Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Sounds of Hell

If hell had a sound effect, this would be it.

The moment I stepped out of the dust blaster, a tight compartment riddled with super blow dryers that pummeled your whole body with shots of stale air, I was bombarded by the high pitched wails.

It was an ungodly combination of the cries from a tortured elephant and the screechiness of yellowing nails scratching an old chalkboard. The heavy industrial machines shrieked out their frustrated sounds every five seconds, acting even more animated than the streams of workers loading plastic cups onto the conveyor belts woodenly below.

I tried my best not to cover up my ears (even though we already had ear plugs in), as some of my colleagues have done, because the plant boss was personally showing us around. I rearranged my expression, covering up my wide-eyed surprise with a seemingly relaxed professional smile.

I've been to many many factories and worker dorms and yet this was the first time I was so anxious to get out as soon as politely possible.

The plant boss pointed at the monster machines and explained how the giant rolls of plastic were molded and then shot up the tubes to be plastered with our favorite coffee and fast food brand labels. I watched as my little sister's favorite sundae cup twirled around the machine in a frenzied little dance. The plant was eerily devoid of human noises apart from our heels hitting the concrete floor. None of the workers were talking - everybody had hair nets on and ear plugs in. I wondered how much these workers knew about each other even after standing together, loading, unloading, loading, unloading plastic cups for years on end.

My eyes watered. The air inside the plant was hazy from the machine exhaust because windows had to be sealed to maintain the dust-free environment. My nose also twitched from smelling the burning plastic around the corner.

A line supervisor walked over to us slowly and nodded acknowledgement at the boss. I motioned to his ears and asked him why he was not wearing his ear plugs - I was barely staying sane with the noise. He gestured to the ink mixer behind us. These were his machines, he explained proudly, and he wanted to hear them. Every screech represented production and every wail meant smooth operation. He could decipher a breakdown issue just by hearing the sputtering of the machines. He patted the back of a nearby young man bent over the packaging boxes on our way out and told him to do a recount. He could tell with one glance that there were fewer than the required 300 plastic cups in there. It turned out that he was right.




Sporting the sexy hair net.



This is how we roll in factory towns. Because many plants are
in special export zones where taxis are not allowed to enter, so
we hitch rides on little motorbikes.

There are days like this when I wonder if we can even move the dial a little bit and make some sort of impact on the lives of the factory workers. When I run out of certain factories, gasping for fresh air, I can't imagine how our little apps can possibly make any dent in this overall situation. The plant managers I've met aren't evil, contrary to the easy monster archetypes Western media likes to draw of factory management, in fact, most of them are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to make meaningful improvements while meeting production quotas.

We're all scratching our heads. But sometimes I do see a glimmer of a solution. Sometimes, when we demo our CompanyIQ app to the workers and watch them compete with each other for the right answers in the fire safety manual quiz with intense concentration and loud, easy laughs, I see that we're heading in the right direction. We gamify corporate training so workers who have been eliminated from China's hyper competitive education system because they do not excel in the traditional classroom can continue to learn on their own terms and in a fun and interactive environment.

The promise of accessible education means that they also dare voice their dreams. Two girls shyly came up to me, nervously tugging at their hair nets, and asked if our app could teach them how to use computer programs like Word or Excel so that some day they could also work in an air-conditioned office. Another young man told us that he was convinced he could make it as a line supervisor one day if only he could learn the techniques to speak convincingly in front of a crowd. A middle-aged woman with a round, honest face wanted to know how to be a better mother via the crackling phone lines so she could actually emotionally connect with her little son back home.

I don't think we have it absolutely right right now. Heck, I'm only too painfully aware of all the ways we need to improve our app. But I do know the young man from the cup packaging department who stood up to be applauded by his fellow workers and receive a bottle of shampoo as a prize for getting the best scores on his app training quizzes. He had studied the training materials on the app back in his dorm the night before, he confided to us. He also added, shyly, that nobody had ever clapped for him before. Whenever I think of him and how he tried not to smile too broadly as he was being applauded, I know we must be doing something right.



Friday, December 6, 2013

Chinese Masketeers

Mike and I hunched our shoulders and sped into the tunnel that led to the underground mall to seek refuge from the bitter Beijing cold. I reached out to lift the heavy double-layered insulating curtains that typically hung from most entrances in this city when I suddenly screamed. Something on the other side was panting unnaturally loud. The curtain lifted. Out of the dim tunnel emerged two determined eyes, a pink forehand, and a metallic contraption that shielded almost his entire face.

I was staring at a beanie-wearing Bane.


He really did look like this 
(without the overhead strap).



I think I freaked him out too. He was just another Beijing biker trying to find a warmer shortcut and wheezing heavily through his air filtration mask. He looked at us strangely, as if thinking we were crazy for not strapping on our own respiratory protection. But then again, I don't know if we would have been able to afford the several hundred USD worth of WWII-esque gas mask gear he sported. 

---

Air pollution is so bad in Beijing that BJ is experiencing somewhat of a brain drain because the smarties want to move somewhere where they can actually breathe. We Shanghai/ Suzhou-ers down south have  participated in the pollution frenzy by downloading the ubiquitous air pollution monitoring apps and comparing the daily stats officially released by the American consulate vs Chinese government. Some Chinese nationalists even made a big deal about the Americans purposefully stirring up local discontent by revealing the daily air pollution index. 

Normally it's more like "Woah - look how bad Beijing is today!" and we feel lucky. But today we Southerners are starting to feel the pain. 

We are officially in the HAZARDOUS category. Actually, correction - apparently, we overshot the upward bound and went beyond hazardous. Most apps freaked out and went blank today because they did not know how to classify 500 and above. Friends in my US college town, Provo, flipped when earlier inversion caused the air quality index to register 164 ("unhealthy") - 164 is more like a hallelujah here in Shanghai. We often reminisce about the good ol' days of 164 like that golden period of the magical beanie babies craze that nobody understood. 


The number of air quality index screen shots 
 trounced even that of self-conscious selfies today.


We typically look up at the crotch of the infamous
 "Pants Building" (aka the tallest building in our province
 upon completion) from our office. Above is taken on a
 beautiful summer day. Below is taken today.
Creds to Danica.

The ongoing air situation has bred some fascinating social phenomena. Soccer moms no longer brag all day about their children - now they engage in passive aggressive "whose air filtration mask is better?" comparisons, analyzing in excruciating detail the science behind pollution and mechanics of face masks. And instead of rare medicines or gold-plated busts, Chinese sycophants switched gears and gifted government officials with high end air filters, attached with poems about the importance of health. 

The radio is also full of jokes about the pollution. Here's one: Workers at the post office have been so desperate for clean air that they resorted to popping the bubble wraps on foreign packages and sucking in the fresh "imported" air . . .  until the postmaster sadly pointed out that the bubble wraps were made in China too.



Office portrait a while back. I think this time we were
 donning masks for the bird flu.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

It's a Slaughter World After All

I have a legit neck phobia. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always been convinced that I will be murdered getting pierced through the throat with a javelin. Or hung like a limp doll off a lonely bridge. Or violently choked from behind because I beat somebody at a board game. So that one time, when a stranger kissed me on the neck in the Beijing metro, I freaked out and avoided public transportation for a week.

Ever since I started dating in college, I've gotten a lot better. As in, I don't flinch as noticeably when other people's hands hover dangerously close to my vulnerable zone. And I don't end up subconsciously slapping the boy who accidentally touched my neck because he was trying to be flirtatious.

Last weekend, I decided to overcome my fear once and for all by doing something that I had always imagined being done to me. It's sort of like getting somebody who was deathly afraid of heights to jump off an air plane. I was going to slaughter an animal by slitting its throat.

A bunch of us drove out to a turkey farm in Changshu to pick out our Thanksgiving bird. My mom asked me to bring one home so I was determined to take care of the turkey myself to feed my family. I was finally shedding my city girl skin and living a rustic vision of Little House on the Prairie.

As the cityscape faded into the lush patches of oversized leafy greens, I started feeling nauseated. I hunched my shoulders and retreated into my maroon hoodie - especially picked out to camouflage the blood I would inevitably get splashed all over myself - and fingered my swiss pocket knife. Would I be able to do a clean slit and spare unnecessary pain? Would the turkey, in its full ugliness, peck at my throat in retaliation? Can swiss army knives actually cut things other than fruit?

My first mistake was looking at him straight in the eyes. They were oddly intelligent and hauntingly dignified. Second mistake? Naming him Turk.


Getting a photoshoot with Turk.


Somehow Miles still manages to look good when
 caught mid-moment holding a turkey.


Turk

The farmer weighed our turkeys and I felt oddly proud that Turk was one of the largest at nine jing (roughly 5 pounds). He stuffed Turk and his buddies into a fertilizer bag and threw them into the back of the van. We drove to the slaughterhouse, chatting with the farmer about his new plans to start an orchard and listening to the turkeys nervously shifting in the trunk.

The lady at the slaughterhouse was really tickled to see so many foreigners. She started showing off her techniques and waved over other ladies nearby to help out with the turkeys. I clutched my pocket knife more tightly, unsure when it was my/ Turk's turn. The lady laughed and flicked her long hair back. She had another woman hold a squirming turkey, and she pressed the head down and starting snipping the throbbing neck vein with a pair of scissors. The turkey did a death thrash while its little heart beat faster and faster, pumping out the rest of its life. The lady swirled her little pinkie in the tin bowl she placed underneath the turkey to fish out any feathers in the blood (to sell for blood pudding later).

video

Watch this video and prepare a barf bag.

One of my friends jumped up next for an opportunity to wield the scissors. She hacked away with reckless abandon and lustful determination. She later explained to me that a boy had arranged for her to kill a duck for her birthday last year so she was experienced. Another twelve year-old little boy volunteered. By that point, the pair of dull scissors was slick with blood and didn't open and close very well so he ended up just jabbing at his turkey. The poor turkey cried.

I had come expecting to overcome my fear - but instead, I now have an additional nightmare scenario to add to my repertoire of death by throat scenes. I've never considered how scary scissors were before.


Slaughter lady at her finest. 
She had to steam it first to defeather it.


RIP Turk.


I had to snap his legs off. Utterly traumatized.

Btw - terrible blog post title, I know. I was playing a board game with the younger siblings tonight and the instruction manual came with ads for other board games. One of the advertised games had a slogan "It's a Slaughter World After All" . . . they ought to pay somebody professional to come up with a better one.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When They Call Me Well Endowed

The best thing about expanding the team is that we're getting a whole new crew of awesome people with even better names. I've mentioned the previous crop of eyebrow-raising names when I first arrived in China. But our new team is giving the Cinderella, Elvis, and Hawk of yesteryears a run for their holy-crap-how-did-you-pick-that-name money.

Introducing the new lineup:

First, there's our bubbly over-the-top foodie who doubled as our course developer by day. In our first standup team meeting when we're all doing self-introductions, she looked at me dead pan in the eye and said "Smile." I did, awkwardly. Then I realized that she wasn't commanding me to smile - that's her name. Smile. Her last name was Li. So she's Smile Li (read it) and then she later switched to Smiley Li because she wanted a singalong three syllable.

One of the new QA engineers shyly introduced herself to me as Nemo. I welcomed her and mentioned that we'd had another Nemo before and asked if she really liked the movie. She looked startled for a minute and shook her head slowly as if surprised that my English was so bad - "No, no. My name is nee-mon. You know, the fruit." Ah. Lemon. Too bad that Apple had left us already, otherwise we could have a fruit salad party.

Out of the blue, we also hired two app developers who were called Seven and Cywen, but both pronounced them like the number. They were going to do a stone paper scissors for the rights, when Seven told us that his name reminded him of his first love because he used to hang out in his ex-girlfriend's college dorm of six girls all day long and got tagged as the seventh. Cywen just deflated after that and settled for a life of being called Max. We were all disappointed he didn't pick Eleven, but certainly glad that he passed on Six because he always said sex instead.

I won't even mention Coco (guy), Afra (girl), and Hello Kitty (asexual?). Ok, well Hello Kitty was really an American intern called Katie but the staff just thought it's hilarious and so Japanese hip to call her a cartoon instead.

Then in walked a girl who sweetly whispered on her first day that her name was Sissi.

I spent my entire childhood glaring at people who pronounced my name "Sis - see". I even ran a high school student body president campaign on the slogan "Sisi not a Sissy." But, even though HR had called to persuade new girl to give up her name because there's already another Sisi around, she still showed up, utterly unrepentant. So now it's Big S and Small S. I'm technically Big S and she's Small S even though we're the same size and I'm younger. But I'm going to put a stop to that too because sometimes the local Chinese staff slip and say "Big Ass" instead.

Good thing that was never my nick name in high school. I wouldn't have known how to work that one into a pep rally slogan.


Nothing to do with names but this is a shirt
 I regularly see at the office. 
Caption: "THE MAN: The employees walked
around in jeans and sweaters."
Now that's how you show attitude around here. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Give Said the Little Stream

In between Shanghai and Provo

"Happy birthday!!!" we sang into the phone, shrieking out our last off key note for maximum thematic flair.

My brother Casey squinted at the camera through his half sleepy eyes.

Then I spotted the all familiar Y banners floating in the background. "Wait. Are you on campus already at 8 am . . . on your birthday?"

"Yeah."

"So what fancy plans do you have for your big day?"

"Umm. Well I'm building houses today. It'll probably take the whole day, but maybe if I'm done early then I'll go hang out with some friends."

"Build houses? You know these people?"

"Nah. I just signed up to volunteer."

"But . . . it's your birthday! Why choose this day out of all days to volunteer?" I wailed while fiddling with the phone to make sure I heard him correctly.

"Well, I can't think of anything better else to do than helping other people on my birthday."

The reception faded in and out and his voice crackled. "Ok. Love you! I've got to go."


Girls, those dramatically coursing veins aren't photoshopped.
-----

Palawan, Philippines

They flashed their thousand watt smiles at us, volleying question after question about where we're from, what we loved about Philippines, and what our boyfriends looked like.

The three girls giggled non stop, covering their mouths in moments of barely contained teenage excitement and self-consciousness. Their eyes widened when I mentioned that I happened to be the president of our church Young Women group back in China.  They wanted to know what church activities we did and whether we made dumplings all day long.

A church leader got up on the pulpit and cleared his throat. I signaled that we should stop chatting and concentrate on the speaker.

After ten minutes, the girls on my row started fiddling. The three of them unzipped their mini purses and emptied them out on the bench, sifting through lip balms, hand mirrors, and forgotten mints. Kids will be kids. I thought, smiling inside, sitting more upright to show how real adults stay reverent during the Sacrament.

The girl with the long silky hair tugged at my elbow. She cupped her hands, as if protecting an injured little bird, and hovered over my open palms.

"Sorry, this is the only thing we have." She dipped her head apologetically and deposited her hidden gift in my hands. It was a mangy candy land pink teddy bear keychain. The fur was slightly caked with suspicious stains and the rust on the keychain indicated its love worn status.

I knitted my eyebrows in obvious confusion. "For me?"

She nodded enthusiastically and leaned in and whispered, "We want you to remember us. Tell the girls in China that we said hi. And let them know that there are other girls in Philippines who also like going to church as much as they do."

I swallowed. The other two girls peeked behind in the first and nodded their joint excitement at the gift. I turned back to the speaker, simply overwhelmed.


----

Vatican City

The crowds spilled out of the Vatican City, running mindlessly towards the first shelter in sight. The storm clouds that had hung threateningly all morning finally made good on their promise and poured down vengeance on those unprepared with sturdy umbrellas.

So we started running too. We ran past the guards dressed in anachronistic courtly uniforms, tripped on centuries old cobblestones, and jetted across the large square where the Pope makes his official addresses. The crowds streamed past the crooked old gypsy woman who tried to lift her head to make eye contact while feebly holding her hand out for a spare coin.

I had checked my purse before I reached her and was disappointed that I had only Chinese money. My mom always reminded us to bring a few extra coins for the needy but I was simply out of Euros. Apologetically, I avoided her gaze and rushed past. After reaching a dry spot, I looked around for my little brother, Cody. I anxiously scanned the crowds and saw him standing out there in the rain, hesitating. He had seen her too. He stuck his hand into one pocket. Nothing. Another pocket. Spare gum. Some burly guy ran past Cody, knocking into his left shoulder, and shot the gypsy a disgusted look. Cody walked over to the old woman, bent down slightly, and held out his umbrella. He nodded briefly at her to let her know it was ok, threw on his hood, and sprinted for the columns where I stood watching.

All around, hundreds of Christians who had just glimpsed in awe God and Adam's near touch at the Sistine Chapel ran past, barely noticing the huddled figure and her new umbrella near the fire hydrant.


Lining up for the Vatican City

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

One Schilling and Noe More

I picked him because his last name was Bragg. He sounded kind of gangster even though he'd been dead for more than 250 years and he was a white plantation owner from Virginia.

More specifically, he's Joseph Bragg*, alive for a full century from 1647-1747. Bragg finally got rich/desirable enough to leave behind bachelorhood when he was 42 by marrying Mary Tapp, who was just a blushing 19 year old. Despite actuarial odds, he outlived his wife by 16 years. 


This is how I imagined their wedding day.

I was doing family history research for a Church Youth activity and pulled up the family tree that my grandma from my dad's side had lovingly created. We Mormons are obsessed with tracing our ancestry and have a forest worth of family trees because we believe that families are connected forever. So I sat cross-legged on the floor, zoomed in and out throughout the centuries of our family tree and clicked at random census files of my ancestors just to look like I was doing serious genealogical research.

One kid yelled out that according to her genealogy chart she was actually some distant descendent of the King of Franks (a fairytale kingdom as far as I'm concerned but a real person according to Wiki). Huh. I figured that I would google my guy as well just to see if any living Braggs out there work in the rap music industry and sport oversized bling.

And Holy King of Franks, he's online. As in my Joseph Bragg is online.

I looked through quite a few sources, which all differed slightly on dates, to start piecing together his spunky/controlling personality and contentious family life. He owned at least 500 acres of land, five "negroes," and a tobacco plantation. He did not go to Church and was called to court for it. 

"On July 7, 1715 at Richmond County, Virginia, it was noted in the court records; "Joseph Bragg of North Farmingham Parish being summoned to answer the presentment of the Grand Jury against him for not going to Church for two months, but not appearing when called. It is ordered that he be fined one hundred pounds of tobacco and that he pay the same to the church wardens of the said parish with costs."

Yeah. Back then, they fined you tobacco for not going to Church. The Catholics should try that sometime.



I also found his will. What a gem. He probably scrunched up his wrinkly old face and gleefully penned his last words to spite some of his kids. 

"Joseph Bragg Sr [9648] left a will on January 26, 1746 at Lunenberg Parish, Richmond County, Virginia. "In the name of God Amen I Joseph Bragg Sr of Lunenberg Parish in the County of Richmond being very sick and weak but of perfect sence and memory thanks be to God for the same do make and ordain this to be my Will and Testament in the manner and from the following: that is to say first and principally I bequeath my soul to God and that gave it my body to the earth to be decently buried in a christianlike manner at the descretion of my Executor hereafter named.'

A. I give and bequeath to my son Joseph Bragg my negro girl named Mariah to him and his heirs forever with her increase only the first child of the of the said nego girl shall have that lives to be two years old it is my will and desire my young son Joseph shall have delivered to him at the age of twenty years or without lawful heirs to my son Newman Bragg and his heirs.

B. I give and it is my desire that my son Monroe Bragg shall have the plantationtha he now lives on. Together with my negroe girl Hannah to him and the lawful heirs of his body begotten and if in case this my son dye before he should without such heirs of his body to fall to my son John Bragg and his heirs.

C. I give to my daughter Elizabeth A Bragg on cow and calf.

D. I give and bequeath to my daughter Catherine Bragg one Schilling and noe more.

E. It is my will and desire that my two sons Moore and Newman Bragg should have three years schooling out of my personal estate.

F. If please to God my negro wench Whinney should have anouther child after __________

This will was probated May 4, 1747 (Ref: John Emmett Suttle, 13462 Photo Drive, Woodbridge, Virginia 22193) (Family Search)"

One schilling and noe more. John even left his daughter a pathetic momento to remind her of him. Classic.

----

Want to learn more about your own mean-spirited ancestors and figure out where that crazy streak in you comes from?

Just head over to www.familysearch.org for a free and super cool way to search for and create your own family tree now!



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Building a Rocket

Tonight, I feel 24.

Curled up in a hotel room in Shen Zhen, soaking up the alone time when my colleagues are out scavenging for dinner, I feel too young. Too young to be powering through on a Saturday night, trying to figure out what is the bottleneck in our implementation process (and realize that maybe I'm the biggest bottleneck of all). Too inexperienced to be leading a metastasizing team with people all older than me and be somebody's boss's boss. Too weak to really do all the things I scribble down in my journal.

I'm not burned out. Because that was this summer. This time is different - I still keep moving. Meeting after meeting. Email after email. Weekend after weekend. I am slowing down though and it's painful and shameful to hear the screechiness of my own engine.

Maybe I'm just tired. But I can't sleep at night because I keep hearing our app background music play on a loop, taunting me, accusing me of sleeping so early.

We used to joke around and say that when we sign up company X, then we know we've got it made. Well, on our trip to America last month, we did just that. This is the deal that starts the snowball rolling, the momentum that will push us to the tipping point and to profitability. This is the beginning of the future of our startup.

But nobody ever tells you that the tipping point is scary as hell.

I feel like we're building a rocket after it's already left the launchpad, hoping we will not run out of fuel, find out our astronaut is crappy, or realize that the market actually wants a submarine. And somehow, somewhere, somebody thinks that I can be trusted to figure out how to build several rockets at the same time. 

To do list tomorrow: Change that background music.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Reexamining Evelyn

I was raised by Filipino women. So for me going to the Philippines was like getting off the steam boat and arriving in an ancestral homeland that you had only ever heard about. Except Andrea and I had stepped off a budget airline and booked ourselves onto an eight hour bus ride across the Pilipino countryside to unplug in a little fishing town called El Nido. We wandered around a lot, got lost in curio shops and avoided chickens on our bicycles.

Street snacks like Chippy (chips) or polveron (crumbly cake) made me feel like a happy little kid again, who was rewarded for finally putting my school shoes on without a tantrum or for keeping my mouth shut/ stuffed when I watched cartoon as Evelyn, our maid, talked future plans with her fiancee on the phone. She annoyed me with her incessant stories of sunshine and happy endings. I tried to explain to her in my six year old bossy tone that she needed to stop pouring sugar over every story twist when we played pretend. Life was more like scolding nuns, school rankings and custody battles. I hated her stories because they were so naive but somehow she was hurt when I didn't buy them. Like that story about the cashew nut tree and how the nuts ended up growing hung upside down outside their protective fruit because they complained so much. Or how you should always be smiling in case the wind changed all of a sudden and your expression froze like that the rest of your life. She really believed the one story about how the more you counted your freckles, the more you would get them. She always applied face creams to "whiten" her freckles. As a weapon of last resort, I terrorized her by loudly counting her freckles when she made me take baths at night.

In a weird way, she did seem to get more freckles after each count. After I noticed that trend, I also started practicing my "wind-changing" face when she wasn't looking. Sometimes penitent, I hugged her and assured her that she was the most beautiful out of all the maids in the park because she was my Evelyn.

I figured out why she thought us playing marbles was the solution to everything. On our frequent walks back to the hostel from the bakery, Andrea and I often saw giggling filipino kids squatting outside their slated tin huts flicking marbles for hours, always narrowly missing their prized fighting roosters who looked at them indignantly from their wooden poles. I could wax philosophical about how happiness was simple there, or rather, simplicity was happiness but that would be understating what dodging torrential rains in the Philippines or laughing with our local hosts did for me in reexamining Evelyn.

I wonder if Evelyn was excited to be in a big cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong and whether she welcomed the wafts of cool air conditioning to the sticky heat in her village. She was probably lonely, so far away from her large family, and a little irrational with her love for her fiancee. She constantly verged between reading me lines from her love letters she was about to send (to help me with my English) and ranting about how men were unreliable because they just gambled away your nest egg money. Her fiancee was at once the most talented prince and the laziest artist. She peddled his drawings during Sundays after church to fellow Filipinos. My impression of him was slick hair and an exaggerated Minnie Mouse card he drew me once for my birthday. She never ended up marrying him. She never ended up married at all.

Honestly, I had never really considered Evelyn as a separate entity from me. In my selfish little six year old world, Evelyn was the nucleus of my life, there to make me happy. But I was unhappy a lot. So I chalked it up to her stories not being good enough, to her not letting me stay up late to watch TV, to her not being able to learn Cantonese as fast as I could teach her. She wasn't able to magic away my parents' divorce so I exacted revenge by being as difficult as I possibly could. But somehow her optimism was indefatigable and the stories about fishing and nuts and marbles kept coming. She really was trying to teach me to be happy and more trusting.

I fancied that whenever I turned a corner on the streets in El Nido, I would somehow bump into Evelyn selling bread or her fantastic deep fried banana fritters. Maybe she did eventually find her prince and build her dream house. Then I could finally show her what "wind-changing" face I had decided on. I think that would really make her throw her head back and laugh.


Evelyn used to make the best fried chicken in town. 


Somehow these kids were always so happy. Even when one
of their balls fell into the water.


Chickens roamed free everywhere.


A stereotypical Filipino hut. 
Wooden fences, tin roofs, and banana leaves walls.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Finding Nemo in Phillippines

We stood in our adolescent awkwardness, self-consciously tugging at our cling film-esque navy school swimming suits, while waiting for our PE teacher to sound the call for class to start.

It was second period of seventh grade and also my first day at a new school.

The boys and the girls naturally segregated themselves on opposite ends of the benches. Boys pushed each other around, testing out their new gained muscles from the summer, while the girls showed off  their haircuts or friendship bracelets from camp.

Mr Lant, who constantly reminded me of a sleek greyhound that would nip at your ankles if you slowed down, walked in with his clip board and barked out the training itinerary. After surveying the row of nervous fresh meat with his piercing blue eyes, he paused in my direction. "Welcome," he looked down at his clipboard, "Class, it seems that we have another Messick with us."

All little heads bobbed acknowledgement at me. "Glad to have another superstar athlete at this school. We love 'em Messicks. Ok, kids. Jump in the pool quickly and do your laps. And if you guys finish fast, then we're going to have an epic showdown between Casey and Sisi! Who do you think will win?"

The kids bounced off the bleachers and yelled out their allegiance as they splashed into the pool. "Casey! Casey!" "Sisi! Sisi!"

I waddled over to Mr Lant and tugged at his shirt.

"Mr Lant," I mumbled, "I don't know how to swim."

"What? What do you mean you can't swim? You have your period or something?"

". . . No. I just mean that I can't swim."

"You're just nervous about the race with your brother later. Jump in the pool."

Desperately, I splashed into the pool like a baby penguin diving off the iceberg and landing straight into the mouth of a polar bear. He watched me for a few seconds, then swearing in surprise, pulled me out and directed me to the handicap lane.

And there I stayed throughout high school.

-----

But the thing was I did learn how to swim.

And every time I travel to a new place and snap on my snorkeling mask, I think of Mr Lant. Sometimes, still self-consciously checking my strokes, but mostly, just grateful that I didn't fake periods to get out of PE like all the other girls because I actually liked Mr Lant belting out the "A sailor went to Si-si-si" nursery songs and giving me the "Best Attitude" awards while I huffed and puffed in PE.

I thought of Mr Lant a lot when Andrea and I went on our spontaneous girls' trip to Philippines in July.


Nothing beats swimming in warm waters, staring down 
at fish that ignore you because they are too busy
chasing each other among the corals.


From the right angle, corals look like magical snow cones.
From a different angle, they look like your worst vegetable nightmare.
Either way, it's hauntingly beautiful.


Swimming with the cast of Finding Nemo - well all except
for the dentist and the sharks. 


We kayaked around caves, looked for swallows that flew down
and attacked you, and claimed empty stretches of
beach as our own. We covered up in floppy hats because
an Irish boy at our hostel got burned and stayed brick red the
entire time we were there.


Rings of blue. Yeah, this was really the color of
the water. No filter. Just pure amazement.


I got lots of awkward board shorts tan lines,
which refuse to go away even now.


We always managed to stow away our kayaks away
just in time before a huge storm rolled in.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Telling Stories

I come from a heritage of storytellers.

My waipo captured hearts and rallied the morale of many Chinese soldiers fighting in the Korean War as night after night she starred in White Hair Girl, an epic Communist opera, and belted out the woes of the village girl who suffered at the hands of incredibly evil and fat landlords. Many years later, she still told the best war stories, with sound effects and all.

My mom's brand of nighttime stories steered clear of overt propaganda. Instead, she melded Kung Fu + musketeer + Book of Mormon heroes and made them fight each other for the love of a stubborn aristocrat who dressed as a beggar.

Where my waipo and mom can whip a mystical story up from thin air, I can only tell my own.

I hoard my stories like a jealous little squirrel hiding away its nuts. I wait for the perfect time to tell it so I can see people's expressions, that moment when their eyes open wider in surprise or when they toss their heads back and laugh out loud. So I'm torn when it comes to blogging. When I write stories down, I feel like I've somehow given away that moment of engaging with others and that I can't tell it in person anymore because they've "read it somewhere."

As a result, my list of "To blog" stories grows longer and lonelier.

When I read the afterword from The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly (I always read the afterword because it is so important to know the person behind the book), I stopped upon this line - "While writing The Lizard Cage, I came to understand that the most useful thing I could do as a writer was contribute to the history of kindness."

Wow. What self-awareness. What a beautiful mission.

Last week, a speaker in Church also admonished that we should tell our stories loud and often, because in a country like China where we can't proselyte among locals, we can still share the core principles that guide our lives through stories that touch people's hearts.

I have a nagging feeling that I've neglected to tell many stories - not necessarily the silly-cute trivialities or the glossed over travelogues, but the important ones, like the heart aching but character strengthening experiences from the summer or the faith-building realizations from hours of study.

So . . . who's up for a story (or a bajillion)?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

No Japanese Allowed

For a client lunch recently, I was led to a themed restaurant in a chic part of downtown Shen Zhen. The restaurant Da Lang Wo (Big Wolf Lair) was a confusing mix of neanderthal caves with animal wall etchings, displays of super-nationalism, and the occasional nod to wolves.

Outside the cave entrance hung, non-apologetically, a bold sign that read "No Japanese allowed." I was caught between feeling offended for the entire Japanese race, appalled at the blatant discrimination, ashamed at such exclusive nationalism, secretly relieved that I was welcome, and anxious that they were going to kick me out because many Chinese people thought I looked Japanese. 

I kept up a constant stream of Mandarin monologue in front of the waitress to prove that I was somehow more Chinese than I came across. I threw out as many slangs as I knew, but not too many so that I stuck out like a conspicuous Chinese-learner. 


Cave drawings and stick monuments.


"Our store does not use Japanese goods."


"No Japanese allowed."


Handwritten notices and newspapers reminding customers
of the Rape of Nanjing, when Japanese soldiers committed
an unspeakable number of crimes during a three month 
occupation of a Chinese city.


While the round moon (baked naan bread) and the wolves' prey pot (lamb stew) tasted delicious, it definitely felt weird eating at a place where others were not allowed simply because of their race or national history. It smacked of the civil rights era that I had read about in high school textbooks, where African Americans were routinely denied entrance into certain public areas. It felt wrong, but yet others around me laughed about it, took photos of it with their bejeweled Japanese phones, and pumped their fists in the air proclaiming their sudden bursts of China pride. And while I didn't join in, I certainly tried to fit in. And that's really what bothered me the most. 


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

72 Hours of a Startup

Day One

We sat around in bean bag circles, sort of like a benign underground brotherhood of nerds, and volleyed questions back and forth on the next steps of gamifying our apps. We argued passionately for elements that should be in there, weighed it carefully against our actual IT development capacity, and sketched out/ erased/ redrew UI designs on our glass walls. Man, assumptions. We had too many assumptions about the blue collar workers and the HR. So we jotted down the ones that we needed to test and braced ourselves for the humbling and fascinating discovery of their actual behaviors. 

We're trying to go more lean in our product development. Fail fast. Succeed faster. We're very good at the failing, so so on the fast, and blah on the succeed. But we're good at learning and applying. A gamification professor from Columbia University hung out with us while we went through this process so we could pummel him with questions as he chowed down on cold pizza.



I spent the afternoon interviewing candidates, so we could fill our empty chairs and dramatically increase our capacity. We're projected to double by the end of the year, expand to 95 next year, and grow to 200 ish by 2015. That meant a lot of interviews. And a lot of tears (from the interviewees). We're super picky about our candidates because we wanted to not only hire talent, but also potential and cultural fit. So we did interview panels, where regardless of whether you were a receptionist, a finance manager, a product developer, or a salesperson, you had a chance to get to know the applicants and pitch in about whether you would want to sit next to this person on a plane for 14 hours.

Then there was the email that sucked out the positive energy of the whole day.

We had hit an unexpected snag in our fundraising, especially when we were so close to tasting the term sheet. Just a delay, with the sincerest regrets. But still. I swallowed acid in my mouth just thinking about doing more client tours with potential investors for due diligence. I stayed slumped on the bean bags until somebody turned the lights off, thinking he was the last one in the office.

Day Two

I woke up uncharacteristically earlier than my alarm, but remained hiding underneath my sheets, holding onto the momentary safety of procrastination. I felt the full vulnerability of building a startup today more than ever and wasn't ready to face it square on.

I tried to give some of my accounts a call in the morning, but couldn't bear to dial back when the line was busy. It was one of those courage zero days.

I dragged my frustrations around the office like rattling cans on a frayed string. The HRD and I finally spilled our concerns to our boss, once again on the bean bags. It felt like we were back to a year ago, when fundraising was at square one and cash flow was a constant, desperate topic. He chuckled and pointed out that we're at a very different place now. We had a working model. Enough cash. Clients who loved us and gave us referrals. Actual products and services to sell. A very supportive board. A team that loved each other.

Oh. And a ping pong table.

I went home and watched a dumb movie, recharging before another conference call at 11 pm. Through a connection of a close friend, I had a call arranged with the CEO of an English learning company to discuss potential collaboration. Ended up with a notepad full of ideas for pushing affordable English programs to blue collar workers. Remembered why I was doing this. All of this. 

Day Three

Still groggy from the late night skype call but woke up at 8 am to talk to a brand name HQ. 

Hallelujah.

A major brand name wanted to work with us and asked us to fly to America to talk to them (honestly, at this point in my brain, I wasn't even thinking about the business opportunity, I was thinking friends + siblings + nieces + burgers). The brand name kept asking what our bandwidth was, how fast we could launch, and how many factories we could handle at the same time.

To those in sales like me, those were the most beautiful questions a client could ask.

This collaboration pushed us closer to our tipping point - the defining moment that could launch us.

The rest of the day was set on fast forward with sales reports, investor briefings, and a panel interview of a designer who teared up when he couldn't give an example of his innovation track record but somehow all the women, but me, voted for him.

Marketing called all hands on deck to help unpack/repack product kits for an upcoming client launch because of an error in printing. Man. We really needed to standardize our processes so we could catch avoidable mistakes like this. Some time while unpacking the 3000 kits, a team member told me it was obvious that I was burning out and that I was stressing out at every one. He told me that people loved me and appreciated my hard work but I had not been acting myself. While my eyes turned watery and my nose red, he said that he wouldn't say this to anybody else, but only to me because he knew that I could do better, since I was Sisi.

I was so tired of being Sisi.

But he was right. I had not been managing my perfectionism and laser focusing it to help the team optimize its performance, instead, I had been letting it manage me and my emotions all summer long.

That night, we grabbed Korean BBQ as a team and as we did our signature group cinnamon twist and yells of "Vegas!" (that's a different story), I realized that I really did belong here. Here where I constantly stretched and shrunk and then stretched some more. Here with people who loved me, forgave my excesses and laughed at my whims. Here dreaming, creating, building something that we're all proud of because we're still young and idealistic enough to brave the roller coaster of a startup 72 hours at a time.



Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dare Greatly



While walking aimlessly around Hong Kong with a dear friend one night, I spoke passionately of taking deliberate risks, especially in early career decisions.

Then he looked at me earnestly and said, "You can say all that about taking risks, but you've never really failed, have you?"

I paused.

I have been asked that quite a few times recently. Sometimes by siblings who feel the pressure of the supposed precedent. Many times by friends who are in a frustrating job-seeking low. Other times, it is implied by colleagues who speak with a mix of awed respect.

I am never sure how to respond. I know what they see. They see Sisi Messick. The girl who delivers time after time.

My reality is very different from theirs. In my mind, there are many days when I have failed. Then there are some worse days when I feel like I am a failure.

While potential investors praised me, my boss promoted me, my friends loved me, few of them understood how in the past two months, once my family took off to vacation in America like impatient migratory birds, I started having a hard time breathing. I would have a fantastically productive day when all of a sudden I would be seized by a cloud of debilitating uncertainty, weighing on my chest like a Gestapo boot coming down against the iron-grey concrete. My heart would beat faster, faster, faster!, until I felt that I physically needed to hold it down with my hands. But my hands were occupied, covering my face, encasing me, protecting me, trapping me, and there I would sit like that, torn between shielding my face or saving my heart. At first it happened only after 6 pm, when the office emptied out. Then it started happening between meetings. Finally, I had to run to the bathroom so people wouldn't notice that their boss was cradling her shreds of self-confidence so precariously.

Regardless of how things really turn out that day, to me, sometimes, failure is such an intensely physical  and tiring reality.

As a perfectionist, I feel the magnitude of each mistake, each weakness. So when people think that I don't know how failure tastes like, I pause and fumble clumsily for a polite response because the real answer is much too raw.

I won't go into it because this post isn't about failure. It's not even about perfectionism (that's for a different time) or being gung ho confident in your natural self-worth.

It's about how despite feeling so weak, I still dare. More importantly, I still dare to do great things.

I get up on stage and speak passionately about our solutions for blue collar workers, in Mandarin, shortly after I threw up in the bathroom. I own up to being wrong in front of my whole team to show them what it means when everybody is truly equal. I keep smiling when the potential client just yelled at me in front of her boss and our investors because we really need that sell as a startup. I lay bare how I feel about him even though that leaves me exposed and uncomfortable. I still dial that number, trembling, and leave cheerful invitations on her voicemail despite being hung up on more than five times. I choose to believe that love can be so fulfilling, regardless of how many marriages I've seen disintegrate into flames.

No matter how vulnerable I feel, how much I want to stay in bed, I consistently show up. It is a constant choice, day after day, but I show up and when it comes to it, I stand up too. In the grand tally, it's not about how I did, it's about the fact that I simply did.

And that's how I really want to explain it to people when they ask me why great things just seem to happen to me.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Those Nightmare Interview Stories are True (and Not)

She kept tearing the piece of wrinkled scrap paper into smaller squares. Another tear. Another shape. Incredible.

I made a conscious note to ease up on her with my interview questions.

So what type of work environment do you prefer?

There you go. That's a freebie. I smiled and tethered my inner monster interviewer persona on a tight leash.

Umm. Another tear.  An open work environment? She left it with a vague, slightly hopeful upward accent, as if she was throwing it out there to see if I would like that answer.

I nodded, in my best professional nod, holding back my natural tendency to put people at ease by filling in the silences and empathizing about their childhood/ relationship/ work.

And what kind of supervisor do you work best with? I sipped my panda cup slowly to buy her some time to think.

Somebody who gives me freedom to design? She looked towards the corner of our conference room for an escape plan and found none. All of a sudden, something somehow snapped somewhere.

She buried her honest round face with both her hands and wailed I'm just not emotionally well enough to handle this! 

I looked up, startled by the unexpected change in conversation temperature.

My previous boss used to stand behind me and watch what I was designing and it would just send me into a panic and I would blank out. He told me to suck it up and keep working. I thought I had gotten over this, but today I realize that I haven't! I'm so sorry! I should have just stayed home with my baby. I'm just not emotionally equipped to do this!

Her shoulders heaved up and down with alarming frequency. I scrambled to put my cup down and reached out to pat her awkwardly. I told her that it's normal to feel nervous during an interview and that I didn't think any of those things about her. I gave up my interviewer facade and just spoke calm and confidence to her. Handing over her previous designs, I pointed out the highlights she should later emphasize to the HR director.

After she regained the courage to put her hands down and let me see her face again, I sipped at my panda cup and finished my water. It was only 11:14 am and I had already reached my 8 cups of water quota that day. I patted her once again and summoned HR.

She was 35.

-----

I did five interviews yesterday. All were incredibly memorable for different reasons.

I'm young enough in my career that I remember very well the panic I felt when gearing up for yet another skype interview and limiting the fiddling to under the table and resisting the urge to fix the runaway strand of hair when the suits were asking you, weighing you, and finding you wanting with each seemingly innocuous question.

Now that I'm sitting on the other side of the table though, I realize that while interviewers are evaluating for potential crippling weaknesses, most of them (myself included) do want to find the good in the interviewee. They are not trying to fail you despite the professional distance they maintain. Most often, apart from just experience and capability, interviewers look for the flash of personality, the surprising honesty, the refreshing confidence, the reason why they would want to sit next to you on a 14 hour flight. So as I've been telling some of my job-seeking friends who are so naturally brilliant to begin with - don't let what you think interviewers want to see obscure the "you" who would get the job. Give the interviewers a little credit and believe that they are nice human beings and see them as somebody you just met at a party who just genuinely want to know you better. Then treat them as your best friend's mom who tends to ask way too many questions when you're eating cookies in her kitchen. It might even end up being a "fun" experience.

Oh, and stop tearing at pieces of scrap paper. You never know if the interviewer has recently launched a "reuse our paper" campaign at the office or not.


I interviewed her and we laughed through the whole thing.
Now we're each other's biggest cheerleader during the 
company ping pong tournaments. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Preggo Diaries (From a Non-Pregnant Girl)

I knew this day would come eventually. I just didn't expect that it would happen so soon.

Virtually within one day of finding out she was pregnant, girl 1 all of a sudden started waddling in a maddeningly slow pace, nursing her thermos of herbal tea in her hands, and painstakingly steadying every chair before lowering her imaginary weight down on it.

The day before, she was rock climbing and bouncing around with the best of us.

Then girl 2 also announced that she was pregnant by first sending a lawyer's letter invoking China's overly progressive maternity law, kindly informing us that we had to keep her on regardless of lack of performance and attendance for the next two years until her child was weaned. She also accompanied it with an immediate request for three months off work to relax during her first trimester.

I had never felt so much angst over somebody else's pregnancy.

Perhaps it's because I have never been pregnant. Or wasn't raised in a traditionally Chinese household. But either way, it is stretching my Asian imagination to fully comprehend some of the 'musts' surrounding pregnancy.

After the dual baby announcements were made, the two ladies started fussing about seat arrangement. Apparently they could no longer sit next to (aka three feet away from) the printer because the printer is a source of radiation.

Yeah. Radiation.

Girl 2 can't even work on reports from home because the laptop has too much radiation. But she can use her iPad and watch TV with reckless abandon.

Girl 1 says that she can't do conference calls because five minutes on the phone is her max. Once again, radiation.

They even wear special flimsy aprons all day around the office, which supposedly can shield their baby from radiation.

I finally put my foot down when they begin wearing pajamas to work.

I have always thought of myself as a sympathetic leader who encourages people to tend to their family/ personal needs first. When they're looking drowsy in the afternoon, I tell them to go home. When they're alone at home, I call to see if I could bring dinner over.

But I still have to insist on some work. So, I finally explained that no pregnant woman in America has ever heard of the concept of guarding against radiation in every day electronics. They looked shocked.

Really?! 

Yeah, people tend to go about their normal lives up till the last few weeks of pregnancy. 

They thought about it.

Well, Americans are naturally more built to have children. Look how big and fat they can get.

See. Can't win with logic.

A foreign colleague suggested that I talked to the HR lady to ask her how to best communicate with them about maintaining productivity during this special time. Then I realized that they got their magical radiation-proof aprons from her.

Resigned, I signed off on their requests for time off. Three months for one. One month for the other. And they both just got pregnant. After they give birth, they will each need another four months off for the recovery period. Chinese women are even more fanatical about post-birth rituals. No stepping outside of the house for both mother and child. No makeup. No cold drinks. No showers.

I suppose, in that state, I wouldn't want them to come to work any ways.


Magical Aprons.
It's quite a big industry here.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Little Questions for Little Girls

Yesterday as I was performing my sisterly duties of straightening Jody's hair, I asked her about the dress she was getting tailored for the big school dance. We gossiped about the tailor's poor quality and lack of responsiveness while brainstorming hair styles that would go well with her outfit.

Then I looked into the mirror at my favorite 13 year old who grinned back at me, curving her dancing brown eyes into crescent moons shaped like mine. She was growing into a beautiful young woman, alternating between exaggerated confidence/ aggression in basketball and poetry composition and the fidgety awkwardness of figuring out how to smooth out her naturally bouncy locks, checking off yet another intangible prerequisite of popularity.

All of a sudden, I remembered a Huffington Post article that Mike sent me a few days earlier about how we should engage little girls in conversation about what they're thinking rather than what they're wearing.

So, carefully avoiding burning my fingers on her straightening iron, I asked her what she was reading.

Oddly, I was hesitant.

What if she wasn't reading anything at the moment? Did that question make me sound "mom-ish"? Was it too serious for a girly getting-ready-together chatter? Who (apart from book club ladies) would ask that?

She fiddled with her hair tie. I picked another piece of hair to straighten.

Oh, I am reading the Hobbit, but really I'm loving Greek mythology right now.

She told me about the differences in Greek and Egyptian mythological structural patterns. I learned about her favorite Greek Gods and heard some stories with seemingly dubious morals.

Then, she turned around and asked What are you reading?

I shared with her a little about The Innovator's DNA and how I had always wondered if successful entrepreneurs were simply born and not made and whether I could teach myself to become more innovative. As I build our startup, I always felt insecure about being a more delivery-driven nerd and not necessarily the wild hippie innovators that were featured on Time magazine.

In between my little brother walking in to show us his toned abs and asking for an opinion on his tie, we discussed how we could be creative not only with art, but also with processes, people, product, sales, and team building.

As I added the final touches to her hair, Jody turned around and hugged me. Tight.


With Jody at a Palestinian market.

That conversation could have been a forgettable no brainer had I not asked that simple question what are you reading? 

In fact, now I wonder how many such missed opportunities I've had with my sisters and my friends.

Cute dress. Love your hair. OMG I hate you - you're so skinny now! Where did you get that?

Us girls tend to resort to these types of compliments and conversation starters when we see each other. Even though I try to consciously compliment behavior rather than looks (and achievement), I often catch myself falling back into the familiar pattern with the group of teenage girls whom I teach at church.

How we compliment each other matters, regardless of the gender of the recipient, because that's how we communicate what we care about. We send the right message to our girls by first asking the right questions. We can't tell them to ignore what the world tells them about their waistlines or their hair when that's what we point out first with our admiring eyes.

I won't lie - I can never suppress a smile whenever a boyfriend whispers into my ear that I am very attractive to him at that moment. Or when my parents look up and tell me that I look beautiful in that church dress when I walk down the stairs.

So, I'm not saying that we should refrain from noticing and complimenting each other on physical attributes. But we definitely should be more aware of the balance of compliments and conversations we generally have, particularly with our little girls. Because little girls like to please and they please based on what we tell them is pleasing. So please tell them that it's wonderful they are trying so hard to work through those complicated Math questions, or inviting the new kid at school to eat lunch at their table, or signing up for the competitive debate team. Tell them things that matter even if you only have five minutes. Because those five minutes add to 35 minutes every week and 1820 minutes every year - all precious minutes of helping them become the strong, kind, and intelligent women this world needs.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

We've Got the Shakes

Back when harlem shake was all the craze, my boss thought it would be funny to make our own as an inside joke and send it to our board. 

We watched a ton of existing harlem shake videos for inspiration. 

There was the Norwegian Army one where the staff really liked the idea of zipping up a guy in a sleeping bag and making him squirm. 

Then there was the UGA Men's Swim and Dive team one, but that got vetoed as a good example because only a few people from the office could swim.

So we finally settled on doing what we do best for the video- being Chinese. 

True to my heritage, I dressed up as the Commie girl who somehow danced around with a broom. 



We crammed in as many Chinese stereotypes as we could and made this:

video


Despite our multi-youtube education sessions, within 5 minutes of the camera rolling it was clear that many of the team didn't fully understand the critical part about over-the-top pointless moves. They were very concerned with switching angles, panning, zooming, and creating plot development.

So, as something that cracked me up even more, I now present the bloopers. Notice at 2:41, we all got bored/ exhausted with shaking and distracted ourselves with other things. But since my boss was wearing the panda head, he kept up the wiggles since he couldn't tell that we were done.

video


Some say that I have too much fun at my job to really be working. I agree. It's never been work to me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bagan

On a whim, we took the morning flight into Bagan and biked around the mystical land of 4000 temples.


We rented bikes and zig-zagged our way along the sandy roads
and stopped at the temples that drew us in.


Everybody under the blazing sun smeared thanaka, a yellow
paste made out of tree bark, on their faces. 


Impossible to get a high five in this town just
because I was a girl.


Shwezegon. 




These kids were the best sales people ever. 
You want to buy postcard?
I already bought 6 from you and 3 from him.
Ok, maybe later. Think about it, ok? Ok?


After a long day, we chartered our own private boat to go up the coast
so we could catch our 11 hour bus ride back to Yangon.


We were toasting with ice cold lychee drinks, celebrating a fantastic view
and a successful bike trip, when all of a sudden, our boat stopped. 
The boatmen thought we only wanted to go up the coast to check out
the temple from a distance. Instead, we desperately needed to get back to 
the bus stop near the temple so we could make it back to Yangon.
But there was no way to pull the boat to shore because of the wide sand bank.


So we made a quick decision and said a silent prayer.
We had one hour till the only bus left this town
and we needed to be on it.
We jumped off the boat and starting wading.


Waving around some bills, I mimicked to the boatmen that I needed
their help to carry our bikes to the sand bank.


And then came a five mile hike on baked sand, bare feet, and
a lot of blind faith. We all took turns carrying/ pushing/cursing
those bikes. Especially, when we hit another river that
 separated us from dry land.

Miraculously, there were also other fishermen on paddle boats who
understood our frantic waving. So we threw our bikes on their 
boats and drummed our fingers on the wet planks, praying that we
could move faster.

Once across the river, we left the bemused fishermen and ran through the pig farms. We hit the main road and peddled as fast as we could. 

We made it as the bus was backing out.

Half soaked and freezing cold, we rode for the next 11 hours, listening to Gangnam Style on replay, and wondered why Myanmar's totalitarian government could not have at least added this song onto their block list.

----

There is an inverse correlation between the number of adventures I have vs. the number of posts I write. It's not because I get too busy. It's because I get bored writing travelogues. Instead, I love writing funny stories that happen throughout the day because nobody, not even me, will remember them a week later.

Just a realization that I write nonsense so much better than things that matter . . . and grappling with what that means about myself as a casual writer. Gee. At this rate, I might as well start taking photos of my daily outfits and then write random thoughts underneath them.