Category Archives: culture

the world awaits

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In looking for jobs recently, I updated LinkedIn. In updating LinkedIn, I got in touch with old co-workers. In getting in touch with old co-workers, I got a job offer in Taiwan.

And I couldn’t take it.

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while now know how important travel is to me. I’ve often stated how much I miss living in Asia and how I can’t wait to return. My dream job would be to work for a nonprofit organization whose focus is international relief. I want to write to make a difference.

But why is travel so important to me? How can I make others understand? Continue reading

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blessed

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The holidays are a wonderful time. Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me. Oh, wait. I guess that was supposed to be Ho-ho-ho! — Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Or was it?

Something that’s always bothered me about the holidays is — no, not the materialism (although that’s part of it) — the focus on self. When I was a copy writer in Chattanooga, I wrote countless articles on depression around the holidays. The media paints Christmas and New Years out to be such a wonderful time of year, but what if it isn’t? What if you’re single and alone? What if your family lives a long way? What if a loved one just died, or money is really, really tight? It’s a well-known fact that shop-lifting rates go up around the holidays.

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A little girl begging at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Around my home, Christmas cards from friends always come rolling in around the holidays. Pictures with smiling faces and new babies and fall colors and fancy scarves beam from the refrigerator door. Sayings like “Blessed!” and “Wishing you and yours happiness throughout the holidays and the coming year” jump out at innocent passersby . . . And, as I look at these clean, painted faces, I wonder: Do they even know? Do they know how blessed they really are? Really? Continue reading

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it’s a hard knock life

eldo-raleysI’m walking to my car in a Raley’s parking lot. It’s about 6 p.m., dark, and cold. I shiver as an icy breeze picks up. Why oh why did I forget my jacket?

Suddenly, I notice a woman off to the left. Her car is parked across a grassy divide facing mine. She’s at her car, like I am now, only . . . What on earth is she doing? The woman isn’t getting into her car but, rather, is pacing beside it. From trunk to passenger’s side, to trunk to — Nope! Nope! she looks at the driver’s side — passenger’s side. She looks angry. Safely inside my car now, I realize what’s going on, and, I’ll be honest, start laughing. The lady has parked her car a little to the left in her parking space. The truck beside her is parked a little to its right. The lady is about 100 pounds overweight . . . She can’t get into her own car! Continue reading

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a simple life

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A home overlooking Lake Folsom in El Dorado Hills

It’s a simple life, an easy life,
in El Dorado Hills.
Where cookie-cutter houses sit,
on cookie-cutter hills.
Where all the people drive to work
in fancy, shiny cars.
And all the children laugh and play
and look up to the “stars.”*

It’s a simple life, a quiet life,
in heaven’s spot on earth.
With all the fences whitely washed,
and mothers giving birth
To little ones who’ll laugh and play
and look up to the “stars,”
and grow up doing just the same,
in fancy, shiny cars.

It’s a simple life, a little life,
the one we’ve bought and sold.
Where all that matters is our health,
our riches when we’re old.
Where nothing’s to be thought, of course,
about the world outside,
for all that matters is our own,
America’s our pride.

*Stars as in celebrities

For an audio recording of this poem, click here:

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Image: Google

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kick ‘em when they’re down

red light2Warning: This post contains blood!

The other day I’m out riding my bike. I’ve just left my apartment and am headed left, towards the light. The plan is to turn right onto the main road and hit a few hills. I’ve been missing my bike! Trouble is, the light’s red and there’s a car there, also turning right. I come up slowly behind it, clicked into  my pedals but ready to click out, waiting to see what it does. The car starts to go but then stops, starts again and stops, and (those of you who are cyclists know where this is going) . . . Crash! I’d lost my momentum; I knew I was going to fall, and I did.

I toppled hard to my right, and even on the ground had difficulty getting out of my pedals. My left calf was smarting, but I didn’t pay it any attention. A passenger in a car waiting to turn left beside me had rolled down his window so that I could hear him laughing at me. I ignored him — didn’t look over —  and finally got upright again. The indecisive car had finally moved on and my lane was clear. I peddled on. Continue reading

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what i got

sublimeIt’s mid-afternoon on Saturday. I’ve been home nearly a week and have only posted . . . once?! Big race is tomorrow (I’m running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco), and all I keep thinking is, “What do I want to say?” There ought to be a lot after my tripand there isbut all I keep coming up with is:

Life is . . .

Which then launches into:

“Life is . . . too short, so love the one you’ve got,
‘Cause you might get run over, or you might get shot . . .
Take a small example, take a tip from me:
Take all of your money, give it all to charity . . .
Lovin’, is what I got, I said remember that.
Lovin’, is what I got . . . I got, I got, I got.”

It’s the lyrics to a popular song by Sublime that came out when I was in grade school. It’s a song that’s a little bit timelessas in, it could have come out yesterday, the melody and beat are still so fresh in my mind. Not all of the lyrics are good, of course. But I find it interesting that even mainstream artists who talk about smoking pot and getting high keep coming back to the idea that life is short and love is all we’ve got . . . Continue reading

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the best of the best

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View of New Orleans from my friend’s apartment

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This post comes as something of a surprise. I would have thought I’d be talking directly about New Orleans.

I arrived this past Saturday to a scene I’ve never really been a part of. No, no, I’m not talking about the music or bar scene. I’m acquainted well enough with both, though truth be told I rarely participate in either. (I’m a “goodie goodie,” remember? Drinking has never really been my thing.) No, I’m talking about the medical academic scene, or, more specifically, the ivy league medical academic scene.

My friend is an internal medicine resident at Tulane, one of the most highly regarded and selective research universities in the nation. Yes, she’s smart stuff, and I’m proud to know her, but I don’t usually think of her as such. To me, she’s just April, my best friend from forever, and that’s enough. All the rest is just fluff.

So at dinner the other night I was surprised as I was talking to another internal medicine resident, a friend of April’s, when he told me about his experience as an undergraduate at Yale. Continue reading

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the most important thing

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Image by GMB Akash

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I’m talking to people tonight, only I can’t zone in. I’m listening, mostly — as they talk about addiction, alcoholism, denial, self-image, and self-harm. They roll their heavily made-up eyes as they puff on cigarettes and share that their 18-year-old sisters just announced that they’re pregnant and are “super excited” about it. “What do they know about being a mom?” they complain. Their own moms are addicted to heroin, and “Dad ran off with his secretary,” not to mention their 19-year-old boyfriends were killed in car accidents about two months ago. “His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He’d just graduated from AA . . .”

Some of them are old enough to be adults — they are adults — but they’re shoplifting like it’s 1999, and they too would rather drink than work on their recoveries. Never mind that they’ve been hospitalized because of their addictions. They are invincible, and, somehow, it’s everyone — and everything — else’s fault. “I have a personality disorder,” they say, or, “I don’t know. I just don’t know . . .” And they shrug their skeletal shoulders and cast bleary eyes to the floor and sigh.

And I cry a little inside as I look around the room at their faces, taking notes. They are all of them beautiful — each in their own way — but they are sick and cannot see what I see . . . Continue reading

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the kindness . . . quota?

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”
John Lennon

“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.”
Mark Twain

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motherteresahelpingI’m listening to the radio on my drive home tonight and a prerecorded host message comes on between songs. “Here at Radio 94.7, we think Sacramento is pretty awesome. But what if every person in Sacramento did just one random act of kindness per month? How awesome Sacramento would be then? If everyone did that, Sacramento would be, like, the most awesome city in the whole country!” (Or something to that effect.)

And I was like . . .

Well, okay. First things first: Random acts of kindness equal good, so — yes, intentions are good — and effort does count, so — “Yay, 94.7.”

But then I was like . . .

“Per month?!” Whoa, people. Let’s not aim too high here . . . Continue reading

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just another day in taiwan

Temple Dance

April 2010, Sanjhih, Taiwan

Sh**. As I ran, purse bouncing on my thigh, shoelaces untied, down the brick walkway toward the front gate, I could already see the Pony* pulling out of the apartment driveway. Damn. I stopped in my tracks and put my hands on my hips, exasperated. Grrrr! I was already late, and now I would have to walk the mile into town and catch a bus to Danshui from there. Dammit!

I considered turning around and going back to my apartment. I could text Lara and tell her I was sick and spend the rest of my Saturday evening alone, as usual. That would be easier. But somehow, I couldn’t make myself do it. I’d spent almost all of my Saturday nights alone recently. I knew I needed to get out. Continue reading

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can you feel the love?

After my last Friday post, someone asked why Taiwan had been so influential. And I said, “How couldn’t it have?” The following is one of thousands of illustrations of just how “different” a world this white California girl entered when she moved to Taiwan.
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Wellcome to your local grocery store . . ..

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This is the entrance to the local grocery story in Sanjhih. I often walked or ran here from my apartment, which was up a hill about a mile away. One day I arrived to find the road beside the grocery store blocked off for . . . Continue reading

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where we came from

Sandimen, Pingtung County, Taiwan

Boy in Sandimen, Taiwan

Danshui, Taiwan Dragon Boat Festival June, 2011

The hot sun hung high in the western sky. Beneath it, brightly colored gods — with their wide eyes and big lips and expressions both goofy and severe — danced and sang in the dusty streets. The parade swayed to the beat of drums and exotic music as it snaked its way past the MRT station and between the tall Danshui buildings. A ways off, down by a three-story Starbucks beside the river, I saw lions, dancing. The performers were teenagers. They were incredible. Continue reading

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mirror, mirror

mmMirror, mirror on the wall,
couldn’t you just make me tall?
Thinner, too, yes, that’d be great,
with abs of steel to compensate . . .

For all I lack (it is a lot),
maybe then I would be “hot,”
worthy of the magazines,
so full of pretty, lovely things.

Or what if you just made me blind—
could we then be of one mind?
For no matter how I try,
what I see just makes me cry.

After all, you know it’s true,
looks are the important view.
It matters not what lies inside:
Beauty isn’t one to hide.

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passerby

a_smile_in_the_rain_by_dannyst600_398Why do you divert your eyes?
You and I have naught to hide.
Honest truth, we’ve never met.
We are strangers as of yet.

And all I did was smile at you,
(couldn’t help my passing through),
and yet you looked away from me,
as though I were an enemy.

And so I went along my way,
but on my way I had to say,
the world would be a better place,
if you’d return my smiley face!

Continue reading

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mom’s got the gun

82214615_Power_Of_Symbol_HeroShe was gangly. I was early. While I waited, sipping my cappuccino in a corner, I watched her. Except for one scraggly strand at her temple, her thin yellow hair was pulled tightly to a bun on the top of her head. The loose strand was hot pink. Piercings filled with metal ran up and down her ears. Her jeans fit like tights.

She went outside to smoke a cigarette; icy air blasted the store as she went. I shivered and shook my head: she was all of about sixteen.

My friends arrived, and, for the moment, she was forgotten. Lost in conversation and the catching up of years, I failed to notice her reenter the store or the way she was camped out, vacant, on a sofa in the corner.

That is, until the text. Continue reading

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meanwhile . . .

mdThe following is based on a true story inspired by this post, as told by my dad.

I followed her into Starbucks. Actually, I arrived first. I was a gentleman: I opened the door.

It was the right thing to do, of course, though I was in a hurry. It was 7 a.m. I had to be at the office in less than an hour. But she, too, appeared rushed. It was the hurried click, click, click of her heels behind me that I had noticed first.

She was on the phone but mouthed “Thank you” as she and a small child walked past. Once they were through, and after a businessman had darted out, I abandoned my post and got behind them in line. Starbucks was busy that morning. I couldn’t afford to be chivalrous all day. Continue reading

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the power of kindness

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I follow the rules of the road!

I was riding my bike tonight—at the top of a long hill, huffing and puffing, watching the full moon rise—when suddenly a car passed, and someone inside yelled, “You rock!” The youth then stuck his hand out the passenger-side window and waved it up and down, and continued waving it until I waved back, as though he wanted to be sure I’d heard him.

And it took me surprise.

No, no. It’s not that I’m not used to being yelled at while I’m riding. I get yelled at all the time. “F- you!” people say. Or, sometimes, “You idiot!” Sometimes they honk their horn and scream “Ahhhhh!” just to scare me.

And, unfortunately, it works. Continue reading

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factories of death—a reblog

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Image by GMB AKASH

“Today, I count myself blessed to have become a photographer. To be able to articulate the experiences of the voiceless, to bring their identity to the forefront, gives meaning and purpose to my own life.”

– GMB AKASH

I used to think reblogs were silly. I didn’t understand why people would post them. Were they too lazy to produce their own work? Or was it, sometimes . . . something else? Continue reading

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just like mommy

girlsShe took the room by surprise. Or maybe it was just me. I noticed her as soon as I walked in.

She had on hot pink shorts two sizes too small, and a bikini top over breasts two sizes too big. Across her back and on her arms and legs were tattoos; her ample girth jiggled as she walked. Even more interesting was her hair. Pixie length and bleach-blonde, her “locks” were pulled into pigtails that looked like sprouts coming out of the sides of her head. Earrings glistened from her ears.

Most noticeable, though, were her eyes. They were dark and masked by makeup and . . . bruises?

She was toting a three-year-old. Continue reading

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heartless, or . . . ?

homeless-guy-sign-paypal-donation2I was being compulsive. Again. I’ve told you I’m a clean freak, right? Well, I am, and today it was about my car. I’d just gotten it washed after my trip to San Francisco (more on that later), and now, next door at Chevron, I was wiping dirt off of the engine under the hood.*

As I was working, I suddenly became aware of a car right behind me.

“Excuse me. Miss?”

I turned around to see a large Hispanic man leaning out of an old tan Buick. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt despite the warm weather and a thick black mustache over pale lips. A dark-haired woman sat in the passenger seat beside him. Continue reading

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the end of the world as we know it

Why is it that mankind is obsessed with its own destruction?

thor-2-dark-world-posterNo, no. I’m not talking about drugs and alcohol; not talking about cigarettes or fatty foods, either. I’m not even talking about adrenaline. I’m talking about entertainment.

I never watch T.V. and almost never watch movies. During the three years I was in Asia, I stepped into a movie theater all of about twice. Things haven’t changed much since I moved home. Despite the fact that I live just across the street from a theater, I almost never go. Yes, yes, I know. There are a lot of great films out there. On the whole, though, well . . . Let’s just say I’d rather be reading or writing or riding my bike.

This past Sunday, however, I made an exception. My brother invited me to see Iron Man 3. I hadn’t seen my brother or his girlfriend in weeks, so, despite the fact that Iron Man 3 isn’t really my kind of movie (though I do love Robert Downey, Jr.), I decided to go. Continue reading

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let there be light

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“You will be remembered. Stay strong Boston.”

It’s been nearly two weeks since the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Nearly two weeks since two alleged terrorists killed three people and injured 264 others at one of the world’s oldest and most beloved annual events. Nearly two weeks since chaos erupted and an entire city was shut down to find the imposters. Nearly two weeks, and I have yet to say a word.

I haven’t mentioned Boston.

Why?

Is it because I am heartless? Am I too busy writing articles to concern myself with the plight of marathoners far, far away? Too busy talking to birds and making up poems about the night sky to worry about things like death and destruction? Too busy pondering life to take stock of what’s happening in it?

Or is it . . . something else? Continue reading

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i stand corrected

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Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong

I remembered, after my last post, a conversation I once had with a friend.

“My teachers told me I was stupid.”

I looked at him. “They did what?”

“They told me I was stupid.”

“That’s terrible! Why would your teachers say that?”

“I don’t know. My grades were bad.” He looked out the window. The sun was sparkling on the water. It was a surprisingly clear Hong Kong day.

“Your grades were bad because you didn’t study, not because you’re stupid.”

“The education system is messed up.” He glanced back at me and then down at the table. There was a checker board there, in case we’d brought pieces to play. Continue reading

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the luxury of dreams

images3edHe was short. When he walked, he lilted—up and down and up and down—bobbing as a buoy on the sea. Maybe because one leg was slightly longer than the other. Or perhaps he had flat feet.

No matter the weather, he wore a t-shirt (fitted tightly over rounded belly) with shorts and flats. Sometimes he wore a sweatshirt. His sandy beard he kept unkempt. His bus, however, was immaculate.

I saw him often—on my way to and from home. He drove the 103M, the minibus between Tseung Kwun O, the closest MTR station, and Clear Water Bay. Around and around he’d circle, letting passengers on and off, waiting in the dimly-lit parking garage for people shivering or sweating to fill the bus so he could take them home. While he waited, he’d wash the bus windows. Sometimes, he’d whistle. Continue reading

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disenchanted

roaring-twenties-picture-3I often stop and think
standing in a crowd,
when nothing seems in sync,
everything, just loud.

When everyone is talking—
nothing’s being said.
When everyone is moving—
pieces being led.

When light is eery shading:
scenes are black and white.
Familiar faces fading;
distant, lost from sight.

Yup, I don’t belong here,
anyone can see.
If only . . . Never mind, dear.
Time for me to flee.

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