Saturday, July 31, 2010

free burma rangers.

Waking up every morning to have coffee overlooking miles of palm forest, sun glinting off a thirsty lake, horses rolling around a soccer field and a gentle haze of Thai steam rising off the mud is one of the most peaceful ways to begin a day. And then the hurricane that is the Eubank family hits.
The Eubanks were kind enough to host us on their massive ranch outside of Chiang Mai, and this is what you get with your morning coffee if you stay with this generous family: detailed conversation regarding whether or not the term "genocide" is correct for the Burmese political situation, slide shows of children who have been shot, and stories of land mines and dying babies and incredible courage. But it's all in a day's work for Dave, who runs what is quite possibly the most intense operation I have ever seen in real life.

The Free Burma Rangers is a covert (ie. illegal) guerrilla relief and humanitarian force aiding refugees fleeing the Burmese Army. It's hardcore relief work that runs like the army, if the army operated with the ends of wholeness and healing. It has succeeded in creating a network of radios that inform villagers of pending attacks so they can escape, but also so world news sources can stay up to date on situations that the Burmese government would otherwise never give them access to. It's dangerous work, and the strength it requires for them to work daily with 5 year old gunshot victims and 8 year old rape victims and murdered infants is honestly beyond me.
When the family isn't on the ground in Burma, they use their home in Thailand as Grand Central Station (to paint a picture, we shared a visit with a British couple and their two tiny boys who run a development program in Afghanistan; an MIT grad student who does communications work for FBR, an FBR soldier on injured reserve, and next week a California Congressman is on his way with a delegation. Quiet? Never). And although it would be more simple and peaceful to watch The View with your morning caffeine, there is something so encouraging and strengthening about spending time with people who have deep faith and who are passionate-- for excellence, for love, for justice and for others-- that a few days hearing some of the darkest stories in the universe somehow wound up feeling like a bigger story of hope being woven throughout hopelessness.

Here's the FBR website, which can explain this incredible project better than I:

Friday, July 30, 2010

sleeper train.

Is there anything in existence more old-fashioned and romantic than traveling by sleeper train?

Amy accused me of having a crush on overnight trains. Well, who wouldn't?

You get to pretend you're in a movie from the 40s (in my mind I have a porter to carry my trunk, which is filled with fitted skirt suits, lots of hats, red lipstick and a slight British accent).

You pull your curtain shut, let the tracks rock you to sleep...

...and in the morning you wake up in a totally new place.

fish pedis.

To get the boys up to speed, here's how this works: you put your feet in a fish tank and these little piranha-like creatures nibble on your skin until you're as smooth as a baby's bottom. It would be less creepy if I hadn't watched a big fish die in the tank next to mine and his entire school then begin to eat him too.
Putting your feet in a tank of cannibalistic skin-eating fish: We'll do anything to be trendy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

street food and unrequited love.

-Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"no pain, please."

Peter taught us this phrase in Thai on Saturday morning and I scoffed at it, like the naive child I was at that point.

We thought we were being sooo clever with our plans for the day. What a wonderful way to unwind together, we thought! Who could resist meditation in the park followed by an hour and a half of hot yoga and two hour Thai massages? Why wouldn't people ALWAYS spend their Saturdays like this?

24 hours later, it dawned on me, when I mysteriously woke up as a hobbling 90 year old woman with the flexibility of petrified wood. I spent the entire next day loudly ruing the moment I ever thought I could handle intense yoga followed by a small Thai woman putting her whole body weight on my poor, unsuspecting individual muscles.
Luckily Peter is really nice and in an effort to shut me up, took us to the State Building overlooking Bangkok and bought us dry martinis. This building is PHENOMENALLY BEAUTIFUL and to prove it, will kick you out if you aren't up to dress code (case in point: a man was turned away on the first floor for wearing Crocs. Now I am of the mindset that unless you are a surgeon or an elderly gardener, you shouldn't be wearing Crocs anyway, but that's neither here nor there).
Peter really made us love Bangkok, but since he took off for Manila like the fancy businessman he is, we followed suit and headed north on a sleeper train to Chiang Mai. This is us rounding out a lovely weekend by basking in the glow of the city from it's most impressive building and taking too many dorky pictures that didn't turn out anyway.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Once you arrive at the wat, pass by the monks on cell phones and the sparkly gold buddhas and the hands clutched in prayer.

Greet the seven statues representing the seven days of the week, find the day you were born on, and dip a ladle into the river of oil that runs underneath them.
Pour the oil in three circles around your statue's flame and think very hard about your secret dreams.
Voila-- wishing complete.

Friday, July 23, 2010

hello bangkok!

I'm too tired to think of a played-out joke about the word Bangkok because we just spent an entire day cavorting through the streets of this city with the suspected drug-czar, and my good friend, Peter Fotheringham.
Just kidding about the drug-czardom, he wanted me to say that. He's actually a really upstanding citizen who knows Bangkok like the back of his hand, lives in a fancy apartment with a pool, and is willing to put up with us. Peter is one of those people who will drop comments like, "Oh, and then after the World Cup we went on a surf trip to Mozambique, which was amazing!" without sounding pretentious in the least.
So today we visited beautiful wats and ate gorgeous food and hopped into water taxis and drank thick espresso and talked about Thai royalty and Noam Chomsky and photography and language and Peter slowly opened our eyes to the intrigue of a place like Bangkok, a massive city with a thousand stories on every corner. Days like today make me feel like I could just travel and travel forever just to see a new face or hear a new prayer.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

byebye korea!

The last few days of Korea were a whirlwind of packing up Ames and getting her out of her apartment, going out to bulgogi meals in an embarrassingly eager fashion, and JIMJILBANGING. Jimjilbangs are Korean spas where you wander around naked, sit in rooms of increasing heat and try not to think about that Nancy Drew book where someone locked her in a sauna right before she solved a mystery involving a basketball team, lounge around in pools that range from icy to hot potato, and leave feeling like the most relaxed human on earth.
Oh, and this is my sister being super cute even when I spy on her in between airplane seats.

wait a second...

Is this statue one of those real-life Rorschack tests to find out how your mind works? If so, things aren't looking too good for me. And to make matters worse, it's outside of Wonkwang Hospital. I'm not making this up.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

please don't stand in front of the dear leader.

He may look like your fun hipster grandpa, but trust me, you do NOT want to mess with this man.*

At this point in my life, the closest thing I've come to experiencing Communism was drinking vodka with Russians in Prague almost exactly two decades after the end of the Cold War. I won't say it was really heavily focused on the relative merits of democracy, either, so in terms of a cultural experience it was more theoretical than anything. That changed on Friday, when Mom and I headed north-- but not too far north, because that would involve getting shot on sight.

"Nothing normal happens here. EVER."

To set even a pinky toe on the border of North Korea, here is what we had to do: wake up at 5 am, take the subway for an hour to the USO office, take a bus for another hour and arrive at the edge of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), switch buses and go through a kind of "indoctrination" into the UN-- "No pointing, no waving, no gestures that North Korea could interpret as hostile, no bags, no photos unless we are in specific zones." We signed waivers that declared if we got shot or kidnapped, the military wasn't responsible for whatever we did wrong. Then we took another bus through the Joint Security Area and became aware that we were suddenly in the weirdest place we'd ever encountered, and it was only 9:30 am.

"We're watching you, you Western capitalist pigs." (please note the man with a camera, trying to be sneaky in the lower left window)

As our baby-faced military guide recounted 60 years of Korean history in ten minutes, I was pretty much losing my head with excitement because how many times have I sat in a foreign policy class trying to figure out how to save the world and never actually pictured the front lines of where all the negotiation happens? I almost peed from excitement and nerves. The DMZ is the most heavily militarized border in the entire world, and one of the most fascinating stretches of land I have ever set foot on, as it's a line that divides two completely disparate worlds that share a name. It's the difference between a swiftly growing Asian economy that's connected with the rest of the world and a socialist, totalitarian police state with one of the world's strictest (ie. craziest) dictators. You heard it here first, people: Kim Jong-il is CRA. ZY.

Left foot in democratic South Korea, right foot in nuts-as-all-getout North Korea

The stare-down that is border patrol.

Let me expound. In brief, North Korea is absolutely batshit, and the people there think they are the only country in the world that has it all figured out. They are 100% utterly convinced that Kim Il-ung is God and that they are living the dream. I could fill a book with all the bizarre things we heard about the personality cult that keeps North Koreans in line, and how juvenile it is (in a super-deluded and dangerous playground bully kind of way), and how hell-bent the regime is on keeping North Korea isolated from just about everything that exists. Here's a sampling:

1. The negotiation room that sits on the border, evenly split between North and South, has to be cleared out by two armed soldiers before tourists can enter. They used to only have one, until two years ago, when the soldier securing the back entrance was ambushed from the north side of the building by NK military, who broke through and tried to drag him across the border. Now ROK soldiers have to hold onto each others holsters or link arms when securing the area. To this I say, "what the hell?"

2. In an effort to avoid the land-mine-ridden DMZ but still sneakily invade South Korea, North Korea dug a bunch of tunnels, one of which was later uncovered with the help of a North Korean defector who had helped build it. North Korea then denied having built the tunnel, like a dumb kid standing in front of a broken lamp holding a baseball bat, despite the fact that the dynamite blasts were pointing south and water was draining north. Finally, they admitted having built it, but claimed it was an old coal mine (in an area that's almost entirely made of granite). So, in the most believable cover-up in the history of mining, North Korea PAINTED THE WALLS BLACK. "Nothing to see down here but some old coal! Run along!"

3. Checkpoint Charlie: Shane from Vice Magazine said something about this spot being one of the most dangerous places in the world, since you're standing surrounded on 3 sides by a totalitarian dictatorship, but I found it just pretty eerie. I mean, technically we aren't looking at Kabul or Mogadishu here, but the possibility of massive war is, I suppose, what made the Cold War so quietly powerful in the first place. Here's a shot of the sham town Kijong-dong, with the tallest flag pole in the world to show everyone how awesome and powerful North Korea is and designed to lure South Koreans across the border to join this utopia. But it's a lonely town-- these buildings are all empty; a facade created to give the illusion of bustling prosperity. And you can't see it in this photo, but there are wave blockers lining the southern border to prevent any outside information from entering the country. Our guide told us that "recently, Chinese airwaves have been infiltrating, and that's a really good thing for North Koreans." How do you know your country is in huge trouble? When getting media from CHINA is a step up.

North Korea has a bad thing going. Development is stunted and the standard of living is, relatively speaking, quite low. This photo is a snapshot of the Korean peninsula by night-- there's China on the left, and Seoul glowing like a firefly, and an eerie void in between. That's North Korea, a state that allows its denizens zero control over just about everything (including their own thought processing capabilities) and recently demanded 65 TRILLION DOLLARS from the US as reparations for damages incurred since the Korean War. This is why I never would have succeeded in my original plan to be a diplomat: how do you not laugh when Dr. Evil asks you for a million dollars in all seriousness? It's too much!

Kim Jong-il is a character begging to be made fun of, but when it comes down to it, this is a huge tragedy. This man holding razor wire kind of says it all-- his family was split down the middle and the two paths they took could not have been more disparate. The scariest part about North Korea is that their citizens have no clue how bad it really is-- they think they're experiencing utopia when it's actually more like hell on earth.

Here is the Vice Guide to North Korea-- pretty much the most fascinating 45 minutes you could spend today, I recommend you getting involved so we can experience the mind warp together.

*Amy mentioned that if I post this entry, my blog may get blocked from her computer since South Korea is pretty into censorship when it comes to issues of the North. Everyone is sooo sensitive around here about brutal dictatorships! However, the free press shall conquer yet again when we land in Bangkok on Thursday!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

lady bulgaga.

I was about to write another sonnet about food, reminiscent of my ode to steak and wine from Buenos Aires, but decided instead to send a direct complaint to the Korean community of Seattle: dear friends, WHY did you not forcibly take me by the hand and sit me down on the floor of a bulgogi restaurant sooner?

Two nights ago, Ames took us to some back alley restaurant and that wound up being one of the most delicious food extravaganzas I've experienced since Peruvian ceviche. I knew things would be good when we walked in and the kids in the play area were so curious about the only white people in the place that they would dare each other to run up and stand in front of us for a split second. We slipped off our shoes and tucked them into the rack at the entrance, sitting barefoot at the entryway until they could find space in the packed restaurant. We finally got placed in the back corner room with two long tables filled with drunk coworkers (Asian Glow: no laughing matter) who got louder and louder the more Cass and soju* they drank. By the end of the night, one bold and intoxicated gentleman waved at us on his way out and called over about how beautiful we were. Amy translated, and then all the guys at the table next to us started laughing that they thought he'd been referring to them.

Here's how it goes down at a bulgogi restaurant: first you sit on the floor and realize how old you're getting when it gets really uncomfortable after an hour. Then a girl comes out and starts a barbecue in the middle of your table and puts a ton of meat on it. Then she brings out the banchan-- bowl after miniature bowl of side dishes that are equal parts intriguing and delicious for a first-timer. Our table was covered with delights like kimchi (pickled veggies with red pepper flakes mixed in), buckwheat noodles, sesame oil and red pepper salad, vinegary soup, peppery sweet soup, whole garlic cloves and onion slices to simmer in oil and entire mushrooms and salty strips of seaweed. Then the baskets full of massive, perfect sesame leaves which are almost too pretty to eat but you have to because by then your meat is ready and the girl has cut it up so you make a little roll with anything you want in the leaf and eat it in one bite and

HOLY SHITE, what is this flavor explosion happening in my mouth?! What have I been spending my 26 years on this earth even doing, if not sitting at this short table in bare feet, making miniature ambrosia packages for dinner?

Bulgogi: the ugliest food name in existence but the most delightful way to spend 2 hours barbecuing with your nearest and dearest. Yes please!

*soju is, from my understanding, the Korean version of sake and "is gross and leaves you with the worst headache in history," according to my sister. However, they give out free samples of it at the grocery store across the street, and I respect a country that allows rice liquor to flow freely among children. Here's to you, Korea!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

tongsaeng, onni and omma go to school.

Reunited and it feeeeels so gooood! is the theme song I'd like you to hum in your head as you take a gander at these photos.

Well, after a 12 hour flight alongside every unhappy Korean baby ever born, we finally made it to Seoul and were greeted by my leetle seester (my "tongsaeng"), and no one needs to worry: she is as pretty and cool as ever.

Our first stop this morning was to find out what she's been doing at school all year. Here she is, infiltrating the young, pliable minds of her Koala class with propaganda such as "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."

I suppose now is as good a time as any to start telling you funny kid stories, since I know that's why you're here in the first place. Allow me to introduce you to our new friends, June and Edward, who are the first two candidates to come home in my backpack. Amy informed us today that last week, she overheard a conversation in Korean between these two BFFs that, loosely translated, went something like this:
June: "Did you just fart?"
Edward: "Nope."
June: (crawls over to put his face next to Edward's backside) "Because it smells kind of bad here. I think you farted."
I don't even need to tell you how hard that made me laugh at lunch today, and even though these two didn't understand what the joke was, they giggled along with us with their sweet little faces all lit up. Oh MAN, I think I'm in love again!

So here's a universal fact: kids love cameras. They think you are really cool if you have one and they want to hang out with you. This brings us to the photography portion of the school day, when my Canon got hijacked by rowdy Korean 6 year olds. Here's a photo montage:

practicing their SLR skills in front of the mirror with Miss Amy's older sister ("onni").

lunch, as interpreted by Joon.

Mom ("omma"), as interpreted by Alex.

Checking out some shots of Bolivian kids their age with no idea what they were looking at. Perhaps you have noticed that I look like a bag lady in this photo-- that's because I'd just escaped from the Meysun Beauty Salon, which consisted of two aesthetics-minded boys who ran up to me and said "PLAY?!" only to promptly lead me to the plastic set of salon tools.
Here they are "curling," "drying," and "brushing" my hair and also putting on a full face of makeup with the plastic lipstick. Here's a quandary: how does a 6 year old Korean boy know how to do eyeshadow and eyebrow shaping? Not to mention paint his own nails for real? That's something to think about.

To conclude, an avant garde idea: does this pensive child look like he was born a chopsticks expert? It would appear so.

But closer review proves otherwise. Apparently you can purchase beginner chopsticks, like training wheels for Asian kids, that have little finger holes and spring-lock action. Does it get any cooler than that?!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

en route.

Dear Asia:

Ok! We're on our way, but I want to set up some ground rules before we land on your sesame oil soaked shores so we're all on the same page here.

1. Feed me. I want to roll home as a little ball of happy chubbiness brought on by rice noodles and kimchi. But I don't care how cultural it is, I'm not eating canine, so don't EVEN try to slip it into my pad thai.

2. Keep your sex trafficking away from me. I'm so not joking. Also, I don't want to see more than one girl shoot a ping pong ball out of her hooha (just one, because I've heard too much about it, but no more than that, capisce?).

3. Please don't let me get into a tuk-tuk crash, get malaria at Angkor Wat, robbed in Siem Reap, hit by a tidal wave at any point, or bit by a rabid dog. I forgot to buy travel insurance. Whoopsies!

4. Okay, Cambodia, I've heard some stories about you and I will say this: if you actually have abandoned babies in the streets like they say and if you really leave them lying around in my line of sight, I am really going to need some ideas on how to smuggle them past US Customs in my backpack on the way home. Just saying. Little documentation help, please.

5. If some fluke "accident" happens and there is an incident at the North Korean DMZ, DO NOT SEND BILL CLINTON TO COME GET ME. I know he rescues girls who cross that border from 12 year prison sentences and all, but I'm a little nervous about the jet flight back to the States, if you get my drift. I'll do the hard labor in Pyongyang instead, thanks.

So glad we had this chat, Asia! If you need me, I'll be enjoying the free drinks on KoreanAir and landing a little disoriented in Seoul, so come pick me up in front of the airport. Toodles.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Drew Moore: gentleman, scholar, married man.
On my first day of 4th grade, I got on the bus for my new school after having spent a summer being suuuuuper nervous about being cool. I had friends and boyfriends and I knew where all the classrooms were at my old school, and I really wanted to be awesome at Voyager too. THEN this short punk got on the bus two stops later, made fun of my Blossom hat, and literally did not cease to mock everything I did for nearly twenty years. Not kidding. Luckily, I am a saint with a heart of gold because I withstood the pressure and Drew became one of my oldest and best friends. You know, the kind where you can go a few years without so much as speaking and then pick up exactly where you left off.He's so cocky that he WOULD get married on our nation's birthday, but once we all got over that, we had an awesome mini-reunion of GHHS Class of 2002 where my main take-away lesson was that everyone I know is going through some phase of med school or becoming an ambassador to Serbia while I'm still making butt jokes. However, there was enough love and dancing and sparklers and Hendricks gin to make everyone okay with that, and as it turns out, a 4th of July wedding with some of your favorite people isn't so bad after all.

Monday, July 05, 2010

johnny b. goode.

At nighttime, we used to put on Otis Redding and Chuck Berry and dance and dance with all the windows and doors open in the top floor apartment so the whole neighborhood could see what what it looked like to be joyful.