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What IS An Expat, Anyway?

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

You know, it occurs to me that I’ve probably never answered this question. Not in a “gee, aren’t I mysterious” sort of fashion so much as an “I sure never do get around to doing a lot of things” fashion. Expat is short for expatriate. What does that mean? says the following: ex·pa·tri·ate [v. eks-pey-tree-eyt or, especially Brit., pa-tree-; adj., n. eks-pey-tree-it, -eyt or, especially Brit., pa-tree-] Pronunciation KeyShow IPA Pronunciation verb, -at·ed, -at·ing, adjective, noun verb (used with object)

1. to banish (a person) from his or her native country.
2. to withdraw (oneself) from residence in one’s native country.
3. to withdraw (oneself) from allegiance to one’s country.

verb (used without object)

4. to become an expatriate: He expatriated from his homeland.


5. expatriated; exiled.


6. an expatriated person: Many American writers were living as expatriates in Paris.

[Origin: 1760-70; < ML expatri tus (ptp. of expatri re to banish), equiv. to ex- ex-1 + patri(a) native land + – tus -ate1] Ok, so it’s actually got an array of meanings. I was actually surprised to think of some of those, but I guess it makes sense, and in a general sense it’s merely “someone living outside their country”. I think I first heard the word back in high school somewhere, but never looked it up at the time. I gathered it to mean #6 there, specifically in reference to Hemingway. It seemed like disaffected people living abroad spending time down in the dumps in a bar or something. Fast-forward to December 2002: I end up going off to work on foreign bases in support of the US Military. This is where I run into a new meaning and sense of the word expat. I meet lots of people who’ve been doing that for years even. My plan was to do a year and get out of debt. I shortly expanded this idea to 3 years, being debt-free and buying a house. Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way. Somewhere after 2 years I took a break, got married, spent 4 months in Uzbekistan, Thailand, and a smidgen in Cambodia, and decided to get a job again. As of this writing (Dec 2006) I am at 4 years and a few weeks or so. Actually, I think I’m 4 years to the day that I got off a plane in Karshi, Uzbekistan and looked around at my new home. I think about going back to the states but I don’t really know when. We’ve got a pretty good deal here with time off and are reasonably central to Europe, Africa, and Asia. I think of going back home to a job with 2 weeks of vacation a year and it feels like dying. Some day, but not yet. Still places to go. And there you have it. 😉

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Part VII: Some Time at the Tashkent Airport

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

14 Dec, Saturday:

So after another expensive breakfast, we meander around a bit, and get checked out and ready for our flight down to Karshi. We head to the airport, but to the domestic side, which is smaller. The army of porters sees us a mile off (ok, a few hundred meters) and lines up ready to do some work. Turns out we have additional luggage since one of the guys who went out that morning was unable to get his locker on the plane. It’s a small plane, but more on that later. Anyways, so we have his truck box, and I mean that literally, with us also. The cost for porters is cheap, like a dollar a bag. Baha arranges the “overweight baggage charge” bribe with the airline people. That’s twenty bucks each. And through security we go, straight to the head of the line. Everybody and I mean everybody, sets off the metal detector. I think the only metal I had on me were the zippers on my jacket. So on we go, ready to wait for a bit for our 5:30 PM flight.

I’m going to change subjects for a bit and talk about the national luggage of Uzbekistan. If you are at all familiar with lawn chairs, the kind with the metal frames and that plastic / fabric combo that you actually sit on, then you have seen the basics of the Uzbek baggage. By that, I mean EVERYONE had these bags. I think they go shopping, buy a boatload of the bags, and fly it all home. They look like a stopgap not intended to last more than a few trips. Most of them are taped shut / together. One time we saw this extended family group, and they must have had over 40 of those damn things. It took about a half hour to get all of them inside the terminal. But I tell you what, when they realized they were in front of the wrong desk, they scooted every single one of those bags over to the other desk in about a minute flat.

Ok, back to the story. After an appropriate period of waiting, we shuffle through the door, and onto the waiting unheated bus, which we board and then stand in for an extended period of time while latecomers show up in ones and twos. Off for a nice little ride we go, maybe 400 meters including the wide circle we made turning around from the terminal…to this little teeny tiny corporate jet looking thing.

So we disembark from the bus, and prepare to board the plane through a small ladder in the rear. The interior lights are off for a minute, and it looks like a dark and forbidding cave. What’s in it you ask? Only what you bring with you. Our weapons, need them we will not. Wink The lights come on just as I have gotten into the plane and run into the wall by the door.

And behold! It is even smaller than it appears! I can’t stand up straight as I push by the stacked lawn chair bags into a tiny seat with no headrest. My backpack goes in my lap, since there is no storage under the seats (that’s for feets) and the overhead area isn’t even a bin, but a little area where one might place say, a book or something. It’d need to be a paperback, not hardback. So we get all crammed in this freezing, unheated icebox and sit there for about an hour. I think about sleeping, head forward on backpack like so many times before, but I keep getting distracted by tales of Thailand, from which one guy had just got back from R&R. He is a good storyteller to be sure, but begins to tell that same story a few times over the course of the night. It is also entertaining to see them out de-icing the wings. After about an hour of this, the pilot steps out and mutters something both quick and quiet, which disappoints all non-Americans on the plane. We aren’t disappointed in the same way since we are confused, but that we aren’t flying right now is obvious. So off the plane we go! We stand in the bus for a while and some of our bunch get concerned about the checked baggage. Should we have taken it off? I figure we didn’t put it on, so we don’t take it off. Leroy steps out of the bus to try to get his bag, and is told politely but firmly to get back on the bus. We expect that next time he tries this he will be shot. He doesn’t get off the bus again, so we don’t find out.

As it turns out, Karshi is not the most up to date airport in the world. They don’t have anything to clean snow off the runway with, and as I find out later, this place gets fogged in at the drop of a hat. It gets two flights a day, weather dependant of course. Must be a fun place to work.

Back to the terminal to wait some more. An hour or so later, we find out it will be another hour or so. Then we hop in the aforementioned unheated bus, and back out to the cave that flies through the air. Seriously folks, the lights were on this time, it’s a joke. We weren’t on the plane quite so long this time when the disappointment ripples through the crowd yet again. Back to the terminal to wait some more!

I won’t go into the gory details of how many delays we had, only it was finally decided it’d be decided if it was going to fly again at 2:30AM. That didn’t happen. Ok, wait a couple more hours. Again. Some other flight gets called, and one guy has to wrestle his passed-out partner into a standing position, and finds that his partner is unable to grasp anything, like his briefcase or ticket. Somehow they get him out the door. Again with the waiting. There’s no heat in this terminal, and no longer enough people to generate any heat. The benches are made of fine Soviet steel, guaranteed to leave a waffle print though your jeans. I sleep some, almost out of spite. There is a very drunk prosecutor who asks what the problem is, and if we sign out a complaint they will beat the shit out of them for us. He then goes and sits next to a lady who’s every movement (especially the part where she turns completely away from him) says “go away.” He never even notices. Later, he and a buddy throw up in the sink. Separately, as far as I can tell, because they got both sinks. They boil bacon here instead of frying it. It looks like he had some bacon. I wonder where he got breakfast from, because we are all very hungry. It is not in my plan to eat from the sink though.

Did I mention more waiting? I may have been distracted by the freezing, or the puking. It’s finally decided the plane is going to fly at 5:30AM. It doesn’t, and we knew it wouldn’t, but we are spared the journey back and forth from the plane. Now it’s going to fly at 8:30, but let’s just agree that it didn’t. Finally the decision is made to abort this madness, and we prepare to head back to the hotel. A couple hours later, we leave. Why so long you ask? We had to get the tickets switched, make sure we wouldn’t have to re-bribe for the luggage, that sort of thing. Turns out there is a later flight that they are sure is gonna go this time. We’ve heard that one before, and don’t fall for it. At 11:30 (or possibly later) it does. Sad I was dead asleep at the time, after we barely made it back in time for a tasty delicious break-feast.

Thoughts on Wife Swapping

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

No, not that kind.

It seems there is a show on in the US where families switch wives and moms for a couple of weeks. The first week the switched wife has to abide by the existing rules of the house, but the second week things change and the house runs under her rules. I haven’t seen it of course, not being in the states. So why would I comment on it, you ask? Hang with me, it gets better.

Among the channels we get that are actually in English is one called Star World. It’s mostly American programming. Among this programming is the venerable Oprah show. I think Oprah is a long ways from the beginning of her talk show career, and has progressed beyond the morass that sunk a lot of her competition from those days. I recall a friend who had some personal experience with her not liking her all that much. It does seem to me that “it’s all about Oprah” and she is definitely not worried about her shameless self-promotion. Well, enough about Oprah herself. The show was essentially a long commercial for this other series. She had a few families on and gave overviews of their episodes.

In the first, we have some kind of completely self-centered heiress that spends her whole day shopping, working out, being pampered at spa, and then goes home for a bit to meet her upper-class businessman husband so they can go out to dinner every night. The 3 kids are raised by the 3 nannies while the cook cooks and the maid maids. Disgusted yet? She has to switch with a working class mom who splits firewood for two hours before driving the school bus and later taking care of her own family. I think we can all see this one coming. One woman sees this horrible imposition on herself while the other tries to grasp how a family lives the way it does.

Come the second week, when it’s time to re-make the rules, it gets pretty bad. The heiress decides she isn’t going to do anything at all except indulge in her “me time” and make the daughters do the same. Hubbie has to do everything. Working class mom tries to inject some sanity and healthy family togetherness, sending the maid, cook, and nannies home for the week. Results? One man nearly breaks from the pressure while gaining a new appreciation for his wife, while another resents the intrusion into his unfeeling cocoon by some po hillbilly who he treats like low class trash. I feel sorry for the moneyed family, as they are totally messed up. I take that back — I feel sorry for the kids, and feel disgusted at the parents.

Episode 2 is similar, though they don’t seem to be so different as the first were. We have a dairy farming family who seem to work and bond well together, and a upper middle class (or so) family where the husband has so completely spoiled his wife by giving her breakfast in bed and doing all the housework before driving the kids to school and going to work. Lazywife doesn’t even get out of bed until midafternoon. She turns out not to be of much use on the farm while the other tries to figure out just what she is supposed to do as a spoiled do-nothing. Nothing, apparently.

At role reversal time, we find a similar situation where Spoiledwife decides not only is she no longer participating in the daily duties, neither will any of the 2-3 sons! Hubby breaks down under the strain, gaining a further appreciation of how much his wife does help out. The other family is not so bad while hubby actually gets a kind of vacation. The kids don’t react so well to doing chores or riding the bus to school.

We get some good stereotypes out of this. A couple of women so arrogant, selfish, and conceited they don’t seem salvageable. It’s interesting they both opt out of any work or doing anything for anyone. Another couple of women try to do something sensible, with varying degrees of success. The spoiler dad / husband truly seemed to enjoy doing things for his family, but in completely taking on all the duties he made the family not want to do anything for themselves. Of course, teenagers tend toward the punk as a matter of course, but the mom should know better. It’s not unreasonable to let things slide a Bit, but at some point your sense of respect for yourself needs to come into play.

What conclusions can we draw from this? None, really. It’s a TV show, what did you expect? Something deep and well reasoned? Entertainment is just that, and anyone who paired up families that complemented each other would have a fairly boring show on their hands, followed shortly by a pink slip and a “you’ll never work in this town again!” They intentionally mismatch them to cause tension. Some people will learn something about themselves and their families, but some will only be useful as targets of our disgust and ire. Do they bad guys simply get edited to appear that way? Doubtful, since smoke indicates fire, but I bet the editors are no friend to a potential unsympathetic bad guy. To be sure, we saw an “edited for time” version of a show that was already edited to be on TV in the first place. But at least it gives us people to look at and be glad not to be like, huh? At least we hope we aren’t…

Outward Bound: The Palace to Dubai

Saturday, January 15th, 2005

Mosul Palace

I haven’t even left yet, and I’m already a bit irritated. As regards stuff, I’m shipping it, taking it, or trashing it. I have good amounts of the first and last, and too much of the middle. One backpack contains electronic equipment such as my laptop, camera, external hard drive, Ipaq with all their attendant power supplies and cables, in addition to some paperwork type stuff such as my document folder, some small dictionaries, and a networking book. See, I had this idea about not being a totally hedonistic bum, and accomplishing something on such an extended time off. Not a major something, but more of a token something. Anyway, I bet that ends up a dead weight.

My other backpack is the clothes pack. It could be lighter, and also less stuffed. However, it’s my own fault, because I have made wildly differing plans in the climatological sense. Central Asian desert in winter vs. the tropical seas in and about Thailand, where they only understand winter in a theoretical sense, and from wild, unbelievable tales brought back by those with Nordic benefactors. Variety is the spice of life, but the bane of the traveler who totes his own gear. I have a jacket with liner. It’s not cold enough to require the liner here, but I’m gonna wear it because I have nowhere to pack it. It will be good in Uzbekistan, since I went with only short sleeve shirts to help the shirts do double duty. Maybe it will be warm enough in Uz that I can leave it entirely, since the thought of toting a jacket around Thailand is pretty abysmal. (more…)


Thursday, January 6th, 2005

Should leave tonight on the hard car. Couple-three days getting to Dubai, 4 days in Dubai or so. After that should be a month in Uz, then probably a couple in Thailand. I don’t know how often I will have net access, but I will be writing. It’s not like there aren’t internet cafes around the world. I’ll have my laptop so I won’t have to think it up all there while paying by the minute or hour.

I won’t miss Iraq, but there are some good folks around.

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