty damn good, and represents an almost-50% increase in production (and pay). Unfortunately, they still have me on "full proofing" for the new account, to make sure I actually know what I am doing, so for the meantime I'm working days and losing my night-shift bonus, which is 12% above what I earn during the day (here).

The only thing that sucks is now I really am going to be working nights here in America... what is / used to be days in The Philippines. Nights are not nearly as easy as they used to be when I was in New York City and had the nightlife there anchoring my daily routine on my days off.

Well... I'll just have to get used to it. The way to look at night work is just consider it part of your sleeping schedule: You work-plus-sleep 16 hours per day. Nothing should interrupt either work OR sleep. As long as your free time and out-of-work/sleep obligations fall outside those 16 hours, there should not be any problems. Oh: And when you work nights, sleeping is a job. You have to make pains to sleep right, create the right sleeping atmosphere, and the right sleeping frame of mind. "Good sleep hygiene," the doctors call it. I have to get all those old skills back if I'm going to be able to work nights.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Daily Report: Their Diet Starts Tomorrow

Another good day of work... but not as good as the days which came earlier this week... but tons better than any day prior to that. A transcription hysteresis has fallen upon me and it lies light on my soul.

Tonight, Mom and Paul treated me out to a Chinese restaurant all-you-can-eat buffet. Pretty stunning... and yet another example of ways that America can be cheaper than The Philippines, even in the difficult-to-match eating-out category: For $9 (360 pisos), a buffet filled with crab legs, sushi, peel-and-eat shrimp, and a multitude of dishes that didn't skimp even a tiny bit on the dearest ingredients. (All domestic beers were $2... 80 pisos... each.)

But you know what? People talk about how fast food is making America fat. Bullshit. It's all-you-can-eat buffets instead. I've never seen so many 400-pound people in one place in my entire life. There were more morbidly obese people eating at this one restaurant than there are in the entire population of Thailand.

You know, as a guy who is moderately concerned about watching his weight and is generally cognizant of what he eats, it's a bit upsetting to bite into a piece of sesame chicken, and then look over at the next table and see these mountainous people tucking into an all-too-similar plate of food as what he has selected for himself.

From now on, I'll only eat at restaurants were everybody looks like an aerobics instructor.

Oh... it looks like electronics and home appliances are not the only thing affected by my destructive aura. Puppy Gracie, since my arrival, has become a major behavioral problem... jumping up when she shouldn't, toileting accidents, nipping, barking. She was the perfect model of obedience before I arrived; now a clasic case of canine oppositional defiant disorder.

Daily Report: Slow News Day

My aura continues to break things: A 1-pixel-wide bright horizontal line has appeared on my 4-month-old computer monitor. Currently it comes and goes... but is obviously the beginning of the end.

I learned about the joys of streaming high-definition movies to your television: On your computer, go to and line up the movies you would like to see. Then go to your Bluray player's menu, select the NetFlix icon, and... (once more, with feeling), bada-bing, bada-boom. Epril (via online chat) was thrilled to learn that NetFlix also has all the recent Pinoy movies in their collection as well. When she gets here, she will not be at a loss for Filipino things.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I ♥ Steven Colbert

After my tight-underwear experience in Detroit, I just love what Steven Colbert said the last night:
What if I started... let the free market take care of it... if I started an airline called "Zero Security Airlines". It's like, "Skip the Line! Get on Board! It's Zero Security Airlines!" And our symbol would be rolling dice.
Yeah... exactly. Sign me up for their frequent flier program.

A commenter notes that there is already exactly that type of airline flying: Seaport Air. It even says right on their front page,
"No lines. No rubber gloves. No need to take your shoes off. Simply arrive 15 minutes before your flight, board and go. It's air travel the way it should be - fast and hassle-free."
Granted, they only fly to about 10 airports... and all munincipal airports from the looks of it. But: You go, Seaport Air!

Daily Report: Et Cetera

Continuing on in my destruction of everything (as outlined yesterday), my mother's coffee machine is now dying. I'm expecting the entire house to collapse in the next few weeks as a result of my presence.

In my job, I simply tore shit up today. Can't put it any other way. It was almost as good as the good old days. This new account is a godsend.

Eating is continuing to be a fun undertaking here. Mom is feeding me well. On Sunday, we had a chicken in a mushroom rice risotto; on Monday, we had a pork and saurkraut stew, on Tuesday we had fish, and then on Wednesday, we just ate all of the leftovers.

Epril and I are in constant communication on Skype and by e-mail and text messages. Epril and Tyson seem to be adjusting to life without me around. Her friends have kind of moved into the house to keep her company... kind of the new frat house on the block. That's cool... just wish I could be there to enjoy it too.

The Best Cooking Show On Television

I've fallen instantly in love with Good Eats.

Finally, a cooking show that actually teaches you how to cook... instead of just what ingredients to throw on the stove to achieve a desired meal. (Yes, the show has been on the air for years... and I am just discovering it now. If you haven't heard of it before, read on. If you have, allow me to join you cognoscenti in it's praise.)

Seriously. This guy Alton Brown is providing culinary information that, for some reason, never occurred to anybody else to provide. A 30 minute program on knife skills? Now that's something I can use. I don't need to know how to make a truffle brioche... but tell me how to properly choose the best stew pot out of dozens of choices at the store, and you've got my attention.

And his lucubrations on food are the same thing: Last night, he explained the food called ham. The various kinds of ham, how to cook the various kinds of ham, how to carve ham, and clever little tips for making ham preparation easier. Brilliant stuff: Educational, entertaining, humorous, and totally worth watching.

I found some episodes online here on Fancast and here on YouTube.

The video below on cooking a porterhouse is the apotheosis of what this show is about


(Photo Credit: Studio Chambers)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Daily Report: Sow's Ear Now Silk Purse

My new account at work... I went through training yesterday and there was one aspect that I found pretty dismaying: The account requires that I constantly go to outside sources to pull in information for medical records I'm typing. It is rather time consuming.

A doctor will often say, "Insert the medication list I dictated on May 9th for this patient." I have to go to the external source, search for the document, load the information, copy the few medications (sometimes even just one or two drugs), paste them... all in all, a process substantially slower than just typing out something the doctor could just read into the phone.

Then I told my new team manager how for years I had specialized in transcribing oncology and hematology reports. She immediately started throwing that kind of work my way... and I was amazed:

"Mrs. So-and-so is back to my office today. Uh... just copy the report I dictated from last Tuesday. Change the laboratory values to read x, y, and z... Change the vital signs to read a, b, and c... I'll see her back next week."

(Cancer patients obviously visit their oncologist quite often... and, well, things don't change much from week to week. Before, when I did this type of work, doctors would just say "nothing has changed" or something, then hang up... or they would dictate that readers should just refer back to a prior report. But they never did this: They never just copied and pasted vast quantities of old report into a new one.)

So anyway... The doctor says copy the old report. I open up the other older report, copy $3 worth of text, paste it into this week's visit, type the new information for another minute, and then submit the job. Bada-bing, bada-boom.

Granted, not every job is like that, and those pesky little medication lists crop up just as often. However, on my first day on the new account with the new software and new manager, struggling, stumbling, stopping to question, stopping to study, stopping to get quite angry with some malfunctioning software, stopping to call the help desk to get it fixed: in all that chaos, I managed to do the same amount of work in the same number of hours that I used to do on my best days on the old account with the old software.

At least as far as work goes, it's the good ol' days all over again. Hot damn. I thought my income would go up by 25%? Nah: Double it.

Daily Report: New Everything

You know how I've often told you that everything I buy immediately breaks? Well, apparently it's an aura that emanates from my body that contacts every machined part within range, causing it to fail. Only days after arriving, my mother's 9-year-old winter / Florida car went wrong.

Stepdad Paul decided it was time to trade it in, so off he and mom went to the local Toyota dealer and leased a brand new Toyota Corolla in a lovely color called Capri Sea Metallic for the low low price of $100 per month. (The old car on trade in served as the down payment.) See? Definitely cheaper than The Philippines. (Of course, my mother's credit score of seventy trillion was a big factor in the low price.)

I've promised not to take my destructive aura anywhere near the new car.

Unfortunately, the dishwasher, which I and my aura have been emptying regularly is now entering a terminal phase.

At work, I started my new account... on a new team... using new software today. Given all of those changes, it really is like starting an entirely new job. The account is definitely not as good as I had hoped. But it isn't a complete disaster. There are just some intricate aspects to the work that are really time consuming. While they can never be sped up to a point where they don't significantly eat into my production levels, the process can be improved upon. (And if there is one thing I honestly am good at doing, it is taking tedious and time-consuming processes, and streamlining them.)

I paid a visit to the local community college today. One of their campuses up in Bradenton/Sarasota (an hour away) has a radiographic technician program that I'm interested in attending. (Radiographic technician = a guy who operates and maintains MRI machines and/or helps interpret the results thereof... an assistant radiologist.) It's a pretty hefty 3-year degree. Heheh: If and when I finish it, I'll have completed 4 college majors in 8 years of classes... almost 300 credits.

I've gathered the preliminary information to start Epril's visa process (the "I-130" form and all associated attachments). I just need to have Epril mail me some things and I'll get that sent in.

My Aunt Carol's birthday was tonight. She is the third of three aunts/uncles — all widowed — who are living here in Venice, Florida. I'm happy here because of the amount of family I have around. They are the kind of folks who put up with me regardless of how much damage my aura does. She, along with my parents and Uncle Bob and I, had a nice pork roast for dinner, and a carrot cake for dessert.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Daily Report: The Other Option

I spent the day today pondering the possibility of staying here in America... bringing Epril here.

I rode today down a quiet palm-lined boulevard in fantastic weather, past acres and acres of manicured lawns, beautiful neighborhoods, pristine stores with parking lots shaded by oaks and bordered by purple bougainvillea bushes. It's really the very apotheosis of tropical splendor and modern convenience I personally hoped to find when I moved to Asia... and would have preferred once I got there.

The cost? I can now state that it is true that, other than housing, living in Florida isn't that much more expensive than a place like Pattaya Beach (again, for me... I don't know about you). Owning a car here is certainly much less... home supplies... gasoline... electronics... the list goes on. The food I eat is cheaper here. I don't buy much clothes, but the clothes I have bought cost about the same or less. Things related to entertainment and relaxation are a little more expensive, but we went out to eat tonight and the fish and chips we had were about the same as I would pay at a restaurant in Asia. Obviously, there aren't too many $2 meals here like you can find with street vendors in Asia, but you can still get a reasonable bite to eat for not much more.

The social scene? Everyone here is friendly, just like in Asia. But I would admit that social aspects represent the second biggest difference: There aren't as many opportunities to socialize here, especially with people my age, and Floridians aren't as colorful as expatriates, and the social activities aren't as amusing, but the opportunities to socialize still exist and are actually easier to start and maintain than I find with expatriates or Filipino people. But, it has been years since I was a partier, and you would have to agree that sitting around the pool with a bunch of guys drinking beer and talking politics is pretty much the same whether you're here or there.

The culture? The country? Obviously that's the biggest difference. But, you can't just say "it's different" without enumerating those differences... both good and bad. There are a lot of nice things about the Philippines as a country; but there are also a lot of problems there: a vast number of things that are annoying, distracting, or merely tolerable... things you "just have to get used to", as they say euphemistically. The West coast of Florida may be one of the culturally emptiest places on earth, but everything works, the frustrations are few, everyone is healthy and wealthy and educated, and opportunity (though currently strained) exists for all. You may look at pictures I took in The Philippines and see a bamboo hut and think "wow, how exotic", but maybe you fail to think that it really is also a bamboo hut where some person lives their life... survives... and little else. You may see the photos of motorellas, carts, and motorcycles on some street and think, "wow, how rustic", but also you might fail to think that that street is also smoky, noisy, poorly maintained, and devoid of traffic laws or people in possession of licenses, driving skills, or a natural fear of death.

What is really causing me to think like this, however, is my wife. Although she doesn't mention it (much), I know that her biggest dream is to live in America. She follows my lead in all things and has adjusted her goals and efforts toward a life in The Philippines, as I wanted... but I know she would rather be here.

I know she wants to work in a store selling clothes — a simple wish. (If she came here and did that, she would almost earn as much as I am earning currently.) Our lives are one now, and her wishes matter as much as mine (if not more, in my opinion) as does her future, her life, and her happiness.

Finally, I'm really not a risk taker... or at least not anymore, insofar as I used to be. Going back to The Philippines now would be a risk... unless some truly certain option were to present itself suddenly (which it won't). There are lots of ways I can earn a living in the U.S., and most of them are what even the most jaded of us would term "steady" (and with my work experience and degrees, obviously better-paying); there are no such assurances for me back in Asia. A successful business today could be a flop tomorrow; a job offer now doesn't mean a job next year. That may be true in America too... but all else being equal in the respect of the steadiness and certainty of earning a living (which it isn't) it is also here where my "reset" button is. It is here I return to when things go wrong. This is my home port from which all ships of opportunity sail. It's why I'm here now.

Nothing is decided, but it is what I'm thinking about.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Daily Report: Fighting Weight

I checked my weight for the first time in years. Amazingly, I have neither lost nor gained a pound in almost 6 years. I'm surprised primarily because I really judge my weight based on how well my clothes fit... and they have fit better over the last year. I have a 38-inch waist and am 5-foot-7, but according to my BMI I'm supposed to be obese. Whatever. Uncle Bob says I've reached my "fighting weight." That sounds about right. Maybe a little more walking and the wide availability of diet versions of everything here in America will bring the weight down a little. Probably not.

Another walk today, this time with my mother. We stopped at my Aunt Alice's house (my mother's first cousin) and got caught up on her family. Then Uncle Bob came over to the back porch for our usual 5 o'clock cocktails. (Vodka martini for me, wine for Paul, and my mother has scotch and soda.) Conversations at cocktail hour in my family tend to oscillate between home improvement and family matters, while the two papillion puppies (my Uncle Bob has Papillion Martini, while my mother has Papillion Gracie) frolic and amuse us.

I'm being fed stupendously. Tonight Mom and Paul served up big thick pork steaks with a sesame ginger glaze, along with "mushed" potatoes (with the peel still on them when they are mashed) and peas.

I went out to the liquor store. It seems like the new "in" thing is fancy tequilas... high end $50 to $80 bottles like Patron (even flavored). I had a bottle of that about 5 or 6 years ago. I have a feeling that the popularity came about because pretty much every travel show host on Discovery TV that I've seen has taken a trip to Jalisco to sample the finer distilleries.

Oh: A bit of good news. My company offered me a new account (I've been scheduled to lose the old one for 3 or 4 months now, and that loss was the precipitating factor for having to return to America) that does not use speech recognition at all. That's a big benefit and should lead to a healthy pay increase. I had been making about 100,000 pisos per month, and hopefully that will go up now about 25%. Good thing too: We're behind on the bills because of this sudden move. It cost Epril and me about 200,000 pisos ($5,000) to get me here to Florida. (Apologies to Maggie... we haven't forgotten you.)

I've got a netbook computer now and Epril and I are connected pretty much 24 hours per day. We're having fun: I took her on a webcam tour of the house, sat down and played some music on the piano for her, and she just loved seeing Gracie come up and snuffle the webcam. We're not happy to be apart, but thanks to the internet, it doesn't sting as much as it would have otherwise.

Yeah... it all seems a little boring, I know. But it depends on your point of view: now instead of Americans reading about my uneventful life in The Philippines with great interest, it is Filipinos (or, at least the one Filipina who matters most) reading about my uneventful life in America with great interest. And that's what this is all about.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Daily Reports: Birds Of Prey

I went to sleep last night at 3:00 in the morning. Then at 6:00 I was up like a flash. I don't know what other people's jet lag is like, but that is what it is like for me: Three hours of sleep followed by nine hours awake, repeat... pretty much just like what I went through as I was traveling.

I went for a walk with my stepfather, Paul, this morning. We put on our parkas and mufflers and braved the frigid temperatures of Florida. We took Gracie the Papillion Puppy for a walk around the mile-long circle road that runs through the subdivision in which I am currently living.

Paul pointed out (and I have finally taken an interest in) the various trees and bushes one finds when one ventures out of the factitious surroundings of modern indoor life.

There were half a dozen broad-winged hawks and vultures soaring over us as we walked. We were a bit worried for Gracie: She is the consistency, size, color, and weight of a bag of marshmallows (and to a hawk, probably tastes just as good): no running loose across open expanses for her.

My mother has a piano here at the house, so I went online and discovered that you can find lots of classical sheet music online in .pdf format. I printed out some old Beethoven sonatas that I used to play in high school and Chopin preludes, and spent the afternoon reacquainting myself with the concept of reading music. Amazingly, after almost a decade of not having sat down at a piano, the ability to read and play came back almost immediately.

I chatted with Epril again. She's worried about Tyson. Since Epril only carries the most minimal fondness for the shoe-and-mascara-eating beast who casts a level 5 annoyance spell against all players... when she gets worried that things aren't well, that means something.

(Epril called me at about midnight my time asking me if it was okay for her to go out swimming with her friends. She likes to keep me updated on what is going on.)

I had another 3-hour nap in the afternoon — or closer to 5 hours, which is probably a good sign that I'm finding a rhythm — and then got to work. Work actually was good tonight. The silence and the hour of work is definitely beneficial: I don't have any distractions, and I certainly don't have anything to look forward to when I finish work at 3 in the morning... so it's a lot easier to get lots done.

Note to self: Michelob Honey Lager. $7.50 for a six pack and it tastes a bit like Red Horse.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Daily Report: Best Friend, Best Buy

Epril is hugging my pillow at night in my absence. I find myself staring for long minutes at Epril's photo. But the one most affected by my sojurn to America by far is Tyson. He's been lying under the living room couch all day long, the very image of canine melancholy. I tried talking to him through Epril's laptop, but he doesn't make the connection.

I went shopping at Walmart today. I bought socks and a nice warm sweatsuit to battle against these Arctic conditions here in Florida. (Temperatures stayed in the 60s all day... even my coffee had a crusting of ice on it after only a few minutes.) I also enjoyed Walmart's grocery section which, I must say, puts SM Supermarket in CDO to shame.

I was right though: Epril and I are going to cut down greatly on expenses during this divergence... especially in food. Taking beer out of the picture (which I won't... but bear with me), my own food costs have gone down 50% since the price I pay for my expensive food has been cut in half. Since Epril now is not only not eating the expensive food that I was buying, but has switched to her locavore favorites like stinky fish and chicken intestines, her food cost has gone down by 80% or more.

But yes: I can't go out and buy a liter of San Miguel for 51 pisos ($1.20) now... but I did make myself proud by buying a 12-pack of Milwaukee's Best (the hairshirt of beers) for $7.50 instead of the two 6-packs of fancy-schmancy European brew for $9 each. (I might not do that again: some sacrifices are too difficult to bear.)

In addition to that, Mom and Paul are doing a splendid job of feeding me. I was generously provided my ham-and-swiss-on-wheat for lunch, as I had been dreaming of. Then for dinner there were salmon steaks with a maple-dijon glaze grilled on planks of freshly-cut cedar.

I went back to work tonight, but after an hour I couldn't stay awake and took a 2-hour nap. Then I was back to work until 3:00 in the morning. I fell just a little short on my own work goals for the day, but otherwise all is well there... seemingly.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Daily Report: 120 Days

I went through one of those Bio-6000 see-everything scanners at Detroit airport. ("Our new system lets us ensure safety and security without as much contact.") I step through the thing and the airport security guy speaks into his wristwatch, "Confirmed... anomoly, left groin." (As best I could figure, that's apparently DHS-speak for "his underwear is suspiciously tight", since that was the most anomolous aspect of my groin of which I was aware.) So, instead of the Bio-6000 see-everything scanner providing me less contact with security, for the first time at an airport checkpoint, an airport official got his hands on my balls.

Epril and I took the ferry to Cebu on Wednesday night. (Trust me on this: Presidential Suite or nothing... only double the price of the cheapest ticket yet 10 times the value.)

We had a nice vacation in Cebu before heading out to the airport. The Shangri-La resort hotel is very nice... but the food wasn't very good. We met with a very nice couple living in Cebu whom we had been introduced to via the Yahoo CDO Expats Group, who showed us the ropes of selling on eBay. We also had a nice evening wandering the SM Mall there, as well as some discount shopping in the market district.

After that it was off to the airport... one-hour evening flight to Manila... seven-hour layover... thirteen-hour early morning flight to Detroit... seven hour layover (drinking Sam Adams Winter Lager at the Fox Sports Bar)... then a three-hour flight to Fort Meyers, Florida... then a ninety-minute trip up to Venice.

Right now it is in the low 50's in Florida... what a ripoff: Trying to stay warm and this is what I get? My feet seem to be suffering the worst. They haven't had to heat themselves in almost a decade and seem to have forgotten how to do so. Work computer and monitor survived the journey without a problem. Mom and Paul have set up a nice home office for me and I have a breezy palm tree outside my desk's window as a reminder of home.

The tentative plan still is for me to return to The Philippines on March 1st... 4 months from now, give or take. But, we'll see what the future holds. Epril and my life has been literally been adjusting itself every day for the last 3 weeks and continues to do so.

Now: If you will excuse me, I need to go buy some nice thick socks.