Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thoughtful Article for a Rainy Day

It's a pensive, rainy Tuesday in Atlanta. It took a great amount of concentration and decision making to pick a drink here at Starbucks but once that obstacle was surmounted I was able to grab a seat by the window and enjoy the drizzly day. Grumpily grey skies weren't too common in Asia and I'm still savoring the rarities there that are commonplace in America. So wherever you are, maybe you're having an introspective morning, too. Here's a not-so-cheery but very interesting article about important lives far away that might give you something to think about watching the rain slide down the window. My good friend Kara sent me this article and I think, though a little rant-y, it provides some good food for thought. Give it a look Implications of Insensitive Media Coverage of Human Trafficking and enjoy the grey day.

PS- Why does Snoop Dog carry an umbrella?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Relearning Curve

It really does feel like I've come full circle in a strange, unintentional way. Though so many miles and months from my first cultural immersion experience, life in America has begun to feel much like my first days in Mongolia. I have vivid memories of being so helpless in my early life in Mongolia. Like a small child I couldn't nourish myself, objects were large and foreign and communication was a constant struggle. Even though I had rocked the socks off of college life I was utterly humbled at the feet of my new world; I was blown every which way by the wind-swept steppes. But now I'm back. In the process of mastering an iPhone, a car and dating life I have become the same newborn creature I was two and a half years ago. Right now language is a struggle, in my endeavors to speak with English learners my vocabulary became emaciated. I'm clumsily trying to figure out which shoes to wear with what outfit and where. But perhaps the most difficult thing thus far has been the job search. I've submitted two applications, a paltry number compared to the thirty or so resumes I know it will take me to find work. But somehow the rejection of my pleas for employment has stung more than I thought it would.

In Mongolia I arrived knowing how to speak Shakespeare, dominate at flip cup, pen beautiful research papers, throw a perfect frisbee flick and juggle a mind-boggling number of friends. However, those skills were rendered useless once I went to Mongolia, despite my sentimental attachment to them and the years I'd spent cultivating them. So I abandoned those abilities and set about learning new ones. And now I arrive back in the same place. My Mongolian language, sweet chili sauce recipe, knowledge of marketplace bartering and so many other abilities are moot. Alas, I think potential employers don't give a flying moneky's that I know how to greet a Cambodian official or order off a Sichuan menu.

So now it begins again. I must abandon the know how that kept me afloat during my years in Asia and become a vigorous student of America; I must learn and relearn my home. I hope I won't ever lose the Mongolian lullaby or 'thank you' in eight Asian languages. But I also hope I find a job.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Just Around the Corner...

Yesterday I took a dear friend to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and Peidmont Park here in Atlanta. It had rained in the morning and was grey and yucky when we left the house but it turned out to be a beautiful day. Even though it may be snowy Tsagaan Saar on the other side of the world, here spring is just around the corner! Happy Tsagaan Saar to my Mongolian homies, we're sending lots of sunny love your way. Spring's a'comin.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just Sayin'

Yesterday was 25th birthday. Yayyy! Facing a similar milestone, many of my peers have been freaking out. But honestly I am very stoked. One more year to have fun and share time with the people I love. What could be better? My friends and family (who I consider friends) went to great lengths to make sure my special day was amazing. So I just want to tell the world that...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What Lies Beneath

Vietnam. It's such a loaded place- especially for Americas. When I was there so many Dutch or Australian backpackers would lean through their cloud of smoke, over their bottles of beer and ask me if I felt bad about the War or got any hostility from the locals. The answer: not really.

Growing up in as a white kid in the American South, history was papered with pictures of Rosa Parks and Doctor King. Strange fruit swung from every lesson in school. Racially charged violence and discrimination has marked this place forever and more often that not the bad guys looked like me. But at the same time I sat in class next to black kids and first generation Americans and though the stories from that time are harrowing and tragic, I don't think I was any more moved by them than my classmates just because of my race.

I think this upbringing colored my trip to Vietnam. Some Americans told me they felt horribly guilty about the Vietnam War. Reflexively I approached the War with the same 'I didn't do it' shrug and deep reverence for those who were affected by it that I examined the Civil Rights Movement. I was neither part of a lynching nor napalm dump but I do feel sincerely sorry for the victims of these acts and a sense of sorrow for those who did them. It's not an insensitivity but a sense of being removed personally.

What did strike me about Vietnam was far more universal. It was the sense that everyone's inner darkness was just a little closer to the surface. I feel very strongly that there is an unimaginably dark side of every person, a masochistic side, a hurtful side. The Stanford Prison Experiment is the most widely recognized piece evidence that this part of us exists and it is evil but there's also proof in daily life. In traffic or at work sometimes people let it slip and their dark side lurches up to the surface, just a little, just enough to show before it is forced back down to the depths. It happens every day.

In addition to the Stanford Prison Experiment, The Vietnam War was another time when this vicious side of humanity was so unleashed. I'm not pretending to be an expert but from the people I've talked to, books I've read and movies I've seen it seems like so many people there were on the brink. Their decent, reasonable facades about to shatter as a darker impulse bubbled up beneath it and pushed.

This dark side in all of us both terrifies and fascinates me. Dexter is one of my favorite television shows exactly for that reason. Well...that and I will to do unprintable things to Michael C. Hall if I ever get him alone. Dexter lets this side of him reign free and calls it his 'dark passenger.'

In Vietnam it seems that though everyone feels this greater awareness of their dark passenger, there are many different reactions. I ran into a bunch of guys, English 'lads', who were very excited about shooting lots of guns from the Vietnam War. Playing with toys of destruction like that isn't really my bag. It scares me. What if I enjoy it too much? What if I hit someone? But then again answering a very present evil with violence isn't a new thing. Although this time the bad is within ourselves. 

When I went to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels where the Viet Cong hid and fought, a rifle range was included in the tour. Walking through the jungle at the place where so many people had lost their lives on both sides of the War and hearing machine gun fire split the air made me want to vomit. But at end of those guns were grinning foreigners, happily and therapeutically drilling away into the vacant space; behind them were smiling Vietnamese with growing pockets.

Rather than shooting guns, my reaction to this feeling was to think about this and later to write. I hope confronting this part of myself will not be necessary even though I know it will always be there. Unlike those who were affected by the War, perhaps I won't ever have to.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Poem for Hectic Times

It's been a little hectic of late. Last week I spent every day from 9-4 in an intensive grant writing certificate course and this weekend I was in Chattanooga celebrating my Grandma's birthday with her. Today is my first day to actually get things done; real productivity is turning out to be both rewarding and overwhelming. But still beneath the waves of this modern life is the undercurrent of the feeling that my world is beginning to stand still. Sometimes I find myself thinking about the travelers I met in late-night hostels or on buses weaving through the rice fields. I wonder how their journeys are going. It's been an exhilarating rush of meeting so many new people both in Asia and upon my return. The idea, a very Modernist one, of faces in a crowd, of strangers coming together for just a second, resonates with me right now in all this transition. I discovered this little Korean poem and am in love with the soothing drift of it's words, a tonic in a crazy time filled with new faces.

After a Year By Han Cha-Hyeon

This postcard is written in a small hotel room in São Paolo.
Tomorrow morning, I will begin another long journey.
By then, a plane carrying you from the other side of the earth
Will soar into the unfamiliar afternoon.
Sorry I have departed.
Sorry we cannot be together,
To the face I’ve yet to meet,
Yet to be separated,
But still missed in joy,
What is your name?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Swiming in November

It's so strange to come home to such a warm winter. The weather today was mild and beautiful. I feel like God is on my side in saying 'eff the Super Bowl!' just because the air makes you itch to be outside. But somehow at the same time it's the tiniest bit tragic. It's hard to ignore that every ray of sun warming the face is also melting just one more inch of an iceberg. I know it's beautiful weather but somehow it's a little painful because it feels so wrong, so unnatural. We are gloriously warmed by the fire that is burning the earth. It reminds me of a great song that's now one of my fave throwbacks: Sleeping In by Postal Service. It's a great tune if you don't know it and a verse goes:

And then last night I had that strange dream
Where everything was exactly how it seemed
Where concerns about the world getting warmer
The people thought they were just being rewarded
For treating others as they like to be treated
For obeying stop signs and curing diseases
For mailing letters with the address of the sender
Now we can swim any day in November

Anyway, don't mean to be grim. It is quite beautiful out so I'll take what I can get which right now is the door flung open, budding trees and very happy birds. Enjoy the evening and happy Super Bowl, ya'll!

Friday, February 3, 2012


I'm back! Atlanta has opened her arms and welcomed me into her Crisco-scented bosom once again. Hallelujah! It's been quite a journey. Instead of a 12 hour lay-over I managed to weasel my little butt onto the flight that was leaving 3 hours after I turned up in Seoul from Phnom Penh. Not sure what I did right karmically for that to work out, but it must have been something big. There, seated between an obese, whiskey guzzling Vietnam War Vet back from a trip to his Baptist orphanages and a narcoleptic Korean girl, I lost all sense of space and time playing way too many games of Tetris and waiting impatiently for the plane to land. For 14 hours. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie 50/50, do it! It made me laugh and openly weep on the plane, much to the confusion of the flight attendants.) But when the plane finally ground to a halt at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, I was once again sucked into a roller-coaster of emotions, a ride I have yet to dismount.

The sky was grey when we landed. The buildings were grey. And like visiting your kindergarten long after you’ve left, the world outside of the portal window seemed smaller and less shiny than I had remembered or hoped. I wondered if I’d made a mistake. I considered asking the pilot to turn right back around. But I had no idea what wonders waited for me in the airport. As soon as I deplaned I was overcome with sheer joy. Photos of lean-to houses and ripe, fuzzy peaches smiled at me glossily from the walls of the terminal. The portly attendants with gravity defying hair sculptures called me 'bay-bah' and chattered about drinking ‘Co-co-lah.’ The border patrol was a regiment made solely of sweet Southern boys, with chiseled jaws and gentle questions, who wished me all the best. And oh the bathrooms! Toilet paper as thick and supple as the world’s biggest cotton ball. Sparkling clean seats to really and truly sit on. What a brave new world I had landed in! I even drank from the faucet just because I could, thankyouverymuch. And how sweet that lukewarm water tasted. 

But then again I plunged. Waiting for my baggage to be pooped out onto the conveyor belt was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I could feel the grey hairs squeezing their way onto my head and my chances of having a massive stroke skyrocket. The women in my family have many a blessed virtue, patients is not one of them. I had planned on surprising my parents 12 hours early but how in the world could I when faceless gremlins were keeping my backpack prisoner for crimes unknown? But finally, like a ray of hope, it sprang from the bowels of the airport and trundled its way onto the conveyor belt. I snatched it up, raced the rest of the way through the labyrinth of customs and security cleanings then popped out into the world and onto the MARTA, Atlanta’s metro system.

It’s comforting to know that some things will never change. For instance, MARTA will always smell like chicken wings and cocoa butter and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I plopped down onto a plastic orange seat, breathed deep the smells of my youth and chatted with a good ole American businessman about his work in costume jewelry and my adventures around the world. The voice coming out of my mouth sounded detached and foreign as I talked lightly about living in Mongolia and Cambodia for two and a half years. The businessman, kind and interested albeit a little confused, had never been abroad before. Of all my fears in coming home, I dread being someone people can’t relate to or sounding too big for my britches. I don’t want to be that guy in the hostel bar, chain smoking and telling everyone about how rad homestays in Afghanistan were before the Russians invaded or that if you haven’t seen the sunrise from K2 you haven’t actually lived at all. Everyone’s impressed but no one actually likes that guy.

At any rate, after defending myself in the face of a very persistent homeless man, I plodded off the train and into Midtown Atlanta, from jungle to jungle. I was quite the spectacle, brightly colored boots, greasy hair and toting a massive olive backpack, like Atlas back from his gap year. I even got some amused grins and cheerful thumbs-up from businessmen on their lunch breaks. And finally, after a total of 27 hours, I spilled into the door of my Dad’s office, much to his surprise. I was home.

It’s been good being back, although it’s been less than a day. I had a hefty nap, split two bottles of wine with my elated parents over whole wheat (!!) pasta and smoked salmon then slept like a baby. It had been three days since I’d slept horizontally and for more than four hours in a row. But hometown glory aside, I know it will be hard. My grandmother just got released from the hospital; the first of what will be a continuous dance as we, her concerned and loving family, follow her between nursing homes and hospital beds. My parents are hosting a memorial service for a dear friend’s father at our house today. My hunt for a good job, which will predictably be exasperating, has officially begun. And somehow, in the midst of all this, I feel like I’m still not here for good. Impulsively, I was reluctant to unpack my make-up bag, thinking ‘why bother? I’m just going to leave soon anyway.’ Perhaps it’s an old habit. Maybe it’s true. We’ll see.

But I remain optimistic; so far so good. Right now happiness is an avocado turkey bagel for breakfast while fitting into my old skinny jeans. And being home again.