Around and About

One of the joys of life overseas are the small things that just don’t quite make sense to my Western eyes. I’m not judging: we live here, and heaven knows that Spanish instructions/signs/etc. in the States are probably horribly misspelled and/or contain terrible gaffes. (I sometimes wonder if people are walking around America, shaking their heads and taking pictures of the ridiculous things we do for blog posts in their home country. Surely, right?) On the other hand, I do wonder how difficult it would be  to ask a random English major or foreigner to spell check before publishing.

Ah, well. Here are some iPhone pics from daily life the last several months. Enjoy!

From an airplane magazine:

Have you ever travellt to the “Douthern Henispgere?”

The tea shop down the street:

Santa gets a Hindi makeover! (And yes, this photo was taken in 2012… Christmas all year round!)

A motel in Thailand:

If you smoke in this hotel room, you are punished by 2,000 baths, not baht. Close, but no cigar. (Sorry, y’all, couldn’t stop myself on that one!)

Tourist shop in a near-by(ish) town:

And, finally, the latest in fine women’s wear. Looking for something out of the ordinary? This, ahem, ensemble, is sure to make you the star of the show wherever you go!

A trip this week to the Old Town in our city:

I’m definitely not getting anything done in a place that specializes in both feet and ears. How on earth did those two things end up in the same spot?

Also snapped in Old Town:

A women’s clothing store. The translation is exactly correct and, although I think the name works in the local language, it’s a bit odd in English.

Part the Second

Life ain’t easy.

It’s a slider followed by a fastball, a change of speed just as we think we’ve got the pitcher’s game plan deciphered. Baseball metaphors, perhaps, aren’t the most succinct way to put it. What I’m trying to say is, none of us knows what comes next. No one can make plans with certainty. In large part, the great happenings of our lives are beyond the pale of our control.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”

(My mother accuses me of such a dreary outlook on life that pessimism is too cheery a word to describe me. Yes, I drift that way–although I’m moored to the sunny shores of optimism by Michael’s ever-fervent belief that all will be well.)

Last week, I traveled in an area that was devastated several years ago by a natural disaster. People died, the parents and children and friends of those whose homes we sat in and whose dinners we ate.

Homes turned to rubble. Stones hurtled down the mountain. Life was never, ever the same.

Sitting on dank and crowded buses, I hear the idle chatter: “at the time, it was this way. But now…”

There was before, and there was after. Years later, in the midst of weekday conversations, life is still divided by one unalterable event.

Does that sound familiar?

I recently heard someone say the great event of his life happened millennia ago. Years ago, in the midst of weekday comings and goings, life was divided by one unalterable event.

There was before, and there was after.

“This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”

We get to live in the after.











“How easily the heart accustoms itself to comforts, and how difficult it is to tear one’s self away from luxuries which have become habitual and, little by little, indispensable.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Mountains

We enter a home through the courtyard and sit around a few pieces of orange-and-ash coals in a metal bowl on a slick concrete floor. The TV is on, a soap opera. The lives of manicured Asian divas seem out of place in this frigid, concrete cell. By the door, a woman holds a sullen baby who is not yet two.  The woman is friendly, almost chatty. She is a college graduate and married into this family. No one says it, but we all think: how did she end up here?

I stick out anywhere I go in this country, but it’s more so here. Stares, not necessarily friendly ones. Later in the afternoon we’ll pile in the back of a silver van and wind up a terrifying mountain road to a small village. Once we arrive, our suspicions are confirmed: we do stand out. “It’s the out-country-people from town!” Curious eyes have already confirmed to the town gossips (i.e. every elderly person who wanders at will in and out of their neighbor’s home) that the foreigners walking around the valley town this afternoon are living in their village tonight. Instant notoriety.

I’m thankful to be here, but it is cold. In the 20s, I think, most of the day and I don’t want to know how cold it gets at night. My friend teaches me a local maxim. Essentially, it says that it is hard for those who have been brought up in comfort to endure  a hard life. She’s right. I hate hate hate the cold and 5 layers doesn’t seem to help me much here. I love to camp but in backpacking you’re always walking, which keeps you warm. Here, it’s meals and talking and sitting and watching TV. Every home has a TV… apparently that’s piped in to bring the common language (and worldview) to every corner of the nation. So we shove our rumps together on tiny benches and hope that sitting shoulder-to-shoulder will keep us warm. One of my friends is from a colder part of the nation and he braves the cold without gloves. Other people get frostbite in his hometown, he says, but for some reason his fingers “have never gotten fat.”


I’m not done yet–more pictures to come–but it’s dinnertime, I’m hungry, and these friends promised us soup if we can make it down soon. Consider it done.

While the ‘Honey Dog’ was eating our couches…

While You Were Out

We recently returned from our travels to a (kind of) intact home and our own amazing beds. I recently heard a speaker say that the journey home is the most prevalent theme in all of world literature (think of The Odyssey) and I definitely understand why. No matter where you go or what you are doing, there is something wonderfully comforting about returning to your very own place. Truly, there’s no place like home.

Last post, I mentioned that during our travels an Asian friend watched Albus for us. Things went OK but I just had to share this awesomely hilarious e-mail we received midway through our travels.


Dear Miechaels,
        Hi!I miss you so much, so does the lovely dog .He is so cute that I couldn’t wait  to take some photos for him.I would like to send them to you as soon as possible.
        He didn’t feel comfortable when I  kept the 暖气  [heater] closed all day long a few days ago . What’s worse,he caught a cold later.So, I had to pay some medicine for him three times per day.Fortunately,I prayede this to God,and the honey dog  got better soon.I am so happy to resee his strongness!It’s amazing!
         He always give me some shocking things in my daily life .He had bite the furniture out of my sight when I just reading in the study!!!I am so sorry about it. I haven’t try my best to restrain his bad behavior .Please forgive dear friends…
          What’s more,I can’t find one of the room keys last afternoon.In a hurry,I told [our mutual friend] and I  have  asked help from [another friend].She gave the key to me after that.

           Really miss you, my friends.        


Believe it or not, I’m headed out again this afternoon: this time, to the countryside for some probable adventures. (See last year’s travels here.) I’m excited but, truthfully, more than a bit reluctant to leave my warm bed, my sweet puppy, and–of course–my husband. Also, a nasty stomach virus has been making the rounds and I’m terrified that I or someone else will succumb in the midst of an overnight bus or some other inconvenient place. Hopefully that won’t happen–updates to come pending my return in a week!