Showing posts from 2005

i'd have sworn you were shelter

Terry Wolverton has a great poem, featuring Italy, betrayal and an 84-year-old alcoholic, at . It’s just below Marie Cartier's poem about gettin’ it on with Poetry, “the big dic packed with no pretense.”

on illiteracy

One day in sixth grade, I forgot how to read. I first noticed the problem during a school assembly in the cafeteria—maybe I was trying to read someone’s T-shirt or something, because the assembly itself wasn’t text-based. I saw letters and words, but they suddenly didn’t add up to anything. When we got back to class, I looked at the clock (as I often did in sixth grade, despite the sign Mrs. Graham had posted next to it saying, “Time passes. Will you?”) and it didn't make any sense either. By the end of the day, I had a full-blown flu, so I guess it just hit my brain first. Once I reached barf mode, camped out in front of the TV, I could read again, well enough to know that I should call 1-800-THE-LAW-2 if I needed legal advice. My reading skills left me again, although not quite as profoundly, one evening last summer when I sort of got spontaneously drunk. My speech slowed and everything was a little fuzzy. Cathy told me it sounded like a migraine sans headache; apparently a frie

the cutest little tornadoes ever

When B and I broke up, I had a sense that I was leaving my big, messy life (or rather, it was leaving me) for a small, neat one. I’d often felt pulled in too many directions—trying to spend time with B while she was in town, trying to maintain friendships and trying to keep the carpet reasonably free of cat litter. When the carpet remained stubbornly crunchy, I consoled myself with the fact that this was what a life full of love was like. So, when some of that love said see-ya-later, I consoled myself with the fact that I would now have ample time to vacuum and return emails. But last night a little piece of my big, messy life came to join me in my new home: OC (right) and Temecula moved in. Yeah, I got cat custody as my consolation prize. But it’s a really, really good consolation prize. Even though I felt evil taking them away from Bari in their little carriers. Even though it took about ten minutes for them to knock over a picture frame and dust my new apartment with a patina of o

the saltiest pickle i know

There is something so savory about Alanna and Alanna’s blog. Um, I mean, Mindy and Mindy’s blog. She simultaneously inspires me to be better, and makes me feel good about being who I already am, and she uses phrases like, “ He was the Son of God, and the Balls of Man ” and, “ Someone who is a pickle, should be a pickle .” She makes me think twice about stereotyping Christians, yet not feel guilty about weaseling out of church this Christmas Eve. Curious yet?

girl's best friend

I spent a good chunk of my holiday hours with Rocket, an Australian shepherd/chow mix belonging to Ryan and Lori. I like almost all animals (I am completely, unfairly prejudiced against cockroaches, and I have to admit I was a slow sell on monkeys ), but I come from a cat family, and I don’t quite get dogs. They don’t bend right. My dad has been known to look at dogs and say, “Purr. Come on, purr. How am I supposed to know if you’re happy?” While I’m hip to the tail-wagging thing, my own knowledge doesn’t go much farther. Rocket doesn’t purr, and he’s not really a licker (fine with me) or a cuddler. When I unlocked Ryan and Lori’s front door on my first night of house- and dog-sitting, I entered very carefully, with the story of how Rocket tried to bite the exterminator fresh in my mind. He barked a couple of times, and issued a half-hearted growl, then just stood in the living room and stared at me. This was our M.O. for the first evening. I patted him on the head periodically and

the world of things

To look around my new apartment, you would never know that I just moved in Saturday. Books are on shelves, pictures are on walls and food is in the fridge. I was able to accomplish this thanks to help with heavy lifting from my dad, my dad’s girlfriend Susan, my sister, my sister’s boyfriend Marvin and my sister’s roommate Kelli, who just volunteered out of the blue, I think because she had a breakup a few years ago that followed very similar patterns to mine and B’s. Pity is way underestimated. I went on a 48-hour move-in frenzy, unpacking boxes, stocking up at Ikea and assembling furniture until the wee hours of the morning. “My fingers are sore from all the screwing,” I told Cathy the next morning. “I’m really tempted to make a bad joke about how that’s the only kind of screwing I’ll be doing for a long time, but I won’t because that’s just the sort of ‘I’m a pathetic old maid’ humor I’ve vowed to avoid in an attempt to convince myself I’m both a feminist and dateable.” “Good thi

ballyhoo for the boring

I’ve always wanted to run away and join the circus. When I was in junior high, I read a Teen Magazine profile of three girls who were contortionists with Cirque du Soleil . They were skinny and talented and had beautiful pink and purple costumes, all of which were appealing to my 12-year-old self: I was fat (or so my skinny 12-year-old self thought), could only do the splits on the left side, and wore biker shorts and Body Glove T-shirts to gymnastics class. But I’m not picky about my circuses. I wrote a term paper on P.T. Barnum (big, flashy, swindle-the-suckers circus), I loved Geek Love (dark, fetishy, freak show circus) and I took a class from a real live bearded lady at CalArts (pomo political circus). And yet my life—past three weeks excluded—is undeniably un-circus-like. Oh, let’s face it, even the past three weeks of post-break-up hell are hellish in a really ordinary way. Like, I can’t even say, “At least it will make great material for a future novel,” because I don’t bel


I know I’m not the first, or even the 119th, person to say this, but holiday shopping generally sucks. You spend money you don’t have to buy gifts your relatives don’t need or want, which were most likely made by small Indonesian children who would be having Tiny Tim-style Christmases if they were Christian. This Sunday, Jamie , Lee-Roy and I discovered one fabulous antidote: Bazaar Bizarre . Subtitled “not your granny’s craft fair,” it was an expo center full of purses made from recycled sweaters, Shrinky Dink jewelry, hand-stitched iPod cases, bondage gear and papier mache piggy banks made by decidedly non-oppressed art school grads. (And I’m happy to say that most of the silk screeners screened their designs—smiling robots, graceful jellyfish, rock and roll kitty cats—on American Apparel T-shirts.) My friend Erin , a knitter of many non-granny-like items, would have loved this fair. Incidentally, I think both my biological grandmother and my adopted grandmother would have too. T

caught in the middle in mid-city

At first I worried that that damn New Urbanism would exile me to a suburban ghetto—Reseda, Pacoima, Norwalk. But it turns out I’m just upwardly mobile enough to afford the urban semi-ghetto—those areas where poor people of color rent and young white gentrifiers buy. As a white girl looking to rent, apartment hunting is an interesting sociological experience. Here are some of the many ways people have asked me, “Why would you want to live here/there ?” over the course of the past week: Current tenant of a one-bedroom in Baldwin Hills: “Well, it’s the ‘hood, you know? Helicopters fly over.” Teenage boys outside aforementioned one-bedroom in Baldwin Hills: “Hey, schoolgirl. We don’t get your kind around here much, so we gotta look while we can.” My dad: “Have you thought about Long Beach?” Friends who live in Burbank and WeHo: “Move to Hollywood! Move to Hollywood!” Manager of a Koreatown building: “Hola”…something in Spanish about los apartamentos...hears me speak English…phone clatter

if trees could speak, they wouldn't

My therapist is always reminding me that nature is inefficient—you never hear a plant say, “I didn’t go jogging this morning. I am such an unworthy plant.” Not just because plants don’t have legs, but because they’re cool with who they are: beings that bask in the sun for as long as there is sun. Or as Dorianne Laux puts it in “The Life of Trees” (from Facts About the Moon and brought to my attention by Jamie ): The pines rub their great noise into the spangled dark. They scratch their itchy boughs against the house and the mystery of that moan translates into drudgery of ownership: time to drag the ladder from the shed, climb onto the roof with a saw between my teeth, cut those suckers down. What’s reality if not a long exhaustive cringe from the blade, the teeth? I want to sleep and dream the life of trees, beings from the muted world who care nothing for Money, Politics, Power, Will or Right, who want little from the night but a few dead stars going dim, a white owl lifting from

light reading, heavy heart

I always knew that InStyle was a little bit evil, but as such, it’s packed with temptation in the form of “satin eye masks with beaded trim…$25 each” and “18kt-gold-plated candlestick with sapphires and labradorites, $420.” You know, shiny stuff. But there’s nothing worse to read after your girlfriend of four and a half years breaks up with you (yeah, that’s what’s up, in case my abstractly angsty posts haven’t given me away). Especially the celebrity profiles, because InStyle has this amazing ability to make even the most miserable, strung-out, tabloid-whore celebrities sound exuberant and wise. I really should have known better than to open to this month’s Gwyneth Paltrow profile in my current state. But there I was this morning, groggy and vulnerable, reading: “Why is this woman smiling? Is it because Gwyneth Paltrow a) married a rock star; b) has an adorable daughter; or c) loves her job? Answer: all of the above.” The good news is, my InStyle subscription will run out soon a

my rejection collection

B’s computer is having problems—whenever you ask it to do anything, it makes this anguished whirring noise. It does the thing, but very, very slowly. That’s pretty much me right now. I did some writing last night, but it was like I was typing with gloves on. Everything felt fuzzy and clumsy. I want to do some reading, and lord knows I need to do some reading, but so far the most complicated thing I’ve been able to handle is Quick Shots of False Hope: A Rejection Collection by Laura Kightlinger, which I found on B’s bookshelf. It’s funny and honest and articulates some pains of adolescent girlhood that I haven’t seen elsewhere (and that’s saying a lot, since adolescent girlhood is hardly uncharted territory), although there are a few unnecessary sentences that her editor should have crossed out. But mostly I’ve been watching episode after episode of My Super Sweet 16 , thanks to Cathy’s sisterly nurturing and her roommate’s TiVo. My life may suck right now, but at least I’m not a 16

i hate a parade

When you have a terrible, terrible Saturday, what you want to do on Sunday is watch Rent in a dark theater with one of your oldest and best friends and a big wad of tissues. What you do not want to do is watch the Hollywood Christmas Parade. The benefit of parades in general is dubious: the pseudo-celebrities, the bad music, the slowness. But the detritus of parades—especially a parade held in one of the most congested parts of the city—is what makes them truly hateable: the blocked streets, the Star Waggons, the pressure to celebrate. You inch along Lexington, where you’ve been diverted, where there’s no hope of making a left turn for several miles, and alternate between checking in with Steph via cell phone (“There goes Vine. Can’t turn there.”) and rocking out to the pissed-off beats of Green Day’s American Idiot album. When you finally wind your way more or less into the area where the ArcLight is, and actually find a pretty good parking spot, you see three fire trucks turn the

makes me want to pack up my tofurkey and head for canada

A uniquely American tradition for a uniquely American holiday (from ): After being pardoned, the [two] turkeys will jet to Disneyland to lead the Main Street Parade, then live the rest of their days inside the California park. “They are the luckiest and happiest birds on the face of the earth,” Rothfork said. “They’re lucky because they're getting pardoned and they’re happy because they're going to Disneyland.” To get the turkeys ready for the Disney parade crowds, their handlers have been tossing handfuls of confetti at them and repeatedly playing the Disney theme song at full volume.

the king of cyberspace

Last night I had a dream about my blog. I have a history of boring dreams , but this wasn’t one of them. In my dream, I had learned how to steal the coding from other people’s blogs so that I could customize mine—add interesting background graphics, link to supplemental pages. The blog I decided to mimic had a sort of chick-lit vibe, and I was worried about its curly fonts, but I managed to make mine more stately. What a bummer to visit my blog this morning and realize that it’s still the green-and-orange “Tic-Tac” template. Not that it’s a bad template, it’s just not the template of my dreams. My tech skills are no match for my imagination. I still don’t know how to upload a photo to my profile (help anyone?). I think the dream was prompted by the episode of The King of Queens I watched last night. (That’s the sort of show people cite when they want to give an example of the most generic sitcom possible, but I actually think it’s pretty funny. One of the things I like about it is t

meet your new life coach

It’s official: I’ve written the longest novel I’m ever allowed to write. Because printing one copy (double-sided, 1.5-spaced) takes exactly as much paper as will fit in my printer’s paper tray. It’s printing right now, and my printer—while proving to be a trooper overall—has taken to taking troubling little breaks between pages. Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to say what a great show Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy is. (I watch a lot of TV when B is out of town.) I watched an episode Wednesday night in which a down-home, under-appreciated Montana mom swapped places with a rich, swimwear model/life coach mom from Westchester County, New York. Of course the clip shown in all the ads was the part where Montana Mom’s teenage son tells the camera, “My new mom is hot .” But the more interesting part of the show came when Westchester County Mom tried to life-coach her new kids. The boys, 18 and 20, thought the surveys WC Mom asked them to fill out were bullshit, and ign

my new mistress

I ran into Matt from my writing class at the Coffee Table yesterday. “Hey, what’s going on?” he said. “Oh, not much,” I said. Then after a long pause, it all came rushing out: “Actually, I started a new novel last week. I hadn’t planned to, but it had sort of been building up, I guess. I didn’t want to start anything until I knew for sure the other novel was finished. I had this plan to take a nice long break and maybe do a little research, but I don’t know, it just happened. And it’s fun .” “And now you feel like you’re cheating on your other book?” Matt sympathized. He just started a new novel too, and we learned in class later that night that even our teacher had stumbled into a new project while in the midst of another. It was like Cheaters Anonymous, and it was very cathartic to learn I was not the only fallen one. I can be a little anal about my writing routine sometimes. It’s not always good for me, but it’s a more productive addiction than booze. But I was determined, with

but she didn't catch my triple axle

Since I can't figure out how to put two pictures in one post, this photo of the environmental-lawyer-on-wheels gets its own post. One of Sara's other talents is skating while snapping pictures.

an appetizer

A little sliver of my upcoming book, The Commuters , is online at . You can also read great poems by Jamie , Ryan and a couple of other cool folks. And if you ever wondered, “What kind of grant opportunities does the non-profit literary service organization Poets & Writers offer?” that question is answered too.


Saturday night I accompanied Sara to a friend-of-a-friend’s roller-rink birthday party at World on Wheels. The theme—generous in its breadth—was ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, so I put together a ‘70s outfit that consisted almost entirely of items I wear on a regular basis: polyester shirt depicting giraffes on a red-and-brown jungle background, knit cap, bellbottoms. My only out-of-the-ordinary accessory was a long metal chain adorned with a five-inch owl charm, whose red glass eyes matched my shirt. Sara and Becky and I decided that the look was Idealistic Environmental Lawyer. So yeah, my outfit sort of missed the rollerskating boat, as I discovered when I walked into WOW and saw acres of girls in early ‘80s roller gear: short slit shorts, striped knee socks, pigtails. One girl’s “shorts” were definitely boy-shorts-style underwear, but to her credit, she had the back pocket to pull it off. Since I don’t hang out on the beach or in Beverly Hills very often, sometimes I forget how many girls

the jenny craig of west adams

When embarking on a weight loss plan, it’s helpful to be surrounded by a community of supporters—people who help you set realistic goals and encourage good health, not anorexia. Even if, say, you didn’t know you were trying to lose weight and thought you were just jogging down Vermont Avenue because it’s good for your heart and helps you think about the new novel taking shape in your head. Even then, it can be oh so helpful when a middle-aged man in a fedora shouts the following words of encouragement: “Keep going, baby! You can lose it! Lose those ten pounds! But don’t lose the back, baby. You gotta keep the back pocket.” Since I was wearing sweats (no pockets), I interpreted that to mean he thought I could stand to lose a few pounds, but liked my ass. Gosh, thanks! (On a related note: )

the cheryl comedy hour

When I started traveling more for work (and B started traveling way more), I realized why comedians always have lots to say about airplane food—they spend 80% of their lives in transit. This point was driven home last night when I was waiting for my delayed flight at the Oakland airport, and I was on the phone with B, making plans to take her to the airport the next morning. “I can’t believe I’m at the airport, talking about a trip to the airport. Which will take place in less than 12 hours,” I complained. “It just seems wrong.” “So do you want to talk about when you’re going to fly out and meet me in New York over Thanksgiving instead?” “You’re not helping.” I’ve also noticed myself making schticky mental observations about airport life. For example, last week when I went to pick up B, I headed to LAX early so that I could exchange some leftover Hong Kong dollars at the international terminal. The only time I’d spent in the international terminal previously (like any normal perso

the starbucks chronicles #2

I like to consider my artistic tastes eclectic and sometimes off-the-beaten-path, if not quite avant garde or highbrow. But I may have to reconsider after hearing two songs in a row at Starbucks this morning that I recognized from my personal music collection. Starbucks also likes to consider its tastes eclectic and smart, and the songs they play (and sell) are both of those things, but in a safe, yuppified, short-playlist kind of way. I’ve never bought a CD at Starbucks, but I’m clearly not as far from doing so as I’d like to be. Part of me thinks this is a sign from the universe that it’s time to punk things up a little. Another part of me—which is a really loud part these days—thinks that uniqueness is fairly futile, so it’s better to focus on goodness. Yeah, you’ve got to wonder what you’re not hearing, but you can still enjoy Bessie Smith and Joni Mitchell while they’re spinning, and think about the days when they were what wasn’t being played.

there but for the grace of a '97 honda civic

At this moment I am still reeling from the intensity of Crash , which B and I watched on DVD last night. At this moment France is noticing that not all of France is French. And at this moment I am reading my third novel in six months about black people written by a white author. I feel like all of these things are related and that there is something important to be said or learned, but I’m not sure what. Crash says a lot of what needs to be said about race—especially race in LA—in a more complex, honest and brutal manner than any I’ve seen on film. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is a series of vignettes in which the lives of Angelnos collide (quite literally, car town that we are) and often turn violent as a result ethnic tensions and prejudices. A white cop saves the life of a black woman when her car flips over, but she wouldn’t have been driving in an agitated state if that same cop hadn’t pulled her over and molested her and humiliated her husband the night before. But that c

he is jordan, hear him roar

So you know how everyone thinks their own kid (or grandkid or niece or nephew) is the cutest baby in the world? Well, if Bonnie were ever to make that claim about Jordan—and she hasn’t, because she’s very modest—there’s a good chance she would be right. I think Jordan is at least in the top five, out of the billions of children in the world. Of course the children of everyone else I know round out that top five. Here’s Jordan in his Halloween costume.

i had 506 miles to think about this

I just returned from a work trip to Fresno, the point of which was to seek out creative writers in California’s Central Valley. There are many, but let me tell you, they’re not naming the streets of their cities. In addition to the usual letters and numbers (which is practical if not exciting), Fresno has streets named Tulare, Mariposa, Merced and Stanislaus. If you spend a large portion of your work life staring at a map of California, you know that these are names of California counties. I’m cool with that. Themes are nice. There was also an Olive, and I think local flora is nice too. But in taking a less direct route home (so I could meet my fourth grade teacher in Porterville, a reunion that fell somewhere between nerve-wracking and heartwarming), I discovered that the towns of Tulare and Visalia and Porterville also have streets named Tulare, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus and Olive. Well, I’m pretty sure that they do. Because of the repetition I started to feel a little insane,

ben franklin, at least, would approve

Interpretive dancers, like librarians and rocket scientists and, I don’t know, maybe strippers, have one of those professions known mostly by its stereotypes. People use interpretive dance as a stand-in any time they want to reference something dull and pretentious or something improvised and opaque. I was guilty of interpretive dance humor at my last reading , when I said, “I have a cold, so if I lose my voice, I guess I’ll just start doing interpretive dance.” But even though I’ve been to plenty of dance performances, even though I went to CalArts, I can’t say that I’ve ever actually seen interpretive dance in action. Or at least I couldn’t until Saturday night. B and I, plus Jamie and Lee-Roy and Ryan (not Singapore Ryan; he’s still in Singapore), turned out for Beyond Baroque ’s Constitution-themed evening to see Jen Benka read her truly beautiful-smart-sad-hopeful book, A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers , which features one poem for each word of the preamble to the U.S. Consti

some pictures

To go with my thousands and thousands of words. A disclaimer: These were taken with the 35mm point-and-shoot camera my parents bought me in fifth grade. Even then it was a hand-me-down from my friend Bonnie. It’s definitely feeling its age, but it’s a sturdy little thing, and it will have to do until B uploads the photos from her digital camera. For all you visual learners out there, my previous posts are now illustrated. Here’s one of me trying the infamous durian in Singapore. Actually, I look like I’m getting high off it. It is a potent fruit.

10/22: valley girls and boys (and buddhas)

We began our last day in HK at Hong Kong Park, where we frolicked with black-necked swans and fake rocks covered with real turtles and ponds full of coy that were bigger than the turtles. We took the steep, slightly scary tram to Victoria Peak, where we watched the crowd of tourists and guys selling postcards, one pushy fortune teller and one self-proclaimed “Thai superstar” who was there with a camera crew. And beyond that, HK’s big, curved skyline, pastel in the smog. There was also a mall at the top, of course. We took a boat and one or two types of trains—so much public transportation here—to Tsim Sha Tsui East, one of the New Territories, meaning it was founded around 1897-ish. We decided that the New Territories are the Valley of HK, where things are a little cheaper and a little less cool. Lunched at a dim sum restaurant on the top floor of a mall. There was a complicated system where one of the staff handed you a slip of colored paper printed with a number and you had to wa

10/20: the knock-off dynasty

Ryan was MIA this morning, so B and Jon and I hit Hollywood Road, where all the antiques are. Jon is the guy to go with, as he knows the difference between the Han and Tang and Qing and Ming dynasties, between real and fake. We saw fat ceramic pots dripping with emerald green glaze, little armless soldiers, asymmetrical shelves, slotted benches. A lot of it was gorgeous, but some of it—even some of the gorgeous pieces—looked a little bit like something you’d find in a model home. The big, pale stone horse was supposed to guard a tomb, but he looked like he’d be equally comfortable guarding a sectional sofa. That’s the trouble with being a pomo kid, you don’t appreciate the real thing. We rode the string of escalators that run up the steep mountainside toward Victoria Peak. They pushed us up past noisy apartment buildings with peeling paint and clothes hanging out the windows on poles. Then all of a sudden we stepped off for a minute and we were at the mossy gates of a white mosque sur

10/19: suzanne, jon, ben and conrad

B and I were feeling a bit bedraggled after getting off the bus at the wrong stop and trekking the long distance to Ryan’s flat. But when we got there, he’d turned the place festive with candles and music. His new coworker, an Atlantan/New Yorker named Suzanne who used to work for Rough Guides, was also there. She was friendly-goofy, and we all went to a vegetarian restaurant called Original Sin in Holland Village (basically White People Town of Singapore). Then we moved on to a lesbian bar called Club 95 in Chinatown. Small and mellow, with nothing so fussy as fruit punch or vanilla Stoli on hand to appease B’s and my not-so-butch drinking habits. Now we’re in Hong Kong for the last leg of our trip. We’re staying at the Conrad Hilton, which is like a mammoth version of Tea Chapter in that I’m way too lowbrow for the uber-fluffy towels and too-attentive staff and delicate pears they leave on the desk with an orchid as garnish. B’s friend Jon has joined us from Beijing, where he’s be

10/18: i love the '80s and the 1890s

Right now B and I are sitting at Tea Chapter in Singapore’s Chinatown. We’ve had several pots of earthy red tea and one pot of slightly bitter green tea. Until about 20 minutes ago, 140 Chinese schoolgirls were taking tea lessons upstairs, so it wasn’t exactly tranquil. I don’t think I’d do very well in tea school. I feel big and oafish among the dainty porcelain cups (one for sniffing, one for drinking) and teapots (one for brewing, one for pouring). At Starbucks you get a venti whatever and you are kind of dwarfed by it. You don’t have to have refined tastes to enjoy a bunch of chocolate sprinkles and a triple shot of caffeine. This is stuff for people who like wine tasting and classical music. I like the idea of wine tasting and classical music. Also, I just managed to acquire a tea injury when I seared my wrist on our boiling kettle. Still, it’s all lovely and elaborate, and I think this might be one of my favorite days so far. Earlier this afternoon we visited the Chinatown Heri

10/16: cats and fish

If any city were to have a serious and comprehensive museum devoted to the cultural and biological history of cats, you’d think it would be Kuching (which, as I mentioned, means “cat” in Malay). The Cat Museum sat at the top of the hill in a big domed building, looking stately and promising. But after a quick look around, we decided it must be the pet project (no pun intended) of some government official’s wife. Someone the city couldn’t say no to. Ever wondered what a giant plaster cat looks like wearing a hijab? Look no further! You can also find cartons of Whiskas behind glass, framed Garfield puzzles and water-stained prints of “cats in western art.” The inclusions were random, half-hearted and totally disorganized. The English portion of the info cards on the walls often started or stopped in the middle of sentences. Ryan was immediately bored and began scouring for little bits of actual Malaysian history, but I was fascinated. There were not one but two collections of Hello Kit

10/15: lost in translation

The homesickness hit today. Right now drinking a pumpkin spice latte and reading a BHQ submission sounds really nice. I miss feeling competent and grown up. I miss knowing I could drive for hours in any direction and not get lost. I feel sort of silly feeling homesick after being gone only a week (with my girlfriend, no less), but that’s me. We’re in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia now. Sarawak is a state on the island of Borneo. Borneo sounds so exotic. I recall hearing something about “The Wild Man of Borneo,” but B and Ryan have no idea what I’m talking about. I think maybe he was one of PT Barnum’s side show attractions, probably just a local guy with a tan and a lot of facial hair. (Not that Malays actually have a lot of facial hair, I’m just saying that side show attractions frequently did.) We’ve cashed in B’s Hilton points—here’s to putting your grad school tuition on your credit card!—and gotten a ridiculously nice room overlooking the Sarawak River and all the brightly colored

10/14: nature for the impatient

Tonight we’re staying at Bako National Park, a 30-minute ride from Kuching in a little boat with an outboard motor. It had a sign that said, “Wear life jacket at all times,” but at no point did anyone offer us a life jacket. The river (delta? little sliver of ocean?) ranged from narrow to wide—I know because I kept thinking about whether or not I could swim it, and the answer varied. I also thought a lot about crocodiles as I watched the mangrove forests and tiny houses on stilts roll by. B was not so happy to learn that our hostel had no mosquito netting or air conditioning. Her doctor didn’t prescribe malaria pills, but to her credit, she’s sticking it out. There is a yellow-cliffed beach nearby and lots of wild (or wild-ish) animals. We were barely off the boat when we saw our first bearded pig, a huge boar with a scouring brush for a face (B’s description). There are dozens of what the campground brochure refers to as “naughty macaques,” pale, cat-sized monkeys. I think the brochu

10/13: it takes a village

Spent most of yesterday by the pool. Everything I normally devote my time to seems so far away. Just being is such a good lesson. Of course it also makes me feel extremely untalented because I don’t have any skills that might be useful here. I can’t swim (well, just enough to not drown in a current-less, shark-less swimming pool), I can’t plan itineraries, I can’t make conversation with strangers. All I can do is eat whatever’s in front of me, which makes me more of a circus freak than a savvy traveler. Last night at dinner (fish, spring rolls, two kinds of eggplant and the best desserts I’ve ever had—an array of bright green, chewy, ricey things), I confessed my travel-related insecurities to Ryan, who said that not complaining and not being afraid to try new things are genuine accomplishments. As always, I am accomplished in the negative. I’m good at not taking up too much space, not being too annoying or demanding. My therapist would not be surprised. Nevertheless, I took it as a

10/12: the land of bikinis and hijabs

Yesterday we arrived at the Damai Beach Holiday Inn 45 minutes outside Kuching. Malaysia is technically a developing country, but it seems to be a mixture of living conditions, more along the lines of Mexico than, say, Sub-Saharan Africa. We drove past shacks in the middle of lush green fields, tile-roofed duplexes and a few really opulent mansions. The signs featured lots of cognates: motosikil, insurans, teksi. We passed a school full of very small girls in hijabs. Our cab driver said when they start wearing it depends. A lot seems to be optional for Muslims in this part of the world. Some of the girls wear short sleeves. Ryan said that his Muslim friends told him that if you break your Ramadan fast you can do a make-up day afterward. There’s a sort of modern-Muslim style I’ve observed on some of the trains in Singapore. One young woman had on this brightly printed turquoise dress over jeans (a style I always dig, no matter what B says), with a brown plaid hijab. They wear them pinn

10/11: purses, from production to consumption

Two buses, one walk and one cab ride, and we’re on a plane to Malaysia, where we’ll spend the next week. By crossing the Singapore/ Malaysia border on foot, we can take a domestic flight from Johor Bahru to Kuching and save like $US 100. Ryan knows all the tricks. He chatted with our cab driver about different Malaysian cities, the Johor Bahru flag, his family, Ramadan, etc. He’s open talking about his own travels, where I would be nervous that I was just making myself sound really rich. But I’m always nervous talking about things, and so I never talk to anyone and never learn anything. B and I sat in the back of the cab, quietly, soaking it in. Ryan often leads the way and he’ll make jokes like, “I love how my two wives walk five paces behind me.” There’s this whole choreography of the uber-well-traveled (Ryan), the well-traveled (B) and the girl who says, “So in LA….” Our last day (for a while) in Singapore, Ryan worked and B and I explored on our own. Meaning she figured out the bu

10/10: opening the cupboard

Our first stop yesterday was the Tiong Bahru bird area, where older Chinese men bring their birds to sing to each other on Sunday mornings. The morning was rainy-misty, sort of like Seattle in July. The birds were these little green and yellow guys in wooden cages decked out with carvings and ivory ornaments. I thought they all looked like the “after” pictures from Pimp My Cage . Ryan said he would remember that when he taught parody to his class. We stopped at a hawker center for breakfast, sort of like Grand Central Market but cleaner and Chinese. Lots of food booths and little tables beneath a tall tin roof. I ate fish congee (porridge) and drank a venti-esque cup of grass jelly juice. In the afternoon we visited the Changi Prison Museum. At first I thought we were going to get to visit a real Singapore prison. I’d just read an article in other magazine by a person who’d toured a Bolivian prison, apparently a regular occurrence. But while the current real prison is called Changi