Thoughts on Houston

It’s been a while since the last time I wrote about where I’ve moved to, if I’ve written anything at all (can’t remember at the moment although it’s been talked about on Twitter and one-on-one for certain). So in the interests of either filling a gap in writing, or being redundant and amusing myself by talking about the same things again, here we go.

Houstonians are, as a rule, ruder than people in South Carolina. I’m not sure why that is. Could come from everyone having to live so close together.

I have yet to find an Asian restaurant that understands the concept of sweet tea.

Traffic lights mean nothing. Neither do the lanes painted onto the road.

Many I’ve run across don’t seem to realize there is a world outside Texas. (Is this a problem endemic to Texas?)

The lack of income tax is more than compensated for by the higher sales tax and cost of living.

So far I haven’t said anything positive about Houston, and it’s a policy of mine to at least try to find something positive to say when I have a list of negatives, to at least pretend to have balance.

Unfortunately I can’t think of anything worth liking about this place. My plan from the beginning was to be here short-term, but it may end up being shorter-term than even I anticipated.

Culture Shock

Culture shock can manifest itself in the oddest of places. I have lived in the South all my life, so I am used to the Carolinian/Georgian way of doing things, but for the most part I don’t feel too out-of-place when travelling. Some of this is due to the effect of modernization on different societies (when I landed in Bogota I wasn’t sure if I’d left Atlanta). I don’t even feel out of place in Toronto, although this time around I did notice a few more differences I did not quite pick up on at first.

Visiting Texas for an interview was another matter entirely. The entire trip was a reminder that I was far from home in unfamiliar territory. Even though I am used to life near the ocean, and have worked at a plant on a river, there was much different. I did not figure out the feeder roads while I was there, nor was I sure what to make of the menus at restaurants (missing items I am familiar with), and the way of life I observed during my brief stay there was different enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

What are the odds that I would have more trouble adjusting to a town in “my own” region rather than one on the other side of the continent? Apparently rather high.

Trip to Thailand

I am sitting in the airport terminal in Bangkok as I write this blog post about my latest world adventure, my business trip to Thailand. Truth be told, this was not one I looked forward to. My preference is for the Western hemisphere, especially Latin America, if I must travel at all. Theirs is a more familiar culture with a language that I can understand at least to a limited degree. Here, though, nothing is familiar.

A few coworkers thought this would not be the most difficult of trips, because of the planned nature of it. Perhaps this could be true in part, depending on one’s perceived levels of difficulty, but elements of this time were undoubtedly challenging. To begin with, there was no opportunity to take a break from the time I arrived at the customer’s location on Monday morning until the final Saturday of the trip. There was not any opportunity to look around and see the country I was visiting, only work in a lab from morning until almost midnight, sometimes later. Granted, most hours were spent waiting – for the reactor to heat to the proper temperature, for the customer to be ready, for the reaction to finish. However, being stuck in a lab for 12 hours or more is unpleasant, especially when it continues for day on end.

To say the food was odd is putting it mildly. Thai food has a reputation for being spicy (and there is nothing quite like being given a dish covered in chopped chili peppers), although the dishes I sampled all featured something of a delayed reaction. The first bite is pleasantly warm, just enough of a kick to enjoy the meal, but with each subsequent bite the warmth becomes an unquenchable inferno. Sometimes there is even a delay of several minutes, so the heat does not begin until after the final bite. And then there is the food itself, not the spice. My trip provided me with the opportunity to sample ostrich, snail, and frog. Squid was also served, but one look at red and white tentacles emerging from the stew like a sea monster eliminated all desire to try that. It took several days for the food to be edible, and even then, my portions were small. It isn’t very good.

The last day was also a disappointment. The plans to see the city fell through yesterday thanks to a miscommunication that was not to be remedied, so I was dropped off at the airport for my flight to Seoul at noon. Understand that my flight was not to leave before 1 AM, so I was effectively stranded at the airport for 13 hours. Needing the opportunity to kill time, I hired a tour guide to take me around Bangkok for a few hours. That was mostly good, with some excitement at the end. Not even five kilometers from the airport, the car’s front tire blew, so we were stuck on the side of the road for about thirty minutes until we could get it fixed and moving again. Being stuck on the side of the freeway in Thailand is not something I wish to experience ever again.

I realize that this post is sounding like a long list of complaints, and honestly that is precisely what it is. There simply is not much to say about the trip that is not unpleasant in some way or another. I have never been so happy at the thought of returning home.

The above really was written in the airport, but now several months later I am including something else that I did not dare write while in the country. If you are not aware, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and it is illegal to insult the king or the royal family. Thailand has built up a personality cult that for me was totally unfamiliar. Having the king on coins and currency I would expect, but seeing his face on the side of a building, on a bridge, beside the road, and anywhere else you could think of… quite frankly it was creepy. And maybe the king really is that great, but it was unnerving hearing nothing but praise about the king. It seemed really unnatural.

All told, I really don’t want to go back any time soon.

Easter Weekend

Easter weekend was a welcome opportunity to see family I have not seen since Christmas as well as meet the Korean exchange student my parents have “replaced” me with. (He was staying with another family, but that didn’t work out all too well and since my parents have an extra bedroom now, they took him in. He’s doing better now.)

Anyway, Dad, Sung, and I left for Alabama on Saturday morning. Our destination? Collinsville Trade Day. I was going to provide a link, but their site died. For those of you who don’t know – I presume that is anyone reading this blog – Collinsville Trade Day is basically an outdoor flea market. People come from all over north Alabama and Georgia to sell or buy their junk.

And in many instances it is in fact junk. Today I saw, among other things, a bathtub and slightly used shoes, alongside the typical rusted out pieces of scrap metal. There are useful things too, such as knives and guns, some homemade crafts, and also produce (I purchased a quart of honey today), but a lot of the time you go there to laugh at the people and chuckle at what people think potential customers will buy. It’s also fun to talk to the vendors, if they’re willing to act like proper Southerners and carry on a conversation.

And since it was the day before Easter, there were quite a few chicks and bunnies for sale. I don’t know how many were bought, but I can imagine that the number of purchases made is proportional to the number of parents who will regret said purchase come Monday morning. Besides, after Easter most of the kids will no longer be interested. What do you do with a chick besides raise it for eggs or eat it, honestly? There were also a number of free puppies, as well as goats, guineas, ducks, and turtles for sale. I know at least one who will want to know there were also geckoes today. That was a first.

It’s the kind of event that someone should go to at least once in his life. For locals, once a year is enough, maybe twice. Furries should not announce their presence as such.

Following that, we navigated Lookout Mountain and stopped by Dad’s relatives. Many on Dad’s side were there… and about as many as were there were strangers to the coyote. As is typical, they knew who I was but I did not know them.

Lastly before leaving we stopped by the mill hole. Years ago, a mill stood in this spot, but now there is nothing but the foundation for the building, and a waterfall into a wide, clear pool. People still swim in it to this day, although it’s not the sort of place I would want to venture into without shoes or thick-skinned pawpads. There’s no telling how much broken glass or metal cans have accumulated over the decades. (For the record, I have never had the opportunity to swim in the mill hole, although this is something I strongly wish to remedy.)

My apologies for the lack of pictures, because I know my words formed a report and painted no mental images for you. To do that would require pages upon pages.

Encounter with TSA in IAH

Part of my line of work involves traveling about once per month, and my destinations are distant enough that I just about have to fly there. Setting aside for the moment the often-unpleasant experience of flying economy for long distances, I would rather mention another domestic problem.

See, I am not the world’s most submissive coyote when it comes to not just air travel but a number of other interactions. So sometimes there is friction. But I discovered something last week when flying out of Houston Intercontinental Airport.

Apparently the TSA this airport has started the new procedure of requiring would-be passengers to give them their name when the traveler gives them the usual documents (boarding pass and ID). It’s funny because the person covers up the ID and gives you a blank stare – probably the only one they’re good at – while you state the obvious. And then when you show the TSA that you passed kindergarten, they let you through to be strip-searched or groped.

But I was unaware of this new procedure, so I did what any reasonable person would do, something the TSA cannot stand: I asked, “Why?”

It is an odd question of theirs, considering my name and photograph are prominently displayed on my driver’s license and I bear a remarkable resemblance to myself. So I asked, “Why do you ask? It’s right there on my ID.”

Apparently that was the wrong response. I dared to Ask a Question, rather than Submit and Obey. The old, sunken-eyed blueshirt I had to deal with didn’t care for it. Shocked at my willingness to challenge their rule, she jabbed a finger toward the side and shouted, “Go stand over there! I don’t have time to deal with people like you,” as she radioed her supervisor. I waited a few minutes, so I kept asking her about the procedure, which prompted her to plead for her supervisor again.

Eventually he came. He explained that it was something they only did at this airport, and those who weren’t willing to comply could stand outside until they cooled off and were willing to Obey. I asked him who had come up with the policy, and why they had implemented it. Aside from saying it was standard operating procedure, he said he couldn’t tell me why.

In other words, there is no reason. This should be no surprise to anyone.

After a couple minutes I did give my name. It was displayed for anyone to see, so it was not exactly a secret. I will give them information they already have. Besides, I wanted to go home.

And of course later I politely declined the scanner, so they politely groped me. I have to get the full experience, after all.

They probably don’t want me to come back. I can’t say I particularly want to return, either.

The world-traveling coyote

Well, I mentioned posting some on the blog, and what happens? The coyote goes and does things that are not blog posts. Unfortunately you’ll not see what he was working on for quite a while.

Anyway…

The coyote has been traveling the world lately. Not a whole lot, just a few days in Colombia on business. The stay was pleasant, although the trip down was long and the return was simply terrible. I don’t want to go into a whole lot of detail on that, though. It’s really late here in South Carolina.

Suffice it to say that I have several ideas for posts in my mind, now, and if I get the chance to this week, you’ll see the first one this week. If not you’ll have to wait.

Pictures

Um…this is a tad late…As most of you already know, I went to TDY’s house a couple weeks ago. It was a lot of fun, but it was quite chilly.

Must warn you, though, that I don’t have many pictures (as DIOMers can testify). So I’ll give you two or three.

Here’s TDY at his computer.–Oh, and TDY? How do you survive with that internet connection?

TDY’s Dad

The best part of it being cold.–Guess before clicking!

Airport

I’m sitting in the Charlotte airport at the moment, waiting for my flight to Rhode Island. If all had gone the way it was originally planned, I would have been in the air a few minutes ago, but we can’t always have things our way.

Oh, well.

My next post probably won’t come until Monday evening or later. Y’all won’t get pictures until a couple days after that, because I like to procrastinate when it comes to posting stuff. There may be more pictures up on DIOM than on here. I don’t know. We’ll see. :D