Thursday, November 24, 2011


It’s that time of year again, Thanksgiving. Where Americans take one day out of their lives to stop complaining about everything that’s wrong in their world and concentrate on how lucky they are. I am as guilty as everyone else, fixating on what could be better rather than basking in the fortunes already bestowed on me.

This is now my second Thanksgiving abroad, the first one that I will be spending family-less (last year my brother was living here and we had pho.) and I will of course do the whole “soul searching and figuring out what I am so thankful for”

I’ll fire off the obvious ones, like I always do:

1. My family. I ramble on and on about how amazing they are. I won’t bore you again, but my appreciation for them is immeasurable. While I have always known this, recently, the importance of family has been much more apparent to me. My bonds and desire for proximity have increased. I hate spending the holidays without them.

2. My job. I have one. It may not be what I want to do for the rest of my life but I have a job when so many people don’t. And my job is interesting, unpredictable, it allows me to challenge myself, explore options, and provide a nice life for myself.

3. The people I surround myself with. I have amassed a collection of extraordinary people from every corner of the world…some from childhood and some as recently as last week…all of who inspire and enlighten me on a regular basis simply by being the wonderful and dynamic individuals that they are. I have learned something from every single one of them and I feel so loved and blessed.

4. My life is an adventure. In the past year I’ve been to the US, UK, Thailand (all twice) not to mention my various travels throughout Vietnam, and I have an upcoming trip to Sri Lanka planned. The year before that I was in the US twice, Bali, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, and Singapore. I’d say that’s pretty awesome.

5. My health. Today I found out that a good friend of mines sister was recently paralyzed. What she and her family are going through right now is unimaginable. I got the news while walking to work and all I could think about was how much she’d give to walk again, and I shouldn’t take it for granted. These things we just do, like walking, we don't even think about. But we should, because it's a blessing. For any of you who are long time readers of my blog, you may remember last year when I was diagnosed with psoriasis. I took it pretty hard, mainly, I’m ashamed to admit, for superficial concerns. But the more I read about it, the more I realize it is actually more serious than just aesthetics. While there is no cure, I am grateful that I am in a position to recognize what this is, that I have information and resources to help me manage symptoms when it attacks, and that (so far, knock on wood) my experience with the disease is mild and minimal. I can still walk, see, taste, hear and live.

Another thing I am thankful for is the fact that I have a choice.
Last year, I wrote about realizing that food, water, and shelter were not givens, but actually luxuries… and being able to have a choice is a luxury as well.

Everything I do is a result of a decision that I made. 99% of what happens in my life I have control over. If I don’t like something, I can stop. If I want to move or leave, I can. I am not bound to anything unless, in some way, I choose to be. I can say what I think, do what I want, and be who I am, and I can do this all freely. My world is a world filled with endless options and I take this for granted every single day.

I read the news and watch documentaries and feel outrage and despair when I read about tragedies all over the world, however until very recently, I’ve never stopped to view these against my own life. There are people, millions of people, who in some form, are rendered prisoner. Perhaps not physically behind bars, but in the sense that they don’t have options. Maybe they are from war torn countries, or are into forced labour or prostitution, are being blackmailed, or are just in a position where they are helpless, where they can’t change, where they are completely stuck and have no way out.

In these aforementioned documentaries and articles, we gain awareness of what’s going on. We can list off dozens of world issues we’d like to fix, people we’d like to save. Very rarely do people actually do something. I’m not saying that’s wrong or terrible to go on with our lives, it is difficult to be able to change or fix the world…but what’s not difficult to change and fix is our own perspective. While ingesting all of these horrors from the safety or our sofa, instead of just thinking, “That’s so horrible, those poor people.” We should also take heed of how it applies to us. Mainly that it doesn’t. We were fortunate enough to be born into an existence where these problems are beyond our realm of imagination and we should be eternally grateful for that. We should hear these stories and genuinely cherish how lucky we are.

So this Thanksgiving I am not only going to revel in my #1-5 but I am actually thinking about what it means to have a choice, and I am going to go beyond this holiday season and continue to appreciate what I have. This isn’t to say that I am never going to complain again, that is impossible, but I think it’s important for me to recognize that most of the things I find dissatisfaction with that I actually have some ability to fix or modify. As long as I have that I am better off than so many, and so are you.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crazy Train

In April, my housemate and I decided to have a beach getaway week in Hoi An. Her sister and sisters bf were going and she didn't want to be the third wheel. I was in between jobs and am never one to say no to 1. the beach and 2. fantastic food. The only snag was that we couldn't fly, as her passport was in visa renewal mode. A sub- catch? We weren't going in a sleeper cabin on the 15 hour train ride. No, we were going in the hard, upright seats.

While I am not a fussy traveler in the slightest, I am the first to admit that i like to be comfortable. However, I figured this would be an adventure, and an adventure it was. I am surprised it's taken me so long to write about.

The first thing I noticed was that we were the only foreigners in the cabin. This wasn't all that surprising to me, but to the other travelers we were anomalies. Especially to the two men directly across the aisle from us. The train crew kept coming up and trying to sell us an upgrade to the sleeper cabins. We said no and as the journey progressed into the evening, everything seemed to settle down. We had one women in the row in front of us projectile vomit, but aside from that it was normal.

Around 11pm, all of the lights in the train went out, apart from in our cabin, which strangely stayed glaringly on. Also the AC was blasting to frigid temperatures. However, people, Karen included, naturally drifted into a state of slumber. (Karen's way of beating the light and cold was genius-she put on her hoodie BACKWARDS) So it was at this time that the two men across the aisle decided to make their move...into the aisle.

For those of you who have never been on a train in Vietnam, or southeast Asia for that matter, the aisles are tiny. On par with airplanes. So these men, move into the aisle to play cards. For SEVEN HOURS STRAIGHT. Fine. Not everyone can sleep on trains (case in point yours truly was reading a book and silently cursing Karen)

It wasn't the playing cards that caught my attention, but the events surrounding the 7 hour card game. The complete lack of regard for the fact that it was sleeping time or that there were other people in the cabin at all. First of all-despite the NO SMOKING signs, they began chain smoking. Blowing the smoke in Karen's face as they leaned their arms on her seat (good thing she had the hoodie!) When the cigarette smoking wasn't enough of a thrill, they pulled out one of those long wooden bong type things and started taking hits from it. That was the point I started having a giggling fit. They kept this up, as I said, for seven hours. If someone wanted to pass them, they refused to move, and the person had to climb over them. They also engaged in very loud conversation, and let their mobile phones ring for a solid 20 seconds before answering each call, and then having a loud conversation. At this point Karen is getting this whole grumpy stop waking me up look on her face and I am succumbing to my delirium.

Around 7am, they retired to their seats, and with the game of cards no longer available to entertain them, they moved on to the next obvious form of distraction-the two foreign girls across the aisle. I think it's safe to say that these two men probably have every inch of my face memorized, have probably counted every eyelash and freckle that I have. When I say they were STARING I don't mean, giving us the one over. I mean STARING for, no joke, two hours straight. Even when Karen I looked back, they didn't look away. their expressions didn't even change, they just kept staring. What I couldn't fully understand was what were they looking at? I understand I look different, but why is it necessary to stare for so long? Surely it must get old after a while. It's not like we were doing anything or anything about our face would change. When they got off the train (Hue) they rubbed my arm and waved goodbye. apparently staring for hours and blowing smoke in our face is grounds for kinship.

We decided that the train ride back would be different. That we were going to sleep no matter what was thrown at us. We picked up some fantastic sleep aids at the pharmacy that start with "V" and end with "alium", popped two pills each and fell into a deep and undisturbed slumber, relishing in the fact that diazepam is OTC here. :) The 15 hours passed with ease and before we knew it we were pulling into Hanoi. I conceded to Karen that the train wasn't so bad after-all, I mean this journey was drama free.

As we stood up to collect our bags is when I noticed her. A woman running down the narrow and clogged aisle with her hand over her mouth, cheeks puffed out. In my dazed still under the influenced state, I weakly called out to Karen, "Hey Karen, watch out..." Karen took a step forward at the same time the woman rushing down the aisle could no longer contain her motion sickness, unleashing it all over Karen's leg and foot.

Anyone who knows me, knows that 1. I am a nervous laughter person. If something awkward happens I am in hysterics. and 2. Gross things/bathroom humour sets me off. So this was too much for me, I ran off the train, onto the platform and keeled over...tears streaming from my eyes doubled over in laughter, barely able to breathe. I still laugh over this. The fact that someone vomited all over my friend and that this is almost commonplace in travel here.

While I prefer not to take 15 hour train journeys when i can fly, i have to admit that a plane ride wouldn't have been as entertaining. K and I wouldn't have the memories, the laughter, the vomit. it's one of those things that make living in Asia so special.

Pic: the man across the aisle. I forgot to describe him. he had spiked front hair, with a long mullet. VERY VERY long fingernails. A Confucius mustache and Buddha belly.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Lost Art of Thank You (Notes)

Today I wrote three thank you notes and as I was writing them it dawned on me (not for the first time) how doing such a thing is almost obsolete these days. It's something I don't understand, why people have stopped expressing their gratitude in a formal way in a personal or social setting. I am aware that thank you notes (or emails) are still common in the business world or after an interview, but why don't why apply the same manners to our everyday lives?

I guess we often neglect to consider that despite people doing nice things for us (having us over for dinner, hosting us, giving us a gift, or even just taking us into consideration and engaging in a kind act on our behalf) that they don't actually HAVE to do these things, it's still an act of kindness. If someone takes time out of their time and their lives to make our world a bit better than it seems practically inexcusable to not express gratitude properly.

Growing up, my mother was a drill sergeant about manners. Actually, not even growing up, she still is. We were-and still are expected to behave a certain way. One thing I remember very distinctly is how she got us to write out notes---she made us really appreciate. I was not allowed to touch my Christmas gift or cash a birthday check until a note was written and sealed in an envelope. "You are not," she's insist, "allowed to touch that barbie doll until you have thanked Auntie X for it." As I child, i (obviously) hated it. I thought it was annoying, but somewhere along the line it became second nature for me. I can't NOT write a thank you note now. I obviously don't have to anymore, my mothers not breathing down my neck, nor do I do it because I feel like I have to or that i want to impress someone with my manners. I write them because I genuinely mean it, and because I'm big on appreciation. I, like evreyone, likes to feel appreciated, and in turn when someone does something for me, I want them to know that I their consideration and thoughfulness meant a great deal to me.

My friends sometimes call me and tell me that i make them look bad, by sending these notes to their parents. My ex boyfriend told me that after four years of dating i didn't need to send his parents a note every time they took me out for dinner or I stayed at their house (I still did) I've had people tell me that these notes aren't necessary, but me they are.

I don't know what the purpose of this post really is. I guess when writing these notes I just thought about how easy it was to do. Each note took three minutes to write. Going to the post office for stamps and posting will take five minutes. that's less than 15 minutes out of my day, yet I know despite the small of energy it took me to fulfill this task, that the recipient will feel genuine warmth when they open their mailbox and see that they have an envelope that is not only a NOT a bill, but also let's them know that their kindness isn't overlooked, expected or taken for granted. (Plus my mother still tells me in hushed terse tones when someone fails to thank her properly for something they should've)

Let's spend more time in our lives focusing on the good, the positive, the things that make us smile and the people who are behind it. Maybe you don't have to write thank you notes all the time (it could get ridiculous) but we should be more openly appreciative. After all, it's the little things, right?