Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Mother in the Manger

The stories have the bright star shining overhead, Baby Jesus gargling happily, and Mary royally beaming at the reverent wise men, angels, shepherds, and coalition of animals.

I wonder what Mary really felt.

Was she simply overwhelmed with emotion for her son, her first?

Did she watch closely, for the miraculous rise and fall of life in each inhalation, and unconsciously check under His nose with her finger when the next breath came a little late?

Did she know how to bathe Him? How to swaddle Him with her blanket by tucking one ear over His right arm and then gently closing the other over His left?

Was she exhausted because she had to entertain wise men and shepherds while waking up every three hours to feed her baby?

Did she feel the wonderful weight of Him in her arms and smell the earthy milk scent that bound Him to her? Was she nervous at His newborn fragility, especially in the large hands of the adoring masses?

Did she laugh when His eyes rolled around, with difficulty focusing on the light, and His lids twitched rapidly in his dreams?

Did she cry just a little bit because He was hers, but also because He was God's - and the world's - and for that there would be wondrous and painful responsibilities for them?

Did she marvel that somehow she had done something so right to be called the chosen vessel? Did she doubt herself at all because she was also aware of her own weaknesses?

Did she feel the full power of her femininity because of her essential role in the Plan, not only as a mother, but also as a role model, a nurturer, a protector, a teacher, and a supporter of the Christ child?

Whenever I watch Chelsea tenderly stroke the mop of black hair on newborn Liana's head, I am sure that Mary must have felt the similar emotional tug of motherhood.

And because of that, Christ was one lucky baby.

Monday, December 24, 2012

From the Mouths of Teenagers

Mom: "So who wants to say the prayer?"

I bent down gingerly and sank to my knees, cradling my sleeping niece on my chest, to join the rest of the family around the futon.

Dad: "Can't wait for it to be your turn."

Me: "You want me to say the prayer?"

Dad: "No, get married and have your own kids. You're a natural."

I shifted my weight slightly.

Cody: "Yeah, how about Jeff?"

Jody: "Who's Jeff?"

Mom: "Oh! Jeff!"

Cody: "You know, the guy who came over for dinner. Sisi never met him. But he could fart the I am a Child of God song with his hands pretty good."

Jody: "Oh! Jeff!"

It's only been a week and my family is already scheming. Their tastes are so . . . reassuring.

This cute, wrinkly little thing.


Cody: Do you know what "Falsetto" means?

Jody: . . .

Cody: You don't even know this word? Man. It means embracing the creation of nature. It's like being an environmentalist. So when somebody says that you have a falsetto voice, he really means that you should become an environmentalist.

Jody: I knew that.

Cody: And do you know what Sacramento means?

Jody: How do you spell it? {While discreetly pulling it up in her online dictionary}

Cody: Sacre. Mento. It's the bridge between good and evil. The Sacrament. Get it?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Props to Great Propaganda

I woke up yesterday and decided that I should spend the weekend in Hong Kong. So I picked the earliest flight the next day and now I find myself sitting at the gate, fiddling with my boarding pass.

The Shanghai Pudong airport is a glass castle, with streaming sunlight and curvy modernist wooden ceilings. The free wifi is fast and free (absolutey worth mentioning it twice in the same sentence). The customs officers are young, thin, and above average looking in their flattering black canvas suits and laced up combat boots. But the most endearing part of it all are the flat screen TVs playing propagandistic vids while unsuspecting travelers with wandering minds line up for customs.

My favorite one is the rousing clip about the pride that overseas Chinese feel in their worn, red Chinese passports. No matter where they are, they pull out their well-loved passports and dream of home. The little book is a constant badge of honor, pushing them onwards so they can come back to the motherland one day and contribute their all.

I've always wondered why they got a passport to leave in the first place if they love home so much.

But then again, propaganda requires a suspension of disbelief, and this one makes me come pretty close.

Monday, December 3, 2012


I am a Twitter neub (@sisimessick) and decided to poke around the world of hashtags and shortened URLs to figure out how to make myself sound unbearably witty/ slightly outrageous/ remotely cool.

Amidst all the fantastic startup articles and NYT news that I got buried under, I stumbled upon #IfWeDate.

The thing is, I think these people are for real . . . which makes me wonder if that's the reason why they are not dating.

I've left out the grossly sexual ones (ugh, men) or the sickly cutesy ones ("#IfWeDate, I will 4eva have butterflies in mah stomach!") below, but curated the ones that seemed to hit "slightly outrageous" out of the park.

 just know you are not the NUMBER one priority in my life. I'm not getting left behind by putting you first.

 its probably going to be in your dreams.

 im not going to cheat on you..Even if you cheat on me. (I will break up with you and date your best friends)

 I'll let you pay for everything! Hahahaha

 you gottah feed me grapes in my mouth like a boss.

 you can't be in love with Justin Bieber, Zac Efron, Cody Simpson, Harry Styles, Channing Tatum, and me. That doesn't work out.

 I want a good morning text 3x a week

 I like my sandwiches without crust.” ☝And triple stacked.

 my enimies are yours and yours are mine

 I'll make sure to... Who am I kidding, here. You're going to go date the douchebag and leave me hanging again.

 we can be like Jack and Sally or if you're black Jay-z and Beyonce. Which means you're out of my league.

Pretty much  just be chill.. I don't like Crazy.. lol.. We'll smoke weed and do whatever!

Sunday, December 2, 2012


There were a lot of pathetic apologies from my end (I wasn't sure what I was supposed to apologize for). There were a lot of swearing and phone smashing from her end.

Around half a year ago, because of a series of miscommunication and misunderstandings, my friendship with a dear friend went up in flames, disintegrating in a very dramatic fashion.

Last week, during Thanksgiving, in between serving my first turkey with its odd patches of skin still barely attached and whipping up a banoffee pie, I felt prompted to call her and tell her how thankful I was for her friendship. She was my first friend when I arrived in China with my college life packed up in 8 suitcases, overwhelmed and underprepared. She was the reason why I could tell my mom that no, I really wasn't lonely, when I spent my birthday sans family and friends a week after moving here.

But eating the turkey did not give me the courage to call her. I wasn't joking about the flames.

Yesterday, while blow drying my damp hair, there was a more insistent tug at my heart to call her that day. I shook my head. Sure, I missed her, but I had moved on and it was best to leave it alone.

Then my mom called. Sisi, you need to check your email. Right now.

A mutual acquaintance, extremely protective of my friend, had felt obligated to write my mom a lengthy, passionate email and ask her to tell me to apologize.

Instantly, hurt, anger, disappointment, incredulousness formed a toxic mix in my heart, churning, wrenching it tighter and tighter, fueled by my feelings of being misjudged and mistreated. My parents spoke love and support to me and advised humility and faith, seeing this as a chance to act on the promptings I had received earlier.

I ate nothing all day, filling my hands with meaningless tasks so they would have yet another excuse to avoid the phone. My pride was equivalent to seven hours of pacing around the house.

Finally, I had to unclench my fist, actively choose to not be offended and recognize that this was the push I needed to call her. She picked up immediately. Hey, it's me. My heart, previously wrung tight and hard, literally softened at her voice. I told her how I was really grateful for her and that I had really missed her. As I started apologizing, more sincere this time because I actually understood more of her own hurt and disappointment from the email, she cut me off.

She had hit rock bottom recently. She really needed a friend. She also felt strongly that she should call me the last two weeks, but was afraid of my indifference. She said that my call had meant more than I would ever understand.

We both cried on the phone while telling the other how amazing she was. An hour later, we were still laughing and reminiscing about my terrible falling-asleep-in-awkward-places habit and her crazy colleague stories.

We both healed on this call. We chose to forgive and so we were forgiven.

All it took was a little unclenching of the fist.

Even the pricks can be beautiful.
Taken in Sahuarita. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cut Me Short

I told a guy friend on skype today that I was thinking of growing out my hair.

Without hesitation or the slightest reservation, he wrote "Hallelujah!"

The types of reactions to my haircut had been endlessly amusing. Especially in a culture that's trained to say "nice haircut,"I loved pushing the guys to obvious discomfort until they blurted out their true feelings about my hair style change.

When J first saw my newly chopped hair in the back of a dark taxi, he smiled really big and couldn't keep his hands off me. He had always had a thing for short hair.

Ben, another friend who hopped on the taxi with J, just stared, with his lower jaw hanging in disbelief. When I prattled on about how it was a sudden decision because I was tired of being stereotyped by my dark wavy hair and I had always wanted to try something new, he cut me short (so punny!) by patting me on the elbow slowly. He once had a girl friend who broke down emotionally after a really bad hair cut so he totally understood what I was going through.

Silence. The meter beeped. J tried to distance himself from that comment by physically shifting to the side of the taxi.

Then Ben attempted a recovery with a mumbled "but hey . . . nice haircut. It's going to grow back out, right?"

Even my boss's six year old little girl had a hard time pretending. When the elevator opened, she was waiting eagerly for me to babysit her. She had a polka dot hairband and a giant grin, which swiftly flopped downwards, when she focused on my hair. What happened to your hair? I cut it. Oh. Yeah. I didn't like mommy's either.

Oddly, it never hurt. For me, it was a small act of growing up, proactively chopping off what other people thought was me simply because I had never done anything else. It was a whim, a "someday I'll . . ." checked off. It made me look older, lending me more credibility with the clients when I pretentiously flipped my hair and said many, many years ago back in college, well you know how it was.

But I'm kind of ready for something new. Go shorter or longer?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Elections

When my family huddled together to watch the first US presidential debate in a hotel room in Cambodia, my younger brother declared somewhere around the Big Bird comment that he would support Romney. I casually asked why.

Across two queen beds, my mom stared me down and warned me not to "sway the hearts of the children." She didn't cut me any fruit that morning.

My typically apolitical mom had turned into an ardent supporter of Romney and a religious follower of CNN campaign coverage during this Mormon moment. My sister and BIL also sermonized on the perils of Obamacare and the economy in our skype calls in hopes of converting me. 

On election night, my Provo friends and I crowded around Thai takeout and the TV, anxiously monitoring the swing states. Some shared touching testimonials about personal experiences with the Romney campaign, others questioned the general binary Mormon sentiment that righteousness or Armageddon would prevail in the elections.

In order to stay amicable, we trusted the camera to keep our ballots secret until the election was called. 

1: A proud no-vote
2. Romney
3. Obama
4. Ron Paul??
5. Wasted vote like Gary Johnson

Amazing diversity.

Shh. My mom still has no idea who I voted for. 

Fast forward a week later when China had its momentous leadership change. The leaders were pretty much lined up a year before, though the upsets and the public ousting of a previously high-ranking Communist official this spring provided some much needed Gingrich-like soap opera.  

Instead of the emotional facebook political rhetoric, China's cyberspace was eerily sterile after more-intense-than-normal censorship sweeps. The Propaganda Ministry flooded the silence of public opinion with revolutionary TV shows (the Japanese and Nationalists died every time), overly enthusiastic slogans of building a harmonious society, and blood red banners that proclaimed the bright future of China.  

The traffic slowed down even more because too many government officials were rushing to important meetings and requiring special road access. My favorite train ticket scalpers were shooed away when the train station instated temporary ID checks. Even my taxi rides were punctuated with the daily radio reading of the resumes of local Communist leaders.

I had to give our favorite Communist member a few days off so he could attend to his party obligations. After work for a week, some of the government employees in our office building banged noisy drums and rehearsed patriotic songs. They were very serious about their flag twirling too.

But even though the actual leadership handover event was broadcasted on giant public TVs and the theme was bombardment, the general sentiment was an indifferent meh.

It sure was a Party though. Just not the popular party. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baby Glow

Some women throw up. Some throw tantrums. Some throw their husbands out.

All in all, what this single girl observes from real life and the media, being pregnant is hard. As in, you're fermenting this bundle of cells and it's the happiest time of your life, but oh-my-gosh you just dissolved into tears because you can't control your emotions or appetite.

Um. Definitely puts a dent in my rosy five kids plan.

But my sister Chelsea defied that stereotype. She was the living cover of all those baby/mother magazines. She radiated the "glow" that many women pined for.

And the second birth in a row, she just laughed through it. Or maybe giggled.

I missed the first birth because I was stuck in a three hour final during my senior year in college. But my family, half way around the world in Shanghai, dialed in and participated in the birth on Skype. According to my mom, who also joked through her labor while holding my dad's hand, Chelsea smiled a toothy grin and said that "giving birth was so easy!"

Well, she had done it again. Two days ago, Chelsea gave birth to another cute little thing and looked like she was just chilling at home when we called in afterward.

7 pounds and 4 ounces.

Apparently the hip new thing was to buy a high-tech cooler space for your baby's fresh umbilical chord just in case medical advances in the future open up possibilities of saving its life with the cells from the chord. Sounded like a fantastic business plan to me.

A few things were clear:

1. Epidural was king. Forget all natural, midwife-induced birthing.

2. I better prepare a bomb joke in the delivery room just to live up to the family tradition.

3. Somehow, babies could pull off being pruny and adorable at the same time.

Welcome, Liana. I'm still helping grandma learn how to pronounce your name.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Alley Cats

We begged. We smiled. We reasoned. We flirted.

We did everything to persuade the gatekeepers to put out their cigarettes and sneak us into Tiger Hill after closing.

In China, where there's a will, there's always a way. And we willed our way in.

Playing host to my brother's mission companion, Shelby.

Tiger Hill at dusk.

The dark finally kicked us out of the park. We prowled around the underbelly of the bridges to the rumbling din of traffic overhead; our conversations of US military presence in Iraq echoing. The pedestrians had all pointed us to the same direction to the tourist lanes, straight down the cobblestone path, but we faltered mid way because we were unsure of all the run down houses with screeching doors that lined our sides. There was so much life, raw and unadorned, in the dinner time TV gatherings, in the butcher's call of end-of-the-day prices, and in the giggling children as they ran out for fresh air once last time before being tucked into bed.

But some lights were not dimming, probably not until late into the night, because the ladies inside were busily sewing beautiful evening gowns for those who would buy them without a second thought, threading through their exhaustion and stitching together hopes and possibilities for the little ones.

We also looked up and paused. While the sun illuminated all to show harsh reality, the moon was kinder, softening the rough edges of the crumbling rooftops, casting warm, rich halos on tired bridges.

Nights like this gave romantics of old more courage to write poetry. I relied on my lenses instead of words.

Guardian lions. I need one of those.
Shelby + Lesley. Best wandering companions.

After traveling to Mexico, Cambodia, and the US in the last month, switching desktops for backpacks or presentation microphones, home -- Suzhou -- still reminds me what catching my breath feels like.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Let's Talk Crap for a Day

As I walked into the office bathroom this morning, the cleaning ayi stormed out. I asked her if everything was ok. She shook her head, dangling those small light weight gold earrings with frustration. Gesticulating wildly with the plunger in her hand, she told me all about the no flushes, the bloody pads, the toilet paper messes and her determined witch hunt for the perpetrator. She had narrowed it down to the media company across from us and had three 'informed guesses.'

I was glad that I didn't know any bathroom jokes, because this would not have been a good time to share them.

She finally got permission from management to post a sign up on the bathroom doors that said "Please use the toilets appropriately." She told me that white collar seemed to respect signs so she would try to deal with this civilly. Glancing at her eager plunger, I didn't want to ask about the uncivilized alternatives.

And this time, it was a targeted campaign. Only our bathroom had the 'appropriate bathroom use' sign. I  checked. The hunt was on and the circle was tightening.

Perhaps it's because I always said hi to the ayis and asked them about their day, but in a most bewildering way, I had been adopted as many of the cleaning ladies' favorite confidante, which meant that they told me way too much about other people's bathroom habits. I now feel awkward talking to a non-hand washer at the cafeteria.


On a separate note, can I just mention that today is World Toilet Day?

2.5 billion people do not have clean toilets, which translates into preventable diseases and the lack of dignity for many. The UN has designated sanitation as a basic human right - and it is within our reach to help guarantee sanitation units for the working poor.

The video below lays out the problem quite well, and here are some suggestions on taking action.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Not Pursued

One unreasonably late night, around two months ago, I sent in my resume for a job to fold clothes.

There were definite pros and cons in this situation.

Pro: Location was in the States, right where J was finishing up school.

Con: I would be folding clothes . . . while avoiding their embarrassingly graphic ads.

I absolutely bombed the interview. I fumbled when asked why I was passionate about working at their store. I was not particularly convincing when I told them that I had always been in love with their, um, skinny jeans, wait no, jeggings line. Skype cut out right when I was attempting to demonstrate how I could look hot while refolding that sweater on the sales rack.

So it was no surprise that I got this email today:

"Thank you for your interest in {company}. It is always great to meet such an enthusiastic candidate who shares our excitement for the {company} brand. 

We are always faced with the difficult challenge of selecting from such a great group of applicants. At this time, we have decided to pursue other candidates. 

We wish you the best of luck in the future and appreciate your continued support of the brand."

I laughed and choked on my yoghurt when I read it. Well, now I could tell my future husband that it's been proven by industry standards that I should not be entrusted with folding clothes. I hope he's all about doing the laundry . . . while looking sexy.

Update: Thank you for your concerns, but no, I'm not really going into retail. It was more of a temporary solution to attempt to live closer to J.

Official countdown begins:

5 hours till the drive to the airport
1 day till a date with J in Provo
2 days till partying in Mexico
3 days till stressing out and cramming for speech
4 days till presentation at G20 and announcement of Financial Inclusion competition winner
5 days till checking off the Pyramid of the Sun from my bucket list

Monday, October 29, 2012


The doctor said that I was way too stressed and that was why my body was freaking out. She nodded sympathetically at my mom and told her that she should make sure that I stayed away from my email and stayed at the malls instead.

I knew it. Retail therapy really was a thing.

I practically salivated over these.
The lighting didn't do this pair of red heels justice. 

My beautiful Chinese shoes. 
Just in case you didn't realize how Asian I really was.

The doctor was spot on. Trying on shoes made me feel so much better.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Face Leader

I shocked my team today. They felt so uncomfortable that none of them could look at me. Because I apologized in public. And Chinese leaders simply did not do that.


My headed pounded cruelly whenever people spoke yesterday. My legs were weak and the brain was slow and muggy. The herbal ginger soups scorched my throat. I overreacted because I got blindsided with a decision that my team made while I was running between cities giving presentations and burying my head in urgent projects. Sales girl didn't want to bother me with a client complaint so she went ahead and coordinated some remedial actions with the product development team.

I probably would have made different logistical decisions and my inner perfectionist radar rang indignantly. I questioned the context and wondered why I was not informed out loud. She hung her head and mumbled that she knew I was swamped and didn't want to add to my plate. I told them to go ahead with the original plan but we would need "discussions" the next day. The team filed out quietly.

Last night, tossing in bed with a heavy head, I faced two choices. One, preserving my own pride. Two, building a true team that would succeed.

Today, when sales girl first appeared on the conference call, she looked a little nervous and overly eager to please. The product team was alert to my every move. They knew that a smack down was totally in my rights as a Chinese leader and they were used to their previous department head who was known for his mood swings.

I cleared my throat with difficulty. I fiddled with the pearl necklace J gave me.

I smiled and apologized for any embarrassment I may have caused anybody. I owned up to the fact that I did not behave in a way that I was proud of and that I sent them conflicting messages. Because I wanted a team that was brave and was willing to make the hard decisions so that we could put customers first. I wanted to be a leader that created the right environment and incentives for them to excel, even when I was not there physically. And I wanted a team that was all about learning from our mistakes and successes and figuring out what we could do to repeat more wins that belonged to all of us.

So I started from admitting my own mistake.

Instead of laying down the law (like I planned yesterday), I gave them pencils, paper, and 3 minutes to brainstorm what principles we as a team wanted to rely on to guide our actions.

Somehow, magic happened. My stereotypically rigid Chinese team members started talking about democracy and grass root innovation. Accountability and transparency. Open communication and over-delivering on our promises to clients. Mutual respect and support.

These were empty slogans that I had been waving around for months because there was no buy in. And now, these same ideas erupted from their own mouths, each competing for the most poetic Chinese phrasing so we could impress the other teams with our literary prowess.

My favorite description? Kung fu descriptors all the way: "Firm lower body posture; Quick punch"(steady foundation of processes, efficient delivery of services).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Spinster Catalogues

You learn a lot about yourself when you're living alone. I wonder if registered spinsters have these self-inventories all the time. Because I do.

I finally realized that I am terrible at mopping.

There's also nobody else I can blame the shedding on. Not even J's "other Asian girlfriend" that I make up. (Apparently, having a girlfriend is a lot like having a dog in terms of the amount of hair that winds up in your man stuff).

I belt out radio tunes when I'm doing laundry, but never in the shower.

Nobody bakes you roommate love cookies just because we have a surplus of butter. Ok. Fine. There is never a surplus of butter in China.

Not thinking about how much clothes you {do not} have on while wandering around your apartment is a such a privilege.

A lot of things wind up unfixed because I've read too many scary things about delivery/ handy men.

I can pass out for four hours on a Sunday afternoon without concerned roommates banging on my door, worried that I will repeat that 23 hour "death nap" I once had after finals.

Don't worry, I'm still far from my raising-60-homeless-cats days.

Because my new roomie is moving in next week!

So excited to call water heater fixer man . . .  in ten days.

The legendary Triumvirate apartment. 
I will be seeing one of these girls in two weeks!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Origin Story

Around a month ago, I whined my way through an application for the Ashoka Changemakers global competition. The topic was Financial Inclusion and the purpose was to find "innovative solutions that make valuable, affordable, secure, and comprehensive financial services accessible to underserved and excluded communities."

Somebody with investor connections forwarded it to us as a hey-interesting-FYI. The CEO asked me to put together something and honestly, I was not pleased. There was end-of-the-month performance reviews I had to give my team, an implementation plan to hammer together, and some clients to close. I bleeded out a 12 page monster talking about our model, uploaded it last minute, and forgot all about it.

Then I got an email two weeks ago.

"Congrats Sisi Messick!

We are delighted to announce that you are one of the 12 semi-finalists of the G2012 Mexico Financial Inclusion: Innovative Solutions for Unlocking Access global competition . . .

In recognition of this honor, you have been invited to attend the G20 Summit in Mexico City on Nov. 2nd and 3rd, 2012."

I rubbed my eyes. What? The G20 Summit? There were around 260 entries around the world and we somehow made it? The President of Mexico and Ministers of Finance will attend? And they invited me?

That's when I realized that I didn't really read the section on the competition prizes.

I didn't even realize that this was a grant, aka there's money involved. Glad they didn't ding me for being so honest with our operational challenges.

Mexico City. 2012. Hasta pronto.


You can read what I wrote here. They hid a lot of the sensitive stuff.

Secret Ballot

Got my absentee ballot today by email. Didn't realize that there was a Constitution Party and a Justice Party. I also didn't realize what mixed feelings Jason Chaffetz inspired in me. I knew virtually nothing about his politics or his record as a current Congressman, but I did know that he sucked at leg wrestling and that he slept in a cot in DC. All the important stuff Stephen Colbert taught me.


As I was writing this post, I glanced at the election date. I realized that I will be back in Utah by Nov 6th to vote in person! Four years ago, I ran and voted, wriggling my toes at the voting booth in my American flag socks. In a few weeks, I will wear my patriotism on my feet and do that wriggle again.

Except, this time, I'm still an undecided voter this late into the game. 

Maybe they are right. I do have commitment issues.

p.s. Weekend in Nanjing with old friends was fantastic. Partying it up for 4 hours at a karaoke was hard for the throat though. Now even my vocal chords are getting old.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

. . . when you're riding a bike with a billowing skirt and all the men walking towards you can't take their eyes off you because a gust of wind just swept through.

The best part of the scene isn't that I might be flashing lots of unsuspecting strangers before breakfast (pretty much every other day given my skirt habits and the weather).

The point is that I can now ride a bike with one hand on the bar and the other holding down my skirt, while dodging fast cars/ bikes because I'm riding against traffic.

 I can now ride a bike. Boom, baby.

When I was 4, I was a high flyer on that tricycle. Then the third wheel came off and I started losing playground races.

When I was 14, I gritted my teeth and rode a bike to conform to the Messick stereotype of athletic, outdoorsy kids and crashed into a horse. A stationary horse hooked to a carriage. My face tasted horse sweat and my shins concrete. I narrowly missed the warm pile of grass green manure.

When I was 21, I promised a boyfriend a romantic day biking around Santa Monica to make up for past whatevers. He yelled at me because I nearly got run over by buses and nearly ran over old ladies. I thought I was already doing pretty good. That was the last time I saw him.

When I was 22, I mentioned casually to a friend that I would be running home to grab something. He tossed me his public bike rental card. Sheer embarrassment forced me to the bike rack. It took me 35 min to bike home when normally it took me 15 min to walk.

But hey. 35 min turned into 25 and then 20. I'm still stuck at 15 min though. Perhaps I just bike slow. Or I just walk really fast.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In Awe

I purposely took out all the exclamation points here because I am at a risk of becoming one of those bloggers who is just so! excited! for! EVERYTHING!!

Disclaimer aside, I am super pumped. Because Mexico City is calling my name in a seductive Hola mi amiga kind of way. And I'm flying there in less than two weeks. More details slash origin story later. 

But in the meantime, I'm salivating over photos of Mexico and thanking God (and CEO) that I'm not paying for the flight. 

When I heard about the Pyramid of the Sun from a good friend back in college, I put it on my bucket list. It is a little worrisome that I'm burning through my bucket list relatively fast, having crossed off Angkor Wat two weeks ago. Either my list isn't lengthy enough (100+) or I'm not destined to live long. 

Sarcasm notwithstanding, I'm genuinely grateful for these opportunities that blow my world apart over and over again. Humbled. Awed. Repeatedly.

Pyramid of the Sun

Monday, October 8, 2012

Going on a Break

Phone off. Lights off. Emotions off.

Buying a random TV show and watching half the season in one go because your remote is out of batteries and you still have a whole box of Ritz crackers to work through is a definite low.

But being so deliberately irresponsible after a crappy day(s) tastes delicious.

And it's not because of all that cream cheese and crumbs on my lips.

Better this than retail therapy. (Thank you China for not allowing online payment on Macs).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Water Children

We hopped onto a tuk tuk and headed down a dusty road, zipping by houses on stilts, to search for the Floating Village. And after driving on a creaky boat for 20 minutes, we found it. True to its name, the people there lived on boats. It was a whole community that bobbed on the calm waters, raising pigs and ducks on buoyant pens, buying dinner ingredients from mobile supermarket canoes, passing Friday nights at the pool table hall, and going to class on school boats.

At the wheels (paddles? motor?)

Home sweet home.

Door to door supermarket. Fruits. Leafy greens. Fish of the Day.

That little boy loved his pink school bag. Flaunt the barbie pride bud.

Oh yeah. They raised crocodiles near their schools as well.

And yep. That's a python. Just playing with the baby.

Don't have a second boat at home?
 Just hop in a GIANT BOWL
 and grab a paddle (and a snake).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


"So what's the difference between Thai and Khmer (Cambodian) massage?" Pausing every two words in her pieced together English, the girl explained to me that Thai massage is strong strong, while Khmer is soft soft. I nodded, eager to see how Chinese massages compared.

I followed the girl up the creaking back stairs, past the storefront posters of ecstatic foreigners in their massage catharsis. She led me to a dimly lit room, with old mattresses lining the peeling walls and tired fans whirling above. It provided the perfect backdrop for my crazy imagination to scream THIS IS HOW TRAFFICKING HAPPENS.

I didn't get a photo of our shop, but it's similar.

Regardless, I dutifully laid face down. Rub. Rub. Rub. I definitely got the Thai right around the lower back region, but grit my teeth and prayed for more Khmer. I felt like those Japanese cows that got rub downs and beers before being sent to the slaughterhouse.

I also never realized how self-conscious I would feel when a stranger giggled and chattered in another language while touching my body. As a passive aggressive response, I mentally recorded the number of acupuncture pressure points that she did not hit. Chinese massage snobbery? Absolutely.

Then she cooed Thai time missy. She put her weight on the back of my thighs with her knees, gathered my arms straight in her hands and leaned back. My torso was hoisted up, chest puffed out, thighs pinned down, arms pulled straight back, forming an unholy triangle like the sail on a wind surf. She sent me around the world by driving my sail far right, down front, up left.

She seemed confused. No crack yet?

So she motioned for me to sit cross-legged and put my palms on the back of my head, in the standard I-just-got-arrested posture. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my bewildered eyes, I saw one of her legs shoot forward, anchoring her foot under my bowed legs, and without warning, threading her arms between mine, jerked me sharp left.

I just died and did not go to heaven. Other maneuvers followed; my back cracked for her beautifully.

On a positive note, I was glad that she did not end up standing on my back like those Thai masseuse do in the movies. I was nervous when I saw bars near the ceiling.

Definitely learned some moves I'll whip out on J the next time he asks for a massage. Can't wait to see his face when I give him the windsurf special.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Office Portraits

Marketing department decided that I would be part of the "Leadership Profile" portion of our company website (still under construction). Of course, I'm her boss, so maybe that's a factor. Definitely one of the funnest part of my job since the promotion four months ago. 

As it turned out, I had a terrible time working the professional look. It's supposedly some sort of serene Mona Lisa smile, mixed in with "I'm such a bomb manager" eyes. 

And, you know your eyes must be really small when other Chinese people told you to keep your eyes open while you were already doing your best to stretch those taunt eyelids beyond their God-given max. 

Caught mid-walk. 

Apparently too much attitude for clients.

I wanted to wear my boots at first. Vetoed by everybody.
Luckily, I keep a healthy shoe storage under my desk.

Flowy dresses are so distracting on a gorgeous windy day.

"Finally!" The photographer says. "One that works."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oh The Places You Will Go!

Recently, I've had a quite a few people who I look up to look at me in the eye and tell me that I'm going places.

They seem so excited about all the good I'm supposedly going to do with my life.

The thing is, while I smile and thank them, I can't help but wonder - is it going to be a good place or a bad place?

I try. Because that's what the scriptures say. Pray. Work hard. Step into the dark. The light will follow. Listen to the spirit. When you don't get an answer, just do it. Did it and everything was telling me to stop doing it. So back to square negative one. Shake off emotional paralysis.  Start from scratch.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The parents are calling. The boyfriend is wondering.

The deciding-your-whole-life-course crisis that seems to hit me once a year is so draining.

What are they seeing in me that I'm not?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Patriotic Mobsters

On Friday, QQ was buzzing with posters that called for mass protests against the Japanese government's purchase of the disputed Diaoyu/ Senkaku Islands.

National fever burned hot. People were urged to bring their own banners and show their love for China. Most of the posters cautioned the masses to "demonstrate logically" - in small print. Instead, the mobs directed their pent up anger at Japanese stores, smashing and looting in many major cities. Rumor has it that many arrested looters sported ostentatious tattoos - signs that local gangsters infiltrated peaceful demonstrations to cause chaos. J bristled when he heard that his dream Lexus, probably a parked car belonging to one of the demonstrators, took literal beatings from incensed crowds. Apparently even some Japanese branded police cars got flipped and destroyed.

Face to face. Police and demonstrators.
On the main street where I typically go for my hot pot fixes.

Stores hung up the proverbial white flag, professing patriotism, or boarding up window displays to plead for clemency from angry mobs.

Jody's favorite Japanese noodle shop, Ajisan, strung up a desperate banner:
 "100% funded by Hong Kong. Same race. Same patriotism."

"Stopped selling Japanese goods. Please forgive us for any inconvenience caused."
- Suning, an electronics store

Yes. This is a tank. Made up of toothpaste boxes. 
The cutout boldly proclaimed that "Diaoyu Islands Belong to China!"
Oh and the box of patriotism that conveniently cleans your teeth
 as well is only sold for 2.8 RMB.
What a steal.

Tomorrow is 918. I expect even more scaled up demonstrations. Over lunch today, I casually mentioned to a colleague that I wanted to observe the protests and take photos. I had missed out last weekend because of girls' camp. He put his chopsticks down and solemnly warned me not to go. Apparently I looked Japanese. And that's not the most popular look right now.

. . . we'll see if I could get work off tomorrow.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

When Girls Grow Up

Just came back from girls' camp where I played camp leader to 60 girls. Jody was there for her first time. I tried not to hover too much, backing off my instinctive older sister slash mother hen role. I cried when she stood up, so confident and strong, sharing her beliefs with the others in front of the glowing camp fire and underneath the sheet of stars. After I had done the same, she reached back, hand seeking mine in the dark, as a show of support, love, and strength. I think that was the first time we've held hands in a long time. 

I went through old files on my hard drive today and was amazed at how much she had grown. Her spirit that shined through each photo hadn't changed a bit though.

(Cody was super cute too. And according to the late night girls' camp gossip, he still is.)

When they were angels

When they were Indians

Those curls kill me

And that smile has killed many mothers at the park.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Raising My Eyebrows, I Will Draw My Sword

One of the guys on my team, Sam, is a Communist Party member in excellent standing. So excellent that we've already had to give him three days off this month to receive an award for being an outstanding Communist youth and to attend a rally. He had apparently joined the Party back in college because it aligned with his "search for the moral, respect for the scientific, and love for the people."He even saved two separate strangers from drowning in a nearby lake on the same night, within 30 feet of each other. Of course, it also helps that he often pays more Party dues than required.

So today is the rally. We haven't heard from him what the distinguished Party has instructed yet, but we have received an enlightening "hand out."

Here's a closer look. I'll try to make it poetic.

Car is made in Japan;
Heart is made in China.
Support the Party;
Recover the Diaoyu Islands;
Rather be a headless ghost,
Than be a spineless man;
If war comes for China and Japan,
I will give up my own life;
My drops of blood will honor the martyrs;
Raising my eyebrows, I will draw the sword.

In case you are not aware, the Diaoyu Islands (or Senkaku Islands in Japanese) are two square miles of land that China and Japan both claim and dispute over. Patriots from both countries periodically sail near the islands and try to challenge the other's presence. The Japanese government has recently agreed to buy three small islands in the Diaoyu Island group from their Japanese owners in an attempt to block the Tokyo governor from buying them to expand nationalistic claims. So while the Japanese gov probably has good intentions, the Chinese objects furiously, saying that Japan has no right to transfer property rights on Chinese soil. The Chinese normally like the Japanese fine, but they are very sensitive to what they imagine to be slights that the Japanese "purposely commit". 

Right after our company got the photo of the handout, the discount development guy muttered three little condemning numbers: jiu yao ba, or 918.

It turned into a low rumble across the office, 9 - 1- 8!  9 - 1 - 8 ! How dare they do this right before September 18th - the shameful day in 1931 when the Japanese military occupied one of their first cities in China with the excuse that the Chinese bombed their railway?

All of a sudden, we're reliving the Japanese occupation of China and gnashing our teeth for the pain our grandparents went through. 

By the end of the working day, my colleagues are calling out for a boycott against Japanese goods. Some wonder out loud if China can single handedly collapse the Japanese economy by not buying any Honda or Sony. Another customer service rep whimpers that she will try not to get any more Hello Kitty in the next month.

I will try to demonstrate sympathetic solidarity and sneakily eat my favorite Hi Chew Japanese candy in the hallway.

Gosh, we should all get awards for being good Chinese at least.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blue Collar Blues

Back at BYU, when I decided to pack up and move to China to work at an American startup that provided micro credit to low income Chinese factory workers, I had a certain image in my head. I was finally going to live the principles I learned in international development class. I was making a difference among the working poor, giving them increased opportunities to build rainy-day safety nets. I was saving the world, sans government job.

For the large part, I felt that way. I had wandered around migrant neighborhoods, winding down the mazes of poorly thatched doors, calendar-papered windows, and tired pipes spouting murky water. I had stumbled upon dimly lit alley kitchens, seeing only the hunched backs of the weathered women and the long, sad shadows they cast on the bundles of vegetables that they had to chop. I had talked to young factory workers who sat in the shade, waiting for an interview at yet another electronics factory while wondering if their lives were meant only for this constant repeat. I often sat at my desk long after work ended, doodling question marks and exclamation marks to see if there was something more we could do.

And yet there were other sides to the sweat shop stereotype.

China's factories stood in shiny industrial parks, with manicured greenery lining concrete roads. Factories were sprawling complexes, rare for a densely packed country, and workers filed through the gates wearing issued uniforms. Workers were keenly aware of their rights and industry standards, annoyingly so even, when they rushed up to the HR to complain about a one cent difference in their paycheck or turned their noses at cafeteria food. They switched their jobs more frequently than girl friends, averaging an average of 4-5 months at a job. They changed phone numbers even more often, dumping one digit for another if there's a 20 RMB discount for a different phone plan (3 USD). Workers made very conscious decisions whether to join an American company (better working conditions but lower pay because of "fair labor practice" that restrict overtime) or a Taiwanese company (crappy environment but you are free to work yourself to death if the money is good). And they were the most reliable and current almanacs on 'confidential' salary and benefits info of different factories. XXX didn't provide moon cakes for Mid-Autmn festival? Boycott! (even though nobody eats them anyways)

But yesterday challenged my perceptions of the blue collar workers even further.

I arrived at the plant of a Fortune 500 client that I had closed recently (yes, I somehow do sales now as well). We were rolling out the micro credit/ blue collar-oriented discounts program and wanted to do some pep talks with the assembly line managers. The early twenty-somethings were fidgeting in their seats, antsy from the previous hour long lecture about retirement savings, by the time we got on stage. They probably only stayed because at a factory with 70% men, those boys were probably starved of a little dressed up female attention. Either way, they were fascinated about our kits and wanted to learn more about our products and services.

My colleague started talking about a mobile app that we were about to launch (contrary to popular belief and according to our market research, around 60% of factory workers have smart phones). She asked how many in the audience had a smart phone.

General smirks.

We all have iPhones. 

Fake ones?

Who buys fake ones anymore, lady?

One factory worker happened to glance in my direction and saw the bubble gum pink second-hand mini-screen phone that I had in my hand. I slid it in my purse self-consciously.

Later, we found out that some of these factory workers also had cars. And apartments. Oh. And iPhones, of course.

The factory had average salary levels. The probable cause for the blue collar 'affluence' was that they were local, so apartments and cars came from their families.

But as I left those heavy gates that day, teetering on my lapis heels, I wondered why somebody else on the other side of the world didn't move over here to try to offer me life-enhancing financial products. I sure could use an iPhone. Good thing the iPhone 5 is being unveiled tomorrow.

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