Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: Beowulf

Beowulf by Unknown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was not one of those who "suffered" through Beowulf in high school. I enjoyed it, perhaps thanks to a modern translation by Burton Raffel that I found at the local library. And, if I hadn't gone for a different career, I could see myself having pursued an English major in college... for the fun of it. So take the following as you will. Also, if you're reading this, you're probably at least vaguely familiar with Beowulf's storyline, so I'll just skip that and get straight to what sets this volume apart.

The thickness of this volume's spine is deceiving: The Beowulf saga itself spans only pages 13 to 105 out of its 425 pages (not even counting the preface). But that's because there's a lot more gold for the willing book nerd to unearth. To wit:

J.R.R. Tolkien is most known for his trilogy "The Lord of the Rings," which I enjoyed as a teen, but in fact he was a dedicated scholar of English literature and well-versed (haha) in some of the languages from which modern English is derived, including Old English, the tongue in which the earliest manuscript of Beowulf was written. Christopher Tolkien, editor of this volume and son of J.R.R., takes some pains to demonstrate his father's expertise with the language - even including, as an appendix, about six and a half pages of original work J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in Old English before converting it back into modern English. Not being familiar with the language myself, I'm left to admire the pretty shapes the weird letters form, however out of reach their meaning is. Christopher also included a hefty commentary on the translation drawn from J.R.R.'s lectures to students studying the text for their Old English class sessions.

As for the translation itself: This one is officially my favorite rendering of the ancient European epic poem. For one thing, it's prose - and yet it maintains a lyric quality in the lilt, as I call it, of the phrasing. C. Tolkien writes, "it seems to me that he designedly wrote quite largely in rhythms founded on 'common and compact prose-patterns of ordinary language,' with no trace of alliteration, and without the prescription of specific patterns." Of course, J.R.R. fiddled with the usual word order sometimes to keep the lilt going, but on the whole this translation has none of the stilted feeling of translations that try to maintain the "regularities of the old poetry" that just sound really, really weird to the modern ear.

This is fun to try at home: Reading aloud several lengthy passages in a bad Scottish accent just to fully feel the lilt. Who cares that the legend is set in Denmark? Just pretend you're David Tennant and argue that he played Hamlet so it shouldn't matter.

For the really dedicated word nerds among us, the commentary on the text is pretty neat. I'm not quite that dedicated, so while I did read some of the notes (and learned a fair bit about random Old English words I still couldn't pronounce), I skimmed most of them, just stopping to read portions that dealt with the legend itself and its relation to "historial" (the Tolkiens' word, not mine) fragments as separated, as well as may be, from the fairytale elements.

The funnest parts of this volume are in the back, though: a short recreation of the legend, without the "historial" bits, that J.R.R. wrote in the style of one of our familiar children's fairy tales; and two versions of a ballad J.R.R. Tolkien sang to Christopher when the boy was probably 7 or 8 years old. The legend may have been an academic exercise in attempting to reconstruct the source legend that eventually gave rise to the Beowulf mix of legend and "historial" figures, but it's just good writing. Unfortunately, only the lyrics to the Tolkien ballad of Beowulf and the Monsters are here preserved, not the tune.

Oh, and one more fun fact: The illustrations, including the cover art, are all J.R.R.'s.

In all, this work is a must-read for Tolkien lovers or students of European ancient literature. Or people who like to practice their Scottish accents. Somebody, please get David Tennant to record the audiobook.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Actual Facebook ads I have gotten

I still use Facebook, despite previous rants against its effects on our lives.

My job also entails that I Google a lot of randomness.

And, I think at some point I told Facebook I didn't want to have personalized ads.

These are the amusingly irrelevant results. Prepare to laugh.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Movies with reporters

Yes, I ended up becoming a reporter.

Funny thing is, there are a number of movies and TV shows I enjoyed in my childhood that featured a reporter (or some other figure of journalism) as a main character. And I never realized until sometime last year just how many there were. A partial list for your perusal:
  • Roman Holiday
  • Early Edition (TV show)
  • It Happened One Night (sidenote: the plot is practically identical to Roman Holiday!)
  • Assassination Bureau (Diana Rigg is splendid as the investigative journalist, if completely unethical)
  • Superman (comics/movies)
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Godzilla (the U.S. one with Matthew Broderick)
  • Twister (the lead guy was a weather reporter - and on an irrelevant note, Cary Elwes is a fantastic villain here)
  • Hoodwinked
More recently, a few other movies have featured reporters/editors in a lead role.
  • 27 Dresses
  • Hitch (well, she's a gossip columnist)
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Fascinating (at least to me). Of course, pretty much every journalist featured committed some glaringly horrific ethical no-no, but one comes to expect it of Hollywood.

P.S. Was there a reporter in "Independence Day" too? I haven't seen that in years but I feel like one part was shot in a newsroom... I don't think any main characters were reporters, though.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The mistakes I haven't made

This year, I'm grateful for the mistakes I haven't made.

Life has been pretty hunky-dory for me. I don't say that to brag or solicit commendation. I say that because there's really no reason for it to have gone so well for me as it has.

There've been times when I might have made a misstep. The way was open to me, and I really didn't know any better. There was no reason for me not to have taken an unwise turn, not even a hunch that that way would lead to no good.

And yet I didn't.

Only later do you realize how close you got to making a mistake. It's later that you learn the likely consequences of the action you didn't take (or maybe the passive state you didn't embrace).

I could say something ordinary about believing in guardian angels and in God's hand upon my life. Because I do believe that (at least the last bit). But those are cliched phrases that fail, these days, to convey just how astonishing it is ... not to have made the mistakes that might have been.

So here's to 2015. Another year, hopefully, full of unwitting mistakes that won't be made.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Year in review 2014, or, A Post-Christmas greeting

My mom always said better late than never. So, here's hoping you all had a very merry Christmas and are looking forward to a happy New Year!

Sarah's Christmas Update

Imagine a year full of a number of crazy things. Multiply by 4.5 and you'll get an idea of what my life has been like in 2014. ;)

Highlight of my year? Travel to China to visit a good friend from college and see some of the sights with her: the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, the Terra Cotta Army... it felt like a dream, it was so surreal. I haven't been disciplined enough to write much about it but I hope to do so this winter as I work on putting together a photo album from my trip. (The few posts I've written are here.) If you'd like to see the digital photo album, email me (readersis at gmail dot com) for the link and prepare yourself for the onslaught of more than 900 photos... :) But seriously, it was the trip of a lifetime and I'm thankful to God and to my friend for giving me the opportunity.

I also got to take a quick trip to visit St. Louis back in February to meet up with my former roomie, and we went up to the top of the Gateway Arch while we were there - it was the farthest west I've ever been in the U.S. I made a stop in Springfield, Illinois, on my way over, too.

On a sadder note, my grandpa (Mom's dad) passed away in October rather suddenly. I was able to go back home for the calling hours and appreciated being able to spend time with Mom and the rest of her family then.

As in past years, I participated in a historical reenactment this past fall, and though I didn't sew a new dress for it I got plenty of ideas for next year. I also got the signatures of 50-plus schoolchildren who were amazed they were allowed to write something in my period-correct journal using my period-correct fountain pen. :)

I've begun teaching U.S. civics and history to my ESL student in preparation for her to take the U.S. naturalization test. I have high hopes that she'll be able to face the 100-question test after several months' work. She's already a strong user of the English language, with a few speaking hurdles left to overcome. It's been really interesting to talk about history with her, since she's already aware of most of the contemporary history covered on the exam, but from a Cuban perspective.

My "Little Sister" in Big Brothers Big Sisters is 10 years old now and in the middle of fifth grade at one of our local middle schools. She and I play a lot of games together - board games, trivia games, puzzles, you name it.

I'm still co-leader of a group for middle school girls at my church, and love these girls to bits. :) Some have "graduated" or matured to feel more comfortable in the general high school group, and we've gained one younger girl this year who entered sixth grade. When you think of me, remember to pray for all the little girls I have somehow found myself to be an influence on. And don't tell them I called them little. ;) I also continue playing guitar weekly at my church (or occasionally bass guitar).

In June I hit my first anniversary as a homeowner, and over the past year and a half or so I've experienced some of the "joys of homeownership," as my mother jokingly calls them - like the clothes dryer quitting on me, or the water heater springing a leak. Thankfully, I've been able to deal with everything that has come up (or at least knew a trustworthy repairman to call), and let me tell you, buying this house has turned out to be a fantastic decision, not least because I had a garage to shelter my car through the unusually harsh winter we had a year ago. :D

I remain the news editor at my local paper, editing the next day's news each night and writing a weekly column whose readers I'm hugely thankful for! The column is a lighthearted one that is published each Friday. If you'd like a link to the page that's automatically updated with each week's column, email me and I'll send it to you. I can do that now because the newspaper rolled out its new website in late August, which has been a huge boon to us behind the scenes! Also, I received a couple awards in December through the state press association, recognizing my work covering the local business beat.

As always, feel free to email me or add me on Facebook if you'd like to hear more about any one of these happenings!

- Sarah

Monday, November 17, 2014

Older than I've ever been

I was interviewing a local business executive late last week and she made reference to others like me, young professionals in their 30s.

Except I'm not in my 30s.

I happened to reference that in passing in my reply and follow-up question, and she told me I was probably about the age of her children -- one of whom's 29 and the other in her early 30s (32, I think).

I turn(ed) 25 this month.*

It's not the first time someone has overestimated my age by a few years. But it is consistent in that it's always overestimated, never underestimated (except by 13-year-olds), and it's usually by about 4-5 years. It's been this way at least since I was 14 -- I distinctly remember being told I could pass for 18 at one point, and at another being asked what college I attended (that was when I was a freshman in high school).

I usually chalk it up to maturity. (It could also be half-baked fashion sense. I don't exactly know.) A friend from college said today that it was because of my confidence. If it's indeed because of either of those reasons, then hey, I'll take it as a compliment.

I mean that quite sincerely. After all, who wouldn't want to be thought of as a sensible, confident woman?

*Ambiguity intentional to preserve my privacy. :P

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why must it be so cold?

I hate the cold. I wish it would go someplace where it's really hot. ;)

But Indiana isn't exactly the most tropical state. Somebody is blaming the most recent cold snap on a typhoon out by Japan. Chaos theory and all that (except when you can use computer models to make educated guesses at effects, it's not so chaotic). But I'm pretty sure this is just how Indiana likes to spend its winters, trolling the populace. "Hey, look, one random warm day. PSYCH! It's gonna be cold for a month!"

I turned the heat on in my house back in October, probably three weeks ago now. I'm a cheapskate so the thermostat is set at about 67 degrees Fahrenheit -- that, friends, is as cold as I can take it. And even now, my fingers feel like icicles with central nervous systems.

This is where blankets come in. I have a blanket -- no, two -- on my bed. There are at least a couple strewn about my living room and another one on my reading chair in the sunroom. There's even one downstairs in the basement, waiting to be washed.

Oh, and there's an emergency blanket in the car, of course.

The problem is after I get myself ensconced in a nice, warm, floofy blanket. Then I don't want to get up. This is a difficulty particularly in the morning.

So far, I've mainly surrendered to the tyranny of the frost and stayed in bed for hours on end, reading or doing stuff online or watching/listening to a podcast. I know I probably shouldn't.

But it's just so nice and warm.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Life on my own #48: Fifth-wheeling

One ticket, please.

A friend of mine appeared in a local production of "Arsenic and Old Lace." I wanted to see her in it, so as usual, I showed up on my own at the ticket table.

The best part about going by yourself is that you can get a great seat even if the auditorium's packed. There's always that one odd seat smack-dab up front that is leftover after other groups have taken their spots. It's a perk of being on my own.

This auditorium, however, was far from packed. I sat myself down in the middle of the prime row and settled in, noticing a mutual friend of the amateur actress I'd come to support. I waved, she waved, she and her family came to sit with me. Score!

As if that wasn't enough, a pair of couples I know walked in, started to take seats farther back, saw me, waved, and decided to come sit in my row instead. Score!

Clearly I was in my extraverted phase right there. Don't worry, I went back to being introverted by the end of the night. ;)

Curtains up, acting under way, intermission, climax, denouement and curtain call. The two couples to my left -- one of whom is a fellow Whovian and Janeite -- invited everyone in the row to come along to dinner at Olive Garden. I thought it'd be fun, so I accepted. Score!

Olive Garden has decent Italian food, a cuisine I've come to appreciate over the years. What didn't dawn on me until much later was this: Olive Garden also appears to be the area date destination. The two couples basically considered the outing a double date for them; a kid from church brought his sweetie to a table immediately behind ours; and several other tables were occupied by similar small groups.

Being there without a "significant other" or whatever they're calling it these days, I might be expected to have felt out of place. If you thought that, you'd be wrong.

It would have been different had the two couples I dined with been merely dating. Dating couples are pretty ridiculous. They're absorbed in talking to each other, sometimes (read: almost all the time) can't keep their hands off of each other and generally make you want to roll your eyes.

By the time they're married, they've turned back into sane people.

We talked philosophy of church and cooking ideas and local politics and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." The others occasionally poked fun at their spouses, sure, but they also poked fun at each other and at me, and I did the same.

That's part of why I enjoy their company -- we treated each other like people. Not like "the married couple" or "the single gal" or "the one with kids" or "the one with a job outside the home" or "the guys" or "the womenfolk" or any other modifier that obscures the simple humanity we share.

Together, I believe we reflected the imago Dei -- the "image of God," in community.

That's the ticket to being a comfortable fifth wheel.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Whirlwind weekend

I feel more and more like an adventuress with each passing day.

This past weekend was a highlight of the year in two ways: I participated in an annual living history event with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other reenactors, and attended the wedding of a friend from college whose ceremony made me actually like the idea of a traditional wedding better than an elopement.

It was tricky, though. The events were taking place in two different states.

My solution was to skip out on half the reenactment Saturday in order to drive to the wedding, stay over at a friend's college apartment and drive back for the last couple hours of the reenactment on Sunday.

But nobody wants to miss much of a reenactment. I established an itinerary in order to stay as long as humanly possible on Saturday. It looked like this:

12:15 p.m. - Hide in the reenacting tent with women at each end to guard the openings. Change out of reenacting dress and into dress more appropriate for a modern wedding. Hope the smell from campfire smoke stays behind with the reenacting dress.

12:25 p.m. - Give snarky retort to reenacting friend's joke about my "scandalous" (by 1800s standards) dress. Walk out to my car. Take a mile detour around the one-way entrance to the reenactment during the height of the spectators' coming in.

12:40 p.m. - Apply lip gloss using the rearview mirror once I'm on the highway.

1:10 p.m. - Stop for gas as the idiot light comes on telling me my tank's almost empty. While waiting for the tank to fill, apply eyeshadow and mascara using one of the car windows as a mirror. Hope the gas station's restroom is decently clean. (It meant I didn't have to use the notorious port-a-pots at the reenactment.)

3:30 p.m. - Arrive at wedding venue exactly when I wanted to. Finally take off reenacting shoes and put on knee-high black boots while sitting in my car in the parking lot. Notice my knees look like they're slightly sunburned from the drive.

The wedding was beautiful, spending the night with two friends was great, the drive back to the reenactment Sunday was uneventful, and I still can't believe I managed to do decent eye makeup with a car window as a mirror.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Rain or shine in Beijing

Just after rain, as seen from the dumpling shop
Weather in China wasn't entirely what I expected. Then again, in some ways it corresponded exactly with what I had thought about the country.

The day I arrived, it was sunny and warm -- comparable to a fairly normal Midwestern summer day. My friend commented that it was the clearest she'd ever seen the city. Normally, she explained, the smog is bad enough to keep the views vaguely obscured by a haze.

You could see some smog that day -- I remember noticing buildings a few blocks from the Forbidden City were fuzzy and greyish --  but it still felt pretty sunny. I didn't feel like I was choking from the smog, like I thought I might.

It rained that day, too. Right after we left the Forbidden City and found a little dumpling place for lunch, the clouds dumped a short monsoon onto the streets -- again, not unlike a Midwestern summer storm. A woman outside was hawking umbrellas as she walked around; my friend commented she probably did pretty good business. Some people on bikes got drenched if they didn't park quickly enough to duck inside a shop. The dumpling place -- a hole-in-the-wall with a few booths -- had a full house.

The rain let up but sprinkled sporadically for a little while after, prodding us to venture inside a store filled with foreign books that had a music shop, an art store and a couple of other establishments attached to it. More on that later. Eventually the rain quit altogether but left in its wake a cloudy haze that reminded me of Cleveland, Ohio, for some reason. It was slightly depressing.

The visit to the Great Wall of China (Mutianyu section, outside Beijing) was on the most heavenly day my friend could remember. It was her... fourth time, I think? visiting the Great Wall, but her first during the summer, and what a day we were given for it.

The view. The clouds. The wonderful, anomalous weather.

Pollution was worse in Xi'an than in Beijing. A 12-hour train ride southwest-ish from Beijing, Xi'an is the ancient capital city of China where the Tang dynasty is celebrated and the Terra Cotta Army was unearthed. It was perpetually Cleveland-ish and, I think, caused me to get sick the second day we were there. I felt like I had a cold, and craved orange juice and sleep. Fortunately I seemed to have gotten enough of both, as I felt a lot better the next morning when we had arrived in Tianjin.

Most of my days in Tianjin, it was sunny but "cloudy," as I considered it, which was probably better termed "smoggy." You'd look up at the sun and realize it wasn't the blinding orb you were used to, but an orange disk no more worthy of being squinted at than the moon. The skyscrapers in the distance (and there were always skyscrapers) were barely discernible through the haze.

And when you were up in my friend's apartment on the 20th floor, the smog looked worse. My friend explained that was pretty normal, that the smog tended to be thickest a little above ground level. At one point I Skyped with my siblings and some of my extended family, and attempted to show them via webcam what the view looked like from my friend's window. This is what my family saw:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tozer on consequences

No man lives unto himself. Either directly or indirectly, you are deeply influencing somebody else. If you are a carelessly living Christian, there may be persons who will use your careless life as a shield, a hiding place for his own much more serious iniquity. Or there may be those who kneel at night and say, "God, make me like brother So-and-so, make me like Mrs. So-and-so." It can be both ways, for deeds have consequences and are the result of choices, whether they are impulsive choices or carefully thought out choices.

In the Bible, a wise man is not necessarily an educated man or one of high cultural level, although he could be. A wise man is a man who acts with an eye to consequences. He thinks, "What will the result of this be?" Then he acts in a way that will bring him consequences he will not have to be ashamed of or afraid of in the day to come.

--Paragraphs excerpted from "The Dangers of a Shallow Faith," A. W. Tozer

I'm not dead, but it's been a busy few weeks, and I hope to have some more blog posts written in the next couple of weekends. Especially with the three-day weekend coming up!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Prohibited zones, or, The Imperial Palace

There are two things I've associated with Chinese history for many years. The first, of course, is the Great Wall. The second is the Forbidden City.

But I didn't realize just how big this thing was. I thought, really, that it was just a humongous courtyard surrounded by about four buildings, each connected to its neighbor by a high wall.

I didn't know it would be this high.

I didn't know that it would have a moat around it.

And I didn't know that the outer wall surrounded several courtyards.

The Meridian Gate (see picture) was impressive enough, bigger than I'd imagined. It also looked more Chinese than I ever thought authentic Chinese architecture would really look.

See, I've seen examples of Mexican restaurants that are pretty well overdone. Think "Cinco de Mayo" (which is in fact a pretty minor Mexican holiday, on the order of Flag Day here). So I figured the most, what I'd call garish, Chinese restaurants I've seen in the U.S. were similarly exaggerated.

Nope. To wit:

The different rooflines really fascinated my friend. I was struck by the ubiquity of bright reds, blues, yellows and greens. The traditional Chinese aesthetic is so different from what I'm used to. So is the modern Chinese aesthetic of architecture, but that fascinated me to no end. (More on that later.)

And the distinct Chinese aesthetic extended even to the names of the buildings. The Gate of Supreme Harmony. The Hall of Preserving Harmony. The Gate of Divine Powers. The Hall of Earthly Tranquility.
The Hill of Accumulated Elegance.

The Forbidden City was the oldest thing I'd ever seen to that point. I never realized before how weird old things are, and how much the passage of time and the descent of generations can change things and at the same time leave some aspects untouched. And it's a little strange to think that some emperor had lived in these palaces years and years and years before I was walking around, snapping pictures of his house.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On hostels in China

Consider me sheltered. I'd neither seen the movie "Hostel" nor spent much time in said lodgings (with the exception of a couple of nights in a Costa Rican hostel). Come to think of it, I still haven't seen the movie. All I know is that it freaks everyone out when I tell them I stayed at hostels.

Our first Chinese hostel was a few subway stops away. Subways, for the record, are not like New York subways. They're clean, like Washington subways, and new, like no other subway I've ever been in -- there are light-up displays of the train's route above every exit in a subway car, with the stops on the map in red lights and turning green as you pass them. (The coloring choices threw me off every time.)

Beijing Saga front hostel entrance
Once off the subway, we walked to the street our hostel was supposed to be on. If you could call it a street. It was narrow, the road just barely wide enough for a car and a half, maybe. Sidewalks were for all intents and purposes nonexistent, whether because people were sitting there (mostly in daytime) or cars were parked up on them.

My friend had stayed at this hostel once before so she was sure of its quality. The room was spare and the beds mere mattresses on slabs of wood, but everything was sturdy and clean. As is apparently custom in China, no toilet paper or hand soap was provided (let alone little bottles of shampoo), but two pairs of shower slippers awaited us as well as sheets, a pillow and a light blanket on each bed.

The windows wouldn't open -- which was comforting to my friend, she said. And interestingly, you had to put your room key (an electronic card) into a special plastic pocket in order to enable the room's electricity. I'd seen that once before in a hotel room, I think, but I sure didn't expect it in a low-budget place like a hostel.

That wasn't the end of the hostel surprises.

Hostel room in Xi'an
Our second hostel, one in Xi'an, was a place my friend had never stayed at in a city she'd never even been to, so she relied on Internet reviews. They said it was a stellar place to stay. And they were right.

There was artwork hanging in the hallways and beautiful woodwork and lighting throughout. The rooms felt more like decent hotel rooms (not even like motel rooms) than they did hostel rooms. The furniture all matched and was a gorgeous dark wood texture in kind of a Mission style (I'm not entirely sure what this style was actually called, but this furniture would have looked at home in a U.S. home.) There was even a TV with cable on it, and we found CNN. Which means we watched a couple hours of a forensics show while we rested one day.

My friend said watching English-language TV was a huge treat for her. It's something I took for granted and honestly I usually consider TV an annoyance. (I don't have cable at home and tune out the cable at work when the sports guys are monitoring some game.) I had never given it a second thought before.

Like at our first hostel, there was no hand soap provided, and we still got a pair of shower slippers.

Breaking the silence, or, How to travel without language

Yes, I realize the most recent post on this blog is now more than a month old.

I've kept you in suspense long enough about my China trip.

It's the first time I've ever been wandering around a country whose language I couldn't at least make out a few words of. When I got there, I also realized that I'm not very good at reading the faces of people in Asian cultures. In other words, I'm not sure I could have even pantomimed my way through ordering a meal at a restaurant. Even with a pictorial menu.

My friend met me at the airport. She'd given me detailed instructions on what to do once touching down on Chinese tarmac (which is the same as American tarmac) -- follow the crowd to the customs kiosks, hand over your documents and basically just wait there. I wouldn't have to say anything, she said, and she was right. The signs were even in English in addition to Chinese.

Past the "Foreigners" sign at "Immigration," I just followed the hallways (and even a shuttle-train! the things you see at a huge airport!) to the exit. She and I found each other as soon as all of us airplane passengers emerged into the big waiting area -- for which I was grateful.

She helped me get some Chinese cash from an ATM and I got my first glimpe of "kwai" -- in 100-kwai bills, bright red and worth about $16 each. I kid you not, these looked like the money I used to play with as a child when I pretended to be an expert spy.

After a bus ride and a walk outside the Beijing West train/rail station (I think), we bopped into a restaurant that served pretty typical Chinese fare, as my friend described it. She wanted to get me her favorite dish -- green beans and red pepper things all tossed together and fried in some sort of vegetable oil, called gan bian dou jiao. Thank goodness she did the ordering. I sat there with a silly grin on my face, just glad to be alive and at my destination, while she handled the menu -- yes, with big, clear photographs of the dishes, like a paper Pinterest board -- pointing to what we wanted and saying "this" in Chinese (which to me sounded like "jigga.")

I don't have pictures from my first meal, but this is a later family-style one.
We ate family style, with little plates for us, seated opposite each other in a booth that felt like it could be at home in a Burger King or McDonald's, and the three big platters of food in the middle of the table. I was glad I'd already had some practice with chopsticks -- it's just not Chinese if you eat it with a fork, and some places probably wouldn't have had forks to give poor un-chopstick-coordinated foreigners anyway.

Germophobes beware. Family style means you pick your food off the platters with your chopsticks, sometimes including the rice, and when you finish the little bit you started with on your tiny personal plate, you pick up some more food. With the same chopsticks you bit from moments before. It's not quite as gross as it sounds but I do know friends who might not have been able to bring themselves to do so. From the first day on, nearly every meal out was family-style.

She paid for the meal with one of those 100-kwai bills, even though it totaled to only about 43 kwai, or roughly $7.

Friday, June 06, 2014

All my bags are packed

...I'm ready to go.

Who knew that you could travel to Asia using only carry-on luggage? Well, I didn't, until I found out I'd be packing for 80- to 100-degree weather. Then I realized... shorts and T-shirts take almost no room.

So I'm almost completely packed for my trip. Right down to the bags of delicious flavored coffee I'm taking for me and my friend to enjoy while we're there. Even with the coffee wrapped in two plastic bags (one shopping bag, one zip-close bag), I suspect its smell will rub off on my clothes. Is that a bad thing?

This is the farthest I've ever traveled. And the first time I'll be in a country in whose language I have no hope of making myself understood. I'll go through customs all by myself -- they'll even take my temperature, to make sure I don't carry H1N1 or SARS or MERS in with me -- and then I'll get to spend the next nine days hanging out with a good friend from college, almost the only other person in whose words I'll find meaning.

Despite everything, we've stayed in touch, and now she'll get to show me all the places that now feel familiar to her. Her apartment complex that alone is home to almost as many people as my entire city. Her school. Some of the little restaurants she's learned to order food at (how, I don't know, since everyone speaks Mandarin or some other dialect).

I'll even ride an overnight train with "squatty-potties."

It'll be amazing. I pray I'll grow to understand the country and its peoples in a deeper way than I possibly could just reading a book. (I also pray I don't catch some disturbing disease, haha!)