4 tagged with #q

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languages ranked in order of how much i can use them: english, chinese, german, and then a mishmash of ones i've picked up incidentally. so, whenever i'm adding something to that fourth category, all my german bubbles up in my memory.

nur ein bischen deutsch, a phrase that keeps rolling out of my consciousness. it's turning into: nur ein bischen svenska. i click through swedish lessons and tell myself it's the similarity in the languages that gets to me, but when i was blitz-learning italian out of a dictionary in the back of a bus, i'd still order food and end it with danke.

arabic sometimes wiggles through; i often say مرحبا when i mean mahalo, كيف حالك when i think of a stallword. but even when i flip through my notes i took at the time, i can't read them, because i've forgotten how to read.

i am trying to teach myself swedish. jag talar inte svenska.

#q #aloha

28 June 2018 22:32


when i signed on to live in a distant desert for half a year, i told myself that i could tolerate a spring in a place with no earthworms.

the sidewalks of my home flood with confused worms every warm rain; drowned, bloated tubes of flesh drift downhill, gathering at the gutter by the back door i use to get to my office. sometimes, i catch them crawling up concrete steps, pushing their bodies along the cracks to creep upwards only to find another rising wall. their indistinct features bother me; i cannot help but transport my consciousness into their shapes, suffering a baking sun or a crushing foot. i cannot help it when i see them, so i try not to see them.

so, i looked forward to a season of being spared this, for once.

i didn't anticipate being assigned a housing unit in a compound with a walled garden, a tended yard with irrigated grass, and soil imported from overseas full of organisms crucial to maintaining landscaping health. the worms came up, every night, during scheduled watering.


02 April 2018 20:18


sometimes, i'm flipping through old sketchbooks, and i'll encounter chunks of pretty nice-looking arabic script and practice, and i can't read any of it, and i remember that there once was a time when i could. i never lived long enough in an arabic environment for it to sink into my deep memory, but there are some letters that pop out at me because of how hard i worked to learn their shapes.

"م م م م" i once wrote on the whiteboard, over and over, while waiting for my class to finish their assignments so i could grade them. "professor, khallas!" one of my students shouted, when he noticed what i was doing. he ran up to the front of the room and put his hand in front of my whiteboard marker. "you'll go insane, it's good enough!" i'll never forget the mim; it was the letter on speed limit signs, which i picked out before i started learning to read the numbers.

i learned the numbers by staring at license plates while locked in traffic; my car, a cheap rental, had a six digit plate, as did most other cars. those gave me the largest opportunities to practice reading. i had some mnemonics; the thing that looked like a '3' was '4', and the thing that looked like a '7' was '6', and the thing that looked like an egg was hamsa, which i remembered because i had a student who dropped my class named hamsa, and i had a jewish friend back home who wanted a hamsa tattoo, and there are five fingers on a hand, which easily cups a single egg. i always had a hard time remembering if seven pointed down and eight pointed up, or the other way around.

i remember a moment when the letters suddenly crystalized in my head, and i started laughing as i drove past 'cafeteria nashwan', because the arabic was a literal transliteration of the sound of someone intoning 'cafeteria nashwan' in arabic, and i could finally read it and understand the joke.

#daily #q

09 February 2018 20:42


They call it a Gulf Nanosecond, the measure of time between when the traffic light switches from red to green, and when the first person honks. In the Gulf, it is such a small interval that it is known as the atomic unit of time, of which divisions are not possible. What impressed me most was when a car twenty rows back will instigate the first honk the exact instant the light changed, possibly exceeding the speed that it took for the green waves to travel that distance.

Taxis have started picking up the pace in Pittsburgh, in competition with the introduction of various crowdsourcing transportation options. For the first time in the near-decade since I've lived here, I've seen almost one taxi per trip into the outside world. At certain times of the week, I've seen as many as four or five taxis in one trip.

The taxi drivers' frustration with no longer holding a monopoly on individual transport-for-hire seems to be causing a decreasing amount of tolerance for anything getting between the front of a cab and the fare's destination. However, Pittsburgh cabbies still have a long way to go before they can compete with the horn finger of an impatient teenager who really wants his karak chai.

#daily #q

23 March 2014 17:24

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