Sunday, November 21, 2010

stockholm syndrome.

Weekend was a flurry of pink champagne, electropop and skipping sleep.  Woke up at 4 am in our hotel room at the Jupiter with ringing ears, throbbing feet and a throat scratchy from singing because


this girl. is. phenomenal.

We now measure time in B.R. and A.R.: Before Robyn and After Robyn.


Portland and our current girl crush plum tuckered us out, but once I come down from this high I might be able to put some words together about the whole unreal experience... life is so sweet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

little bavarians.

Happy 27th, Marlo A. Hartung!  As usual, you are full of great ideas: escaping the rainy city for the vibrant leaves and peaceful fog of the mountains to celebrate your old age?  Sign me up.  A girl could really get used to sleeping in a beautiful cabin all snug as a bug and waking up to this view with her coffee:

Yes, PLEASE!

I would also not complain, not one bit, about drinking wine all night and espresso all day, wandering Leavenworth and practicing our German (but only amongst ourselves, let's not get too cocky here), visiting the cheesemonger and the antique vendors and spending autumn time with the laaaadies.  I don't ever want to leave, but someone must return to civilization to introduce lederhosen and 10 foot horns and Ricola to the unwashed masses.  Das sigh.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

sometimes.

Sometimes it's Friday at midnight and you need to go play.
 Sometimes you end up on the Jose Rizal Bridge taking too many jumping shots because you are overjoyed at the view.  If you live in Seattle and haven't played on the Rizal Bridge, what are you waiting for?  It's the most breathtaking view of the city one could possibly imagine, especially at sunset.  Just look at how happy Dower is!  Look!
Sometimes you end up getting 1 am dim sum in the middle of the International District, the only whities in the whole place, wondering if it's better to order pig skin or cow intestine or both.
 Sometimes your "friends" wake you up at the crack of dawn to go for a walk, only to reward your efforts with even more cracks of dawn.
 Somtimes you just need to keep playing, because it's autumn and the leaves are all waiting to be scooped up and thrown somewhere.
 And sometimes you decide that even though it's only been 7 hours since you last had it, you need more dim sum for breakfast.
Sometimes I wish all days could be sleepless, uneventful, and somehow exactly what I want to be doing.

expats.

A Vancouver birthday weekend with the girls is just good clean fun, and the mere fact that we aren't in college anymore, heading up with frat brahs for morning boozing and "formal dances," completely revolutionized the experience.  Three cheers for trying to be grownups!  We stayed right downtown in the fancy Westin like big girls, ate good sushi like big girls, spent too much money on clothes and booze like big girls, and had an incident with a crow at the border that will become our new meal ticket once the video goes viral. 

Things about Canada that have changed since we were heading up there for countless fratty trips in college:

1.  Added stress of now having to show your passport at the border, like Canada thinks it's a different country or something and not the 51st state.  It's like sorority rush because you reeeeeally want the border guard to like you, even though HELLO, you're CANADA; it would be your great honor and pleasure to let us in.

2.  There are things to eat there that aren't pitchers of beer or street cart hot dogs at 3 am (even though those items still haven't lost their luster).  In fact, they have entire other food groups available for consumption, some of which are even on the food pyramid!

2.  They have daytime in Vancouver!  I literally never knew this.  Previous experiences led us to believe there is only rainy nighttime spent trying to avoid your date, who is geting a leeetle too handsy after the aforementioned pitchers.  Observe, the city from a sunrise walk on a lovely bridge:

  We crossed back into the US of A with renewed hope for our northernly sisters.  A beautiful autumn weekend in one of the world's most gorgeous cities, surrounded by maple leaf paraphernalia at every turn?  We don't mind if we do, happy birthday Shauna! 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

vogue.

Oh man you guys, here's what happened a couple weeks ago when I skipped across the UVillage to meet Ashton at Starbucks and this creepy dude was WATCHING OUR EVERY MOVE.  I had to hiss at Ashton to check him out, but poor boy never could figure out where creeper even was, probably because the guy was sooo good at being "sneaky."  Seriously, I thought he might be the next up and coming Green River Killer, especially when we got into the car later and he ran after us

Fortunately, he ended being our friendly local photographer who wanted to "shoot us for a new ATT phone ad" (as you can tell, the phone is the opposite of fancy).  At first we could best be described as skeptical, because when someone tells you they like your "energy," you feel a little like those poor midwest girls who move to the Big Apple and accidentally get into the porn industry because they think people are just being nice to them.  Next thing you know, BLAMMO, innocence lost.  However, he sensed our hesitation and chose that moment to drop the financial stats on us.  I've previously mentioned that we have the combined income of two people who should be living in a grass hut, so we couldn't say no.  We just could not say no.

So here we are, shots stolen straight off some dark corner of the ATT website that I won't even try to explain since it's so far down the rabbithole.  This is after three solid weeks of apartment hunting, living on couches, and wearing the same outfit three days in a row (he asked if we had a change of clothes and we could barely contain the church giggles).  Thanks, Creepy Starbucks guy who ended up being a total delight to spend an afternoon with, and who then let us make a week's worth of cashola on the spot without even taking our clothes off!  Three cheers!

PS. Ashton would actually murder me if he knew I put the "casual glasses in mouth" shot of him on here, let's keep that our little secret, k?

*All photos courtesy of Marc Carter, thanks Marc!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

a corner of the cloak.

"...and conclude, for the thousandth time, what a wild and blessed gift,
What a bloody and magical machine it is, what a slather of stories,
What an endless thicket!  You really and truly could be issued fifty
Lifetimes and spend each of them addled and muddled in wonder
And never understand or even see more than a corner of the cloak."
-Brian Doyle, from A Corner of The Cloak

Well, look who just had a half dozen strokes of kismet fall upon their poverty-stricken shoulders! Ashton (grad student), Amy (currently unemployed) and I (sugar mama non-profit employee) somehow found ourselves the world's most beautiful townhome in the Central District (that's the view of Quest Field from my deck!), and I couldn't be happier.  Like, granite countertops, 3.5 baths and hardwood-to-die-for happy.  I love coming home at the end of the day.  Love it. 

We're definitely in a different world than our Wallingfords and Greenlakes of yore.  A trip to Starbucks becomes a mini-UN meeting as I am surrounded on all glorious sides by Eritrean women with gorgeous scarves, old black men playing chess and tipping their hats at girls who walk past with espresso, the occasional lost-looking Latino teenager, sweet-faced retired Asian couples with matching sweaters, perky Garfield students with braids and magenta tennis shoes... the faces hold stories, and the lips are more willing to speak them to a stranger.

In the parking lot, inevitably, Omar comes to sell me incense.  "It's handmade, home-made, it's only a dollar!" he encourages me, his hands reaching from his pristine alabaster robes to extend an offering of his wares.  "I'm allergic, remember, Omar?"  (This is only a small white lie.  I just despise the scent of incense because it reminds me of middle school, when my theater friends wore too much black eyeliner and listened to grungy music, and I secretly wanted to listen to R&B and throw everyone's blown-glass incense holders out the window)  He backs away instantly.  "Baby, baby, I would never want to do anything to hurt a woman like you!  You are so beautiful."  (Flowery prose that leads me to wonder if it's not just incense that Omar lights at home...) "Oh, thank you Omar, I hope business is good today!"  I hop into my car to arrange my coffee and my files and my sanity before work, and Omar taps on the hood to call through the windshield, "Because of you, I WILL have a great day."

Our first Saturday in the new dream house, Dower and I abandoned all the moving boxes and went on a walk.  It was all I could do to drag my exhausted body through the neighborhood but I was revived by the echoing ululations of what sounded like a party-- a big one-- and we followed the billowing smoke through the sidewalks.  As it turns out, Ethiopian churches really do know how to party.  A few hundred beautiful people (what is UP with East African bone structure?  Could they be any more perfect?!) were chanting, dancing, and celebrating a holiday that was unknown to me (I have since looked it up, and let me just say that Meskel sounds WAY more fun than Labor Day).  I was pretty thrilled when I realized we were about three blocks from my new house, and hoped the smoke would sweep its way over our rooftop to impart some of its intrigue on our home too.

But ok, the neighborhood is a little hood.  Frank's friend got shot in the middle of someone else's drug deal at Parnell's, the corner store 2 blocks up from us.  Our landlord chastises us for not keeping every lock firmly secured on the gate to our yard.  Hardly a week goes by without witnessing some dude getting apprehended by the po-po, or hearing some racially charged argument at Subway, but there is nothing boring about living between MLK and Jackson and Rainier.  And really, no matter where you live or what you do with the long hours that create a day, is there any substitute for wonder at the world, for seeing new constellations under every leaf and fully expecting beauty and strangeness to leap out from every corner and catch you off guard?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

classy joint.

You'd think that when you buy a fancy condo on the water, you'd really experience a step up in signage.  Dower's place proves this theory totally correct.

Some thoughts: what are cupons, and are they as painful as they sound?  Will Bobbi be compensated for her trauma?  And did the people at the engraving shop even notice? 

Friday, September 10, 2010

para bailar a medianoche...


Just add el espíritu colombiano.
Santa Marta, Colombia

godchild.


Sucre, Bolivia

Monday, September 06, 2010

waiting.

Boredom and beautiful bling.
Angkor Wat. Cambodia

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

good morning, vietnam.

Some shots from our last days in 'Nam. As you can tell, I just really like saying,
"our days in 'Nam."

Heading home in Mui Ne

Hauling in the nets



Biking along the coast of the South China Sea, sweating against the breeze and finding neighborhoods where no other tourists seemed to have discovered. The adults all gave us sidelong glances, wondering what we were looking for in the small fishing town, but the toddlers and kids burst from excitement and yelled "HELLO! HELLO!" from the sidewalks.




I included this shot because right after I took it, a security guard grabbed my arm and growled at me "NO PHOTO OP HERE." The house behind this wall was really fancy... I wonder what famous person lives here?


Intense game of chess on the streets of Saigon


The streets are a constant, chaotic mess of motorbikes on all sides, none of which seem to obey a single traffic law. Upon sighting a driving school, my sister mused, "What do you think they actually do there?!"
Rollaway gas stations for tiny motorbike gas tanks! This same kid helped me the day before when I needed aspirin and he needed to practice his English. "If your head hurts, you should see a todoc!" he insisted. "A todoc!"
"I should see a doctor?" I asked, and his rubbed his head sheepishly.
"Yes, a doctor I meant!"

Friday, August 27, 2010

irish beers and fam time.

Just because we're not in Asia anymore doesn't mean we can't still play. Dad's got his girls back!



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the kids are all right.


I've been very confused lately. We flew from Saigon at midnight last Wednesday, had a 12 hour layover in Seoul, a 10 hour flight to Seattle, and somehow landed at noon on the same day we left?! My body responded in what I thought was a charming manner: like I'd had an adrenaline injection right to the heart. I cooked a couple of dinners and baked cookies, went running, got beers with some friends, read a whole book, cleaned and unpacked, went back to work on Friday on 3 hours of sleep (waking up at 4 am makes you feel like a superstar CEO or something)... until the weekend, when I totally crashed and slept til 1 pm both days. I think I might be back on track now, but I don't want to count my chicks and whatnot.

The truth is, a lot of my busy-ness has been a thinly veiled effort to avoid processing some of the things we saw in Asia. I've been having a stare-down with my journal because I'm not interested in discussing child labor and war atrocities with it quite yet, and I can't really think of anything else to talk about because those things have consumed my mind the past few weeks.

It's cliche to talk about the grinding poverty in a place like Southeast Asia because it's kind of like, "Duh. Find a new soapbox." It's obviously one of the least developed areas of the world, so what can you say about it that's unique? I don't have a new angle on it, but I was just totally struck anew by how the poverty in any given place is made so much more vivid when it's being lived by children. A few mental images that stand out in my mind:
Hmong girl selling bracelets in Laos: "You can buy 5,000."

There's no escaping child labor in Cambodia.* If you're white, you'll get swarmed by men lounging on motorcycles calling out "tuk-tuk, ladyyy?" and kids selling copied books and dime-a-dozen bracelets. They're relentless, because poverty makes people relentless. So many parts of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were just cacophonies of garbage on stilts; huge teeming masses of people and stray dogs and dirt. There is a 15 km road from Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields, which is a chaotic study in development. As we scooted along in our tuk-tuk, a factory opened its doors for lunchtime and hundreds of face-masked young girls streamed out, having finished their morning stitching or gluing and preparing for an afternoon filled with more of the same. I wondered what they were making in the factory, what expensive items were being created cheaply so people like me can buy them for less. But I was soon distracted by a new olfactory assault, rising above the old fish and urine smells. We were driving over the river, into which was gushing forth a broad stream of aparently untreated sewage. On the shore, a garbage dump, on fire. And wandering amidst all of this, a shirtless 13 year old boy. What an apocalyptic scene this was, unpleasant for eyes and ears and heart. But our tuk-tuk zipped past all of this, leaving the tottering houses and shops on stilts above the river to fend for themselves.
"Being a baby is sooo BORING sometimes."

Later, after a long day scrambling up the wats, Amy and I set out with a mission to find margaritas at the Mexican restaurant in Siem Reap and ran into a couple of the same boys twice in a row, each time begging us to buy postcards from them. We chatted with them for a while and learned that Hou, age 14, and Phi, age 16, were a couple of the sweetest kiddos in the country. They had been selling bracelets all day without eating, so we took them to the restaurant with us and taught them the word "happy hour" and how to eat tacos. They had never had Mexican food before and Hou practically bathed in the salsa, he loved it so much. We asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up and Hou said "tuk-tuk driver!" while Phi chose, "teacher, and I want to start an orphanage as well." As we parted ways later, Hou said "thank you so, so much for dinner. Here is how we say it in Cambodia: Akhun, akhun, akhun." Later, they ran after us and pushed the little woven bracelets onto our wrists as a parting gift.

The next night, we saw them again. We had been drinking a bit of Angkor draft at dinner and feeling lighthearted, but that quickly faded as we wandered into a street food alley to buy the boys dinner again. We got swarmed by about a dozen other kids, and two girls holding a naked baby, begging for food and money. Fine, easy enough, we can buy noodles for ten kids and spend less than what we would have spent on a round of beers at home. The baby, though, was another issue. He slept peacefully throughout the turmoil, but his sisters gripped our hands with surprising tenacity and begged us for milk. Eventually they clung neatly to our torsos, all four limbs wrapped tightly around our waists, after they handed the dozing baby (who had long since learned to sleep amidst noise and motion) off to Amy. We had a 20-second span in which we thought, "OH MY GOSH, this is what Angelina Jolie felt like before she stole** Maddox!"
We eventually pried ourselves away from the group but felt silly as we walked away. So some kids got dinner-- big deal. What will they do for breakfast?

Today she may be a toothless Vietnamese girl, but she's leaving this one-horse town for Hollywood.

This brought us to the last, most disappointing thing we saw in Cambodia. Having made friends with another kid selling books, we bought "Buddhism Explained" from him one night in Phnom Penh. He rushed over to a middle aged man with a money basket on a bike to toss his cash in. Mom beckoned him back over to our table to ask what would happen to that money later. "That man buys my school uniform and pays my tuition and buys me dinner," our new friend insisted. Essentially the guy was a pimp reminiscent of the newspaper barons who were the source of the newsies strike (historical fact courtesy of Christian Bale). Shortly after, as we lingered over dinner, we heard a shouting match and saw another kid, whose block was being infringed upon by our friend and his pimp, trying to regain his book-selling territory. We watched wide-eyed as a grown man and a kid no more than ten fought loudly in the street, which ended with the man hitting the kid and throwing him to the ground. Wiping away furious tears, the kid regained his footing and kept screaming. All this, just so they can sell a few photocopied books for a couple bucks a pop. I am as speechless now as I was at that moment. What can you do, as a foreigner who doesn't speak the language, when you see such a thing happening? There really is no such thing as childhood when people fight as equals for the right to work.

*I've long since left behind the idea that it's terrible to let kids work. In most parts of the world, it's just a fact of life, and something that often provides education for them rather than preventing it. Although it's not ideal to let kids wander the streets at midnight trying to sell postcards, a better question than "how can we stop poor kids from working?" is "how can we make it safe and profitable for poor kids to work in order to attend school?"

**"Adopted."