My Best Friend

*** SPOILER alert: this is not the kind of BFF description where you’d read it’s the person that knows you best, understands you perfectly, and sometimes don´t even have to talk to in order to convey any message whatsoever, since they know exactly what you´re thinking. I am not saying such people are impossible, just they’re very rare, and the connection, if any, is but fleeting. And this is not about that type of folks.

*** SPOILER alert: this is not the kind of BFF description where you’d read it’s the person that knows you best, understands you perfectly, and sometimes don’t even have to talk to in order to convey any message whatsoever, since they know exactly what you’re thinking. I am not saying such people are impossible, just they’re very rare, and the connection, if any, is but fleeting. And this is not about that type of folks.

There may not be many best friends for a lifetime, as there may be more than one during one’s life. You don’t even think to call them as such, because they are there all the time, and you kind of take them for granted until you take a beat, stop a minute and realize: hey, they’re my best friend. I was taught — or rather: had come to learn — to beware of absolute superlatives, mostly because they just imprint a label that sets a very high standard. Besides, labels are a very rudimentary form of restricting and liming that one should avoid applying to people. Nevertheless, in this case, I wanted to write about my best friend, so maybe the apparent label will stand corrected by the body of this entry.

Said entry is about a very specific person in my life, and he’s been my best friend for a very long time now, for the simplest of reasons: I could never run out of stuff to talk about with him, to share, or simply to reflect on without snap-of-the-fingers getting to thinking what he would have to say. I could also never get enough of his company, his good spiritedness, his unending sense of humour, or funny streaks.

Yes, he is the type of person you want to call when something amazing happens, with whom you want to share some big breaking news, or whom you wish they’d be there when you have a milestone to pass or a stepping stone to… well, step on. But he is also the one I want to call when I enjoy a beautiful view or a nice holiday, a sweet glass of wine or a delicious dish. He is also the one I most admire for his take on life — the most startling combination of sensibility, strong-mindedness, relative peaceful acceptance of stuff and people, mindfulness, proneness to meditating without loosing himself in thoughts, and down-to-earthness.

We are mostly alone in this world, and I am not saying it in a bad way. On the contrary: I stand by it from the stance of highly appreciating solitude as a space available for quiet and calm reflection, even though apparently the only synonym devoid of negative connotation is privacy. But we are alone, objectively speaking: nobody lives with us, in our bodies, in our minds, in our internal organs, in our cells and molecules. I also happen to appreciate, look for, and many times find myself longing for the respite of aloneness.

Well, my best friend is one of the few people in this world I would happily give up any solitude I may experience, any absolute silence I would enjoy, any hard-won space or room I would have to think or reflect, at any given time, to just talk to, videochat, or text. Talks with him are funny and sincere, travels with him are fascinating and original, drinks or tasty meals with him are something to look for and to feel deeply nostalgic of. I also laugh my heart out most of the time I get to spend with him.

Despite the god-of-fun-and-brightness traits I may have (un)willingly managed to bestow upon him with this lengthy chacarterization, he is a pretty normal person, with normal if not simple needs and appreciative of small joys in life. He is also my youngest brother. Since this is one of the rare instances the English language doesn’t really help and there is only the odd “cadet” as synonym to baby brother, I’ll just summon two of the other tongues we both speak: the Romanian prâslea or the Spanish benjamín.

Happy B-Day, lovely brother prâslea benjamín. And to many happy and merrier returns! 🥳🥳🥳


Stranded on Cù Lao Chàm

And then it started to pour – nothing that different to basically any day in the monsoon season on this realm. Only it never stopped until the next evening, and it came with thunderstorm and lightning, with the occasional power cut and with darkened skies. The day before, the clear skies, the crystal water, the sun, the coconut palm trees, the sand – everything was like a distant memory of another life, in another place. We could only hope for a possible getaway – yet we should have abandoned all hope, because the storm went on and on well into the following night and day. Rivers of rain had incessantly poured down the streets and alleys of the island, infinite buckets of water had fallen for hours on end during these days where there was nothing left to do than observe the routine.

It was supposed to be a one-day trip out of Hội An, one of the most preciously beautiful cities in Vietnam, to see and enjoy a subtropical pristine island of a cluster that was once a military base and thus closed to public and tourism. We were to spend the day on the beach under coconut palms and the night there in a homestay and then go back to the mainland.

The day started according to plan: early in the morning, we got on a motorboat, arrived on the main island some 20 minutes later, and left our luggage at the homestay reception some two to three minutes after that, heading directly for the beach. It was a hot day, and the moment I could slouch on the sun bed forgotten were all the tenderly authentic market stalls we met on the way to the sun-drenched beach. I had wanted to stop a couple of times to get some freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, only hesitated every time thinking I’d have plenty of time for this on the way back.

It turned out to be a clear-skyed and sunny day, and all we did was bathe, swim, read, talk, sip on juice and coffee, and fend off the locals´ tries to either ask for some made-up tax for unencumbered use of a public beach or move our sun beds to the portion of the beach that best suited the bar behind it and not the neighbours´.

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How Long Since Last Cried

It was just crying, and as I couldn´t stop or somehow foresee when the next wave would overtake me, and possess me, and I was thinking: how long since I last cried. I couldn´t remember when had been the last time I had cried. I couldn´t place the moment in the last couple of years. There had been years. Years since I hadn´t shed a tear. Did this mean I had had no reason to? That my life had been empty of sadness or madness or hurt or frustration? Or that I had no more excuses to? That I had made the best decisions, and everything was running smoothly and as it was supposed to?

A week? A month? A year? Can´t remember?

And if couldn´t remember, did that mean being fortunate, since there was no reason to, hence bliss?

When I was younger, I used to think that I had never seen the men in my life (my father, my brothers, or the occasional boyfriend) cry and I was wondering how that was, what that felt like. When asked, they said that even if many times they were sad or mad, the tears just wouldn´t come. I kept pushing, asking, and trying to find the logical process: why they didn´t/couldn´t cry, yet I was so ready to, whenever I felt really sad, or frustrated, or mad, or watched a movie or read a book whose story I could sometimes relate to?

When I was in high-school and even later on, with all the emotional little dramas – boyfriends, break-ups, dating, but also fights with parents or friends, or because of things just not really turning out as expected – crying was somehow a release to me, yet not really a habit. But I did know that after crying, after the exhaustion of shedding tears, there came some peace, some quiet and calm, even some lucidity on the subject matter of said tears. I didn´t look for them, but somehow, after all the welling up, after drying out all the tears, there came a point when there was something to be done, a decision to make, so as to not have any reason to cry again.

And then a few days ago I lost a life long companion and I started crying again. It was that kind of crying that just engulfs you when you least expect it, when you think of something from back when, or when you see or do something that reminds you of, or when you realize you don´t have to do this anymore, because, or when you just talk or think of. So it was not the crying that I used to do when I felt mad or sad, frustrated or broken-hearted. It was not the crying that asked for a solution, for a decision to be made, for a conclusion to draw afterwards.

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On Time Travel

They say some senses are more prone to bringing you back to a specific past time, such as the sense of smell: a flagrance of a loved one, the smell of a bakery, a scent from a theatre, an odour from the mountains are very powerful example tools to sense time travel. How about when all five senses and then some bring you back in time? When you see places and people through your younger eyes from almost two decades ago, yet you know it´s your present self that actually sees, when you feel the touch of sunrays on your skin on the same bench in front of where you used to live, when you hear the same music of a language you had so long ago spoken every day, when you smell the same brisk scent of a mountain city on its streets, when you order the same mulled wine and it tastes the same – that is time travel.

Yes, it’s possible.

If we´re to take a look at the already crunched and mulled on data by other smarter people who know their stuff, there are a few given things necessary: a past or future time, access and means to it (wormhole or otherwise) and ability to come back to tell the story. It´s also a given that time is already leaping up to becoming the unassailable fourth dimension, and since this mostly means it´s not linear (even though we tend to perceive it as such, mostly because it´s easier) quantum leaps and the likes of them are not impossible. Time travel would thus not mean a movement back or forth along a direction or its opposite, but rather a perception and the change of its status.

This is where basically all my theoretical knowledge ends to give way to my experience. This is to say I did not time travel seeing it as a displacement from one point to another, but I perceived it. How else would one call going back to a long beloved city and feeling exactly the same as almost two decades ago? How else would one explain away wandering its streets and knowing exactly where one went? How else would one understand seeing a good and close friend again and remembering the feelings, as in feeling exactly the same as so many years before? Time travel: as if being there after so much time was exactly being back there that much time ago.

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Education Goes the Longest of Ways

When I say education, I mean we got so used to having our opinions and defending them, and listening to people who think alike, that we forgot to explain and show why we think that, how we’ve come to that position or state of mind. Furthermore, this line of thought would imply educating other people, as in explaining, clarifying, informing, communicating. It might sound as elitist as the whole establishment I am trying to criticise here, but how about explaining why it’s not okay to use violence to defend ideas? How about trying to make people see not that it’s logically wrong to believe immigrants steal local jobs, but clarifying why that is so? How about showing people that expressing your opinion is all great, and we all embrace freedom of speech, but first let’s just try to base it on facts and not on social media news feed? Yes, it should be as rudimentary as that.

It’s pretty straightforward – and decent, and the right thing to do – to condemn what happened yesterday in Washington, to listen to all the statements, and all the stern comments, and the grave finger pointing, and even the angry positions on the serious thought and intellectual imbalance that led to the misguided attacks.

Yet as it happens, so many times we rush into finding the guilty party, the catalyser, the manipulator of events and facts – when we should go way beyond that. A lot of voices point towards the last four years of fake news and deep fakes where the lines between facts and opinions are as blurred as they have come to be non-existent. But this is not the cause, it’s just a symptom of many. For instance, it was all so intellectually stimulating to superiorly and massively laugh at and dismiss people who quoted Facebook or Twitter to support their beliefs in the so called birther movement, or the reasons for not wearing masks, or how immigrants steal local jobs.

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Come What May

During a year where we didn’t as much miss instant connections, I did miss physicality of almost instant travelling. This century has brought fast travel and having breakfast in Madrid and then lunch in Montréal to end up having dinner in Sidney, yet this last year forbade that and left us with the second best thing and a whole lot of a bitter taste: facetime and time alone.

It is common practice to hope the New Year be better than the one just left behind, and it seemed all the more practical to wish for it when we just took our leave from 2020. After all, 2021 has it really easy when it comes to being only just slightly better, right?

I for one can’t complain, and I won’t: 2020 has been pretty good for me, all the world suffering and pain aside – and that’s all I’m going to say. As for how much better 2021 can be, I just wish I can fully appreciate whatever may come.

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Teaching English in Times of Pandemic

Teaching English online is possible, and can be done in even better than average conditions. But this sets a new paradigm, which may come to a serious debate, beyond teaching English. It remains to be seen whether education can be moved to the online sphere – partially or completely. And I believe this is much bigger than any of us teachers, the profession, even the activity itself: if education can adapt to be performed within extreme social distancing conditions, if molding mentalities and shaping minds and souls can skip the in-person part, what else can we skip on doing directly? And how long before we develop an aversion to human contact and a deep fear of close face-to-face interaction – just as in the gloomy fictional future I mentioned?

A far-away society where people are taught to avoid direct contact at all costs, necessary face-to-face interaction (such as when you have to procreate) is considered dirty business, communication is performed exclusively through enhanced technology – holograms, 3D screens and the likes of it – and a deep fear of human contact is so strong that some may even consider suicide to avoid it. This was the first imagined paradigm of social distancing I ever came across in a book (The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov), many years before reality beat the life out of fiction and made us all at least consider the situation, as well as its consequences.

I am considered to be a millenial, which basically means I have come to age along with the internet. I can still distinctly remember the first time we went to an internet café in the mid 90s in Romania – there was a group of us skipping some class – to go check what all the fuss about the internet was. I remember one of my classmates who had the privilege of having a computer at home (not connected to the internet, though) sat in front of it while we stood and watched how he typed the three magic Ws to get on the first webpage I had ever seen. Soon after, another colleague taught me how to set up a free email account to keep in touch after having met in different city while taking part in some high-school language competition.

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What We Should Learn from This

Some of us may seem to think that since we are millennials, generation X, or generation Z, using a smartphone, apps, and a Wi-Fi connection is just about as easy as washing your hands (yes, pun intended). Joke aside, I have personally come to discover that I was wrong: people need a lot more training when it comes to taking digital steps and it´s not at all a question of age or generation.

When you need perspective, you take a step back. What is right now probably not easily visible, because the foreground is currently centred someplace else, could become less so in the weeks to come. And it would be a shame to waste such an opportunity to make everything digital available to more people.

This crisis, that is as a health-related one, could soon turn out to have social intricacies. Barely had we survived a weekend under quarantine.  Next, we have been literally flooded with free online resources: courses and classes, theatre and opera plays, movies and books, advice and expertise on how to videoconference and take your business online.

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Inglés B2 con temario a 100€

El inglés ya no es un idioma que se aprende — a su ritmo y plazo — que implica deseo, disponibilidad, tiempo y estudio, práctica constante e inclusión en probablemente cada aspecto de la vida fuera del aula. El inglés tiene nada que ver con el deseo de conocer la cultura, los libros, las películas, la gente. El inglés no se prueba y se mejora cada día al hablar, sentirlo, pensar en ello. No: el inglés es una asignatura. Una asignatura para la cual se puede comprar un temario dividido en temas y variantes de exámenes que se estudian y aprenden capítulo por capítulo; una asignatura que puedes odiar constantemente, pero que hay que coger, porque “te la piden por todas partes”; una asignatura cuyo temario puedes comprar a 100€ en un grupo de Facebook.

La primera vez que un alumno me comentó que se dice por allí que hay un cierto número de temas en la parte de Writing de un examen oficial de inglés y que talvez podríamos trabajar estos temas en concreto durante las clases, pensé que se trataba de un gran malentendido.

En un segundo capítulo, una alumna me preguntó en clase si tengo conocimiento de la validez de unos 10 temas de la parte de Speaking que una señora le ofreció vender en un grupo de Facebook por 100 euros.

La tercera parte baja el telón sobre una perfecta escena de teatro del absurdo. Una profesora me cuenta que verás… sus alumnas del grupo de preparación del C1 están en un grupo de Facebook. Oh, boy! —se me escapa. That´s what I thought —me comenta la profesora; y sigue: que sus alumnas que están en ese grupo de Facebook se han enterado que en la parte de Reading del examen toca uno de tres textos sobre (en este orden): los osos panda, Singapore y algo sobre los micro créditos. Y que si por favor ¿podríamos preparar estos temas, con vocabulario específico? Ah, y por cierto, ¿no habría una lista de vocabulario para exámenes oficiales?

La curiosidad me pica.

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What One Can Learn from Teaching

[…] within the lines of downright shaming teachers who claim “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me”. He explains that “with due respect to my colleagues in the teaching profession who use this expression, I am compelled to say: if that´s true, then you´re not a very good teacher”. Well, I beg to differ.

There is this book I have been reading, The Death of Expertise, whose pompous subtitle The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters initially made me think it´s going to be an <<unputdownable>>. The author argues that in times when everybody not only has an opinion, but that opinion also has to be respected as such by everybody else, here we are facing the situation where the lines between fact and opinion are awfully blurred and even more so, knowledge is something everybody has, on any topic whatsoever. Tom Nichols defends the expertise and experts, making a pretty convincing point that by sheer definition, it is that difficult to be an expert on any given field as it is easy to be the superficial owner of some very questionable degree of knowledge you can force on others to respect under the newly discovered virtues of tolerance and individual freedom of opinion. He blames among other factors the (American) higher education system that grants more people than ever access to a degree, thus invalidating the differentiation that the name itself bears. Okay, all good so far, at least good enough to keep reading. But then he goes on and says something that falls within the lines of downright shaming teachers who claim “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me”. He explains that “with due respect to my colleagues in the teaching profession who use this expression, I am compelled to say: if that´s true, then you´re not a very good teacher“.

Well, I beg to differ. This is when I do put down the book and can´t help but think that is not at all accurate. Leaving aside the “very good teacher part” — an utterly subjective matter of opinion nonetheless which asks for an entirely different conversation about peer review and student feedback (the author also argues in a bit of a questionable way that student evaluation is too subjective to be reliable enough) and the relevance and relativity of both when it comes to assessing educators — I do feel that I learn a lot from my students.

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