Another throwback, this time from 2017. This was the first chapter of an abandoned book project on learning languages, before I realized I didn't really have much new to say about the actual mechanics of learning languages. Though I do still quite like the "theory" I talk about, and do plan to explore these ideas more in future writing. It will not be a "how-to" guide like this was, though.
This abandoned book is quite long, however, so it'll be coming in multiple parts...
The bigger of the two had just left to take a piss. I didn't like him and smelled trouble . I didn't like his friend, either, but he at least seemed more harmless.
I told my girlfriend at the time, "Let's go home. I'm tired of these guys already." It was about 2:15 in the morning, and we'd been out drinking with a girlfriend of hers.
"Yeah, I don't like them either."
"Does your friend want them here?"
"No, she doesn't want them here."
Finally, a clear fucking answer from one of the two of them. I went up to her friend, whose home we were at, and whispered in her ear, "Do you want them here?"
We'd met the two guys at one of the bars, and they essentially invited themselves along with us. When my girlfriend's friend let them in her apartment, she'd been the model host. Suddenly, she looked at me with alarm in her eyes.
"No," she whispered back.
Trying not to think too much about it, I went up to the guy that was still in the living room. Politely, I explained that we were tired and wanted to be alone, but I also made it clear: "The two of you should go." I was suddenly very aware that my heart was pumping blood at a mile a minute, and my system was flooding with adrenaline.
He was apologetic and suddenly aware that he had trespassed some invisible boundary. He excused himself and started to get ready to leave. I turned around. His friend had come in from the bathroom, and either he had overheard or our host had explained to him the situation. He was sneering at me, sizing me up. But he backed down. He was a smartass about leaving, but the two of them left without incident.
I locked the door behind them.
How in the hell did two guys we didn't like wind up hanging out in one of our homes with us?
My girlfriend, who I am no longer seeing, had just finished her exams for the semester.
She is from Toulouse, France, and was in the first year of her Master's program. I'd been living with her for two and a half months. After studying for a month straight for her exams, extremely stressed, she was looking forward to a night out having fun with her friend from her program.
We went to her friend's place, whose boyfriend was out at a work event, and drank. My girlfriend and I were already tipsy from the three or so glasses of wine we'd had at dinner. At her friends place, we polished off a round of beers, a bottle of wine, and a sizeable amount of vodka during a drinking game. Trying to save money, I didn't particularly want to go out, and we were having a hell of a good time anyway. They did want to go out, however, so we went to a nearby bar. We hadn't even finished one round before my girlfriend shouted into my ear over the loud music, "We're going somewhere else!" Not particularly caring, I nodded along and started putting on my coat. The two girls walked out the front door without me.
When I joined them outside, they were talking to three men. To put it politely, they were scruffy and rowdy. It seems the friend of my girlfriend wanted to go sing karaoke. I liked karaoke, so that was fine by me. I did not, however, understand why we continued to engage in a conversation with these men we didn't know. I'm all for being friendly, don't get me wrong, and I'll strike up a conversation with most anyone. But these three gave me a bad feeling from the beginning.
I don't know whether the friend invited them along to karaoke, or if they invited themselves, but when we left one of the three was tagging along with us. He was friendly if a bit weird. I made small talk with him for a while as the two girls led the way to the karaoke bar, but eventually grew bored and hoped he would go away. He kept looking back and lingering, waiting for his two friends to catch up. I hoped he would join them and we wouldn't see any of the three again. Call me churlish, but I wasn't in the mood to make new friends, at least not with him and his crew.
The karaoke place was shit. The DJ told me they weren't taking new song signups. What's the point of a karaoke place where you can't sing? I asked my girlfriend and her friend if they wanted to stay. They were noncommittal. I waited outside for them.
They eventually came outside with the guy still hanging on like a bad case of lice. All the bars were closing, my friends said, closing time being 2am. The guy invited us back to his place. My girlfriend asked me what I wanted to do. I did not want to go to this guy's home. Instead, I said, we're still near her friend's place, why don't we go back there and have a drink before heading home. The guy seemed to invite himself, or assume he was invited by default. I didn't want him to come. I thought he was weird, and I had that nagging bad feeling about him that is all too easy to ignore. I didn't say anything because I hadn't had a chance to talk with my girlfriend and her friend about him, and her friend seemed to enjoy talking with him. Looking back, I wonder if I should have spoken up at this point. Probably. I didn't, though.
While walking back to the friend's place, I talked with my girlfriend about the situation and expressed my concerns that he was tagging along, saying I didn't like him and didn't want him to come back with us. My girlfriend was apathetic and resigned. "That is the way things are in France," she said, "You meet people and they come partying with you."
I was flabbergasted. That happened anywhere, but not if you didn't like the people you met. She claimed she hadn't had a chance to talk with them enough to have a sense for whether she liked him and his friends or not. Despite her being there and talking to them before I even showed up outside the first bar, I took her at her word. It was the easiest thing to do.
The guy went off to find his friends, coordinating with my girlfriend's friend to meet us at her place. I was wary, and as soon as he left I expressed my doubts.
"He was a bit weird, and frankly I don't feel like meeting up with him or his friends."
My girlfriend and her friend were again noncommittal, and my girlfriend once again reiterated that that was simply how things were in France. "Bullshit", I thought, but I bit my tongue. Secretly I was hoping they wouldn't show up.
On the way back to her place, just the three of us, the friend was nearly hit by a drunk driver who slammed on his brakes right as I was reaching to pull her out of the way. I mention this because if I wasn't already worked up from the thought of these guys joining us, then that certainly did it. I cussed and yelled at the car as it sped off.
We got back to the friend's place, and sat singing Karaoke songs somewhat halfheartedly for fifteen minutes until the friend's phone rang. She answered it without thinking, apparently believing it was her boyfriend on his way back from his event. It was the guy we'd met, and he'd brought a friend. Panicking, my girlfriend's friend invited them up, not knowing how to say no. At this point, her body language was pretty clear that she did not want the two of them there. She seemed surprised and dismayed that they'd actually shown up.
As the friend went to open the door for them, I looked at my girlfriend with a look of disbelief. She said something to the effect of, "I don't know why she's letting them up. She thought it was her boyfriend calling her." She seemed apprehensive but not overwhelmingly so.
They came up. The friend of the guy who had tagged along with us was tall, big, and frankly, a douchebag. Admittedly, I was rather dismissive towards them. I didn't want them there, and still had adrenaline running from the drunk driver incident. I made no effort to be friendly.
My girlfriend's friend found a Michael Jackson karaoke song and put it on. Halfheartedly sung lyrics came out from the group. The big guy asked why I wasn't singing along.
To be honest, I hadn't ever really listened to Michael Jackson and didn't care for his music. I shrugged and dismissed him. Any respectful, decent person would have left me alone. He insisted, and I shrugged him off again.
Then he asked me where the toilet in the apartment was. I told him. He pointed in the opposite direction and asked if it was there. I asked what was wrong with him. This went back and forth like this for a full minute or so, the guy trying to bait a response from me. I simply refused to play ball, ignored his games, and treated him like the idiot he was. "I just told you where the bathroom was. Why don't you go?"
It was clear to me: this guy was trying to fuck with me. He was trying to intimidate me in some way to take control of the situation. Intuitively, on an energetic level, I felt how aggressive he was and how little he cared about other people to come into someone else's home and fuck with the people there.
It felt like a high stakes game of poker, seeing who would fold first. It wasn't about the bathroom at all. It felt positively medieval.
That's when I had asked my girlfriend if she wanted to leave.
Amazingly, my girlfriend didn't even notice that a power play had occurred between me and the big guy, despite being seated right next to me- and in between me and him- the entire time. I thought maybe I was crazy for acting the way I did. Then I remembered the objective facts: both women had told me they were uncomfortable with the two strangers and did not want them there.
At the same time, there seemed to be some sort of willful ignorance from my girlfriend and her friend, and not just about this, but about who those guys were, what they wanted, and them even coming along with us in the first place- until they were already in the apartment.
Singing karaoke for a few songs, just the three of us, distracted me from what was going on inside me. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein had just replaced all the blood in my veins with pure electricity. Distractedly, I downed Coke mixed with a splash of vodka. But we had to leave to catch the last metro back to our place, so we said goodbye. The friend thanked me for helping her. My girlfriend and I walked in silence to the metro.
"Are you mad?" My girlfriend asked. I couldn't believe she could even be asking me that.
"I'm not mad, certainly not at you, but I am worked up as hell. It will take me a while to calm down. Are you not upset at what happened?"
All she could say was, Good thing you were there, over and over again. But from the nonchalant, flippant tone of her voice, I could tell it was simply words with no feeling behind it. She was saying it to appease me.
Jesus Christ. Again with the willful ignorance.
We walked from the last metro station to our apartment. I didn't press the issue as I was too busy feeling the electricity flowing through my veins, marveling at the fact that nothing around me seemed to escape my awareness. Every fiber of my body felt awake, energized, ready to leap into action. Rather than being in my head, daydreaming or being self-absorbed, I found myself attuned to everything around me, and everyone who passed. I had the sense that I could read their intentions in some way. For example, things were energetically dead among the passengers on the metro, but on the way home, my awareness spiked as two specific young men went walking past. It only happened with them, and no one else on the way home. Maybe it was my own nerves after what had just happened, or maybe it was me picking up on some vague, barely expressed impulse on their part. Maybe both.
Without thinking, I tugged my girlfriend gently by the jacket back onto the curb as she almost stepped out in front of a car that had the right of way. It had happened automatically, my instincts far ahead of my conscious mind.
We advanced towards the apartment. She continued to say, "you're still mad."
I reflected as we marched up the long hill towards home, still scanning 360 degrees automatically, as if this behavior had been programmed into my genes all along, waiting to be expressed. It sure as hell felt that way.
I'd been in a melancholic slump for the past several weeks, unproductive at work and barely able or willing to leave the apartment. I burned through books until I got so bored I couldn't bear reading anymore. I'd spent most of that day before going out watching stupid YouTube videos.
But goddamn, I felt so fucking alive and purposeful and honest right then. I felt I was right where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing. Don't get me wrong. I don't think that what I did was heroic and special. In the end, all I did was tell (politely) two unwanted guests to leave. People do that all the time with no fanfare.
I'd done something similar a few months before, before joining my girlfriend in Toulouse. I was visiting a friend from my childhood in Columbus, Georgia. He invited me out with his friends. We were having a nice time, and had struck up a conversation with a guy who claimed to be an Army soldier stationed at Fort Benning. I'd had the sense he was a weird guy, but a bit lonely. I chatted with him for a bit, then went and talked with some others in the group.
I didn't see it happen, but a girl from the group came up to me and my friend and complained that the soldier had smacked her ass. She was clearly not comfortable being around him and was seeking safety with the larger group. Stunned, I looked over. The guy was still chatting with some in the group, clearly oblivious to this woman's distress.
I thought about it for a second, then marched over. I explained to him, quite politely, that we were friends trying to catch up, he'd made us uncomfortable, and that he should leave. He apologized, but claimed he had done nothing wrong. I was insistent that he leave. He tried explaining himself, and I walked away from him. He got the hint and left.
I had my fifteen minutes of fame in the little group. The brother of the offended woman admitted he wished he'd have had the guts to go up and do what I did. I didn't say what I was thinking: that I had spent all of my life up till that moment wishing the same thing, loathing myself for my own perceived cowardice.
My conscience is complicated by the fact that I've done stupid, insensitive things to women myself. Hell, I'd smacked a girl on the ass myself, earlier that year. Me and my friends were drunk, one especially brazen friend suggested I do it, and without thinking I found myself swinging.
And I've been smacked on the ass myself, numerous times, by both men and women. The one time it happened to me truly maliciously, from another man, I felt humiliated. I still feel my blood boil when I think about it. I still wish I'd have turned right around and socked him.
I still wish I thought about how that experience made me feel before I smacked that women on her ass in that bar in Budapest.
"You're still mad."
I thought about my girlfriend's words. "Yes, I'm still mad. I think maybe it's hard for you to understand, but there's still adrenaline coursing through my veins. I don't think it's sunk in for you what happened back there. Two guys invited themselves into your friend's apartment. No one wanted them there. And yet they were still with us in your friends apartment. So, yes, I'm still mad. I'm not mad at you, or at your friend. But this event has profoundly shaken me."
And it had. How did it come to that? And yes, what if I had not been there? What might have happened?
We see each day a new story of women who didn't feel capable saying no to men who were in a position of power over them. And we need women to feel capable saying no.
At the same time, the willful ignorance displayed by my girlfriend and her friend distressed me. How could they not see what was going on? There's only one reason a guy goes back to a girl's place at 2:30 in the morning. It is to have sex. Women know this too. And yet, this willful ignorance still persists. I say this, hard as it is to believe, without excusing any behavior from the men. You can see the same willful ignorance in the moment in many of the high profile abuse and harassment cases that came out over the past couple of years.
These two women- my girlfriend and her friend- did not feel comfortable saying no, and more distressingly, did not even feel the need to say no until the men were already in an apartment with them, when it was precisely the hardest for them to say no.
What might have happened, indeed, had I not been there? My girlfriend and her friend clearly had no intention of drawing boundaries with those men- else they would have never made it into the apartment. Once you allow someone to cross your boundaries once, it gets progressively harder to stop them the next time.
Most guys have good hearts and want to treat women respectfully. And despite the story I've told, I have no way of knowing for sure what the two guys would have done, what their intentions were, and whether or not they would respect a "no" or even be attuned enough to the women to know whether or not to even try anything. But the point here is that the continued silence of the two women made it a moot point. All they had to do was continue to be willfully ignorant and pretend that what was happening around them was not happening.
And, I admit it, there was a part of me that wondered if my girlfriend (and her friend) actually wanted something to happen with them. That would be one explanation for their behavior.
"But I can tell you're mad at me."
I thought about it some more. I typically would have assured her I was not mad to avoid an argument. We'd been arguing too much recently. But as on fire as I was feeling, I literally felt no desire or capacity for deceit, no matter how insignificant it might seem. I felt truly myself. And it started with speaking up in a difficult situation.
"Yes, I am mad at you to a certain extent. I am angry that you do not seem to realize what a difficult situation that was. I am angry that you did not pick up on what was going on, heed my warnings about these guys, and take what was going on seriously until they were already in your friend's flat. They were in her flat. You two had already shown you weren't willing to say no up to that point. When were you going to start saying no?"
Walking up the steep, abandoned street at 3am, my girlfriend protested. "But I had told you she didn't want them there!"
"Yes, after they were already up!"
"No, I told you when they called!"
At that point, all the bottled-up anger came spilling out of me. Icily, calculatingly, I seethed:
"Bullshit. Bullshit. I blame myself for not taking action sooner, but do not lie to me and tell me you said something you did not. That is a fucking cowardly thing to do. Yes, I am venting some of my anger at the situation and at these two guys at you, and I am sorry for that. But do not lie to me about what you said. I told you over and over again I did not like these guys and was not comfortable with them, and you said nothing until they were already in your friend's place."
"But I couldn't have known they were weird! I didn't talk with them!"
Ah, this excuse again. "You were there and you went through the same interactions with them as I did. You cannot pretend you did not pick up on anything. And if you didn't, then that is even more fucking worrisome."
We got home. I checked the door behind us and locked both locks. I took off my jacket, powered into the bathroom, and sat down to have a moment to myself. I wanted to smash something and I wanted to cry. Compared with tonight, everything up to this point felt like a frivolous game. This was the first time I was standing up for someone I really knew and loved, where the stakes seemed real. I felt anger and raw energy building up in me in a way I hadn't felt consistently since I was a child, when I was taught that feeling this way was wrong. That I shouldn't feel this.
That feeling it made me a bad man.
I walked out onto the balcony of the apartment, still trying to make sense of what happened, still trying to understand the events of the night and the reaction of my girlfriend. I felt deeply troubled by what had happened that night. But the overwhelming sense I couldn't escape was just how goddamned alive and purposeful I felt. And it only came from speaking up, in the moment, in a situation that would have been easiest to run from. It's a lesson I won't forget. By not speaking up, I am complicit in what is unfolding around me. When I speak up, I have at least discharged the responsibility I have in the moment. I have imbibed an antidote to future remorse. I do not want to babysit other people's experience, I have a hard enough time with my own. Perhaps next time I'll speak up sooner. Perhaps it will be easier with practice. But if it were easy, it wouldn't be a meaningful thing to do.
For whatever reason, my friends that night did not want to speak up.
I couldn't sleep, and only felt the desire to do something, to create, to testify, to mark time. And so I find myself writing this, trying to make sense of what happened, trying to understand my reaction to it.
When I worked at OU I began auditing an Italian Medieval Literature course. It was pretty awesome- we studied Italian classics in Italian. Because we were all excited about what we read and discussed, and just happened to be doing it in Italian, we all learned way more than we would have in a traditional language course. At least I did. I was concurrently auditing an Italian Conversation course that always left me unsatisfied, the opposite of how I felt leaving the literature course.
One of the juicer tidbits I learned in that course was the etymology of a cavaliere errante, or knight errant. Specifically the errant part. And why were knights errant in the first place?
Errare, in Italian and presumably Latin (and also Spanish, I believe), means both to wander and to err, or to make mistakes. In fact it is easy to see the common root of the English words errant and err. But why does one word in Romance languages have two meanings that seem unrelated?
The two are intricately tied together, however. To wander in the sense of a knight errant implies sauntering into the unknown and therefore taking risks. Risks mean that mistakes are likely, as well as valuable experience. Knights were errant because they had to quest, to question, to search, and could only find the answer through their wanderings. They had to live the answers and live the knightly virtues. Wandering was typically a dangerous proposition, and precisely for that reason it was also a path to unique and valuable learnings. They erred along their path, as anyone who takes a risk inevitably does. But as Joseph Campbell pointed out, "where you stumble, there lies your treasure". To wander is to err but it is the only way a knight could come into his own, prove himself, and pass from being a knight errant to a grail knight: one who has become a vessel for the infinite energies of the universe, through whose hands holy work is done. Before he could do with his hands he had to learn with his feet. With his feet he wandered and erred, learned and grew.
Or as Quijote himself put it, "who wanders much and reads much, sees much and knows much".
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
At a Meetup group I organize we were discussing the role language plays in our conception of the world. I brought up the idea of code switching. Code switching is a fancy term for when one person, often in the same conversation, will switch dialects or even languages if they are bilingual. Easy examples include a black person who speaks "white" around his white friends and "black" around his black friends. On a simpler level, think about how each field, discipline, profession, or even hobby has its own jargon that oftentimes is unintelligible to the outsider, even though the jargon is technically in the same language. On a plane once, I sat next to a Latina, raised in the U.S., who while on the phone spoke half of a sentence in Spanish and completed it in English. As a language aficionado myself, there's something about this ability to code switch between languages with such ease, and even in the same sentence, the way this Latina did, that I find irrepressibly fascinating. It took me thinking about it for a while before I understood why.
I came back about two weeks ago after spending a week and half in Japan with my family. One of my sisters lives in Chiba, and she got married on the 4th! It was a beautiful ceremony.
We spent a week before the wedding touring around some of Japan's most famous sights. Because there were 22 of us (a lot of the bride and grooms friends came from the US for the wedding, too!) we rented a charter bus to take us around for the week before the wedding. My sister and her fiancée planned the trip to a tee, so the whole thing went incredibly smoothly. And even though I'd been to visit my sister in Japan for Christmas 2012, it seemed like most of what we saw was completely new.
All in all, it was an awesome trip that we all had a blast on. So thanks to my sister and her new husband, and I wish them the best on their new life together! And in honor of the excellent trip they organized, here are my top five memories from the whole thing.
1. Fuji Sengen Shrine.
A 600-year-old Shinto shrine a short drive away from Fuji-san itself. Of all the temples and shrines we visited on the trip, this was definitely my favorite. It's not crowded like the Meiji temple (located in the heart of Tokyo) or Toshogu (a world heritage site), so I could enjoy the tranquility of the space more. And is it tranquil! To get to it, you pass under the first Shinto gateway and onto a long, unpaved footpath through a forest of Japanese cedars, flanked by mossy stone lanterns. The walk there seems to quiet the mind and prepare the spirit for the shrine itself. At the end of the footpath, a bridge takes you gently over a brook that flows so smoothly that it whispers rather than babbles. It is the perfect transition into the shrine complex itself, which seems so much at ease and in rapport with the forest and the stream that it would be hard to imagine one without the other. By the time you reach it, you're now attuned to the spirituality and majesty designed into the shrine. I'd say it is hard to visit the shrine and not feel spiritually cleansed afterwards. Traditional Japanese architecture and landscaping was truly genius in this respect.
2. Traditional Japanese inn and hot springs on the Angry Ogre River
About halfway through the trip we stayed for a night at an inn on the Kinugawa, or Angry Ogre, river. The place was both a traditional Japanese inn and a hot springs bath. It was an incredibly pleasant experience because, besides being relaxing, the whole thing was very immersive. The rooms don't have any Western-style furniture. Instead, guests sit on the floor on low tables and sleep on futons. They brought us Japanese-style robes to wear while we were at the inn . My sister told me what they were called, but I forgot to write down the names. Anyway, once we got checked in, we headed down to the hot springs baths. This being a Japanese hot springs, that meant segregated baths for men and women, as they can only be used while naked. Once you get used to it, it's pretty awesome- especially the views over the Angry Ogre river. When we arrived, it had just started to sprinkle, so we chose the outdoor bath over the indoor one. The softly cascading rain made a comfortable contrast to the hot springs.
After drying off and changing back into our robes, it was time for dinner, again in a very traditionally Japanese fashion. That meant again sitting on the floor as they brought out tray after tray of food: all kinds of raw fish, fermented vegetables, soups, and rice. Many in the group were turned off by how "weird" (to us) most of the food was, but this was easily my favorite meal because of the whole experience that went into it. All said, I could have easily spent a week at that place!
3. Singing karaoke in Chiba
This was the closest thing the groom got to a bachelor's party. Basically, all the guys went one night to sing Karaoke at an all-you-can-drink karaoke place. Unlike in the US, in Japan you rent a private room by the hour or half-hour for your party and they bring whatever snacks and drinks you order directly to you. And since it was all-you-can-drink, we kept the drinks coming. I lost count of how many rounds we ordered, but even without them we would have had a great time. The groom's friends visiting from the US, five guys in all, were old friends and had no problem letting go and just having a good time- one of the good things about having a private room! That set the mood for the whole night, and soon we were all dancing, crooning out lyrics, and laughing hysterically.
Afterwards we went back to the hotel around midnight, but somehow me and one of my brother-in-laws wound up at a late night Ramen restaurant just around the corner, where we had a surprisingly deep conversation about the meaning of life. I say that given how much we drank, to anyone who understood English at the restaurant we must have been pretty funny. He and I laughed about it the next morning (me with a horrendous hangover). But you know what? Our Ramen Shop Philosophizing was a great way to end the night.
4. Nikko Edo Wonderland park
Nikko Edo is a theme park made to look like a 17th century Japanese village. Though the park was aimed at kids, we still had a good time here! We went the day after the Inn & Hot Springs, and the weather was perfect: sunny, warm and breezy.
I liked it because of how interactive it was. We learned the basics of katana fighting, archery, shuriken-throwing, and even dueled with "samurai" in the streets. A couple of the girls in our party dressed up in Kimonos, and a few of us guys went on a ninja-training obstacle course that we failed miserably at.
It was also fun for me because I was finishing up Shogun, the book by James Clavell set in early 17th Century Japan. So I could actually walk through a "17th Century village"- in theme park form, granted, but fun and enjoyable nonetheless.
Since I mentioned Shogun- I started reading on the airplane to Japan and I'd say it made the whole trip more enjoyable. Besides being an excellent book in its own right, it also gave a lot of insight into the history of Japan and where modern Japanese culture evolved from. Highly recommended read, especially if you're planning on visiting Japan!
5. The wedding itself!
I'm running out of sisters to watch get married off. Plus, there's something about seeing a sister (or any loved one, for that matter) walking down the aisle that just makes the tears flow.
It was a Western-style wedding, which apparently are very popular in Japan, held at a place called Camelot Hills in Omiya. The place tries to be a replica of an old manor-house, which a decently large chapel inside for the actual wedding ceremony. I'm not sure how faithful of a replica it is, but it was a beautiful venue.
The wedding process, based on what my sister described, is very straightforward in Japan: you pay a lot of money to a place like Camelot Hills, and they basically take care of everything for you. For example, Camelot Hills took care of the catering, DJ and MC, photography and videography, the minister, set-up and clean-up, and more. They helped my sister find translators to interpret during the reception and after-party (the ceremony itself was only in English). It was the job of one staff member to follow my sister around the whole night and constantly fix her makeup, redo her hair, and adjust her dress for photos. They had shuttle buses going to-and-from Omiya, right near our hotel, to make it easy to get there.
All in all, I was impressed with how smooth the venue made the whole thing- Except for having a shuttle bus drive off at the end of the night with all my things on board! But to their credit, the venue was great about arranging to have the bus drop them back off to me.
One last thing worth mentioning that was fantastic about my sister's wedding- the desert bar they had at the afterparty. Besides having a station where guests could make smores (the bride and groom met at a bonfire in Oklahoma), they had a mouthwatering array of sweets that made me feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory- on top of the wedding cake, by the way.
My favorite? A chocolate mousse topped with strawberry sauce, covered in gold flakes (yes, real gold) with a stick of chocolate stuck in the top. The thought that I was eating real gold made the dish taste even more decadent.
Thanks again to my sister and her new husband for the amazing time we all had!
Dillon Dakota Carroll
From my apartment, I descend onto the side street I live on. It is a dirt road, often filled with puddles from yesterday's rainstorm. The guard salutes me. So many guards, because there are so many people, and they need some way to earn their living. There are so many, there seem to be guards for the guards. But this one, unlike most, actually has a uniform. Crisp and blue, police-like. Always smiling and kind.
Five story buildings loom overhead, in various states of dilapidation. One can actually hear birds chirping, and with the soft wet dirt underneath, it all lends itself to a florestral sensation, despite the lack of greenery. But this street is deceiving in its peacefulness- it is a dead-end road, so only residents come down it, many of whom pass the day in the street, just sitting and watching, as birds on a telephone line.
100 yards to go, and I'm on the main street, one of the principle arteries connecting Gulshan, the embassies, and Banani. I wish I didn't have to use it. Because as soon as the road changes from dirt to pot-holed concrete, the obstacle course begins.
Hundreds of people- street urchins, businessmen, old beggars, students, shopkeepers, street vendors, guards, police- crowd the sidewalk, the sidewalk that ends and begins abruptly and that, if I'm not careful, could easily lead me to step (or fall) into the open stormwater channels that stink of rot and feces. Some walk, some stop, some haggle for a handout, some crouch down to relieve themselves in the stormwater drains, adding to the trash and muck already filling them. As I weave around the people, sometimes passing into the road, I duck to avoid the tangle of telecom cables that droop over the sides of the street. Hundreds of them, one for each person on the street, it seems. Swarms of rickshaw drivers and beggars buzz around, each hoping for a bit of money.
Trees sprout miraculously out of the sidewalk, the paving having been done meticulously around them, the bricks laid right up against the tree trunk. The trees here must feel strangled, but the green is welcome in a city of neutered colors: grays and browns and tans.
I walk past a tea walla. A small crowd is gathered around the rusty cart, drinking tea and smoking, as the walla deftly and expertly mixes his elixir of sugar, condensed milk, and tea, all for ten cents. Plastic bags packed with cheap pastries hang from the roof of the stall or sit in plastic bins on the counter space, and crushed cigarettes and plastic wrappers litter the ground around the tea walla like a Persian carpet, attesting to his success.
I cross a road, immersing myself in the impossibly loud traffic, each vehicle honking in unison, rickshaws adding to the cacophony with their bicycle bells, motorcycles growling past menacingly. The cars, jockeying for position, ignore my presence until the last millisecond. It is a harrowing game of chicken that often leaves me leaping out of the way of an impatient driver.
Safely crossed to the other side, I continue down the side of the street, which feels more alive than dead. Indeed, when entering Dhaka, one has the impression of entering the belly of the whale. Nowhere else will you find every square foot of the street so efficiently used, and not just to get around. There are all the street vendors: the tea wallas, of course, and food stalls (or even bowls of food set on a stool): puffed rice, boiled eggs, fujka, spicy diced vegetables with egg, pastries of all sorts, and even cooks making biryani rice in the street; there are the cigarette stalls and the stands where you can recharge your phone, there are shoe shiners and garment sellers, the ubiquitous beggars, the people-watchers, the smokers, the under-employed (those whose job consists of sitting around all day long), the drivers waiting for their employer, the rickshaw drivers on break, the snappily-dressed office workers returning from lunch. It is an electron cloud, cracking with energy and moving too quickly and chaotically to pinpoint with any accuracy.
Slightly out of breath with it all, I hurry to my destination, one more cell in the organism that is the street of Dhaka.
After my previous article on the ten craziest things that have happened to me so far in Bangladesh, I wanted to write a follow-on top ten list of the good things about Dhaka. I did have to think outside the box quite a bit to come up with ten, but here they are:
After a half-year long hiatus from posting on this blog, I'm back at it! Though, to be fair, I have been writing- and editing- a lot, just on a new project. Hopefully I will be able to share it soon.
Since I last wrote a blog post, a lot's happened. Chiefly, I moved to Bangladesh for a 2-year long position with an economic development company. The job didn't work out, but it did give me quite a few memorable experiences. Here are ten of the crazier things that have happened so far!
If the list seems slanted towards the bad things, it's only because I wanted to share the crazy anecdotes and hard-to-believe occurrences that come with living in a new place and culture, before everything becomes normal and mundane.
I hope you enjoyed the list! I am having quite an interesting time here in Bangladesh- there are things both good and bad. More coming soon!
This is the second part of the series, where I talk about how to implement the principles I wrote about in part 1.
5. Use the technology you always have on hand to create an immersion bubble.
Three devices form the cornerstones of my language learning. You may use other tools, and I encourage you to think about how you can use these to design for your desired outcome (L2 immersion) by making slight changes to your existing technology habits
a) My smartphone. I was planning on writing a more in-depth article on using a phone as tool for language learning, which I haven't gotten around to yet. My big takeaway though was this: Find 2-3 L2 immersion apps that form the backbone of your immersion, and put them on your homescreen. The hard part is forming the habit of using them regularly. I'd recommend experimenting to find the apps, and media, you most enjoy. In my case, I've used two apps far more than any others: a French radio app with several talk show channels, and Duolingo (more on that in rule 6).
b) My Kindle. This has been one of my best investments, period, particularly for language learning. I've filled my kindle with dozens of books in five different languages. L2 ebooks can be easily found online. I won't condone wantonly downloading illegal copies from the internet, but that is an option. For the honest folks out there, an easy way to get foreign language ebooks from a foreign Amazon marketplace (like amazon.br, amazon.it, etc) is to switch your account briefly to that country. You keep all your digital content and account information, but you can shop from that website instead. This is important because, for example, you can't get Brazilian ebooks on the US Amazon market. So if you're learning Portuguese, you can switch your marketplace to Amazon.br, download all the ebooks you want, and switch back to the US marketplace. All your content transfers. On that note, I think that because of the way the EU works, if your marketplace is set to, say, amazon.es (Spain) you can still download Italian, Portuguese, etc. ebooks.
Foreign language dictionaries built in to the Kindle allow you to tap an unknown L2 word and have it defined for you, right there. Even cooler, the Kindle tracks the words you've looked up and creates a flashcard deck built into the device. On the front of the digital flashcard, it shows the sentence the word came in with the unknown word underlined. You're getting the word in it's context, which is huge. On the back, it defines the word. You can also highlight entire passages you like and transfer them easily to your computer. For readers, a Kindle really does change the way you approach learning to read in your L2.
c) My netbook. I've loaded my netbook (as well as an external hard drive) with hundreds of gigabytes of TV shows, music, and movies in the languages I'm learning. There are plenty of sites where you can stream media from the internet, which I occasionally do. I still prefer to have the hard copies, however, because it makes it much easier to open them up at my leisure and watch or listen to them.
I usually leave a TV show or movie playing in the background as much as possible. In fact, as I write this I'm listening to a French dubbed episode of How I Met Your Mother (Season 8, Episode 2 in case you're wondering). It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that I learned Italian by watching How I Met Your Mother dubbed in Italian hundreds of times over the past couple of years. And yes, I really like the show.
6. Do small bits of active output in your L2 each day.
I say active to distinguish it from passive input. I think of watching a movie or listening to music as passive. I don't use the word negatively, but you're not really interacting with the media in those cases. Good examples of active learning for beginners are the language app Duolingo, and a Spaced Repetition System (a fancy name for flashcard program), or SRS. I've always used an SRS program called Anki. If you have a Kindle, you could even try using the flashcard program built into the device (described in rule 5), though you do lose your control over the content in that case.
On the topic of how to build an SRS deck, I'll yield the floor to those who know much more about it than I do:
I have mixed feelings on Duolingo but I do use it. Why? It's easy to digest because of its small, short exercises; I can do it on my phone in between bigger tasks, it supplements my passive input and finally, it gives me a sense of progress and completion, especially important in the beginning phases of learning a language. I plan on starting an SRS deck after I finish the French Duolingo exercises. No sense doing both at the same time because they fulfill the same purpose for me: easy to do exercises that gives my logical, conscious brain a sense of progress while my subconscious is busy soaking everything in. If buying a Rosetta Stone type program if your equivalent of this, great. In that case the price tag might serve as extra motivation to keep you accountable and you may enjoy that type of software more than the two examples I've given.
The exception to this rule is if you just started, in which case rule 2 is more important.
7. Challenge yourself to use the language in contextually meaningful or real world situations.
This is taking the "active output" idea I mentioned in rule 6 to the next level.
Reading is a great activity that I'd recommend trying before you feel comfortable doing so. I know it's not technically output, but reading comprehension is certainly an end goal that many language learners put off. If you're want to read a book for pleasure, try and find it translated. Find books you can read: start with kid books or books you've already read in English. Pair it with a Kindle to get built in dictionaries and easy flashcard content, or use the highlight feature to pull your own SRS content and build MCD style cards as described in the two links in rule 6.
Reading is the number one way to improve your vocabulary, but it also won't help with speaking or speaking comprehension. For that, I love video games. Playing a video game you enjoy dubbed in your L2 is fun, low stress, and best of all, it 1) requires you to understand what's going on, and 2) pairs the language with context (so you can understand what's going on more easily) and feedback (ie your actions in the video game have results, which confirms or corrects your understanding of the language). I use Steam to download L2 videogames. The trick is to change the settings of your Steam to your L2. The program will then download language packs for your games, automatically switching to dubs, if they're available.
If you're in a position where you can actually start talking with native speakers of your L2, then you can really accelerate your progress. One common suggestion is to find a language parent. This is somehow who doesn't mind talking to you like you're a toddler, gently correcting your mistakes, making an effort to understand you, and showing you around. I can say the language parent idea is excellent- I've used it myself in varying ways. Best in my opinion is dating someone who speaks the L2 but doesn't speak your L1. How exactly you go about finding a language parent is probably a topic for another article. Mainly it's a question of being personable and taking every opportunity to chat people up in your L2.
Tim Ferriss recommends you immediately learn the following phrases before any others:
The apple is red.
It is John's apple.
I give John the apple.
We give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.
Is the apple red?
The apples are red.
I must give it to him.
I want to give it to her.
I'm going to know tomorrow.
I have eaten the apple.
I can't eat the apple.
The idea is that by learning these you're getting all the basics of sentence structure and conjugation. For example, you can think of them as formulas you can plug new nouns into. If you can say "I want an apple", you can learn any new noun and already know how to express your desire for it. He also stresses using helping verbs to simplify your task. Learning to conjugate to have + a past participle (I have eaten, for example) is way easier for beginners than learning myriad conjugations for all the different kinds of past tenses. And more importantly, as Ferriss notes, with this structure and the extra vocabulary you pick up (focusing on the hundred or so most common words) you can start saying most anything you'd want to say.
I also hit up friends I have in Italy, for example, to skype with me on a semiregular basis. You can offer to help them with their English or in some other way. If you lack an existing L2 friend group, you can use language exchange websites like livemocha or ask your friends who have traveled, worked, or studied abroad to introduce you to a friend. I've skyped with an Italian guy that a mutual friend introduced me to in this way.
The End Game
How do you know when you've reached your goal? How do you know when to stop learning and challenging yourself to improve your L2? These are fair, reasonable questions.
But a better question to ask is: if you're having fun, doing things that are personally meaningful and important, and connecting with amazing people, all in your L2... why would you ever stop?
Learning a language well means inventing, creating, or redefining yourself in some way. The language becomes a part of your identity, and a cherished part of it at that, filling your life with fun, adventure, and meaning. Learning a new language and putting it in practice is the ultimate opportunity to write your own narrative and reinvent yourself accordingly.
Those are the 7 rules I use on a daily basis. They are not inclusive of all possible learning strategies, and in describing them I've undoubtedly left out many interesting nuances and useful tactical considerations. But they have served me well, and if you accept the basic principles then I believe they can work for anyone. Language learning isn't hard, and it's not rocket science. It does, however, require lots of sustained input (so why not make it fun input), healthy motivations (like an interest or passion for some part of the culture), and a bit of courage in its application. I trust that these ideas have mapped out a path, albeit a rough one, through the craggy mountains to the sunlit uplands of multi-lingualism.
...sees much and knows much