Saturday, May 19, 2007

Seven Random Facts

Gus "tagged" me, so I'll play along with the request of the island's premiere uke virtuoso. RULES: Each player starts with 7 random facts/habits about themselves. People who are tagged need to write on their own blog about their seven things, as well as these rules. You need to choose four people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they have been tagged and to read your blog! I tag Ken, Sgt. Haugh (sadly leaving the island), Arin Greenwood (sadly left the island) and Young Master Tony Gomez, who has been blog slacking. I got into this one, so mine are long. Yours don't need to be, but I will hassle you if you skip out entirely.

1. I have had three distinct careers: 1. Journalist/Editor, 2. Stock/Option Trader and now 3. Teacher. While I have degrees in one and three, I don't attribute my failure in two to lack of degree. I have the most skill in one and three, but tried hardest in two, which was by far the most stressful, difficult and lucrative career I had. Career three has been the longest at six years. It is not impossible there will be a fourth some day. When my trading career ended, I went from the hardest, most stressful, most potentially lucrative job imaginable to one of the easiest, least stressful and most limited: English teacher in Korea. I was/am way happier in the latter, though sometimes I feel as if I'm not challenged enough and I can't stand the lack of intellectual curiosity in high school students. I try desperately to instill this quality, as that is the only way anyone will be educated -- personal intellectual curiosity leading to self initiative, reading, processing, reflection, etc. I'm not sure if that lack of curiosity is a high school thing or a Saipan high school thing, as I have only subbed in mainland high schools. I was so disturbed by this I contemplated switching to elementary school last year. My new found experience with kids showed me that the little ones want to know things. I observed a few classes at SVES, and realized that wasn't my scene at all, as I'm just not Mr. Empathy, which seems necessary at the Elementary School level. I offer a lot of direct, blunt fatherly advice to a lot of young men in the stead of the countless absentee fathers here, which might be of more value than my reading, writing, speaking instruction.

2. The first time I went overseas in my life was when I signed a teaching contract and moved to Incheon, Korea. There was this smell in the air like an electrical fire. The pollution is extreme in Incheon, the Pittsburgh of Korea. I felt like I landed on Mars. At 4 am and 4 pm there is an equal number of people, and this was on a Sunday turning Monday my first day. I arrived late Sunday evening, slept, and went for a walk at 4 am to witness this scene. It was like nothing I had experienced to date or since. Shortly after I took a trip to Japan and laughed hysterically roaming the streets of Osaka. I was amazed and astonished that I was roaming Japan on my own so very far, so suddenly, from New Jersey. I couldn't stop laughing for about 15 minutes and I wasn't even really sure why. On that trip, it took me about two hours to find my hotel coming back from roaming around town, even though I was close. A taxi driver wouldn't take me because he felt uncomfortable with a "gaijin." All I was doing was pointing to an address on the card. I didn't want to leave the taxi, we stared at each other a few seconds, exasperated, I just completely non-sequitered and named every Japanese player in Major League baseball I could think of and added Sadaharu Oh, the long retired Japanese Babe Ruth. He laughed and then took me. I went diving with an expat living in Japan who I related this story to, and he said it worked because I broke the tension. I was just exasperated and being zany. Whatever works, I got back to the hotel. All that time I watched baseball in my life does have some practical use.

3. I visited Saipan on a scuba diving trip from Korea and was told by the dive masters at Abracadabra that Saipan always needs English teachers. That night I sat up looking at the stars near the pool in my Garapan hotel and contemplated if I could live in such a small place for a "year." My contract in Korea ended in June, I went to Europe, I showed up here in mid-July, got hired at SSHS, and I'll be finishing my fourth year in a few weeks.

4. In heavily populated Seoul, some Korean guy would park his car on the very narrow streets in an illegal parking space blocking my apartment, which required me to walk all the way around the block to get into the door. Because of his lack of concern for others, I egged his car repeatedly to send the message. I drank myself into a stupor one night over the absurdity that I had egged a car at 30 years old, but I do feel he deserved it and don't particularly regret it. People will park their cars in the crosswalk in Seoul, not giving a damn that 300 people have to now dodge cars and take their life in their hands when the light changes. Cops let this go on. I complained vociferously about it to the cops, but the cars tend to be driven by rich, corporate executives. I saw a cop try to stop this once, and the driver said he was older than him, important in a Confucian society, so the cop got yelled at and stood there like a frightened puppy being taught a lesson by the alpha dog. My friend stomped all over these cars in his military boots. I mean stomped on the hood of the car. I would merely tell them off. If someone did this in New York City, they might get dragged out of their car and have the shit kicked out of them. That's why inconsiderate nonsense happens less in NYC -- someone might snap. Apparently there is a positive side to violence. I would be content to tell them off. Ugly American or bald, justice fighter, you decide, but I feel firmly in the right on this one as well. People would walk down the streets in residential neighborhoods, screaming, honking horns at 4 am. One would think a person would be sensitive to others living in such a crowded place, but the opposite is true in Seoul.

5. In college I was obsessed with the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. I went to Carnegie Hall to hear a performance of his Eighth Symphony, the so called Symphony of a Thousand, as somewhere near 1,000 people are required to pull it off. It isn't his best symphony, but it is quite a sonic display. Because it requires so many people with multiple choirs in a seating section, it is hard to get a ticket. I went to many concerts in college, and almost always got in paying $5 bucks to someone stuck with an extra. No deal on this one. As the curtain fell, I just walked in sans ticket, classical concert goers are almost all in their 60s so gate crashing is uncommon, and I figured I'd find an open seat in the nosebleeds somewhere. There were none. Ticketless and seatless, I feigned vertigo to the usher, who put me in the front row next to him in an usher's seat. This was one of my all time displays of chutzpah.

6. I learned my first instrument at 27, the bass guitar. I was good enough to play some songs, and had a band in Korea. Overall, I am simply not good enough, despite extensive effort, and it infuriates me. It infuriated the neighbors, too when I first started. One time, another Korea story, someone pulled some ungodly loud act at 4 am, my next door neighbor. I worked at 6 am, so before heading out, I turned the amp to the wall, put my bass processor on octave doubler, tuned down the bass, and I think I shook the fillings out of the mouth of this numbnuts. Bass frequencies travel far and wide, and this could easily knock the pots and pans out of a cabinet in the next apartment. Don't EVER get into a battle of noise with a bass player with decent gear.

I took a left brain right brain test, and in things like writing and verbal ability, I was ridiculously strong in. The side that covered math and music I was ridiculously weak, which explains a lot. I had straight D's in all math classes. I'd still be in 10th grade Geometry if not for Joanne Vasile, whose paper I peaked at on occasion. Music didn't come easily and naturally, though I remember writing a paper or two at 3 AM in college and doing ok. I was double remedial in math, which meant I had to do 22 credits my last semester to graduate. While I admire writers and am an English teacher, my classroom is decorated with posters of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Monet paintings, the School of Athens by Raphael and scuba pictures. In short, I admire musicians, painters and non-fiction writers infinitely more than classical literary authors. When I hear Victor Wooten or Geddy Lee or Steffan Lessard, bass players I admire, I am envious and awed. When I read writers I admire, Matt Taibbi, Noam Chomsky, David Halberstam or Anthony Bourdain, I admire them but am not as awed, as I feel I could do what they do if I had to, but not what Wooten, Lee or Lessard do if my life were on the line.

7. When I got here I was single, I wanted to get married someday, but never really wanted to have kids. I married my wife, who had two kids, within six months of our first date, and within two weeks of being engaged. The two tiered economy here had some influence on the speed of our marriage, which was inevitable. Read a contract of a CNMI contract worker and you'll want to vomit. They don't get jack other than they'll fly your body home if you die. I have a friend who has been cutting grass at this golf course where my wife worked. He has been there for more than ten years and he is still making $3.05. I asked him if he ever called out sick, and he told me he never missed a day in those ten years, and this is cutting grass in the blazing Saipan sun. He has taken a couple trips home, but never called in sick. They told them a few years ago there was no money for a Christmas Party, as if they couldn't throw $100 for beer and bbq for the people who allow them to charge Japanese $200 to hit a stupid little ball around. I can't name this loathsome place because they'd probably fire this guy over me calling them out. Also, these people have to deal with tempestuous customers like sweatshop lobbyist on the government dime Richard A. Pierce who sometimes treats golf course employees like garbage if they are late for their tee time.

Noam Chomsky wrote a renowned piece in 1967 called "The Responsibility of Intellectuals." I kind of view this piece like my own bible. In this essay Chomsky asked, what are the special moral responsibilities of intellectuals, "given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy" in Western capitalist democracies? His answer was that intellectuals have a "responsibility ... to speak the truth and to expose lies" and a duty "to see events in their historical perspective."

"With respect to the responsibility of intellectuals, there are still other,
equally disturbing questions. Intellectuals are in a position to expose the
lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and
motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they
have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information
and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy
provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth
lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology
and class interest, through which the events of current history are
presented to us. The responsibilities of intellectuals, then, are much
deeper than what Macdonald calls the "responsibility of people," given the
unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy."

It is long, detailed, and describes people who caused endless hardship knowing better. Someone like Cinta uses their power and education for the betterment of all people, while someone like Pierce, well educated yet amoral, is focused on his pocket and sophistry to keep rich factory owners rich. Rant concluded.

I'm putting the finishing touches on adopting my two stepchildren, who shall be officially Tubitts soon. Our kids turned out to be one of the best parts of being married. Because of the hassle of immigration, the expense of flying, and my parents' aversion to long flights, Cynthia still hasn't met my family in the two years we've been married.

Sorry to end on a hostile note.


CNMI Expat said...

Go easy on the garment guy

Anonymous said...


The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I have to disagree with the "go easy on the garment guy" comment. Pierce represents the CNMI; He should expect criticism.

I have a pretty public persona and I get smacked down every once in a while, too. That is the price of being in the public eye.

Richard is a big boy. He can handle someone writing about him on a blog post.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

I got myself so pissed off thinking about him that I went off very harshly in my initial post. I have since revised it and toned it down because it buzzkilled the other part too much, which I like.I'm sure Richard is a topic I'll revisit.

Marianas Eye said...

That Japan-taxi-baseball player story is one of the funniest most genius things I've ever heard. What a great story. I'll add it to my list of "great moments in multicultural living."

BoReGo said...

You're a really good writer Jeff. By the way, I tagged you too! Will get on my son for you!

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

Thanks Bonnie, You, too.