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:

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.

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


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.


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. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Burmese Nights

The best thing about backpacking in Myanmar during the curfews and the riots was that nobody else was. So there were virtually no lines at the airport and the visa lady looked bored. Bored visa ladies made good visa ladies . . . especially if you could blatantly compliment her creased patterned shirt to get your visa expedited.

Flying into Yangon. From Dhaka, we had to fly through
 Singapore and Bangkok even though Bangladesh
 and Myanmar were next door. 
I suppose people typically didn't fly from one of the poorest countries
to a neighboring totalitarian country.

Myanmar had been on my bucket list for years, after a friend whom I admired showed me slide after slide of blue skies and a nation largely untouched by tourists with poorly applied sun screen. Somehow, in my mind, when I was intently imaging myself also poking my head outside the dilapidated trains, that I would become somehow more wise, more accomplished, more grown up if I could just get myself there.

And I was finally here. Here in a modern day closed-off nation ruled by a military junta that was slowly relinquishing power to the people. I had imagined dirt roads and impoverished eyes. Instead, I saw expertly manicured hedges, smooth roads, genuinely happy and selfless people who spoke fantastic English, and a respect for Buddhist culture that was reverent yet pragmatic.

Police in full riot gear drawing the battle lines along our hostel road. 
Honestly, I was a little disappointed that I didn't see any major action.

The most dedicated checkers players
 played with carefully collected bottle caps.

A 3D postcard of Bagan, the land of 4000 temples, at the flea market. 
It's now on my bedroom wall, reminding me that though
I wasn't the hand that lovingly etched lines into the
oxen and then mounted them onto this vivid water color, 
I was blessed enough to feel affected by simple beauty. 

One night after wandering aimlessly and eating at various food stalls, we flagged down a taxi and bargained down the price to our hostel. The driver cruised around, trying to figure out a way into the riot police-infested district. After several frustrating turns, he finally pulled over and asked for directions. On both sides of the car door, they gesticulated widely and jabbered in rapid Burmese. Finally, in surprisingly near-fluent English, the pedestrian asked if we wanted to get out of the taxi and into his car down the street so he could drive us to our hostel.

We peered out through the window. His shoulder-length waves were hanging limply around his round cheeks because of the punishing humidity. His longyi was knotted right above his big cheerful belly and he leaned back a little bit as if to balance his frontal load a little better. He smiled at us, waving us to the promise of his car in the dark alley way.

We narrowed our eyes. No, we'll stay with the taxi, thank you

He laughed easily and thought for a moment. Ok, well I'll just come with you then. He ran around the back of the taxi, and hopped in the front. He fired off decisive driving instructions and turned around to regal us with stories of his days as a sailor on freighters that went to LA, Philippines, China, and other exotic locales. He was shipping out again in a week. Just can't stay long at home before I miss the sea, you know. 

As the taxi screeched to a halt in front of our hostel, we hastily pulled out bills to thank him for leading us home. He shook his head. I pulled out more, interpreting it to be inadequate. No, no. I don't need anything. Give it to the driver instead. He lumbered out of the front seat and promptly turned around to leave. At least let us pay for your taxi ride back? It's at least a 40 min walk. He smiled again. It's nice to walk on ground that does not move. Don't worry about me. 

We watched, as he crossed the street and joked with the children who were playing tag in the moonlight. 

Catching the sunset of Yangon on top of the Sakura Towers.

Massages with awkward contortions. 
Somehow, the boys didn't get the royal treatment like I did.

Myanmar had the best street food.