Like wildfire

Ah the age of the internet.  Its been less than 24 hours, but by now, Sarah Palin’s face is more well known that the Alaska governor ever thought it would be.  Coming out of the clear blue, Palin and McCain have managed to make themselves THE hot topic of Yahoo news, Google reader and bloggers worldwide (political or not).  I imagine that CCN, FoxNews and the like are just eating this up as well.  Though, luckily, those are a little out of range for me. Within minutes, literally, the news had reached my email box.  As I’ve been trying to read up on the 2nd runner up Miss Alaska, I have been floored by how quickly news can spread.

This isn’t a blog about politics, or questioning the motives of McCain. I’m more inclined to read about it than talk about it. But I just cannot get over how quickly this has become world news.  I try my best to keep up with the political race back home, as well as other pressing news nationwide and local from my hometown(s).  It helps to keep me connected, in a time when everything else in my world right now is so disconnected from home. I’ve mentioned before about how I have to be on my guard, particularly regarding the elections, because people here love to talk about it.  They are well informed and if I’m not, well, that just makes me look like a stupid American.  The beauty of online news and Google reader, instant email access and online chats, is that I always have the opportunity to stay informed.  To stay connected.  Through the miracle of Skype, I can see my family and boyfriend.  Through the wonders of online photo albums I can keep up with my growing godson.  Through a free email account I can keep in constant contact with my class of missionaries, spread everywhere from Nicaragua to Denver to South Africa.  Even text messaging crosses the ocean from time to time.  The age of internet never ceases to amaze me.

I’ll admit, it is one of those things that quickly crossed over from a need to a want.  It is something that I pushed over that line, making it a necessity in my life.  I can’t imagine living without instant access to pictures, emails and conversations with friends and family.  I can’t imagine waiting a week to read American news headlines.  My pastor here talks about how, when he and his wife first moved here over 20 years ago, they waited weeks for hand written letters from home; only called home from special occasions or traumas.  And while I cannot imagine going that long without contact, I can also see how it has bonded them to their community.  This is their home.  When something happens, they turn to their immediate community, not their community back home.  When they have a joy to share, they invite their neighbors over, instead of instantly logging on to skype.  I complain to myself a good bit about feeling a bit of a disconnect here.  I feel like I haven’t given enough of myself to this community.  I tried for a couple of months to learn a language, and gave up.  I work 6 days a week, and love my job and the people I work with, but the people I turn to first are those I have contact via email, people who are on an opposite time schedule as me.  I don’t know if any of you other YAMs out there have experienced this?  To say that it is hard would be an understatement.  I have no desire to lose my connections with home.  But I also see that it has kept me from grounding myself here. 

Ah the age of the internet.  A blessing and a curse.

A thin line

When I was in high school, I wanted colored contact lenses.  Green.  There was no logic behind how badly I wanted green eyes.  It is not that there was anything wrong with my blue eyes, but oh, to have green eyes.  It would have made me so….well, I don’t know what it would have made me, but I wanted to be something different!  I vaguely remember asking my parents for colored contacts.  I’m pretty sure their reaction fell between bewilderment and laughter.  Why in the world would I want to change my eye color?  I didn’t wear glasses, much less contacts – what possessed me to want green contacts?!  I’m pretty sure there was also a lecture in there about being thankful for what I had, what I was born with, you know…all that old parenty advice that no teenager is willing to admit they may have listened to.

But want green eyes I did.  I researched how much they would cost, figured how many babysitting jobs it would take to pay for them.  I imagined myself going to the doctor, receiving the contact diagnosis, and triumphantly walking out of the office with green eyes.  The want for colored contact lenses became so strong that I actually began to think that I needed colored contacts.

And that’s a scary transition.  When want stealthily slides into need.  Most of the time, it happens when we are obsessing over the coveted object.  Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to snap out of it.  I don’t know what made the green eyes disappear off the Christmas wish-list.  But they did.  And now I look back on that as a silly teen-obsession.

But I remember that feeling.  That desperate longing for something material.   I have felt that desperation over non-material things – over the need to be with family or Kris, the longing for a sense of home, justice or joy.  Yet, to know that I am as equally capable to ascribe that much longing to something as trivial as green contacts is a little scary.  Stephanie raised a difficult question about wanting and sharing, of gathering and giving.  Where is the line?  There are times that it is easy to distinguish the line.  Obviously, justice trumps green eyes.   But what about when that line isn’t as easy to define. I say that I need internet access at home – in order to feel connected to friends and family so far away.  But honestly, isn’t that really a deep want that has made the crossover? A ticket home to see my best friend get married, or use that money and time in my community?  Two things I want just as equally.  But which do I need?  I could argue that I need to experience the joy of that special day, to be there for my friend who has so often been there for me.  I could also argue that I need to show my community that I am  invested in my short time here.   Where is the line?  Or what about when one person’s line erases another’s line?  As raised in David’s brave post, a young man’s need to feel accepted in his community by following a script, versus a family’s need to return to their homeland. 

One of the greatest lessons my parents ever taught me was the value of prioritizing.  Because really, what is prioritizing but separating the wants from the needs?  I’m not offering any answers here.  Nor am I asking for any.  Like Stephanie said, its a tight line.  I’m just trying to find some balance.

Stormy riddle

Wanna know the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?

Typhoons don’t have play by plays from fame-seeking weathermen getting blown over on national television and looking like an idiot in the rain.

My 8th floor flat may literally be shaking right now, but I’ll take a storm sans commentary any day.

I mean seriously!?!

I try not to re-post news articles too often, but this one has me slightly outraged.  It is one of the reasons, when asked by GBGM what kind of domestic placement would be a make-or-break for me, I said, “If you send me to Texas, I’m liable to quit.” *

To me, it is the equivalent of saying to a child, “Don’t smoke – here, watch your teacher smoke so you can see how gross it is.”  And then blowing the smoke right in their face. 

You have just got to be kidding me!  What really surprises me the most is how it was passed unanimously.  What is even more baffling than that is – this is a school of 110 students!!  My homeroom in high school was half that size and I’m not even kidding.  I’m sorry, but if you can’t manage 110 students without giving your teachers guns – you have WAY more serious issues!!!  Maybe instead of giving teachers permission to bring lethal weapons onto school grounds, school systems should be focusing more on the root issue at hand.  The students.  Offer them outlets for aggression and/or depression so it never reaches a volatile state.  Offer peer and adult counselors and activities that aren’t necessarily sports (any one else notice the increase in violence as the arts are decreasing in our schools?) I’m all for training your teachers how to respond in a crisis situation (which should be done regardless of school shootings – there are other crisises – crisi? – that affect schools), but how likely is it that a teacher with a gun will actually be able to shoot a student, even in the most extreme of situations.  Is that the kind of teacher we want up there teaching English or Math?  They are there to teach – not kill or maim. And seriously, you are going to arm the man or woman in charge of 40 7th grade boys?  One spit wad too many aimed at a teacher already on the edge…..

Instead, train your teachers in crisis prevention – so they know warning signs to look for when a child is depressed or angry.  Give them safe avenues to express their concerns, with people in charge who will listen and take action when needed.  How about smaller classrooms so teachers have a greater influence on their students.  Instead of wasting state and government money on political campaigns and needless wars, how about channeling that money where we need it most – our schools!  By arming our teachers, the only thing we are doing is confirming to these impressionable students that the only way to win is through violence. 

I want to hear your thoughts on this.

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*Editor’s note: This is, of course, a slight over-dramatization of the actual conversation, and should be put in context.  I was asked for honesty about locations, what kind of environments would be helpful or harmful to me to live in.  I have a strong desire to live outside of the South, and expressed that with honesty to my director – and while I did say that living in certain areas would be cause for greater consideration than others, the above comment was made more in jest than anything else. 

In defense of the present

So I realize that my last post makes it seem like possibly I am unhappy here.  I also realized that my friends can’t count anymore than I can.  (Turns out I’m not quite to the double-digit countdown yet, but at least I’m close!)  So I just wanted to post in defense of living in the present.  I will admit, it is difficult.  There have been parts of me that have had a hard time adjusting to life in Hong Kong.  That maybe be highly due to the fact that my amazingly supportive boyfriend still in Kentucky and that all of my friends are having babies and getting married while I’m away.  Four weddings and eight babies.  Good grief.  It is hard to be away for those special moments.  But even though I greatly lament missing the baptisms and holy vows, I have to admit, I do love my time here.  As anxious as I am to start my next placement (wherever that may be), and to be within a day’s flight home, I am as equally sad to be thinking about my time in Hong Kong drawing to a close.  So, as a way to celebrate the good in my life instead of always being overwhelmed with what I may be missing back home, I want to share the joys of life here in Hong Kong. 

*My Job.  I don’t think it can be said enough, but I absolutely love my job.  It is challenging,  difficult, even borderline depressing at times.  I watch scores of women tossed aside by their governments and employers as if they were a rag doll.  I hear countless stories of oppression, abuse and heartache.  Needless to say, it is overwhelming.  But what I love about my job is that I don’t have to focus on those things.  I work in a shelter where I interact daily with women who love to laugh and to sing.  I hear mothers tell stories of how proud they are of their children, and listen to young women plan their dream weddings for when they return home.  I see the strength that can be found community.  I have enjoyed getting to know these brave women who leave their homes in search of the hope being able to provide for their families.  I love watching the joy on their faces when they have reached justice, accomplished a goal or are preparing to go home.  They love to dance and sing and they compete often, in costume.  I’ve seen them dance the Sister Act II dance and they’ve taught me a few smooth Indonesian moves.  This is a holistic job.  One that embodies education, counseling, rights training, personal involvement and government accountability.  We march, we rally, we sing, we pray, we listen, we write, we take a stand and we empower.  I could not ask for a better job.

*The Travel.  I’ll admit it, I’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to travel as much as I have while I’ve been here.  I adore traveling.  The uncertainty, the excitement of being somewhere unknown, of discovering new foods, people and places.  I’ve stayed in families homes in Semarang, Indonesia; kicked the surf in Bali; played the slots in Macau; ridden elephants in Thailand; and eaten spring rolls in Vietnam.  Next month I will be hiking waterfalls and visiting growing medical clinics in Mainland China.  In October I will be attending conferences and visiting friends in the Philippines.  In December that wonderful boy I keep mentioning and I will be dipping in hot springs in Japan before heading back to the States.  Travel is not only easily accessible here, but fairly cheap. (Particularly compared to travel around the States.  I can fly to Thailand and book a 3 star hotel for a week for less than the cost for an air ticket from Kentucky to Florida.  And let’s face it – Thailand?  Way cooler than Florida.)  The passport stamp collecting is something I will definitely miss when I’m back Stateside.

*The Food. Its funny.  When I was little, I was about the pickiest eater you have ever met.  Ask my parents, they’ll tell you how I wouldn’t eat my broccoli unless it was covered in Cheez Wiz (the kind from the jar, not the can!)  Even before I moved here, I refused to eat anything with bell peppers or onions in or on it.  Now?  Bring on the tofu, the liver, the intestines and veggies whose names I can’t pronounce or remember.  Just, hold the chicken feet.  Tonight, I had pigeon for dinner.  You know, those birds that have taken over Manhattan?  Roasted and served with rice and boiled lettuce.  Tasty.  I’ve eaten dishes that I won’t tell you what was in the ingredients, so as not to make you squeamish.  And then I had seconds.  Call me an Anthony Bourdane convert – but there isn’t much anymore that scares me.  I’m willing to try anything (which is good, because I’ve been given lots of opportunity for growth in this area.)  Asia food is nothing if not interesting.

*The People.  I’m not talking about the people that crowd the sidewalks or run the government.  Nah, those I’ll be happy to leave behind.  But I talking about the women in the shelter, my co-workers, the international migrant community here that has become a source of community and inspiration for me.  I love the guys who work in our office who make my stomach hurt from laughing as they sing “Hey You Guys” from Legally Blonde the musical.  My co-workers are full time volunteers who have full-time jobs as well, but still manage to bring in baked goods and fun lunches on occasion.  We celebrate successful conferences and spend the holidays celebrating on the beach with BBQ and Karaoke.  They have welcomed me whole-heartily to their community, and have taught me so much about the workings of the world, the cost of justice and the beauty of compassion.

*Banche. She gets her own shout-out, cause she’s just so darn cute.  Banche is a dog that technically belongs to one of our volunteers, but in all honesty belongs to everyone.  We all take turns loving on her, playing with her and feeding her apples (her favorite).  Its been incredibly difficult to live without a dog after living with four dogs.  Leaving Hank behind, even though I know he’s in a loving home, was almost as hard as leaving my friends and family.  I miss the comfort of my furry companion, and Banche has been more than willing to fill in for awhile.

 <— I mean, seriously, how cute is she??

*Public Transportation.  Who knew that I could love life without a car?  As much as I loved (and miss) aimless driving and the independence that comes with having your own car, I have to admit that I love not having to worry about brake pads and oil changes and gas money.  I love walking to work or taking the train or the ferry home from the office.  I love that I can hop on a train and get just about anywhere in this city.  And Hong Kong has really done a great job of offering as many forms of public transportation as possible.  Buses, mini-buses, trolleys, trams, the MTR (subway) and ferries.  Its more than convenient.  Its more than just environmentally conscious.  Its a time and money saver that keeps my legs active and my eyes open as I walk the streets. 

*The Protests.  Valerie made a comment on the last post about how interesting it is that protests and rallies are such a common part of my life now.  Four years ago, heck, a year ago, that wasn’t the case.  I attended my first protest in New York last summer.  Now I average two a month.  I love the feeling of getting out there, waving signs, listening to passionate speeches, saying to whoever it is that needs to be told, “We know what you are doing.  We don’t like it.  And we aren’t going to be quiet about it.”  Plus, protests usually make for some GREAT pictures. 🙂 

Its easy for me to fantasize about how great and wonderful “home” is.  And it is, don’t get me wrong.  But sometimes while looking for greener pastures, I forget that there is perfectly good grass right under my own feet.

Let the games begin

Four years ago, almost to the day, my roommate at the time and I sat in our living room, marveling at the flashing lights, bendy dancers, dragon heads and fireworks.  We looked at each other and said, “Whatever it takes, we are going to BE at the Olympics in China!”  Irony of all ironies.  That former roommate was here the week before the Olympics started.  What may be of even greater shock to her, and probably to many others; I have not paid one iota’s bit of attention to the Olympics.  I did not watch the opening ceremony. I have not picked a “favorite” athlete to cheer on. I didn’t even participate in an Olympic protest.  And you all know how I love a good protest.  I could not tell you what sport is being played today or tomorrow, despite the Yahoo reader that seems insistent on keeping me informed.  What I have paid attention, however, has been the Olympic Countdown. 

I moved to Hong Kong on September 1st, 2007.  My first week here, I set off to explore my new neighborhood.  I came upon a lovely park just a few blocks from my flat that I have come to enjoy not just because it has a free standing McDonald’s ice cream stand, but for the semblance of quiet it offers in this overwhelming city.  And right smack dab in the middle of this park, there it stands.  Tall, flashy, neon.  Embodying all that is Hong Kong.  The Omega’s Official Olympic Countdown Timepiece.  Now, it should also be said that the Countdown Timepiece in the park near my house is not the only one in this city.  I know of at least two others of the same size, and there are at least two smaller versions in the airport alone.  You can’t walk past the Timepiece without walking in someone’s photograph – I’m the white girl forever ingrained in someone’s Olympic Countdown Timepiece Memory. 

For a year, this clock has faithfully been ticking away the months, the days, the hours, the minutes, the mere seconds until the Official Opening Ceremonies in Beijing.  Every time I would pass by The Timepiece on my way to yoga, or while seeking solitude in a deafening city, the neon red numbers would blink back at me.  ~tick~tick~tick~   “Its almost time,” it would whisper to me.  “Get ready.  Its almost the big day!” 

Now, before I you think I have completely lost my mind and have started talking to inanimate objects, let me explain.  Even from the day I arrived, I knew the day that I would leave.  I knew stepping off that plane that in 15 months I’d be flying back in the opposite direction.  Since being here in Hong Kong, it hasn’t slipped my mind for a moment that this, my life in Hong Kong, is not forever.  There is a clock ticking.  The months, the hours, the minutes, the mere seconds – they are faithfully ticking away.  ~tick~tick~tick~  “Its almost time.”  Almost time.  Somewhere along the way, I figured out that my departure date from Hong Kong was exactly 100 days after the Opening Ceremonies.  So with each day that dropped away from The Timepiece, I knocked off another day on my own personal countdown.  When there were 118 days till the Opening Ceremony, I knew that in 218 days I’d be boarding a plane State-bound.  When The Timepiece glared 74 days, I knew that in 174 days I’d be mid-Atlantic, watching an outdated movie I hadn’t seen yet.  But when That Timepiece hit 1 day, I realized I was about to cross over into new territory.  Double-digits.  Tangible time.  I can look at my calender and see an actual departure date. 

And now The Timepiece stands still.  Alone.  Quiet.  While the rest of the world roars in excitement over the Games.  In my head, a new Timepiece has been erected.  The red neon lights faithfully shed away the days.  Soon I’ll be coming home.  Though  honestly, home is one of the more intangible things in my life right now.  The Countdown began the moment I stepped off that plane.  Only now its beginning to feel real.

“Sometimes you count the days, sometimes you weigh them.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert

~tick~tick~tick~

Good times and noodles salad, er, rice.

So Jan and Alice came to visit last week.  For 9 wonderfully exhausting days we toured Hong Kong.  They both got to participate in their first protest actions – courtesy of Go-to-work-with-Liz-Day.  We saw golden Buddhas, very very large Buddhas, and Mickey Mouse.  In that order.  We ate every food that ends with -ese.  We had High Tea in ugly shoes and Vodka in a place where you have to wear a parka.  I took them to the Ladies Market where they bought a Mah Jong set and a Chinese dress for Jan’s dog Bella.  We didn’t see any live pandas, much to Jan’s great disappointment, but we did see Batman.  We watched rugby with a bunch of Aussies and were serenaded in Macau by 3 Portuguese men.  Jan celebrated her 27th birthday Hong Kong style with a multi-national pizza, complete with mustard, prawn and satay.  We stayed up until 4:30 in the morning catching up, and slept away the morning heat.  I got sunburned.  Jan got tan.  Alice stayed white.  There was bamboo, a lot of walking, even more sweating, hours of laughter, deep discussions on books and even deeper discussions on boys.  Jan tried her tongue at fun words like Doh Jey and Tsim Sha Tsui.  But most of all, there was a sense of home.  Two women whom I deeply treasure made the horrific journey around the world (word to all you travelers out there: Apparently Korean Air is the way to go.  They serve wine.  In coach.  Enough said.) just to see me.  Well, maybe to see Hong Kong and use me for a free place to stay, but I’ll take it. 

I’ve reached a lull.  A seemingly impassible wall of loneliness and homesickness.  I know that this too will pass.  That I will look back on my time in Hong Kong as a time of great growth and wonderful memories.  True.  But I’m still lonely sometimes.  And still homesick more than I’m often willing to admit; to myself or to others.  In some ways, I’m ready to move on.  To see what’s next.  Where my next adventure will lead.  What my next placement has in store.  But in other ways, I can’t imagine leaving this place.  This community of activists and migrants who call this place home for now.  So being able to share a little bit of this, my place for now, with people who know me so well (too well?); to have a sense of comfort and home crammed into the 300 square feet that is my apartment.  Well, it helped ease a little bit of the struggle.  Not the struggle for justice or peace.  But the inner struggle of leaving and staying.  Of not always knowing my place.  To get to play tour guide for a week.  Getting to introduce old friends to new friends.  It helped solidify this place a little more as home.  As least for now.