Frustrations and Updates

I will not be using bullet points for this post, not because I’m morally opposed or anything, but mostly, because it takes too much effort.  Sorry guys.

Also, sorry about the lack of updates since returning from The Land of Smiles.  I have been fighting hard-core with internet problems since I returned.  Well, really, been fighting the evil modem and internet company in Hong Kong since September.  Sigh.  Right now, my internet card and modem HATE each other.  They are involved in some deep lovers quarrel and aren’t on speaking terms.  Meaning, I plug the cable into my computer at home and…nothing.  I take my computer to work and plug it in there – and all is lovely!  Friends bring their computers to my flat, and in an effort to show off, the modem works on THEIR computer, but snubs its nose at mine.  Double sigh.  I have our tech guy completely befuddled, demuddled, whatever the expression is – he’s it.  We have tried absolutely EVERYTHING under the Internet sun – reinstalling the driver, adding a new driver, running every virus scan known to mankind, praying, cursing, even the slight love tap now and again….nothing.  So, if anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  Because we are fresh out. 

So, because of lack of internet at home, I’ve been waiting…waiting to upload pictures, waiting to update my blog, waiting to respond to important emails – because its hard to think at work.  Well, hard to think about non-work related things, hard to think about personal things.  Hard to write in this environment.  There is so much going on.  Too much going on.  Too many languages, voices, other computers, distractions, outside noise, inside noise – gah!  So, I haven’t written about Thailand yet, because I haven’t been able to process it yet.  I process best in front of my computer.  Usually what happens is, I email Stephanie – because she’s a great venting board for all things deep, whiny, unsure and exciting.  Then, she responds in her oh so wise ways – and then I post the gist of the email – leaving out the repeats and unnecessaries.  But, not being about to think in my own flat, I haven’t even really had the chance to email Stephanie, which makes the blog-posting lag even further behind.  Sorry guys!! 

But I will try, to give at least a little something, despite the noise and busy office environment that doesn’t go home (even when I stick around till midnight like tonight in hopes for peaceful internet connection!) 

Thailand really was amazing.  That sounds like an 8th grade summer report.  “My summer was fun.  We went to Thailand.  I saw elephants and ate good food.  It was amazing.  The end.”  But its hard to really sum up everything.  Do I tell you about the way my soul felt just a little lighter, getting to hug my aunt and uncle for the first time in two years?  Or do I tell you about the fact that I didn’t eat rice but ONCE for the ENTIRE week I was there.  (it should be noted that the community I live in now eats rice with breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I’m not even kidding).  Or maybe you want to hear about how my friend Lindsey and I rode on the back of an elephant named Mazda through the Chiang Mai woods.  About how we were covered in elephant snot from where Mazda would get mad at us when we ran out of sugar cane and bananas.  The scenery from the top of the elephant – overlooking rice paddies, mountains blocking out the blue sky, open-aired huts on stilts among the bare trees, the worn path of elephants who always go the same way to show the tourist what a beautiful country they are from.  I’d like to tell you about how we rode down a river on bamboo rafts bound together with old tires – a total tourist attraction that I didn’t mind to be a part of because of the peace the comes from being on a river.  Even with the young boys guiding our rafts with bamboo oars splashing the chilly water on all the lounging white girls.  I can’t begin to talk about all the meaningful discussions Lindsey and I had laying in our double beds in a room that was too cheap to be so luxurious.  Discussions of religion and relationships, food and fear.  Discussions laced with tears, laughter, understanding, questions.  How do I describe the feeling one gets when visiting Buddhist temples?  The ornateness of the halls – how everything is plated in gold-leaf.  How I found serenity in the prayers of the people there – even though its something I don’t completely understand.  Or how I found a Buddha position I liked – because it represented being in touch with the Earth and Creation, instead of worldly worries or possessions.  I want to accurately describe what it was like to be a tourist, instead of a grassroots worker – the shame I felt at how comfortable it was to eat out without concern to price or to shop in the tourist trap that is the night market.  And how I felt like a true backpacker as the only plans we had for the week were our air tickets booked in and out of the country – how everything else was left up to chance and train schedules.  Will you find me silly when I say that the 13 hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was one of my favorite things – because of the peaceful repetition of the motion and sounds of the engine, the scenery the flew by and was imprinted as beauty in my mind? 

So, I want to tell you about Thailand.  I want to describe, in detail, every little thing.  But I can’t. 

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She’s baaack…

I’m back and wish I could transfer to Thailand.  Seriously – it only took a week to fall in love with the place!!  But, I’m back in Hong Kong now, where its still cold (at least not as cold as when I left!), I have a “roommate” for the next couple of weeks, a journalist from GBGM is coming tonight to interview me and some of the women at the Shelter tomorrow, I have a draft to re-write and a survey to compile and my internet is out….again.  Back to real life, huh?

As soon as I get the internet working again (cross your wires or fingers, whichever works), I’ll post about my trip!

And she’s off….again!

Well, tomorrow bright and early (and I mean, at like 5:30am!!) I will be heading to Thailand for a week!!!!  I am absolutely stoked!!  I will get to see my aunt and uncle who I haven’t seen for almost 2 years!!!  They are there for a conference, hence the trip to Thailand.  Then, to make things EVEN better, my friend Lindsey is going to be joining me from the Philippines (go ahead, YAMs….be jealous!!)  I am so excited for a week of no/little work (we will probably visit an NGO or two while there), great food, and excellent company.  OH!  And warm weather!!  Wahoo!!

 I’ll be back in a week to enthrall you all with my adventures.  Till then….be good!

Birthdays

February is the birthday month in my family.  A grand total of 6 cousins, my dad and my sister all celebrate the day of their birth in this short month.  My dad and my sister, just a day a part.  So, since I can’t be there for all of the birthdays, a short tribute: (in order)

Jamie – “James” – I’m gonna make it to Portland one of these days!  I’m proud of you for moving out there and making it!

Ryan – I know you won’t read this, because you are so young, but maybe your Grandpa will tell you that I wished you a happy birthday!  I love you buddy!

Annie – There are times I can’t believe how old you are!  You are growing into a beautiful young lady!

Alison – I’m so thankful for the way that, despite a rough start, we have become friends.  Sometimes I forget how grown up you are, then I remember that you are getting married!! (oh yeah…everyone, my little sister is getting married!!!!)  I can’t wait to stand beside you on your special day! I love ya sis!

Dad – I love that I talk to you about most anything, you are usually one of the first people that I go to with most everything.  Thank you for all of your advice and for always listening. Love you!

Daniel – You make me laugh and I am so excited for you as you growing in your new relationship and work towards finishing school.

Gregory – The first great-grandchild!  You are growing into quite the young man and I have loved watching you grow up!

Laura – “Lolly” – I can’t believe you are going to be 21!  I love that we have grown into cousins that no longer seperate by age group – I love spending time with you and can’t wait to plan all kinds of mischief at Ali’s wedding together! 🙂

How NOT to make a Falafel

Read closely. Should you ever decide to take on the task of making your own falafels, it is not as easy at it sounds.  And it really did sound easy. 

This should be prefaced by saying that no one should ever let Joe and I in a kitchen alone.  Especially Joe. 

So $80 worth of chickpeas later (calm down, Hong Kong dollars), we had all of the ingredients laid out on the counter, ready to begin.  Kate wasn’t feeling well, so Joe decided to take command.  I asked him if he wanted me to print out the recipe to which he said, “Nah, I didn’t use it shopping, why should I use it cooking?”  That should have been the first of many warning flags.  Joe drains the chickpeas and throws them ALL into the blender, topped with garlic, a ton of parsley, salt, cumin and some mystery spice that was very yellow.  Joe hits the start button and nothing.  No whirl, just a stand still inside.  I suggested that maybe he put too many chickpeas in at once, but there really wasn’t any convincing him he was going about this the wrong way. In the background eggplant is softening on the skillet for the baba ganoush Joe also wanted to make.  Joe refused to empty out part of the blender, so the ingredients on the bottom got super mushy, while the ones on top stayed pretty much intact.  The recipe called for the chick peas to be blended, but not to the point that they were smooth.  Not that Joe read the recipe.  (Men and directions!)  After a few more failed attempts at blending, Joe scooped everything out and pressed it all in a bowl with a fork. 

“Good enough.” He declared.  On to the baba ganoush.  Joe throws in the eggplant, olives and the juice from the cans and blends.  He learned his lesson from the time before and only filled the blender half way this time.  Kate came in to check on us and leaned over to taste the baba ganoush.  I really wish you could have seen her face.  It made me want to stay far, far away from the blender. 

“What did you put in this?”  she asked in disgust.

“Eggplant and olives of course,” Joe said defensively. 

“No garlic?  Or salt?  Or even olive oil?  That’s pretty much a main ingredient, olive oil.”   I had to laugh.  I had never had baba ganoush, so I wasn’t the one to blame here, but that didn’t really seem to get me off the hook either.  Kate banished us from the kitchen while she performed some serious magic on the contents of the blender.  By the time she came out with the bowl, it was edible.  Still tasted like blended olives, which is okay if you like olives, but Kate assured me that she had tasted better. 

Back to the falafels.  Joe and I had a system: I would roll them into balls, and Joe would drop and remove them from the oil.  The first one he dropped in we heard it splat to the bottom, and through the bubbles saw the messy remains of what was once a perfectly formed ball. 

“Gentle Joe.  Gentle.”  This time, with much restraint, Joe started placing the balls of chick peas and assorted spices into the boiling oil.  Once they were all in, and my hands were dyed mustard yellow, Kate suggested that maybe Joe start taking some of them out of the oil.  (A smart one, that Kate.)  After a desperate drawer search, Joe found the tongs and reached into the bubbling mess in the pot to pull out a browned clump, nothing like the shape or color that went in.  Kate sighed and pulled out the colander. 

“Here, pour everything through here, carefully, and maybe this way you won’t mess the rest of them up.”  Joe started towards the sink.

“No!”  Kate and I said in unison.  I am no cook, there is no denying that.  And I’ve had my share of kitchen mishaps, (read lemon bars on the bottom of the stove and the honey apple chicken disaster!) but even I know that hot oil DOES NOT go down the drain.  I pulled over a bowl and Joe and Kate took to the task of trying to drain the oil from the falafels in hopes of saving some.  The finished product?

One single falafel and a lot of oily crumbs.

Shopping in Hong Kong

So a couple of weeks ago, my friends Kate, Joe and I had the brilliant idea to have a falafel night.  Falafels are a staple for me now – Ebeneezer’s is only one of two restaurants that I have been to more than once, and I go there almost once a week for their delectable falafel pita.  Drizzled in creamy mint sauce, it really is the closest thing to heaven.  We somehow got it in our heads that making falafels would be so much more fun that just eating them.  We planned, looked up recipes and picked a night.  We were going to use their kitchen since you can fit more than half a person in it (unlike mine) AND they have a blender (very important).  I was to provide the wine and the chick peas.  Easy, right?

I was on my way out to their house, a feat in itself as they live out in the New Territories, which requires riding the MTR, a mini-bus and a short little hike to their house.  But believe me, if you could see where they live compared to where I live, you would agree that it is so worth it!  It is quiet, there is space to walk without getting stepped on, and they have a fantastic view of mountains from their porch.  Anyway, back to the journey.  I stopped in the Wellcome store (yes, I know, two “l”s – that’s how the Chinese do it) to pick up chick peas.  I looked everywhere before I flagged an employee down. 

“Excuse me, where are your chick peas?”  Blank look.  “Chick peas, mm goi?” She led me over to the chicken. 

“Chicken pieces?” 

“No, chick peas.  Chick.  Peas.”  As if repeating it slower would really help. Poor girl looked so confused. 

“Can you write that down?”  So I pulled out some scrap paper and wrote it down.  She stared for a minute, then motioned for me to wait there.  About 5 minutes later, she came back carrying frozen wasabi peas. 

“No. Thank you, no.  I’ll try somewhere else.”  So off I went to store number two.  It was a local market with three isles, I didn’t even bother asking the one employee who seemed to be running the store.  Off to store number three.  Again, after much searching, I flagged down someone to help.  “Excuse me, do you carry chick peas?” 

“Excuse me, spell please?” he answered in his broken English.  So I spelled…C-H-I-C-K P-E-A-S.  His face lit up and motioned for me to follow him.  My hope rose, and then quickly fell as he led me to the fruit section and help up a kiwi.  I shook my head.

“Chick. Peas. Please.”

“Can you write please?”  So I wrote it on the side of a box.  He furrowed his brow, then dashed off to the back, leaving me to wonder if I had offended him somehow.  After contemplating if Joe and Kate would notice the difference between a kiwi and a can of chick peas, and how that might change the taste of the falafel, the guy came back and said, “No. No chick peas here.  No.”   

I sighed and trucked off to store number four, refusing to be defeated.  I decided to try a western market in hopes that they might have someone who at least could understand the different between fruit and peas.  The store was enormous and crowded and overwhelming, but they had chick peas, plain as day on isle 13.  I snagged four cans and dashed to the counter with my treasure.

And if you’ll believe it, shopping was the easy part of making the falafels.  (more to come….)

So here’s the thing about politics

I’ve never talked about it.  Really, ever.  With anyone.  Not my parents, not my friends, not even Kris.  When it comes to politics, I keep my mouth shut tight!  For most of high school, honestly I didn’t really care one way or the other about politics.  Then, my senior year came around and I realized, I’m about to step out into this world, and well, I’m gonna have a say in it!  It was a really exciting discovery for me!  I was co-founder and president of the Debate Team (I know, I’m a nerd.  I was also top the class in my public speaking class – interesting, huh?)  My senior year, we held the first ever high school debate on school board elections.  Our team organized for 4 different candidates to come in and participate in the debate, I was a moderator.  I was eating that stuff up. I was good at it, and I enjoyed it.  But lord you still didn’t talk about it at the dinner table. sure, everyone was proud to see my face in the newspaper, but no one ever discussed the actual election unless you wanted a heated discussion, which no one really did.  I guess in my hometown, you chose not to talk about, because, what if you didn’t vote for your cousin’s best friend, who also happened to be running for state representative.  (no kidding – my cousin’s best friend is our state rep right now)  So it was personal, and rather than hurting someone’s feelings, you just didn’t talk about it.  

Then I get to college and I’m surrounded by really smart and passionate people – poly sci majors and poly sci major wanna-bes. And I was changing as a person, my values, my outlook on life – as well as my political views.  But, I didn’t feel anywhere near as knowledgeable as my friends, so again, I kept my mouth shut, this time, because I didn’t want to look stupid.  I didn’t talk about a lot of things in college outside of religion.  Religion I knew, everything else, well, there was someone else who knew the subject better than I did and at the time I was fairly content to let them talk.  I’m really a listener at heart.

 Then I get to seminary and Roma’s – and there, even  though no one actually knew any of the politicians, people took it super seriously and personally.  If you voted for the wrong guy, you voted against religion, or for religion, and I’m not sure which is worse.  If you talked about it and someone disagreed, things were sure to get heated.  Talking about the presidential election over the bartop at work is never a good idea.  Neither is talking about it in the seminary cafeteria.  Beer and bibles make people really self-righteous when it comes to politics.  If you didn’t vote like them, well, obviously you were wrong.  And they’d tell you why too.  So, again, I kept my mouth shut about politics.  Which was again, ok, because I was learning to open up in talking about other things – fair trade, social justice, music, history, literature, art – and people liked my opinions and thought that I was interesting to talk to.  So they seemed to let it slide that I never talked about politics.  

This summer, at training in NYC – I was surrounded for a very short but intense time with people who were a lot like me, and nothing like me.  We laughed, prayed, sang, discussed, cried, and prayed some more.  There were A LOT of discussions about the upcoming year of elections.  Many of our placement sites would be 100% effected by the results of the elections, the Democrats vs. the Republicans.  Who was in office really mattered to the heart of what we were doing.  Or so they argued.  Because it seemed like every candidate had something wrong with them, or something good to offer.  Someway to combine social justice with running a country well.  Or not.  Again, I kept my mouth shut, because I hadn’t done my research yet, and knew it was really too early to form an opinion about a candidate.  And, by now, it was habit to not say anything.  Even when directly asked, I was an expert on round-about answers that didn’t answer the question but didn’t frustrate the asker.  I had already been given the title Wise – I was one of the older team members, the only seminary graduate, and I guess all that time keeping my mouth shut allowed me to form some decent thoughts that people seemed to appreciate.  So, even though I didn’t talk about politics, I was wise.  

Now I’m here in Hong Kong, and I don’t have a choice when it comes to talking about politics.  People here are so well-versed on what is going on in America, its embarrassing.  I have done more research these last few months about candidates, debates, voting history – than I have in my entire life.  Combined.  I have to be on my game, because when Father Dwight asks me what I think about the war in Iraq, or Bush’s presence in the Philippines, or Obamas most recent debate with Clinton, or who the heck is Huckabee and wasn’t there a movie about him?…they all expect me to answer, because well, I’m the token American.  There is no default person to go to, no one else to let shoulder the responsibility of political opinions.  Just me.  And I’ll tell you what, I really enjoy talking about it.  I can speak, passionately and intelligently, about candidates, ideas, laws…and if people don’t agree, they just chalk it up to cultural differences, and we move on.  An interesting discussion on the table, now who wants more fish?  And again, my views are changing – I’m gaining a more global perspective, which I guess is to be expected.  But I’m more concerned, not just about what the next president will do about the war in Iraq, but what can they do for peace talks in Israel, or about pulling the troops out of the Philippines?  How do their policies effect commerce with China or trade with Indonesia?  There’s a whole other world outside of America – where has it been all this time, other than on the green night-vision screen of the nightly news?  

I told someone a few weeks ago who I voted for in the last election.  The first and only person I’ve ever told.  I’ve just always let people assume about my politics by the way I live.  You think I voted Democrat?  Cool.  You think I voted Republican?  Cool.  Am I going to tell you if you are right or wrong.  Nope.  That’s the stance I’ve always taken.  And while I am gaining a new confidence in my political opinion here in Hong Kong, I’m not ready to share it with the folks back home. Kris and I talk about it a little more.  I know better than to broach the subject with my father because we both love playing devil’s advocate.  My brother, bless his heart – if I’m the bleeding heart liberal my mom thinks I am, Michael is the left wing hate the right wing liberal.  But then again, he’s 17, and figuring out how to buck the system – he’ll mellow out one day. 🙂  When I posted the quote from Obama it was with much trepidation.  Because I feared that in posting a quote, even if its a GREAT quote from an excellent speech, it would make people  assume that I’m voting for Obama.  Everyone wanna know my dirty little secret? Lean in a little closer. Shhhh… I’m registered Republican.  Ha! Raise your hand if you saw that one coming.  So I can’t vote for Obama OR Clinton in the primaries.  I get to wait and see who comes out on top, and then make my decision about the presidential election.  Chances are I will be an emotional voter.  Or maybe not, I have been doing my research after all!

Anyway, that’s what I think about politics. I’ll be honest, its taking a lot of courage to be looking down at that publish button.  Because I try to live my life avoiding confrontation.  I’m a people pleaser, and if there’s ever the possibility that I could offend or hurt someone with my words, it tears me apart.  So please, family, friends, YAMs, I hope that you find no offense in the words above.  It was never that you suppressed me from speaking, I am the one who never opened her mouth before now.