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Carte de séjour   
07:42pm 30/12/2011
  I upgraded my précipissé; I have a French ID card. They didn’t let me keep the précipissé, though.

This trip was far easier; I came in with my invitation, my précipissé, and my fiscal stamps. They welcomed me in and (surprise) asked me to wait. After about an hour, a nice lady took my papers and handed me a card. The card is valid for 12 months from the date I had my appointment.
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07:05pm 14/11/2011
  I now have a précipissé or something or other. It’s a word that doesn’t fit into my head. But, even if I don’t remember what it’s called, it means that I’m no longer illegal.

So, how did I go from being a lowly illegal alien to someone who is welcomed into the country? I went to my appointment.

Preparing for the appointment was actually more work than one would expect. The list of documents from the website turned into a one-inch stack of papers. I showed up on time on the correct day. I waited in line for about 45 minutes, but had conveniently run into someone that I knew, so it passed quickly. At the end of the line, I presented my invitation and stack of papers to a nice, but stressed individual who promptly told me that I wasn’t cool enough to get into this club. My proof of address wasn’t acceptable, so he gave me 1.5 hours to find a cooler proof of address.

A short sidebar for people who have never lived in France: Proving that you live someplace in France is hugely important. If you want your bank to send your statements to a new address, you need to prove that you live at that address. If you want to receive state health care, you have to prove that you’ve maintained the same address for at least 3 months. I’m not totally sure what happens that allows France to claim that even homeless people have healthcare here.

Back to the story: The power company was only a couple metro stops away and was willing to hook me up. The line was shorter the second time and was allowed through the main door.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the thing on the other side of the door was an even longer line. At least they were kind enough to give me a form to fill out while I waited. An hour later, I got to speak with another woman who was not as nice as the first person and who seemed fairly bored. She was annoyed that my stack of papers wasn’t in the right order. She looked at the first few papers and sent me away. Several of the documents in my inch were difficult and/or expensive to procure: my translated birth certificate had cost me over $100, the fiscal stamps cost around $150. None of the difficult papers or stamps ever got pulled out of the folder.

Again, you probably aren’t surprised when I say that I got to wait again. About 2 hours this time. They handed me my précipissé and told me to come back in two months with other denominations of fiscal stamps to receive the real card.
VISA 2   
01:21pm 14/08/2011
  I was already ready for the appointment, so I just had to wait till the time arrived. Sadly, many of the papers expire, so there was some work involved in re-preparing for the big day. Even more sadly, I overdid the waiting and missed the appointment; I had written the date wrong in my day planner and didn’t realize the mistake until two days after. Oops.

So I asked myself after making that discovery, "Now what?" I saw two options: go anyway or make a new appointment. As an optimist, I went anyway (it’s not like I didn’t have all of the papers freshly prepared). After an hour wait, the nice gentleman advised me to make a new appointment. It did however give me a chance to ask if I was going to get into trouble. To confirm that I was still golden all he did was confirm that I would be able to set an appointment.

I didn’t hesitate and found a cyber cafe in the neighborhood. I took the first available appointment, which was 10 weeks off. I imagine that the busy season is just starting, because the first delay was only 5 weeks. But, the fact that they have a 5 week delay even in the low season implies to me that they are a fair bit understaffed.
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French VISA   
03:26pm 05/07/2011
  Normally when I don’t post it’s either that I have nothing to say or that I have no time to say it.  The silence of late was both.  I’m starting a new adventure that could be interesting and, though many people have experienced it before me, our collective consciousness (google) couldn’t actually provide me with any details about what I should expect from the experience.  But, before I get into the next adventure, I’ll catch up on the last few.  After all, I don’t think that I posted at all last year.</p>

I’m living in Paris, France.  I’ve been here since the end of July last year.  I’m studying Computational Linguistics at Paris VII (Denis Diderot) University.  I started at the License 3 level.  That’s the last year of a degree half-way between an associates and a bachelor’s degree that functions as the bachelor’s degree in France.  I just finished my first year, which means that I have a French degree.  I’m under the impression that this program is fairly demanding by standards.  I’m sure that being responsible filled up my agenda all year long.  I still have a long way to go on my French, but I’ve reached the level that I can usually expect everyone to understand me without having to repeat myself and that when I don’t understand someone it’s because I couldn’t hear them.

So, I admit that that was a fairly short summary for the last 2 years, but unless you’re interested in French grammar, machine learning, or semantics, I probably covered all of the interesting bits.  Let’s get on to the new adventures.

I’m out to continue my French adventure.  French education visas are good for one year.  My year is nearly up, so I need to renew.  The rules say that I need to start the renewal process during the last two months of my visa’s validity.  Beyond that, there are a lot of things that I’m not too clear on, so I’ll document what I did, what I thought about doing, and what worked and didn’t.

This page and this page were my first guides in the process.  I admit that I’m still not 100% what they call what I need to do.  I think that I “have” a carte de sejour, even if I haven’t ever seen it and don’t know what number it is.  If that’s the case, I’m renewing my carte de sejour.  I’m fairly sure that one of the prizes from finishing this process is that they will give me a real carte (card) that I can hold in my hands.  The first of those pages has an attachment that lists everything that I need to prepare for the process.  The second page has a link that allows me to setup an appointment.

I had found the pages some time back, and started in on assembling the papers.  The two biggest challenges were the birth certificate (would you really have thought that I would have needed it as I was packing my bags to come to France) and the proof of enrollment.  The challenge with the proof of enrollment is that my school hadn’t finished yet.  We are supposed to finish this week (even though the last exam was over a month ago).  The French system holds juries on the final grades once everything has been turned in and corrected.  That is supposed to happen in a couple more weeks I think.  After that, I should be able to enroll for the next year.  My visa expires in 3 weeks.  This timeline didn’t seem good to me.  My school helped me out by writing a nice note saying that I would be accepted to the program next year.

Papers assembled, time to begin.  Step one, set up a meeting using the website.  This requires my name, my birthday, the end date of my visa, and my carte de sejour number (see section where I mention that I don’t have a carte de sejour number).  I’m not very good at getting information out of French call centers, I rarely figure out what I need to do to talk to a person and if the information I needed was standard, I would have just picked it up from the web.  So, I headed to the address on the website to ask what I needed to put into the carte de sejour number field.  I explained my story to the folks there and they seemed genuinely pleased that I had succeeded and was trying to continue and genuinely disappointed that I hadn’t come to the right location to do it.  They sent me to the prefecture of the police.  The folks at the prefecture seemed more accustomed to people who were renewing.  I went through security and then waited in line for a while.  The gentleman seemed annoyed with me, but I think the reason was that he felt bad that I had come all that way and that he couldn’t do anything to help me.  However, he told me that the “Number Etr” on the OFII sticker in my passport was my carte de sejour number.  All told, it took about 4 hours, but it meant that I had everything that I needed to begin for real.  I was satisfied.

After tramping home I connected to the website to setup the appointment.  I got a message telling me that they couldn’t set up my appointment and they gave me a number to call.  It’s never good to be the exception, so I was a little disappointed, but diligently called the number the next day during business hours.  Confirming my experience that I have no talent for getting information out of French call centers, I spent an hour on the phone and never managed to reach a person or to hear what the problem was.  However, they did give me a slightly different URL to use to setup the appointment which worked.  While going through the meeting setup, they gave me a different list of papers to assemble.  It was fairly similar to the first, but not identical; one key difference being that the tax that I had already paid to allow me to renew wasn’t the correct amount.

They gave me the choice of when I wanted my appointment, but the earliest choice that they offered me was more than a week after the end of my visa.  Again, not comforting.  I started asking around; apparently that’s fairly normal and the meeting can be several months after the end of the visa.  I remember foreigners in the US telling me that they weren’t able to leave the US and I never really understood why.  I’m guessing this was the reason, and I finally get it.  I always figured that the government would up at my doorstep the day after my visa expired.  I guess that won’t happen for another generation.

The Phone   
12:14pm 31/10/2009
  My life is totally lackluster these days, so it hasn’t merited much blogging. I go to school, I study, I work, I sleep, and I buy weird cheeses and mushrooms that attract flies. If the ultimate goal was to produce a blog, I guess that I could write about those wacky dreams, but my real goal is to let the people I care about know that I’m not dead and to document the interesting events that happen to me (weird dreams don’t typically qualify). In addition, I have really fast internet and a US phone number that allows anyone who wants to contact me any time they see fit.

Errata: had really fast internet. It stopped working yesterday. I find that experience to be irrationally disconcerting. I spent a couple of hours totally unnerved because I couldn’t check my email (which I wouldn’t have had at that time of day anyway). However, I acknowledge that the internet is my primary connection to the outside world, so some access is important. Blogging makes more sense now.

I have a favorite French word: Blesser. For those of the world who don’t speak French, it means to hurt. My normal technique of guessing the meanings of words based on cognates and context didn’t serve me so well here. I was actually curious enough to do research. I think that it’s a cousin of the English term. The English term was created by the bible translators who borrowed a Germanic word which meant roughly, ‘anoint by bleeding upon’. My French wasn’t yet good enough to do etymological research, so I just went with, “I can see how you get from anoint by bleeding upon to hurt.”

So, have you heard me speak French? Probably not, because I haven’t spoken French with any of my friends that actually speaks any French or read my blog. Possibly you’re curious if I’m learning anything. Well, let me tell you. I started by exclusively working on pronunciation. It helped. I’ve had one new accomplishment here that I hadn’t yet managed in any other language; in a social situation alone with an internationally aware native French speaker, I passed as a local for several minutes until I gave up and asked for help on a word. I admit that it wasn’t a normal conversation, but I’m still pretty proud of the accomplishment.

Right now my weakness is formulating sentences. As long as I can get a running start on a sentence, I tend to do fine, but if I have to come up with them quickly, it doesn’t always work out so well. I’ll include some homework from last week to show my level there.

Quand elle a arrêt de courir, Alice n’avait aucune idée ou elle était. Elle était déjà dans la forêt. Apres avoir entendu un bruit, elle a regarde dans un arbre et a vue un chat tigré. Le chaut la regardait et avait l'air amusé.


"Bonjour. Pouvez-vous m'aider? Je suis perdue."

"Bien sûr. Ou veux-tu aller?"

"Sortir d'ici."

"C'est facile. C’est par là." a déclaré le chat tout en pointant dans trois directions en même temps.

All told, I’m not sure that my French will progress fast enough for what I need. Ideally, I will be at level C1 (able to converse fluently on most any subject) by the end of the year. When I take the fluency test on <date to be determined>, it will be my first such test. If it’s just reading comprehension, I could probably get close today. However, if it’s a spelling test, I’m not going to make it. Good, I like a little excitement.


Ok the internet came back on its own. Plus, I made the discovery that word has some really great reference tools built in if you get the Multilanguage pack. It’s got on screen tips with translations and IPA pronunciations. However, I’m not sure how much use I’ll have of the Arabic dictionary.

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The End of the World   
01:50pm 02/10/2009
  I quit. I didn’t like the fact that I was working so hard that everything else was getting pushed from my life. I figured that a goal would be a good motivator to help me deal with the workload. My goal was to save enough money for France. At the point that I set the goal, I was already past it. I’m not sure if I’d ever accomplished a goal quite that quickly.

I decided to do grad school in France. At this point, the astute reader (I mean you), will ask him(/her)self, “When did Zeke learn French?” The answer to that question is “never”. I’m starting my post-graduate education by finding the cheapest French school in France and spending a tourist visa there. I’m in Nice studying for just under three months. After that, I get to fill in school applications from some other location.

Sadly, it took me about 6 hours to decide that I don’t like Nice. Not in an, “I’ve got to get out of here this second” sort of way. But, I’m sure that I shouldn’t ever try to make this home. As my body adjusts to the local time and I get more opportunities to explore, I think that I’m starting to better understand why. Big tourist spots always develop a scummy layer around the fringe. Nice is a Mecca for ultra-rich folks. That means that the caliber of scum is extra high. To illustrate my point, I’ve included an excerpt from the profile of my 6th best match on okcupid.

My Self-Summary
***!!!!!EMERGENCY!!!!!.... If any of my stalkers, haters, lovers whatever has any sort of connection to Michael Jackson tickets I would be forever grateful. If anyone would like to donate a pair (one for me and one not for you) I would cry tears of joy. Ticketmaster is down and the AMEX people are idiots. I don't have a black one (yet) so they really don't care about a peon like me. Donations would be greatly appreciated : ) Merci. PS preferably in July....

Damn, I didn't know I had to write an essay. I like to drink insane amounts of alcohol, party like a rockstar and add up the damages later. I like to wine and dine only to places with five stars endorcing the bottom of the menu.

When most people see me, they think I am a stripper.. I admit, the fake eyelashes and 22 inch beautiful blond extensions may fool the average $30,000 millionaire however, to the contrary, I am just that sexy. I wouldn't require your black american express if I was a stripper, asshole. Have you seen this badunkadunk?

I’ve got an itty-bitty furnished studio. It’s nice enough. I’m sure that I’ll start to find the nicest parts of the city as I spend more time here (I’ve definitely seen glints of promise). More on that to come.

My French class has 5 people in it and meets for 3 hours a day. I’m enjoying it. I’m augmenting my studies by learning the IPA. The IPA is basically my new favorite thing. I’ll probably talk more about that later, too.

So, I’ll quit focusing on myself and get back to the end of the world. I’m sure it’s happening—the weatherman told me. This is an undoctored photo from wunderground.com. I’m pretty sure that a temparture of -5573 degrees means that, not only is there no molecular motion in the air, the molecules feel extra lazy and won’t even start moving until they’ve been warmed up by an extra 5000 degrees or so. I’ll do my best to get any of my personal business done before Monday.

End Of The World
Originally uploaded by ze6ke.

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Sorry I Can't Travel Both   
12:21pm 27/01/2008
  I'm hunting for jobs full-time. This activity certainly wouldn't make it onto my list of favorite pastimes. But, I admit that I have learned a lot every time I've done it. I think this is the first time that I was looking for a job where I was giving much consideration to how much I would like the work: Before I graduated, it was all about money. My first after-college job was to fulfill a curiosity. The second job was all about finding a good boss. Peace Corps was all about doing something international.

Deciding what I want to do with my career is far harder than finding a job. Before thinking about it really hard, I started pursuing development positions. My success was limited; probably because I was not using a developer resume, am not horribly experienced and wasn't committed to the effort. After poking at it for a while, I realized that I am basically qualified to become a DBA and that I would probably enjoy the position more.

Through the whole process, I was feeling an inordinate amount of stress, and hadn't identified the source. I figured out that part of the source was that I didn't feel like I would have any success landing the jobs that would help me get into business school. It was taking me a while to sort all of this out in my head. Shortly after putting it together, I realized that I'm better qualified as a project manager than as a DBA or developer and that PM jobs would help me get into business school. I hadn't included them on my initial rounds because I had wanted to be more technical.

That brings me to where I am now. I haven't persuaded myself to commit to a business track or a technical track, but now is the right time to make the choice. I initially went down the PM trail because I was tired of having bad PMs ruin my projects; when I was in charge, things went more smoothly than when I let someone else do it. Going into the future, I think that being technical would mean having an easy, pleasant life but risk getting bored in about 10 years. Going down the PM road would probably mean more stress, but would also open the door to more variety and ability to produce interesting results.

Do other people have this much trouble deciding what to do with themselves?

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My Big Adventure   
02:47pm 05/01/2008
  What I did:

I traveled to a few places –

  • Washington

  • California

  • North Carolina

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • California

  • Japan (just for sushi at the airport)

  • One night in Bangkok

  • Bangladesh for 6 months

  • Florida

  • North Carolina

  • Ohio

  • Massachusetts

  • North Carolina

  • Florida

  • Oregon

  • Washington

  • Oregon

  • California

  • New Mexico

  • Mexico

  • Guatemala

  • Belize

  • Guatemala

  • Honduras

  • Nicaragua

  • Costa Rica

  • Panama

  • Colombia

  • Brazil

  • Uruguay

  • Argentina

  • Spain

  • France

  • England

  • Ireland

  • England

  • France

  • Germany

  • Italy

  • Germany

  • Czech Republic

  • Serbalslokvia

  • Bulgaria

  • Turkey

  • Egypt

  • South Korea

  • Hong Kong (with surprise stop in mainland China)

  • Canada

  • Oregon

  • Washington

  • Mexico

  • Guatemala

  • Mexico

  • Texas

I did it on three separate passports and filled one of them up completely.

How long did it take:

From the the fifth of July, 2005 to the 19th of December 2008. Just under 2.5 years.

How much did it cost:

$26,000 or so.

Was it worth it:


What did I learn:

  • How to learn languages – The fifth language was certainly easier than the first.

  • Spanish – I'm pretty good.

  • Portuguese – I'm OK.

  • Bangla – OK, I forgot Bangla already, but I used to be pretty good.

  • German – I'm pretty bad.

  • French – I've definitely had conversations in French. I'll get back to it.

  • Korean – I think I learned more in my one month there this time than in my year before.

  • Geography – It's important to look on a map and figure out where I've been.

  • Politics – I have a pretty good understanding of what is happening and why. The world was more pleasant before.

  • Economics – Evolutionary Microeconomics is fun.

  • How to find cheap flights – $26,000 comes out to just over $10,000 per year.

  • How to travel – Cheap hotels, nice hotels, hostels, street vendors, couch surfing, visas...

  • History – Maybe not everything that has ever happened, but I can definitely put things in context now.

  • My physical and emotional limits – Some of them at least.

  • What it means to be an American – All you have to do is believe.

  • That America is going down – I don't think it's going to be a 3rd world country any time soon. But, the financial markets are already bucking conventional wisdom and betting against it, it's still losing money, and the majority of Americans don't see a big problem. The scary bit is what will happen once the American earning power has fallen off, but before the military power has.

  • Why it's ok that Americans call America America – When America was founded, it didn't really have neighbors. Americans were the only people that could call themselves Americans for a bunch of years. However, the name didn't show an awful lot of foresight.

  • How global warming works – Global warming isn't a big threat to the first world, but it's going to tear stuff up in the third.

  • That international banking can be a pain – I tried a lot of stuff with banking on my travels. I got told plenty of times that I couldn't open an account for some reason or other. I also got told that I couldn't make deposits outside of my country of residence.

  • What marketing is

  • Bargaining

  • That I don't like Citibank

  • Everything there is to know about food poisoning


  • What I'm going to do next

How have I changed:

  • I'm a sincere, positive person. I normally bring out the best sides of people. In my travels, I saw the worst sides of some pretty horrible people. Those are images that will take a long time to wipe away.

  • Having a deeper understanding of how things work, I will be more thoughtful in what actions I take.

  • I always felt that traveling was a part of growing up. I had never had the opportunity to do it before. Now, I feel ready to make much bigger commitments because I feel like I'm an adult.

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01:07pm 04/01/2008
  Mexico City was not very exciting. I went back to my first international hostel. It was still a nice place. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time in the hostel because I was recovering from that quesadilla.

From Mexico City, I flew to visit family that I hadn't seen for several (15) years. They were older than I had remembered, but still nice. After that, I flew to see family that I hadn't seen together for 3 years (that would be my immediate family). All we did was cook, eat, talk, and watch movies. Everything but the movies was great. The movies were fine.
08:43pm 12/12/2007
  I've been unhappy with the quality of my writing recently. I'm not a talented writer; for me, good writing takes work and all the stars being in alignment. The whole idea of ending my trip has really knocked my stars out of alignment. I realized that this end is something truly final. I've enjoyed traveling and I will likely never have a similar opportunity again. I will probably make it to Khazakstan and China someday, but those will be shorter, direct trips. Maybe I will hold a funeral service for my traveling self.

After Angangueo, I went to Morelia during the daytime to hunt for a guitarron (giant bass guitar used in Mariachi music). Shortly after arriving, I realized that I had lost my camera and that all of my awesome butterfly pictures were gone forever. The timing was pretty extraordinary; right before the end of my trip. This made me realize how well I'd done on my travels having only lost about four things on the whole trip. I gave away far more than I lost.

Everyone in Morelia directed me to a city called Paracho, the avocado and guitar capital of Mexico. I wanted a little time in Mexico for accepting my end so I tried to do Paracho as a day trip. I arrived in the early afternoon and spent a couple of hours walking around learning where stuff was and eating ice cream that was complicated enough that I had to ask for instructions. The whole city was shut down. I was worried that it was because we were on a big Mexican holiday (Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadelupe), but apparently it was just because lunch lasts until 4 in the afternoon. I found a fully outfitted guitarron for under $200 and learned that guitarron cases are both cumbersome and heavy.

On my way out of town, I stopped for dinner. I taught someone in the avocado capital of Mexico how to make an avocado smoothie, it was totally new to her. She was out of milk so she started by handing me a wad of pesos and asking me to go to the grocery and pick up some milk for her. In exchange, she fed me some quesadillas which thoroughly messed up my bus ride to Mexico city and the next several days.
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Butterflies Before the Deadline   
05:27pm 11/12/2007
  I was starting to get very close to the end of my trip. That meant two things were catching up with me. First, that fact that I only had time to do a few more things. Second, the weight of the sentence, “What am I doing next?”. While in Oaxaca, I heard that there is an annual butterfly migration that terminates in Mexico. I was already supposed to go shopping in a nearby city, so butterflies sounded like a good activity. I hopped a bus (through Mexico City) to Morelia, Michoacan. To save time, I took a night bus.

I don't normally have problems with night buses. However, I had a layover for several hours in Morelia where it was both freezing (ok 6C) and unheated. I started out by being surprised that it got cold in Mexico. Gradually my surprise shifted from that to how cold I really felt. By the end of my layover I had opened my luggage and started to layer my clothing. I had also started to curse the architect who had taken a pause in his career as a wind-tunnel designer to design that bus station.

The butterflies hang out near Angangueo (which is further up the mountain from Morelia). I arrived there in the morning and managed to find a nice, cheap, totally unheated hotel there. Afterwards, I took off for the butterflies. That was humbling. The general direction to the butterflies was up. They hang out about 2 miles above sea level. The buses, however, drop off quite a bit lower than that. I learned that hiking from 10,000 feet to 11,000 feet is hard. I went up with a guide. He seemed to have forgotten that it was hard (or possibly that hadn't been covered in his training). Watching him, I felt incompetent. Fortunately, I was walking up with a normal human as well and his struggles made me feel much better. That might have been the only time in my life that walking winded me enough that I had to sit down. It made me better understand how my grandmother feels.

In the end it was worth it; I learned how many butterflies there are in the world. I don't know an exact number, but I'm pretty sure it's more than a million because that's about how many I saw. The trees weren't green, they were orange. There was a constant noise (did you know that butterflies are noisy? I didn't.) of butterflies. They weren't afraid of anything. I took some of the best pictures of my life. I took pictures of me with butterflies climbing on me, clouds of butterflies flying, butterflies up close...
The Jaded Traveler and the Quest for the Seven Moles   
11:51pm 10/12/2007
  Before the sun had come up one chilly Oaxacan morning, Ze6ke, the Jaded traveler, was dropped off at the local bus station. Oaxaca is a town in Mexico. But not just any town. Oaxaca is culinary haven famous for 7 flavors of mole, a special style of sauce. That is what brought our hero here, he had come to find and conquer each of the flavors.

Ze6ke knew that the quest would be difficult, the flavors were certainly more than he would be able to conquer in on sole day. So, he began by finding a safe haven to rest and recover from the onerous battles with the local cuisine. After walking for some time, he came upon an inn called “Hostal Pochon” and decided to make his base here. But, he had not even arrived at the hostel before being confronted by his first challenger at a local market. His challengers were a Natilla (a type of Mexican stirred pudding), Arroz con Leche, and pumpkin juice. This enemies were quickly dispatched, even though it would be incorrect to say that they were dispatched before before breakfast. The Natilla was quite pleasant, the Arroz con Leche was good, and the pumpkin juice was strange. Our hero also encountered many of the seeds of his challengers, but, as a gentleman, refused to engage them until they had been fully developed. His wallet lightened by 33 pesos, our hero felt that he had started his quest well.

In the afternoon, Ze6ke felt ready to engage the king of the moles, the Mole Negro. This mole is famous for consuming some 20 spices in its production and is so successful that it has spread its darkness through much of the world. Our hero had decided to engage it in its own lair. Leading up to the Mole Negro, it was necessary to dispatch several minions: a Tortilla Soup, Horchata, and a Crème Caramel. The Tortilla Soup was bristling with flavors and textures, ranging from the hot and crunchy of the tortillas and pork rinds to the cool and smooth of the avocado. All this was supported by a flavorful soup base. Fortunately, even after 2 years without significant exercise, the taste buds of our hero were still well developed and highly skilled and he quickly routed the soup.

The Mole Negro, however, had complexities of flavor to be found nowhere else. Mole Negro in other environments has several layers of flavor that can stun a novice gastronome, but that is a mere shadow of the beast that lives in Oaxaca. The ingredients in Oaxaca are much fresher which allows hundreds of new flavors to hide inside of the devilish black paste. All this was sitting on a perfectly cooked chicken breast and accompanied by rice. After the first taste, doubts entered the mind of our hero. But, he had learned that doubt never lightens a loud and he charged ahead with everything he had; eventually triumphing; wiping the last remnants of the mole from his plate using the rice. The only true cost of the meal being 50 pesos (about $5).

On another day, Ze6ke decided to go to the haven of all flavors in Oaxaca, the central market. He knew that this could be the most dangerous of his missions, so he went with a party of four brave adventurers. Shortly after entering this dark haven, they were accosted by a Chapulines saleswoman. Our hero, showing his bravery, quickly accepted the offer to eat a Chapulin (look it up), but decided that, though it was pleasantly crunchy and had a nice earthy flavor, it was prepared with an unfortunate amount of lemon and decided to not accept the challenge of eating an entire bag. One other of the adventurers later accepted the challenge and agreed that the lemon was unfortunate. After having traveling for less than 50 feet through the crowded market, Ze6ke was accosted by a new challenger, Champurrado (a drink made from chocolate and corn). The beverage was better prepared than the Chapulines had been and was a pleasant way to consume chocolate. After an hour of exploring (and helping someone purchase a stylish hand-woven bag), the party arrived at the inner sanctuary. This was a giant cavern filled hundreds of merchants clamoring to rid themselves of their cursed moles. One vendor in particular offered Mole Rojo for the price of 25 pesos. Unfortunately, our party got what it paid for. The chicken was overcooked and flavorless. The sauce itself was smokey, but didn't have much depth to its flavor. As any brave adventurer would understand, our hero left feeling unsatisfied by not having been offered a worthy challenger.

It was two more days before the next serious challenge was presented. The challenge came at La Casa De La Abuela, which would turn out to be a veritable minefield of local cuisine. Here Ze6ke encountered El Amarillo. Not to be confused with the yellow mole. No, this dish is so famous and powerful that it only has one name, like a rockstar. This, however, doesn't give a true sense of the gravity of the battle that was about to take place. On this same day, in this same venue, a battle would also be waged with Almendrado. With the gravity of this encounter, our hero was almost totally overwhelmed and failed to photograph the food. El Amarillo was a simple sauce that could almost be compared to a typical green salsa in any Mexican restaurant. Though it was well prepared, it was not a worthy challenger for our favorite gourmand. He left the vanquishing of the Amarillo to his shield bearer. Our hero tackled the Almendrado. The Almendrado could easily be compared to a Korma curry from India. It was a marvelous balance of flavors; a worthy opponent for even the most trained palate. In the end, both plates were well vanquished. But, the cost was high. In addition to 120 pesos per plate, our hero's party had to rest, speaking of philosophy for two hours before moving on.

Through the rest of the time in Oaxaca, our hero battled Guave Mole, a smorgasboard of Oaxacan foods and one more encounter with Almandredo. On researching the enemy, it was discovered that one of the 7 moles, Pepían, had already fallen in Guatemala. Unfortunately, the Green Mole showed great cowardice. That battle will have to wait for another day.

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09:20am 09/12/2007
  Two events inspired me to come to Oaxaca. I liked my first hostel in Mexico city (from 2 years ago) and they advertised a hostel in Oaxaca (I think). I figured that meant I would be able to find a pretty good hostel. Second, I really liked the Coloradito I ate in Mexico City. It was at a Oaxacan restaurant. I had heard that there were several other types of special salsa as well. Those reasons might be a little arbitrary, but the beat any reason I had to be anyplace else.

It turned out that Oaxaca is pretty studly. I was right about the hostel. A steady flow of interesting people passed through, typically staying between 1 and 3 days. It's relatively uncommon that I expect to maintain a long term friendship with people I meet in a hostel. It might happen with a few people here.

Most of my travels have been based on living economically. The second easiest place to save is in the pantry. I've eaten some amazingly meager meals. Also, I consciously avoid writing about food (to not let myself fixate). But, that went against the reason why I was in Oaxaca. I came to eat. So, that's what I'm going to write about in

The Jaded Traveler and the Quest for the Seven Moles!

But, that will come later, for now, I'm just going to write about what I did.

I am told that Oaxaca is famous for art. Apparently its not quite so famous that I would have heard of it, but other people seem to have. I ended up spending a lot of time in art galleries. The reputation is deserved. During the artist tour of one gallery I saw a remarkable female silhouette. There were three in succession, the last featured a hollow spot where the woman had been and a silhouette shaped piece on the floor below. Being uncultured, I asked. Apparently, she really had fallen out of the painting.

I was a good tourist (thanks to the help I got) and made it to some of the big sites near the city. One of the big sites is a tree called El Tule. Apparently, it is has the largest trunk of any tree in the world. If I hadn't lived in the Northwest for so long, I would probably say it is the largest tree in the world. However, It isn't quite as tall as General Sherman in California. I also went to a natural soda fountain. They call it Aguas Hirviendas and it's a carbonated spring. Some of the sedimentary formations are pretty astounding, everything that touches the water crystallizes. I got a few a pictures of it up on the web. I even borrowed a better camera for a little while to take pictures. I was astounded by the difference between my camera and the good camera. The good camera was like a magic wand that made great pictures of whatever it was pointed at. If only they made those magic wands smaller.

Unfortunately, the springs were too nice and we hung out for several hours (after the last transport left). We asked in the nearby village how we could get back to Oaxaca and they told us that we could wait until the next day and there would be public transport. Being practical, I led my group to take care of the most pressing thing: dinner. Right at the start of our meal we saw the very last vehicle leave the springs. I interrupted my meal to flag them down. We ended up hitchhiking for an hour to get back to the city.

It's Hanukkah, so we celebrated that. I don't know an awful lot about Judaism, so I'm not sure how close we were. We put 4 candles on stick, sang some song, and then ate chocolate candies. I was told that that was a real part of Hanukkah. I realized, while doing that, that I'm about as Jewish as I am Christian. I started to wonder why I celebrate the holidays I celebrate. I might go shopping for something new.
10:41am 01/12/2007
  “Everybody get off right now! Hurry!”

The bus to Juchitan caught me off guard. At some intersection they stopped and made everyone get off the bus. I didn't really understand why or know where I was. After looking around a while, I learned that I was, at least, in the correct city. Being practical, I started with the most critical matter: lunch. After lunch I asked around and learned that the bus station was about two blocks away. Since I didn't have any plans for Juchitan, I went to get my ticket right away. That effort, however, was not as fruitful as I might have hoped. The station was locked down; no buses were being allowed to enter or leave. There had just been a kidnapping. It turned into a very police filled day. At least I got to watch an arrest to keep myself entertained while I was waiting for the station to reopen. After I had enjoyed the police entertainment for a while, the station re-opened and they let me buy a bus ticket for 11:30 PM.

Juchitan was a pleasant town for reasons beyond the police being fun to watch. After I getting my ticket and leaving the bus station, I was followed down the road by an AIDS day parade. After the parade, I decided to sit in a little park near the main drag. Right before the sun started to set, I got a concert from the local birds. It was a pleasant afternoon and evening. In the end, I boarded an 11:30 bus for a good night's sleep.
10:00pm 30/11/2007
  Arriaga felt like it was almost a tourist town. There is a lot of eco-tourism nearby, but all of it left me uninspired. Again, I was in a city that just didn't feel like it would make a good base for any length of time.

The hotel options were markedly different than in Tapachula. I ended up paying $15 for the night. There was a hotel for $6, but the idea of sitting on the beds there made me uncomfortable. I didn't want to even think about sleeping there. I don't remember the last hotel I saw that was too skeezy for me.

I was following the Pan-American highway, so I figured that it would be easy to find direct buses to any other location on the highway. I was mistaken. There were no convenient direct lines to Oaxaca, so I was going to have to spend an hour or two in a town called Juchitan.
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06:03pm 29/11/2007
  I didn't really know what I was going to do with myself next. I went to the bus station without really having a destination set and settled on Tapachula, Mexico. I arrived mid afternoon. This was my second time in Tapachula, but I didn't leave the bus station the first time. The character of the city changes once you get to the square; outside of that small area, it feels quite dirty and unpleasant, but inside is quite different. There were several bands playing the night that I stayed there.

I arrived looking for my place to hang out and hunt for work. Tapachula clearly wasn't my big stop. I made plans to leave town after one day. It was easy to find buses that headed to Arriaga. Not that I knew anything about Arriaga, but I found it on the map and it was on the way to Oaxaca and near the coast.

It was strange adjusting to being back on the road. I stayed at a $5 hotel that didn't have bugs or hot water.
Next Round   
11:35am 29/11/2007
  I said goodbye to Xela. On my way out, I taught my teacher how to make cookies. I think that she was impressed by me. I'm mostly saying this because she told me that I was almost perfect. However, I took that with a grain of salt; she said it right after having tried one of my cookies :)

I realized that I've become a long-haired hippie. I haven't had my hair cut for almost a year. The last time was in Brazil. I'm not sure how much longer it will be able to hide out before attracting the attention of a barber.

However, the big news is that I took my GMAT. I did it in the capital city. My results were good enough for everything that I'm trying to do, but I can't claim that I ground the exam into a fine powder like I had been hoping to do. The best part about having taken my GMAT is that I no longer have to take my GMAT. How exciting.

I started appreciating my freedom by trying fresh coffee. Fresh coffee looks about like cranberries. The berries are sweet and have a very unusual green flavor, kinda pleasant. The beans are the seeds of the berries already pretty hard by the time the berries are ripe.

And then I left.
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A Week   
09:32am 15/11/2007
  One of my target schools offers a service of assessing one's chances of being accepted to its MBA program. It starts with a web form and some short essays. A while back, I felt this would be a good thing to do, so I filled it out. They promise a response in 15 business days. Their response was a short email asking me to call them. Initially, I took this as a good sign, because if I was clearly not what they were looking for they wouldn't need to talk to me. Being in Europe, their day starts unnaturally early and I had to get up that early to call them. I called them, but didn't get through. Feel free to reread that last sentence about 10 times, because that's about how many times it happened. I became a little frustrated and decided to email to make sure that I was calling at a reasonable time and to see if I could set an appointment. They didn't respond to the email. After a week of waiting and infrequent calling, I began to wonder what was up. Did I do something so offensive on the voice mail that they decided to screen my emails and calls? I decided to be more pointed in my pursuit and went to the web to find all the details about the person who contacted me. There is a web form to contact anyone at the school. I employed it to ask what was up. Shortly after sending that off, I realized that my first email had been sent to the broadcast email address and not to the email address of a person.

Those activities didn't actually happen this week, more last month. But, I had to do something to keep myself occupied until this week arrived.

This week started with my accidental, regular travel companion leaving. I have no plans to see him again (which was the case every other time one of us moved on). It was quickly followed by my aunt dying. Fortunately, not an aunt I had ever met: the sister of my host-mother. That changed the tone of my house, everyone is active mourning and sometimes crying, but never eating. I believe that happened on Monday.

On Tuesday, I finally connected with the school about my chances at their MBA. They wanted to confirm that I really haven't worked for three years. They told me that I was well suited for their program, but that potential employers would not be happy with my giant vacation and that I should get a job. Getting told to 'get a job' is normally bad, but not in my case; I had thought that getting a job now would hurt my chances because it wouldn't be at the level of my previous work and I was therefor trying to survive on a very tight budget until school started. Everything they told me was good news.

I spent Tuesday night updating my resume. I have planned on moving away from tech for a while, so I didn't have an up-to-date technical resume (or anything even close). I sat down and wrote a new resume from a blank document. I managed to get the whole thing produced in three hours and it passed the first review. That had never happened before; resumes usually take me about one month to write.

The week was getting warmed up by Wednesday. I was digging right in in deciding what to do for work and focusing on where I wanted to be doing it. My big targets are New York City, near either of my parents, Portland, and Europe. I got a wonderful surprise when I learned that I get a permanent Irish green card in under 2 years after minimal hoops. To say that I was excited to learn that would be an understatement. On first inspection, I found several jobs that are right on target for what I'm after and capable of getting. I'll keep looking to see if there are other good options on the continent, too.

Anything else interesting happen? I learned that I might get a visitor next week and I was asked to perform a marriage, but it's only Thursday morning.
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Learning to Write   
11:42am 05/11/2007
  Of late, the biggest part of my life has been preparing for the GMAT. I think writing is particularly important, and there's an essay section on the GMAT. That has been my biggest area for of focus. I invested a real effort looking for good tools to help my essay writing. Apparently, this is not the primary focus of the rest of the world: nobody sells anything specificly targeted at the GMAT essay section. Peculiarly, the essays are graded, in part, by a computer program. The makers of this program also sell automated online writing coaches. I felt that that would be the right place to apply my energies.

Selecting the right coach turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated. From the outset, I was pretty sure that I didn't need the “Faith and Values” writing coach. I decided to go with the “College” writing coach before I realized that it hasn't yet been released. I broke down and asked for help. They recommended the “Professional” writing coach. I ran with it. They caught me off-guard when the first lesson was based on an essay justifying censorship in school; I had been pretty sure that I hadn't bought the “Faith and Values” coach. None the less, I plowed through the lesson and got to my first assignment.

I like my writing: I enjoy reading my casual writing and I feel that my more formal writing is very effective. The computer does not like my writing. Ironically, the more I like the writing, the less the computer does. Fortunately, I get feedback. Why didn't it like my writing? Good argumentative writing can easily be identified because it has a thesis, three supporting arguments, two points to back up each argument, and 1 SAT word per paragraph. I didn't know that. I had thought that good argumentative writing just had to persuade a reader to some idea.

Though I find the lessons disagreeable, as long as I only have to use the skills they teach on one exam, I can handle them.
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Teleported to Real World   
12:01pm 23/10/2007
  Last week, my biggest stress was figuring out what shoes to buy. This week, the stress level increased. It started when I went to learn how to certify my Spanish ability for B-school. I learned that I had missed the last opportunity to certify on this continent. Apparently planning ahead 11 months isn't enough. I got really upset by this and didn't understand why. Later, I realized that it was because this was a sign that I had to come back to the real world from my long vacation. It took several days to adjust.

One of the big tasks that I had been blowing off while on vacation was fixing my computer. I have the install disks for windows, so I threw away enough files that I could back everything up (15G of music gone), backed it up, and then stuck in the reinstall disks. Things were going well. Things went well all the way through the point where the install erased my hard drive. Unfortunately, the very next step failed. Apparently the install disk had a problem. Because it had a problem, so did I. After 6 attempts to install the OS, I got the process down to about 1.5 hours and can do it with equal ease in English and Spanish. Once I finally got a valid OS installed, I learned that I didn't have any drivers. That meant that, even though my computer “worked”, some things weren't at top notch. I didn't have sound, couldn't connect to the Internet, and if I let my computer sit for 5 minutes, the monitor stopped working. After one more day of wrestling, it seems to be in peak form.

Another thing is that I hadn't set a date for taking the GMAT. I'm hoping to take it right before Christmas. I'll start studying in earnest tomorrow.