Friday, August 27, 2010

this song.

This song "When the Night Comes" by Dan Auerbach hurts my heart it's so beautiful. God aren't the best songs always the saddest ones?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

i die.

Can someone please buy me all of Madewell's new fall looks? Please, pretty, pretty please! I pretty much am in lust with all of them, but here are some of my favorites:

This dress.

This blazer.

This scarf.

This sparkly blazer. Oh how I love a sparkly cover up.

This blouse.

And oh, these boots.
Aren't these all just so beautiful and feminine and lovely? And don't they make you so excited for fall, for crisp afternoons and golden leaves and brunswick stew and chilly nights with whisps of breath in the air.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bali: Part One

Tara, Caitlyn, and me in Bali, near Lovina

I saw Eat, Pray, Love last night, and during the Bali parts I sat back in my seat with a wide, idiotic grin plastered across my face. Even on film Bali is irrepressible. It seemed too big for the movie theater, like it would suddenly explode and cover everything and everyone in green and gold, soak the seats with incense smoke. Yet as I watched Julia Roberts bike across rice paddies, I couldn't help but feel that my own memories of Bali, nearly a year after I was there, are starting to fade. They're not as vivid or as sharp as they first were. And I know the more time passes, the blurrier they'll get, until one day they'll just be pixels, fragments of color and sound that have lost their connective thread. And so I want to continue where I left off many months ago, with my traveler tales about the five weeks I spent backpacking around SE Asia after my ESL stint ended. I last wrote about Railay, the first stop on our trip, and I should really be writing about Ko Phi Phi or Malaysia, since those came first. But because Eat, Pray, Love brought Bali right back to the forefront of my mind, I'm going to skip ahead a little. I want to put everything down I can about Bali, because even if my memory is shot I want to have a way of going back there, back to a place that has refused to let go of me more than anywhere else I visited. I want to be able to see the terraced rows of green rice paddies, the gray volcano on the horizon, packs of dolphin breaking through a sea surface streaked with orange from the rising sun. I'm ready now to go back there.

It started in the airport in Kuala Lumpur, this thing that continued to happen over the course of the next ten days. I would think one thing, presume something, and then be proven completely wrong. My flight was delayed by several hours, and I was alone, because my two friends had booked their tickets separately on an earlier flight to Denpasar (the capital of Bali). So I did the best thing you can do for a few hours in an airport, made myself comfortable in a bar. The bar was full but I found the last open table. I ordered a ridiculously expensive glass of wine and opened a ridiculously expensive American magazine. A few feet away a table full of drunken Australians laughed and talked and generally made more noise than all of the other patrons combined. As I went back to my magazine, a man showed up at my table. He was in his late 20s or early 30s, very handsome, and wearing an apologetic smile. He asked if I minded if he sat down, since there was nowhere else free in the bar. I told him it was fine, asked him a few cursory small talk questions like where he was heading (Singapore, where he lived and worked), where he was from (Perth, Australia) etc. Then as he ordered a beer I went back to my magazine. Now if this was a romantic comedy the sudden arrival of a handsome stranger at my table would be the best possible thing to happen. But in real life I was a little unnerved. Maybe it's because I'm shy and have a hard time coming up with small talk with strangers.  Maybe it's because after five months in Asia I had learned to mistrust foreign men (don't get me started on the hordes of gross, old men in Thailand who come to Asia for the sole purpose of purchasing young Asian prostitutes). Maybe I just really wanted to read my magazine. But I was a little uncertain. Maybe we'd just sit in silence and share the table. But then he asked me another question, what I have no idea, and I answered. And suddenly we weren't just making small talk. We were talking to one another. We were having a conversation, a really great one, and maybe I was in a romantic comedy after all, maybe it really did work this way in real life!

My flight got delayed again. His flight was also delayed. He ordered me another glass of wine. And we proceeded to have one of the best conversations of my life, about travel, about drunk Australians (as an Australian himself he was very familiar with the type), about our families and histories. When it finally came time for my flight to leave, I said goodbye and took his business card. His name was Liam, and I wish we could say we're married and have two kids now. But it wasn't that romantic comedy, more the wistful, brief but beautiful connection only to never see each other again kind. But I will always remember the two hours I spent in an airport bar in Kuala Lumpur talking with Liam. It would have been easier for me to keep reading that magazine in silence, but instead I chose to open myself up and talk with a stranger. And all of my worst suspicions and fears were proven wrong. Like I said this was only to be the first of many times this happened over the course of the next ten days.

In the pouring rain our plane left Malaysia and landed in Bali two hours later. When I walked out of the airport in Denpasar it was hot and humid, even though it was past midnight. My friends were waiting for me on the sidewalk (the whole time I was drinking and chatting up handsome Australian businessmen, they were hanging out at the Bali airport waiting for my flight to get in, sorry guys!). But they weren't alone. Without leaving the airport they had already befriended two Balinese men, one of whom was a driver (I would say taxi driver, but 1) that is such an understatement as to what he does and 2) he drives a minivan). I was greeted warmly and by name by the Balinese men. They had already apparently heard a lot about me. "And now we go to the guest house?" one said, who had introduced himself as Guspur. I looked at my friends with a wary eye. If there was one thing I had learned from my travels was to never trust a driver who approaches you at an airport, bus station, train station, helipad, etc. More than likely they are on commission and will take you directly to some roach infested hell hole that's not even that cheap. But there was no official looking taxi stand and it was late so I agreed. We climbed into the van, and Guspur told us that since he was from Denpasar he knew of lots of good guest houses.

"Well," I said, as politely as I could. "We'd really like to go to this one." I read out the name of the guest house from the Lonely Planet. Guspur hadn't heard of it. He shook his head in concern. But using my best authoritative voice, I asked if we could please be taken to that one. I'm not a cynical person. I like to believe the best in people. But sometimes when traveling I can be somewhat guarded. Maybe it's because at that point in Asia I had already had my wallet, camera, cell phone, i-pod, credit cards, passport, and flip flops stolen, but I wasn't going to just trust anybody. Guspur dutifully took us to the guest house, not without lots of concerned murmuring and suggestions that it might be closed. We arrived to a modest looking compound with a locked front gate, but we buzzed as instructed in the Bible (aka Lonely Planet), and were ushered in by an older Balinese couple. All of our bags were still in Guspur's car. I suggested that one of my friends stay with the bags (oh how I cringe when I recall these things now, but in my defense at that point in my trip I really couldn't afford to have more of my personal belongings stolen), while we checked out the room. The guest house was a compound of smaller buildings with a small shrine decorated with red and yellow flowers(as was per usual) and a covered area with low tables and mats for eating. The room was clean and big and had running water and AC. That was all it took for us to be sold. We got our bag from Guspur who told my friend, Caitlyn. that he would see us the next day.

At the look on my face she explained that Guspur had offered to drive us up to Lovina (a town on the north coast of the island of Bali) and stop along the way at various sites. Once again my scam red flag went off, but after some cranky bickering we agreed on a modified version of the plan. I fully admit now that Caitlyn was completely right. I was the cynical, jaded traveler convinced everyone was out to get us and that CONSTANT VIGILANCE was the only solution. As we settled into the room there was a knock on the door. Even though it was now past 1 in the morning, the wife and co-owner of the guest house was there with towels, blankets and bottled water. She also asked if we'd like any food, which I can only assume she would have had to cook herself. We told her we were fine, and with a smile she left us. As I fell asleep that night I remember thinking to myself that I already really liked Bali.

Guspur picked us up as promised the next day. He arrived in his white minivan wearing a colorful sarong, a white Western style shirt, and a scarf tied around his head. The night before I thought he was in his 40s, but on closer inspection he looked to be younger. That was one of the continual mysteries of the trip, the true age of Guspur. He loaded all of our gear into his van, ushered us inside and then handed us packages of jack fruit chips, for the drive he explained as if he were the indulgent parent and we were his children. As we drove, Guspur alternated between official tour guide type speeches (that monument is for that, this town is such and such), questions about our lives and personal details about his own. He talked at length about other tourists he had driven around. He loved Americans, but as we soon found out he loved all of his charges. Guspur it turned out was not simply a tour driver but a musician, music produce, radio dj, and soccer coach. He had an unabashed love of American music and he played us mixed CDs throughout the drive which alternated between ACDC and Kenny Loggins. At one point he slipped in a music video he had made for his soccer team. There was a video screen at the front of the van that we all craned our necks to see. Intercut with footage of the team were shots of Guspur dancing and singing. After a few minutes we also realized that he was the one singing on the track. To put it mildly he was something of a Balinese renaissance man.

Guspur also knew his Balinese history and geography. On the way to Lovina he took us to the water temple, a beautiful, misty Hindu temple set on a lake up at a higher altitude. We got out of the car to a temperature a good twenty degrees cooler than in Denpasar (only about an hour away, Bali is about the size of Delaware). The temple was centuries old and one of the most peaceful places you can imagine, stone statues of various gods rising straight from the water, fog surrounding all of it, while gentle waves lap against the shore.

Bali is the only Hindu island in all of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country on Earth. It has a similar topography to Hawaii (judging from pictures I've seen and episodes of Lost), flat near the coast but rising sharply into jagged mountains and volcanoes inland. To get to Lovina we had to go to the highest possible altitude in Bali then back down. While half listening to Guspur's various tales and stories, I watched out the window as the island went by. I couldn't, still can't, believe how beautiful it all was. Green wasn't supposed to be that green. It was the lushest land you can imagine, every shade of emerald, in the rice paddies, in the palm trees and bushes. But then against all of this deep green was every possible color, colors you've only dreamed of. I saw flowers so delicate and patterned it looked like they were made of silk. I saw every possible fruit and vegetable, ones you usually only find imported from miles away, just growing by the side of the road, cocoa and vanilla bean, avocado and mango, chilis and bananas and durian fruit and rambutan. The only word for it is bounty, this mythical idea of an endlessly fertile Eden come to life in front of my eyes. Dark crags of mountains and volcanoes ranged in the distance, and once we were up in those mountains a shimmering blue sea came into view. It seemed impossible that there was so much beauty on this tiny island. I kept waiting for something ugly to even it out, some hideous scar in the scenery, but instead I only saw more beauty, waterfalls and quiet lakes in the craters of dead volcanoes.

We passed hundreds of temples, ranging from tiny stone structures to massive, ancient buildings draped in colorful silk and long garlands of bright yellow flowers. Women lit incense offerings and placed them on shrines decorated with palm fronds and pink and yellow rice. Children in school uniforms waved as we drove by. We drove past cows and massive black pigs (either alive or roasting on spits). In one area we drove past dozens of monkeys, sitting idly by the road, completely bored by cars and people. And then finally after driving through the town of Singaraja (translation: Lion King! also as Guspur solemnly informed us the hottest spot in all of Bali, and that's saying something) we reached Lovina. The happening beach scene in Bali is in the south. That's where the fabulous expats stay in the fabulous five star hotels and go to fabulous restaurants. But Lovina is a little less fabulous. If you know Charleston, I'd say Lovina is the off season Folly Beach of Bali, a little grungy, a little quirky, but on closer inspection, quiet and laid back, pretty and full of charm. We had decided to stay three nights there, because we were all exhausted and burnt out from a hectic five days of non-stop travel in Malaysia. And to facilitate our relaxation, we decided to find a quiet, comfortable, guest house by the beach. And oh did we ever. This may be my absolute favorite place I stayed during my time in Asia.

Guspur, once again murmuring in worry and uncertainty (wouldn't we rather stay where his good friends stayed the time they were in Lovina?), turned down a dirt road littered with holes and rocks. There were a couple of driveways for other guest houses, but mostly the area seemed rural and quiet. After a bumpy couple of minutes we arrived at the guest house. We hadn't pre-booked, but within seconds our bags were out of the van and into a stunning room on the first floor, a couple of feet away from the pool. The entire guest house was comprised of only six rooms, and only two of them were in use during our stay. As the men at the guest house unloaded our bags, Guspur stood in the doorway, clucking and muttering. Were we sure we were okay? Did we need him to stick around? Were we being over-charged? After assuring him we were okay and making plans for him to pick us up in three days, we did the only logical thing to do in this situation, took a seat at the small open air restaurant by the pool and ordered a very large beer and some food. There was a tiny kitchen right off the kitchen with only one or two people in it at any time. If we ordered mangoes or bananas they simply walked to a tree and picked some. Even in the late afternoon the heat was incredible. If Singraja was the hottest town in Bali, then Lovina might have been a close second.

But I didn't care. Surrounding the pool and guest house was lush greenery and explosions of purple or blue flowers. I could see cows a little farther off, and beyond them was the ocean. Everything was quiet and soft. No cars drove by. We ventured out a little later to the beach and had to basically walk through a tiny Balinese village to get to it. The beaches in Lovina are black sand, the result of volcanic ash accumulated over centuries, and while it was nowhere near as spectacular as Railay, it was still pretty gorgeous, relaxed in a remote, rural kind of way. How many other beaches do you go to next to an active farming community?

On our first night we found a restaurant on the water, the kind I had become so used to in Thailand where you can eat with your toes in the sand. There were a good number of foreigners but also a few Balinese people. We chatted with a table full of Balinese guys who made us promise to come out to a club on the outskirts of town (we didn't). We ordered some really good seafood as well as some incredibly bland variations on Western food including a very sad plate of nachos. But the food was kind of besides the point. The insane heat of the day had softened, but the night was still warm and pleasant. Waves softly crashed a few yards away. I slid off my flip flops and let my feet rest in the sand. And next to us a band played Western standards that were so heavily accented the lyrics were unrecognizable. There's something downright poetic about listening to a Jason Mraz song when even though the lyrics are sung in English they might as well be in Balinese. But that's the great thing about Bali, at least if you're not staying in one of the five star hotels. It's not Disney World or Times Square where everything is rehearsed and shiny and perfect. Instead Bali, even with its physical beauty, is perfectly imperfect, full of mangled lyrics and missing teeth and cows on the beach.

After dinner we planned on going out for a drink, but the nightlife in Lovina is not exactly what you would call lively. As we admitted defeat and began to walk back to our guest house though, we heard live music. Across the street there was a tiny bar with a band, just one guy on a microphone, one on the drums, and another on the guitar. At the bar stood or sat some Balinese guys. When they saw us craning our necks to see what was going on, they motioned for us to come in. And because who could resist cute Balinese boys playing music, we went inside. For a while we sat at the bar while the band played. Every so often another Balinese guy would drift in, usually someone who worked in a hotel or as a tour guide getting off work. They always greeted us with friendly questions and big smiles. As with the band from the restaurant, this one had a big book of Western songs that we could request. Their repertoire was a little smaller and a few of our requests were met with blank stares, but most were taken up enthusiastically, everything from Bruce Springsteen to Radio Head (they loved Radio Head). And of course Jason Mraz. I heard his song "I'm Yours" every single time I went out anywhere in South East Asia.

When it was close to midnight they told us they had to stop, because of noise laws in the town. But no one really wanted the night to end and so we all moved to a booth at the very back at the bar and continued the concert, unplugged. The beautiful Balinese boys (and they were beautiful, one named Made, pronounced Ma day, had what my mother likes to refer to as bedroom eyes, and all three of us girls were practically drooling by the end of the night) sang and strummed guitar. One grabbed a small, hand held drum. And in soft voices, they kept on singing, blowing through all of the hits of our American childhood and adolescence, Third Eye Blind, Wheezer, James Blunt; I believe there was even some Nickelback in there. They were talented and wonderful. We were tipsy and tone deaf (at least on my part) but we sung along with enthusiasm. At some point some drunk Germans wandered in and joined us. One of them kept requesting Lady Gaga and getting deeply upset when they wouldn't play one of her songs.

If I could have stayed in that booth forever I would have. It was the closest I will ever get in life to an Almost Famous bus moment, where suddenly you're having this group sing along and what starts as silly and ironic turns into earnest and meaningful and you know you should probably be making fun of yourself but it's just too damn lovely. And that was Lovina, absolutely lovely, all of it.

One morning we went dolphin watching at the crack of dawn, and even though the dolphins spent most of their time racing away from all the crazy tourists, they did make some spectacular leaps. And even though we muttered bitterly over the lack of coffee (it was five in the morning, they promised us coffee!) it was hard to be jaded once the sun began to rise over the mountains behind us, soft hints of pale orange at first and then all at once a brilliant gold that glinted off the dark ocean all around us.

Another day one of the men who worked at our guest house took us on a little tour expedition to go to a coffee plantation and see a famous waterfall. He was not quite as chatty as Guspur, but he also knew his way around a minivan. It was the day before an important Hindu festival on the day we went, and so he took us by a temple to see the preparations. He told us that on that day all of the women in the community went to their local temple. They would help use rice flour to bake little cakes that would be part of the next day's festivities. Women of every age went, and mothers even took their babies. At the temple we were given sarongs to cover up our legs and shown around by a toothless man who claimed to have over a dozen children and possibly multiple wives. Interspersed with the legitimate information he gave us about the temple and Balinese history were some very colorful jokes about some of the more suggestive carvings on the temple walls. But he was so exuberant and joyful that it was impossible to get weirded out. We watched the women in the temple as they rolled out white, pink, and yellow rice flour and pounded it into shapes. They smiled at us, but then continued dutifully with their work.

After we left the temple, our guide took us to the coffee farm of a family he knew. Our guide sat down in their house to have a snack and waved at us. One of the family's sons would accompany us to the bottom of the waterfall, which judging from our guide's aversion to continue onwards, was a decent hike. We followed our new mini-guide down a long path, starting in concrete and then becoming dirt. All along the path was a virtual Whole Foods of produce, every possible fruit or vegetable you could think of side by side. We passed the boy's grandmother who was surrounded by a crowd of his younger cousins and siblings. We passed women washing clothes in creeks and chickens strutting around outside of houses. Every so often a Western tourist or two would pass us on the way back up, their faces flushed and breathing hard. It was soon apparent why. We came to an overlook and saw a massive waterfall gushing down a sheer cliff. The bottom of that waterfall and our destination was down several hundred very steep stone steps.

Somehow I managed to only fall once (and only when we were at the bottom and on slippery rocks). But even with a sizable bruise forming on my butt, I knew it had been worth it. Where we stood at the bottom of the waterfall felt like we were on a different island entirely. It was cool and breezy. A heavy mist hung in the air and the sound of massive amounts of water crashing on rock filled the valley. As soon as we got close the mist turned into a full fledged spray. Even a good twenty feet away we were soaked within seconds. A pool spread out beneath the waterfall, its surface a never ending ripple. I looked up and saw the origin of the fall far above. I cannot describe how incredible this was, how much power and raw force was in that waterfall. Tiny rainbows criss crossed in the air as the sun hit the streams of water pooling down the surface of the rock. I reached down into the cool water and found a smooth, round pebble, probably made that way from years of pressure. I put it in my pocket, because at that moment I knew it wasn't enough just to leave that place. I needed a way to keep a piece of it with me.

Our day ended with a traditional Balinese meal at a quiet restaurant across from the ocean. I sat and watched a man in a cone shaped hat work in the rice paddy next to us. Once again I was struck by how impossibly green it all was, how it looked like someone had fiddled with the color enhancement and over saturated the entire island.

And I ate this, and I did the most annoying thing a tourist can do and took a picture of my food, but it was just so freaking gorgeous:

Coconut rice, fish and pork satays, shrimp, vegetables in coconut milk, crispy skinned chicken. Full and happy we went back to the hotel for the evening in Lovina. I think I spent three hours in the pool, lounging in the shallow end reading a book. And then when our stomachs had stopped expanding, we sat at the restaurant and ate appetizers and sipped beers. We had planned on going out, but there was a city wide blackout, something that is apparently common in Lovina. But the people who worked at the guest house simply brought out candles and told us everything on the menu was still available. The beer was still cold. The food could still keep coming. The birds and bugs chirped in the background. And when the lights finally did come back on, it hardly mattered.

I've written a ridiculous amount, but I still feel like I'm missing things about Lovina. Like the night we went out to an Internet cafe, and a man came up selling necklaces made of cocount shells and shells from the beach. As was my usual inclination, I tried to say no thank you. But like many Balinese, this man was a little more persistent. Would we each like a free necklace, as a gift to our mothers? And how could we really say no to that. So he sat with us and let us pick out our necklace (and of course we all proceeded to buy five more, clever man), but in the space of minutes he went from a tout I would go out of my way to avoid to a new friend. He asked if we would mind if he sat and had a drink with us. And then as it always happened in Bali, our lives simply spilled out, details exchanged, stories told, everything effortless and easy.

I was proven wrong again, proven that it's okay to trust someone when all of your instincts say to do the opposite. And that was just Bali. You go there as an American with your guard up and your scam filter turned to high. And every single day things happen to break that apart. Bali fills you up and gets under your skin and removes every single cynical defense you may have. You want to believe it's smoke and mirrors because you can't understand how anywhere could be so beautiful, how any people could be so kind and open. But the longer you're there the more you realize that maybe it really is that beautiful, maybe the people really are that kind.

That's the very long story of my first three days in Bali, an island which in 72 hours had thoroughly found its way into my heart. To be fair, I never really stood a chance.

Friday, August 13, 2010

SE Asia Fridays

Even though I'm no longer a student or an employed person, there's still something about Fridays: a buzz of excitement that begins in the morning and builds all day, last minute plans made with friends, a sense of possibility and release. I've been home from Asia for nine months now, and it's been eleven months since I was an ESL teacher, but even these many weeks and miles away I still get that residual shiver of weekend joy when Friday rolls around.

There was nothing like a Friday as an ESL teacher. What once felt like an insurmountable distance, five whole days of teaching pint sized maniacs, had turned into only hours. Except for maybe three weekends during my time in Thailand, I always had plans to travel somewhere Friday afternoon, even if it was just the hour long bus ride (or twenty minute taxi) into Bangkok to stay at Wendy House in the giant shopping mall part of the city. I would usually bring my bags to school, along with a change of clothes, because even the three block walk back to my apartment seemed too far. I wanted to be able to literally walk out of school and hail a cab to start my weekend. As soon as I finished teaching my last class, which incidentally was my WORST class of the week that usually left me near tears (oh how those second graders tortured me, I spent weeks trying to find ways to tame that one class, I would always come to the class with a bag full of candy to use as bribery, but the little demons were completely impossible). But I digress. I would finish that last class, my shoulders tense and a headache beginning to form near my temples, but then I would walk to the English department office (which I shared with ten other very nice Thai ladies and one male British ESL teacher), put away my lesson plans and various toys and tools, and grab my stuff. Sometimes I would change in the teacher bathroom, out of what I liked to refer to as my prairie teacher finest (knee length or longer skirt, tucked in collared shirt, sexy I know) and into my weekend warrior gear of shorts (still knee length of course, I don't want to think about the looks I would have gotten in my town if I'd worn any shorter) and a casual tee. But more often I would be so ready to break free that I wouldn't even bother.

I'd walk through the courtyard, a chorus of "TEACHER!" following me, and it took all my willpower not to shout "see you suckers!" and run. I would get to the street that ran between my school and the river, and I'd hail the first cab I saw. Now the trick with taking any taxi in Thailand if you don't speak Thai is to be able to tell the driver a very famous and very impossible to mix up landmark. In my case I could simply say MBK if I was going into Bangkok (a giant shopping mall near the guest house we frequented) or Ekamai (the eastern bus station and jump off point for all weekend island adventures). I'd usually get a moment's delay as the driver considered the crazy foreigner's request. And then with a nod, I'd be ushered into the cool, quiet sanctuary of the cab. I'd throw my bags (usually just one full of clothes and one holding my laptop) beside me, and then I'd let out what felt like the first full exhale all week.

I'd watch outside the window as the sights of my town went by, vendors selling whole ducks with their heads cut off, sticky rice wrapped up in banana leaves, iced coffee drinks in plastic bags with a straw sticking out, massive Durian fruit with their ungainly spikes making them look more like some medieval torture device. Already at two in the afternoon women would be doing their shopping for dinner, picking up a bag of fried rice at one stall, some clear soup at another. I'd pass copy stores and 7-11s, internet cafes already full of students in uniforms playing online video games. Next to us on the street would be large buses, tiny buses, songthews (pick up trucks with a covered bed with benches in the back basically) so full that the people in the back would have to stand and hang half in the truck, half outside. Motorbikes would fly past, darting their way in and out of traffic. Old men in their fifties and sixties would cycle by on pedi-cabs. It was always so strange to see my town from the inside of a taxi. Everything was so muted and sanitized from in there, so different from when I walked the streets and was surrounded by voices and horns and smells of garlic and cilantro and sewer.

We'd pass out of the main drag of the town, past a slightly beat up looking temple strewn with weeds and unruly vines, and get onto a larger road. After a few minutes we'd cruise onto an enormous suspension bridge, twice the size of the one in Charleston, and there lying in front of me was Bangkok, sprawling for miles, less a cohesive skyline than a jumble of parts, messy, chaotic, beautiful to me even in its concrete, smoggy ugliness. I'd either be heading into the city for two nights of Indian or Mexican food and English pubs and sweaty expat clubs, or I'd be on my way to the bus station, off to Ko Si Chang or Ko Samet, and two days of sipping cold Singhas on the beach and getting sun burnt and swimming in clear, warm waters. It didn't matter. I could have been going anywhere. It was Friday, and life was beautifully open. And even though I knew from years of practice that Sunday would inevitably come, it sure didn't feel like it in those moments on a  Friday afternoon. It felt like maybe that weekend was different, maybe that weekend would buck the odds, change the rules, and go on forever.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A different approach.

I think the things we get angriest about are the ones that make us really, really sad. We try to deal with that sadness by yelling, calling names, writing very heated blog posts where we call certain groups of people certain not so nice names. But I don't want to do that anymore, because no name I call or rant I go off on will ever make anyone who disagrees listen to me. It won't change anything, not someone's mind, not their heart. So I'm going to try again, but with less yelling.

I simply cannot sit quietly and say nothing about the opposition to the Islamic Cultural Center to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero. I can't ignore the similar opposition that has sprung up around the country, to other mosques or Islamic centers, from Tennessee to California. I can't ignore the local American community which is planning to hold a Koran burning party on 9/11. I can't ignore Newt Gingrich who says that America doesn't have to allow mosques, because Saudi Arabia doesn't allow Christian churches or Jewish synagogues, because apparently those are the standards of religious freedom we're striving for now and nothing greater, to be even with Saudi Arabia. I can't ignore the governor of Tennessee who says that Islam isn't even a religion, but more of a nationality or lifestyle, because while I'm not familiar with the country of Islamia, I am familiar with the 1400 years of history Islam is founded on, the 1.4 billion followers it has around the globe.

I can't ignore the people who lump all of Islam in with terrorism, who have probably never talked in depth to a Muslim person or taken an even cursory study of the religion (and no, the sermon on Islam given at your local non-Muslim place of worship does not count). I can't ignore the devout Christians or Jewish people who shout these things, who don't even realize that they have far more in common with practicing Muslims, who abstain from alcohol and pray every single day and make God the most important part of their life, than they do with the majority of the atheist or agnostic people that make up this country.

I want to talk about the practical stuff first, because I think that gets ignored. People shout things like "hallowed ground" or "terrorists", and if they'd only calm down and look at the facts they wouldn't need to. This Islamic Center in NYC is being built two blocks away from Ground Zero in a former Burlington Coat Factory. I know to some Burlington Coat Factory is hallowed ground, but to most people it's just a store that sells cheap coats. And don't for a moment think I take Ground Zero lightly. I mourned for my fellow Americans the same way everyone did. I cried for weeks. And I consider it my duty as an American to always remember those who died on that day, to always grieve for them so that their families need not grieve alone.

There is already a mosque four blocks away from ground zero, which was built before the World Trade Center. Part of the problem with this whole debate is that like with many Islam related things, the media has stoked completely inaccurate terminology. Terrorists are never just terrorists, they are always Muslim Extremists, never mind the fact that 90% of their motivation is rooted in political and socio-economic reasons. Those reasons are glossed over in favor of the much catchier angle that they are zealots hell bent on world domination, and that they have no real goals or motivating factors other than their religion. And don't get me wrong, I think any and all terrorists, anyone who would use violence against innocent people, are giant ass hats who deserve worse but should go to jail for the rest of eternity. But it's not doing anyone any favors, especially not their victims, to grossly oversimplify their motives. The Ground Zero Mosque as it is being called (as it is written on signs of protest plastered on NYC buses) is neither to be built at Ground Zero nor is it a mosque. It's an Islamic cultural center, basically a YMCA, with a pool and a restaurant and programs offered to anyone in the community, either Muslim or non-Muslim. If a YMCA was being built in the former Burlington Coat Factory no one would raise an eye-brow, but because the word Islamic is thrown in there, people across the country (never mind the fact that the only people this really concerns are those living in this particular neighborhood in New York City, I mean how would we in Richmond feel if people in freaking Wisconsin were weighing in on our land dispute issues, like go finish your cheese and stay out of our business people), but because this is not just any community center, but an "evil" and "insensitive" Islamic community center, it's a huge deal.

Okay, so people argue that it's only a big deal because of it's location. Why can't those Muslims go build somewhere else, never mind that this is a perfectly adequate, empty building that they already own. But it's insensitive, people argue. It's offensive. Well why? I want to know why it's offensive. Spell it out for me. Because it's Muslim. Because Muslims are responsible for 9/11 right? Except, that also doesn't hold water if you really look at it. There are 1.4 billion Muslims in this world. That's a pretty large number. 99.99 percent of these Muslims are moderate. The extreme faction of Muslims, those in groups like Al-Queda are there and they would readily kill more innocent Americans, but they are one faction of a massive religion. By saying that any Islamic center is offensive if built anywhere near Ground Zero, is by extension saying that Islam as a religion is responsible for 9/11. And so even if that's your argument, even if you narrow down your intolerance to this particular Ground Zero adjacent former Burlington Coat Factory, how do you explain the incidents around the country, in places like Tennessee, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and California where crowds of people are rallying against proposed mosques? Was there a terrorist attack in Connecticut I was not aware of? Did I miss that somehow? Or are those rallies, are those protesters, protesting simply the religion of Islam itself?

How are we okay with this? How are we having this conversation? What went wrong that allowed America to become the kind of place where massive crowds of perfectly sane and reasonable people protest a religion that is not in any way associated with Tom Cruise (I kid, as weird as Scientology is, I'd be pissed off if people protested that too). There's this simple thing called the 1st Amendment. In case we all fell asleep during history class, let's go over this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Free exercise. What does free exercise mean? Does it mean that you can exercise your religion only if it's deemed inoffensive to other people outside of your religion? Does it mean that you can exercise your religion, but you can't build a place of religion, you can't build a place to gather and to pray and to mourn and to celebrate, not in this country, nope. Because in this country we can build Christian churches and we can build Jewish synagogues, but mosques are not allowed. Mosques are the breeding ground for domestic terrorists, and let's just all ignore the dozens of instances of domestic terrorism carried out by white supremacists and various religious or secular anti-government groups in the last hundred years. Let's ignore the Army of God, an anti-abortion group that acts in the name of their interpretation of Christianity, a group responsible for the murder of eight Americans, including four doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort.

If you're reading this and you're Christian you're probably pretty pissed off at me right now. Because how could I bring up those events and say that they are in any way a reflection of Christianity. Those people twisted their faith to justify murder. Christianity as a religion does not in any way condone murder. And if you're feeling these things, then please, just hold onto them for a little while longer, think about what it would be like if a group of people pointed to these acts and used them to oppose the building of a Christian community center in your neighborhood. Think about if these people wrote angry messages on posters and burned Bibles in their opposition. Think about how angry you'd feel, how misunderstood.  Because that, that feeling of being unfairly judged for the actions of a tiny minority of extremists, that's what millions of Muslim Americans are feeling at this very moment.

Almost all religions are beautiful at their core. Take away the layers and layers of human flaws that have been heaped on top of them, and religion is almost always an incredibly brave, hopeful institution. It's daring to believe that there's more to life than just this, that we are greater than we appear. Muslims believe in one God. They believe that the purpose of life is to worship God. They do not worship Muhammad. They believe Muhammad was a prophet, the last in a long line of prophets that includes Jesus and Abraham. Now there's so much more to Islam than those things, and there are a whole lot of variations on Islam and there are books and books written about this religion. And I beg you if you know nothing about Islam go find one of those books. Heck, even just Google it. If you're Christian or Jewish or Hindu, you're never going to completely agree with Muslims, the same way they won't agree with you. But I honestly believe you'll find that with mainstream Muslims, you have a great deal in common. Isn't the most important part of any religion belief? Can't we all agree that any time anyone believes in something and uses that belief to make them do good things on this earth that's beautiful and valuable, something to celebrate, not to tear down?

And yet here we are, back to this never ending argument about the "Ground Zero Mosque" or any mosque around the country. They want to build. Others want to tear what they would build down. And if you are just an impartial witness to all of this, and don't really care to choose a side, I beg of you to consider becoming involved. Because this involves all of us. I've traveled enough and seen enough of the world to know what happens to a nation or a society when one religion is pitted against the other, when one religion is marginalized and made to feel unwelcome and unwanted. In India, I sat with a twenty year old kid who admitted very plainly that terrorism was a part of life for him and his fellow countrymen. In India it's domestic terrorism. It's not 9/11 when people from the other side of the world got on airplanes in an attempt to tear us down. It's for the most part people within India, people who have been made angry and violent by decades of marginalization , who have never felt that they had a voice. God, do we, here in America, even realize how lucky we are? 9/11 was so horrendous and so terrible, but it was one day. We don't live with this stuff. We argue about politics and Sarah Palin, but at the end of the day we don't kill one another over it. We let each other live and work and yes, pray in freedom and peace because it's the most important part of our country, that guarantee of freedom and peace for everyone, not just certain people.

And yet right now we're fighting over that freedom. There are people who are trying to take this big, all encompassing, beautiful freedom that America is blessed every second of every day to have and they're trying to lessen it and change it. They're trying to make it smaller and more confined. And they have no idea, no idea what the consequences are of pushing people into the margins, of telling them they don't belong, that their religion doesn't belong. On a global scale it confirms every lie that Al-Queda has ever used to justify their hatred of America. It gives them cue cards they can read to gather followers. Yes, you see, America does hate Islam. They won't even let their own citizens worship in peace. And what about those billion plus Islamic moderates who have no issue with America, whose children and children's children are the ones who can turn back the tide of radical, anti-America Muslim rhetoric. We're never going to stop terrorism on a battlefied. If we want to stop this breed of terrorism we HAVE to stop it in hearts and minds. We have to discredit those who would point to our country and say we think all Muslims are evil heathens, who say that we'll never stop until we Americanize the entire world in one Western/Christian image. If we can't show moderate Muslims how wrong this is, then we'll lose them and we'll deserve it, because we'll have demonized them. We'll have turned them into cartoon villains. And within our own country, we'll create generations of Muslim Americans who grow up feeling like they are not a part of their own country, who have been pushed down and shamed. Do you know what happens when that's the case? Look at India. Look at Northern Ireland twenty years ago. Look at countries around the world where one group closes off another group in society. It's so painfully ironic, that these people are defending their opposition to the mosque on the grounds that they are doing it for the memory of 9/11 victims. But don't they get that their actions will indirectly lead to a greater chance of more 9/11s, of more hatred toward America, of more violence?

I think when times are tough, when the economy falters, people want to find things to be angry about. And I think it's convenient right now in America, in a post 9/11 world, where people are still trying to blow up planes, to place that anger on Muslims. Never mind all the reasons I've listed above for why Islam as a religion is not the same as the radicalized Islam practiced by terrorists. But where does it end? It's obviously not just the NYC Islamic center. Because that doesn't explain the opposition to mosques all over the country. Do we ban head scarves like France did? (And France, by the way is another awesome example of what happens when one group in society is marginalized and made to feel like outsiders, it takes that society and it breaks it, from a unified whole to a splintered group, and it's almost impossible to fix that once it's completely broken). Do we pinpoint certain areas or certain cities where mosques are allowed? They did that at first in Europe with Jews, allowed them certain parts of their city. And that's a model we really want to replicate right? What's after that? Do we throw things through windows and burn down mosques? Because the whole Koran burning thing, that's just one step below that. Do we have our own Kristallnacht? Don't like a mosque in your community, do the American thing and tear it to pieces. How far do we push religious freedom, that most fundamental of American values, until it shatters? Because it will shatter. You can't bend freedoms and rights to your will and expect them to retain their original meaning. So where does it end then?

When do we draw the line? When do we stop fighting about this? We're protesting a pool and restaurant and a place for people to pray and American soldiers are getting killed on the other side of the world. By being born American, we've all been given this tremendous gift of tolerance, or not having to worship or vote in fear. People all over the world would die for that. They have died for that, and every day more of them do die for it. And we have it and we've never had to fight a day in our lives for it. And we're throwing it away. We're treating it like it's nothing.

And it's the opposite of nothing. It's the most important thing in the world. I really wish we could all just remember that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I have an aversion to most poems. I think they're usually beautiful but empty. I'll take a story and a plot over a poem any day. But this very famous and completely non-innovative poem by Rudyard Kipling is giving me a lot of comfort right now. And I'm putting it here, on this, my vitrual spirit board or hope board or whatever the heck it is Oprah calls it. I'm having a tough go of things. This job search thing, guys, it's broken me down and kicked me in the butt and destroyed any ego I may have once had. And half the time I can laugh about it, like when I click on a job that lists dressing up as a furry mascot as one of its duties. But the other half of the time, well the other half of the time is not so good. And so I need very much to surround myself with beautiful, inspiring things that take me out of myself and give me some much needed strength.


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;

If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

This is the best thing I've ever heard in my life.

I seriously cannot stop laughing. I love this story so much I want to be its best friend and go running through fields of daisies with it. I'll re-print in full below but basically a flight attendant went completely and awesomely nuts on a rude passenger while the plane was sitting on the tarmac after landing. He got on the intercom, cursed the guy out, and then, oh and this is just the best part, this is just the best thing that has maybe ever happened on the planet and should be commemorated in songs and via statues. We should teach our children about this. This should become a national folk tale. The flight attendant grabbed two beers, deployed the emergency slide, slid down, walked off, got into his car and left. This should be a movie. It should be poem. This guy is my hero forever and ever Amen.

Here's the full article from NY Magazine:

Last week in The New Yorker, David Sedaris hilariously examined the internal mental state of flight attendants, and revealed what many of them want to say to the passengers they serve. So it's fitting that this week we are treated to an incredibly humorous real-life manifestation of that inner rage: Today, 39-year old Steven Slater (who, in addition to working as a flight attendant for JetBlue, is also chairman of that company’s uniform-redesign committee and a member of its in-flight-values committee) went berserk while on the tarmac at JFK. Here's what happened, according to the Times:

One passenger got out of his seat to fetch his belongings from the overhead compartment before the crew had given permission. Mr. Slater instructed the man to remain seated. The passenger defied him. Mr. Slater approached and reached the passenger just as he pulled down his luggage, which struck Mr. Slater in the head. Mr. Slater asked for an apology. The passenger instead cursed at him. Mr. Slater got on the plane’s public address system and cursed out all aboard. Then he activated the inflatable evacuation slide at service exit R1, launched himself off the plane, an Embraer 190, ran to the employee parking lot and left the airport in a car he had parked there.

That alone reads like the ending of an awkward scene on the Simpsons, with the bizarre speedy getaway. But there's even more brilliance to the story: The Daily News has direct quotes: "To the passenger who called me a m---f--er, f--- you," he screamed. "I've been in the business 28 years. I've had it. That's it." After that, not only did he activate the emergency exit, but the Journal reports he snagged two beers from the galley before he did!

Presumably he enjoyed them on the AirTrain ride back to his car, during which he took off his company tie and "flung it off the train." Later, he drove back to his house in Queens, where he was rounded up by police and brought in for questioning. He may be charged with criminal mischief and trespassing.

You know, it's amazing you don't read stories like this more frequently. You'd assume that, just as passengers periodically go berserk, so would flight attendants. The gathering of the trash with the bare hands alone would have a normal person on edge. And forget about having to wash your hands in those maddening faucets every day. Prediction: This guy becomes some sort of folk hero.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Inspiration or Extremely Poor Judgement?

Admit it, we've all thought about working out after a drnk or two, this man takes the guess work out of it, plus I love that his name tag says Sarah

I read about the blog, in NY Magazine, and it is exactly what it sounds like. Reading it I don't know whether to laugh, go for a tipsy run, or try and get this man into some sort of substance abuse program. But it's worth checking out. Here's a little sampling from his blog about running drinking a beer a mile for a thirteen mile half marathon (and yes he means while running).

"You know how they say alcohol affects your judgment? After the bridge, I decide to run across eight lines of highway traffic because the view on the other side looks nicer. I am fortunately not flattened by oncoming traffic. Nor am I nailed by any authorities for being on foot running across a highway obviously carrying an open beer. Turns out the view is the same on the other side."


Now that I've stopped feeling sorry for myself and drowning in a sea of my own tears, I thought I'd do something a little more productive.

Which is to pimp the shit out of (sorry grandma!) my charity fundraiser, 804forHaiti. Go to our website Read about us. If you're in the Richmond area buy a ticket for the November 18th event. It's going to be awesome and the money is going to such an incredible cause.

Also I thought I'd just like to put this out there. Starting a nonprofit is some serious business. Which I guess is good that the government is stringent on nonprofit organizations. You wouldn't want just anyone to become a nonprofit. So for this year we're putting a pin in the whole tax exempt status. We're raising money for a real, official, bonafied nonprofit, Meds and Food for Kids, so everyone can use their information for tax reasons and no one gets audited or goes to jail. Win win right?

Basically we were going to try to get tax-exempt status and I really tried. We got an EIN number which takes like 2 seconds. Then we incorporated with the sate. I had to go down to the fancy state clerk's office and everything. I even dressed up in a skirt and cardigan (in August!). My logic was that I shouldn't look like a homeless person, because then they may turn me down. The reality was that I handed them a form and a check made out to 75 dollar and they smiled and said thank you. I could have been wearing pajama pants and a feather boa and they wouldn't have cared less.

Then I began to fill out some terrifying paperwork to reigster with the Department of Consumer Protection. I even made bylaws. BYLAWS! They were all official looking and fancy and had words like "shall" and "director" and "amendment" on them. I impressed myself. But then I got to the IRS form 1023 which is the actual form that you file to apply for tax exempt status. And it made the scary Consumer Protection form seem like a fill in the dots puzzle. This application is insane. I do not recommend attempting it unless you have 5 lawyers sitting beside you. You have to do all this crazy stuff and attach all this crazy stuff and then half way through said form I saw that you also have to pay a small fee of 400 DOLLARS! Which, okay for a real business that's probably pocket change. But to me that was deal breaker. I'm sorry IRS, I am way too poor to jump through your crazy hoops. Plus I could have paid that and they could have denied me. It's not a given you'll get accepted. And that would have sucked.

So we're simplifying. And I'm actually okay with it. It means I don't have to work any more on the scary paperwork or answer any more seemingly innocent but really alarming questions about whether or not I have personal relationships with my board of directors (which considering my board of directors was going to be two of my best friends, I would have had to say yes). Also there are like 10 questions on terrorists alone, as in will your funds go to terrorists. Plus on the EIN form you had to swear you weren't a terrorist group which I find kind of hillarious. Because really if I were a terrorist cell operating in America would I take the time to apply for an Employment Identification Number. I'm sure terrorists are really concerned about getting their paperwork in order for when they file their yearly taxes.

Silly government.

But anyway, check out our website, if possible come to the event! Or if you can't do that and want to donate we accept those to. All money will go to Meds and Food for Kids and you can read about them here and it's such a cool and awesome nonprofit.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

i interrupt this regularly schedule blog for a self-pitying rant

So I'm pretty sure one of the lesser known and talked about mythological punishments involved a young twenty something being chained to her e-mail account day after day after day after day, waiting to hear back from various and sundry job applications, tortured by the possibility that any second an email may show up that will make everything okay and give her a salary and a life. And for the LOVE OF GOD, if you reading this are ever in the position where you are hiring anyone, even if that person is so far down your list of applicants that you would give the job to a cat over them, send them an email. It can be as simple as, " Dear Sir/Madam: You suck." But don't just not write back. Don't just leave them to think that maybe there's this slim chance they'll get that job and even if weeks have gone by not be able to completely shut out that little, sliver of hope.

I seriously cannot take this anymore. I may have a nervous breakdown. It's to the point where every time I start a cover letter I just start crying and I'm worried that I may break my computer with my own salty,  flood of tears.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A few things.

First, some shameless self promotion:

This was the hardest research I have ever done, and that's including the time I went mountain-biking through dangerous low country terrain full of dangerous dips and bends and woodland creatures.

Second, some more promotion, but not solely for my self. And this is for a fabulous cause! So some of my beautiful friends and I are putting on an inaugural charity benefit for a still in its very early stages non-profit, called 804forHaiti. It's explained in far more detail on the website, but basically I came home from Haiti and had to do find a way to do more. I think anyone would have the same reaction. And what started as a small shindig at my house has blossomed into a full fledged event, and I'm so absolutely thrilled. This wouldn't be a reality without my friends and co-founders, and now I feel like I'm giving an acceptance speech at an award's show. But anyways check out the website. And if you're in the Richmond area in November, the event will be November 18th, 6:30-9pm at the 2300 club!

Third, Rachel Zoe Project season premiere tonight. I die. I missed the whole season two while in Thailand, and I am thrilled to get my fill of monotone Rachel and her neuroses and Brad in his short shorts and bow ties! And well, I just want to go wear a pair of enormous sunglasses inside and swaddle myself in some oversized vintage fur and say the word "bananas" over and over again.
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