Expat Ethos

So here’s the story. W lives and works in 廈門 Xiamen, but since it was just Spring Festival he and his family were spending the long break in nearby Vietnam. While they were in Vietnam, the corona virus outbreak happened in China, and so now they were stuck outside of China due to the medical travel ban. W’s family are US citizens, and W himself is an Aussie holding a Permanent Resident Card in the US. But since they hadn’t been planning on returning to LA, he had left his green card in his apartment in Xiamen. Without the document, he had little chance of returning to LA.

Here’s the plan he came up with; they contacted the babysitter back in Xiamen, who contacted the landlord and asked for a spare key. She entered the apartment, found the document, and then mailed it to Taipei, where Aussie W and the family would stop on a layover. The only problem was that W doesn’t know anyone in Taipei. He put a post on FB saying, basically, does anyone have a trusted contact in Taipei who can take delivery of this important immigration document?

I connected W to Kiwi J over messenger and of course J agreed and they figured it out. Aussie W and the family flew to Taipei on their way to LA. W and J met up, W got his document back, and I assume there was beer. I was happy be a small part of this story, and for my part I requested a selfie.

When I was living in Shanghai, there was a strong but unspoken ethos that expats had to take care of each other, even if we were all from different countries. So I feel like this green card adventure was a very easy and common expat interaction, not even that remarkable within the community. It would have been more of an ordeal if it had all happened in Seattle; if I had asked my Seattle baby sitter to contact my Seattle landlord, enter my apartment, find a document, mail it to a complete stranger that someone I knew ten years ago had connected me with; it would be sketchy at best; too much to ask for all involved. It probably wouldn’t have ended in a beer and a selfie.

Black History Month Break, 2020

Last week a choir director, a very kind and talented person I’m glad to know, asked me to come to a Thursday night rehearsal at Immaculate and join the tenor section of his choir for a gig on Saturday. I’m trying to say yes to these things, because Gospel music is a joy to sing and it comes to me pretty easily.  Well, I showed up for the Thursday rehearsal, and the song was kind of hard, it is some contemporary Gospel stuff that required me to pull some notes out of thin air. I left that rehearsal thinking, oh no!  But whatever, I enjoy spending time with them.

On Friday afternoon we got out of school early so I went to lunch with a bunch of teachers. I enjoy my role as the organizer of the weekly faculty skate party. After lunch I went home and tried to practice that Gospel song, and worked on my ukulele homework a little.

On Saturday morning, I got up early and went to the Square Knot for breakfast, and then The Bounty to grade papers. I spent some time in my room later on trying to learn that song, and also trying to figure out how to record multitrack demos with the equipment I have.  For lunch I got some fish and chips at Sunfish and then I got dressed for the choir gig.

I showed up for sound check at the Rainier Avenue Church in Hillman City. The event is a Gospel concert to raise awareness and funds for sickle cell anemia research. It was a pretty cool event, all the neighborhood mainline Protestant churches (which I know nothing about) seemed to be there, and everyone was cool.  We were on pretty early in the program and I was starting to feel a scratchy throat so I didn’t stay too long after we sang.  We sang fine, of course.  Me, I missed a note or two but I managed to keep it all in the cord.  I’m glad I went. By the way, I sang tenor.  I’M NOT A TENOR.  I should probably stop

On the way home I stopped for a vegetarian plate at the Mawadda Café, my favorite spot in Seattle for “Mediterranean food.”  It’s an Iraqi family, the cashier calls me “brother” and one time years ago I peeked around the corner and saw that an employee was using an empty corner of the dining room for the afternoon salah. He looked at me sheepishly, like he wasn’t supposed to disturb the customers, and I looked at him sheepishly, having just intruded on a holy part of his day.  I thought, well go ahead, brother, I don’t mean to bother you. I also thought that if I’m ever an employer it would be nice to have a quiet place for employees to have some peace.

Today I got up early and had a small breakfast at Lost Lake.  They had very the old school country music up pretty loud, and I noticed the three other customers were all black men, each one eating alone.  At one point a Charlie Daniels song came on, and he was singing about how he would defend himself from crime with a 12-gage shotgun.  I thought to myself, wow, this is the wrong neighborhood for that message (there are several restaurants there that display a “no firearms” sign at their entrance).  But before I could complete that thought, someone found the volume knob and turned it way, way down.  Not off, but down, so there was still old school country music playing but you couldn’t hear the lyrics.  After that, the sky started getting light, and the white customers started finding their way in.

I firmly believe that the people who work there should get to pick the music, I’m fine with that. Just let it be known that I prefer a Motown breakfast.  Anyway, I’m not sure if I’m going back there again, their regular breakfast menu was replaced by an expensive brunch menu.

After that I went to mass at St. Therese, where I cantor’ed.  I don’t think I like cantoring.  It was fine of course.

And after mass, I met my friends for brunch at Café Selam, and had a lovely lunch with two colleagues and some visiting French people.  I ended up spending most of the day with them, speaking French the whole time on a walking tour of the Central District and International District.  We stopped for a crèpes at Eastern Café.  We also took a quick peek at the Panama Hotel.

I’m most excited about having spoken French all day.  I learned a bunch of new words, had to ask for a bunch of new words, and magically remembered a bunch of words that I hadn’t thought of in years.  I think after a couple of hours my grammar flew out the window; in the past it used to take me two weeks to achieve that stage.  I think the weirdest part was that I was telling a story about some Aussie and Kiwi friends, and my friend said, wow you did their accent in French!  Which was something I was neither trying to do, nor something I heard myself do, nor something I could do if there was a gun to my head.  But apparently just the thought of New Zealand English was enough to color my French.

Who knows what my French accent is nowadays, anyway; I know my pronunciation is still good, but I also hear something non-French going on.  Tomorrow might be another French day, as we’re scheduled to meet up again at Kerry Park.

I have to practice my ukulele tomorrow though, for real.  I have a lesson tomorrow afternoon.

1st Semester, In The Books.

Monday we had off to celebrate Dr. King.  I sang with a choir at a mass for the Black Catholic community at St. Ignatius Chapel on the SU campus.  I love that chapel but I always wished I could see the sky in there. The archbishop celebrated the mass. There was a weird standoff, because they had agreed not to sing the Kyrie or the Gloria, but they paused for a looong time, too long.  So the choir director shrugged and started the Kyrie; I don’t blame him, I would have done the same.  They waved him off after three or four beats, which is awkward, and then started the Confiteur.  After that, there was an awkward pause, and the archbishop cranked his head around and said, “did you want to sing that song?”  He may have meant it as a question, but the choir director took it as a request… so we sang the Kyrie.  My friend R looked at me afterward and said, “what just happened?” but the reading started so I told him I’d tell him later.

Later on after the sign of peace, the archbishop looked over and asked, “Are you going to sing the Lamb of God?” and our director said, yessir and started it right up. I’m sure he knows that the sign of peace lasts a little longer in Black parishes for cultural reasons but whatever.

It’s not in the rules anywhere but if a celebrant that you don’t know asks you in the middle of the mass to sing something, a music minister is going to make it happen. I have been in a situation where a celebrant asked me if we were going to sing the Gloria, which we had agreed beforehand not to do, and I hadn’t rehearsed, so I told him no, in front of the whole congregation. Yeeks.

After that mass, I went to dimsum at Ocean Star with my friend.

(Last year, I was asked to sit in at piano, and the bishop sprung a surprise Gloria request on us. I opened the book and SIGHT READ THE GLORIA, and the singers sight sang it.  Not the old glorias that I knew; it was a new, wonky, un-singable, un-musical Gloria that’s “through composed.” When I hit the final chord I felt like standing up and saying THAT’S RIGHT, HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW, and I looked over at the singers who were wide eyed and a little shaken for having flown by the seat of their pants. And then I looked around at the bishop, the other faculty, and all the students and realized that nobody else gave a smoke outline of a rat’s ass about what we had just accomplished.)

On Tuesday, I had one prep period and one final exam. I sat in my classroom and graded all the exams; it took me less than an hour. I had hoped to get all-you-can-eat prawns with my cousin but he didn’t get back to me so I went to Ivar’s Salmon House fish bar on North Lake Union, and had a 5 piece cajun fish and chips. Then I drove home and was home by 4pm. I texted my friends at my old school about how easy my finals were to grade, and one colleague replied, “Pinche JP.”

On Wednesday, I had two final exams. Afterward I went to a colleague’s birthday lunch at the Blue Star, and then took my exams to the Ampersand, which my sister and her crew call “the beach office.”  I sat that for a couple of hours and got both stacks of exams graded and was on my way home by 5pm. On the drive home, I saw a beautiful sight: Sunfish was open again, after a 3-week holiday break.  I was so happy to see it that I took a picture and sent it to my sister. She immediately called me and asked her to bring her some fish and chips, she wasn’t feeling well.  I said no! Later I told her that getting fish and chips to go violated my deeply held belief that fish and chips should never be allowed to get cold and soggy, which they would have; she wouldn’t have been able to eat them for an hour anyway, since she had to go into town to pick up K.  She chastised me for projecting my extremist values onto her. I told her we’d get fish and chips when she got back with K.

As I waited for her to get back, I got the news of a shooting downtown, near the 3rd Avenue McDonalds. I texted my sister, who had heard the news and had already taken an alternate route. The local coverage…. Let me put it this way; the eyewitnesses they interviewed on the street were very cool and practical, as were the first responders. The reporters doing live remotes on the street were fine, a little goofy, but they were getting solid eye-witnesses.  The director in the control booth must have been having a tough time, there were wonky transitions. The worst were the anchors in the studio, who had very little control over their situation, and were reduced to interviewing people who called in. The interviews grew more and more useless as they ran out of details questions and started asking detailed fear-based questions, speculating, exposing their biases, saying “we’re not sure if it was a robbery or a gang-related shooting.” Wow, thanks for setting us up with that uninformed false choice. What a tough spot to be in; live TV with actual breaking news is some drama.

Anyway, after that, I took my sister and brother in law to Sunfish and we ate fish and chips.  And prawns and chips. And oysters and chips. And it was great to see our Greek uncles again, who gave my sister an extra piece of fish.

Please welcome: a snail!

A thoughtful gift from a coworker

Thursday I had one prep and one final. I gave the final and then met my friends from Seattle Prep to eat ramen. Afterwards I took my stack of finals to Bauhaus and finished off that stack of finals. After that I met my cousin at Chinook’s for All You Can Eat Prawns and Chips. That’s right. Fried seafood three nights in a row. Our server took one look at us and said, you look like All You Can Eat Prawns People!  Was it the way we were dressed?  Did she smell it on us?

My cousin and I joked that we have become the All You Can Eat Uncles, as our uncles had been at our age, when they ate so many oysters at the Mother’s Day oyster buffet that the staff started slow-rolling the oysters, pleading with our uncles that they were eating their entire day’s stock of oysters!  Stupid restaurant, didn’t account for Filipino uncles!  Bet they didn’t make that mistake again.

My cousin and I didn’t eat the entire day’s stock of shrimp; we stopped at two baskets. I asked if we had set a record, and the server said NOT EVEN CLOSE.  Wow, ouch.

On Friday I had one prep and one final. After the final I met my friends at Toronado, which is the dream bar of all my white friends from 1991 to 1997. There was a trip to Daiso, and then I met B and D. We went to the Oak, walked down the street to Bar del Corso, and then El Quetzal. I didn’t have fried seafood!  But I did have a bowl of clams…

Somebody is flying the Doug!

This morning (Saturday) I had breakfast at the Square Knot and then finished off that last stack of final exams at the Firehouse. I had a tuna melt at the Salmon Bay Cafe,  and then went back to my apartment, where both my sister and brother in law were groaning with the zombie flu. My brother in law groaned a “get out of here,” a warning to save myself, so I had dinner at Super Six.

The rice was slightly undercooked, I think they opened the lid too early after the rice cooker had finished. It was a little bit short on curry and I had to ask for a spoon… but it wasn’t bad.  The best part was the pickled pearl onion.

So I ate out at a lot of places this week, and the whole point of this is that finals week was bananas it was so easy. I’m used to spending finals week in tears, with stacks of papers, ungraded final projects and outrageous deadline stress hanging over my head. This year my gradebook was always current to the day, and my finals were so easy that I could have a social life. I wish this upon my coworkers in California; I didn’t know this kind of finals week was possible for a Spanish teacher.


The Snow Monster of 2020

At this time last week we were all trembling at the coming of the Snow Monster; she came and went and the details are already fuzzy in my memory. On Sunday, it started to smell like snow, and the prophets told us to prepare. Supermarkets were quickly cleared of yellow onions, russet potatoes, and bananas, as townsfolk rushed to fortify themselves with the traditional snow panic meal of fried banana hash (extra onions, please!) By midnight, the snow had started sticking to the ground.

I woke up the next day to find that the Snow Monster’s first pass was a teaser; by mid morning her wrath had melted away, and my school declared the roads safe enough to have classes two hours late. The other school, the one I used to work for, they had the day off, but I’m not mad or anything… That night I had an eye appointment. they dilated my eyes, and I tried to wait out the effects at a conveyor belt sushi place. After I had stuffed my great distended belly with sushi, I realized my eyes had not returned to normal and that I was tired and full of sushi, so I just drove home squinting through huge halos generated by the nighttime brake lights. It was fine.

The next day, Tuesday, the Snow Monster came and dumped her crystal powder all over the place, and it was enough to cancel school for everyone. Prophets told us it was only the beginning. I spent the day doing errands around the neighborhood, and working on a Pīnyīn pronunciation YouTube course. I thought I might see a movie, but I was sure that Snow Monster would give me another day off.

I was wrong, Snow Monster didn’t really come through on Wednesday. We had a late start, My journey to work was totally safe; roads were bare and wet, and it was daytime already, so the commute was no big deal, but I actually found the late start stressful. On a regular day I teach two classes, three max; but on late start days I teach five. Snow Monster started dumping snow in North Seattle during my last two periods; snow that was small and powdery, and blowing dramatically all over my huge bank of classroom windows. The students were totally distracted, but nothing was sticking to pavement. Finally about twenty minutes before the end of day bell, the snow started sticking and visibility dropped. My students all lost their minds, and an announcement came over the loudspeaker that all after school events were cancelled and to leave the building immediately.  I emailed my choir director to tell him it might be too dangerous to go to rehearsal.

I packed my gear, locked up, and went to my car, which was covered in a few inches of snow.  I put on my gloves and brushed the accumulation off my car, and cleaned of a car full of students who seemed to be content to drive with a car full of snow; they had only cleared a part of their windshield the size of a dinner plate. Anyway, I cleaned off their car, cleaned off mine, and started driving home during the height of the Snow Monster’s tantrum.  Four miles later, the snow had cleared and the roads were bare and wet again; I went to choir rehearsal without incident.

And that’s it. Snow Monster left Seattle and went to torment other towns. We had regular class schedules Thursday and Friday, which seemed unfair.

While this was all happening, my friends MK and M/T in the desert sent a save-the-date notice for their wedding this summer; another colleague J had her baby; a son, named Santiago.

On Friday, a student asked me to watch them in the student production of one act plays, and since they asked I said yes, even though I dread high school theater. After happy hour with the teachers I returned to work to attend the show. Coincidentally, I sat in front of some friends who I hadn’t seen in 25 years. We caught up before the performance started… time is bananas.  Anyway, the one act plays were both really good; the performances were polished, prepared, and intentional; the tech crew was also very slick. I was very impressed and pleasantly surprised. I like it when the school I work for is excellent at something.

This morning I attended a choir retreat. I met some friends for dinner at Dough Zone, a newish local chain that is not bad.  Tomorrow I have a quiet day to work on my Pīnyīn program and the next day is Dr. King. I’ll sing with a choir at a mass in Dr. King’s honor at Seattle U. The rest of the week is finals week.

To summarize, I am a little disappointed that the Snow Monster didn’t turn out to be very ferocious. I had been hoping for the whole week off of school. Maybe she’ll come back and surprise us before spring break.  You never know.

Snow monster cheese plate

Late start skillet breakfast

Snow monster Mexican food

Late start breakfast. Not all eggs are perfect.

I asked for a schooner of Manny’s. But she gave me a small. Turns out they wasthey was All the beer i needed.

Kimchi and sweet potato soup made by hippies. It was super good.

The local elementary school flies the rainbow plus black and brown!

The New Decade

It’s been 166 days since I left California and moved back to Seattle. I miss my friends, and I miss spicy Mexican food, but on the whole I’m glad to be back.

I love Christmas break. The only thing I love more than Christmas break is summer break. I spent Christmas in Vegas with my folks; five days of family time. We only went out once, to go to bingo. I got back to Seattle in time for New Year’s Adam. I stayed up on New Year’s Eve to watch some Space Needle fireworks on TV, but the fireworks were called off due to high winds, so it was just a Space Needle Light Show. They should have a light show at the Space Needle every night, like they do the Eiffel Tower, Taipei 101, even changing the colors like the Empire State Building.

What else? A surprise phone call from R, lunch with B, dinner with J, The Rise of Skywalker, the Mandalorian Season 1. This morning I got up early and took K to work, which means I had a free morning downtown… so I went to breakfast at the Athenian. Might try a different spot tomorrow.

Some bad news: Australia is burning, and this country just assassinated an Iranian general at the Bagdad airport… with a drone of course.  What a mess; I hope this impeached president gets removed, and his followers swept out of power.

I have 166 days left in the school year, and then I will probably get my own apartment.  I want to either be near my sister, or near a train station, or near work.  I have a lot of time to figure it out.


Simbang Gabi 2019

I gave the homily at the 12:00 mass today. I had been asked to prepare it a week ago… which I did! But after hearing Fr. Mumba’s homily I felt pretty stupid about what I had written, basically some random observations about prophecy and a bunch of jokes about Filipino soap operas.

Lucky for me I was able to get it together, print it off, find my barong tagalog, and get to the church with 10 minutes to spare. The way I just described it makes it sounds like I was in control, but I was basically in crisis mode.

Here’s the homily I ended up giving.

It was a really cool Simbang Gabi celebration, the group really did a good job. I think they said that lunch was catered by Fou Lee; I had the chop suey (there was sitaw in it!) and a veggie lumpia. Actually the best thing I ate was white rice, which is not that big of a deal but I haven’t eaten white rice in months!

So I saw a lot of old friends today, and a lot of people introduced themselves. Also I love the music at that 12:00 mass, it’s the Shades of Praise choir that I used to sing with 20 years ago, and they sang some songs I had forgotten but apparently were engraved into my memory with lasers. Also, they sang “How Excellent” at communion, which is a song that we sang at Baccalaureate Mass back at XCP, and was considered very special… at St. T’s it’s a communion song, and everybody sings along on their way up to receive. There’s no place like home.

I’m currently at the airport, waiting for my flight to Vegas to visit my folks. In the luggage check area I ran into a colleague from O’Dea, who I used to teach with back in 1998.

My New Gig

I report to work at 7:30 am; I take the tunnel from West Seattle and get to work in 20 minutes.  Classes start at 8:00 am but I never have a first period class. It’s a block schedule, so I spend the whole 85 minute block checking homework and shoring up the lesson plan.

On Green Days, I teach three sections of Spanish II; on Gold Days, I teach two sections of Spanish I. That’s it; two preps. At the end of the day I’m available to students until 3 pm, and students rarely come. If there’s quizzes to grade, I stay and grade them, and then leave my classroom between 4 and 5 pm. Unless there are exams or projects to grade, I don’t take any work home; I don’t even take my computer home. The only thing I bring home in my backpack is my lunchbox. I go home and watch TV in sweatpants, with no papers to grade in my lap. I joined a drum circle on Monday nights, have choir rehearsal on Tuesday nights, and have a standing happy hour on Friday nights.  I’ll try to schedule a ukulele lesson on Wednesday or Thursday nights. I wanted to join a curling club, but it turns out they meet on Tuesdays. The point is that weekends belong to me.

On weekends, unless I have exams or projects to grade, I don’t work. I take weekends off. That time is mine; I practice the ukulele, do laundry. Meal prep. Blog.

I think most other teachers are used to this kind of groove, they figured it out a long time ago. Not for me. Since 1999, I’ve never had fewer than three preps, and I was always behind on grading. Nowadays, my gradebook is usually up-to-date by 9 am every day.

All my classes this year have been pre-planned; exams and quizzes are mostly written. Sometimes I help create a project, and I always plan ones that are easy to grade with a rubric.

So it’s a pretty easy life. I do work hard at work, but for the first time in my teaching career I’m finally able to leave work at work. The one thing that I miss about busting ass all week is that I got pretty close to my other teacher friends who were also busting ass.