Sunday, February 10, 2008
I have spent three consecutive days writing in this café, in this section, served by the same people. I have thrice made this journey on bus 200 from Science Park to Holland Village and walked to this spot. It’s across from Wala Wala where we go to live music on Mondays and down the street from QB House where I get my haircut. The only thing that relates this place to Holland is a lone wooden windmill that rests on the top of the Holland Village mall. It’s small and looks old, as if it were placed there when the British still ran the island. Its funny that a tiny, probably falsely representative windmill could make such a name for a place. Some propagandist must have had the idea that placing the windmill would give some people, like me, such a thrill as they are traveling to Holland Village. What could be more pleasant, quaint, and nicely cultured than Holland Village? They got me.
In an attempt not only to study, but also to catch up on my writing, I find myself needing to escape the confinements of my room and come into this place. It’s a normal place, but in fact, quite unlike any coffee shop that I would normally settle upon. There are no couches, no cozy corners, and no fluffy chairs. I’m sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair, at a small square wooden table. Perhaps it is the squareness of it all that keeps me attentive to my pursuits here. I always sit next to the window. There’s something more natural about it. The trees are meters away, yet I can separate myself from the uncomfortable heat and humidity and still pretend that I am somehow appealing to my nature-loving self. The music here is superb, and perhaps the thing that I love the most. Even westernized coffee shops here often play the ancient Asian music, which I prefer when eating Chinese food, but when I’m trying to relax and organize my thoughts, it is nice acoustic tunes that make me the most content.
My arrival here today was quite unplanned. I made a trip to Clementi in order to buy a new set of sheets, which would be large enough to fit over my mattress. I have the beloved family Dinosaur sheets that also traveled with Emily to Ghana. They aren’t made for a mattress pad, so I must retire them. On my trip to buy sheets I bought the following items: a brush, lotion, soap, top up cards for my prepaid cell phone, saline solution, and hair gel. It wasn’t completely a splurge, as all of the items I purchased were necessary. All of the street market shops had their merchandise tucked away and no sheets were anywhere to be found. After a slight bit of walking I crossed over Commonwealth Avenue and waited for my bus to return home. After a few minutes a bus came, which was not mine, but I had an urge to step onto it. I found out that it was going to Holland Village. My presence here is because of a completely impulsive decision to get on a random bus, and I yet again end up here, in Coffee Club.
I walked in the door today, greeted by the same short smiling woman expecting the same routine: to walk to my table, receive a menu, whip out my laptop, and order a coffee blend of sorts, which I do my best to change every day for the sake of variety. After passing the smiling woman I was greeted with a firm handshake by the manager, an offering for “my table,” and an inquiry of “would you like the usual?” I was quite shocked for a moment and surely had one of those corny smiles on my face that you get when you are in a non-smiling situation, but cant hold in the overflowing giddiness. You all know what I’m talking about. I almost wanted to giggle as I felt like one of those executives that are always greeted by a much greater level of service. After sitting down at my table, I was given a menu after I informed the manager that I don’t have “a usual” and would like to try something different today. After being left to my browsing, which I tend to do for a long time, I looked up to notice the manager giving some instruction to a waiter, most obviously directed towards me. My “usual” Malaysian waiter then came up to my table with a smile and proceeded to say “Mr. Seaman, what can I offer you today? Would you like me to bring you some ice water and some bread?” Now, at this point, I’m thinking to myself, “this is really cool.” And it was. So, I have decided that whenever I see any of you in the future I would like to be greeted with a smile, and a handshake, and a very professional “Hello Mr. Seaman.” I just started thinking that they must have observed my name on my credit card to know my name, but it is apparent that they see me as a valuable and important executive customer. I hope today that I haven’t let them down. Whenever I venture off campus to write or study I try to pretend to be somewhat professional. I think it’s fun. I put on a nice button up, usually wear my Rockports or my shiny black loafers, and put my hair up like I have somewhere nice to go. Today, having been to Clementi previously, I am instead in a drab Israeli beer shirt, khaki shorts, and my big grey ripped backpack slung over one shoulder. My hair is nice today.
Something beautiful happened today. There is something that I love about things like this, the unexpected and in-the-moment things. I didn’t expect to come back to this coffee shop today, and in fact, once arriving in Holland Village, thought it rather silly to maneuver to the end of the street to the Coffee Club. Somehow though, the random decision to get on that bus, to come here, and to walk to this coffee shop, has made this whole story happen.
I opened another story with “I love Tuesdays.” And this is the same: going out, alone, and being me, doing my thing, and having time to do this: to reflect on how much I have been blessed with. Life has been good to me.
Posted by Aaron at 1:46 PM
Saturday, February 9, 2008
In October, shortly after Tom’s visit to Washington DC and Boston, I decided to apply to be a member of the ICC, the Israel on Campus Coalition, having reminisced with Tom about the great times I had there. Due to my support of Israel found in my previous semester there, and my willingness to support that pride in this great state, I decided that a trip for this very reason would be very fitting and quite enriching for me to attend. I received an email from the alumni mailer from Tel Aviv University, my former institution, asking for applicants to represent the Israel University Consortium (IUC) in the 32-member organization, the ICC.
The ICC is an organization that works to bring together different pro-Israel organizations with various political and religious motivations and perspectives. Though these organizations function very differently from one another, they all have a common goal of supporting the state of Israel, and we are the college/campus edge of that goal. My organization, the IUC, is neither politically nor religiously driven and my primary focus is to promote study abroad and other Israel and Middle East education programs. In my view, and this being the reason for my application, knowledge of Middle East and Israel issues is imperative to the functioning of any country on the world scale. They do and will always play an important role in the world’s politics, economy, and history and should not be neglected in the education of our nation.
After applying for this position I was faced with one major issue, which I was forced to reconcile before proceeding in this process. I am not Jewish. And, well, it’s a challenge, to say the least, to become so, nor do I want to do so. I was assured by my organization that this would be okay, as it was actually a main point in my application essay that this organization shouldn’t promote an idea that Israel is only for Jews nor that Jews are the only people that are supportive of Israel. No less, arriving to the Newark airport I quickly realized that I was the only one.
This was an exciting day for me. I have learned from this experience that I love to travel to new places, but that I love even more to travel to places I’ve been before. Old roads traveled mean something more. They have memories and experiences that can sometimes only be relived by stepping on that soil once again, taking in the same view, and breathing in the same breath of air that you once loved before. But old roads are still undiscovered and are available for making new memories and taking new steps. I was excited to return to Israel.
I did not make it custom to inform my 40 fellow students of my religious beliefs. The reason isn’t because I was afraid, as all throughout my first trip to Israel I was embraced and accepted regardless of my religious status. I withheld this from many because I didn’t want my religion to create a bias by the other students about my opinions. I also wanted to make a point that the Jews are a unique and special people, but in honesty, there is sometimes a sense of superiority among some Jewish people, so I wanted to integrate with them and be one of them for a time. No less, on the first day I chose to reveal this to two friends so that I could have a low level of dialogue about the trip in the perspective of mine, not one of a Jew, as I am not one. This was a great choice as I found it integral to discuss my unique perspectives on the trip with someone. I chose to tell more and more people throughout the trip as we grew closer, and at times, my opinions were very abnormal to the customary Jewish mindset. I also made repeated comments in group meetings that these ideas and perspectives shouldn’t just be for Jews. We do not need to convince Jews that Israel is a good place. It is the world that they want to see the good in the state of Israel, rather than complete dependence on slightly biased media attention to Gaza and the West Bank (and mostly negligence towards the actual undisputed State of Israel). By the end of our ten-day trip throughout Israel, most, if not the whole group, was aware of my non-Jewish upbringing, embraced me for it, was more curious about my opinions on the matters we were discussion, was more interested in my perspective on Israeli issues, and was overall very thankful to have a different voice among them. I had found success and acceptance and truly made the difference that I had hoped to. I was alienated by no one and hope I didn’t alienate any of them, and was able to speak for the non-Jewish community of people in the world who support Israel. This was humbling and ultimately very rewarding.
As for me, I learned a lot about myself as well. I went into this trip knowing that I support Israel, but not fully knowing why. I also learned about myself as a person.
Posted by Aaron at 9:01 PM
Friday, February 8, 2008
I began my long journey on December 20, my Dad’s birthday. I finished my last final and began the arduous task of fitting all of my worldly belongings into a closet, which was previously used to store, at maximum, a hamper and 10 shirts on hangers. Having a half empty apartment would seem to simplify the task, but instead there was a joint maneuver to move all of David’s things in, and all of mine to be squished into the closet. I wouldn’t label myself as a packer. I can name at least three long nights where friends (all female, as they seem to be good at this) have assisted in the packing of my luggage as A, I did not have the time to do it all alone, and B, they are just so much more trained at fitting large amounts of clothing into small spaces. Perhaps there can be many thoughts to elaborate on this topic of women and clothing, but I shall save that for another time.
I was victorious. With exception to a few kitchen items which I left in the kitchen for use by the future residents (David and unknown individual that we shall call Juan). I had successfully cleared David and Juan’s rooms of my things and stuffed it all into a wedge shaped small closet. Fewer things in life have made me more proud of myself. In fact, calling David over to the bedroom to show him my prize, I could not have been more excited. In the mean time, I am receiving text messages from fellow west-coasters (whom we shall not refer to as WCs for reasons that you can figure out), warning me of the feared Boston storms which have a nasty tendency to stall planes and make walks to campus rather miserable. Due to my tendency to be last minute though, these warnings were not heeded, and I departed my apartment with about 1.5 hours until my flight (not a suggested time frame around the holidays). To cap off my victory against the closet earlier in the wee hours of the morning, and with great thanks to the minimal 5am traffic I am proud to say that I traveled from my doorstep in west Boston, to the gate for boarding (In east Boston) in 27 minutes. Somehow, against the weather, the traffic, and the long waits at security and check in, I managed to circumvent all of these roadblocks and whiz through the airport. I’ll tell you, after the 18-minute drive, that is only 9 minutes from taxi to gate. On sitting down in the terminal I had a vision as if it were a marathon and I had won, where the only thing missing was a big red tape for me to break signaling the end. Amongst the grumpy and sleepy delayed airport-dwellers, I was happy as a bird, despite my lack of sleep, and to top it all off, my flight to Phoenix was not delayed at all, and we boarded within 15 minutes of my arrival to the winners circle, and I was finally out of Boston. Another semester finished, another apartment gone, a free room for David and Juan, another time to say goodbye to good friends, and an expectation for great things to come.
Asleep in a wink, I managed to remain in hibernation for the entire flight, missing out on the generous donations of one free drink and six pretzels, which are offered on domestic American flights. It makes me so thankful that they can make the cost of flights so much cheaper by reducing what used to be a meal down to six pretzels and a cup ¾ full of ice and ¼ full of apple juice, my favorite airplane drink (note sarcasm). At least they try to make their cutbacks more interesting. I’ve seen so many unique flavors of pretzels and strange crackers over the last years, I only wish I could remember. Perhaps pretzel bags should become something that I collect. On the other hand, international flights, I’ve found, not only do the opposite of American flights by offering real food, but they instead offer so much! Meals are offered every 4 hours, and in my opinion, delicious ones.
End rant about airline prices and measly food fares.
My flight arrived slightly late into Phoenix, which I took as a great opportunity. I originally was flying from Boston to Spokane to see my parents before my departure on December 26th. After much checking on different airlines, the opportunity was opened for me to visit both my Granddad and Grandma for a few all too short days. For this reason, I was flying to Spokane, then immediately back out to Oakland. Due to the arrival of our plane then, I took this opportunity to ask for a change, and it was granted! Rather than flying from Phoenix to Spokane to Oakland I changed my flight, for no fee, directly to Oakland. My luck was still on me! I excitedly called my parents, namely my mother who had been traveling to pick up my bags in Spokane for me and told them. I arrived in Oakland in the early evening and made my way to the baggage claim and waited patiently as I watched more and more people hug their families, more people pick up bags off of the belt, and more airplane personnel confirm that all the bags had been deplaned. Now, I am fairly positive about airline baggage, as none of mine has ever been lost, with exception to one delayed bag to Boston, which was delivered to me by an unkempt Indian man in a 1988 Geo Metro which was stuffed with lost bags. Aunt Sarah and Granddad waited patiently outside as I ran around the airport trying to track down my bags. After being assured that they would arrive on the next flight to Oakland, I met with Granddad and Aunt Sarah with great expectation to receive my bags in the coming hours. It seems that my luck had finally worn off, having left the city of the Irish.
That evening was a great reunion. Sitting around the dinner table with Aunt Sarah and all of my wonderful cousins, I couldn’t be happier than to share about our lives, our trials and joys, our experiences and our loves. Lauren and Margaret prepared the most delicious enchiladas tasty mango salad (all healthy, of course), which we devoured hurriedly. These healthy eats were only a ploy, as soon after Sarah presented me with plates and tins covered in the most divine of Christmas snacks, fudge cubes, chocolate squares, and bright yellow powder-covered lemon squares. After easily defeating the little man in my head telling me not to eat too much, I did my best to savor and enjoy each piece, indeed, what would the holidays be without fattening sugary treasures such as these.
Saturday was spent lounging In the living room sitting in Grandma’s chair listening to my Granddad tell stories about his life, about his experiences, and about Grandma. It was such a sweet time. I’m getting a bit emotional even typing about it now. We miss you and love you Grandma.
That afternoon Uncle Bob came over presenting Granddad with a new computer and a new safe, which we planted, well, in a location that shall not be disclosed. Then, the computer was placed on the kitchen table and a brief tutorial was given to Granddad on how to turn on the computer and log on. I’m sure he will be a fast learner. I spent the next few hours talking to my youngest cousin Margaret about college and studying abroad, and sitting with Granddad as he proudly showed us his old handguns. Having grown up in Idaho, one would think I may have seen more guns in my time than a New York city slicker, but I’m sure every time I picked up those guns I must have covered it in fingerprints and held it in all of the wrong ways. Uncle Bob was generous enough not to say anything and to discretely wipe off my marks after my handling of the beautiful things.
It was a quick yet priceless 24 hours in California, and before I could even blink, I was back into the airport. No bags. At this point, I’m sure the people around me were starting to notice the 1.5 outfits that I had been rotating in different combinations as to not seem to be wearing the same clothes over and over again, as the smell knows no combination. No less, I boarded the plane and made my way from Phoenix to Boise. It must be mentioned that after flying so much, sleeping on planes comes second nature to me.
Upon my arrival to the Boise airport I hurried to the curb to meet Aunt Willa and Uncle Leon, since my parents were stuck in an extra long and perilous snow filled journey to the Treasure Valley. I was dropped off at Grandma’s to a sleepy dark house, and quickly made myself at home by devouring the left over pizza’s in the fridge and the warm fluffy pumpkin bread that screamed to me from the countertop. At that moment, a very defined and intricately painted picture sticks in my head. I heard a distant door open, and out emerged Grandma. As I grow older I only learn to love and appreciate my family more. It seemed to me like one of those Disney moments when the queen emerges in her silvery hair and the world around her stops to greet her elegance. This was one of those moments. The greatest smile came to my face, outside of my ability to even control the joy written all over it. I rushed up the stairs to greet her with a hug and a kiss and we spent a few special moments in the doorway saying our hellos and her passing on another moment’s worth of grandmotherly wisdom.
Having stuffed myself with the 6 pretzels on the plane, one would wonder why I was so hungry. My parents arrived shortly and I again had more pizza and bread because it would be absurd to ask my parents to eat without me, at least, that’s how I can justify the over-compensatory amounts of food that I consumed that night at midnight. Once again, the time with Grandma and the family was priceless and worth every penny of the extra leg of flights. We cooked up the most delicious roast beef sandwiches for lunch and spent another day relaxing at home as all of us were quite tired from our travels and Aunt Eloise had hurt her leg on the stairs the previous day. I spent the evening at Aunt Willa’s quietly stealing handfuls of holiday chex mix from the counter and catching up on the happenings in my cousins Shane and Ryan’s lives. I look up to them and am always curious what new thing has captured their attention. Willa graciously granted us a bag of chex mix, which never even lasted until our arrival home. I was glad to make a double batch for the family, just as Willa had for me, much appreciated by all, I hope.
To return to my other story, I called the Spokane airport that morning to see how my bags had been so lost as to not be found anywhere for the last 2 days. Finally, a breakthrough. After a bit of arguing with the woman on the phone, and many frustrating discussions with the baggage services in Oakland, the woman from Spokane went looking for my bags. She returned to the phone to inform me that they had been sitting in Spokane for 2 days, were found just hours before, and had been sent to Oakland. After a bit of a mental breakdown, I relayed to the baggage woman in Oakland that my bags would be arriving in Oakland from Seattle, and would need to be shipped back to Seattle and over to Moscow for me to at least get before my next departure from the US. This woman I like. She nicely gave me the flights that she would personally ensure that my bags would be on, so that I could pick them up upon arrival in Moscow, after wearing one pair of pants and two shirts for four days; my undergarments are not open for discussion in this blog.
I requested that my sister go to the airport and get them from the flight, and learned later that night from her that the bags never came. I consider myself a patient man, and do my best to make sure that I am not the nasty man on the phone that ruins someone’s day who is just doing their job on the other end of the phone line. Once again I called the baggage claim in Oakland and talked to a man who finally was able to find my case number in the computer and assured me that my bags were in Moscow, which they weren’t. Doing my best to hold in my frustration, I asked the man to put in a call to the carrier who was in possession of my bags, and was informed that he had sent an email to them, asking of the whereabouts of my bags. Patience at this point had worn quite thin, and I asked the man for their phone number, as his assistance would most likely take a few days, which I did not have. The man then informed me that they do not have a phone. At this point, I’m asking myself, is it possible for an airline service not to have a phone. Having decided upon no, I badgered the man for their phone number, and was not successful in finding any breakthrough. This is all happening on our morning drive from Nampa to Moscow and my parents can easily see the frustration dripping from my words.
“Sometimes, when you are down, all you need is two moist gooey chocolate chip cookies completely drenched in frosting.”
-Life advice by Aaron Seaman
We pulled into a Subway, as they had noted that they now serve breakfast on their signboard. I was not in the mood for a subway omlette, and then excitedly noticed that they had biscuits and gravy, one of my favorite breakfast dishes. The woman working (we shall call her Edna) was sad to inform me that their inventory was low due to it being Christmas eve. Edna must have seen the sadness on my face as my mood was already rather depressed and did her best to scrape the last bit of gravy onto the final biscuit, and gave it for free. This is a good woman.
I’ve been recently informed in my Rehabilitation Engineering course that I am a “big guy,” so it is no wonder that after one biscuit that Aaron’s little tummy was still churning for a bit more. After asking for a cinnamon roll, Edna must have been sure that I was going to cry, as again, the inventory was low. The man in the corner had eaten the last cinnamon roll. I held in my tears and began to walk back to the car at which point Edna once again blessed me with her goodness. She offered to make me a makeshift cinnamon roll out of cookies and frosting. I am almost lost for words as I begin to describe this microwaved food creation. It reminded me a bit of the ocean a bit. A big square styrofoam box with a lake of frosting, and two little cookie islands caddy-corner from each other. If only Edna had put an umbrella in each cookie it would have been a complete island oasis. I enjoyed this unique delight in the car and offered bites to my mother, who was immediately concerned with my health as I consumed this box of sugar. It was a divine experience and helped me to forget about the baggage crisis. Thank you Edna.
I came into contact with the baggage claim in Moscow, who were also waiting impatiently for my bags as they knew my desperation and that the airport would be closed after Christmas eve. It was just as much a mystery to them as me, and there was nothing to be done but wait.
On the afternoon of December 24th, Christmas Eve, I finally made it home. As we drove into the city limits I received a call from the Moscow-Pullman airport and was informed that FINALLY my two lonely bags were sitting in the McDonalds sized airport and would be available for me to pick up in the next hour before the closure of the airport. Emily, Dad and I rushed off to the airport and I was finally reunited with my bags, 48 hours before my departure from the US. Another blessed moment.
The normal custom for me is to not unpack my bags and wait until my room is unlivable before actually unpacking and cleaning the mess. Well, this year, I made quite a mess, but it was only one to be snugged back up into my duffel bag and my brand new beautiful rucksack (thanks family). On Christmas Eve we had a wonderful dinner together, the whole family, and were joined by Katie’s parents and Kelly, a friend of Emily’s. I love the holidays. The ending of the evening was a rousing round of Apples to Apples, a game whose success is based completely upon knowledge of the judge, and a slight bit of sarcastic humor, which I must say, is most well mastered by the Seaman men. Andrew, Dad, and I traded wins along with Kelly, and a smattering by the others. In the end though, it was a win by our guest, Kelly, that won the Apples to Apples title. (Any slight misrepresentations of this game are not open for discussion and complaints will not be addressed…just face it sis, you aren’t funny enough for apples to apples like your two amazing brothers and witty father).
One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the food. It's kind of like Thanksgiving. It feels like every year the dinner table becomes a little bit more crowded. This year we had 10, as far as I can remember, doubling what used to be our family of 5. I only expect it to grow. Against the will of the icy snow-packed roads, we piled into two cars and slid our way out to the Ruby's new beautiful home outside of Moscow for the annual Ruby-Seaman Christmas Bonanza, where there are far too many desserts, far to little time to really catch up adequately, an annual tour of the home for newcomers, and a little gift exchange. I look forward to this every Christmas. As much as I mention how much I am thankful for family, I trust that it is understood that this includes my 2nd families as well.
There are many ways to bring people together. I feel that strawberry waffles is one of my better means to this end. Having such a short time in Moscow, I decided that rather than trying to visit everyone, I would have everyone visit me. Following this breakfast, I had a deep heart to heart with Miss Tina, one of my beloved second mothers. I ran from there to the Tibbals' house to have some tasty Brazilian espresso and another motherly visit. Another mother of mine, Claudia, was my last visit as she pieced together a skeleton. My other mothers, I will see you when I can. I am thankful for you.
Christmas 2007 was a blur, and before I knew it I was scrambling to see old friends, pack my bags, and get to the airport once again. Less than 48 hours after I arrived in little Moscow, I was again on a plane to a new place and a new adventure.
If you have been keeping track, I so far have taken three flights in Christmas week. This evening would double my flight score, as I flew Spokane – Seattle, Seattle – Cincinnati, Cincinnati-Newark. It was a long night.
To quell my recently reinstated paranoia, I discovered my bags on the baggage belt in Newark quite shortly after my landing and made my way for the meeting point of the ICC.
Posted by Aaron at 4:40 PM
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
I love tuesdays. As of last night at 5pm, Else and I were planning to take a flight to Jakarta at 9pm. Plans changed. As of 11pm last night Else, Ludwig, and I were planning to fly to Sumatra tonight. As of 1am this morning, Ludwig and I were planning to take a bus up to Malaysia in order to catch a ferry to northern Sumatra (Oh, Sumatra is an island in Indonesia not far from Singapore). As of 10 this morning, we are all staying here to celebrate Chinese New Year and going to Sumatra on Thursday. This is my life.
Posted by Aaron at 11:38 AM