Friday, May 28, 2010

On leaving and returning

Yes, I'll be back again no matter where I go
For it's only love that frees the fire for burning
Then I'll take you in my arms and tell you all I know
As I sing the changing song of my returning
-Phil Ochs

Those of you who find my habit of opening my posts with song-quotes pretentious will be happy to hear I texted that verse to Gyle a few weeks ago, and she replied, "Are you drunk?"

I wasn't then and I'm not now, but I suppose it's a fair question.

I've had a lot of practice with moving. Sometimes, it's easy to leave. I was definitely ready to get out of DC in 2004, for example. I remember walking around downtown during those last few weeks and thinking the place felt like a ghost town, with all the friends I'd made there who were now long gone, and while I was more than a bit apprehensive about going to Taiwan, I wasn't sorry about what I was leaving behind. Other times, not so much. This is one of those other times. The good news: I'm only going back to America for a few months (the exact time isn't yet determined, but I'll probably be back in Singapore by Christmas). The bad news: that's still a pretty long time to be away from someone you love. Still, I've been after the boss about getting started on the US market for quite a while now, so it's great that it's finally happening. And I do love long trips, so the longest trip I've ever been on should be an interesting experience.

But for the moment, it's the awareness that I'll be gone soon that has my attention. Singapore feels unfinished to me, everything very familiar and yet still fresh. I'm reminded of how I felt when I moved out of the student house in DC in 1998. I really thought I was ready to say goodbye to the place at the time, but in my very last days there I ended up falling in with a group of friends so tight-knit we actually had a bad reputation when it came to house parties because we slow-danced too much. Saying goodbye to that life wasn't easy, and I was only moving six blocks or so! In any case, I remember looking around the place and feeling like I still belonged there. It's a tough feeling to put into words, but I know it when I feel it and I feel it again now. Of course, I didn't know it at the time, but I did end up moving back to the student house about five months later (at least one person who had just moved in when I'd moved out recognized me thusly: "Oh, you were one of the slow-dance gang, weren't you?"), and I ended up falling in with another very close group of friends. This time, of course, I have the benefit of knowing I will be back.

And in the meantime, my first visit to the USA in four years is of course more than welcome. There are friends I haven't seen in at least that long to catch up with, and favorite foods to indulge in that one can't get here. And I have to try to remember that I'm there to work, of course. A lot depends on how well that goes, but early signs are that it will go well. But right now, it's the reunion in December that I'm looking forward to the most!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Today marks two years at my job. Which was orignally a 6-month internship.

I can't decide if I'm happy about this or not. When I moved to Singapore, the plan was to do this job to keep a roof over my head until I found something I really wanted to do. As I recall, I ended up looking for about two months and - after not getting a single interview - deciding I might as well stick with the one place that had given me a chance. Then a few months after that, the Wall Street meltdown happened, and I decided I not only would never get a job at a bank, I also didn't want one.

In other words, having sworn I wouldn't just fall into something after finishing my last degree, well, that's exactly what I did.

On the other hand, I've stayed employed over the past two years and that's something to be grateful for. I've also gotten to travel for work quite a bit, I have experience on my resume that I didn't have before, and there have been times when this job really has been a lot of fun. But as you may have guessed, the past few weeks have not been among those times. Things are slow. That could change any time, or it may not. Such is life with a startup company: 0-60 and back again in no time.

But I guess if things were really going to fall apart, it'd have happened by now!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An ordinary couple is all we'll ever be...

If you know me, you won't be surprised to hear that I have always doubted I'd ever get married. And if I did, I would never, ever get down on one knee and all that jazz. No offense to those of you who like that particular ritual - that's your choice, and more power to you. But I find it mildly insulting to both sexes. If I have to make any pretense of begging, then is it even really love anyway? I've always said if the woman in question had a problem with that, then she probably wasn't right for me anyhow.

One out of two ain't bad, in this case anyway.

We haven't set a date and probably won't for a while. Too much is up in the air for both of us these days. But it is at least as official as can be without a date. It happened over coffee at Starbucks a couple of weekends ago. There were no fireworks. (Just what happens with big elaborate proposals in a public place when the answer is "no", anyway? I don't think we want to know!) And, as noted, no getting down on one knee.

Now, what I love about Gyle - and why we got this far in the first place - is that she's fine with that. She wasn't expecting me to beg her for anything, she knew I wouldn't, and she's okay with that.* She's okay with having a fiance whose most romantic gesture is reciting the second verse of Bruce's I Wanna Marry You as one might recite a Shakespeare sonnet**, over a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs (yes, I'd had a couple of beers, courtesy of her flatmate). How could I fail to love that?

I don't really feel any different than I did before that day at Starbucks. And I'm pretty sure that's just the way it's supposed to feel.

*One of her predecessors once got rather upset at me because I'd collected the wrong number of Sweet & Lows for her coffee, even as she failed to notice that I didn't take it in my coffee.
**Another of her predecessors once asked me "Is that Jimmy Buffett, honey?" when I was realy quoting Sylvia Plath. And yeah, I know I'm probably the only person alive who could quote both of them from memory.

Monday, March 15, 2010


There is at least one silver lining to having no trips for six months, and that is that all the hassles of getting a visa and arranging the tickets are that much more bearable when the time finally comes around. Such was the case with the latest trip, to Shanghai. Chinese visas are expensive with a US passport, but of course that wasn't coming out of my pocket. And since I was glad to be getting out again - especially to a new-to-me country - I didn't mind the late evening flight either.

The Shanghai airport is a lot more modern and well-kept than I was expecting. Amusingly, the international arrivals gate was marked "International-Hong Kong-Macau-Taiwan," neatly sidestepping the question of whether or not those locations are international. (I have heard some amusingly nasty stories from my Taiwanese friends about going through immigration checks in mainland China - they stamp your passport, then shove it roughly back at you and grumble "Taiwan is not a country!" I renewed my passport back in Luxembourg in early 2008, so there was no risk of my having to explain my work visas from Taiwan.) All I saw of Shanghai that first night beyond the airport was our hotel. It was a nice hotel, though!

We had two days in Shanghai, of which only about six hours involved actual business, so there was plenty of time for sightseeing. This was complicated a bit by the fact that it was very cold, and remember, I haven't been to anyplace cold in two years. That was less than pleasant. But we braved the cold to visit the main shopping district, which was pleasantly busy and colorful. I got to see a lot of Shanghai from the taxi along the way, which I always enjoy. Even if it is just a drive by view, there is something really fascinating about seeing how and where people live in a place I've never visited before. Speaking of which, besides being cold, Shanghai is huge. I believe it was the biggest city in the world at one point, and it's still one of the biggest. It definitely shows from the route we took downtown!

Like I said, the shopping district was great. Delightfully Asian, right down to the fake Rolexes for sale everywhere and the hawkers working so hard to pawn them off on every Westerner who turns up. Speaking of "Western," there seems to be a Pizza Hut on every corner. But we stuck to more authentically Chinese food, at a local eatery. Along with the fish soup I got, we also had a round of the inimitable stinky tofu that was the bane of every Westerner's existence back in Taiwan. Since I didn't have to smell it being prepared, it turned out to be pretty good. Nice surprise! This was accompanied by Tsing-Tao, served in cans with the old fashioned pull-tabs that come all the way off - who knew those were even still made anywhere?! (It wasn't the only time I felt a bit like I'd been sent back to America circa 1975: smoking was permitted in the hotel lobby. I'm one of those lucky non-smokers who doesn't mind smoke much, but it was pretty strange to see people lighting up indoors.)

Despite the frigid weather, it is the end of winter and cold-weather clothes were on clearance, so I got a sweater at 80% off. It came in handy for our last day in Shanghai, which was spent entirely downtown. Like Singapore and its extremely hot weather, indoor shopping centers are your friend. I had a bit too much time to kill at one such mall downtown on Wednesday, but it was a nice enough place and there was plenty of window shopping to do. I also got to visit the Oriental Pearl Tower, probably the biggest tourist draw in Shanghai. Even from there, seeing the end of the city is tough! Quite a view, though. The weather wasn't nearly as chilly either, though I was still very happy to head south again at the end of the day.

I look forward to the day when our company can afford business class on planes. That would have made for the perfect ending to a great trip. Sleeping in coach is always an...interesting experience. But it was great to be back on the road! There may be another trip to India in the works soon. We'll see.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Comments welcome, but...

In response to a rude comment from an individual who doesn't even know me (and who, like most bullies, doesn't just give up if one ignores him), I have made a change to the comment policy here. From now on, all comments will be subject to my approval before they appear on the blog. I will, of course, publish all comments that are not rude or insulting to me or to anybody else. In other words, disagree with me all you like, just take the personal insults elsewhere.

I'm sorry to have to do this. I'm even more sorry that some people think anybody who cares deeply about much of anything is "angry". I admit that I was rather naive to write about the politics of abortion and not expect to be insulted in response. That's the Internet for you. In any case, comments are still welcome and encouraged - just play nice! Thanks.

A poignant but amusing reflection

I'll start by quoting myself, from the last paragraph in this post:

Rachelisms - Extremely lame excuses for not doing your homework, i.e. "I meant to do my part of the group project that's due today, but there was this party I just had to go to, and I got back at 4:00." The Rachel who inspired this one was not the one I knew in DC or the one I worked with in Taiwan, so if you knew me during either of those periods, it's not who you think. Interesting, though, that I knew these three different yet like-named women in the space of less than six years and they were all incredibly irritating in one way or another.

Emphasis added, because today's post does concern "the one I knew in DC". I haven't been in touch with her since 1998, so I doubt she'll stumble across this, but I'll apologize in advance if any feelings are hurt. (Apolgies as well to the numerous other women I've known by that name who were wonderful people! There have been many more than three.)

In retrospect, "incredibly irritating" is an exaggeration about Rachel-of-DC, but she certainly had trying qualities as a friend. To make a long story short, she was one of those people you think of as a good friend at one point, only to discover before long that, despite your best efforts, she really never knew you all that well. We had (and I still do have) several mutual friends who could back me up on that. In any case, one night several of us were on our way out the door for an evening out. Another of our friends said something that amused me (regrettably I can't recall what, exactly), and I responded that he was reminding me of a character in a novel.

Then it was Rachel's turn to speak up. "Hey Dave," she asked me, "You know what novel you remind me of?" She said it in that tone of voice people tend to use when they're sure they've come up with a witty rejoinder nobody else has thought of.

"Catcher in the Rye," I responded in that tone of voice people tend to use in response to what somebody else thinks is a witty rejoinder, when in reality it's anything but that.

"Oh, you've heard that one before, have you?"

Why yes, yes I had. I suspect anybody who has ever felt disaffected in the past 60 years or so has. Which explains both why I had heard it before, and why people like Rachel tend to be surprised that it's not an original thought. They're also the kind of people who find that book "depressing" (a matter of opinion, to be fair; but it's anything but depressing to anyone who's been in that frame of mind before) or who think it's 200 pages of "I hate everything" (which just isn't true). I will admit that nearly everything I've heard about JD Salinger's life since he wrote it does sound rather depressing. But I'm guessing he didn't see it that way, since it was his choice. And hey, more power to him.

All of which is just my anecdotal way of saying "thank you and RIP".

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blog for Choice Day

I have to confess to having been previously unaware of this, but today is apparently the 5th annual Blog For Choice Day. (One of the perks of living on this side of the International Date Line is that you can sometimes get away with being late on these things!) In any case, the topic of the year is "What does Trust women mean to you?"

For Blog For Choice Day, I can't help thinking my entry would be about the same regardless of the exact topic at hand. It would most likely start with wanting to explain why I am as staunchly pro-choice as I am; but I can't do that, because it concerns something a close friend told me once in a moment of alcohol-addled intimacy and then openly wished he hadn't told me.

That's right, he, and that brings me to what would most likely come next in any case: a rather bitter refutation of my inimitible ex's belief that no man has ever - not once, since 1973 - been there for his wife or girlfriend when she was going through the sometimes-unpleasant experience of getting an abortion. (And that would likely lead to me reciting her other greatest hits, such as "all men benefit from rape". But I digress.)

That, in turn, would lead to my addressing the difficult, but essential, point that yes, sometimes the decision to get an abortion is a difficult one for a woman, and sometimes she will experience emotional pain in addition to the physical aftereffects. That, unfortunately, is a tough one for us pro-choicers, since it creates an easy opening for antis to accuse us of contradicting ourselves regarding whether or not abortion hurts women. Here's my response, as neatly as I can put it: sometimes it does, but 1) that is not a reason to ban it; and 2) in many cases where it does hurt women, that is only because the anti-choice movement has done such a great job of stigmatizing abortion.

At this point, any response I make is going to have to veer into an amusing-if-it-weren't-so-pathetic recital of a few of my greatest hits from when I was escorting back in DC. (Tom Paxton said it best: "Some folks you don't have to satirize, you just quote 'em".) These included a lengthy treatise on how the abortion industry creates a demand in order to line the pockets of doctors with blood (this coming from a guy who once gave me a hard enough shove that I nearly lost my balance, and I am very proud to say I didn't hit back); "Margaret Sanger supported eugenics to rid the world of African Americans" (she didn't); "They're gonna kill your little brother!" (that one was directed at a little boy who was entering the clinic with his parents and a younger sibling in a stroller; naturally the kid looked at the stroller and started to cry); "Place of murder, place of death!" (only one time the guy slipped up and said, "Place of abortion" - I nearly spat out my coffee trying not to laugh); "Who's going to take care of you in your old age if you don't have any kids?" (I still regret that I didn't have the nerve to ask that particular woman if she'd never seen or read Like Water for Chocolate); and of course, the songs. Yep, they made up songs on the spot. My favorite: "The fruit of abortion is war!/Nuclear war!", roughly to the tune of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" from Cabaret, which if you think about it is really pretty appropriate.

And then I would have to admit to the rare moments of actually addressing the folks across the sidewalk as if we were both human beings. It didn't happen often, but it did happen. Of course I didn't tell them my real name; but I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I claimed my name was something extremely unusual, which of course clued the smart ones in to the fact that I was obviously lying. I did consider using my middle name and my grandmother's maiden name - that would be far off enough from the truth that I'd be in the clear - but odds are there really is an Andrew Mayforth out there somewhere and I wouldn't want to be responsible for his hate mail. If I really wanted to get under their skin, I guess I should have told them something very Christian, like Peter. Oh well. (You'll notice I don't repeat the name here that I gave them. Call me paranoid if you like, but remember George Tiller.) In any case, there were times when we actually agreed to disagree, and even a time or two when we could joke about things like the weather. One really cold and rainy day, we joked that God was obviously on somebody's side, but which? Once just before Christmas, the antis sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".

But such moments of levity were few and far between. Why? Ignorance. On their part. And that's where I'll finally get around to the question of trust.

You see, there were two distinct types of antis. First, there were the ones who just stood on the sidewalk and prayed. They were mostly college students. We called them "the long skirt brigade," in reference to the way most of the women (and I use that term loosely - they were very young) dressed, no matter how cold it was. I could have done without the part they played in making patients feel guilty (or at least trying to), but at least they stayed out of the way. Then there was the other type, the aggressive ones. The ones who got in the patients' faces and yelled and screamed and waved disgusting signs and did everything they could to make a visit to the clinic as miserable as they could.

What does that have to do with trusting women? Well, obviously, they didn't. And that their mistrust seemed to be linked to ignorance - ignorance both of what Planned Parenthood actually did, and what the patients were there for. Many of them believed - really and truly believed - that PP encouraged abortion, didn't even mention adoption as an option, and offered no other services. There were patients who were there for services that had nothing to do with abortion (exams, pills, etc.), but they made no distinction. They never even stopped to think about it. If we bothered pointing out that there were other services available, well, we were still supporting an institution that supported abortion, and they didn't approve of contraception anyway.

And that's because they didn't trust women. (Or men either, but that's another rant.) As one anti calmly explained to me once, his beef with us was that we didn't tell the patients about adoption on our way to the clinic. How arrogant, you're probably thinking; and so did I. Out loud. His response: "Adoption isn't mentioned much as an option, and I think you're arrogant for not mentioning it!"

The sheer stupidity of that comment was one of the things that kept me getting up at 7:00 on Saturday mornings for two years to go to the clinic. But it could be discouraging, too, when you realized that was the level of ignorance we were dealing with. They thought trusting women with their own bodies was "arrogant". How on earth do you even rationalize that? How do you put up with that week after week, along with the nasty pictures and slogans and female antis who were born long after Roe v Wade and thus don't even know what they'd be in for if they got their way?

Well - and this would be where the big climax comes if I were writing a movie screenplay or something - the answer didn't just come to me. It's a real incident that happened one Saturday morning. One of my fellow escorts was a grad student in women's health policy (or maybe the official title of the program was just "women's health"; I forget), and she told me about it during a lull in visits. Remember the Long Skirt Brigade from several paragraphs ago? Later on that morning, while my fellow escort and I were still chatting, two of them came over to us.

"Excuse me," one of them asked. "Did I hear you say you were studying women's health?"


"How come?"

"To fight back against people like you, frankly," my friend said.

The girl laughed, surprisingly politely, and went on to ask my friend what she knew about polycystic ovarian syndrome. It turned out she had several symptoms of PCOS (unexplained weight gain, irregular periods, etc) and hadn't been able to get any help for it because...well, because she lived in a world that doesn't have a place for addressing women's health problems. My friend answered her questions as best she could, and made some recommendations for how to get help. And then they were off to return to their very conservative Christian college out in Virginia somewhere, where she probably wouldn't have access to a doctor who could or would help her.

That is what "trust women" means to me. We were (and back in the States, others still are) fighting a battle that features almost constant hate and ugliness and occasionally results in somebody getting shot, but every now and then, a young woman figures out that she needs to cross the line for her own good. Why? Because we trust women, and they don't.

(A big shout out here to anyone from WACDTF if you happen to read this. Give my regards to 16th Street!)