Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Trolls Eat Men

Long, long ago, trolls mostly ate the sheep that strangely stood
together in the fields.  Sometimes, men would run around making noises
and throwing things at the trolls.  When the men came close, the
trolls would eat them too.

One day, Albert, who was considered a very odd sort of troll, posed a
question.  He asked, "I wonder if the men mind being eaten?"

Mostly, this made the other trolls look at him sideways and keep their
distance.  It was crazy to ask what men thought.  How could men think?
 They were just animals in the fields, like the sheep.  Only trolls
could think.

But, Albert was determined to find an answer.  He knew that when a
troll was upset he would begin to breathe faster and more loudly.
Albert decided to create a test.

He would put two men in a room.  Albert would eat one of the men and
see which man seemed upset.  Then, he would record his results.

Time after time, Albert got the same results.  The man who was not
eaten seemed very upset indeed.  The man Albert ate didn't seem upset.
 In fact, he hardly seemed to breathe at all.  The answer was clear,
though not what Albert expected.  Men preferred being eaten to not
being eaten.

Albert explained the results to the king who made a royal decree;
trolls would eat men.  After all, it was what the men preferred.

And that is why, today, trolls only eat men and never eat sheep at all.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Losing Myself in Rota

I arrived in Spain on a military flight flying in to the flight line at Rota.  Rota is a Spanish Naval base funded by the US.  It is a fairly small base, though the facilities are a bit spread out.  The barracks for enlisted personnel are rather close to the main gate.  My first weekend in Rota arrived before I had been fully introduced to the area.

I decided rather early on Saturday morning to go exploring.  I walked out the front gate and headed southeast for the beach I could just barely see.  Once I hit the beach, I started following it out to the west around the point.  I had no agenda, no plans, and I didn't speak a word of Spanish.

At the point, I had to cut through part of the town to get to the rest of the beach.  This was my first experience with the evolutionary version of city planning.  Streets in this part of town sort of sprang up around the buildings that already existed.  Straight lines were unheard of.  You might enter a street going west and come out going northeast and have no idea where you were when you got there.

I walked along the beach for miles.  I don't really remember how far I went before I decided to head back to the base.  It was far enough that walking back the way I had come was very unappealing.  I decided to cut straight back to the gate through town.  Lest this seem like a reasonable decision, keep in mind the following: I had never been in Rota before.  The streets were confusing at best.  I didn't have a map, nor had I seen a map of the area.  Undaunted by these facts, I headed directly through the town.

After half an hour of walking, I began to feel particularly disoriented.  I wasn't sure which way I was going or which way the base was.  This was the first time in my life that I felt truly lost.  Just when I had finally decided to try to confront a local with my lack of Spanish, I came around a bend in the road and saw the front gate.  As has usually been the case, even when I don't know where I am, where I am going, or how to get there, I arrived exactly where I needed to be.

Monday, July 2, 2012

To Sleep or Not to Sleep

My plan when I left for Korea on a month of leave was to stay for two weeks, fly to Japan for a couple days, then spend two more weeks in Korea.  I couldn't stay in Korea for a month without a visa and I've always wanted to see Japan anyway.  Unfortunately, after the first two weeks, it was obvious that my girlfriend who I was visiting didn't plan to be my girlfriend much longer so I flew back to the US early instead.

My cousin Myron lived near Seattle with his wife of two years.  I had been the best man at their wedding the month before boot camp.  My flights were scheduled to go through Seattle already, so I just changed it to leave me there for two weeks, making for a rather extended layover.

I was twenty years old.  Sleep and I had never really been on friendly terms as it was.  During this two week layover, our relationship became even more estranged.  The entire time I was there, I slept for four hours, then stayed awake from thirty six.  It wasn't the healthiest schedule, but my racing mind combined with my youth were more than enough to keep it going.  In all the hours I was awake while my hosts were sleeping, I read and played on BBS's.

If you ever have a chance to visit, Seattle is a remarkable place.  Underground tours, a world class aquarium, the Pacific Science Center and Space Needle built on the site of the 1962 World's Fair, Pike's Place Market, and much more all conspire to form a quirky, engaging city with a remarkable and amusing history.  And if you do manage to get bored, well the Cascade mountains and Puget Sound are ever present sights that draw you into the majestic beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  Mount Rainier is an easy day trip from Seattle, as is Victoria Island by ferry.

My cousin also kept ferrets, in addition to his daughter, the most recent addition to the family. All little bundles of joy.

The whole stay was a wonderful interlude before I arrived in Spain, even if it did mean I didn't go to the Olympics in Barcelona, the other alternate plan.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Crashing the Party

Between school and my first assignment in the Navy, I had a month of leave.  It started in San Angelo, Texas, and in a month, I had to report to Rota, Spain.  In the meantime, I went to visit my girlfriend in Korea.

I've always loved languages, so one of the first things I did was learn the Korean alphabet.  It is a fairly simple alphabet with some slight irregularity in where / how the letters are placed in relation to each other.  It isn't enough to learn the alphabet if you want to, say, read the newspaper, as the newspaper uses a core of kanji characters, but for reading signs, etc, it was more than enough.

My girlfriend was a Korean linguist in the Navy, stationed at Pyongtek.  During the day, while she worked, I would wander the streets of Pyongtek, enjoying the culture and exploring.  It was during this time that I feel in love with yaki mandu, a fried dumpling with meat filling.  There was a remarkable woman, who fried them up fresh, filled with octopus, right off the street and they have long been the epitome of what I remember from Korean food.

During the nights, we would often go out to the bars, where my girlfriend drank soju and yogurt, a drink I never learned to stomach.  I was also not fond of the smell of someone the morning after drinking soju as you sweat it from the pores.  The smell of soju is a pervasive part of the Korean experience.  I had noticed a strange odor around town, but I did not identify it until I went into the shop of a woman who did not drink. In the fresh air, free from the scent, I finally realized what it was that I had been smelling all along.

After I had been in Korea for a week, we took a trip to a Korean resort hotel in Kyungju.  We spent several hours on the train while I honed my skills at turning what I heard on the intercom into the names of the stops of the train.  Vendors traveled up and down the isles with carts selling various snack foods, including smoked and dried cuttlefish, another taste I did not manage to acquire in my short time in Korea.

We had reservations for a room on the nicest floor of the hotel.  We had only planned to stay one night, a good thing as the rate for these rooms was $600 per night.  We checked in and went up to our room.  As I read the literature in the room, I realized we were not on the floor we had a reservation for.  Wondering why, I decided we should go up and visit that floor.

As the elevator doors opened, a crowd of armed men confronted us.  I don't know how many there were.  The sight of unholstered automatic pistols pointed in our direction served quite well to focus the attention and we promptly closed the door of the elevator and went back down.

The hotel had several restaurants on the ground floor and we had picked one to go to.  Upon arriving at the restaurant, we found the entire restaurant had been reserved.  It seemed like someone was thwarting every plan we made.  We went to another of the available restaurants.

We were enjoying our stay in a romantic location and I decided to book another night.  Because of the second night, I got the normal rate for the room we were in, which was about half what the room we should have been given was.

The next day, I was reading the local newspaper and learned that the North Korean Prime Minister was staying in our hotel.  That is the closest I've ever been to a diplomat of what can certainly be argued is an enemy nation.