Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I am a Hollow Reed

 I have been absent here for a week somewhat intentionally.  In an ordinary day, I feel I am hit by waves of negativity numerous times.  Why are there so many brash, hostile, bitter, and just plain mean people out there?  I have yet to learn how to brace myself and prevent the bad vibes from penetrating me to the core.  It's exhausting.  In an attempt to learn, I am staring to read some books on meditation and, at Meg's suggestion, I have picked up a couple of Eckhart Tolle's books.  He's received so much press; I'm curious what all the hype's about (and am hoping his words will guide me to a place of clarity and peace).

In the past, I have had long periods of laid-backness and intrinsic happiness.  Recently, in my life of imbalance, I have been recalling those times and trying to determine the pieces of the puzzle that made it possible.  Three things stand out as influential factors: 

*lack of responsibility and ability to live a carefree life (I was traveling or doing work that was mindless and simply a means to pay rent, not a career path)

*surrounding myself with kind people who didn't stress, laughed a lot, and were seemingly on their way to enlightenment or just content living a simple life
*having easy access to nature and living in the mountains

*living far away from my parents and being less in touch with them

This last point deserves some explanation.  I love my parents dearly and often consider them two of my best friends.  I think they did an amazing job in parenting me and making me who I am.  That said, I know I rely far too much on their opinions and allow them to subtly (and subconsciously) impact my choices in a way that makes me wonder whose life I am living.  Even as an adult, I feel an extreme internalized force pushing me to choose what they think is best for me and questioning my role at work, what I do extra-curricularly, and with whom I spend my time.  And when I can't or don't live up to the high standards that have been set, I feel overwhelmed, anxious, and disappointed.

How can you be a grown-up when you're still your parents' child?

It's not clear how much of the pressure is coming from them and how much is actually perceived by me, but I do believe that from the time we are quite young, we are conditioned through role modeling and explicit or implicit messages to live a certain way.  I take life so seriously, feel so much pressure to achieve and succeed, and am so controlling that when something doesn't go as planned, I get bent out of shape and feel as if my head or chest will explode.  I am too tightly wound and need to remember how to relax and enjoy life.  I need to rediscover how to let go, chill out, and release the negativity and the anxiety.

I am hoping that through reading, thinking/introspecting, meditating, and visiting mountains,  I will remember to breath and live with kindness for myself and others.  I will return to the self I recognize and aspire to be.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yiddish Tuesday: Schmatta

Schmatta (ˈ sh mätə): n. old, tattered clothing; rags

You're not going out wearing that schmatta, are you?

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Like Smoking Chocolate"

I love cafe culture.  I love sitting in a coffee shop and reading, being anonymous amidst the other nobodies, enveloped in the aroma of freshly ground beans and espresso.  

I'm not a picky coffee drinker.  I mean, sure, I can tell Starbucks from Nescafe, but I'm not fussy about my beans or the particulars of the techniques.  (It would be hard to be fussy in Bangkok, as Starbucks is often as fancy as it gets.)  I take mine black with a splash of skim and sometimes a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon.  And, I love the routine of preparing my cup, then snuggling into a corner with the newspaper or a crossword puzzle or a good book (and sometimes with a smuggled-in homemade scone, which is much healthy, more delicious, and cheaper than a Starbucks' version) and pretending I am in a wintery place and it's Sunday.  Ahhh...

So, when I read about the year-old product, Le Whif, which offers "the taste of chocolate without the calories" and "the kick of coffee without the cup", I was kind of horrified.
The mere idea of chocolate or coffee without the full sensory experience leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  But wait.  It gets worse.  The company that produces these lipstick-sized whiffing sticks are working on an "inhalable three-course meal"!  Can you imagine taking a puff of particles to replace a morning coffee, a piece of chocolate, or even a leisurely meal with friends? 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sexy Structure

Jean Nouvel's new residential tower on West 19th Street in NYC is one hell of a sexy building:
The piece in the NY Times called it a "mix of grit and glamour — embodied in a glittering facade that seems to have been wrapped around the curved front of a black brick tower like a tight-fitting sequined dress".    A tight-fitting sequined dress!  I love that description!

Absolute Cringe-Worthy

Bizarre, sure.  But, Ruscious?  Heroine?  Come on, Absolute.  Are you serious?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bloody Tuesday

And they followed through...

Peaceful Balcony


Yiddish Tuesday: Yenta

Yenta (yen′tə): n. A busybody, gossipmonger, usually a woman.  

[Following the 1964 Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, yenta entered Jewish American lexicon and has also become synonymous with matchmaker after the show's well-meaning but meddlesome marriage broker named Yente, a character originally created by writer Jacob Adler in the 1920's.]

Two well-known yentas:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beet Fuchsia

Last week, I made some delicious pureed beet soup.  After roasting 4 foil-wrapped beets for about an hour in the oven, I peeled them, diced them, and plopped them in the blender along with a cup of water, a splash of olive oil and white vinegar,  a bit of Greek yogurt (to create a beautiful magenta color), and some salt and pepper.  A sprinkle of coriander and a bit of avocado...and voila!  Dinner is served!

I found the soup hearty and filling enough alone, but if you need a more substantial meal (or you're serving someone who does...) offer some crusty bread and Italian cold cuts or a light summer couscous salad--I made mine with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, pine nuts, chicken, and a lemon vinaigrette.  Yum!


Blood, Sweat, and Tears

The Red Shirt protests have remained peaceful.  In fact, when their caravan of pickups and buses loaded with supporters made its way past my office this morning, there was more of a celebratory, Memorial Day parade feeling than a grim march to war.  Twangy, upbeat Isaan (northeastern Thailand) music was blaring out of cars and megaphones, and people were smiling, waving, cheering, and generally having a great time. 
The only thing that felt a bit threatening to me were the Red Shirts' (ninja) guards, "Defenders of the People", appointed to protect the protesters and fight back if the military makes it necessary.  These men were decked out in all black, some with ski masks over their faces, and dark sunglasses, a look resembling a mix between a bank robber and an intimidating highway patrolman.
OK, maybe not so intimidating with his sign language love and the guy behind him hamming it up for my camera.

Here are some more random pictures of regular people showing their support:
Yes, that is an American flag...

As the protesters have not made much progress politically in the past few days, perhaps there will be some action before they pack up and head home on Wednesday, as planned.  (Many, tired from the traveling and the heat, have already started leaving despite protests and encouragement from their leaders, according to The Nation.)  It seems that the Red Shirts are prepping for some serious bloodshed tomorrow, though of a non-violent kind.  How is that possible?  The Red Shirt leaders are requesting all protesters donate 1 cc of blood so that tomorrow evening they can pour 1 million cc's (the approximate equivalent to normal blood donations from 2,500 people) around the Government House, Democrat's Headquarters, and the Prime Minister's home.  Fears abound regarding the public health aspect of this plan; the Red Cross has refused involvement and warned of disease transmission.  Rumors have it that the blood scheme is the Red Shirts' "exit strategy" and a means of saving face.  Does this mean all will be quiet on the home front  come Wednesday or will the movement drag on and potential for real bloodshed increase?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Squeaky Clean

How cool is this shower?

While having my gnarly runner's toenails painted an au courant (or perhaps already passe) hue of "greige", I was flipping through a fashion mag and saw this ad.  It brought a smile to my face.

Fresh, clean, and carefree.  I can almost smell the sea.

P.S. No Red Shirt action yet.  The city is quiet.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fish and Shits

In Thailand, where the weather is steamy and tropical, we have only been able to live vicariously through our connections on the East Coast of the U.S. as they live through serial snowstorms that are severe enough to close schools and offices.  Well, I now realize that we have our our version of the snowday here in the politically unstable and colorfully chaotic Land of Smiles.  

Following the verdict that called for the seizure of some of the assets of former Prime Minister Thaksin (you can read about the lead-up to the decision in this post), the country has been bracing itself for March 14th, the date chosen for Thaksin supporters ("Red Shirts") around the country to gather en mass in strategic locations in Bangkok to protest the verdict and to oust Abhisit Vejjajiva, the current PM. 
News agencies have varying estimates of how many protesters are expected --ranging from 200,000 to the rally organizers' promise of 1 million.  It has been reported that the Red Shirt, many of whom are from poorer northern provinces, are getting paid between 300-1500 baht (approximately US$10-45) to attend the rally.  A rumor has also been circulating that families of protesters who are killed in action will receive 1M baht (approximately US$30,000).  That being said, it is uncertain is whether the protests will erupt into the violence proposed by Arisman, a second tier Red Shirt leader who, in a January rally, urged protesters to bring one liter of oil each to send a message to the military that if the Red Shirts are harmed "with just one drop of blood then Bangkok will be a sea of fire".  It is also possible that violence may be initiated by the "Yellow Shirts" or "Blue Shirts", two other feuding factions.  
As most protesters don't have access to firearms, they have been urged to bring fermented fish stink bombs and bags of poop to protect themselves from the military.  These may have the power to be a stronger deterrent than tear gas!
Just as in the U.S., the reports of an impending disaster have caused a stir in the population.  Schools are closed, offices locked up early (even T's company, always ready to weather any storm, declared their closing while we were at lunch due to the approaching Red Shirts), and people are flocking to the grocery stores to stock up on food and water.  After all of the hype, I am eager to see if any news-worthy action transpires.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Powder Days and Powderfinger

After college, I lived for a couple of years as a ski bum.  It was a life free of challenges, which was exactly what I wanted after spending sixteen years in school.  I lived in a community populated by others who were seeking the same thing and soon found myself in a relationship with an Australian (the first of many) who not only didn't want to tax his brain, but may not have even finished high school.  It lasted much longer than either of us had anticipated and was replete with thrilling daily ski breaks on the mountain, lazy beer-drinking nights and weekends, and adventurous travel during the off season.  In retrospect, what I think I gained most from that relationship was learning about the Australian radio station, Triple J, which compiles annual volumes of the year's "Hottest 100" songs based on listeners' online and SMS votes.  Apparently, it's one of the largest public music polls in the world!  Most of the songs are pop singles, but there are some sleepers in there by little-known artists, many of whom are Ozzies.  

I was looking for last year's compilation to listen to online and, while not available on iTunes, I discovered this blog, where you can listen to Triple J's Hottest 100 Of All Time for free!  Yay!

P.S. These poppy Triple J albums make excellent running mixes!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Yiddish Tuesday: Chazzerai

Chazzerai (khaz-zer-rye*): n. Unsubstantial junk.  Literally, pig's food.  Can refer to food, trinkets or anything that's cheap or worthless.  
 Delicious to some, chazzerai to others.  Or, "Gross!  What is that chazzerai you're eating?  You call that a meal?" 

*Note that the "ch" should be pronounced gutterally, at the back of the throat

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hello, Lover!

When I first started living abroad, I was happy to rough it and make use of what was cheap and locally available.  But now, a seasoned expat, I have found as time has gone by that when living abroad, creature comforts and reminders of home become increasingly more important.  Little by little, with the opening of international brand stores and perhaps an increased demand for foreign goods, the creature comforts I use to have to schlep back from the US with me in an extra duffel are becoming more widely available here.  Until 2007, I was importing tampons since only expensive, baby-sized Playtex were available in Thailand.  A couple years ago, I started seeing Cetaphil face wash sold at pharmacies.  I discovered with glee that Quaker Oat Squares, my favorite cereal, can be bought in the international grocery store (though a box goes for a whopping US$12!).  And now, this weekend, Bangkok welcomed one more of my creature comforts:
Yes, hello.  Welcome.  Finally!

Now, I'm just holding out for one of these and my life here will be complete.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Yesterday, T and I went to see the much anticipated Alice in Wonderland.  We had been looking forward to it since seeing the preview months ago and couldn't wait for the Tim Burton darkness and the Johnny Depp weirdness.  However, within a few minutes of the movie beginning, while T was fully engrossed, I was already painfully bored and disappointed.

This telling of Lewis Carroll's fantasy adventure is passionless and flat, leaving the film to rely solely on the  gratuitous, not-well-integrated 3D special effects and distracting computer-generated animals.  Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, was two-dimensional and entirely forgettable except for her haunting paleness and perfectly-formed, pouty, tulip lips.  Though showing valiant efforts to carry the film from soulless obscurity to a colorful and memorable work of art, even the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp,  flaunting his familiar brand of costumed craziness, and the Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Cater and reminiscent of a Blythe-cum-Chucky doll, could not sustain the plot nor this viewer's interest with their melodrama. 

While much of the film has already faded from my memory, the one piece that remains with me is the dress worn by a towering Alice while at the Red Queen's castle.  Cobbled together by the queen's peons upon her demand, possibly from curtains, as she suggested, it is eye-catching and feminine with a rockstar edge that the ethereal, bland Alice never seemed to possess.
This shot of Alice's red dress make it look more Martha Washington than rockstar, but in the film, the costume was captivating.

As a kid, I watched a VHS recording of a 1985 made-for-TV version of Alice in Wonderland over and over again.  Though the sets and costuming were very low-budget, all characters were played by real people, which I prefer, and there were musical numbers thrown in, which added a stage-like quality to the production.  The cast was star-studded, with a number of 80's TV personalities (Telly Savalas, Sally Struthers, John Stamos, Scott Baio, Sherman Hemsley!), a wacky Carol Channing, a tap-dancing Sammy Davis, Jr., and a melancoly Ringo Star, among others.  Below is a clip of the caterpillar, played by Sammy Davis, Jr. and his singing and dancing routine with Alice.  Ah, nostalgia.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Human Flesh Search

Like most people, when  I read George Orwell's futuristic novel, 1984, the premise seemed entirely fictional.  The concept of "Big Brother is always watching" was chilling, but with the exception of rough resemblances to true totalitarian governments, it was far from any reality I knew.  Orwell intended for his Big Brother to represent a figure head, god-like dictator who, like the Boogie Man, instilled fear in the hearts of civilians, consequently ensuring that they behaved themselves and adhered to the Party's laws.

When Orwell wrote 1984 in the 1940's, he probably never imagined that decades later his fiction would not be so far from reality.  On Wednesday, an article in the New York Times, "China's Cyberposse", describes the growing power of cyberspace's version of Orwell's Big Brother.  In China, online forums have become meeting places for computer savvy vigilantes.  The forums offer a place for people to air their grievances against seemingly anyone who colors outside of the lines of society's implicit rules.  With discussions surrounding the issues raised (cheating husbands, animal abusers, child molesters, opinionated bloggers), the angry cybermob gains momentum until someone calls for a lynching, or in their terms a "human flesh search".  This is where the frighting consequences of connectivity come into play.  Through diligent research and detective work, the web community tracks down all available personal information of the perp, including phone number, address, license plate, work place, friends, family, government ID, etc., and makes it public whilst demonizing the offender, leading to job loss, embarrassment, and ultimately, self-banishment.

The idea of a cyberposse is very similar to Big Brother, potentially keeping citizens in check through its powerful omnipresence and omnipotence.  While it's inspiring to see a group of people working together to fight injustices, the human flesh search raises some important questions regarding human rights, particularly personal privacy and the right to due process (which is not considered a right in all parts of the world).  

Are cyberposses as law enforcers a wave of the future or will privacy laws and the desire to preserve personal rights stamp out this vigilante movement? 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kingdom of the Little People

When I saw this article in the New York Times today, I was both kind of horrified and incredibly curious.  I have always had a (I admit it, sometimes politically incorrect) fascination with little people, so when I saw that there was an entire theme park in China manned by dwarfs and midgets, I got really excited.  T and I were thinking about going trekking in Nepal next month, but maybe we should change our plans and go to Kunming instead.

In all seriousness, the article does raise some interesting points about China and the public's perception of disabled people (this was how little people were referred to in the article, but I not sure it's really appropriate).  The park has received a lot of criticism from Western groups like Handicap International and Little People of America, Inc., but the park creator and employees argue that Kingdom of the Little People has created jobs for those who otherwise wouldn't have opportunities and it has created a unique community and support system for the employees.  Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that one actor in a Swan Lake parody, "a crowd pleaser in which male dwarfs dress up in pink tights and tutus and wiggle their derrières", claimed that when the audience clapped, he felt proud.  Maybe something got lost in translation.
Kingdom of the Little People: Politically incorrect and offensive or beneficial for the height-challenged people of China?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes

Last week, for a colleague's birthday I made mini cupcakes.  The recipe was fairly easy.  I had made the full recipe (Chocolate Salted-Caramel Mini Cupcakes) once before and wasn't so successful with the caramel part, so this time, I just stuck with plain cupcakes. 

I think my (annoyingly unpredictable) oven doesn't heat evenly, causing the cupcakes to grow funny-looking smurf hats, which I end up carving off before decorating.
Vanilla cream with chocolate buttons (some sprinkled with cocoa) and chocolate with shredded coconut.

Today's Happiness Reminder: Giggling ourselves to sleep last night (It was after midnight, so I'm counting it for today!) and meeting T at home today for lunch.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sea and Sun: Salves for Sadness

Our weekend at tropical island paradise was just what the doctor ordered.  We regrouped after a tiring and awkward trip and remembered that we could still let our guards down and be best friends.  We sat under beach umbrellas and read; we floated in the clear water; we trekked to the other side of the island for mid-day drinks and lounging; we had intense intellectual debates about raising children and unconditional love; we watched bad TV; we sat on the beach and watched the sunset; and we laughed.  It was the sweetness I had been missing.  It's so easy to find when we escape the daily distraction and stresses of our lives in Bangkok.  The challenge is to figure out how to maintain that carefree love on a day to day basis.



I have decided that I want to try to think of one thing every day for which I am grateful.  And, not something like "my family" or "my health".  That's far too easy.  I'm thinking something that made that particular day shiny or sweet or memorable.  I think this will help me remember that my life is pretty good, even when things are bad. 

Today, I had two Happiness Reminders:
1) When my boss/mentor referred to me as his friend when speaking with a new colleague
2) When I found out that, after more than 2 years of work on it, my graduate thesis was published today and many of my friends and family congratulated me and shared my excitement via Facebook

Yiddish Tuesday: Nu

Nu (noo): interrogative adverb. Used to ask a variety of question, including "so?", "well?", "what's happening?", or "huh?"


So? Nu?  How was your trip?

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