Filed under: Big Bang, Fotorama, Huarong Home, India Be Trippin', Laos Be Trippin', Nepal Be Trekkin', Operation Engrish Prease, Razorcake Columns
From Razorcake #57, the one with Noam Chomsky on the cover!
The eyes are restless from the fatigue of resting them upon an unmoving landscape. The legs itch, muscles twitching in between the tibia and the upholstered surface it leans against. Its wanderlust simmering and the only cure is to give in, to strap that pack to your back, put one foot in front of the other and let your eyes drink in every dashed yellow line in the middle of the road.
I blame my legs. These non-proportionate stumps that move me around. They loathe when I sit around too much and love it when I push them too hard. Wanderlust is insatiable, and my legs gobble it up. One in front of the other, marching forward because they know no other way. In all my travels, there has been some epic adventuring but I’ve also faced my share of tribulations. Since sharing is caring, I would like to tell ya’lls about some of my low-lights so can you can learn from my own misadventures with these travel tippies.
There’s the obvious:
Pack a pair of flip-flops, as un-punk rock as they may be, will save you from cooties in shared showers and cool your toes when you wanna relax. Don’t worry about bringing a pillowcase for hostel beds, resting your head on one of your t-shirts will save you room in your pack. I always bring issues of Razorcake to read on the road and leave them in hostel lobbies or music shops in places where I know they’ve never seen it. And I never leave without a passport pouch that I tuck into my jeans next to my sweaty crotch cash.
If you’re traveling the People’s Republic of China, don’t buy souveniours that you can buy at your local Chinatown USA (which is most everything). Bargain at every chance, most shop-keepers will give you an opening price that is at least twice of much as it worth, if not more. But know that there’s a fine line between being fair and being brutal, because chances are that if you’re reading this magazine you’re better off than a street vendor in Mui Ne, Vietnam and you spend $3 for a pint of beer all the time so what’s it worth arguing about it with a shop keeper. (Though, hypocritically, some of my proudest shopping moments have been when a shop owner has angrily begrudgingly agreed to sell something to me. [Though, in my defense, living on volunteer salaries in developing countries will drive you batty and make you feel entitled.]) And speaking of monies, always check the big bills you get in return to make sure they’re not counterfeit.
Street food will make you sick, but it’s worth it. Check bottled water caps to be sure it wasn’t shoddily soldered back on after being refilled with dirty tap water. A small squeeze tube of hand sanitizer will ease your mind and you’ll get used to that medicinal smell and start to think it makes your food taste better.
And there are the travel scars that have left me wiser and with a couple good stories to tell:
Laos is the only landlocked country in southeast Asia and is usually forgotten on itineraries. It’s tourism industry is still growing its legs and learning to stand on them and the easiest way to make money is to give the kids what they want, and that’s usually stuff that’ll fuck them up.
Ironically, even though Laos is landlocked, it’s the only country I’ve traveled to where I’ve gone tubin’ down a slow moving river. It’s a lot like basking in the sun with my limbs draped over an inner tube floating along the Sandy River in Portland, except in Vang Vieng there are middle-aged Laotian women squatted on makeshift mini-docks hawking Beer Laos at your lazy drifting body. Naturally, Vang Vieng needs to offer a hearty post-tubing recreational substance abuse.
Every restaurant had a not-so-hidden ‘Special Menu’ that had three mainstays:
Happy Shake with whiskey and fruit
Magic Mushroom Shake or Tea
Then further down the same sheet, scrawled in loose handwriting it offers:
Magic Mushroom Pizza
I especially love how the menu devolves and gets straight to the point at the bottom where it reads:
A bag of weed
A bag of mushrooms
A bag of opium
There’s something beyond sketchy about buying a bag of illegal substances off a menu, so I opted for Magic Mushroom Shake. I could taste the small flecks of mushrooms that had been blended into my banana shake and sat back into the loungey restaurant stall and waited.
The high was weak and gave me a headache. I crawled into my hostel bed and hoped to sleep it away. I felt fine the next morning when I boarded a bus to the capitol city, Vientianne, but was soon burping up a rotten egg smell and knew immediately that traveler’s diarrhea was about to commence.
Our Vientianne hostel felt like a three story building that had been haphazardly converted into a five-storied guesthouse with narrow and steep stairways and wobbly landings. There were only two toilets in the entire building and our room was nearest to the first floor bathroom that housed a toilet without a toilet seat. I had never wished for a squatty toilet so much in my life.
Lesson learned: If you’re going to order off the ‘Special Menu’ make sure a) you don’t have a five-hour un-air conditioned bus ride the next day and b) book a room with its own toilet (and toilet seat).
I am a moderately fit person with very sensitive joints. I was reminded of this on a 45-mile trek through the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal when I wanted to rip out my left knee at the end of the four-day hike. Every step I took during that last morning was painful, it felt something akin to being stabbed in my knee every time I took a step. I started to lag behind and teared up at the thought that I would have to endure it until the sun set again.
Even though all I wanted to do was to curl up into a ball right on that trail, I refrained from collapsing and asked everyone around me if they had Ibuprofen. I must have had about a dozen to get through the day before collapsing in a van and ingesting more sleeping pills to numb all the other parts of my body.
Lesson learned: If I were a smarter person, I’d say that the lesson learned from this trip was to know and understand your physical limitations. But fuck that, because if I let my own physicality limit my movement, I’d go nowhere (have you seen my stumpy legs lately? Instead my lesson learned from this trip was: Pack painkillers. If you neglected to do so, ask everyone you encounter if they have any. Ask directions to the nearest pharmacy, because even if it’s a hole in the wall and looks like a shoddy American swap meet stall—they will have some generic Ibuprofen to numb your pain away.
Hong Kong during peak season is nowhere to be if you don’t have money. Every cheap hostel was booked up and short of sleeping at bus terminals or in neighborhood parks, we had no idea what to do. That’s when desperation went into overdrive and we found ourselves haggling for rooms at places that I’ve lovingly dubbed as ‘hooker hotels.’ These are small rooms that are rented out by the hour, but might sometimes offer a nightly rate with check-in at 10 PM and check-out is sharply at 8:00 AM. It may not seem so bad in hindsight, but when you’re exhausted from working to find a room all day, and when you finally do find one, all you wanna do is to lay in it. Instead, you have to busy yourself and think of all the people who are fucking in it before you can even check in to sleep in it.
When you’re finally laying in your heart-shaped bed, try to ignore the condoms on the counters, the mirror on the ceiling, the stream of 80’s porn on every other television channel and the moaning and hollerin’ of the other patrons. You may also be awakened throughout the night from the ring of the doorbell as, you know, the other rooms are being rented by the hour.
Lesson learned: Even establishments that rent rooms by the hour might offer nightly rates, you should inquire with the management.
I’ve got a few more low-lights that might help ya’ll out, but it’ll have to wait for another time. And to be honest, even the down time during trips can be awesome stories in and of themselves if you handle it right.
And by “handling it right” I mean: always bring a small package of tissue paper, it’ll save you ass literally and metaphorically.
Filed under: Big Bang, DIY Mania, Fotorama, Operation Engrish Prease, PDXcitement, Razorcake Columns, When I Grow Up, WTFlux
From Razorcake #51, which came out in July 2009. This was a column I had written while still in Bangladesh in anticipation of returning home.
A convergence of greed, debt and consumerism—hallmarks of modern-day Americana—has exploded in our collective red, white and blue faces. The economy and us, we’re on a break. Our honeymoon, that flourishing period of my young adult life where jobs were to be had and money was made to be spent (not saved), was gorgeous and felt right. The economy and us felt invincible. We were in love with one another, we indiscriminantly lavished it with our ever-increasing expendable income and it gave us a living wage and encouragement to incure debt, Dang, it was to be.
Until it wasn’t.
Until we realized that the economy is a cruel mistress, that she was being bedded by irresponsible home mortgage lenders. We broke up, and it hasn’t been easy. The economy wants all its stuff back, like all that money it lent you. Or worse yet, it took all the friends you made together, like your job.
* * *
This is what I’m coming home to face: a poor analogy for the collapsed economy. I am conflicted because I am both ecstatic and anxiety-ridden about my return.
Ultimately, I am more stoked than not because having lived the past 18 months in a developing, conservative Muslim country leaves me wanting nothing more than to go home where even the toughest things, like finding gainful employment, seems easier than spending another day in a place where so much of who I am is constantly repressed.
It is with this infinite optimism of a more fruitful life back home in the States that I am reaching out to the Razorcake Readership ™. I need ya’ll to help me find a job.
I’m making a plea to my friends to let me know if they might know someone who might know someone who might want to employ me in the greater Portland, Oregon area. (I might be willing to move, but the job will have to be insanely lucrative and/or involves me being the personal assistant to Joyce Carol Oates or Michael Cera. [Or better yet, a benefactor is always welcomed.])
To help you to help me, I’ve attached my resume. Feel free to photocopy and distribute to anyone who has a payroll.
Objective: Get money. Get paid.
- California State University. Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism with a concentration in Photojournalism. Minor in Women’s Studies.
Accrued debt: $12,800 – Remaining balance: $10,800
Awards & Distinctions:
- Margaret Duff Elementary School Spelling Bee Finalist (1st-3rd Grade Division)
- S.A.N.E. Anti-Drug Use Campaign Poster Winner: A crayon drawing of an aluminum garbage can brimming with stuffed black plastic garbage bags, fish bones, generic pills, packs of cigarettes, empty “XXX” beer bottles with the slogan boldly written above, “Don’t Do Drugs / There Just Trash.” (Yes, I’m aware, wrong “their.” I was a nine-year-old ESL student, cut me some slack.)
- Honor Roll / G.A.T.E. (Gifted and Talented Education) Student / Chronic Asthma / Gigantic Geek
Sunny Cleaners – Quality control robot who slipped plastic bags over freshly-pressed garments. The heat and humidity of working in a dry cleaner was compounded by its location in southern California. I’d end my shift with salt chunks tangled in my hair and a white ring around the neckline of my oversized black MTX Starship t-shirt. My awkward Korean boss, a man who found his wife through an arranged marriage, asked me, in all seriousness, “You don’t have many friends, do you?”
Toys ‘R’ Us – It felt like a rite of passage when an irate customer accosted me on Xmas eve because he was forced to wait in a very long line. I smirked. A Latino goth co-worker tried to gift me a stolen VHS copy of Disney’s Mulan to prove his crush on me. I frowned.
Disneyland – The first job I had with a uniform dress code, but had the benefit of roaming the amusement park after work. But being at Disneyland alone is a sad reminder of our ultimately loneliness. Quit after two weeks.
Insurance Underwriting Firm – Learned to use a foot-pedal operated transcription machine. Typed so much I couldn’t grip a pen. First exposure to cubicles and fluorescent lights. Realized that some people spend all of their middle age here. Terrified.
Wound & Wound Toy Co. – A wind up toy store. I bought Gus the Nunzilla, a wind-up box-shaped nun that waddled about while shooting sparks out of her mouth. My boss was a professional at wearing ape suits in Hollywood films.
2001 – 2002
Ebay PowerSeller – Exhibited initiative and entrepreneurship by shopping. This job was an excuse for me to go to a thrift store every week to buy t-shirts for 99 cents and then resell them for $10. Paid the rent and upheld the American spirit of enterprise
Learning Resource Center Peer Tutor – If you graduated from an American public high school, you are more than likely lacking in the ability to write a cohesive academic paper as you had not been equipped with these skills. In comes your peer tutor—me! How’s it feel to be tutored in English by a non-native English learner?
Screenwriter’s Assistant – The woman I worked for penned two qausi-well-known films, one’s about life from a parrot’s perspective and the other is a fairy tale. I know I signed a confidentiality agreement, but the film she was working on while I was her assistant had to do with competing sportscasters, one of whom was a female-to-male transman. When not taking dictation or transcribing her screenplay, I assisted her in errands and learned about the value of cobblers and affordable groceries at Trader Joe’s.
Los Angeles PBS Station’s New Media Associate – My first grown-up job. Salary, health benefits, rolling office chair. While on the clock: got told to “act my age”, bet on my first NCAA pool, regularly reprimanded for forgetting to turn on my boss’s computer for her, maintained and updated station website through content management system, watered boss’s cacti. Cried three times during first months. Mom suggested that menopause was the reason behind my boss’s cruelty.
Los Angeles PBS Station’s New Media Associate – Became an expert at killing time and subsequently developed an addiction to celebrity gossip blogs and a newfangled social networking website called MySpace. Used my salary to become a card-carrying member of the ACLU, NOW and Planned Parenthood, subsequently resulting in a deluge of junk mail from leftist organizations asking for donations. Began to suffer from acute fluorescent-light poisoning, symptoms of which included malaise and “working for the weekend.” Retired.
High School After-School Tutor – Someone placed at-risk high school kids in my care and nobody got hurt.
Ebay PowerSeller’s Associate – Earned a ridiculous butt-load of money (by my lowly standards) helping a woman sell “vintage” purses. Ladies love bags, and we had sacks full of them. Consumerism is beautiful sometimes.
Green Noise Records – Blasted Reigning Sound, Bent Outta Shape and The Black Lips.
Volunteer Oral English Instructor in Hunan, PRC – Taught 1,450 Chinese adolescent students. Managed to burst into tears in only four classes.
Volunteer Oral English Instructor in Hunan, PRC –
Green Noise Records – Blasted Underground Railroad to Candyland, The Zombies and The Boys.
Dishwasher – Operated the Jackson ES-2000 dishwasher. Operated mop and mobile mop bucket station. Smoked out with head cook and prep cook.
Volunteer Literature Teacher in Chittagong, Bangladesh – Learned that four hours of sleep and insurmountable responsibilities and stress might result in an optical floater which is the degeneration of one’s retina and over degeneration of one’s mental an emotional health. Created an academic literature curriculum geared towards south Asian students. Educated the next batch of female leaders of this region. Superhero.
Volunteer Literature Teacher in Chittagong, Bangladesh – Survived.
American – Unemployed in an non-employing economy.
Sari wrapping, spring roll rolling, free-hand embroidery, block-printing novice, advanced ability to use Photoshop stamp filter,
TV Sitcom: Small Wonder
Running shoes: Brooks Adrenaline GTS
Thing to eat in a bowl: Pho
Xmas present: Long-reach stapler from my youngest brother
Means of sustenance: Employment.
Today’s the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, an event which was broadcasted live through the glow of television sets across the world. And it’s something that isn’t taught in Chinese classes. It’s still hush-hush in China, but Hong Kong refuses to not acknowledge the weight of this day. Sam took a bunch of awesome photos of the memorial:
On a lighter, still Asian, note, you simply must check out this video: The Food. I’ve downloaded and have watched this five-minute clip at least a dozen times. I promise you won’t regret your viewage.
Filed under: China Be Trippin', Fotorama, Operation Engrish Prease, Random Fotorama, Travelzies
This is one of my favorite shots from my time in China and it conveys exactly what I desire at the moment. I’d like to be napping on a tattered lazyboy abandoned on to a anonymous street, neglecting my job and dreaming of better days.
Filed under: Big Bang, Don't Do List, Operation Engrish Prease, Queried, Typy Typy
It’s tragic. The depths in which we abhor our own skin, our bodies, the flesh which we mold from the inside-out. We take tiny metal prongs, press them against our skin to yank out tiny unwanted hairs from our faces. We slather on wide strips of wax, hot glue on flesh, and hope to God that if we rip it away quickly enough the stinging won’t be as severe. Or, like myself, disconcerted with the dark fuzz on my upper lip, fearing that I might out-mustache a future crush, I got my lil stache threaded, pulled out row by row by a woman and a looped piece of thread. It hurt, but I guess it was worth it for all those hordes of men who want some of this. Right? I mean, all of them lined up outside my home and office in Chittagong. That’s who we do it for, isn’t it? Not so much for ourselves, but for those who have to look at us, because their eyes and inherent judgment always means more than we think it would.
Lots of readers stumble upon this blog through various search queries, most of them are totally odd and hilarious. The top query that brings people here as been, obviously, “amy adoyzie.” But disconcertingly enough, two of the top five queries have to do with eyelids, per this post.
It was written almost two years ago when I used to live in Huarong, PRC. As there was nothing much to do in rural China, I’d go to the one-kuai shop (kinda like the 99 cents store) and peruse their various cheap offerings. On this particular day, I went home with a small package of eyelid stickers that Asian folks wear to give the appearance of the much coveted “fold.” To have eyes that belied their chinky selves, to make them look bigger, more western.
Number 2 and 4 of the all time queries that bring folks to my blog are:
All of this from one silly post. It keeps getting more unsettling. Just recently these queries showed up:
super glue eyelid
All over Asia-east, southeast, south-the majority of women share a common cosmetic obsession: white skin. A leftover from colonialism, a result of mass-media brainwashing, steeped in classist socialization about how dark-skin folks are working-class laborers and fair-skin people pop white collars- but ultimately it’s mired in self-hate. It’s the bleaching of one’s skin, the very shell of who we are, blanched until all of our color, our histories, our struggles fade to turn into a homogeneous pale mass/mess. It is too often that I have to remind students, and my own mother, that they are not too dark, that their skin tone is deep with color. That their skin is their skin, that they shouldn’t let a corporation who profits on self-hate tell them otherwise.
I’m equally confounded by the legions of east Asians who want to cut their eyelids. Ones’ eyes, even if they are small and slanted, are said to be the windows to one’s soul. And you want to take a machete to it? Slice it open at the top to ostensibly let in more light?
Don’t you know that the light comes from within?
To whomever stumbled upon my blog with the following query, thanks for allowing me a hopeful moment that we are not always mired in self-hate.
Daniel, my fake Chinese husband, sent me a link to an awesome video uncovering the mysteries of (American) Chinese food:
Reporter Jennifer 8. Lee talks about her hunt for the origins of familiar Chinese-American dishes — exploring the hidden spots where these two cultures have (so tastily) combined to form a new cuisine.
Filed under: China Be Trippin', Fotorama, Operation Engrish Prease, Random Fotorama, Travelzies
Maybe it was fatigue or forgetfulness, but somehow I forgot to blog photos of the time I spent in the Tibetan autonomous region in western Sichuan last summer before returning home from China. Here are my faves:
His English name is Michael Jordan.
We stayed with a nomadic Tibetan family who raised yaks and earned our keep when we (ineptly) helped them herd the animals closer to their yak-hair tent. I was worried as we slept because the baby yaks stayed in the tent with us and I feared that they would trample on top of me!
More: Tibet photo set.
Filed under: Big Bang, Operation Engrish Prease, When I Grow Up, Writing Junk
An open letter to fellow volunteers,
This is a letter for all fellow volunteers who, like myself, grew up in the relative comfort of a developed nation. This is for those of you who decided to forgo the luxuries and little things taken for granted, like 24-hour fast food drive-thrus and democracy, of your native country to fulfill an altruistic quest for the betterment of mankind. This one is to remind us of the privilege we have and the responsibilities that are inextricably attached to it.
But, to be frank, this is mostly so I can vent.
Because even if we all carry the same passports, we don’t carry the same stories. While we work overtime to exercise cultural sensitivity with the people we serve, sometimes we forget to offer that same courtesy to fellow volunteers. That’s why I’m asking (and its not just a personal favor to me because it could help you out) that you may extend your assumed ability to connect cross-culturally with your own colleagues.
Because even if you and I came from the same place geographically, we didn’t leave the same circumstances and history behind.
Because even if our shared home country celebrates diversity and promotes multiculturalism, people of color are still seen as the other back home and abroad.
Because even if you and I were born and raised in the same country, I wonder how often people ask you, “No, where are you really from?”
Now, take a moment, empathize. I know you have this ability, or else you wouldn’t be doing volunteer work, but this time try empathizing with the people with whom you share your offices. This is for future reference, because sometimes we have one those days.
Those days where seemingly nothing goes right, where you lament what you left behind and how there’s nothing to look forward to, where you just need to whine and vent because words are all you have. You have those days, I have those days. We need them.
We need them because they are superficial and hollow refuges where we can let sad and sorry sentences escape us and dissipate into the air the second they are spoken. Somehow letting those words and ideas float into the space of conversation makes us feel better. It’s a simple exercise that hurts no one and puts us at ease.
Give me that moment. Give me a few minutes to exhume this existential crisis that consumes me every now and again, to shed some light on my worth as a volunteer. Let me ask the question, “I wonder how much we make per hour?” Let me do the math and figure it out to be less than $2 an hour. Let me have this fleeting moment of inconsequential self-pity.
I know that I chose this, I wanted this, this was a path that I decided to walk down. I know this. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t have times where I ponder the ramifications of my career choices. Let me have these questions without making me feel like a whiny asshole. Let me have these uncomfortable questions and answers without you, trotting in on your high horse, dismissively saying, “Yeah, but, think about the cost of living.”
Think about the cost of living.
It’s simple to just think of the cost of living when you don’t have to worry about money, while you’re living abroad or after you’ve returned home. It’s easy to think about it because the act of thinking about it doesn’t make you nauseas with worry and you don’t drown in anxiety after realizing that you’re approaching 30-years-old with an empty savings account. It simple to think about the cost of living when you’re not haunted with tens of thousands of dollars of student loans that you had to defer because you’re too poor to pay them back presently. It’s painless to think about the cost of living when the people who brought you into this world do not have an acute awareness about the actual, sincere price of life- having survived a war, having to live through the inhumanity of others, having nothing.
When I think of the cost of living, I think about how disappointed my folks are. How they’ve struggled in working-class purgatory, devoting their lives to our future so that we wouldn’t have to toil in factories or food service industry jobs. How I had it, a firm grasp on the American Dream, an office job where my entry-level salary matched the salary that my father was finally earning after almost 20 years of being a machine operator. How I gave it up.
When I think of the cost of living, I think about how my folks picked a fight with me days before I left for Bangladesh. How they wouldn’t speak to me because they were insulted that I abandoned their dreams, thereby negating what they’ve worked for their entire lives. How it isn’t that my working-class folks don’t believe in altruism, they just can’t afford it because nothing in life is free but for some deranged reason I’ve chosen to work for very little money. How hurtful it must be when your kid insinuates that pay stubs are not the be all and end all of existence and you’ve spent the last 30 years breaking your back for those slips of paper.
You think I ought to consider the cost of living? You don’t think I already have?
Yep, the cost of living in Bangladesh is minimal. I’ve thought about it.
I’ve also thought about the cost I’ve incurred before arriving here, while here and after I leave. That cost is beyond dollars, yuans, takas and exchange rates.
That cost lies deep inside stories of the past that my parents won’t tell me and swells beneath their chests.
I’ve thought about it.