Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I love to see the Temple...

And so I went inside last week...

Yep :)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"I Do..." A Case for Marriage

A couple days ago I received my Newsweek magazine. "She reads Newsweek?!?!" you exclaim. Well, not usually but now they're sending it to me (they're being the Newsweek folks) so sure, I'll read it. Who knows, maybe when I actually DID subscribe via my e-USPS address change procedure back in April to Fitness magazine, they threw in a Newsweek subscription for good measure. Never the less... a couple days ago I received a Newsweek; and the following article was featured:

"I Don't" - The Case Against Marriage

I'd like to say now, before the rant and rave begins, this IS my blog. Yep. Mine. THUS, I can rant and rave about what I want on my blog. Alrighty? There's an entire bloggery world out there blogging about what they blog about, and they get to do that because we're free to not only have our opinions, but express them peaceably and in a way we deem most appropriate for us. This is me... on my blog... doing just that.

This article tried to make a case against marriage; why it's not necessary in our 'very modern' world and that cohabitation and singleness is not only a more common route, why, it's the better route! Apparently, according to these authors, we've become so progressive that marriage is something our grandparents and maybe some of our parents did - ya know - like walking uphill both ways to school or hand writing letters subsequently handed to a slim postal worker atop a pony (see: Pony Express). Anything considered "traditional", as the media will surely antagonize every single day, is archaic, demeaning, dusty, old, and of course, useless now that society is so "modern."

The view the authors take is that marriage is no longer necessary, so why do it: "Once upon a time, marriage made sense. It was how women ensured their financial security, got the fathers of their children to stick around, and gained access to a host of legal rights." I'd like to submit that first, it seems that they are arguing that women particularly ONLY married for the above reasons and secondly, it presupposes that anyone financially secure and childless, would never even cultivate the desire for marriage; thus marriage loses practicality. Where's the romance? I ask you! They claim that marriage is nothing more than a piece of paper, a formality, with nothing practical attached to the institution at all. I find this ironic for if marriage was as trite in our modern society as these authors claim, I don't think there would be such a battle over gay-marriage. It would seem to me, because such a battle rages, that couples of all lifestyles innately recognize something greater to the institution of marriage than financial security and someone to help change diapers. Otherwise, it would be drive through civil-unions for all! Couples recognize there is something more to marriage than 'practicality.'

Then come the statistics: "The numbers are familiar but staggering: Americans have the highest divorce rate in the Western world; as many as 60 percent of men and half of women will have sex with somebody other than their spouse during their marriage."

This is a sobering and albeit saddening statistic. Though the flaw in this statistic lies within the authors comparison of American divorce rates to that of Europeans: stating the Europeans cohabitate vs. actually getting married and thus also boast a much lower divorce rate. Well, dear friends, if less people are getting married, would it stand to reason there are less divorces since there are less marriages to divorce? I'm just saying. To make such a comparison, I suggest a methodology including ratio's vs. "so... like Europe doesn't get divorced or married so they win!" They also do not include "break-up" statistics of those who co-habitat because guess what, you don't have to go down to the court house and sign a "co-Habitation" agreement. It would be presumptuous to assume that co-habitating couples are more likely to stay together than married couples when there is no way to measure it. People co-habitat so they can break up; skirting a greater responsibility that's innately attached to the word "marriage."

 They also utilized their statistics to justify behavior that, as they claim, 50 years ago was a stigma in American social acceptance: "We know that having children out of wedlock lost its stigma a long time ago: in 2008, 41 percent of births were to unmarried mothers, more than ever before, according to a Pew study..." Apparently this statistic is being interpreted by the authors to mean these unmarried mothers chose to have children out of wedlock rather than striving for a two parent home and further more, because these women aren't locked in a back room or painted with a scarlet A on their chest, it's more socially acceptable to have children out of wedlock. They do not address the issue that perhaps it's not a matter of acceptability, but rather a matter of reality. Again, because the 'stigma' of single mothers has been loosened, there will likely be more statistical data to assess in 2010 than perhaps in 1955 when it was hushed away in disgrace. I see this statistic as more of a reality check "Hey! This happens and we need to realize it happens and find out why it happens" (which does not, in my mind, translate into, "It's totally fine to do this..."). Furthermore, how many of those mother are below the age of 18? How many of those mothers gave up children for adoption? And subsequently, is this something that we're now going to start advocating? Find me a single 17 year old (or 26 year old or 45 year old) mother who says single motherhood is her ideal situation and I'll eat my hat! Eat it I tell you! As my mother is essentially a "single mother" of 4 (happily grown) children, I can tell you what her response would be: No one would CHOOSE single motherhood. No one CHOOSES single parenthood. The Hollywood glitz and glam of single parenthood is fake. This is not an argument against marriage, but a sobering truth that the traditional family is being challenged and we need to do everything we can as reasonable human beings to recognize it and save it.

One such Anthropologist even suggests: "she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years." I'd like to see that study and then compare it with the thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of studies that show children who are born into a family with both a mother and a father, who are married and stay married, have a greater chance at happiness and success in life than children who are not. Go ahead and google it. You'll see I'm right. And recognize the qualifiers I've added "good" marriage and "stay" married. Is this a fairy tale? I do not think so. Is the divorce rate high? Yes it is, but there are also 50% of couples out there who STAY married and perhaps its time we tap into that secret rather than throwing our hands in the air and exclaiming "Marriage FAILS!"

The authors go on to lament "...but we’d be fools to think we’ve completely shed the roles associated with “husband” and “wife.”" Because apparently, according to these authors, this is the normative ideal now; apathetic adult roles non-associated with gender. How dare we claim that there are gender roles within society! How dare we suggest that a woman has natural inclinations and abilities best suited for being in the home! How very archaic that would be! I can see the nay-sayers gathering stones now...

Well, let me tell you what I think. I think marriage between a man and a woman IS fundamental to the propagation of the human race, a social necessity for cultivating empathy, charity, love, and raising up of the next generation of stable, able, citizens and leaders. Marriage is not dying. Marriage is not a wo begotten fade slowly going the way of the dinosaur. Marriage is not something our grandparents enjoyed like a cool Root Beer at the local Diner with the Jukebox blaring "I Ain't Nothin But a Hound Dog." What this article tells me, is that the world, "modern" society, is once again, getting it all wrong in the name of "progress and practicality." Where's the principle of the idea? Where does the desire of human companionship, love, and nurturing come in? Are we to believe that there are such organizations that can take the place of a the nuclear family and do it any sort of justice to the rising generation? I submit there is not. I for one, am not too modern, to progressive, nor too intelligent for marriage. As a woman, I see marriage as a gateway for fulfilling the role of womanhood I find to be the most important: that of wife and mother.  I can think of no greater responsibility nor anything more influential for society at large than raising good children in a home with a husband. I will, if I am able, make the choice to become a Mother who utilizes her world experience, her education, and her abilities to make sure that HER children understand that though the world would tell them they are close-minded, stagnate, ill-informed, and heaven forbid traditional, that marriage, a good marriage, is key to a life of wholeness and happiness. And I will teach them that from the home... where I will be there for them throughout their entire growing up. Throw the divorce rates at me, tell me how marriage doesn't give me a tax break, that women don't "need" marriage anymore because they're more educated and financial able, and that Europeans who co-habitat are apparently, "happier, less religious, and more likely to believe that marriage is an outdated institution" (because happiness and less religion apparently correlate...), and I'll tell you that as a woman, I believe in marriage no matter how 'out-dated' the world tells me it is and if I work hard to meet the expectations I have of myself and I have a companion that does the same, I will tell you that you are wrong... and prove it in every way I can.

Lastly, my mother was a "stay-at-home mom." And I believe that because she made the choice to utilize her talents and abilities to raise us four kids, that we are more stable, more happily adjusted, and more emotionally secure in who we are and where we are going. If it wasn't for a Mother who recognized that her most important role was creating a safe and secure environment to raise good children, I don't think I'd be the person I am today. And though life doesn't always pan out as we'd hoped, I still choose to have hope and aim for those things I've been taught, and personally believe, will give me the greatest joy and allow me to see beyond what society says I should be, to what I know is best for me to be.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Days 10-13: The Venturous Vietnamese Finale of the Incredible Indonesian Excursion

It’s about time! I know… I know… I don't know who I am thinking "like, oh my gosh I'm so busy so like I can’t blog because my life is busy and awesome and busy.” Naw. Okay, well it is busy, but not because it’s awesome, but because I thought I could handle three graduate level classes in the summer, one of which being held over 3 weekends, half the day Friday and all day Saturday, in ADDITION to a Constitutional Law class and Research Design. Now “like super awesome busy life” does that sound? Exactly.

Also, as previously mentioned I grew a tail and that’s taken some time to truly cope with. “Has it come to this?” I’d ask myself every evening as I lay pathetically on my tummy, willing my tail to heal and not become a permanent fixture on yon derriere. Well the tail is no more… and I am sitting for long periods of time again (see: working day, evening classes) without having to shift awkwardly to even out the backside pressure. Now that you feel sufficient sympathy for my plight… I should like to tell you of my last few days in Indonesia; Vietnam respectively, and if you think you have ample sympathy for me now, just wait…

Let’s start by mentioning that my camera battery died in Cambodia (with my large intestine) and thus my Vietnam photo-documentation is courtesy of Ms. Terilyn. Thanks T!

We left the adventure at Ho An; where I spent the entire two days battling sickness in my hotel room (which was lovely so that helped) but was somewhat saved by the good Doctor of Ho An who made house calls and brought the pills with him (hear that America? HOUSE-CALLS! Where’s THAT clause in Health Care Reform, eh?). After not seeing Ho An, Terilyn and I boarded another plane to our final destination, Hanoi, Vietnam. We arrived at night and thus, found our hotel and decidedly went immediately to bed. It’s clear both of our bodies were giving us veritable red flags that they were running out of stamina. The next day, I was woozy but capable. Capable of browsing around the city and enjoying the sights of Hanoi, Vietnam. I’d like you to know, Internet, that Hanoi, Vietnam was my favorite city of all the Indonesian cities I'd experienced. Now this is saying something since almost my entire stay in Vietnam was plagued by a super-parasite my body did not have the weaponry to fully combat - I've only got American materials to work with! We took it easy, we took it slow, and really enjoyed a day out and about. We witnessed Catholic Cathedrals (St. Joseph's Cathedral particularly) in the middle of a very Asian City, which was a site in and of itself, and strangely, gave me a sense of familiarity and comfort. Isn’t that strange? I’m from Utah; and though I see the Cathedral of the Madeline almost every day, it’s nothing like the old French Gothic Cathedrals of the 17th century. Envision mini-Notre Dame’s. I think it was this site of Westernized architecture that made me feel not so far away… and when you’re sick… it helps not to feel so far away.

We also saw a traditional Vietnamese Water Show which was very entertaining for me. I’m easily entertained by very simple things – so long as they're genuine. I find a lot of depth in simplicity, and these little water puppets telling a story in a language I didn’t understand with music I don’t listen to, was really fantastic. Myths, stories, folklore, fairy tales, I don’t feel America has enough of these. Perhaps America is too young to have a lot of these; and thus I appreciate ancient cultures and their connection with the past, the ancient, their pagan Gods, and their desire for understanding of the natural things of the world. They don't allow the ancient to die, and that's how it should be.

This is the exact theater I sat in and watched the puppet show (curtosy of Wikipedia)
We naturally toured the city center and visited Hoan Kim Lake, meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword.” If I recall the legend correctly (noting that my mind wasn’t as absorbent as it otherwise might have been), the ancient emperor Lei Loi, returned a sword called Heaven’s Will, back to the Golden Turtle God and by doing this, confirmed his victory over the Chinese Ming Dynasty. I imagine something like karma, good luck, or ethereal help was granted to Lei Loi for returning the sword to the Golden Turtle God. In the center of the Lake, there is a temple erected that smells of incense and is surrounded by lake vines and beautiful foliage. It was a very calming place to visit, and an incredibly beautiful edifice that helps maintain the mythical quality of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Some fantastic images of the temple on the lake, and ME on THE Red Bridge leading to the Temple.

Look at that attitude! Even as a sickly cat I strike fear in your heart, right? Roooowww!

Moving right along...

We then made a very Westernized decision that perhaps was one of the most self-reflective decisions I’ve ever made – we decided to go to a movie. No… we didn’t want to see Vietnamese movies (espcially considering previous experience... see bus ride from hell), we wanted to see Ironman 2. Right??? We went to an American movie in Hanoi Vietnam, and I am not ashamed. I think seeing the Cathedral had given me such a smidgen of familiarity in my heart that I really wanted to take myself out of the foreign, exotic, and unfamiliar, for a few hours and find a comfort zone. Now, how’s that for self-reflection? Turns out, I’m attached to Western civilization. I'm a Westerner. I will never be truly exotic!!! What a tragedy... D'oh well.

Terilyn and I both agreed that after eating at Pizza Hut (yep! Again, NOT ASHAMED!) and seeing Ironman 2 was probably the best thing we ever did to recharge the old batteries for the remaining two days of our trip. The next day, we left for Halong Bay.

I was nervous about getting on a bus for 3 hours to travel to Halong Bay. I was nervous because I was still woozy, still sickly, and my intestines were most particularly done with moving vehicles and intense traveling from A to B to C to E,F,G… you get it. Oh, and the memory of the bus ride from HELL was still very fresh in both of our minds. This bus ride… well this bus ride TO Halong Bay… not bad. What was most enjoyable was listening to about the funniest, quirkiest, 60 year old British man chit chat with everyone on the bus, introducing us to his buddy, his 20 something daughter, and his 20 something son, who were traveling with him. This guy was a gem… and had I not been utilizing all my energy in basic functioning (blinking, breathing, etc), I would’ve become friends with this guy. Very good friends I expect. Alas… the opportunities lost. Our British friends were with us the entire two days in Halong Bay and for that, I was happy. I dig British folks. I have a strongly held belief I should've been British - of which I will address at a later time. We also traveled with two Australian women, a mother and her daughter, two French girls a la Paris, and a middle aged French couple; "Moi? Je parle francais un peu. Le petite poisson, oui? Tres bien". I practiced a little French. Happily, there were no Russians. You know how I've now become biased against Russians. Snort. Russians. A tender mercy, that. We traveled on a traditional Vietnamese boat, referred to as a “Junk.” We ate on the boat (great food… which I could thankfully nibble), chatted on the boat, and slept on the boat. We explored the bay and I was in awe of the hundreds of tiny islands throughout Halong Bay. It would be incredibly easy for an inexperienced, or even a somewhat experienced, sailor to get lost forever among the islands for a very long time. I’m always in awe of the natural beauty of this world and as incredible as our snorkeling experiences on the paradisical Phi Phi Island was, Halong Bay was almost equal to that. Many people have asked me if it’d be worth going back, given how far away it truly is, and I’ve told them, I’d do Vietnam again… I’d do Halong Bay for 7 days… and then Phi Phi Island for my last 7 days… and come back a more relaxed, self-reflective, humbled person than I’d ever been and likely ever would be. The good Earth provides us with everything we have, food, water, beauty, and in Vietnam I realized, it brings us peace, humility, and gratitude as well. Truly, this Earth has everything we’d ever want. The gift that keeps on giving
Here’s a sampling...
And also...

Now enters the second bus ride from hell. In fact, I would’ve taken the Blood-Spattering pornographic vomit bus ride again. Why? Let me tell you why. I felt I was going to explode. My body had lost. Completely. We returned on the Junk from sailing around Halong Bay and my body was simply done moving. Finished. It begged me for a bed… always for a toilet… and a vaut of super strength Pepto Bismol. Longest 3 hours of my life. Luckily, like the good Vietnamese Doctor, there were other Good Samaritans on the bus ride from Halong Bay. They took the form of two older Australian couples who made my eyes tear with longing for home when I caught them watching my scrunched face and doubled up body with incredible sympathy. It makes you want your Mommy. And I did! I did! Some people are just kind; they exude safety and goodness, and these Australians were that. We FINALLY, got back to our hotel where we were going to crash for 5 hours before starting the long journey home, and the Australian man, calling me ‘sweet’hat’ and ‘dahlin’ told me his hotel was literally 20 steps from ours and he had some extra strength Imodium AD that would ‘cure what’s ailin ya sweet-hat… fix ya right up.’ Terilyn, bless her, left me in the hotel room to shower and… er… pay homage to the porcelain gods, and retrieved the blessed Imodium. I took it with relish. Willing it to work. While I laid down, awaiting my Imodium to kick in, I wanted nothing more than to call my Mom. Right? Yet another reflective moment. In a time of extremity, all I wanted was Gatorade, chicken soup, and Mom. I had tried to call and or text her from Ho An… and naturally… my phone would not allow it. But, I thought I’d try it again… just… just for the sake of trying. It was 5am in America, it was likely even if I could get a text through, my Mom would be in bed. But I had to try it. The comfortable memories of Ironman 2 and the Cathedral were long filed away. I sent the text. It said it was sent. And I waited. “Ding..dong…” WHA?!??! It worked! Mom was responding! Oh tender mercy I’ve not had a better one! She was awake! She was texting! I was comforted… We texted for about 45 minutes and each minute gave me more strength to push on through. That, and the Imodium was truly kicking in. Naturally, for two weeks after that dark night I prayed that the Australian couple would be blessed with everything possible there is to bless Australian couples with. I also blessed Verizon for my 1 hour (I kid you not… 1 hour… and then it was gone) I was able to text my mom and get some motherly concern and comfort. These are the things that keep us going. People.
We left Hanoi at 11:00pm and landed in South Korea about 5 hours later (i.e. about 6:00am). You recall what I said about the ridiculous awesomeness of Korean Air… well might I tell you that that awesomeness is also reflected in their airport? IT IS! They had a lovely area meant for weary travelers to just pull up a reclining chair or cushioned bench and snooze. In fact, for a price you could rent a room and shower for several hours (not in my budget… but it was available!). They provided FREE (FREE) Internet and a lovely little Café for chillaxin. We didn’t leave South Korea until around 4:00pm… but I can tell you it was the easiest layover of the whole trip. We slept and slept and slept, ate, read, and before we knew it… were on our final International flight headed toward America.
I was so happy to enter America. And though LAX is a complete mad-house, we were home. And being home felt good. Another 2 hours and we dropped into Salt Lake City. If I hadn’t been in a sleep-coma I probably would’ve teard at the sight of downtown SLC as we approached the run way. As it was, I didn’t wake up until the wheels touched ground and I was jolted out of my sleepy darkness: "Who? What? No tuk-tuk!". Home. Home. Home. Enter Michael BUble: "Another sunny day.. has come and gone away.. .in Paris and Rome and I wanna go home..." (Mmm... Paris and Rome... anybody?)

It’s been over a month since I’ve been home. The souvenirs are handed out and I'm easily back in the swing of ordinary life. I only spent 2 weeks in the most foreign place I’d ever been, and may ever be, but it truly changed me. Perhaps nothing incredibly life-altering, but definitely some life-shifting. What I find amazing about traveling to any place, is how much you can learn about yourself; patience, appreciation, basic needs, comforts, and even love. I wouldn’t change anything about my trip, even the sickness and stress, because that was when I learned the most about myself and what really is important to me: the kindness of strangers, the comfort of home, the luxury of safety, and the connection of families in our very souls.

Plus, now I can enter social conversations with “Well… when I was in Bangkok…” which let’s face it, makes me a LITTLE bit cooler right? A tad. A tad cooler. Enlightenment and raised coolness... now that's a sweet souvenir!

Monday, June 14, 2010

This weekend I grew a tail... what'd you do?

I feel like a lot of things have gone wrong lately. Well, perhaps not wrong, but not right, ya know? Just little craptastic days here and there filled with a bunch of small annoyances that build into something explosively over-reactive. Ya know what I mean? Sure you do.

Well this weekend topped off a rather stress heavy two weeks. Why was it stress heavy - I'm not entirely shore. Summer school is kicking my butt up and down the street so there's that, work's been quite busy as I'm planning events and training little interns, plus I've had some life contemplations that always make you reflect on such things as "So... where do I want this degree to take me?" and "Why didn't I minor in Spanish in college instead of French? Zut!" The really important things in life.

Oh right so... on to the 'weekend topper' - I spent mucho of Friday night in the University of Utah ER. Super fun. Why did I spend Friday night in the UofU ER? Well let me tell you. Take a walk with me back to last Tuesday. I was doing a Jillian Michaels video... naturally... after class and really into it. She makes you sweat if you wanna "Don't forget to oxygenate! These ladies are aspirational!" Hey... she's allowed to create these words; I mean just look at her arms! And I thought only DUDES could get those two ab lines that dip into the nether regions. Jillian and dudes, apparently. Anyway... doing some Metabolism Boost with Jillian Michaels and I get on the floor for some ab work and OUCH... my tailbone hurts. It's tender. It feels funny. I reach on back there to see what's up (naturally) and find a funny little bump. Super zit, maybe? Okay, maybe. I had a rather painful snowboarding crash many many seasons ago, landing directly on the tailbone and since then, have experienced small little flair ups such as this now and again. I thought the two were related... turns out...

Roll Thursday night. It hurts now. TMI moment! Super zit is er... spewing... stuff... out of a little hole I did not create. Self-made super zit drainage hole in the tailbone? Okay. (I told you TMI... don't say you weren't warned). Friday... hurts something FIERCE! And continues to grow in redness, tenderness, and spewness throughout the day. Around 8:00 that night, I pretty much can't move without the super zit raging like a pitch fork stuck banchee... also an excellent descriptor of the sounds I started making when I tried to move. YeeeeeaaaAHHHHHLP! At this point I'm thinking...

"Um... I think I need to go to the ER. I think I have to drive myself to the ER!"

This was upsetting. Shore the super zit hurt, but I think what 'hurt' a little more is the fact I had to consider driving MYSELF to the ER. BOO! Enter Rod Stewart "someone to waaaaaatch.... oooover me...." So I text a variety of friends, all of whom are cool so thus naturally watching movies and hanging with friends on Friday nights (I had ambitious plans for homeworking... super zit killed those dreams too), and finally gathered up my things (purse... keys) and hobbled to the door, accepting the fact that my super zit and I were alone in the endeavor and I would have to drive myself to the ER. Just as I left my apt, my good friend Camille called "What's up!"

"Dude! The super zit! It's an alien pod I know it! Something's growing! I’m hosting a parasite!!"

Camille: "I'll take you... be there in 20"


"Well," says the (female... hurray!) doctor, "It's not cancer so that's good."

Er... were you considering it COULD be cancer? Sheesh woman! If it's not cancer then I'd prefer you not even mention the word.

"It's what we call a Pilonidal Cyst. Only about 10% of the population experiences it because only about 10% of the population is born with a little hole above their tailbone that can get infected. Usually, it's men who get it, but women can too... in their teens and 20's," explains Ms. Doctor.

Me: "So... sniff tear sniff... okay... gasp..." (I tell you it hurt!)

Ms. Dr: "So! We will drain it. Make an incision and drain that sucker (didn't actually say sucker), pack it with gauze, and send you on your way. Oh... and it's really going to hurt."

And hurt it did. They tried to numb the area but mostly, it was just a lot of gasps and tears and tears and gasps. Not fun. Might I NOT recommend getting a Pilonidal Cyst if you can help it? Apparently mine had by then turned into a Pilonidal abscess and if any of you wisdom teeth removal people are familiar with you feel the pain. I felt the pain. And man was in paaaaaaiiiiinnnnnn. After draining the little beasty, the filled it up with gauze and said that I'd have a little tail for awhile while the gauze helped close the wound properly. They gave me some sweet sweet Loratab for the pain and sent me home. Can I say, that it doesn't end there? Newope.

As the wound heals, the little gauze packing is pushed out... thus my little chipmunk tail has turned into a kitten tail. Which is a nice image. A little kitten tail coming out of my tailbone... makes sense. I've been told I was likely a cat in a previous life, so the addition of a kitten tail goes without saying. It still hurts... not as badly... but it hurts. Church was KILLER, 3 hours of sitting, but I made it through! Trooper! That's me! Today isn't too terrible and after taking 3 15-20 minutes baths a day since Saturday, I feel things will turn out okay. Right? But who knows... I DO have a little extra tailbone hole that only 10% of the population has and most of those people are dudes. This would happen to me... it just would.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Picture screw up...

Sooo... new blogger template screwed up my pics. Tried to fix it... kept trying.. can't go back..screwed it up more. Stopped trying out of frustration. So sorry.

The End.

I am the duck...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Every now and again, I'm reminded there's still good in this world...

(The final chapter of the Great Indonesian Adventures forthcoming... hang in there!)

I am the oldest and only girl of 4 kids. This means that I not only have a propensity to boss people about (I like to call it being a “natural” leader), but that I also have 3 little brothers for the bossing: Seth, 24; Nick, 21: and baby Taylor, 17. And they are good boys.

Sometimes, I contemplate this world and I contemplate its people, and can’t help but be discouraged from time to time. I tend to believe there are forces of good and forces of evil consistently in contest for dominant influence over cities, nations, and most importantly, individuals. It seems each respective side is at the height of recruitment, trying to get just one more person to ‘join their team’ in preparation for some grand ultimate battle, Armageddon, the greatest of all “Good vs. Evil” plights prophesied for mankind. In a world of relative morals, it’s difficult at time to point at something and say “this is good” or “this is evil.” We’ve become a community of “gray areas” where people live in fear of drawing a line. Society’s standards are a slippery slope and cannot be relied on as a consistent guide for discovering truth, goodness, and virtue. Many would say these virtues have died, or rather, perhaps the definition of virtue itself has changed over the centuries and is now muddled and clouded into something near unrecognizable by our grandparents, even our parents, as anything resembling what was once thought of as honorable, worthy, and even good.

These are, it would seem, confusing times. Times when we want to create individual bubbles for those most dear to us and protect them from those negative influences that would muddle their standards and cloud their well-intentioned choices. There are influences for good, and there are influences for evil, and many times, I feel the influence for evil is so pervasive, so overwhelming, I experience acute fear for those children I’ve yet to bear. I fear for those I love most now. I want to protect them all. Yes, we live in confusing times, and it all seems downhill from here.

And then, a ray of hope.

Yesterday, my mom calls me and tells me that my little brother, Taylor, snuck something home. Immediately I’m worried. What has he brought home? What do teenage boys in their angsty, self-defining, self-discovering, years of teenagedom SNEAK home. My little ‘bubble for Taylor” yearns to be stretched over him and shield out all the influence that being a teenager today brings. Protect him from the evil.

“Taylor snuck home a little orange stripped kitty…”

What? He snuck home a kitty? Yes, my tough little teenage brother, with who knows what sort of opportunities to accept drugs, alcohol, sex, and general teenage ballyhoo before him, and HE sneaks home a little kitty.

“He kept it in his room for a week,” my mom goes on to explain, “I noticed he snuck in a litter box and bought food for it. I don’t know how long he thought he could possibly hide a kitty in his room!”

By now I’m laughing in disbelief and overwhelming relief. We’re a family of animal lovers I’d say; and over the many years and 4 rowdy growing kids, have gone through kittens, dogs, ginny pigs, lizards, frogs, fish, you name it! Currently we have a stout little beagle called, Snoopy. But for Taylor, I guess he needed himself another little fuzz ball for companionship. I understand the fuzzball need as well.

“He’s named it Ludo” (from the Labyrinth… ya know… David Bowie… awesome).

Now, all I can think is this is about the cutest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. A teenager sneaking home a kitty. Amongst news headlines of teenagers involved in texting and beating other teenagers, mean girls making fun of someone so badly they commit suicide, crime, graffiti, drugs, gangs… and my sweet little brother sneaks home a kitten. A little kitten. Names it Ludo.

I found myself contemplating the significance of this event the rest of the day. It gave me hope. It made me confident in the future. It made me realize I don’t need little bubbles of protection wrapped tightly around those I care about most – because they have a little safe bubble inside themselves full of goodness. Taylor’s a good boy. Taylor will become a good man. Just like his brothers before him, he’s going to be one of the ones who chooses good instead of evil. Who has courage and does not fear. He’ll be on the right side, and there will be others there too. Some still do choose the fight for good. If there’s any gift we can give to those around us it’s not protective bubbles, it’s hope. And my little brothers give me hope for the goodness that still is.

(Taylor, Seth, Nick, and Me)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Days 7-9, in which the naive travelers encounter Indonesia’s best shopping in unexpected places, crunchy little crickets, become Tomb Raiders and elephant tamers, melt slowly into oblivion, and endure the bus ride from hell

After leaving the ethereal shores of Phi Phi Island, we boarded a plane to Siem Reap, Cambodia. There’s a couple ways to get to Cambodia from Thailand; you can take a plane to Bangkok (as we were on Phuket Island after all) then a train, then a bus, then a tuk tuk, then a bus, which would take an entire day OR, you can take a 2 hour flight from Phuket. We opted for the direct flight. Go ahead and call us unadventurous! I dare you!

So we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia where we planned on spending our one full day there at Angkor Wat – aka – the ONLY place to really visit in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is to Cambodia as Moab is to Utah (you like my logic game? Eh?). In Moab, you enter a national park and cruise around visiting the various arches and geographical wonders. In Angkor Wat, you enter a national park and cruise around visiting the various Wats and geographical wonders. So yes, I just compared Moab, Utah with Angkor Wat, Cambodia, but for those of you who have visited both places, you know I’m right. Angkor Wat is the Moab of Indonesia… loosely.

While disembarking from the airplane and leaving the airport (with the coolest looking Cambodian visa stickered nicely inside our passports), we of course encountered many helpful taxi drivers wanting to drive the foreigners to their hotel. We found ourselves one of these helpful chaps who ended up speaking impeccable English. He explained that he was trying to be a certified ‘tourist guide’ and he had a big test coming up, so he was using us to practice. Don’t worry, it was legit. After reading that explanation of how we found our Cambodian friend I realized how very “sucker American girls” it sounded… but like… so wasn’t that way. So wasn’t. Anyway, we decided to use this fresh faced, eager Cambodian, to our advantage (what? It’s how they DO things here… sheesh! We’re just trying to acclimate to the local swindlery… ing… swindling). When he dropped us off at the hotel, he offered to come back the next day and take us all around Angkor Wat and then subsequently, drive us down to Phnom Phen the day after that. We discussed this and I told him we’d be interested if he’d do it for mucho less then what we’d get with a certified tour guide. That way he gets practice, and we get an air-conditioned car complete with native expert for a much better deal. And thus, a deal was struck! We shook on it! And in the end, this chap turned out to truly be heaven sent. If you’re ever in Cambodia, look him up. I kept his card.

We arrived at our Siem Reap hotel around 7:00pm and then ventured out to roam the streets of Siem Reap. It was naturally reminiscent of many of the shopping districts we’d encountered in Bangkok, Phuket, and Phi Phi Island; however, the vendors weren’t nearly as aggressive and the prices were cheaper than dirt… cheaper than dirt on dirt! And what’s more, after exploding our minds with ‘baht to dollar’ conversions – turns out Cambodia likes to accept the US dolla. Holla! Their domestic currency is the “riel” but it’s basically worth more as toilet paper – so they fill their ATM’s with US dollars and prefer to take US dollars. The convenience! What’s ironic is the main body of tourists going through these places hail from England, France, and Australia. I’d say 1 American for every 30 of the afore mentioned nationalities. Go USA. Another nice relief was buying $2 t-shirts that weren’t totally cheesy and ridiculous! They were really good lookin t-shirts! I never thought I’d be one of those t-shirt buying tourists but in Siem Reap, how could I say no? I couldn’t do it! So I bought a handful of t-shirts (one of which featuring a silhouette of a dude on a toilet with Ipod buds in his ears that read “I-Poop.” That gem went to my 17 year old brother. He dug it.), an exquisite turquoise bracelet, an ornate elephant stamp (as in the ink to paper kind… not the mailing kind), and get this, 6 beautiful scarves for $6! What??!?! It was a much more pleasant shopping experience than anything we’d experienced in Thailand. We voted Siem Reap “best shopping ever” – and didn’t worry once that we were giving the title pre-maturely. We knew we’d found the best.

The next day, our helpful tour guide in training picked us up punctually at 7:30am (one thing to be said of these various pick-up and drop of guides, they’re always very punctual… something you know I admire), and we entered Angkor Wat tailing a large bus full of Chinese tour groups, naturally. Now there’s a good time. We proceeded to enjoy the various Wats (here comes the joke… and Wat nots (bwahahahah! Never old!)) throughout the hottest most face melting day I’ve ever experienced in my life; “Not many tourist come during this season” said our Cambodian guide, “too hot.” Holy liquified brain Batman! Nothing gets hotter than Cambodia in April. Nothing. Go ahead and find it… go on, Sahara Desert, and exert your mighty deserty power… I give you Cambodia in April!!! Phhhhheeeeew….

The pics are sweet though… observe:

Whats Faces? (snicker)

Look familiar? Well, that may be because this is the Wat used in Laura Croft Tomb Raider! Holla!

No, that's me, not Angelina Jolie. Happens all the time!                       Little Cambodian Girl

Yeah! Turns out, this is here!

Road one of these.

After melting in Siem Reap, the next day our guide took us to Phenom Phen, about 3 hours from Siem Reap. On the way, we stopped by a snack stand and got us a sack full of crispy crickets. What? No you read that right. A sack full of crispy crickets. And I ate one. It’s really a matter of mind over matter… its glossy little eyes, chubby body, and spindly legs. Shuuuuuuudder. But truly, it just tastes like a very salty potato chip. I could only force my mind over the matter once though… and gave the rest of our sack-o-crickets to a group of dusty Cambodian kidletts.

(So... I know this picture is fuzzy and tiny. But, at least you can see that I was nervous about eating that crunchy little bug in my hand, right? Shore.)

We ate some of these too... to compliment the salt with the sweet... naturally... ahem.

Have you read the novel “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung? Well do it. It was most of my inspiration for visiting the capitol of Cambodia, Phnom Phen. Here, you will find a city still stunted in time, trying to overcome a regime of terror headed by extremist Communist leader, Pol Pot, that occurred over a 4 year period in the late 70’s.  His regime was the Third Reich of Cambodia; a veritable Indonesian Holocaust. And I do not offer that comparison lightly; as one never should. that day in Phnom Phen was a somber day… one I won’t forget for a very long time.

The Killing Fields

School turned Torture Chambers

That night, we made a decision that affected the rest of our vacation. We ate with the locals. Haven’t we always been eating with locals? Well kind of. Most places we’d been, there were other tourists hanging out in the same areas, naturally, and eating in the same places. The place WE found, however, down the creepiest street that has ever been my unfortunate luck to stumble upon, there was not a single tourist in sight. This, my friends, is red flag number 1. Red flag number 2, being so brain-numbingly fried we had no desire to ‘think before we ordered smoothies with ice in the strange foreign country.’ The last red flag being the incredible inconvenience OR expense it takes to get from Phnom Phen, to Vietnam. Keep all these things in mind as our story treks forth…

That night, Terilyn experienced some seriously ragging sickness. The next day, we struck out to make our way to Vietnam. I can tell you, Terilyn’s sickness shook me up a bit… I took a mental inventory “do I feel okay? What did I eat? Did we share something?” But I tell you Internet, I felt 100% fine. I proudly thanked my consistently stalwart immune system, and tried to make Terilyn as comfortable as one can be, being sick in a foreign country.

To get to Vietnam, there was a boat and a bus involved. The boat because I thought it sounded much better than a bus and a bus… and a bus because… that was the only option for the second leg. Now, shore we could’ve bought a plane ticket for $500, but why in heavens name would we do that when we could take our trip by sea and by land for $30? Exactly. You’d get on that boat with me. And the boat was fine. It was 3 hours, a little sweaty, but in the end, we made it to the Vietnam boarder feeling okay… me feeling a little better than Terilyn but both of us well intact. Naturally our confidence at this point had peaked and when one’s confidence peaks… it’s time for some humbling. The bus was the beginning of that humbling. 6 hours. And it’s not a "6 hours to Vegas on a strait smooth 80mph" road. No. Its "6 hours on a bumpy, swervy, 40(max)mph, sitting on a bus brimming with 10 other people, one of whom is vomiting rather consistently and sitting right in front of the backseat where Terilyn, a French dude, a young British girl, and I were stuffed (white people to the back!)" kind of road. And if THAT doesn’t sound like a little piece of torture, add a dash of soft-core porn playing lucidly on the fold down screen in the front of this very small bus. And once you finally feel all moral principle slipping from your soul, they switch out Brittany and Jessica’s Bodacious Floss Bikini Bods for Kill Bill times 500, Vietnamese style. I kinda wanted Brit and Jes back at that point. The only way I made it through this bumpy, vomity, bloody, and booby trip, was a fully charged Ipod blaring Swan Lake and Phantom of the Opera. No really… it helps me visualize prancing swans instead of grinding hips and the music of the night rather than slow head sawing and blood sploshing. It kinda worked.

Finally, FINALLY, we reached Ho Chi Mihn City at midnight and nearly tumbled off the bus and made a run for it… not caring where we ended up… so long as it was away from that demonic instrument of suffering and torment (that’s the bus…). We checked into a hotel to sleep for 5 hours, and then hopped a plane to Ho An. Yes. Ho An was this worthwhile destination we had employed such diabolical measures to finally reach. And why was Ho An so worth it? I have no idea. Alas, see afore mentioned red flags (weird resturaunt, ice, and a ton of traveling in two days). For the two full days we had slatted for enjoyment of this small French-esque beach town, for me, never left the hotel room. The bacteria that had ruled Terilyn’s body for a night… ruled mine for two full days. Ruled it in every way a sickness can rule your body… and all I wanted… the only thing I could FATHOM trying to put in my body… was Chicken Noodle Soup and Gatorade. Does Vietnam HAVE chicken noodle soup and Gatorade? I can tell you, it does not. However, it does house very nice, English speaking Vietnamese doctors used to treating Western tourist's weak intestinal tracts. Oh, and they make house calls. Another man I bless. He had the bacteria dueling pills with him and made my last 3 days in Vietnam… doable. How doable? Well this post is far too long already… and I’m sure I lost most of you at “so we boarded a bus full of vomit and porn” but just in case you made it passed that point… I’ll promise you to round out the Fantastical Adventures of Americans in Indonesia… very soon. Thanks for pushing through…