July 31, 2011

Sunday morning treat

A year or so ago, I found a video called "Words" by a filmmaking team from New York called Everynone. I watched it three times in a row to figure out its riddle and once I figured it out, I watched two more times for the sake of fascination. I made my mom and dad watch it (they eventually figured out the riddle, too) and I shared it on Facebook. 

Last night I couldn't sleep, so I was cruising Vimeo (it's kind of like YouTube for up-and-coming filmmakers and artists). The site is where I first found "Words" and it's where I found Everynone's newest project "Symmetry."

I've never seen films shorter than five minutes capture so many angles of humanity. It's all everyday stuff, like sneezing or walking, but it's edited and arranged in a way that embraces us for all of our quirky habits.

I hope you enjoyed this little Sunday morning special, I hear these videos go great with coffee!

I might be back later tonight to make up for skipping Saturday. Have a great day!

July 29, 2011

My attempt at understanding the debt

One of the first stories I heard on the radio this morning when I embarked on long drive home was this piece from npr. That's right, Apple has more cash to play with than the Federal Government.

"Debtaggedon" is all over the news and most of the stories are focused on the fact that Republicans and Democrats can't agree and the apocalyptic effects a default would have on the global economy. If the US credit rating drops, interest rates will rise for loans for college, cars, homes, and home improvements. Government programs will be cut, which may mean that pothole that drives you crazy wont get fixed. And jobs may be even harder to find (is that possible?) 

Ok, enough of this threatening word vomit. Let's look at what Congress is doing. I chose these links for all my friends who aren't huge political junkies. The Washington Post did a fantastic job creating interactive charts and graphs so that people, who don't spend hours a day studying the budget (so uhh, 99% of the population) can make sense of things. Way to go, Washington Post!

First, let's see how we got into this mess:

Now that you know how we got there, find out why this week has caused such a Capitol Hill hullaballoo.  This link gives a day-by-day review of the drama and the ever-decreasing cash balance of the operating budget.

So what exactly is Congress proposing? This series of charts allows you to directly compare current policy with the Obama plan, fiscal commission recommendations, and the House GOP plan. They show what our deficit and revenues will look like through 2021.

Are things starting to make a little bit more sense now?

Since I haven't thrown in a China card in a few days, here's a doozy: Of the $14.3 trillion of US debt, China holds approximately $1.2 trillion -- or a quarter of all foreign investment in the US government. For years, the US has been like the reliable wealthy grandparents who always send out a hearty check for birthdays and holidays. Our treasury bonds are seen as the most secure and reliable investment in the world. So naturally a country with a super-booming economy like China would want to invest in something in which they know they'd get a return.  Oooops... Hopefully the US won't let China down too much, otherwise Walmart may need to stock its shelves with domestically produced goods, just like the good old days. 

(Check out this funny and educational Huffington Post article on the issue.)

For fear of getting over my head with an issue I'm still grappling to understand, I'll leave you with this: an interactive grocery list that allows you to pick and choose which bills you would pay and which ones you would ignore come Tuesday night. Choose wisely, you'd be surprised at how quickly $174 billion goes away. Like grandma always says, "don't spend it all in one place!" 

July 28, 2011

Calls across America

Tonight I'm coming to you live from a lovely little town in southeastern North Dakota. I'm sitting on the couch in my friend's beautiful two-storey home. She's freshly married, has her own laundry machines, decorations on the wall, and an employer who gives her a salary with benefits. Ahhh... stability. Someday... someday soon, I'll have it too.

In the meantime, I'm making what I hope is my final cross-state journey tomorrow. From one side of North Dakota to the other, across 400 miles of pavement and scenery that is consistently beautiful and at times, exhaustingly empty. I'll curse at oil trucks that are impossible to pass on two-lane roads and I'll most likely drink too much iced tea and wish there weren't so many miles between potty breaks. 

To pass the time, I'll talk on the phone -- at least through the places I have service. I've got phone dates scheduled with friends in Boston, Houston, Seattle, and maybe Lexington. By this time tomorrow, I'll have connected with both coasts and some stops in between. 

Where do you call? Do you stick primarily to numbers near where you live? Or do you branch out and cover a lot of the nation? Or even internationally?

MIT recently completed a very cool project called "The Connected States of America," that analyzed the data from all of AT&T's mobile calls and texts and integrated it with the population of an area. From the data, they developed arbitrary boundaries of where state lines would be drawn if they were based on the number of connections from city to city.

Of course, there is a giant void in the upper midwest where there is virtually zero AT&T service. My calls tomorrow will be sent through Verizon, and even with that carrier, parts of good ol' North Dakota still lack decent service.

Check it out, if you're from a county that has data you can even get location-specfic information.

July 27, 2011

Pretty political geeks

Since yesterday's post was so long, I thought I'd keep this one short and enjoyable. After all, who doesn't love beautiful people?

Each summer, The Hill ( a newspaper that specializes in the nitty gritty on Capitol Hill and is a morning requisite for every political junky in DC) releases its "50 most beautiful" of Capitol Hill. And for people like me, it's a picture show of bright young things whose jobs I'd love to have. Not to mention, most of them look like they'd be fun to hang out with at a young professionals cocktail party. ...And I wouldn't necessarily turn down an offer for a date from some of the guys.

They're young, motivated, intelligent, and they're in charge of a lot more policy development than arm chair politicians would like to admit.

So click away and enjoy some of our nation's prettiest and smartest politicos.

The Hill's 50 most Beautiful

July 26, 2011

Sampler Platter

The internet is awesome (obviously). If it were a buffet, it would be a mile long corridor of every ethnic specialty imaginable, from grilled steaks to aloo palak, paella, beef bourguignon, and a full sushi bar, of course. The problem with such an impressive spread is that an eater is inundated with deliciousness and can't possibly sample everything.

To help you out, tonight I'll give you an appetizer platter of some interesting things I've been checking out online this week.

It's an interactive treat that could take you up to 45 minutes to enjoy if you follow everything I post. I know a lot of you don't have/don't want to spend that much time. But I strongly encourage you to stay with me -- I promise you'll learn some interesting things and by the end, you might even giggle a little.

Let's start with this video. It's a fascinating project that showcases daily life on one day in every single country on the planet. The group received more than 3,000 hours of video submissions and the full film is set to come out soon.

I can't wait to see the full length film. One of the things Alex and I were in awe of right away when we landed in China was the sheer amount of energy and things that happen there while we're asleep in the US. Sure, it seems sort of childlike wonder, but it's super easy to forget about what is happening outside of your safe little locality. As long as things on the other side of the world don't directly impact you, they might as well be on a different planet, right? Not so much.

Take this next article, for example. It reads more like a war film rather than real life. It's 10 pages long (it took me more than a half hour to read), but the author brilliantly profiles what life is like in nearly lawless Yemen. 

As the title implies, the country literally is on the brink of Hell. And it receives little more attention than a brief headline here or there describing Al Qaeda's presence or their water crisis. Robert Worth elicits a horrifying picture of warring tribes, centuries old feuds, thugs who hang out with Al Qaeda elites, and fearless protesters all trying to stay alive in the crumbling nation. If nothing else (and it would be a disgrace if this is the only thing you absorb), at least this article will teach you the origin of "mocha."

Powerful storytelling, eh?

And then there's this:

I frequently took this high speed train between Hangzhou and Shanghai and snapped this photo in the Hongqiao station before returning to Hangzhou one evening in April. High speed rail lines are rapidly expanding in China, especially along the coast. The US even sent our own transportation guru, Ray LaHood, to China to see if the US could incorporate a similar rail strategy. Over the weekend one of them crashed on the Hangzhou - Wenzhou line and tragically killed 39 people. 

This WSJ article  does a good job at explaining the cause of the crash and reaction from China and abroad about the long term implications of the accident. Regardless of the criticisms, my heart goes out to all the families who lost a loved one on the train. I'm just thankful that none of my friends were heading south to nearby Wenzhou for the weekend.

On a much, much lighter note, I found this goodie that pokes at political parties in the US. Personally, I'd be an advocate for the Green Tea Party. Maybe a little diversity would do our two-party system good. After all, we're only six days away from telling the world we accidentally charged too much on our credit cards -- whoops!

Of course, every good meal deserves dessert. So here you have it, The Rainbow Sponge lady. She is awesome and I would love to see her entire infomercial. And she is definitely a comedic respite from the heavy load I burdened you with at the beginning of the post.

Sleep tight, friends. I'll check back in tomorrow.

July 25, 2011

Hot, Couture.

I've been on a bit of a hiatus... not intentionally, it's just what happens when the temperature is more than halfway on its way to hitting the boiling point. Also, it's because I'm still searching for a direction for this blog. No more excuses though, from this point on I'm going to post at least something -- regardless of how short or silly -- every single day. 

I'll start with this gem:

Back in January, I was in Hoi An, Vietnam, which is a small town known for its tailoring. (Some of you might remember this post where I described the ugly shorts and the saga of the white dress). Well, either I have evil friends or they are true friends who love me no matter what I look like, but I rocked the shorts out on the town Thursday night.

On a half-hearted dare from some of those aforementioned friends, I took a challenge to figure out how to style the satin, higher-than-high rise shorts, with a very loud pattern. Most of Wednesday afternoon was spent combing stores up and down 13th Ave in Fargo to find just the right pieces that wouldn't blow my already empty bank account. I think I managed to succeed. I found the wedges on a deep discount, the jewelry for under $10 at Forever 21, and a nice basic white tank at The Limited that will definitely get its money's worth of wear.

By some dumb luck, the Hodo was encouraging all things Hawaiian patterned as part of their annual Dalefest. Unfortunately, those sad, shiny shorts of mine didn't get me a discount. 

Maybe the Hoi An shorts aren't so bad after all. If nothing else, they are a great conversation starter. Trendy? Not so much. But they're certainly a statement piece.

July 14, 2011


What I didn't realize before moving to China is how may adverse side effects that country has on a person's body. Ridding my body of all things China has been one of my biggest hobbies (and challenges) since I came home.

Right away when I got back, I went on a week-long binge of all things deliciously bad: Mexican food laden with cheese, bread, cookies, bread, mashed potatoes and gravy, bread, hamburgers... Baked goods were the real kicker (if you can't tell). It was so great eating bread that didn't taste like Sweetheart with a lot of extra sugar, which was the average find at my neighborhood bakery in Hangzhou. Another thing I couldn't get enough of was salad. The crisp, fresh, and cold texture of a bowl full of greens was a beautiful sensation that was a rare treat in Asia.

Once a week had passed, my stomach was screaming at me because I had eaten everything in seven days that I had denied my body for nearly seven months. So I decided to go on a strict exercise and diet regimen. Of course, the two weddings I was in within a month were added inspiration. Needless to say, the salad obsession became an integral part of my plan.

I've stuck to it and I've lost all of the weight from my beer and food binges in the Far East and have gotten over the novelty of having delicious baked goods and cheese in unlimited quantity. 
Tummy and intestines: China-free. 
Praise be. Though I would love some great street meats on sticks, dumplings, or wok noodles...

In terms of the outside of my body, I've gone to drastic measures to eliminate the air pollutants who have dug in and made my pores home. I've done facials, peels, and invested a small fortune in skincare products to try purify my skin. For those of you who have never had a facial or peel, they're not exactly relaxing, pampering experiences for troubled skin. An aesthetician uses metal lancets to dig junk out of your face, and whether intentional or not, you will cry. And if you get a peel, after your skin is gauged open they wipe a layer of strong acid all over your face for deep exfoliation. 

It burns. I imagine it's how a creme brulee feels when it's being torched to be burned and caramelized: the sugar (like my skin) is crackling and burning in pain, but the end result is something smooth and lovely. 

Yes, I just likened my skin to a French dessert. Weirder things have happened.
Chinese pollutants ridden from pores: work in progress.
In terms of my mind, I'm gradually becoming less China-fied. Living there gave me an ultra high tolerance for awkward social situations and has consequently made me a bit more awkward in general. I just don't notice prolonged silences or odd statements as much as I once did. Every now and again I catch myself saying something Chinese sounding, but no one would catch it unless they had lived there or were an ESL teacher.

Although, one of my friends did admit to saying "bye-bye" at the dental office the other day... It's forgivable, he's only been in the US for a few days.

I still get amazed in large crowds of foreigners. And by foreigners I actually mean Westerners. I had a wonderful time people watching at the Street Fair in Fargo today. It was the largest crowd I've been in since coming home and even though I'm re-accustomed to seeing non-Chinese people, it was still oddly refreshing. 

I did notice there were a lot of Chinese tourists at the Street Fair today. I felt guilty for staring at them like I got stared at in China. It was nice to see fantastically bright and unique shoes, denim that could only have been dyed like that in a Guangdong factory, and shiny new American Eagle shirts purchased within a day or two from the mall in town. They all had the unmistakeable wide-eyed, euphoric expression of someone soaking up a brand-new, fascinating place. 

I wanted to badly to say a little "ni hao" to them... but I would have felt weird with my American friends, who were already poking fun at the way I was curiously staring. 

As much as I can successfully rid China of my body, it oddly became part of my soul. Not in the romanticized way that living in Rome became a part of me. No, China kicked, scratched, and beat his way into my character, and I definitely don't want to detox that. 

July 12, 2011

A new feeling of "foreign"

I’ve been back in the States for a little more than two months now, and writing this blog is one of the many things I miss about living in China. Thankfully, blogs know no borders. For a few weeks now, I’ve been tossing around ideas of things to write about on here, and ultimately have talked myself out of it… until tonight. I logged on to the site for the first time in six weeks and checked my stats, for some reason I still had a little more than 200 hits last month. Though it’s a measly fraction of what I had at the peak of my China adventure, it’s enough to make me feel like there might still be a few people interested in what I have to say.

Here is fair warning that this blog may take any number of routes or perspectives (some of which may be dead ends). If nothing else, it will certainly be a portrait of my current state of affairs (which quite frankly right now is a hot mess).

Since landing two months ago, I’ve mostly reintegrated back into my former life. I drive too much (admittedly my parallel parking skills suffered in my driving hiatus). I happily surf a fast and free internet that doesn’t involve climbing over firewalls. I eat raw vegetables that haven’t been pulverized in a wok.

And I have become a pro-eavesdropper, because for the first time in a long time I can understand everything that’s going on around me. I can read signs, listen to conversations, and speak knowing that the receiver will get the message. I’m back in the land of mutual understanding and comfort.

Of course, the same two questions always come up when I run into people:

  1. How was China?
  2. What are your plans now?
Ugh. If people only knew how loaded those questions are.

My go-to answer for China is, “It was interesting, definitely an education. I guess I’m glad to be back.”

It’s short, vague, and has that golden nugget everyone is waiting to hear “I’m just happy to be back.”

Of course I share other bits if people ask, but it’s a solid answer for encounters in the grocery store.

Then there’s the dreaded second question: What are your plans now?

My answer seems to change on a daily basis.

I’m caught in an interesting dilemma. I call the state with the highest budget surplus and lowest unemployment rate home, yet I don’t have a job.

In a recent blog post on yahoo finance, Daniel Gross reported that there are actually more jobs than people to fill them in North Dakota. In fact, if every single unemployed person in N.D. got a job tomorrow, there would be close to one and a third jobs per person – guaranteed employment! What could be better?

Don’t get me wrong, North Dakota is a fantastic state. In fact, I wouldn’t mind calling Fargo home for a while. However, after spending approximately 40% of the last three years living abroad or on the other end of the US, I’ve grown to crave places that strike my curiosity.

So that’s why I’m an anomaly in the locally booming economy: I’m too used to discovering new places and people. N.D. feels like a very safe and reliable option, and at 22 I still seem to have a lot of reckless spontaneity left in my system.

Here’s what I know for sure, by my birthday (August 30), I ought to have myself set up somewhere – I have to, otherwise I might go crazy. Since coming home I’ve been hopping around from my farm to Fargo and couch surfing, regretfully reliving my bum days from last year at this time.

I’m not going to say where that “somewhere” will be until I have it set, but I do have places narrowed down. Finding a career is proving to be a bit messy, but I’m exploring government agencies, private businesses, and non-profits with equal vigor with the intent of being able to travel between the US and Asia within five years.

But what I really want to do is write. It feels right to me.  I want to capture stories and put them in print. Ideally, long print. In the type of publications that people read when they’re drinking their coffee on Saturday mornings or what they page through while winding down for the evening.

No, it’s not the most practical career choice. And there is a remarkably good chance that this blog may be my only platform. But I’m going to get out there and try. Try. Try.  

Even though I’m no longer a farlang or laowai (foreigner) in the sense of nationality, I still feel like I’m navigating foreign territory while searching for a worthwhile career. So my friends, the Farlang Lady is back and poised for plenty of misadventures.