Friday, December 28, 2012

My Christmas Story

Ray Bradbury, famous author of Fahrenheit 451, died this year, but in his life, he also wrote a story called "The Flying Machine."  In it, a Chinese man invents a beautiful flying machine, but when the Emperor finds out - he orders the execution of the inventor.  He explains that he sees what evil eyes would do with such a contraption, such as drop rocks against his kingdom from high above.  At the end of the story, he sees birds fly and realizes that his execution was in vain because he understands that birds were the inspiration for the inventor.  The machine would be built again.

When I was but a young boy, a witch and a warlock gave me an evil book of sorcery and magic.  Now - witches and warlocks of our modern time don't discuss the fact that they are these relics of a pagan past, and they certainly don't look any different from another human being.  So, as a kid how could I tell any different.  I was just excited that these two called me into a secret meeting, in a secret room, to give me a secret book.  Now, I was told to keep it in safeguard.  It was special - just for me.

I liked the book, and flipped through it from time to time, since I was given it.  But, it was an evil tome of forgotten magic, spells, and rituals.  One volume of the Tome taught me why men crave murder in the most heinous ways and how to use the blood of murdered men to divine the future.  Another volume explained how to seek the forbidden knowledge that got Adam and Eve expelled from Eden.  

Years and years later, people warned me I had a book of evil in my possession.  I didn't think anything of it.  But recently, while I was at Starbucks, a random man, a man who claimed to be a prophet, became urgent and told me he wanted to talk to me outside.  He said I had a book of ritual and magic and sorcery.  How he knew or who told him, I never figured out.

I returned to the book.  I flipped through it.  I felt compelled once again to not destroy the book.  After all, someone had put in at least a decade of collecting this knowledge - evil or not.  It appeared to be precious knowledge.  

But up to the days leading to Christmas, several people once again reminded me to burn the book.  I was going to shred it, but all three people reminded me: "That's not good enough."  On Christmas day, I asked my mother for the bbq pit.  I dumped the book in there and doused it with lighter fluid.

I struggled to know whether I did right or wrong.  I never burned a book in my life.  I remember my Indian Project Manager, an educated man, told me that his wife and him smacked their child only once in life.  Once.  And they did it at the same time.  It was when their daughter ripped a page out of a book and threw it against the wall.  

Now, I was going to commit the same act that Hitler authorized with his book burnings.  All that precious Jewish sacred knowledge lost - forever.  The Romans burnt down Cleopatra's library; the Romans burnt the knowledge of the Jews.  The Germans incinerated Jewish volumes of lore and wisdom.  Now - I wondered to myself if it was right to destroy this knowledge - even though it was from the heart of evil itself.

I took a match and threw it against the book.  My mother came out and asked, "Why are you burning that book?"

"Because people told me it's evil," I answered.

"And since when do you become superstitious?"  She said it in broken English.

"When strangers told me I had an evil book I had to burn."

"Well - I can see that's important."

I watched the orange and red flames gliding over each page and eating away at it.  The wraiths inside of the book shrieked and filled the night sky with screams.  The flames sent them back to where they belonged: Hell.  I just watched the hypnotic fire growing ever bigger, destroying my tome that I was supposed to safeguard.  And I did safeguard it I suppose.  No one would ever have this knowledge now.  I kept my promise as that witch and warlock never told me who I was safeguarding it for.  I did what Adam could not do when she saw her fallen Eve.  He took her hand and chose her over God and instead walked hand-in-hand out of the garden together.  Here - I made the decision that I didn't want this magic, and no one else would have it.  People have evil eyes and people have nefarious purposes.

When the ashes flew up into the sky, like bits of silver flakes, I knew someone put a ritual inside that book to bind me to it.  My spirit felt freer with every page that burnt, like chords that bound me being snapped.  Yet, my chickens and ducks, locked in their cage started fluttering their wings and clucking with madness.  They wanted out.  They were banging themselves against the cage, until the last page burned, and the flames drove the last demon back to Hell.

It was an odd ritual for Christmas Day.  And why do ghosts love to be present on Christmas day?  I took my mother then to watch Les Miserables.  It was a good way to end Christmas - to watch the story of grace and mercy re-framed for me.  My mother fell asleep as she said, "Musicals are boring."  I laughed.

When I went back home though, I had the most gnawing feeling biting in me.  That book - I could feel it.  There's another copy somewhere.  Who has it?  And why?  I suppose the inspiration to recreate its words are still out there. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Learning the Upper Cut

Once upon a time, a titan named Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus and taught man the gods' secrets about fire.  Zeus, the King of the gods, had the titan chained to a rock for his insolence.  Zeus sent his pet eagle to dive into the chained titan, and rip out his liver to eat, everyday, actually.  Every morning, the liver regenerated and the eagle would once again torment the titan.  Franz Kafkfa believed in three other alternatives.

He said that the torture could have drove the titan to press himself, his soul, his lifeblood, and his body into the rock - becoming one with it.

He said that the story became forgotten.  The gods forgot about the titan.  The eagle forgot about himself.

He said that the story became boring.  The gods found watching the same show over and over again boring.  The wound got bored too and closed up.  The eagle needed something else to do.

Now, being thrown out of grace and landing in a strange place between Heaven and Hell, which of those fates awaits me in my purgatory days?

In the boxing gym, Chief held the punching bag.  I threw a right jab, a left back punch, and right jab, again and again.  It began to create a rhythm, duh duh duh duh duh.  "Again," Chief would say.  'Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh."  Fast and crisp the punches landed.  Chief shouted, "Hey guys, look at this."

Luiz, my personal coach, and the main coach came to watch.  The extra pressure of them having me watch made me mess up and the sound came out as duh-duh- duh duh duh.  No good.  But after awhile, I found my rhythm again, and out they came: duh duh duh duh duh.  It had a natural beat, like all things do when they become perfected.  Chief said, "Hey, he's getting good, huh?"  The two other coaches nodded.

Luiz then took me aside and said, "I wanna teach you the upper cut.  But I know you."  He smiled, and even though he was Chicano, his eyes narrowed into Chinese ones.  No wonder they call him Chinito sometimes.  A Chicano that looks like a Chinese man is teaching the Korean boxing.  Can life get weirder?  He went on, "You're gonna try to get it perfect.  Think too much.  Just like you do.  Just relax and throw them out."

Chief added, "Just like his Chinese people do.  Need to be perfect."

"That's right."  I added.

Luiz said, "But I'm gonna teach you the upper cut."  That just sounded cool.  The upper cut.

He showed me the shadow boxing movement.  "First you go down.  You drop the left arm like a lever.  Then you pop it out at a right angle.  Spin the hand.  Scoop it up.  Then Boom.  Up you go.  You get the power by springing off your feet.  Got it?"

I looked at it and said, "I think so."  This one I could do.  I ducked down, looking like a wound-up jack-in-the-box.  After a few repetitions, I got it.  I sprang off my feet, released the scooping punch, and my elbow flicked up.  Upper cut.

Luiz smiled and said, "There ya go."

Chief said, "You want to go and punch into their body and follow up.  Knock them out boss, right underneath that chin; so they see stars."

"Got ya!"

There, I was, learning boxing.  But not like the Chicano kids.  No.  What I lack in technical skills, they could see I made up with the hard pressed demands ingrained in me from living with parents who demanded perfection in their oldest son.  Whenever I made a mistake in the boxing club, I joked, "Oh no!  My parents are gonna disown me now."  (Hasn't happened yet, but maybe one day.)

I finished off with jump ropes.  But I was so sweaty, that the drops of sweat fell to the floor as I skipped ropes.  The head coach watched me and said, "This one's dedicated."  I had the stamina from all the other training I did.  I suppose it comes from the unspoken family motto, drilled in my brother and me: dedication, determination, and victory.  And finally - no excuses.  (Though I think both my parents don't always follow what they preach.)

Anyways, after finishing with training, the head coach invited me to dinner.  They wanted to know more about me.  Why?  How does all the kids at the club already know my name?  They all know: I'm Paul.  They call my name, and I know only my coaches' name.

I agree to go to eat Mexican food.  I eat Mexican breakfast for dinner.  Chorizo con huveos (eggs with Mexican sausage.)  I love the salty crispiness of the sausage against the scrambled eggs.  The fatty rice and beats are tasty but just a filler.

We talk about our lives, and in a flash of a moment, I realize again, I'm living back at my childhood home.  It's a home that I wanted to run away far, far, away from.  And I did.  When I turned 18, I flew the nest.  But the Chinese are right - "Falling leaves return to their roots."  And to be honest, I am happy to be back at home.  Except, I find it strange that I have pets for children that all seem to have ESP and know and respond to my routine.

I had a flashback over the weekend about what my family told me.  My brother, his wife, their Welsh Corgi (a royal pembroke kind), and my mother were all in the living room.  The Welsh Corgi, neurotic with hyperactivity, barked at the other creatures living on our San Gabriel Estate - modest of course.  Once in awhile, she would lay flat on her stomach and sprawl out her stubby paws.  Very cute.

My brother, recognizing my struggling state, asked me, "Why did you ever leave New Zealand?  You used to live by the beautiful, blue ocean, and you were living like a prince."

That I was, I thought.

My mother added to the dumb comment, "Yeah!  You should go back!"  The Corgi raised its head and noted her raised voice.

How could I explain to them, I was too young to stop suffering and to live a boring life in New Zealand.  I always had this terrible vision of my future if I stayed there.  Let me tell you what it was.  I had a nice home by the blue ocean where the orkas came and went, a nice car, and the same job.  I was in my 50's, and I asked myself everyday that I woke up why I chose an easy life?  I asked myself why I had stopped learning?  I asked myself why I chose not to suffer while I was young?  To step into that moment, was me living a vision of a Hell tailored just for me.  My Mental Hell on Earth.  But, how could I explain that to the people in the room here?  All they cared about was the one value that destroys, desecrates, and demolishes an explorer's vision: SECURITY.

I scoffed inside but said flatly, "We'll all go back one day.  And I'll scuba dive and bring you all lobster to eat.  I make the best lobster too."

My brother said, "Yeah, that's true."

My mom said, "We should go."

My brother's wife said, "Maybe we'll go."

And I realized, hey Paul, Paul, you're at dinner.  Snap out of this moment.  You're day dreaming again.  People want you attentive here.

I can't really discuss parts of the conversation with them.  But I can say I got a glimpse of the world of boxers and their needs and desires and aspirations and failures.

In the back of my mind, I again asked myself: What do they want from me again?  I just started.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Getting an Offer in Purgatory - From the Purgatory Diaries

It's winter in my purgatorial world.  Sunsets are shorter.  I'm 30.  I live with my mother.  We have a chicken and a duck.  The duck is becoming a pudgy giant of a fowl and it hisses.  The chicken really looks like a black ghost - if you can imagine a ghost chicken.  In any event, Mom loves her chicken, which lays her an egg every other day.  People, purgatory is real, and whatever you do, don't end up here.  I imagine, or maybe it's true, that I'm a wandering spirit (yes in a human body) trying to broadcast this message to you.  

I was at the local Starbucks, where everybody knows me.  Why not?  It's a small town in the Valley of Saint Gabriel.  They know me because I don't even have a desk in the house because my brother moved out and took it.  We don't even have internet connection, which I find ok because when I go home I prefer not to use the internet.  I'd rather relax, eat my mother's delicious Korean food (and as mentioned I'm fed in limbo land), and watch the complex social behavior of my African Aquarium fish.

After I returned from Russia - Germany - Spain - and New York, I began writing my first short story.  I promised an aspiring Russian writer that I would do it for him because he promised to translate it.  I spent a month doing it, but after the draft was complete, I was still unemployed and had time to kill.  Instead of watching tv, or doing whatever the unemployed do (and don't do - which is work), I sat down and wrote out another story.  Writing became a way of taking my mind off of my washed up existence in my small world.  Boxing does it too - actually, but I discovered that secret later.

When the second story was written- I knew it was good.  I know, it sounds arrogant and self-promoting, but I need a little of that to go on.  I just read and have read a lot, the characters almost came alive for me, and although it wasn't in a polished state, it was written like a good story I've read.

I thought - ok this is publishable, but you need to jump through the hoops first.  So, I tested it with other people and got their opinion.  I even workshopped it at a writing group, who gave me candid feedback.  I was ready to prime it to send out to editors to accept.  I believed, as I heard from so many, expect the rejections - and lots of them.

I hate rejection.  It's the worst of all feelings.  You put yourself out there for people to say: YOU ARE UNWORTHY.  I put on my mental suit of armor, punched out a cover letter, and thought - oh before I send this work out for publication I better get a professional opinion.  Everybody in my circle who gave me feedback was biased in one way or another.   Either the were a professional and a friend.  Or they were not a friend but not a professional either.  I needed someone who would be both a professional and not a friend.  Only then could I feel like their opinion was honest.   Really, I was just trying to protect my ego before it took another beating from the rolling rejections.  If this story doesn't have a chance of flying - like my fat duck doesn't, don't send it out.

I submitted it to a professional writing group and never heard back.  I made up an imaginary deadline to send it out regardless though because I'm a type-A-neurotic personality, and it was approaching.  And that meant, I'd think of myself as a loser if I missed my fictional deadline.

Then one day, while in the Starbucks where I wrote my stories, I get a letter from a man who only has two initials.  In short, he said my story was good and crappy.  He showed me how well read he was, which flagged to both of us that we both knew what level we write and have read on.  He mildly praised it.  At this point, I was thinking, fine I know what I need to fix before sending it out for publication submission.  He said the ending was terrible.  And then he said the group wanted to buy it.  (After the fact, I imagine him to be like Peter Parker's editor - except he wears a bow tie but still smokes a cigar.)

My jaw dropped!  What?!  Hey - I didn't even solicit.  Actually the title of the email was called "Encouragement?"  I just wanted to know if they could encourage me to submit it to a reputable journal, which they threw back in my face and said, "Or you can go with a reputable journal."  They were trying to say they were one.

This is how it feels to be struck by lightning.  This is how it feels like to get your break - except I wasn't looking for a break.  This is how it feels like for a Hollywood waiter (which I've seen plenty of) trying to be picked up as an actor.  Trust me - I never seen it happens or really think it does, actually.

I took out my iPhone and called one of my first readers and said, "You're not going to believe this - but - someone wants to buy the piece."

He said, "Wow -"

I said, "I always thought this game was going to be a lot harder."  And in actuality, for my academic pieces, soon to be released in print, it was much harder.

The day before the news, I was having one of those crap days.  I got an email from a professor that was written professionally and politely but had a subtext of a message that made me feel worthless and stupid.  I think law professors are born with a gene that turns on the condescending switch.  I try not to let those things get to me, but sometimes, they do.  Both because of the difference in positional power and because I live in the liminal world in my mind, which is some place between Heaven and Hell.

Because I was knocked off my mental game, I had to talk to two friends who had much more experience than me.  They're like coaches who help you get back up.  And it made me be more grateful that I had those kind of people in my corner - for those times when I do get knocked out.  

So, getting the good news, and bad news, I felt like I was having one of those teenage moments of hormonal reflexive spikes of joy and depression.  Is this how manic depressives feel?  I'm back in my home city, I thought.  I'm back living my teenage years on another dimension, and the fleeting instances of adolescent de ja vu suck.

Anyways, time to focus again, something I'm not doing well of.  Time to line my ducks in a row.  I called a trustworthy friend and asked him to be my agent.  I know he's reading this.  He said he wasn't sure he could be my "literary agent."  It sounded weird hearing those words.  And I began thinking, come on, it's only for a short story.  (But I think, he felt like it'd be for future works as well.)

I assured him, who else could I trust?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Meeting My Boxing Coach - My Days in Purgatory

It was a long-drawn out internal battle.  I had already made the decision to take up boxing - a long time ago.  So - why did it take so long to actually learn? When I took up judo, I had a mysterious force literally draw me to a judo club, which practiced in a dumpy warehouse in New Zealand.  I walked in one day and decided to take it up.  I was a terrible fighter, who was so lacking in the basics, everyone could see it.  It's like how I could see the level of your education by how you read and understand information.  Then, literally, one dark and stormy night, a girl from the East came into the club; she was an ex-Olympian for Korea.  On the first night, she defeated the best male fighters of the club and made them eat the mat.  She was my master for two and a half years and really taught me how to make others have it.  Why, then haven't I taken up boxing, I thought? 

The thing about being in purgatory is that I have this nagging and unsettling feeling I've been here before.  This purgatorial deja vu is the kind of feeling one gets when he believs they've kicked a bad habit and finds himself doing it again.  It's the kind of feeling one gets when a disease goes into remission and comes back.  It's an evil force that shatters your hope and resilience.

But while reflecting on my days in limbo, somewhere in Saint Gabriel's Valley, I thought I should return back to the art of fighting.  The last time I was thrown in a world between Heaven and Hell, I took up judo.  Somehow that brought me out of it.  But how did I end up here is always my question?  I don't know, but I did know I had to return to fighting.  So - back to fighting I had to go.  (Sometimes I believe that I'm just a spirit living in a human shell with other spirits also trying to find their way out.)

I come from a poor area.  Just to quantify it for you - the average family here makes $20K a year - that's a mother-and-father household.  In my high school, anywhere between 12.5%-33% of the girls didn't finish graduation because they ended up becoming teenage mothers, which is almost a surefire road to poverty.  Down the street - we have the ugliest and the worst nightmare of neighbors that goes beyond the realm of imagination..  Loyal readers will know how the neighbor's Nephew pointed a rifle at me in July.  So - that's where I'm back in.  My childhood home - which is not all so terrible because in my threshold existence of real, unreal, mystical, and hellish, meals are good, and they are free.

But there is at least one benefit, perhaps there are more, while living in my childhood area.  My city is Mexican and Chicano dominated.  In general, Mexican neighborhoods in America produce few football players and fewer basketball players.  Those are two sports that require the tall gene.  Boxing doesn't.  Mexican neighborhoods make good boxers.  And I obviously don't have the tall gene either. 

I walk into the community center.  It's in the center of town, and it has a gym complex inside.  In there, I meet the head coach.  He tells me, "We're gonna start you off with Louis."  He's a good natured looking Chicano in his early twenties and just a little taller than me.  I shake his hand.  I tell him, "My name is Paul.  Pleased to meet you.  I'd like to let you know," and I'm not sure why I told him the next fact, "I'm 30."

He looks me up and down and looks at my face again.  He actually asks, like if I was lying, "Are you sure?"  He calls to an older Santa Claus looking gentleman, who's the old coach, and says, "Coach can you believe this one is 30?"  There seems to always be a Santa Claus gentleman in every fight gym I've been at. 

He says in a gruff voice, "He don't look 30 to me."

I tell Luis, "I know boxing is all about the footwork.  So, I guess that's what you're gonna start me on, right?"

"That's right.  But first I'm gonna wrap your hands."

He gets out the Mexican wraps.  That's what they're called.  They're the kind of wraps for injuries as well.  He holds one of my hands in his left and wraps it like a mummy with his right.  Then he mummy wraps the other one.

He takes me to the mirror to train me in front of it.  "We're starting you here, boss.  The mirrors.  Here, you can watch yourself and correct your mistakes.  Got it?"

"Got it."

"Your first movement is gonna be bobbing.  First you duck.  Then you dip.  Then you go forward with your front leg.  Got it?"

"Got it."  But I didn't get it.  I tried over and over again to get the front thrust.  I looked silly in front of that mirror, and I felt really frustrated and embarrassed I was making that mistake.

"Hey, look, Chief.  You don't make the forward movement with that way.  With a forward movement in your thighs."  He showed me.  I tried to follow.  Over and over again, I tried to learn bobbing with frustration.  That perfectionist in me started rising its ugly head.  I don't if law school drove in the pesky and impossible need to be perfect at everything - at least in front of others.  I don't know if it was my judo instructor or my Korean parents.  In any event, I can see the Chicanos in this gym don't think the way I do.  We were just raised differently. 

Stupid, Paul!  How come you can't get this?  I ask myself over, and over, and over, and over again. 

My coach sees I'm getting frustrated.  "Look boss," he says, "you ain't gonna get it overnight.  And you're overthinking it.  Smooth."  He bounces back and forth with the balls of his feet again.  A red lighted timer blinks, and he says, "Time to stop.  30 second break.  When the green light turns on, do it again for three minutes."  

I train like for what seems to be forever.  My calves are twitching.  I suck at boxing!  The coordination is so hard.  Why can't I get it?

My coach goes, "Hey - time for the jump ropes.  They loosen you up.  The ropes fix your coordination.  Hands, eyes, and feet.  You need to do a lot of them."  I can jump rope and have the stamina for it, but the other trained boxers are so much better at me.  They have way fancier footwork than me.  I suck at this!!!  I think.  Aye, this is the price for purgatory.  

At around 7pm, the advanced crowd come in.  Most of them are teenagers from the city.  Immediately, the boxing gym takes on its own living rhythm.  The bags are being pounded at certain intervals.  The ropes are whipping the floor, emitting a hissing beat.  It's a sort of loud but natural cadence that fills the whole gym and brings it to life with fighters' energy.  They're all chicanos from the high school I graduated from and the rival one.  I thought to myself, if they worked this hard at high school - they'd all actually go to college.

I see so many parents come and talk to the coaches.  I never saw that during the parent teacher conferences, while growing up in this city.  But here - the fathers are attentive to their boys dreams to be a boxer (or is it the fathers' dreams?)  All of the kids want to be like Oscar de la Hoya or Marquez.  In any event, the chubby fathers smile at the small Chinito boy pathetically learning to box.

At the end, I walk to my coaches.  Thank them.  I bow my head to Luis, the one who was personally attentive to my training that evening.  I could tell no one's ever showed him the ritual deference.  I remember bowing to elders since I was five years old.  Then I remember rebelling against the practice when I was 15.  Now, it seems like I'm returning to it at 30.

* * * *
I came back the next day, same time.  I saw my coach.  I smiled and said, "I bet you didn't think I'd come back."

He smiled nervously that telegraphed to me he was guilty of the bad conclusion.  "Well, boss, I see a lot of people come and go, you know?  It's hard to be a boxer.  Let's start your training.  The mirrors."

I liked how he didn't know yet how to be pretentious, like they are on the West Side of Los Angeles.  I bobbed in front of the mirrors.

He said, "Good.  Good."

I said, "I was practicing at home."

"I could tell."

He calls out to Santa Claus and says, "Hey Chief.  Look - he gotz it!"

Chief calls back and says, "Sure does.  Keep at it, Boss.  You're gonna get there.  But don't you be driving yourself in the ground with drills."

I said to him, "I'm Asian.  We learn to be perfect."

Chief says, "I know your people do that, but that's not how we train here."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My days in purgatory

Last Friday night, I realized, even though I'm not a Catholic, or any derivative of the religion, I was and am living in purgatory.  It was pouring in Los Angeles from Friday to Sunday.

When I woke up in the morning, I put the key in the ignition and turned it.  The dash lit up, the gauges went wacky, and the car just rang, but the usual starter didn't ignite.  Damn it, I thought.  What's wrong with the car?

The triple-A guy came out and tested my battery and alternator.  My battery was dead - dead like the next-door-neighbor croaked from a heart attack.  He jump started the car, as we both got drizzled on by the rain, and it worked - at least for a little while.  Then, like the ex-neighbor's heart gave, so did the battery.

I felt miserable.  I was immobile.  I couldn't drive anywhere, and I didn't feel like paying a bill for a new battery.  That's too much.  Pop's could replace it a lot cheaper, but Pop's 30 miles away in South Central.  So, I called another friend - who kept saying that his borrowed car battery charger would return.  I waited the whole day for him, and he never got that charger.

Twilight, eventually rolled in, as it does everyday.  But now, the heavens looked painted a phantasmic shade of midnight blue with endless sheets of grey clouds.  The chicken was clucking in the backyard like she was going mad because she was caged and imprisoned too.  (This was done for her own good though because she'd just get soaking wet and who knows what disease she'd inherit if that happened.)  But like me, she was annoyed that we were trapped in a purgatorial existence of limited life.

Thus, I flipped on the tele and Criminal Minds came on.  In the kitchen, my mother and I had just finished baking pork baby back ribs.  My mother at first wanted to boil them first to get them tender.  I said, "NO!"  I said, "Doing so, would make it lose all its flavor."  She said, "Alright then, what do we do?"  I said, "Marinate it."  She marinated it in a Korean sauce of spicy chilli, sugar, and spices.  Three blends of savory, sweet, and salty all in one.  We baked it for three hours, until the collagen melted and made the ribs have a crystallized texture that was in tact and in shape, until a fork or knife gently went through it.  Then, it would just break apart into shreds.  And inside the mouth - it melted and exploded with flavors.

So there I was, watching tv, homicides and murders.  I ate some ribs, and poured myself a liquid amber whiskey.  I swirled it in the glass, aerated it, and sipped on the smokey flavor of the whiskey.  I thought, I feel like an obese white Southerner.  I imagined myself screaming for, "Zel-dah!  Zel-dah!  Whey iz my wizz-key?  Zel-dah, bring me my whizz-key?"  Except there was no Zelda, and I had my whiskey.

As the tele kept running, I got more ribs.  My mom saw me and said, "Again?!  You just ate."  I thought, You don't understand, mama.  I'm trapped in purgatory, and we poor souls need something to take our minds off our existence.

I poured myself some more amber whiskey.  I took out some old Italian wine cake and spooned in some Spumoni ice cream.  The ice cream was chocolatey, pistachioy, cherryish, and vanillay.  Ice cream makes everything better, I thought.  And I ate away like an obese Southerner - the spirit is willing to fight but ain't the body weak.

I want some more ribs, I thought.  How come I don't have a Zelda plating me up some ribs?  'Cos you're in purgatory - and Zelda's not.  So, I walked and plated me up some more ribs.  I thought to myself, this would taste awfully good in a Mexican tamale.  Then, it'd have to be deep fried.

I thought to myself, this is what it feels like to be an obese person.  This is what it's like to medicate yourself on food.  This is what it's like to feel good and terrible in the same stroke of a moment.  I noticed, however, that the chicken stopped clucking with the nightfall.  Oh - and they just caught murderer on tv.  He was an impotent prison guard.

The ghoulish skies continued to rain down on the valley of Saint Gabriel.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Favorite Meal

I haven't really written because my life's somehow taken an anti-climatic drop into a repetitive dryness - wake up, eat, write emails, etc.  The sort of high paced, high adrenaline lifestyle I was living came to screeching halt, and since then, it hasn't been that interesting.

But yesterday, I do have to tell you I made probably one of my favorite meals.  I get asked a lot what my favorite restaurants are and what my favorite foods are.  For the last few years though, I seem to be getting more and more disappointed in the quality of dishes I get at restaurants, especially "high-class" ones.  I find that most of these places, motivated by a need to make lots of profit, cut out on quality.

Let me give you an example of what I discovered to be one of my favorite dishes, and how a restaurant would rarely go through the trouble of making a dish like this.  One of my favorite dishes I just made is crab risotto.  Doesn't it sound simple?  This is how I made it.

First, I had to go to three supermarkets.  I called my friend to pick up a fresh dungeness crab at the Chinese supermarket.  As for myself, I went to the local one to pick up some common ingredients, but I had to go to a local Italian specialty shop for the rice.  Most risotto is made of arborio rice, but the better version is carnoli.  Carnoli has some special proportion of starch to simple sugar; therefore, it holds liquid better and at the end is creamier than any other rice out there.

To make the dish, I prepared a stock out, but instead of simply boiling the vegetables, I first sweated out the root of vegetables in olive oil: onions, garlic, celery, and carrots.  From outside, a friend said she could smell yumminess.  Next, I stir fried the crab in a wok with oil and garlic, until the crab turned red and the garlic had a nutty aroma to it.

I removed the crab from the heat and smashed the shell up with a mallet.  I removed the sweet crab flesh and set it aside.  Crack, crack, went the mallet and crab shells.  I dumped the roasted crab shells into the broth.

Next came the aciduated saffron butter.  I reduced white wine, rice vinegar, onions and butter.  After it was reduced to 25%, I strained out the onions.  I then mixed in saffron into the butter and froze it so it would re-solidify.

I cooked the risotto in olive oil, reduced with white wine and sake, and I added in all the crab stock.  Traditionally, you're supposed to fry the rice with onions and slowly add the stock.  Modern experiments show it makes no different to the taste whether you add in all the stock at once or a little at a time.  You just don't want to soak the rice soggy.  The onions, according to Chef Blumenthal, tastes better in the aciduated butter.  So, I skipped these traditional steps.  I tossed in the sweet crab meat.

Finally, to plate it up, we spooned in the cream cheese (forgot the marscapone at the shop), Parmesan, and the hardened butter.  I added the garnish of fresh basil growing outside, and ouila.  Now, that's a lot of work just for a plate of risotto.

On top, I added chicken breast cooked for an hour in a plastic pouch full of olive oil, herbs, and spices.  I tossed them in water that was 60 degrees C.  Let me tell you, I never had softer, more tender chicken breast in my life.  Its texture turned into butter and almost melted in your mouth.

In the end, the risotto took on a new life from its original plain-dried-grains.  I can't fully describe it in words, but it was rich, nutty, creamy, sweet, meaty, cheesy, and roasty.  It's a mystery how this rice could blend all these flavors together in a way that bread or common rice never could.  

My friends, who ate it with me, said, "But all the work was with it."  Smiling and satisfied.

I thought, that's easy for you to say.  You didn't do any of it.  You just reaped where someone else sowed.  =)  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Flying into the City of Angels - Coming Home

From New York, I took a flight back to Los Angeles (also known as the City of Angels) via Washington D.C.  I was grateful that there was 0 wait time at the D.C. Airport.  I got off a plane and onto another one.

I sat the aisle seat.  In the middle seat was a Korean or Chinese chubby guy who didn't like to talk.  He was kind of scary, in that Korean Virginia Tech killer kind of way.  I probed him for answers, and he also said he was from Virginia Tech.  On the aisle, was a empty nester woman who was visiting her college child in DC.  I told her I went to Russia, and she asked how it was.  I said, "Good."

But in my mind, I thought of all the good times and bad times in Russia.  I never told my readers why I chose Russia.  The idea of the trip was prompted when I witnessed the dead come back to life.  Yes, read that again.  I am witness to the fact that God can raise the dead because I've seen it.  If you have a hard time believing what I saw, I sympathize.  I, too, had a difficult time accepting this fact, but I saw it.  Even after seeing this, I had to remind myself over and over again that when I came to faith in Christ that I believed that God could raise the dead.  Now that I witnessed it myself, I had to accept the truth that God could do this in present time.  Yes, I know it sounds insane, but others too have been witnessed that God raised the dead life I speak of in Los Angeles, where I was returning.  

The dead one, come back to life, prompted me to go to Siberia in search of the Elixir of Life.  Had I found it?  I don't know.  Was the mission successful?  In part and a failure in part.

I looked outside the plane window, and I saw the hues of stratified colors that went from blue to green to orange to yellow and to red.  The green sky was phantasmic.  I'm not a fan of using big words but this one is apt because I can't describe the color.  It was eerie, mysterious, and beautiful all in one.  It was phantasmic.  Looking out of the window, I thought of getting placed under Russian house arrest.

Most of all, I remembered the people I met and the stories I shared and the stories I collected.  When I spoke to Artemii in St. Petersburg, I remember telling myself that next time I travel, I'm in search for the most beautiful story.  Where will I find it?  I reflected on learning about Siberian magick and mysticism.  How could I forget also, all the spirits that visited me and talked with me?  Was that real too?

I also knew I found my soul.  People ask me what that means.  My journey was a mystical one.  What does mysticism mean?  The word Mystic, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means union with God.  I didn't really want to go to Siberia.  I remember telling my mentor, I'd rather not go.  But I realized, to increase our faith, our wisdom, our hope, and our love, we must go to places we are afraid of going to.

So back to the Dead.  The Dead prompted me to go.  Now when the dead, raised back to life, tells you go somewhere, it's best you drop everything you do and just go.  So, I went.  I suppose the heroes of ancient times needed to make their way into Hell and come back out.  Why?

So - they could go to places that the living are afraid to speak of.  So - they could know that they've done it before so they could do it again.  So - like Achilles, they gain invincibility.  But for me, I went because my God, in the form of man, went to Hell before to overcome death.  I followed in those footsteps and stepped into the world where the living and the dead meet.  When I came back, I did gain sacred and secret knowledge that showed me the art of creation.  In that, I suppose I found something beautiful and artistic in my soul.  I guess finding my soul meant I learned who I was better, who my God was better, and the mysteries of creation.  I also inched closer in understanding my role in this world, and somewhere in the intersection of all that, is what my mystical journey was about.

The funny thing is  while I was on the journey, I kept questioning why I was on it.  I didn't enjoy it much, and I was continually tired.  I mumbled to myself, all throughout the journey - NO MORE EXPEDITIONS.  That's it!!!  Once I get home, I'm staying home.  No more crazy journeys where the dead make you go somewhere, where you're trying to looking for magick.  Just no more!  I'd rather be sitting at home with my mystery pet, my duck, my chicken, and my aquarium fish, eating food my mom and I make together.

Yet, as I stared outside the window, I could see the sun setting, causing the light to flare all kinds of colors.  We were flying West, West back home.  We were chasing the sunset, and so, that was the longest sunset I've ever seen in my life.  I saw a five hour sunset. 

Staring outside the window, I thought to myself, maybe I could go on another treasure hunt.  A small smile came across my face.  I even know what I need to look for, but that's another story for another time.  Yes - that too - starts with some supernatural forces that seized my attention one day while I was at home reading a book.

One of the last thoughts I had was this: damn, you traveled a long distance.  Here's the breakdown:

I traveled a stunning 34,245 kms (21,043 miles).  To give you a reference point, the circumference of our planet earth is 24, 901 miles.  So one more 4 hour flight would've completed a circuit around the world!

I took 11 flights.  I took 3 train rides, totaling 66 hours!  I took 2 ferry rides across a lake.  I took 2 long bus rides (12 hours in total).  I traveled for forty days  In that time, I paid for only 6 nights of my travel.  I met 12 Russians.

After all my thinking and reflecting my flight landed.  I took the bus to the Los Angeles Union Train Station.  There, I took a bus to the El Monte bus station.  My mother picked me up in the old Mercedes-Benz.  1989 to be exact. 

I came home at 11pm.  She asked me to see my duckling, but it wasn't a duckling anymore.  Even though it was only 40 days, the thing had grown huge and was the size of a cat.  The chicken was the same size.  My mystery pet was sleeping, and it looked like I lost an aquarium fish or two.

My mother and I chatted about my adventures, though I omitted the fact that the Russians captured me.  (I told her about it a few days later.  When she heard it, she asked if it was because I slept with a Russian prostitute and refused to pay.  I just laughed and said why would you think such a thing.)  Even though I was tired at 11pm because of the hours of traveling on a plane, telling her about what happened gave me the energy to stay up even later.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

From Munich to Barcelona

I don't think I experienced love at first sight with a city until I met Barcelona.  Remember, on this journey I started in Siberia.  As the days passed by, and fall was changing into winter, you could literally feel the temperature drop in Russia.  When I left St. Petersburg, it was cold and getting colder.  The winter was coming.

It got warmer in Bavaria, and it was back to a nice, warm, and mild climate back in Barcelona.  I met a Turkish girl in Barcelona.  She had a look of a dark haired and black eyed gypsy, and I met her in the hostel.  She was looking to tour the city, and I said if she waited 10 minutes while I drank my tea I would go with her.  She waited.

I followed her at first around the city to see what she wanted to see.  We got lost at some ally and there, we drank sangria (fruit punch and wine) with tapas (Spanish side dishes).  They were so yummy, and we both agreed they tasted delicious.  Sitting down at the cafe, she told me about herself.  She was a freelance advertiser, who had a passion to fight the LGBT harassment in the Balkins.  I told her my mentor also worked on the issue.

We made each other laugh.  I told her how I liked Bavarians.  And she would say, "Agh!  They have icy hearts and icy eyes.  I look people with fire and passion inside.  The hot people."  I thought over her words.  She was right, to some degree.  I guess Germans were colder, but that wasn't my experience. 

But after we drank our sangria and ate our tapas, I realized we were lost.  I took the map from her and re-oriented ourselves like migratory, homing animals.  When we were re-directed, I told her, "I need you to remember one lesson."

She said, "What's that?"

"That the man is the best leader.  So - follow the man."

She rolled her eyes and said, "COME ON!  You chauvinist pig."

I just chuckled, knowing that the comment would irk her because she was pro-feminist and independent.  But even though she hated me uttering these words, she still followed me.  And we toured the city and saw the churches; we the people come and go.  We saw the world relax in Barcelona and not have a care in the world.  We went into the shops in the allies, drank coffee, and ate gelato. 

We sat on the bench and watched the people.  We asked each other who we thought was attractive, but somehow the conversation strangely ended up about sex.  I don't know how.  She was telling me how her boyfriend knew how to have trantric sex for hours.  I asked her how is this possible, but she said she didn't know and that it was really, really boring.  And with that, we both laughed again.

As we walked the paved streets of Barcelona, I kept telling her I could live here.  At one point, I asked her one of my "what-if-intellectual-hypothetical-nonsensical" questions.  I said, "Do you think a person could discover how to live forever and break the natural laws of God?"

She said, "Oh dear God."  She drew an Orthodox cross across her body, by pointing her fingers to one shoulder, then the next, the forehead.  She then said, "Don't say such things."

"But why not?  I would like to figure out how to defy the laws of nature."

And she said, "And then what?  You would be bored by yourself forever."

"Well - then I would have to have my family and my pets live forever too."

"Oh God!!!"  She said.  "Don't make me draw another cross.  You talk of crazy things.  And your family and pets will hate you!"

So we stopped the conversation.  At one point we walked by a Convalescent Home that had a large glass wall.  I walked and looked in and an old, frail lady started walking towards me.  She blew me a kiss.  The Turkish girl said, "What are you doing?"

"Come and look," I said.

"What?!  What are you doing? This is so sad."

"Yes, but she needs human warmth too."

"But this is so sad seeing her.  I just want to cry."

"Well, say goodbye then.  Blow a kiss."  And the girl did.

After our walking tour of the city was over, I told her, "Don't forget your lesson today: follow the man."

She replied, "I'm going to punch you."  I smiled in response.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Russian BBQ With Bavarian Swans

I've been in Munich for four nights and five days.  The irony of being in Munich was that my hosts, at least this time around, were not Bavarians but Russians.  I stayed with a 60 year old mother and her Russian son of 23.

I think they provided me with one of the strangest travel experiences I ever had.  On one of the days, I made them Korean BBQ.  These Russians never ate Korean BBQ before; so, for them, it was an exotic experience of the Far East.  And I'd like to brag, anyone who has eaten our family BBQ, has said it's to die for.  So for these Russians, they sad they loved it.

In turn, they wanted to repay me back for my bbq with their own.  The Russians have a bbq called "Shashlich," pronounced "Sh-ash-lik."  The Russian mother marinated the meat in a mustard and onion sauce.  A few days before, when we mushroom hunting in the forest, we gathered fire wood.  We would need it for the Russian Shashlich.

So, at around 8pm, when the light had set, the Russian mother, son, and I carried the firewood, grill, and the meat.  We took the underground to a Bavarian river.  It was rather dark, except for the stars and moon.  But what caught my attention immediately, was the ballet of white swans that were sitting on the bank of the river.    Accompanying them was a gaggle of geese and a badling of ducks.  The ducks made me think of my duckling back home, but I realize with all the time I have been gone it may no longer be a duckling.

We set up the portable grill and started the fire by adding in the firewood and charcoal.  The Russian mother began by stringing the skewer with a piece of meat, a piece of tomato, a piece of bell pepper, and then repeating the sequence.

After the fire began, the water fowls saw it and jumped into the water.  There was, however, one brave duck that kept coming towards us, asking for food but still weary we might try to harass it.  I tried on several attempts to lunge for it, only to be foiled by it.  It again made me think of my pet duck back home.

We waited for the fire to die down and then placed the skewers on top of the grill.  I think the meat was of pork.  I remember because I was worried that if I ate it too raw I might get parasites.  Nonetheless, I probably ate the meat at a medium-rare and appreciated the perfect texture of the meat.  The taste of mustard and spices also came through.  It made me think though, as good as the meat was, that something was missing in this Shashlich.  I believe that some citrus and more sweetness could have balanced the flavor a little better.

There we were.  The only people on this Munich River in the middle of the night, eating bbq.  Our only company were the swans, duck, and geese.  It just felt strange to be the only ones there, but the air was getting colder and hence it brought a clear message: the winter was coming.

The mother said, "I think this is the last time we will have Shashlich this year.  My son will be going to Hamburg soon."

I just nodded.  While pulling pieces of meat off the skewer with my teeth, I told them about my journey through Russia and the places I wanted to see if I went back.  I wonder if I should go back a lot with everything I went through.  Hmmmm. . . .  They told me about the different ethnic groups in Russia, but most of what they said about these ethnicities is better left unsaid.

And that was how we had a bbq with the swans.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Beautiful Russians - Ugly Russia

Although my previous posts talked about the horrors and abuses of the Russian government against me while under Russian house arrest, the rest of the time was full of pleasure and wonder.  I wrote my previous posts with a sense of doom, misery, and ugliness.  This was done because that is exactly how my problems with the situation felt and looked.

Yet, John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, once said that, "I cannot praise a fugitive or a cloistered virtue."  In modern English, (because Milton always wanted to sound smarter than others, but he must realize this has now gone out of fashion) it translates that virtue can only be displayed in an environment of adversity.  For instance, generosity only exists when the generous feels the pinch of giving.  Or take another example.  As my clinical law professor said, "Anyone can be honest when it's not harmful."  You see my point.

Now, I want to define that this is not my story of virtue.  My bleak situation really just set the dark stage for the Russians of St. Petersburg to perform. And on it, I saw the beauty and virtue of the Russian people shine.

I was helpless and alone, literally and figuratively.  I couldn't speak Russian.  I didn't have enough money to hire a Russian-English translator.  Yet, when my host Sasha found out what happened to me, he knew I was sad and becoming depressed.  He only said, "No worry.  Saint Petersburg good place to be."

Sasha would also take off almost two days of work to help me manage the Russian bureaucratic office.  When Sasha wasn't there, he asked another coworker to be my translator.  This coworker would also miss work.

In my depression, I told myself: "Ok, you really need to make the best of this situation.  Can't you just pretend that this whole affair was really just a visa extension."  And in some ways, my overstay was just an extended tour to Russia.  I then said, "Why don't you try to meet some locals and be happy in Saint Petersburg?"

I used social networking sites and found some locals.  The one that left the deepest impression on me was an Artemii.  When I had explained that I had caused so much stress to Sasha, I politely asked if he would take me in like a stray animal.  He phoned his girlfriend, and she agreed.  He had only met me for two hours but understood he had a role in getting me out of Russia.

At his girlfriend's house, they heard my story and apologized to me about how ugly Russia had treated me.  They bought me Vodka, and we relaxed the night away with Russian Table Water until 3-4am.  The tonics of Russia.  The laughter and company, and me laughing at my own situation, had brought comfort to us all.

I spent my remaining days in Saints Petersburg with Artemii.  I decided to teach him the mechanics of the English language and the tools of English Literature.  He was an apt pupil.  I met others from the city and enjoyed biers with them.  In some ways - I kind of didn't want to leave Saint Petersburg anymore.  

This feeling was especially true when Artemii's father sent the message that he wanted to meet me in their cabin in the country side.  His father didn't ever meet me, but the Russian hospitality I was experiencing moved my spirit.

On one of my final days in Saint Petersburg, Sasha asked me about how my day at court was.  I explained to him that it was just a show trial.  That all these Russian officials played with me like a toy, and then paraded their power against me.  I was the helpless American, and they were the big, strong ugly Russians.  I said I was the circus act.  It was like being put in a pink dress and paraded around for everyone to laugh at me.

When Sasha heard this appalling story (which it was really nothing short of), I saw Sasha's eyes become redder and watery.  He was holding back the tears.  He only said in his wisdom, "Maybe - one day you judge.  You argued in court.  You done prosecute.  You done defense.  Now you are defendant.  It's good to learn all the roles of court.  Expensive, but good."

I said, "Yes, Sasha.  Expensive, but good.  I needed to learn."  He was right.

When I finally received my transit visa, those I've been in contact with me also celebrated.  They - too - were relieved.  

On my last night at St. Petersburg, it was time to part with Artemis.  I decided to give him a hug because that's what was called for.  His last words to me were, "I hope you come back.  I hope you miss me.  I hope you miss Russia."

I said, "I've never been to a country that I loved so much and hated so much.  I never met more beautiful people and such ugly, ugly people.  But I should come back because Russia is ugly, but Russians are beautiful."

Before ending this post, I will show this point.  I was asked over and over why my consulate didn't help me.  I really don't know why.  But when I finally called, after it had ended, they were apparently appalled at how my story finally unfolded and told me this never happened to an American in St. Petersburg before.  Yes, my American Consulate was completely useless.  In the end, it was the Russian people, and not even my own embassy, who saw to it that I needed to go home.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Flee Russia - Free Bavaria

So what exactly happened with Russia?  I paid there heavy fine.  And I returned back to the Russian Blue Room.

In the Blue Room, the officials there finally spoke to me in English.  Earlier, they pretended to know no English, but now they spoke to me in English.  They always said I needed a translator, but this was not true.  They could have translated, but earlier, they had done everything to make my life as painful as possible.  Even the demonic lady had become a tad nicer and stopped barking at me and showed more human emotion.

But of course this was the case.  Like parasites on hot blood, they fed on me, and all of God's creatures are satisfied when they are fed.  But in some time, they'll be hungry again.

My transit visa was on government green paper.  It had a black and white photo of me, and it looked like it was typed on a typewriter.  It was a small pamphlet that did not attach to my passport.  It looked so old and so Soviet.  I had bought my freedom back.

I experienced two surprises at the airport.  First, the Rossiaya Airline representative that had saw the whole scene I made at the airport served me again.  She pretended that she never met me before, even though she was fully aware that I had caused an uprising of 13 police officers to drag me out of the airport.  She only said uttered one sentence to me (and pretended I didn't exist): "Aisle or Window?"

I said, "Aisle."

I thought, jeez, couldn't you have been more friendlier.  Yet, when I actually sat myself on the airplane, I was pleasantally surprised.  She gave me the best seat on the airplane.  How ironic I thought?  She watched my dignity stripped away last week, and now she was trying to compensate me.  I didn't know how to feel.  Should I laugh or be upset?  Was this some joke?  At the end of contemplating what happened, a small smile washed over my face.

The second surprise was that as I was boarding the airplane, I caught one of the guard's attention.  He looked at me with shock and his eyes said everything: "It's You!  The boy who caused all the trouble last week."  I nodded to acknowledge it was, indeed me, the same person.  And he realized, I was finally free of Russia.  Now, a large grin washed over his face.  I nodded again to thank him and tell him - yes, I was leaving Russia.  Russia returned its freedom back to me.

I didn't know how to feel about how happy these people were now, the airport people, the airline worker, the guards, or the Blue Room Officials.  Were they happy that my rebellious American will had been broken in - like Pavlov's Dog?  Or was it that they were sincerely happy that I was finally granted my wish to leave Russia?  I don't know.  Anyone who lives in Russia will tell you that it is a country that seems to thrive on interweaving incompatible contradictions.

When I made it to Munich, I had to decide where to stay.  I could stay with my Bavarian little brother or some strangers, who invited me to their home.  When these strangers heard my story about my struggle to leave Russia, one of them asked me if there was anything they could do to help?

Because of their kindness, I knew I had to meet these people.  He was also a Russian and lived with his mother.  He didn't answer my phone calls or emails but told me to come.  So, I managed to make my way through the Munich subways and locate his apartment.  I range the doorbell and when they saw me the Russian mother and son said, "Paul?!"

I said, "Yes.  I've been trying to call, but no one's picked up."

The son said, "I was sleeping.  I'm sorry.  But this is absolutely amazing you found us and came.  Please come in."

His mother made me an amazing, rich and hearty soup.  She made two more courses, and they heard my Russian story.  Both of them said, "That's Russia.  Welcome to Russia."

But then, they told me their stories of Russia.  I wish I could say they were telling me a story, but really, it was more like a song, a song of suffering and survival.  These two were rebuilding their lives in Germany, and I know how hard it is to rebuild one's life in another country.  I, myself, had to do this twice.  This happened when I immigrated to New Zealand, and when I immigrated back to America.  So - I knew.

As they sang their song of suffering and survival, I felt so humbled that I made such a big deal about my own experience with the Russian government.  I don't want to get into it because the song was so intimate, but I can say that what they told me went outside of my scope of imagination.  There is an agony that can penetrate deep into a man's bones and crush his spirit, robbing him of life.  I heard this song and nearly wept, and they said, "But no matter, it's not something to talk about much."

Late into the evening, the mother, son, and I rode bikes into a nearby forest.  In it, there was a stone ping pong table.  The mother and son played ping pong and laughed and showed a spirit of life.  And somehow - the whole scene nearly made me weep.  How do people manage to find life in their own misery?  I asked them both, "What is the secret of living through such pain?"

They both answered me, "You need to live for love.  And you must live.  There is no other option."  I just didn't know how to respond.  I mean what could I say.  I just felt like a grain of sand amongst such giants.  So - I just stayed silent.

Finally - they asked me what I was doing in Siberia.  I talked a little about my story about searching for the Elixir of Life.  I explained I failed, but had a found another precious item: the Rose of Resurrection.  She asked to see it.  I went through my suitcase, rummaged through it, and pulled it out to shower her.

She looked at it and smelled.  "Yes," she said, "this is the Rose.  But I don't think you understand.  The Rose of Resurrection and the Essence of Immortality are fraternal twins of each other.  They don't look alike, but they do exactly the same thing.  You can make your Elixir."

I said, "Really?"

"Yes.  I know this.  We grew up at the Ural Mountains.  My family knows all about this stuff.  You can make your Elixir if you chose."

I researched it, and what she said was true.  A small smile and a sense of accomplishment came over me.  I thought my expedition was a failure, but really: I succeeded.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Russian Blue Room

I was sitting in a hallway full of people with Sasha.  The hallway was painted a bright sky blue, and it was a kind of color no one in their right mind would ever pick for their own home.  Thу hallway was also narrow, and an obese American would have a hard time passing through it.  The lights were also those annoying, bright white lights that hospitals use, but in this room the effect was much worse.  Some of the tubes were not working and some were; so, it created a pattern of uneven bright lighting.  All of this had an effect of breaking down your soul.

I was here because I needed to get my exit papers out of Russia.  Sitting in that hallway with Sasha, I couldn't help but wonder if George Orwell sat here before.  Of course he didn't, but for some reason, I believed that I was following in his footsteps.  The whole scenario reminded me of 1984.

Sasha cut in front of the line to get my papers.  We entered the office, and it had better lighting than outside of the uneven patterened one outside.  We had to wait.  The officer was at her long, lunch break.  How many lunch breaks do these people have?

A red haired lady in her 20's gave us some papers and what we needed.  The woman we cut in front of opened the office door and started screaming at us in Russian.  Sasha ignored her, as did the officers.  Sasha took the papers and said "Office.  Office."

There must have been 15 people standing outside.  One lady was on her lunch break.  Therefore, there was only one person helping clients.

I never really understood what the word bureacratic meant until my experience with the Russian Internal Affairs Department.  I think it helps too that I have a better understanding of law and policy.  What bureacratic really means is that the government will show you will no longer be treated with respect.

It took 50 minutes to get to Sasha's office.  For the first time, he seemed stressed and he said, "I need to work.  Work."  He meant I was taking a lot of his precious time away for this visa problem, and I felt horrible, terrible, shameful, and helpless.  The last of these handicaps ate away at me.

We filled out the paper work, but there was one thing still missing.  A new ticket to Munich.  I called the Russian Airlines, who said they could not change the ticket date over the internet or the phone.  I thought - What is this?!  Is this the 1980's?!  Thus, I had to walk to the ticketing office at the center of the city.

The ticketing office also made us wait a long time.  Even though it was 6pm in the evening, there were again many people waiting to buy or change tickets.  There were about 10 agents working.  But it made you think - why didn't they just offer more e-services?  I know why.  People would lose their jobs and for some reason, Russia doesn't feel disadvantaged keeping up with the west.  After about an hour (something that should only take 5 minutes by phone), this is not including my time to get to the ticketing office, I had a new flight ticket.

I went back to the 1984-Office.  I asked anyone waiting in line: "English?"  A kind lady responded and said she would help me.  We entered the office sanctuary again, and I handed them my papers.  A red haired lady - who had hate in her eyes - said, "No!  Where's his host?"  She was asking where's Sasha.  Sasha had to work I explained.  Can't they accept these papers?

She said, "No sponsor with you.  No papers."

The kind lady said, "I'm his sponsor."

So they took the papers.  Then the demon lady chatted with someone in the back office (the secret room) and explained the situation.  They threw the papers back at me and said, "Your man friend not here.  No accept papers."

I hugged the kind lady.  That must have made her feel good because she would know that she helped out a helpless stranger in the blue room.  She confided in me that even though Russian people don't know how to manage the blue room so well.

Now - I keep getting asked why not call the embassy?  Why not call the consulate?  I called the consulate.  Matthew said he would try to talk to the demon lady, but when I handed her the phone, she screamed at me to get out of the sanctuary.  I said, "Please.  It's my US Embassy."  She said get out again, and Matthew said you better leave and not make them angrier.  They could make your life even worse.  So - I left.

I called Sasha and explained the situation.  I felt so ashamed again that I had to pull him away from work again.  But in two hours he came, and the demon lady finally accepted my papers.

I know it's a bit degrading to call her a demon lady, but I'm not sure what happens to the human part of these government workers.  I explained this phenemenon to other Russian citizens, who also confirmed - you become more evil if you work for the government.  I don't know exactly how, but I think they become brain washed.

I was led with Sasha to the basement.  It had the same kind of lovely decor of the blue wall and bright lighting.  Now, I really felt like I was in some kind of Virtual Hell.  There was one desk and a tall Russian at 6' 6" would come out stating your name officially by throwing open a door they worked from.

We waited for an hour.  They were processing my application and Stas, the tall Russian came out and said I would have to come back because it was lunch time again.  Sasha looked stressed because he had to work; so, he found another translator from my work.  Valentine, my other translator, said it would take him an hour to get to the office.

Valentine, through no fault of his own, took longer.  When Stas saw us, he said you're late.  I just looked at him with sad eyes; how could I explain that I had to get a new translator who took awhile to get here?  Valentine said we're lucky because they could have cancelled our appointment and made us come again tomorrow instead of proceeding.

But Stas proceeded with what he kept repeating as "protocol."  When it was lunch time that was "protocol."  When we had to come back - that was protocol.  When Sasha had to be with me to hand in papers - that was protocol.  Everything was just protocol.

Stas sat behind the desk.  The desk was located at the dimmest part of the room.  It was there he dictated to me my confession.  I wrote it out in English; my translator wrote it out in Russian.  I was signing a paper that said I was guilty.  There was a terrible effect in my soul that was breaking my spirit by writing out this confession, and I could not bear it.  So, in English - I slipped in one sentence: "I never intended to break the law and was not under the impression I did."  It was my only defense for me to feel like I was not being completely stripped away of what I knew to be true.

I was not entitled to a lawyer because it was only an adminstrative rule that was broken and not a criminal one.  I was told if I did not sign this paper they would arrest me, and although I would have welcomed this earlier, we were already so far into this process I did not want to stay in Russia any longer.

I was fingerprinted in some old Soviet style.  Stas said it's an old way but still works.  He smeared sticky ink and then printed each of my fingers.  This is for overstaying.  I said, "I feel like a criminal."  My translator said, "You are a criminal now."

Stas knew what we were talking about and said in Russian, "Well, what would happen to me if I overstayed in America?"

And I said, "They would deport you.  And I want this."

Stas didn't like the answer.  Soon - I would be going to court.

I didn't go back to Sasha's place that night.  I don't really know how, but I found a few students (all of which come from good families) to let me stay in their place tonight.  I had too much shame and too much guilt for making Sasha walk with me through this kind of hell.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Touring a Russian Court

I toured a Russian court in a way no one ever should.  I was being tried.

Although Russia does not want me in its country, it also doesn't want me to leave.  This paradox for days could not be resolved by me.  Now, it can.  Everything is about extracting every last cent out of me.

At the Russian State Department, I was not allowed to submit my paper work unless my host was there.  I couldn't understand this.  I found a woman who spoke fluent English, and she said would be my host.  They accepted my paperwork, but somehow they discovered she was not my host.  They threw the papers back to me.

So - I had to call my host.  I felt so ashamed again to pull him away from his work.  I called my Embassy, who tried to talk to the Russian State Department agent.  She just screamed at me and told me she would not speak to my agency.

I hugged the woman who tried to help me.  She was an angel, unlike the state department agent.  Eventually my host came.  They accepted my paperwork, but had more procedures for me to go through.  They led us to the basement, which reminded me of 1984.

The walls were cracking in paint.  There were a few, bright white fluorescent lights.  You already felt like a criminal.  After waiting an hour, they said, "Time to leave.  Lunch break."  My host called another friend to help me out.

When we returned, we waited long hours again and they really did treat me like a criminal this time.  I said outloud, "I feel like a criminal."  My friend said, "You technically are one."

They rolled my fingers in ink.  They were wet and sticky.  They rolled all of my prints on a paper.  They then made me sign a paper that said, "I knew I had the right to remain silent, but I had waived my right."

I asked my agent, "What if I don't sign this?"

He said, "We'll throw you in prison."

I said, "Ok."  So, I signed it.  Remember, this is all for overstaying on my visa, while being told that I wasn't overstaying.

Then he made me fill out a confession.  He dictated the confession to me word for word, and I just wrote it down and signed it.  This is all real by the way!

Then, a few hours later, he drove my translator and me to the courthouse in a van.  At least I wasn't handcuffed.  We were being treated well because the other Central Asian, who violated his visa rules, was made to walk.

The court officials thumbed through my passport and said, "Oh, an American passport."  They pointed to the chip in it.  They thumbed through all the places I went through and said, "Ah - the guy's been to Dubai."  My translator said this was a blatant abuse of official power to make fun of the American. 

The agent walked in to see the judge before we were allowed in.  I knew what was happening.  They were setting my fine price.  They didn't let us in.

Then we were allowed in, and I stood before the judge, proud and dignant because I had done no wrong - at least in my opinion.  The judge summed me up and asked me to approach.  I suppose I was supposed to be intimidated by everyone's uniforms and the formality they were on them.  I was not.  Probably because I've took on the LAPD enough times with my law firm.  Probably because there was very little I was afraid of anymore.  The following conversation was done through translation.

The judge asked, "Do you accept your guilt?"

I replied, "I did not know I overstayed.  I was given misinformation at Moscow Passport Control; I followed it.  And you can see, I tried to leave five days later, exactly like I was told."

"Where did you go?"

"I went to Lake Baikal and the Altai Mountains."

He smiled at this.  It would be like a foreigner telling an American judge he went to Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Sequois.  The judge was proud Russia had gems to offer me.

He said, "I still pronounce you guilty."  Of course, I thought.  He went on, "Your fine is 5000 rubules ($166)."

I said, "Your honor can you please lower your fine.  This hassle has cost me so much in terms of flight changes."

"That is not the problem of this court."

"May I have one more word?"

"You may."

"I was trained in law.  Your honor, for me to be guilty I must have intended to break the law.  As you can see, I had no such intent.  I was under the belief my visa was valid."|

"Yes, but if you had intended to break the law, you would have been deported."

This statement angered me the most because I knew that he believed my sincerity and my story and still pronounced such a high fine for such a stupid infraction.  I sat down.

The Central Asian, who came from a former Soviet country was also pronounced guilty.  He lied to the judge and made up a story of how he was sick and couldn't leave.  He overstayed several months to work on illegal contracts.  The judge did not look happy and fined him only 4,000 rubules.

I left that courtroom upset.  The agent was mad too and defensive.  He said to my translator, "Your American friend should be happy.  We could have deported him."

I didn't fight him, but I wanted to say, "And I would have been happy if you deported me so I could leave your corrupt country."  But that wouldn't have helped.

I walked out angry and stressed.  Usually, the fine is only 2000 rubules.  I suppose the State Department is raising their price.

Let me explain why I was upset.  One, I was fined more for being American!  Everyone, in the room knew this and my translator admitted it.  The agent even said, "He's American.  He can pay."  Two, the court is supposed to be an independent, fair, trier of fact.  Here, it was just a pawn of the State Department.  I told my translator, this is just a show and pony trial.  Russia wants to pretend it's democractic.  It forces a confession out of me, and then proceeds to have a show trial, all so they can charge me this much money.  It's a business to keep all these state officials alive.

He just said, "The only injustice here is not that you were charged 5,000 rubules.  It's that the Central Asian was charged 4,000 rubules."

Anyways, I thanked my translator and bought him dinner.  For the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be in the scapegoat class.  You have no remedy but to put up with it.  I heard so many stories of how the Jews in Russia were told that they couldn't be doctors or lawyers because they were Jewish.  Well - being Asian or American really didn't put me in a better class.  I was punished more severely because of my nationality.  Now, I know why they didn't let me leave Russia.  You can leave Russia but pay lots more first!

I hatched plan (I think viable) to leave Russia like a coyote.  My translator called my host, who said, "What?!  Is this some kind of American joke?"  I guess that idea was a no-go, but I think it viable nonetheless.

Although I've been blogging on the unhappy, which readers cannot read too much of without it being too much, there is some good news.  While under Russian house arrest, I've come across plesant surprises.  I met a new Russian friend.  I began doing more scientific research and think I know what's the origin of all cancer mutations.  Tomorrow, I probably tour some cathedrals and the day after some modern art galleries. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Imprisoned in the Prison of Russia by Russian Bullies

As the title suggests, I have been imprisoned in the borders of Russia.  Yes, although it's not the type of prison you imagine.  I've been detained at the borders of Russia.  My freedom is contained within its borders.  I can go as South to the Caucaus Mountains, North to the Tundra, East to Vladivostok, or West to Moscow.  But my prison is literally Russia, I cannot escape it.

Yesterday, I attempted to leave Russia out of St. Petersburg and into Munich.  The airlines wouldn't issue me my boarding ticket.  I couldn't understand why.  They kept repeating, "Problem with Visa.  Problem with Visa."

My visa said that I was to enter on Sept. 9 and leave Oct. 1.  But, I entered on Sept. 14th and was leaving on Oct. 6th.  It said I could stay for 22 days.  When I entered Russia, I checked with Moscow Passport Control and explained how there was problem with my visa.  It was five days too early and that I needed to stay 22 days.

The man at passport control said no problem.  No problem.  I thought it'd be ok too because a tourist visa is usually good for 30 days, and I didn't go over this period.  Further, usually when you enter a country (except for Russia), they mark your entrance as the furst day and start counting to let you stay until your tourist period runs out.  In my case, this would be 22 days.  I was wrong.

At the airport, they didn't issue my boarding pass.  I said, "I need to talk to someone.  I need to talk to someone in charge."  A hardened border patrol woman, in a light blue police-looking uniform comes up to me.  She has black hair and black eyes and has a hardened look.  As I described to my friend later, a third of her face looked like a dog, a third of it looked like woman, and the rest of a man.  She looked at my visa and said, "You cannot leave today!"  She spoke Russian with a Rossiya Airlines translator with me.  The translator explained I was stuck.

I had the translator explain what I was told in Moscow.  The hardened woman pointed to the visa expiration date and said what I even understood in Russian: No!  I explained again what happened, and she repeated herself like a song on rewind.

I said, "Let me speak to her boss.  Or let me speak to her alone."

She told the translator her response.  The translator then said, "She says, 'She's too busy!  To get out!'"  She walked away and back to her little box with a window, in which people walked in front of her to her aisle

My problem was looking more and more hopeless.  What could I do?  I wasn't going to give up.  My will was made up; I was going to leave Russia.  I wanted to go Germany, which was a route on my way home.

I walked up to her aisle and stood there.  I looked at her with silence and said to her in in Russian, "Please!"

In response she said, "Get out!"

I said, "No."

She took my passport and babbled Russian.  I could make out though what she was saying.  Get out.  You're not leaving Russia!

I just stood there in silence looking at her with my dark, henna brown eyes.  I wasn't leaving.  She said, "Get out, or I'll call the police."

I don't know what came over me, but I shrugged, gesturing, I don't care if you call the police.  She found my defiance disgusting, and she made a phone call. 

Immediately, two Russian airport police officers showed up.  They were thin and wore blue uniforms.  Remember these colors becase I'll be referring to these people by their colors.

I can't remember how one of the officers looked, except he had those ice blue eyes.  I clearly remember the other one.  He was hansome and either in his late 20's or early 30's.  He had ice blue eyes and looked like a rookie.  But in his face, I saw kindness.

The dog-woman barked commands at the officer.  They told me in broken English, "Leave.  Please."

Again I said, "Net (No)."

They asked the dog-woman where I was from.  She said, "America."  The two stiffened at hearing I was a Roman Citizen.  This was the first time abroad I was exploiting my citizenship for all that it was worth.

The two just stared into my eyes and were confused.  They just stood there.  Again they said, "Leave.  Please."

At this point, I made the gesture to be arrested and said, "No!!"  The dog-woman became angrier and hence, uglier.  She began dialing the phone again and screaming commands into the phone.  The handsome blue officer kept making my eye contact with me.  I've seen that look before and instantly knew he was attracted to me.  It could have been a physical one or maybe an emotional one, where he couldn't understand how a small guy like me could have such absolute resolve and courage to stand up against this lady.  It could have been a combination of the two, but in either case, I've seen the look many times before; so, I needed any kinds of friends in this pickle. 

I stared back with my ebony eyes into his icy cool ones and with them I sent him a message: Look: I just want to leave.  I'm innocent.  This is all just a misunderstanding.

As I've been told over and over again, communication is only 10-20% words, and it was certainly working.  I connected with him in some mysterious human way, and he was like a snake to the snake charmer.  I could feel my will seed it itself in him.  This would be important later.

 After the second phone call - two federal officials showed up.  One was a beautiful, blonde Russian woman, the kind you see in movies.  The other was a lanky, wiry, thin, ugly, and blonde man.  He had crooked and bad teeth.  There were two airport officials, a woman and a man in a suit (the airport officals we'll call them.)  The blonde Russian woman explained to me the same thing dog-woman said.  I responded about what I was told in Moscow.  This was going no where.

The ugly man with bad teeth was more cunning.  Ugly man said that he would help me get my ticket if I would leave the dog-woman's aisle.  I studied his face and wasn't sure.  I wanted to trust him because I wanted to go home but a deep instict told me this was a lie.  At this point, the dog-woman, the blue uniforms (the airport police), the federal police, and the officials looked hopeful.

So, I walked a few steps out of the aisle, followed ugly man, and a metal shield was starting to slide down.  Like Indian Jones, I flew back into her aisle.  Dog-woman was infuriated and as a result, looked even uglier.  Ugly man was pissed off (and I can't describe it another way).  I can only say that to me, he looked even more pathetic angry than he did calm.

So - dog-woman made more calls.  And in all this time, handsome airport police - kept making eye contact with me.  He felt sorry for me.  He wished he could do something.  I could feel it.

My will had hardened like drying concrete slurry.  I was mad too that I was lied to.  Then, two more officers in grey and red came out.  (Thus, this brings the count to two blue airport police, two federal police two grey police, two officials, and dog lady; that's 9 by my count.)

One of officers was a tall bear of a man and he pushed me out of the aisle because his body was large enough to stand between it.  Dog-lady explained the situation.  Beer Belly asked, "Where's he from?"  She answered, "America."  He stiffened, and I saw him confused.  Obvioulsy, it was work to think, and he didn't do much of either.

Eventually, he pushed me out with his big and beer belly stature.  Really - he pushed me out with his fat beer belly and just did it by running me over.  The handsome airport police officer was sympathetic.

Hurray for them - victory!  I was out the aisle.  But my will had been made up: I wanted to go home.  I did not want to go back into Russia.  Therefore, I sat down on the floor, outside of dog woman's aisle.  Now - everybody in the airport - passengers, staff, the cleaning people were wondering what the hell was going on.  I just sat there, unafraid and unmoved and at peace.

The dog-woman retreated but the 8 officers stared at me with anger and thought what now.  Nobody knew.  There I was - just sitting in the middle of the floor.  So - they all talked in Russian and thought to themselves they hatched some brilliant plan. 

The two blue officers took the baggage off my airport baggage cart.  They grabbed my shoulder, one on each side, and picked lifted me and placed me on the baggage cart.  Both were gentle and kind., especially the handsome one.  They were only following orders.  Then they set my baggage on my knees and were ready to drag me out.  I used a judo, ground slide.  The baggage tumbled.  There I was again: sitting on the floor.
 Remember: the crowd was watching; thus, they were looking stupider.  Again, there were 8 officers against one boyish looking guy.  I mean really - how much of a threat was I?

Another call was made and three more people came.  This brings the total to 12 now.  Two of them were wearing military fatigues - colored in blue and grey camouflage.  They were two men that were chubby but had a build of a rook underneath - the same kind my brother has.  They were scary because they looked hardened and cruel.  This told me they probably had already done all kinds of terrible things that I have no desire of knowing about.  On them - they wore huge black batons.  Yes, I felt fear, but then I told myself - I want to go home; so, I don't care how many weapons they flash before me.

The dog-woman came back out.  She explained everything.  The two bears looked at me like I was a simple problem for them to take care of.  But then, they asked where I was from and she said once again, "America."  At this word - they looked annoyed.

Who was the third person?  A small lady of about 50-60 came in a biege suit.  Don't you like the melody of colors?  She had silver hair and was more dignified than the rest of them, but nonetheless, I've seen her type.  Her manners were the velet covering an iron heart.  She studied me and instantly knew what the rest did not: I more of a problem than she had originally thought.

The irony of the situation was the two most powerful players in this game were also the smallest and carried no weapons, shouted no words, or made no threats.  I was wearing blue jeans, an A&F T-shirt, and tennis shoes.  I looked like a 20-something college student, but she knew that there was more to this picture than a foolhardy young, tourist that I portrayed.  Besides the director, they didn't know that I had just finished law school, took the bar, and was well on my way to becoming a license attorney.  While I did not have any guns, batons, and knives, I was armed with words.

She spoke good English.  She began the useless chatter of bureacratic rules and added, "What would you like us to do?  We don't make the rules.  We just follow them."

"What do you do?"

"I'll be a lawyer soon."

"Then you should know the laws of the country you're in."

But this is impossible in Russia, because as I've experienced again and again, the administration makes the rules as it goes along.  In short - they do what they want - when they want.  There is only one rule here: The government is always right.  So, in this case, perhaps I should have submitted that it was right.  But I could not because it was not.

I said few words in response, "I just want to leave."

"That's not possible.  What do you want us to do?"

"Let me leave."

She started repeating the situation, and I interrupted trying to explain my side.  She said, "Don't interrupt.  Won't you let me talk.  I'm here now."

I wanted to roll my eyes.  I've used that line before.  But I let her talk.  She ended by saying, "You need to leave the airport."

I responded, "Why don't you arrest me then?  Just arrest me.  I'm happy for that to happen."  I wanted to be arrested now.  I knew then it would trigger a diplomatic chain reaction.  This way, I'd also have a call and visit from my consulate.  And most importantly of all - I wanted to share this story before a decision maker.  I knew all these people would be in trouble if I could get arrested because it wouldn't be a good diplomatic move - when the person in charge found out I was arrested because I wanted to go home.

She paused and once again realized I was up to something - no good in her opinion.  She responded in a predictable way, "Are you insane?  You sound insane to me.  Only crazy people want to be arrested.  We'll send you to an insane asylum.  Do you really want that?"

"Yes.  I want to be arrested."  All the while, all 11 other people are watching.  I feel safer.  My handsome officer has somehow become a guardian to me.  I know he won't let me get hurt.

She - somehow - was thwarted.  She showed she was irritable.  The director made a call - and beer belly came out with some kinds of papers.  I think they were arrest papers, but they looked official.  I thought to myself - what'll happen next.  Will I spend a day in prison with the Russian Spike?  Well, if I do, I guess I'll tell him that there's hope that he can change and that life is worth living.

Then - two more people come.  We're now at 13.  They wore green official military uniforms and looked like officers.  One looked cold and Ariyan.  The other was beginning to enter into obesity and had black, oily curly hair and wore glasses.  No doubt - his father put him in this position.  They all started chattering in Russian, and I heard the word American being thrown around once or twice.

The two bears in military fatigues hooked my arm pits and tried to carry me out.  I resisted and walked back to the aisle.  Ugly man pushed me with a hatred inside of him; this was really just a hatred of himself.  I tried to make the push look harder than it was by swaying with his force, and everyone looked concerned.  They told him, No!  No!  The guardian looked even more concerned.

I sat down again.  I then closed my eyes.  They asked, "What is he doing?"  I was praying.  I was asking God to give me wisdom, to give me peace, and to help my find my way out of this situation.

I mean, what options was I left with?  I think even if you were an athiest or an agnostic, when you're left with so little options, what else could you do but pray.  Is that so dangerous?  I heard Russian chattering and hearing the word meditation.

Now of all my acts of defiance, this one they hated the most.  I heard more tense chatter.  What was so dangerous about a person meditating or prayer.  Whatever the reason, the room became tighter with tension.  I felt the bears grab my wrists.  I closed my eyes and still kept praying, and they dragged me out with my buttocks dragged against the floor.  I looked like a rag doll in the hands of cruel bears.  The crowd watched and stared in shock.

I was thrown out of the airport.  I just sat there and thought what next.  I waited five minutes.  I walked passed customs without caring what they were saying.  I showed them all their effort was wasted, and we were once again at square one.  I stood in front of the aisle.  The Green Officials, especially the Airyan, grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and pulled me out the airport.

By this time, my flight had already left.  So - I really didn't know what to do.  I then asked myself: What came over you?  What if they had kneed your jaw and knocked out your teeth?  What if they punched your cheek?  What if they slapped your ear so it rang and burned and stang?  What if they  punched your stomach and knocked the air out of you?

But they did none of these things.  In fact, 13 people were called out for one small, American guy who wanted to go home.  I did not want to go back to Russia.  I asked myself another question - do you feel any shame?  I said, why should I be ashamed?  When you were dragged out - who was in the one in power?  I glibbly smiled and realized the answer.  I also heard my mentor's voice remind me, "Don't get into trouble in Russia."  Too late.

I brushed off the dust on my clothes.  I walked passed customs once again.  The oily hair green official noticed me but neither of us seemed alarmed.  I pointed at ticketing, indicating I needed to sort this mess out.  He escorted me to the ticketing office.  I guess to them - I raised the white flag of surrender. To them - they won the war.

I can't understand Russia.  I've been stopped on numerous occasions because I'm Asian.  They hate Central-Asians here, and I suppose I resemble them.  They're the Russian version of Mexicans.  So - they stop you for a passport check, hopefully attempting to catch you with some visa problem (which we can all obviously see is not that hard to have).  I mention this - to show you that Putin's Administration does not want me in Russia and constantly reminded me of this point.

But if the Administration does not want me in Russia - why won't it let me out of Russia?

I went to my American embassy.  They were useless.  I had to talk to my consulate on the phone because he was busy, driving with his assistant Svetlana.  The people I saw leave the embassy looked like they were having a jolly time, drinking cappuccino and riding in fancy cars.  I imagined my consulate riding in his mercedes while talking to me on a cell phone and saying best of luck to you with the Russians.  HELLO - ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE ARE IN TROUBLE.  When you get finished enjoying your high life, can you remember what you're here for?

I asked if they can have someone help me deal with the Russian Administration.  Matthew, the one I imagine riding around in a Mercedes, told me they could not.   See: I was right - I should have been arrested.

I called my host Sasha and felt shameful that I had to waste his time, energy, and worry.  I told him everything and how stressed I was now.  I said I was in a prison called Russia.  I could travel anywhere in this vast country, but I was still in a prison.

He said, "Not bad prison.  Good prison.  St. Petersburg good place!  Not like Siberia.  You stay with me - 10 days, 12 days.  It's ok.  Good."

Bless his heart because he has one of gold.  That did make my bleak situation seem brighter.

I said, "Yes, yes.  I think so too.  But, I'm still in prison."

[If my sense of lost dignity brought you any sort of entertainment value, can you send my story please to at least ten of your friends?  If I can't get out of here, might as well let the American people know how the Russian bullies - the government - treated an innocent American tourist.  That's all I have left.]