Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fish Massage

I slept five and a half hours last night and actually managed to survive throughout the entire day. This comes as a bit of a shock because I'm not very good with not sleeping. But I think there's a big chance that I have superpowers when it comes to exhaustion. When I go polyphasic in 2013, it will be a valuable skill— or perhaps I'm just running on the drops of gas before the fumes.

It's always annoying when inspiration hits just before bedtime. You begin writing down the idea, thinking it will only take 'a minute!' and then you find yourself falling asleep at the keyboard but not wanting to stop anyway.

We saw the Angkor temple— the one in all the pictures— walls are covered with scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. There are elephants, panthers, monkeys (Hanuman, the monkey god, was asked by Rama to help find his wife. Hence— armies of monkeys).

It was clean, renovated… and a disappointment. I loved the first temple we went to— the giant overgrown one with rocks fallen around everywhere, with green plants curling around faces half broken. That one was renovated as well, but the jungle was still there. The Angkor temple looked exactly like a renovated old ruin. Maybe it was just because of the exhaustion of two days of walking. Maybe it was because we'd seen so many temples. But the Angkor temple felt like a bad museum.


We had a fish massage today— fish that feed on the dead skin of your feet. You can feel the little ones tickle— the big ones feel like a rough pinching or scraping as they bite away circles with a diameter of one millimeter. They seem to be ravenous, and after a while I started wondering just how much dead skin I had on my feet— even after half an hour, I had fish eating my feet.

That said, after walking for two days around temples through dirt and dust (and having sweated, in the words of Kat Stratford, like a pig), it was ridiculously relaxing sitting up to my ankles in water getting nibbled by fish.

We met Patrick and Sam from England there. They're touring Southeast Asia for three months, and gave us a few tips on Bali. (As a side note, people in Bali have one of four names, each meaning "First," "Second," "Third," and "Fourth." They're named in order of birth. The fifth child is called "First." Nicknames are abundant.)

After talking for about half an hour, they had to go (they'd already been there for about an hour before us), and we realized it was 10:30pm, so we headed home too. After all, at 8am at the latest we have to be up in order to catch breakfast.

On another side note… I found out I look about twenty two today. I'm not sure if it's the short hair, the fantastic skirt, or the tiredness that makes me look so mature. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Pile of Rocks

Today… was a hard day. We walked through parts of Angkor Wat, taking the bits between temples by tuk-tuk. We actually cut the day short because our driver had a wedding to get to at 5pm. The wedding has been playing loud music for the past twenty four hours. It's one of the most interesting and partially annoying things I've ever been subjected to.

The walking, though, wasn't as tiring as was the emotional part of it— I made a stupid calculation today and reaped the rewards of it, and the realization of my lack of judgement makes me pretty angry. It's also the reason I can't think of anything non-private I'd want to write about for this world.

Because it's the only thing I really feel I could vent about, it's the only thing I can think about in conjunction with writing. And it's too hard to write it down now, so I'm procrastinating. And because I'm procrastinating, by the time I have to go to bed, this will be a very quickly written post that doesn't describe at all what was in the temples we went to today.

Have you ever seen carved crocodiles? Or alligators? I did today. They were in bas-relief, hunting for fish about their size. People in canoes (boats?) were rowing above the water, and above that were birds, flying, each feather outlined in exquisite detail. All the animals and people were the same size. I think there was also a god in the sun (incidentally, Surya is the god of the sun. Sonya is the European version of it, if I remember correctly).

I love the elephants that are carved everywhere. I never knew how much I liked elephants until I reached Hampi and walked past a statue of an elephant… and realized that someone had actually taken hours— perhaps days— to carve out this stylized elephant. They're so realistic, yet so simple. 

We each of us have some thing that we love to photograph. If you show Ioan a bird or two and hand him a camera, he will be in heaven. Dad will stand in front of a crab and try to film it. Alternately, he'll stop us everywhere to take pictures of us.

If I see a scenic sky, I will be demanding the camera. Ileana looks for pictures for her 2500 picture challenge. Mom takes pictures for the blog, for herself, for artist's sake.

But with every elephant we see, every little animal that's a beautiful stone rendition of itself, I'm pointing it out— "Just look at the elephants!"

"Have you seen the alligators? Look at them! Look at this one. Look at the bird. Look at the fish."

"Look at that dancer!"

Angkor Wat could be described very concisely as 'a pile of rocks.'

But in this pile of rocks are half-eroded treasures, erased by rocks collapsing or covered by lichen and spiderwebs. And we saw only a very small part of them today.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Cocoon

Today I had a talk with my Mom.

We've had three of these discussions so far… usually about college.

Everyone my age in my world is deciding what they want to do, either because they want to or they have to. And I feel left behind. Sort of like if I don't decide now… if I don't have a plan in place for 2013, something terrible is going to happen. It's because I'm a control-freak. I think I've always been one.

At any rate, the subject of this 10pm discussion was to open my mind to this trip. I haven't, so far. I've followed everyone around, suggested things I wanted to do, enjoyed myself… but I haven't opened up to it. I still have plans. I'm so busy with these plans that I don't let my poor, depraved brother on the computer.

The advice? Stop with the plans.

In the spirit of listening to my mother and opening my mind to new experiences, I've lowered the goal to 200 books for 2012. That's small and manageable, right? While still proving challenging enough to keep me reading. (I'm 9 books ahead of schedule, and I need a big enough goal to keep going).

 But the interesting idea is that… though I'm here, seeing all these fantastic old things and beautiful scenic routes and having all these experiences… I'm not really enjoying it. I'm not really participating in it.

I am, just like I said before we even had the first plane ticket— I am just along for the ride. I'm not going to take the initiative to read a guidebook, or decide where to go. It doesn't interest me.

And that's what has to change.

How can I learn anything if I'm purposely or subconsciously holing myself up in my safe cocoon of writing and reading?

I'm not going to abandon the cocoon for a while. The cocoon will still be there for me to come back to. I'm still going to have my challenges.

But I'll have a new challenge as well— learning about myself. Isn't that partially what this trip is about?

Before we left, part of my 'visions for the future' was speculation into how this trip would have changed me.

So far, I'm the same person. Maybe 106 days isn't enough to have changed, but surely after fifteen weeks I should at least care about more than when I'll have time to read The Count of Monte Cristo!

So far I know that the best days are the ones in which we meet someone. When we sing with a tuk-tuk driver or re-meet someone we thought we'd never see again.

Or when you learn about someone's life story. 

The people are the best part of the trip for me. It can be the worst day in the world… until you meet someone nice who eagerly asks you where you're from, or if they can take a picture…

And they smile so widely to have met you that you feel blessed to have been there.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tuk Tuks in Cambodia

The tuk-tuks in Cambodia are different from those in India— there two seats, one facing the other, handles made of metal shower tubes (those things… that make the handheld shower holdable).

And they look much nicer than the tuk-tuks in India.

Everyone here wears a helmet when they're on a motorcycle— at the very least, the driver does. Many of the passengers do as well. As we drove to the Tanei Guesthouse, I saw a child not more than… four years old, sitting on the motorcycle. He was looking up at his father, who had a very small yellow motorcycle helmet in his hand. Tenderly he placed it on the child's head, but we zoomed away before the scene ended.

Women don't wear skirts here. It's strange in a way— all of the hot countries we've been in so far are very clear on female 'modesty'. But the pants aren't short— always ankle-length. There are some things that don't change.

The road is good. There's no rocks or pebbles or strange bits of gravel, and in places Siem Reap looks like a somewhat run-down city. In other places it looks like a side street in India.

Stores are everywhere— signs for foot massage, body massage, or fish massages are everywhere. 

People came up to us when we were coming out of the grocery store, making the motorcycle revving motion with their hands, "Tuk-tuk?"

"No thank you." We said politely.

The currency here is in dollars. The Cambodian riel is also used, but there are 4000 of them to one dollar. We ate for $12.25 today— rice, noodles, shakes, beer… all sorts of things. I think the food costs about the same in India (though it's probably a bit more expensive there), but there's a huge difference between looking at a price in rupees, which are something like 125, 250, 320, and dollars— where food is $1.25.

Our hotel is large— Tanei Guesthouse has a restaurant, where we ate lunch (for the first time in a long time, we had three meals in a day!). People take off their shoes before they step up the steps into the restaurant or the reception. There's an unspoken agreement that you will carry your shoes to and from your room.

The atmosphere is oppressive— when we got off the plane there was a fresh breeze, but by the end of the day our clothes were sticking to our backs.

Sometimes I wonder how I ever managed to miss this atmosphere. Then I remember how badly we froze in China. After all… this culture is the warm sort. When you smile at people, they smile back wider. It's one of the best parts of these places.

We slept in the hotel room. The next few days will be 7am to 8pm days. The sort where you can't do anything except walk and look and take pcitures and try to aborb.

They are some of the most exhausting and memorable days.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Catching Up

As my dad said a few days ago, this will be an 'uninspired' post. It's about my challenges, which I've fallen behind on in more ways than one—  about the catching up I'm doing— the plan.

In case you don't care about that, we'll be in Cambodia tomorrow and you'll be able to read something of general interest, like what Cambodia looks like and first impressions of Angkor Wat. So stick around?

I had five things to catch up on: 

1) Writing — 30,000 words to write by the end of January in order to stay on track, in these areas:

- Riddle Rose's chapters are being edited slowly but surely. By the end of January I expect to have Chapters 1-8 edited, and chapter 9 posted, as well as Chapter 10 written. It's lovely to be editng and making the story as good as it can be before moving on!

- Pirate Prince is a rewrite of NaNo'09. I'd changed up the story a bit, as the original was ridiculous. But then, after I'd reached chapter six, I realized it still felt too juvenile. And I decided to completely change the focus of the story, changing the main character from Edward to Cornelia, changing the starting point of the story, etc. I'm currently on Chapter 2 and I'm putting it off until I finish Riddle Rose.

- Short stories: Still need to catch up on these… I've got a story promised to Jacob that I haven't gotten around to because I wasn't interested in it… so I'll be figuring out how to add interest to it myself so I can write it.

2) Reading — Both in French and Romanian, I was behind. I'm still behind, but I'm close to getting on track in French, and in Romanian I'll be finishing the books in February. I'll be on track with French by the end of January (at the very latest, by the 4th of February), and I'll be in track with my Romanian books at the end of March at the latest.

3) Dictionary entries — I'm creating my own language, and since I want to be able to someday write snippets of my books in that language, (called Pakevi), I decided to write a dictionary entry a day (on average, of course). Today I wrote eight of them in an unprecedented bout of inspiration. So I'm ahead in this.

4) Writing Dares — I have a website, http://writingdares.blogspot.com , with writing dares— reading these over always gives me lovely ideas for crazy, insane stories. The good part is that they're just crazy enough to lend an air of vibrancy to the story— I never quite manage to make them as crazy as the dares would suggest. Since I decided to upload a dare per day, I've scheduled posts up to February 2nd, which means I don't have to worry about it for a while.

5) Taekwondo Forms — … I'm woefully behind. Practice is needed.

By the end of February and/or March, I should be on track with everything. YAY!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Rave on Languages

We're in Macau— it used to be a Portuguese colony, and people still speak Portuguese. It's lovely to see a language other than English on the signs, and it's amazing how much you can comprehend from the signs if you know a smattering of French and a tad of Spanish. If you don't, usually there is enough English to be able to piece through things.

I love the language. It looks lyrical. It sounds like something between Spanish and French, by virtue of the j. And it has its own sounds as well.

And what language would ever think of using an 'm' where every other romance language uses an 'n' or nothing at all?

(I speak of 'in' — in, en, în, dans, em …  in order: Italian, Spanish, Romanian, French, and Portuguese).

And yet it sounds somewhat Slavic… but I'll stop there before I say something hard-to-explain.

Ileana found Romanian translations of Disney songs… and as I listen to the Tarzan soundtrack in my native language, I get shivers.

Somehow the good translations are better than the original English.

Like Ileana said, "My kids will watch Snow White in Romanian and be surprised when they find out it's an American movie."

Most people think Chinese and Japanese sound the same. I know I did.

But the difference between them is tangible. You can tell almost immediately which is which. Chinese in all its diverse dialects is a tonal, monosyllabic language. 

Ma, má, mâ, etc, each mean a different thing and are pronounced differently.

In Japanese, however, there is no rising or falling of the voice. Everything is said 'normally.' And it's a more open language— as if there are more vowels. 

When we came back to China I was struck by how many 'sh,' 'ch,' and 'tz' sounds there were. There are not such sounds in Japanese.

And again it's getting too late to be able to completely say I finished everything on time. It's the third night it's passed over 12am. I don't mind at all— I haven't gone to sleep, have I, so it's definitely the same day. It's still the twenty sixth.

Sometimes I look at all the languages there are (Italian, Latin, French, Spanish, Hindi, etc), and I think… I want to learn these all!

Things are going well with French, but I need someone to converse with, and I don't have that. Ileana may be learning 'alongside' me, but she's currently preoccupied with FAWM — February Album Writing Month (the song-writing equivalent of NaNoWriMo), and besides, I don't think she's serious about it.

Seriously. Go find a Romanian version of Tarzan or Snow White or Tangled or Aristocats and listen to it.

It sounds heavenly. Even if you don't know Romanian and you can't understand a word, it's melodic. Even if the voices don't match up to the original perfectly, the words are translated with precision, amazingness, and… well, there aren't proper adjectives.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Today we packed up all our belongings for what must be the twentieth time.

It took us about an hour to move out.

It's not easy living out of a backpack. There are things I love about it— never having to pick out a wardrobe, or worrying about whether or not you've worn that favorite shirt once too many times in a row (is a third day socially acceptable?). Everything is in one place. Nothing gets too messy— if it does, it's because we use it frequently.

In fact, the things that take the longest to pick up are the toothbrushes, the laptops/charges/iPods, and the sleeping bags (and this only by virtue of the fact that they require rolling and stuffing).

Moving out generally means waking up an hour or two before we actually hav et leave. We put away all the things we find (toothbrushes go back in the cases, water bottles are filled, pajamas are cleaned up, sleeping bags are rolled).

Everything goes into the backpacks. If it doesn't go into the backpack, it goes into a pocket in the Scottevest. 

Before we leave, we check everything— underneath the beds, all over the bathroom (never forget to look up! Ileana almost forgot her bandana and some underwear when it was hanging at the top of the shower. Since then we've been looking at all levels of all the rooms), on all the shelves… everywhere where something might land.

We shake out bed covers, fold them nicely, pick up any mattresses the hotel might have set out for us, etc.

Even with all these precautions, however, we have still have managed to lose things! I hold the record… I lost my hat (in the Beijing metro), my coat (in the train's waiting room— thankfully we found it), my pencil (one of the Tibetan transportation vehicles), my pedometer (fell off… went into a pipe. Didn't bother looking)… I'm just waiting to lose my pen. Or my marbles.

When we move in, the first step is to set all the bags in some inconspicuous place in order to take pictures of the apartments.

Usually this isn't very important. But sometimes we get reeaaallly pretty places that need it. The Kyoto house, the Xi'an bathroom (bright orange), Sapana Lodge, the Delhi apartment, the house boat, Guilin, Hong Kong, and Macau's rooms were all fantastic.

Once we've taken the pictures, we take out the laptops, books, iPods, kindles… something to occupy our time with. 

For schoolwork I use my tablet, so I take that out when I need it. Ileana and Ioan use 'white boards,' so they'll set those out as needed.

At some point during the evening we'll unwrap our sleeping bags, set them out on the beds, set our clothes out, put on pajamas— take our bathroom kits out and spread them out in the bathroom so we can brush our teeth with ease…

Refill the water bottles, go to sleep… hoping tomorrow will be a relaxing, empty day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


One of the advantages of going around the world is the enormous amount of house design you see.

I've been planning aspects of my house since I turned 15 or so (in earnest, I mean— undoubtedly there were more plans before that). There was everything from an office with bright orange flowers painted on the walls to book storage in walls (no clutter was always a very important consideration— I don't like dusting), to small murals of princesses or beanstalks on the walls.

The house, of course, always featured a library. And lots and lots of windows, artificial lights (for those dusk hours when you can't see anything), etc. I've always been a light-needy person.

Some things that I've discovered while traveling is that some designs are just plain bad. Ugly hardwood flooring is never going to work for me.

A sink built into a toilet lid is epic, water-saving, etc. The downside is that the water is cold, but that always builds endurance.

What else? Tatami mats are lovely. Beds with storage underneath are fantastic.

A small apartment works very well for five people. The one in Hong Kong is spartan in furnishings, but it's comfortable, and the shower is ridiculously amazing— sunk a bit into the floor to prevent some leaking.

A big house is pointless. The apartment in Delhi was beautiful, with marble flooring, high ceilings, ornate knicknacks, but it was simply too big.

We liked our small, two star hotel room in Beijing better than the grandparents' four star hotel. Theirs was plush, with nice seats and pretty lamps and a seriously ornate bathroom… ours had three beds, tile flooring, and a bathroom with seriously weird putty formations on the floor. But it felt nicer. It was white, not dark green, and though it might have been the same size as the grandparents' room, it felt larger.

The Goa house was large, and yet… we could have all survived in a third of the space and still have felt at ease.

In Nepal, families of twelve live in houses smaller than our TV room at home! It's ridiculous, and you wonder how they use the space.

Yes, I'm leaning toward 'small' here. Today, while looking up some ideas for multi-use space (the Hong Kong apartment has multi-use space), I stumbled upon (literally!) something called Tiny Houses.

Basically, a tiny house is up to 900 sq ft of space. Imagine living in 500 square feet! Imagine the things you could do! Imagine how much less cleaning there would be! Imagine the organization capabilities!

Now, after spending an entire day which should have been utilized in writing or reading French, I can definitely say I want a tiny house. I've got all sorts of ideas, all sorts of plans, and I'm very happy with what I've come up with.

Besides… how cool would it be to have a reeaaally small house and reeaaally big yard?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Advantages of Walking

We walked home from The Peak today (I have no idea how to explain it. It's a tall tower you can get to by tram or by a loooong, winding road that is steeply uphill all the way).

After taking the tram for 10 minutes… it was a bit of shock having to walk for an hour downhill. 

Walking downhill is hard. I swear humans weren't made to walk like that— at least not for an hour at a time. And it was getting cold, with chances of rain, so we were wearing those white plastic raincoats that you can't do anything but walk in. 

After walking for about ten minutes, Ioan looks over to the left and shouts, "BIRDS!"

We have seen enough birds to satisfy a lifetime. Usually they are brown or black or gray or bright green and European looking.

These birds were cockatoos. Pure white birds with a light yellow crest, they ate small green fruits from the tree and played with twigs. It. Was. Enthralling. We took as many pictures as we could, trying to figure out how they could stand on one foot like as they ate, before continuing on.

Ileana and I headed on ahead, leaving Ioan and Dad and Mom behind. We were walking along at a normal pace (fast, of course!), when we heard a yell.

Mom was there, bent over in half, trying not to cry.

A fire hydrant (which is a tall pipe curved at perfect crotch height) had been in Mom's way, and she hadn't noticed it because she was looking at what seemed to be a banana tree.

We were all trying to help and trying not to laugh (if it had been Tom or Jerry crashing into that thing, you would have fallen off the couch), trying not to cry, and trying in general to be helpful. Mom now has a big bruise forming about the size of an ostrich egg on her left thigh. It's impossible to describe the situation, only that if it had happened in a comedic movie it would have been one of the funniest scenes. And even Mom laughed between wiping away the tears. It's just… it's painful!

As we went down the path, we had a couple of photo opportunities with the tram, which came up and down at 'regular' times. We wouldn't have had these photo ops had we taken the actual tram!

Near the end of the trip, as we were coming down some steps, I missed the last stair, slipped, careened forward in what seemed to be slow motion, pitched to my hands, fell on my knees, and landed on my bottom.

The lady walking her dogs next to me nearly had a heart attack. I had a good laugh— made sure my pants hadn't ripped, and didn't even notice the gaping hole in my glove.

You don't realize how much you miss falling until you actually fall!

Yes— painful things are an advantage. They are an adventure. A break in the monotony of sightseeing!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reading French

(As a side note which may end up taking over this World, we're in Hong Kong! And I'm valiantly catching up with French, hence this World's title and subject. After all… this is called 'write YOUR world,' not 'write THE world.' At some point when I find a really interesting cultural subject I'll write about it, but there isn't much in China we've seen that's interesting past Chinese New Year, and I haven't experienced that yet.)

In December, during my near-obsession with creating challenges for myself during 2012 (and the days afterward), I decided I was going to actually learn French.

The first step, I decided, would be to easily comprehend the language. And for that I needed a large amount of material. What better way than to read a classic in French? Not only would it get a classic novel off my to-read list, I'd also be learning French at the same time!

I chose Les Trois Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas to be my book. It's about 900 pages (you can't say I shirk!), but it's a classic, and I've got six months in which to read it in.

I have the FreeBooks app on my iPod touch (best. Application. Ever.). It offers about 20,000 free books— most of them were published pre-1923, but there are books in German, French, and I think even Spanish. Most, of course, are in English. They are all free once you buy the app, which I think costs 99-499 cents. A BARGAIN. The only problem with the application is that when you search for one book, you end up downloading at least three. Titles, it seems, are very alluring.

Anyway, the Freebooks app uses pages— I use the page marks on the middle-sized text setting in order to decide how much French I'm going to read each day. On average, I'd need to read 17 pages a day. I'm reading 35 pages a day the first week, 42 the next, 49 the week after, etc. After all, at the beginning, it takes a lot longer to read 5 pages than it will at the end.

The plan was practically fool-proof. 5 pages took about 20 minutes, more or less, and I always have about three hours of complete free time each day. EASY, right?

Wrong. On January 6th I stopped reading. This was a mixture of laziness and 'better things to do,' and without realizing it I slipped further and further and further behind.

Very bad when I want to read 366 books this year. I had to catch up. 

I enlisted the iPad as a dictionary and the iPod as the book, and decided to read at least 12 pages a day until I caught up.

I started reading… and read 23 without any sort of 'gah… when will this be over?'

I even decided that the English translation I have sucks in comparison to the French. It feels too old compared to the 'newness' of the French version. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Art of Relaxation

Skipping over the fact that the title is… presumptious and sort of pointless, today we relaxed.

Relaxation is an art.

It's one of those arts that only very few people can master.

I am not one of them. If there is something I should be doing, I can put it off by procrastinating on the internet or rereading books, but I cannot stay still and do nothing.

I can if there's some sort of bet involved— once when I was little my dad said he'd give me an extra hour of computer time if I could sit unmoving on a chair for half an hour without speaking.

I think I counted a lot, and valiantly ignored the entire family as they whirled around the TV room, and in the end I got my extra hour of computer time.

But then again, counting isn't exactly relaxation. Either I'm not built for it or I don't want to relax. I don't think I'm uptight, but then again I'm not very low-key either.

Today maybe what I did can be described as relaxation— I wrote nearly 2k on a short story, another 4k on drivel I had to get out… I read a bit (Lady Susan may be quickly becoming one of my Jane Austen favorites), talked to my Write Write and Write friends on Tinychat (always lovely…)

And I even wrote a dictionary entry (a bad one, but nevertheless, I wrote it) and watched a video and did schoolwork!

And yet… even after having done all these things… I looked at the day and felt as if I'd been woefully unproductive.

((I'm big on productivity, by the way, in case no one's noticed yet.))

Which just proves I haven't gotten down the art of relaxation yet. If I had, I would have realized I'd gotten out some stuff that had been rushing around my head— thankfully with some words tacked on. I would have realized I'd finished my short story and gone on relaxing.

I might have, after realizing I couldn't relax with 32 things to do still on the to-do list, started editing Riddle Rose.

No such luck. The internet is an evil thing. When you want to work, it beckons you away. When you want to relax, it becomes a sort of millstone around your neck, urging you to stay because it might be rude to simply sign off when you know you're not going to actually do anything more important.

And so you stay on the internet all day, breaking your concentration every five minutes to see what someone said in reply to so-and-so comment, or whether or not anyone's favorited that short story… and maybe just break here, because you don't really want to write Character A's reply to Character B's blatant insult.

Oh… The Art of Relaxation? I could use a manual on that.

Where can I find it? And is it on Kindle? Is it free on the internet?

Will it help me finish this to-do list?