More Notes from Paradise

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks.

My online teaching is going well.  The Chinese company which employs me has a huge number of teachers around the globe, and staff cranks out 45-minute courses for us to teach.  The main problems are that 1) many of the course writers are not educators, so many courses as written are not conducive to instruction.  I need to reformat and supplement the content before class begins; 2) many of the writers are not native speakers and misuse words and make multiple mistakes in punctuation. The problem here is that we are not supposed to say anything negative about the courses or their content; this puts me in a bad position when I know that what my student is seeing is incorrect.  A note:  Would someone PLEASE talk to the government about mandating instruction in the use of apostrophes? Many of the course writes seem to believe that they are decorative and can be arbitrarily dispersed anytime there is an s at the end of a word; 3) Some of the content is just plain bizarre. Imagine my delight when I saw a course which began with: “4D English This class allows us to talk about a grasshopper on a rope. What’s the latest headline message? How do you know the news in your life? Let’s talk about it together.” Hmm. Ok. Sure.

The elusive biopsy:  Well, as I have mentioned, Costa Rica is a medical tourist destination with many American-educated, multi-lingual doctors. They also have a good public medical system with all the drawbacks you might expect in a third-world bureaucracy.  I tried to go the public route to save some money; I pay monthly in order to access the services. After my recent experience, however, I have decided to pay more to use only the private system.

After several months and appointments, I finally managed to get an appointment for the actual biopsy for last Thursday.  I fasted, cleansed, cancelled my classes and found a friend to pick me up afterwards.  I showed up and checked in and then went in search of a bathroom, which was surprisingly difficult to find in such a large facility. When I saw the toilets with no seats and no paper, I snuck into an employee bathroom.  When I returned to the crowded waiting area, I heard my name being called.  It was still an hour before my scheduled procedure, and I figured they decided to move me up.  I was then confronted by a fellow whose job description I believe was lying- sack-of-shit-passive-aggressive-racist-motherfucker-destined-I-hope-to-die-a-slow-and-painful-death; he showed me a paper with three dates, 2/23, 2/24 and 2/25, and instructions on how to perform an enema. He spoke to me very slowly as if I were a non-Spanish speaker; even when I replied in fluent Spanish, he continued to speak to me as if I were a child. He said that my appointment was not for that day but for the 25th.  I told him that both the urologist and my regular doctors had confirmed the 14th, and I showed him the instructions to give blood two weeks prior and arrive on the 14th.  He said I was mistaken.  I asked him the purpose of this appointment, he replied that it was to pick up this piece of paper.  It was at that point that I realized that he knew damn well I had a biopsy scheduled for that day and that, rather than admit that there was a problem (perhaps they were overscheduled or running behind), he was pretending (and performing for the audience in the waiting room) that the mistake had been mine since I was a typical gringo who didn’t speak or understand Spanish. That is why, each time I spoke well, he continued to use small words while constantly asking “Do you understand?”  I have heard many tales of people going to the hospital multiple times only to not receive the promised treatment.  This putz hit a new low by blaming it on me.

I did complain to the nice muchacha who had signed me in, and she agreed and was clearly embarrassed.  I did not scream like a gringo; I was respectful to her while asking if there was any way she could fit me into the schedule, but she couldn’t override the decision of her lying-sack-of-shit-passive-aggressive-racist-motherfucker-destined-I-hope-to-die-a-slow-and-painful-death colleague. I was so enraged that I fumed all the way home.  When I saw the guard at my property, with whom I often have coffee and discuss the state of the world, I told him what happened.  He nodded sympathetically and said simply “That happens a lot here.”

Needless to say, I will not be returning on the 25th not simply because I’m pissed, which I am, but because I have no reason to believe the same thing won’t happen again. I have spent a lot of the past two years learning about the culture, where it is never OK to raise one’s voice or openly express one’s displeasure and trying to become a more patient person.  I have even come to appreciate the value of keeping one’s anger and frustration to oneself and not feeling compelled to explain to everyone in earshot how inefficient or unhelpful they and their systems are.  However, unless and until I fully achieve sainthood and nirvana, I fear I could not repeat the experience of last Thursday without going off and being physically removed from the premises.

A NOTE:  I have come to understand the trap that gringos are in here.  We are known to be spoiled, obnoxious and disrespectful and ignorant of other cultures (and many gringos are).  However, if and when we somehow manage to temper our gringoness and show respect and good manners, someone like this guy at the hospital insults and provokes us so that we revert to our true nature. It’s a no-win. Whereas I appreciate what I have learned and accomplished since moving here, I’m having a very strong urge to move on to a new location and next phase of my ongoing adventure. Let’s see how I feel after I calm down.

On a jollier note, I’ve read some amazing books:  In our Mad and Furious City, by Guy Gunaratne, is about the non-white underclass of London.  The author speaks in the voices or his different characters, which is impressive enough, and the way he ties together the narratives at the end is nothing short of stunning.  I also read some dragon-porn, which I first thought was fantasy fiction; true to form, I kept reading for the plot, until I realized that I was missing the point and would never learn what really happened to the merman and the griffin.  Another disappointment in the life of a literature major.  I’m currently reading Revelation Space, a serious and dense sci-fi tome by an astrophysicist who worked for the European Space Agency. And, wow, can he write.

We are in mid-summer here, and the weather is beautiful if, at times, a bit hot.  My house stays cool during the day, and the temperature drops at night. The guard at the property, Carlos, is going back to Honduras; he is being replaced by a Nicaraguan law student.  Carlos has been very supportive since I moved here; he has helped me a lot, and I, in turn, gave him English classes. The manager, Olivia, has also moved out, so my support system has shrunk.  But, not to worry. Since I’ve acclimated and can speak the language, I can manage on my own.                

Until next time.  Let me know if you know of other cool places for single retirees. Guadalajara, maybe?