August 30, 2011

Birthday wishes

In high school, I knew every single classmate's birthday and a fair chunk of other birthdays a few grades above or below me (granted, I only had 27 other classmates). This was during the final era before Facebook, the days before my train of thought jumped to a potential status update whenever something cool was happening around me. Remember those days?

Birthdays in a small high school were awesome. By the time senior year hit, nearly everyone knew your birthday (of course, it was a good way for underclassmen to suck up a bit). Birthdays made one feel uber-popular. My birthday, along with one of my other classmate's always happened to fall on the second week of school on the eve of Labor Day weekend. My classmate's birthday was on the 27, and for three short days he was two years older than me. Joking about it year after year never got old. As the baby of the class, I was always thrilled to finally be the same year as everyone else.

Elementary school birthdays were even cooler. Up until grade seven or eight, most people brought the class treats if it was their birthday. We had cupcakes, frosted cookies, and extra special homemade chocolate suckers late in February, courtesy of of Mrs. Roland. And then of course there were the elementary birthday parties. Guest lists were carefully chosen and highly dramticized. 

Cut in front of someone in the line for the slide on the playground? You're off the guest list. Caught gossiping? You might as well cross your own name off.

Despite all of the hullabaloo, party guests remained pretty consistent throughout the years. Except one time I got invited to an extra special birthday party... a (gasp) boy's birthday party in the third grade. This was no ordinary party, I mean I was a regular at Derek (my cousin) and Cody's parties, but this one was different: I was the only girl invited. I was one among eight or nine stinky little third grade boys.

I had a blast, we played Power Rangers and ate cake. The boys got their party favors, then my friend's mom brought me mine: a beautiful rainbow colored necklace from India (where my classmate had just moved from). I felt so special and then I felt bewildered, shortly after the party favors, I was politely sent home while the boys had a slumber party. It took me a few years to figure out why I didn't get to stay over.

Now birthdays are a little different. It's almost 6 p.m. here in Seattle and more than 100 people have sent me birthday wishes on Facebook. It feels like high school all over again. In fact, my phone stopped sending me notifications if someone wrote on my wall. 

I can't decide if Facebook has made birthdays better or worse. Nowadays if you forget someone's birthday,  you look like a total jerk because it's posted for all to see. On the other hand, Facebook increases birthday wishes by ten-fold or more. People I haven't talked to in far too long have sent me messages today and I'm excited to catch up with them, if nothing else Facebook birthdays are a good way to reengage communication.

Aside from my virtual birthday wishes, I'm grateful for the mellowness that birthday parties have assumed with age. No longer am I concerned about who to invite or uninvite to my parties, my mom doesn't need to bake three dozen cupcakes, and I'm not worried about how many "happy birthdays" I get in the hall. And thankfully, I'm past the rough stage where everyone was turning 21 and birthdays were hazardous things to endure. (Being the baby in class helped me out a bit and prevented me from attending too many crazy shindigs).

Nowadays, my friends and I are coasting through our twenties and birthdays are great excuses for a great dinner and a happy hour of drinks and ice cream. 

Cheers to being 23, and here's to hoping it's much less tumultuous but just as interesting as 22 was.

And with that, I leave you with a fantastic song that has a verse about turning 23 (cheesy? yes. But listen anyway, it's a great song). 
Favorite line: If you're gonna get made, don't be afraid of what you learned... Almost too fitting for the awkward post-college, career-building stage my friends and I are in. 

p.s. Thanks Kristen for sharing this song a few weeks ago :) 

August 24, 2011

The cliche American Dream

The bags are packed, the car is loaded, and another small town girl is lured in by big city lights. 

My story isn't unique nor is it uncommon, tomorrow morning I'm embarking on the proverbial "American dream" that millions of people have attempted for years. Do I have a job? No. Do I have a place to live? Technically yes, but it's not permanent. I'm going solely on a gut feeling, a lot of faith, and a bank account that will let me get by for a few months without a paycheck (if need be). 

This is the kind of thing people my age do all the time. The scenario is immortalized in countless films and has been written in lyrics of artists like Journey, Kenny Chesney and others. In fact, the next three days on the road with my dad would make a great movie montage that would fit into nearly any coming of age film out there. My soundtrack? Tom Petty's "American Girl."

Cliche? Maybe a little bit, but I'm doing the whole "American dream" thing, I might as well play up the stereotype.

Of all the faraway places I've gone, I've always had a return ticket -- so I've always known in the back of my mind when I'll be home again. This time my ticket is open-ended and my return is indefinite, maybe that's why I'm feeling oddly nervous about it. 

The movies always make studying for big exams and applying for jobs seem quick and semi-enjoyable, at least when they're put to good music. They showcase the determination of the main character while using brilliant editing techniques to erase the sheer number of hours spent prepping, priming, studying, and scouring job boards. Check out this clip from Legally Blonde, the   saddest looking moment is when she sighs about missing a frat party. I have a lot of friends who studied for the LSAT, and they had a lot more awful looking frazzled moments than that.

Movies make us all believe that hard work pays off, and with a few daring moves you could find yourself living "happily ever after" before you know it. Real life doesn't quite work that way, but you know that already. Problems and worries aren't resolved in a two hour plot line. And big risks don't always render big rewards.  (I can't help but hear this Matchbox 20 song in my head as I write...)

Here I am, stubborn, bullheaded and running away from the greatest economic boom my North Dakota hometown has ever seen to jump into the most toxic job market the US has experienced in decades. It's illogical and somewhat insane. I'll admit that I might be making a very stupid decision doing this. I'm either crazy or self-assured, but like most things in life reality lies somewhere in between. 

Unlike the movies, life doesn't have the benefit of foreshadowing, editing, or a soundtrack to move things along. Though it would be convenient to edit out scenes from some of the 1,200 miles I'll be covering, I'm trying to look at it as the one and only chance my dad and I have to take a cross-country roadtrip together.

Open road and empty space, heading west to the coast. A father, a daughter, and a dream.

Ohhh snap! I think I just wrote the subtitle to next month's Lifetime feature film. Here's to hoping it has a happy ending. 

August 22, 2011

The welcoming war zone

Tonight I'm feeling lazy, stressed out, and totally in denial that I will be moving to the other end of the country in two days...

In my state of denial, I've spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the TV tonight. Thankfully, the Travel Channel had an all-evening marathon of my fav, Anthony Bourdain. I watched snippets of his Ukraine episode and most of his show on Maine, but I was enthralled with his Kurdistan episode. He visited the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq and then went into the dominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey. Because Iraq is still considered a war zone, Tony and his crew when through special training (for insurance purposes and to terrify/prepare them). Despite the scary "war zone" title Kurdistan carries, Mr. Bourdain showcased its beauty, complexity and hospitality. As always, he left me wishing I could get a passport stamp to the places he goes. 

As far as checking the episode out, you are left to the mercies of the Travel Channel re-run schedule (or Netflix). But you can check out Anthony's blog and see clips from the episode right now, if you'd like.

...and just in case you're curious and have a few minutes, here are some tourism videos (slideshows) I found on YouTube. I kind of appreciate the videos' rustic (?) feel, a lot of the photos are low quality and the clips get a little bit long, but I really dig the music.

August 21, 2011

Solo going

Hey friends! I'm back! Sorry for the brief hiatus, I was drafting a handful of posts from my hostel in Vancouver, but due to lack of sleep/very poor internet, they had to wait until I made it back home. 

On Friday morning I sat at an eight-person table that was only half full. We sat there with our large white plates that were scattered with pieces of toast or bagel halves smothered in raspberry jam and our full glasses of orange juice. We bit, we chewed, we gazed around... and none of us spoke. 

(Since I'm a morning person, this was super painful for me. But I recognize that I am one of only 32 people on the planet who love mornings, so I'm a bit more forgiving).

We all sat alone together. 

When was the last time you were by yourself? No, not the kind of "alone" you are right now as you're sitting at your computer reading this. And no, I don't mean when you were in your car driving to work in your hometown. I'm talking about the last time you were consciously aware that you were by yourself in an unfamiliar territory. Maybe it was at a restaurant, or at a clinic, or perhaps it was an aisle of the grocery store you had never needed to go to until you found that great new recipe.

I love watching people the instant they realize that they're by themselves (and trust me, I'm usually guilty of this). Often times it's in a bar or restaurant and their friend gets up for more drinks or to go use the bathroom. The loner left at the table immediately grabs either the drink menu (for reading material) or their cellphone, to appear as if they're loaded down with social engagements.

Being alone is sometimes awkward. But more often than not, it's empowering.

Exploring Vancouver on my own was perfect. I rented a bicycle and went around the entire perimeter of Stanley Park, which is adjacent to Vancouver's downtown area and it is surrounded by water on three sides. After my ride, I treated myself to a delicious smoked salmon benedict breakfast at a place simply and appropriately named "bistro."

Eating out is one of my favorite things of traveling alone (which I think I alluded to in an earlier post). I always treat myself to one, sometimes two, fantastic meals if I'm solo. I eat slowly and deliberately, and I can order whatever the hell I feel like because I know I will be the only one footing the bill. 

But sitting inside one's own head get's exhausting after a while, so I was thankful that I had great roommates in my hostel. Friday night, an Australian girl and I sought out Chinese food. We heard about this place called "Hon's" and when we found it, there were poor quality photos of noodle dishes that were labeled in badly translated English. Perfect.

The restaurant was a large cafeteria-style room with small tables and loud, chattering Chinese people. There were massive pots of dumplings boiling and one cook was kneading and pulling noodles. It was straight off the streets of Shanghai. We ate with chopsticks (duh), I practiced my now horrible Mandarin, and my food turned out to be nothing like what I thought I had ordered. It's nice to know that Chinese menus can still get the best of me on this side of the Pacific.. the food was delicious nonetheless.

My dinner guest was my age and she is searching for her first job out of college, too. After graduating from university in 2010 (like me), she moved from her town near Brisbane, Australia, to Armenia for a six-month program. She returned home this spring, got restless, and decided to pack two suitcases and fly to Vancouver. As of now, she's living in the hostel, but each day she's out in the city searching for work, an address, and friends to help her etch out a good life in Canada. And she's doing it alone, but with good faith it will all work out.

Three years ago when I was in Paris, I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower alone. In that moment I had the most intense feeling of homesickness I've ever felt -- there I was, atop one of the world's most iconic structures overlooking one of the greatest cities, and all I wanted to do was cry. I was surrounded by families and way too many lovey-dovey couples, and I was that girl holding my arm out to take a picture of myself. That nasty, knotted feeling prompted me to call it the "Eiffel Tower Syndrome," or "ETS." I've periodically experienced ETS since then, but I can recognize and deal with the feeling better now than I could that afternoon in Paris. 

Though I appreciate the freedom of traveling alone, I would rather share it with a friend. Stories become more exciting, challenges become easier to deal with, and it's so much more fun to tag team in a bar or club... but for any of you who can't remember the last thing you did all alone, spend some time in your own head in new surroundings. Go to the park you always drive by but never stop.  Eat at that sketchy looking restaurant, odds are the prices are good and the food is even better. It's amazing the things you find out about yourself when you're the only one to rely on.

...Cheers to all my friends who are kickin' it around the globe by themselves, from Thailand to London and from Germany to Vancouver, keep rocking it. 

August 17, 2011

My dad..the hipster?

On any given street corner or in front of any [non]-Starbucks coffeehouse, kids my age are clad in wayfarers, high-rise shorts, and vintage looking hiking boots or sneakers. Men wear cut off tank-tops and deep v-necks. Women are in ultra-feminine old school dresses or high-rise shorts. Many have an architectural and androgynous haircut. 

These are the people who ooze urban cool, if only through appearance. They are to today as the grunge scene was to the 1990s and the hippie scene was in the 1960s. Today's counterculture-ites are known as "hipsters." Perhaps you've heard of them?

I'm not going to get into what a hipster's platform is, because quite frankly I don't really know. I'm pretty sure they tend to be liberal, they're into bands that few have ever heard of, and they love vintage stores as much as they do American Apparel or Urban Outfitters.

Seattle is the first place I've been where I've seen such a high concentration of hipsters. Or at least what I think are hipsters, some probably aren't, but it's hard to tell based solely on looks.

There are a few hipster trends I've picked up on though, and I find them kind of funny. 

First off: taxidermy. It's hip here. You know, like stuffed pheasants or deer heads? Nearly every country bar in the midwest is loaded with them, which doesn't make a bar cool, it just makes it normal at home. Not to mention that nearly every single house has some sort of preserved critter hanging on the wall throughout the Plains. 

But here, it's a cool thing to have. Maybe its because a pheasant or a moose head evokes a nostalgic sense of America when its strategically placed in a supper club or speakeasy-esque bar. Or perhaps hipsters find preserved animals ironic in some strange way... who knows.

Then there's beer, hipsters love the old, cheap throwback beers like PBR, Schlitz, and Hamm's, the latter two of which I've only heard of courtesy of my dad who said he used to drink it in college. But PBR has been a mainstay my entire life, I'm pretty sure that was my Grandpa Arnie's favorite beer, and it's always available at the local bars at home. I would bet that our light-up Schlitz beer sign that's hanging in our garage could be sold for a solid price to any honest-to-goodness hipster establishment in the Seattle area.

Now on to clothes, I alluded to the hipster wardrobe at the beginning, but I've come to the conclusion that [stereotypically speaking], my dad (who is the least hipster of anyone on Earth) could fit well into the look of a hipster. He only wears button up, plaid, western-style shirts -- which is the shirt of choice for both male and female hipsters alike. His jeans are typically classic fit, worn-out Wranglers -- a style that some hipsters flock to (though Levi's are the preferred choice of the rich kid hipster). My dad's boots are always dirty and sometimes worn looking, which I think qualifies him for the hipster category. 

Oh- and I can't forget about the taxidermy and antlers. My dad doesn't get into taxidermy, but like every other farmer at home, he runs into quite a few sets of antlers throughout the spring planting season, which has given our dogs endless enjoyment for chew toys. Between the Schlitz sign and our collection of antlers, my dad could become a millionaire from all the hipster kids.

I mean, of course my dad looks a hundred times more like a farmer than he does hipster. But I think it's kind of entertaining to imagine him standing on the street corner wearing a restyled version of what everyone else has on but looking as though an entire world stands between him and the hipsters.

August 11, 2011

Sensory overload

....and I'm back!

Right now I may be doing the most stereotypically "Seattle" thing ever: sitting in a coffeeshop, with large windows that face a busy street. The people watching is prime, it's almost like a movie montage: couples variety, dog walkers, nervous and giddy men carrying huge bouquets of flowers, and plenty of broody artist types who act too cool for their own good.

The word the keeps popping into my head as I explore this place is "lush." By that I don't just mean the insanely huge, beautiful green trees. Or the huge bushes of periwinkle, blush pink, and white hydrangeas, the moss and fern covered rocks, or the colors bursting from the flower markets. No, "lush" applies in so many more ways than to just the greenery in Seattle.

According to the dictionary on my computer, "lush" also refers to something that is "very rich and providing great sensory pleasure." So I'm going to break it down into my five senses:

Sight: I think I just took care of that one with the description of the nature. It's vibrant, calming, and it's everywhere. And the skies are blue! Beautifully blue! I know it's grey from time to time, but I have been blessed with outrageously great weather so far. So here are a few photos for your viewing delight:

Hearing: music is everywhere. Great music sounds from nearly every street corner down by the waterfront downtown. Banjos and fiddles with bearded crooners wailing out great bluegrass, acoustic guitar players shouting out Beatles songs, and every now and then there's even an old blues singer. The music blends in beautifully to the sounds of fish mongers in the market and espresso machines screaming out their steam from the 100s of open-windowed cafes.

Touch: this one is a little trickier to fit into the "lush" theme, but I guess all the handshakes I've had count for something. Handshakes with new acquaintances, handshakes with professionals (who have careers I hope to eventually have), handshakes with potential roommates (along with handshakes of landlords I don't want to ever give rent checks to)... Yes, I think handshakes fit well into this category. Seattle certainly attracts a lush variety of people. It's alternative, but clean-cut. It's smart, safe, edgy, active... it's a place where you can be as unconventional or traditional as you like and be able to find a crowd that loves you. Obviously every city has that element, but things appear to coexist more harmoniously here. (I can tell it's getting late... that was a very Chinese-y sentence for me to write).

Smell: growing plants, coffee, and delicious food. I want to say that I smell fish, but that would be a lie because all the fish here is so fresh that it doesn't actually smell like fish... My olfactory sense went into overdrive last night when my friend and I busted out our inner Italian donne (women) and prepared the most outrageous dinner, which I will describe in...

...Taste: I had heard of heirloom tomatoes and rumor had it they were wonderful... I had no idea how great they are in real life. Their wonky shape and color doesn't accurately portray how beautiful they are to eat. In fact, after eating them I'm convinced that their unique look only adds to their deliciousness. You know how when you bite into a perfectly ripe apple or a fresh-picked cucumber or carrot, you can taste hints of the soil it was grown in and the sunshine it soaked up? The heirlooms were the most perfect mix of sunshine and soil. Ok, so I know that sounds a little "out there," but I'm pretty sure you all know what I'm talking about.

My friend and I prepared a three course meal (plus rosemary bread and oil) of barolo risotto (we used Chianti wine instead), white onions stuffed with a mix of pancetta and tomato paste, and pasta with a rustic roasted vegetable sauce. We used those wonderful tomatoes, along with four or five other fresh veggies and roasted them in the oven until they were all melty and perfect. Of course, like any good Italian meal, we had way too much food. There are leftovers in the fridge, want to have some?

So far, Seattle has been a very rich experience and has made my senses happy. Now if only it would start making my bank account happy by finally being gainfully employed...

August 9, 2011

Sleepy near Seattle

Good morning! I writing from car 7, seat 19 of the Amtrak train from Vancouver to Seattle. I've got two seats to myself on this beautiful, nearly-cloudless morning. I'm finally making it to the scenic part of the journey, the strait leading to the ocean is on one side of me and rolling hills and forest is on the other. Up to this point, I've seen primarily industrial parks. That's what I love about traveling by train, regardless of what country you're in, trains let you see the raw and real part of the landscape that cities would prefer to hide.

Graffiti-covered concrete walls open up into large industrial parks, and if you look closely most times you can spot a makeshift camp where someone slept the night before. This morning, I saw one man picking berries off a bush near his staked spot in the industrial yard. Once we got out of the city, there were farms with big groups of migrant workers handpicking the crop. The workers' children were wrapped up in blankets and were playing near the edge of the field. The scene I just described can be played out in almost any country in the world. Railways give you a good feel of the raw, gritty underbelly of the city. 

I left for the train station by 5:40 a.m. after three hours of so-so sleep. I was on the first floor of a hostel that had a massive pub with live music on the ground floor... I had ear plugs, but it didn't do much good. I should have just stayed in the bar for more than just the pint I had earlier in evening, but I was beat and really didn't want to be a little bit drunk boarding the train this morning. So I waved my old lady card proudly and tried to go to sleep by 11. 

The handful of hours I spent walking around a bit of Vancouver were great. The city is charming and clean -- as it ought to be from the Olympics. And it was certainly easy to get around. I had dinner at a Lebanese restaurant recommended by a girl in the hostel. The restaurant was packed, but there were a few stools at the bar so I grabbed one. 

Some people think it's awkward and uncomfortable to go to a nice restaurant alone. I happen to love it. It's the most perfect opportunity to people watch and being alone forces you to pay close attention to the food. I ate tabouleh and falafel with shredded beets and pita and washed it down with the most delicious mix of Pimms, cranberry, mint and grapefruit juice. Though I made small talk with the bartender, I was mostly engrossed with my food. 

Then I grabbed a pint of beer at the aforementioned bar, chatted with some Chinese-Canadians, and then pretended to go to sleep. And now, I think is a perfect time for a little nap on the train...

August 6, 2011

Move. Eat. Learn.

Ok, so I feel like I may be falling into a rut... but I'm a total sucker for montage-y short films that convey a single idea through beautifully weaving together glimpses of densely rich and colorful scenes. So just like last Sunday (yes, this is going to count as my Sunday post), I'm giving you a delightful trio of morning treats.

I was only going to share one of the films, but then I got sucked into all three. They complement each other like bacon, eggs and pancakes: fantastic on their own, but downright brilliant when together. (Not to mention the actor is very, very cute).

Here's what the filmmaker had to say about his films on his Vimeo profile: 
3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage... all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ....into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films.....
= a trip of a lifetime.
move, eat, learn

Let's start with "move." The average person walks 100,000 miles in a lifetime. Which is enough to cross the globe four times. Where have you moved today?

MOVE from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

On to "eat." For those of you who have followed me through Rome, DC, and China, you know how much I love to write about food. Embarrassingly, I have more photos of meals I've cooked or eaten than I do of my nephew on my cellphone. Food is perhaps the easiest and most authentic way to discover the local culture. 

If the 8-year old version of myself could meet me today, she would wrinkle her nose and let out a big "ewwww," if I told her about all the "weird" things I've eaten. At that stage in life, I still thought it was appropriate to dump milk on everything -- from mac 'n cheese to chicken noodle soup. Thankfully, I've grown out of that and have happily avoided major gastrointestinal issues as I've snacked my way around the globe.

EAT from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

I saved my favorite for last, "learn." 

Since January 2010, I've been trying my best to write down at least one thing that I learn everyday. I seriously slacked off last summer and am missing the better part of June and July '10, but I've diligently tried to recognize something I learn each and every day. Sometimes I learn something profound, most times it's something simple. 

What did I learn today? I learned that it's much more comfortable to call old teachers by their "Mr." or "Mrs." regardless of how long it's been since I was their student.

What did you learn today?

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

August 5, 2011

Karratha and Crosby: Parallel boomtowns a world apart

Oil. It's the hot word in town and has been for a couple of years now. But since last year at this time, things have exploded. Housing has become more scarce and outrageously expensive, grocery prices have gone up, roads have been ripped up from endless multi-ton truck traffic, and it seems as though everyone is complaining about "all the strangers in town."

Tonight, I got a strange sense of relief (mixed with anger) that there is another place, very much like northwest North Dakota, that is reeling from the consequences of a natural resource boom (or rather, curse). In fact, the similarities are eerie.

Australia's big boom is taking place in Pilbara, the country's northwestern-most region. The area is rich in iron ore and the nearby neighbor China is awfully hungry for it. Workers fly to remote, small towns for two to three weeks at a time, then return home to their families for their two weeks off. But while on the job, they find themselves with little more to do in town than go to the local bar. And housing is becoming a big problem too; homes in mining towns sell for nearly double what they would in cities like Sydney, Perth, or Melbourne. Most mining companies shack their men up in single person trailers that are connected in one big block (what we Americans like to refer to as "man camps.") Oh, and I can't forget to mention the labor shortage troubles in the service industries. When energy workers can make upwards of $150,000 Australian dollars each year (which is nearly equal to US dollars), why would someone want to work for much less waiting tables or working in a clothing store?

Sound familiar??

Then there are land use issues. Aboriginal lands are being snatched up by large energy companies and the native carvings and spiritual grounds are being totally disregarded in pursuit of development. 

Small towns in Australia's mining areas are struggling with infrastructure. They're finding it difficult to encourage miners and their families to move their permanently. Since so many energy companies provide housing and meals for their workers, locals are frustrated that there is little incentive for the energy sector employees to become part of the community. (With the exception of the Aussie football player).

At any rate, the little town of Karratha has a lot in common with my hometown of Crosby. Check it out. Australia's boomtown curse. Want to see a side-by-side comparison? Here's the documentary I worked on last summer about ND's oil boom... granted, things have gotten much worse around here since then. From Ghost Town to Boom Town.

August 4, 2011


I'm sitting in my room right now looking at my floor and the disaster in my closet... it looks like a raccoon went through the room and scavenged and scurried away with whatever he wanted and left everything else in disarray.

Though I'm not 100% certain I'm moving to Seattle, I'm packing as if I am. That way, when I fly home and want to move there, I can turn around within a couple of days to drive back. I'm no stranger to suitcases, but it's been a while since I've gone through my entire wardrobe.

I've got blazers, t-shirts, and jeans from high school that were super hip at the time and have since lost their edginess. Though I'm neither a trendsetter nor a fashionista, I'm perfectly comfortable taking a fashion risk every now and again, which is exactly why my liquid leggings, fringey bell-sleeved leather cardigan (shocking they made something like that...), and beaded corduroy blazer are staying in my closet. I'll tuck them away so 20 years from now my [hypothetical] daughter can find them and either a) make fun of me or b) start bragging to her friends that she has the coolest mom ever. Naturally, I'm hoping for the latter...

At any rate, I'm aiming to whittle down my wardrobe to two suitcases and a backpack's worth of clothes. As my friend Todd would say, I've got a first world problem trying to get rid of clothing in order that my wardrobe will fit in only two large suitcases. I consider myself very fortunate. After living out of luggage for a solid 12 months (remember, I was apartment-less for much of last summer as well), I have simply forgotten about a lot of the clothes I own. For some of them, it means an instant death. And for other garments, it feels like they're brand-new again.

With that, I leave you with a bit of advice from my favorite, Tim Gunn. I've been a loyal Project Runway fan since the show began, and I adore Tim. He doles out all sorts of good advice -- relating to both fashion and life in general. This interview is definitely awkward... but Tim makes it work!

August 3, 2011

This Apple falls far from its tree

Back in February, I was laying poolside at a hotel in Kota Kinabalu happily listening to my beautiful little purple iPod Shuffle. Two hours later, my Shuffle disappeared... Meaning, I was irresponsible with it and the tiny little guy never made it back into my purse before we checked out of our hotel.

I was upset my music box was gone. The Shuffle was a couple of years old and is Apple's cheapest mp3 player -- it's also the most convenient for the gym and airplanes. Mine stored around 100 songs and had a battery life of nearly 24 hours. At only one square inch, it easily clipped on my shirt during a workout and could be slid into my wallet while traveling. But somewhere along the equator, I lost it and some lucky Malaysian is listening to my music. Right now.

As an anecdote, my friend and travel companion Jenn, surprised me with a Chinese-made Shuffle once we returned to Hangzhou. It was lime green and had the same buttons as my real Shuffle, but it was oriented vertically instead of horizontally. The packaging was simple and very Apple-like and it promised it was designed in California. I think it cost her 50RMB, or about $7.70. 

When I plugged its USB into my computer (which is an Apple), nothing happened. It didn't respond. Of course, the instructions promised it would work seamlessly with Macs, but very few Chinese tech gadgets (especially knockoffs) are Mac-friendly. 

Jenn's sweet gesture was a true example of "it's the thought that counts," but in China the fakes couldn't always be counted on. I saw knockoffs of everything from gadgets to handbags that looked legit, and I saw other fakes that were clearly...fake. This practice translates from everything to a product or a recipe all the way up to entire stores and chains of stores opening up blatantly as copy cats.

That's why it came as no surprise to me a few days ago when I found news stories about a fake Apple store in Kunming, China. Granted, this one is a bit more elaborate than most with employee uniforms and ID tags, but I can't tell you how many Apple stores were in my city that had no official affiliation with Apple. I think the only two legit Apple stores in China are in Beijing and Shanghai, and even those cities are filled with dozens of impostor stores.

In Chinese business, if someone has a good idea that becomes popular, it's only logical that people copy the original business so more people can become successful. "Intellectual property" is lost in cultural translation. For example, the brand Lacoste has a crocodile as its logo on clothing. Since the brand is expensive and seen as high class, there are copies in China, most notably "Cliocoddle," which has a number of stores in Shanghai and Hangzhou located in nice shopping areas. Then there is the store with no name, just a big green croc that looks just like the ones on Lacoste's polos.

Here's another example, I noticed a lot of stores that were called "5 cm," "7 cm," and "9 cm," in Hangzhou. Apparently one of those is a very popular and legitimate Korean clothing store chain. Which one? I have no idea. It all looked as though they sold the same stuff, but two of the three are Chinese copies.

I guess the same thing sort of happens in the US too. I mean, look at how many coffee shop chains started popping up after Starbucks' success. Then there are diet crazes that spark serious grocery store trends. And cupcake boutiques are popping up in cute neighborhoods all across the country. 

If only the Chinese would add an ounce or two of creativity so it was a little less obvious they were copying someone else... I guess you can't knock them for their blatant honesty about using someone else's idea to earn their own fortune.

August 1, 2011

...12 months later

A year ago today, I pretended to fly to Hong Kong. And by "pretend" I mean I made it only to Denver before my friend and I turned back for Fargo. There were some snafus with our visa applications and some miscommunication with the job we had waiting in China. 

This post was supposed to be a thrilling monologue of my first impressions of Hong Kong, instead it's an angry and somewhat embarrassing rant that got this blog started on a note that I never anticipated. My failed flight to Hong Kong ushered in nearly two months of waiting, confusion, let downs, and plenty of anxiety and frustration. I had no apartment, my job in China was in jeopardy, and I had no plan B. 

Fast forward to today and some things haven't changed -- I'm still working on finding an apartment, I don't have a job today, but I'm optimistic I will before the month is over, and I do have a plan B if my current track leads nowhere (a lesson learned the hard way last summer). 

Throughout last August and September, the sentiment that I kept hearing from people is that everything inevitably works out the way it should. My experience in China is living proof of that. No, I didn't go with the person I initially sought to go with, but she acquired some very cool experience stateside this past year and is on the fast track to becoming a successful lawyer. And the friend I did go with, well if you've been following the blog at all throughout the year, you know that we went through chaos and hell together and came out of it bonded (and maybe a little scarred) for life.

After I finally made it to Hong Kong for a visit in November, I was immensely thankful that I didn't go there before tackling the mainland. They are two very different creatures, and I think China would have been grotesquely overwhelming had I spent time in Hong Kong before giving the PRC a shot. 

The advice people have been giving me this summer is the exact same words that I heard last year at this time, "everything all works out the way it should." And just like last August 1, I am amidst a giant transition. 

I've had enough of just talking about what I want to do and have decided to just take the risk and DO it. I booked tickets to Vancouver and Seattle, and will be out there next week at this time. In the 10 days I'm there, I intend on finding a place to live and land my first salaried job. Both much easier said than done. 

I have some leads and I'm really excited to check out the city. I feel like I have to turn myself into a walking bullet list of personality traits, professional abilities, and career goals. I'll be interviewed by potential employers, housemates, and in a sense by potential new friends (meeting new people always seems to feel like a less-stressful version of a job interview). I'm looking forward to the new opportunities and am more than ready to re-enter the world of pencil skirts and pumps.

My feet haven't had a chance to gather dust beneath them in the last few years, but I'm ready to sit still for a while. Seattle might seem like a random pick, but I'm going on a gut feeling and a lot of faith that the wise people who have given me advice this August and last are right, that everything will work out as it should.