Sunday, January 07, 2007

Asking For It

This Christmas, I asked for books. Any kind of book will do, I told my mom, as long as it’s in English. I have scads of spare time, both at school and at home, and the comfort of English prose, even bad English prose, is enough to stave off the potential ravages of culture shock. Yet, English books are expensive here, having been imported from abroad, and the shipping costs of books from the States are enough to discourage any cheapskate like myself from trying.

Luckily, my family lives in a land of milk and honey, book-wise. India has some of the world’s greatest bookstores; although they’re usually not as big as Border’s or Barnes and Noble or any of America’s giant take-over-the-world chains, they are filled, almost exclusively, with books I want to read. I can walk into almost any bookstore in India and take almost any book off the shelf and know I’ll enjoy it. Where else could I, within two minutes of entering the shop, find the Ali Smith novel Alea recommended, which is practically nonexistent in Utah libraries? Where else posts on a sign on the door advertising Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian Nobel Prize winner I had been meaning to read since returning from vacation there? Where else, in sum, would the first five books I picked up be winners of major literary prizes?

So now, thanks to my mother diligently saving what she’s been reading for me, plus a few heavenly bookstore visits, I have enough to read for the next, oh, month and a half. Thank you, family, and thank you, India.

(As a side note, I managed to get nearly all these books back to Indonesia in only my one 44-pound suitcase and a backpack, which, I later discovered, weighed about 35 pounds itself. So that no officious Indian airline employee would realize how massive my carry-on truly was, I had to walk like it wasn’t heavy; it was quite the acting feat, if I may say so myself.)


This Christmas, I asked for nothing else. Since anything my family gave or received then had to be carried in a suitcase, we opted to forgo the gift exchange this year. Yet my father, who loves buying things for Christmas, couldn’t quite let it go. He insisted that we each get something from “Santa,” but then complained that “Santa” had it a lot rougher nowadays, with practically grown-up children wanting practically grown-up, and therefore expensive, toys. In the good old days, he told us, he went to Toys ‘R Us a few days before the 25th, blew $100 a kid, and we all jumped up and down with joy to see stuffed animals and action figures on Christmas morning.

Well, why not? we thought, so as a family we bundled up and made a trip to a Toys ‘R Us in Innsbruck, where we each selected a stuffed animal or action figure to serve as a token Christmas present. I got this rockin’ Care Bear on a keychain, as a memento of the days I used to have real Care Bears; as soon as I have keys again, you can be sure I’ll use it.

(As a side note, this is the first time I’ve ever owned a brand-new Care Bear; when I was actually in that phase, my parents were in the “too poor for new toys” phase, and so all my beloved childhood bears were from yard sales. We were also in the “too poor for TV” phase, so don’t even try to reminisce about the TV show; I didn’t know it existed until only a few years ago.)


This Christmas, I didn't ask for a trip to Austria, sparkly silver shoes, or a new Belle and Sebastian CD. I didn't ask for good friends who mail me packages to cure my homesickness (thank you, Alea and Kaneeneenie) or let me stay at their house for as long as I need (thank you, Ruth). I didn't ask for a roof over my head or enough food to eat. I didn't ask for a supportive and entertaining "work" environment; I didn't even ask that my "work" be easy enough that it deserves the quotation marks. I didn't ask for a kind, loving, and remarkably un-screwed-up family. Yet I got all those things anyway. I know this is a Christmas post, not a Thanksgiving one, but can't (and shouldn't?) a girl be grateful the other 364 days of the year?


B.G. Christensen said...

I watched the tv show a few weeks ago with S-Boogie. It's nothing to reminisce about.

Anonymous said...

If I had Petra's camera skills I would take a picture of the stack of books that didn't fit in her backpack and hence are awaiting her on the floor of her room in India.