Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Results Are In

The people have spoken, but I have not listened. (Well, except for the subtitle.) I don't know if everyone recognized the Auden reference and hated it, or if it just passed unnoticed, but I, at least, think that the line from "Musee des Beaux Arts" best captures both my own somewhat untidy tendencies and the typically trivial, dogs-go-on-with-their-doggy-life nature of my blog. I do the reverent, passionate waiting in private; here, on the internet, you'll only find me skating on a pond at the edge of the wood.

Metaphorically, of course. "On a pond" implies a distinct lack of handrails for me to grip as I ice skate, and I'm sure I don't like that idea.

Do these things happen to other people too?

Having finished the search for housing—a story I’ll tell later—I’ve been searching for cheap furniture small enough to fit into my future space. My aunt’s best friend’s son was moving out, so she sent me down to his apartment to scavenge his desk and, possibly, bed. (I feel like such a vulture.)

After determining that both the desk and bed were too large for my place, at least if I want to move around, I said goodbye and headed out, only realizing once he had shut the door behind me that I had no idea how to leave his apartment building.

Luckily, there were lighted EXIT signs, so, like any rational person, I followed those, only to find that they spat me out into a locked parking lot. I looked around the gate for an open button of some kind, but found nothing. Shrugging my shoulders, I turned around to the door I came from, only to find that, of course, it was locked.

Crap. I wandered around the back of the parking lot into an open courtyard, only to find that all the doors there were locked too. There was a set of stairs, though, leading to a balcony off the first-floor apartments, so I went to try the doors up there.

Again, no luck: all the doors were locked, and my situation was increasing in awkwardness, as to reach those doors I had to pass by not only a couple loudly having sex in their first-floor bedroom, but also an Indian woman standing at her sliding door and suspiciously watching me pass. Oh, and did I mention that the setup required me to walk by her door three times? Yep. I’m sure she was delighted.

(But not as delighted as the girl having sex, at least by the sound of it.)

I wonder if, at this point, I should just call the guy whose furniture I was seeing. Does the embarrassment of having to ask a stranger to come get me outweigh the embarrassment of being late for FHE because I was locked inside an apartment complex? I decide that yes, it does, and I look around the courtyard for another means of escape. There’s a small storage area in back, and I scramble up onto a pile of cinderblocks, thinking maybe I can escape over the fence. Unfortunately, that path would only drop me down into the locked courtyard next door. I return to the courtyard to find the Indian woman standing outside now, openly staring at me.

“Excuse me,” I say. “I’m trapped inside this apartment complex and need a way out. Can I walk through your apartment to get back inside the building and use the doors from in there?"

She stares at me. “I…no…speak…English,” she says.

Just my luck. I ask a few more questions and find she’s not even a north Indian; she’s a Telugu speaker from Andra Pradesh. I test out her Indian language education anyway: “Kya ap hindi bol sakte hain?” Can you speak Hindi?

Her eyes widen and she nods, eagerly. I’ve forgotten most of my Hindi but can still understand some; her English production is poor but she has some comprehension. In the next few minutes, we manage, with her speaking Hindi and me speaking English pantomime, to communicate a few basic facts: I’m trapped in this apartment building and would like a way out. She’s just visiting her sister in America for a few months. I would like to walk through her apartment. Not into! Through! She would like to guard her sister’s apartment well. Not into! Not through! I would like to know if she has keys to any of these doors. Her sister, who is the building manager, has all the keys and will be home in an hour. An hour? I can’t wait that long! Well, then, she says, call your friend.

I sigh and dial the phone, knowing that this has only been made more embarrassing by the fact that I left the guy’s apartment roughly twenty minutes ago. I don’t know whether I am disappointed or elated when he doesn’t pick up.

So then I’m really stuck. FHE has started ten minutes before, and I’m looking at waiting another hour for the building manager to return. I eye the fence surrounding the courtyard, which is only seven or eight feet high, and I decide that maybe I can scale it and jump down on the other side. I find a plastic chair, set it up in front of the fence, and am standing on it contemplating how best to hop the fence when a large white van pulls up and Building Manager Sister steps out. She wants to be polite, I can tell, but her face clearly asks, What the hell is this white girl doing on my fence?

I explain the situation to her, hopefully clearly enough that she can fill her sister in later, and she tells me where the emergency exit button is in the garage, hidden in a dark corner I never would have spotted on my own. Oh. Problem solved. I press the button and walk free, arriving at FHE just in time, unfortunately, for kickball. At least I had a good story to tell while trying to avoid my turn to kick.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Name of the Prose

It has been pointed out to me that "Upon the Islands of the Sea" is no longer an appropriate blog title. And then it has been pointed out to me that since the Book of Mormon and D&C are referring to the American continents as much as to actual islands, it's still an appropriate blog name. And then it has been pointed out to me that my friends think far too hard about trivial things.

I'm just kidding. That last one didn't take any pointing out.

So I'm trying to think of a new blog title, but, since any creative or decision-making ability I once had seems to have abandoned me, possibly in protest over my rotting my brains out on High School Musical and the Ensign, I put the decision to you all, my loyal readership. Pick a name from my shortlist or invent your own, I don't care, just pick me something appropriate. Go on, use those overthinking skills.

(Oh, and bonus points if you can identify the poems some of these titles come from. And I have a favorite, but I won't tell you which one. Just remember that you may not be voting in a perfect democracy.)

a rock, not an island
a hundred visions and revisions
go west, young woman
deep down things
some untidy spot
like a coastal shelf
my sweet old et cetera
profanation of our joys

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I’ve spent the last few days doing nothing at my parents’ rented condo in Mountain View, mainly to take a break from all the nothing I was doing at my uncle’s house in Piedmont. (Forty-five percent of me loves spending entire days refreshing the Craigslist rentals page; the sane fifty-five really wishes school would hurry up and start already.) Yesterday’s program of activities included a long swim, dinner at Google, and a pint of ice cream while watching TV. Today’s program included a long walk through a county park, dinner at a sushi restaurant, and a pint of ice cream while watching TV.

(Side note: what is TV coming to these days? My parents and I stumbled upon a program that followed real estate assessors doing their jobs at various houses and provided pre-commercial break dramatic tension with questions like “Will their equity offset their expenses?” We nearly died laughing. And then we actually stuck around through the commercials to find out. I guess I should ask what my family is coming to nowadays.)

(Oh, and their equity didn’t offset their expenses. It so rarely does.)

Before watching TV—okay, full disclosure, maybe it was sometime in between episodes of Really Gross Medical Surgeries on Live TV and Boring Reality Show #784—my parents and I went out to, as they put it, “pre-shop” for their new home in the Boston area. They didn’t want to buy furniture, just to fondle it. So we spent about a half hour in Crate and Barrel, my mom and I still dressed in the T-shirts and sweat pants we had worn on our walk that morning, and entertained ourselves by sitting on the couches and reading the display books, picking up random kitchen equipment—a tiny scale, an adjustable measuring spoon, a $5.95 cake tester—and chucking throw blankets at each other. (Hey, we were just following directions.) We are among this nation’s elite, you know. Take a minute and think about that.

And then we went to Ikea. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, and it was a revelation to me that stores like that exist. I wandered through, wide-eyed and excited by all the cheap bookshelves filled with Swedish-language books and the neat computer desks that transform into cabinets. (Take that, Michael Bay!) I was turning the pages of a translated Stephen Fry book when my parents called to tell me they had already left the store, and then, suddenly, my carefree walk through fantasy living rooms had turned into a kind of cruel endurance maze in a Scandinavian modern style furniture warehouse roughly the size of Rhode Island. I couldn’t find the door I had come in, and the other door was on the floor below, after about a half-mile (I’m not kidding; I timed it) of affordable home accessories, and then upon exiting through that door all I could find was a parking lot exit, which took walking from parking area 2A down to parking area 2V, easily another half-mile, by which point my parents had called three times to laugh at me, and then lost patience and simply driven over to pick me up.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, or even why I’m telling it, but there are a few salient points that stand out: there are a lot of low-cost utilitarian home products in this world, and also a few high-cost useless ones; time spent watching TV with my parents beats time spent alone teaching myself to program computers to guess the number; I have absolutely no sense of direction, though that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever driven with me; and I have a lot fewer interesting things to blog about now that I live in the First World. I mean, I could live-blog each refreshing of the Craigslist page, but, hey, watching TV is so much easier. Besides, that way I might actually learn what “equity” means.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Californians Anonymous

Hi, my name is Petra, and I’m a moveaholic. I haven’t lived in the same house for more than two years since I was 13. I went to six different schools before graduating high school. I’m just now starting on my tenth city of residence in only 22 years.

Some of this isn’t my fault: my mom is also a natural nomad and instilled the habit in us early with the dinnertime game of “Where In The World (Should We Move)?” (The final answer was almost always Addis Ababa. I think my parents just enjoyed saying the name.)

But some of it is my fault, I'll admit. Moving keeps me from stagnating: from growing bored, of course, but more than that, from staying the same. I love the potential inherent in every move. Each new place is a rebirth of sorts, offering an opportunity for reinvention and change. When I move, I’m totally anonymous and anything is possible. As I packed up my things for California, I thought to myself, this time I can be someone who can talk to strangers. Someone who likes to write. Someone who rides a bike. Someone who has hobbies outside of school. Someoen who isn't so relentlessly stingy. Someone who can wear high heels without falling over. Someone responsible enough to have a checking and a savings account.

So here I am in California, transforming away. In the six days I’ve been here, I’ve gotten stuck in traffic on a freeway, eaten overpriced Sicilian food whose ingredients I didn’t even recognize, experienced an earthquake, walked a perfectly groomed poodle through some of the priciest real estate in the Bay Area, and typed this blog entry on a Mac. I think, all in all, I've reinvented myself so well they should just go ahead and give me California residency right now. I haven't yet changed so much that I wouldn't appreciate the cheaper tuition.

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Gift From the Ganges

For my dad’s 48th birthday, we got him a dead body. And not just any dead body, either—we got him a saffron-wrapped, floating, Sadhu corpse. You can’t beat that.

We were in Varanasi, the Hindu holy city on the Ganges, taking a walk along the banks of the river to observe the sights, sounds, and (unfortunately) smells of the city. (The smell guaranteed that I didn’t try taking a dip in the river, as tradition dictates. You’ll see why in a minute.) It was almost dusk, and the city's population was hanging out at the river, bathing, swimming, washing clothes, and chatting. Upstream, a cremation ground was in full 24-hour operation, with about six or seven saffron-wrapped bodies being burned. We watched the cremations from a small boat which floated about twenty feet away from the process: bodies carried down to the river, thrown on a pyre, and consumed by flames. The male mourners watched solemnly from a few feet away, while the female mourners, barred from treading on holy ground, stood on the banks of the river and wept. After a few minutes, the chief mourner, wrapped in white, his head completely shorn, stepped towards the small heap of ashes, extracted the ribs and pelvis—the parts that don’t burn, apparently—and threw them into the river. (And thus we see why I thought about burning the clothes I was wearing. Can you believe they bathe in it?) Then, without looking back at the ashes, the chief mourner threw a jug of water on the pyre to kill the fire and all the mourners slowly walked away.

It—the ceremony, the burning, the whole entire cremation ground—was part poignant, part disgusting, part admirable, and part eerie. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I doubt I ever will again. We sailed back in total silence, broken only by my dad saying, slowly, “Well, at least you kids will never think the temple is weird.”

But back to the floating corpse. The river doesn’t flow quickly, and the body was drifting dangerously close to the bank, slowing down and acquiring river detritus as it went. We watched it float for a few minutes, wondering what to do, when a group of Muslim young men, newly bathed and dressed in spotless white, killing time until the evening prayer by playing cricket, spotted the corpse and shouted something. All together, at least seven or eight of them, they grabbed a forty-foot pole, neatly placed near the pavement we were standing on, walked down to the river, and poked the body back out into the middle of the river where the current could catch it again. Then they put the pole back in the place clearly designed for it, and, without any fuss at all, went back to their cricket game, the corpse rescue all in an evening’s work.

And who says Muslims and Hindus can’t get along? For the sake of my father's birthday, at least, religious cooperation is easy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

No Frigate Like One

Like Katya, I keep a booklist. She's posted before about her list, and really, I have nothing more to add about the theory of such a list: it's fun to see the reading phases I've gone through, and useful when trying to recommend, or even remember, books I've read.

It's also useful, of course, when trying to prove how desperately underemployed I was this past year in Indonesia. Days are long when you work fifteen hours a week--even with countless hours devoted to language study, practice, and research, pirated DVDs, travelling, and texting the SLO, I had time to read. A lot.

See for yourself:

A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf
Lord of the Barnyard, Tristan Egolf
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
The Mighty and the Almighty, Madeleine Albright
Culture Shock Indonesia, Cathie Draine and Barbara Hall
Semester Pertama di Malory Towers (First Term at Malory Towers), Enid Blyton
Kelas Dua di Malory Towers (Second Form at Malory Towers), Enid Blyton
The Girl Who Invented Romance, Caroline B. Cooney
The Witches, Roald Dahl
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos
Gilead, Marilyn Robinson
Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, John de Graaf, David Wann & Thomas H. Naylor
Kelas Tiga di Malory Towers (Third Year at Malory Towers), Enid Blyton
Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse
The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman
The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
Best American Essays of the Century, ed. Joyce Carol Oates
Deep River, Shusako Endo
The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
Mulai Malapekata (The Bad Beginning), Lemony Snicket
Kelas Empat di Malory Towers (Upper Fourth at Malory Towers), Enid Blyton
Kelas Lima di Malory Towers (In the Fifth at Malory Towers), Enid Blyton
The Collected Short Stories, Nikolai Gogol
Arab and Jew, David K. Shipler
Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Sophie Kinsella
The Woman In the Dunes, Kobo Abe
Kokoro, Soseki Natsume
Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Akhir Satu Cinta (The End of the Affair), Graham Greene
Gio, Jangan Cari Pacar Berjilbab!, Chris Oetoyo
The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins
The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper
Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad
Semester Terakhir di Malory Towers (Last Term at Malory Towers), Enid Blyton
Wonderful Fool, Shusako Endo
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins
America: The Book, John Stewart
Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl
Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett
Out, Natsuo Kirino
Spring Snow, Yukio MIshima
Made in America, Bill Bryson
A Severed Head, Iris Murdoch
The End, Lemony Snicket
A Million Little Pieces, James Frey
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby
Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
Lies my Teacher Told Me, James Loewen
A Man Without a Country, Kurt Vonnegut
The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai
Ludmilla's Broken English, DBC Pierre
Manhattan Monologues, Louis Auchincloss
Clear Light of Day, Anita Desai
The Know-It-All, A.J. Jacobs
The Piano Teacher, Elfriede Jelinek
The Accidental, Ali Smith
Confessions of Love, Uno Chiyo
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell
The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl
Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry
The Master Butchers Singing Club, Louise Erdrich
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
Culture Shock: Indonesia, Cathie Draine and Barbara Hall
We'll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light John Baxter
The Final Martyrs, Shusako Endo
Appointment in Samarra, John O'Hara
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata
Hard Times, Charles Dickens
Some Prefer Nettles, Junichiro Tanizaki
The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh
Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima
Monumen, Nh. Dini
Three Men on the Bummell, Jerome K. Jerome
The Europeans, Henry James
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
After the Banquet, Yukio Mishima
What Went Wrong, Bernard Lewis
Six Easy Pieces, Richard Feynmann
Perempuan di Titik Nol, Nawal Al-Sadawi, trans. Mochtar Lubis
Mereka Bilang, Saya Monyet, Djenar Maesa Ayu
Saman, Ayu Utami
Raumanen, Marianne Katoppo
Sepuluh Anak Negro (Ten Little Indians), Agatha Christie
Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman
He's Just Not That Into You, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo
Aib (Disgrace), J.M. Coetzee
Language and Power: Exploring Political Cultures in Indonesia, Benedict Anderson
Bali, Putu Wijaya
Dua Dunia, Nh Dini
The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz
Cerita Pendek Tentang Cerita Cinta Pendek (Short Stories about Short Love Stories), Djenar Maesa Ayu
Write Away, Elizabeth George
No Touch Monkey, and Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late, Ayun Halliday
The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout
Full House, Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes
The Rocky Road to Romance, Janet Evanovich
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, Yukio Mishima
Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Booty Nomad, Scott Mebus
Vampires of Venice Beach, Jennifer Colt
Snow, Orhan Pamuk
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott
The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
The Riddle of the Sands, Erskine Childers
Home, Manju Kapur
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, Steven Sherrill
The Bell, Iris Murdoch
The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
Such a Long Journey, Rohinton Mistry
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
What Came Before He Shot Her, Elizabeth George
The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery
Fermat's Last Theorem, Simon Singh
And Then, Nastume Soseki
Arthur and George, Julian Barnes
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Runaway Horses, Yukio Mishima
Sacred Games, Vikram Chandra
The Famished Road, Ben Okri
The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier
The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
The Suffrage of Elvira, V.S. Naipaul
Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion, V.S. Naipaul
A Flag on the Island, V.S. Naipaul
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco
Villette, Charlotte Bronte

So if you ever need a book recommendation, you know who to ask.

An Educational Weekend

Things I Learned from Quakers This Weekend

1. ...
2. ...
3. We are like a grove of aspen trees, connected through tangled and deep roots.
4. ...
5. The modern global warming discussion lacks heart.
6. Join the journal. Oh, and join some committees too.
7. ...
8. One hour of total silence can actually be quite pleasant.

Things I Learned From Scientologists This Weekend

1. What's true depends on who you are.
2. Therefore I can't tell you what Scientologists believe because it's just my truth, and might not be yours.
3. But L. Ron Hubbard's truth is true for everyone.
4. And you can buy this book, or this DVD, or this book-and-DVD set, if you want to know more.
5. Scientology is a religion, as determined by over 65 court cases.
6. No, I'm not trained to tell you what this religion believes. But you can buy a book.
7. Psychiatry is an "industry of death."
8. And if you pay $17.99 for a DVD, it might tell you why.

Things I learned from Mormons This Weekend

1. Meeting Jesus will be just like appearing in High School Musical 2.
2. Testimonies will have the opportunity to be strengthened.
3. I don't really know what I'm going to say...
4. I know the Church is true.
5. Vague reference to trials.
6. Stops due to emotion.
7. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
8. Bingo!

Things I learned from Alea and Melyngoch This Weekend

1. I haven't lost my Boggle skills.
2. Or my anagrams skills.
3. Ice and salt can, in fact, burn you.
4. References to George Fox and his "shaggy shaggy locks" never get old.
5. Melyngoch and I need to have a "how long can you hold your hand in ice water" rematch. Beating Alea was just too easy.
6. Never sell a rodeo cowboy an insurance policy.
7. Dude got trivia'd.
8. Being Melyngoch's social coordinator is fun.