kim rambling

We should care. That’s the least we can do.

Nick McCaskill, who spent 18 years of his life working in the Air Force Special Forces (Pararescue) division, was killed in battle at the Pakistan border on the morning of April 8, 2013; the Nargis Cyclone in Myanmar; Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest; a six year old Afghan girl being sold to a 17 year old to be his wife/slave; Buddhists and Muslims fighting in Burma (right now). Chances are you haven’t heard about these events or you may have read about it briefly. Simply by being born in the Western world- we are sheltered. Most of us (if not all) will never experience starvation, lack of water, zero access to healthcare, your parents selling you as a child bride. And if you’re a woman, you can get an education and have an equal say.
When I was in college- I majored in Social Work. Events of the world- the injustice, poverty, etc were pretty much shoved down our throats. We graduated, empowered with the desire and belief that we could save the world! Well, plans changed and after a number of years, my world became dominated by a husband, work, kids and daily living. I gradually slipped into an insulated comfort zone, but made it somewhat official when Emerson was born. She was born on September 7, 2001. Four days later, September 11th happened and things changed drastically in the US. I chose to turn off any news coverage of the attacks in fear that all the sadness, shock and negativity would seep into Emme. Basically, ignorance was bliss. That can only go on for so long, though. Sometimes it is bliss, sometimes ignorance is just plain ignorance.
I never really got back into checking in on world affairs and by the time we made our move to California in 2005 we had a pretty big happy bubble effect going on.
A few years back, I picked up a magazine in a waiting room and read an in depth article on Darfur. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Later that week, I was talking to someone about the genocide there and how I was dumbfounded that it had been going on for so long. The person I was talking to about it basically said, “That doesn’t affect me. Why would I care about that?!” Geesh, I thought. Caring is the absolute least you can do!
We are in India now and we’ve seen poverty that I can’t even begin to describe. In so many places, people are begging for money and/or having their children beg. Of course we can’t give to everyone and it’s not even good to foster that dependence, but the people reminded me of talking to a homeless man when I was working in Chicago. He said the hardest part about living on the streets is not the cold or hunger- it is the way some people pretend like you don’t exist. He said, “I wish some days that at least one person will make eye contact with me and maybe smile.” So, I figure, here- that is the least I can do.
Yesterday morning I read an email from one of our dearest friends- David Newman. He and his wife, Erin, woke up to horrific news on April 8th. Erin’s brother was killed during a battle at the Pakistan border. He was there working as a military advisor to train foreign forces. He was Erin’s only sibling and her older brother. I think a lot of us forget that people are risking their lives every day in foreign countries. Nick leaves behind a wife and two daughters. My heart hurts for Erin- I would be lost indefinitely without my brother Jeff around. Siblings are supposed to be our lifelong buddies- they are supposed to be around from the beginning to the end or at least thereabouts. I feel so sad for all of Nick’s people. That got me thinking today about things that ‘don’t affect us, but should.’ War in Pakistan seems so very far away. I think we’ve become somewhat immune to the reports on how many die each week, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, etc. It’s like a lot of us are desensitized somehow unless we know someone directly involved.
Yikes. Sorry for babbling. I am mainly posting this to hold us (my family) accountable so we don’t go back to a somewhat insulated comfort zone upon our return. So easy to do with school, soccer, activities, friends, etc. I want us to be up to date on what’s going on around the world (the good, the bad, the unfathomable and uncomfortable) because we should care. We should be thanking and honoring people like Nick McCaskill and Aung San Suu Kyi for doing what they felt was right and putting their lives on the line for it. We should be more knowledgable and open-minded about people with different viewpoints, religion, sexuality, whatever… We should speak up for or support groups that are working to end slavery (especially involving kids) and end the whole ‘women as property’ thing. That’s not a cultural/religious thing. That’s inhumane…..Whew! done.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead

Below is a brief synopsis of some of the things I mentioned in the beginning:

~In 2008, Tropical Cyclone Nargis made a direct hit on Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, striking with Category 4 strength. There was scarce news about the damage, which is little surprise given the repressive military regime’s tight grip on control in the underdeveloped country.
Because the government controlled media and wouldn’t let aid agencies in to help- death toll estimates stand between 85,000 and 300,000.
~Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, has come to symbolise the struggle of Burma’s people to be free.
She has spent more than 15 years in detention, most of it under house arrest. She was released from her current third period of detention on Saturday 13th November 2010.
However, there are hundreds’ of political prisoners in Burma and none of the repressive laws allowing the dictatorship to detain people without trial and restrict other freedoms have been repealed under the new constitution.
~I read an article two days ago about an Afghan refugee family that needed to borrow money from another family. If he couldn’t pay back his debt- the man lending the money said that his seventeen year old son wanted the borrower’s six year old daughter to be his wife. Gross. This little girl was described as sweet and good natured, and she loved school. The camp had recently started letting girls attend. The future mother-in-law said she could not attend school anymore because it would disgrace their family if she was educated. The mother of the girl had no say in the matter. While the father was being interviewed for the article, she was crouched in a corner with only her sad eyes peeking out from behind her burka.

*We are heading to Agra in the morning on a 7 am train to see Taj Mahal. I will do a ‘lighter’ post tomorrow.

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The truth about long term travel with your family

We may never again get time like this to travel as a family. Most families never do because of work and school obligations, the time is never right or the kids are at an age where they may not want to travel, etc. We are very lucky that the stars aligned but the road to get where we are was really hard. Sometimes life flows and things seem to fall into place- other times, it seems you’re in a game of Frogger- where crap keeps on getting in your way when all you want to do is move forward.
It has taken some forty years for me to learn that sometimes when stuff keeps getting in your way- maybe it would be best to stop and change course. That isn’t always easy. I used to care about what other people thought of my decisions, was I making the right decision, what if my decision turns out really bad, blah, blah, blah. What a waste of time. Make up your mind, jump in and swim like hell!
When we were thinking about this trip- we had questions from people like what about Jesse’s career, what about the kids’ schooling and warnings about child abduction, malaria, yellow fever. Bad things can happen anywhere in the world, so what is the point of living in fear?
What if every morning we woke up and said to our kids, “Ok kids! Have a great day but watch out for pedophiles, disease, getting hit by a car, getting bit by a stray animal or breaking a bone.” How negative and lame that would be. Putting all the ‘what ifs’ and imagined fears aside…. we decided to just do it.
Some of my friends have asked what the traveling has really been like. Is there fighting, does anyone want to end the trip, etc. So here goes…
Is there fighting? The truth is- yes, there is fighting. We are five people together in close quarters for 24 hours a day. When we argue, it is intense, but short, then it’s over. When you’re with the same people you can’t afford to hold grudges, whine/complain, be a downer, etc.- otherwise, you’re going to be called out for it and held accountable. There was actually a fight at lunch today over who could sit closest to the table and who would get the first pancake. In the middle of the arguing I looked over to see a guy walking down the street with his pants falling down so his entire butt was showing. Not just part of the crack- but his entire butt! I thought he might be getting ready to pee (it seems as if you can pee wherever you want around here) but he just kept walking. I told the kids to stop fighting and look over. At that very moment, he dropped a cigarette and bent over to pick it up. We all got the giggles so bad! Those are some of the best moments of the trip (no, not random butts in our faces) but those moments where you laugh so hard together that you almost cry.
Has anyone wanted to end the trip? If given the chance, Emerson would be living in her own apartment in Manhattan Beach, California. She’ll have to wait awhile on that and, for now, tags along and usually makes the best of it.
One of the hardest parts for me is never having any time by myself. I am extremely social, but i’m also human and sometimes I need space. I am always (and I mean always) in close proximity to another person. I admit my nerves get fried at times but I just let my people know that I need to sit by myself and once in a blue moon- they accommodate! On a packed bus, in a crowded market- now that’s a different story. You have sweat drenched strangers rubbing all over you (some have a peculiar odor, others enthusiastically pick their nose, drink heavily and/or fart like there’s no tomorrow.) That is where my ‘positive energy in, negative energy out’ breathing exercises come in real handy! Namaste. 🙂
Not many families spend this amount of concentrated time together. We definitely had things to work on in the beginning. We have learned to speak up for ourselves without being bossy and having our trip be a collaborative effort where everyone has a say. We’ve learned/strengthened how we cope with challenging circumstances. I’ve heard about people going through tough times and asking someone for help – they are given the advice “just pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” What is that?! My brother and I always joked about that. What are bootstraps anyways and if I pull them up, will my life really get better?! I prefer to tell the kids to ‘dig deep.’ When someone is confronted with a challenge, Jesse will say, “Come on! You’ve got this!” So, learning how to dig deep and find your strength combined with the knowledge that someone believes in you- I’d say those are two pretty good things to have going for you.
Are our homeschooling efforts producing three geniuses? Probably not, but history and science come to life at least once a day while traveling. Math, too, with converting money and buying food. Geography and phys ed – we definitely have those covered! We also read quite a bit while on trains or buses and we have the kids journal so they can look back and remember things from their own perspectives.
Is traveling like this for everyone? If you are a creature of habit and/or are used to the finer things in life- a trip like this might not be the best option for you. What keeps me going but what might be uncomfortable for other people is the thrill of the unknown. We don’t know what a new city will be like or a temple, the food, the people, a cave, a view, a waterfall… Until we get there. Sometimes it’s ok, sometimes pretty cool but sometimes you’re left speechless just looking around in absolute awe. Then we look at each other and we can’t believe we’re doing this and we’re doing it together!

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Some funny stories and observations

~When I was younger I admit I used to watch beauty pageants on tv. I would even pretend I was a contestant (my family humored me and let me parade around the family room. Thanks, guys!) One year, I remember one of the women saying, “My name is So and So and my motto is I’ll never try quitting and I’ll never quit trying.” It stuck in my head. Anyways, we were playing UNO one day and I misspoke and said “I’ll never try winning and I’ll….” A big joke in this family is that I am not competitive (I am- it just comes out sporadically.) Everyone said “You’re right. You never try winning- that’s why you lose all the time.” Wow! What a supportive family I have. hee
~Some women have super long toe nails. One woman’s were curling over her toes!
~In Phnom Penh, we saw guys with rickshaws carrying huge blocks of ice, then stopping at street vendors to saw ice off or leave a chunk for the storekeeper’s coolers.
~We bought a gong in Hoi An. Maddux and I were on a bike ride when he started talking about how cool it will be when we hang a big “dong” up in our house. I told him that it is called a gong, not a dong. He asked what a dong was. I said that’s a silly name for a weiner. He said, “Oh my gosh! How many different names ARE there for a weiner!?” He is funny.
~A policeman followed Jesse around asking him if he wanted to buy fake badges. Everyone is trying to make a buck!
~A big thing in some parts of Southeast Asia are couples taking elaborate wedding photos. We’re talking full on photo shoots in the jungle, in a cave, holding teddy bears that are kissing each other. It’s really interesting. Some of the dresses look like they’re straight out of the 80s. It’s funny because you’re walking around seeing extremely poor people, then around the corner there is a woman in a big hoop dress with a huge fancy lace umbrella and a teddy bear that is all dressed up.
~In the last two days we have traveled over 14 hours (in total) on a bus. That wasn’t bad at all- the most challenging part for me was being forced to watch hours of a Vietnamese high school’s prom. The bus guy cranked the volume just in case we weren’t all paying attention. All fast dances were done with their hands- they kind of stayed in one place or stepped back and forth a few times. In all my life, I have never been so happy to see Asian Karaoke videos when they came on the screen!

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How do you say?…

Here are some phrases we’ve learned while on our adventure (I have written them out phonetically):

Mmm goy- thank you in Cantonese

Kopen kah- thank you for a woman in Thai
Kopen krop- thank you for a man in Thai
Sawa-dee kah- hello in Thai for a woman
Sawa-dee-krop- hello in Thai for a man

Khawp ji- thank you in Laos

Jez oo bay- thank you in Burmese
Mingalabah- hello in Burmese

Gawm ern- thank you in Vietnamese
Sin jow- hello in Vietnamese

Aw koon- thank you in Cambodian

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“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” -mlk

Thich Quang Duc was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death (called self-immolation) at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963. Quang Duc was protesting about the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diem government. Check this out!: After his death, his body was re-cremated, but his heart remained intact. That is insane!
Quang Duc’s act increased international pressure on Diem and led him to announce reforms. However, the promised reforms were not implemented. Protests continuing, Special Forces loyal to Diem’s brother, launched nationwide raids on Buddhist pagodas, seizing Quang Duc’s heart and causing deaths and widespread damage. Several Buddhist monks followed Quang Duc’s example, also immolating themselves. Eventually, Diem was assassinated on 2 November 1963.
The photo is of the car that he drove to the intersection. There is a photo of him in the background on fire. He appears to be at peace. (I was going to insert the photo here, but it is pretty gnarly. You can google the image. Intense.)
There are so many people in the world that are afraid to ‘rock the boat’ or say how they feel. If things are good with them, they’re fine. Then you have people like this. He had enough power and social status where he could have kept on doing what he was doing and been fine, but he felt that other people’s rights were being violated and would continue to be violated. That is ballsy. I have so much admiration for people who fight the system. Whether it be for de-segregation for black people in the 60s, gay rights (ongoing), stopping the Nazis during WWII, women’s rights (we need to quit stepping on our movement, but that’s a whole different story.) Society (social norms) aren’t always right. If people aren’t scared and ban together- that’s when change happens. Look at Gandhi.
All I’m saying is that the world needs more people to look around and help each other- not just your own people- but everybody. If you’re “winning,” but cheating along the way- isn’t the pureness of winning gone? If you are being treated well, but everyone around you is being treated like crap- that is just gross! Have you ever seen the American tv show “What Would You Do?” It is awesome. They set up fake scenarios, say a customer yelling at an Asian shopkeeper to go back to their country or a customer at a grocery store degrading a developmentally challenged bagger. A lot of the time, people just look away because they think it doesn’t involve them, but it does! It takes a second sometimes to help someone. What goes around, comes around, too. So maybe someday when you’re needing help- someone might lend a hand.
I’ll stop now. Whew! Went off on a tangent there and it all started from a guy who set himself on fire (which I am certainly not recommending- there are small things we can do every day to help make the world better and setting yourself on fire is a bit extreme!)
Bottom line: “Just do right. It may not be expedient. It may not be profitable. But it will satisfy your soul.” -maya angelou

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Reading comments

A few people emailed me about reading comments. All you have to do is go to the end of a post and click on the ‘comments’- I think it is underlined. You’ll be able to read people’s remarks and my response. If you posted a comment, it will be attached to the post that you commented on. My reply would be on that post, as well. I think I just confused more people. Hope this helps some of you computer illiterates! (Don’t take it personally, Mamacita! )

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Kim rambling

~I have a full on addiction to coffee- I have had for a long time. It is SO hard to find a good cup of coffee anywhere, but whenever I do, I slam as much as I can. The servers are shocked that I don’t use sugar or milk- I just want strong black coffee! We also have been loving bananas. People offer the kids bananas as a gift or we get them from street vendors for a buck. Oreos are a special treat – every couple of weeks, we’ll buy a roll of them. We divide them equally then Emerson says, “we eat them like pigs!”
~We went to a store to buy some lotion. They only sold whitening lotions. What?! I want to hold on to my tan for as long as possible- here, they think that white skin is much more beautiful. Speaking of what people find attractive- I forgot what city we were in but someone told me that the women there bind their chests with a heavy material because flat chested women are considered more desirable. Plastic surgeons would be bummin’ there!
~When we go anywhere in a car, Jesse sits up front and the rest of us sit in the back. The other day, Em said, “I want to lay down. Where am I suppose to lay?” Aye-yi-yi!
~If you’ve seen any pictures where you think I am wearing a fanny pack- I am not! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But I prefer to call it my Side Hipster.
~Lots of Vietnamese women love high heels. It’s funny how some countries are all into being barefoot, then the next country over is into fancy footwear.
~When we were on a bus trip to Hue, the bus pulled over and some drunkard on a motorcycle wanted to fight the guy in charge of our bus. The bus was trying to move forward so the guy threw his motorcycle in front of the bus, then he started throwing punches. Our guy grabbed the guy by the back of his collar and threw him. Maddux was sleeping in the front seat next to the driver. He woke up and was like ‘what is going on?!’ I looked around for a weapon in case the guy was going to try and get on the bus. I found a long metal pipe and was ready to fight him off! Everyone on the bus was standing up and watching. It really got our adrenaline going and we all perked up real fast. Finally, a woman got off the bus and started talking to the guy trying to calm him down. The guy in charge of our bus gets on the bus, doors wide open and tells the driver to go. He then sits down and starts showing Lennon a little video game he has on his flip phone. We are just laughing and shaking our heads. Apparently this must be business as usual…
~Sometimes the people in Vietnam have loose boundaries. They’ll grab Lennon and try to kiss him or they touch us or grab our shirts to get our attention. Last week, we walked through Haiphong where every single person was saying hello and touching us. I told the kids to say hello but keep walking. I was so tired, but kept saying hi to everyone. I turned a corner and said hello to a mannequin outside of a store. You know you are exhausted when you’re saying hello to mannequins whose wigs are on backwards.

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In search of a tampon in Ninh Binh

Oh my goodness! I have to share this story because it was like participating in some embarrassing scavenger hunt. I needed to buy tampons this morning so I had to somehow convey to our non-English speaking cab driver that I needed to go to a pharmacy/store. He didn’t understand so Jesse did the whole washing hair, taking a shower charade figuring a place that sells that stuff must also sell “lady supplies.” 🙂 I certainly didn’t want to do a charade for feminine hygiene products. I’m not shy but come on! So we stopped at about six stores and I had to show them a tampon- people wanted to hold it and examine it like it was a new fangled hi-tech gadget. Some male store owners seemed offended. One shooed me out of his store! Store after store and we were still empty handed. Our cab driver was having a hard time making eye contact with me at this point. Oh for Pete’s sake! This was getting ridiculous.
We finally found a store with women in it. One woman grabbed the tampon and said “no! you’re in Vietnam!” Then they sent me to a shed out back for a week (just kidding!) A woman stuck a large, neon packaged pad in my hand. An old woman sitting on a chair taking in the whole scene smiled big (she only had one large tooth left on her top row of teeth but that’s a whole different story.) She started yelling “Kotex! Kotex! Kotex!” All the women were talking about me and laughing as I left. At the last store I went to -the shopkeeper woman examined the tampon. She looked at it and shook her head disapprovingly. Then she put some pads in a black bag and tied a tight knot at the top. I handed her the cash, she slipped me the bag. I felt like a drug deal just went down. So strange!
A little sidenote: The amazing part for me about getting older has been the fact that very few things (if anything at all) can embarrass me anymore. It is like I have grown immune to what people think of me. Thank goodness- otherwise my face would be red a majority of the time and I’d probably be embarrassed about that!

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Underrated/Overrated

UNDERRATED: clean clothes, plastic baggies, warm showers, dental care, Emerson says shoes!, deodorant (come on! It is hot and you’re in cramped quarters with strangers! Aye-yi-yi!), humming and singing (whether you’re good at it or not, it just makes you feel better), clean water – for drinking and bathing (see photo)

OVERRATED: electricity (dinners by candlelight and walks down dark paths are awesome!), doing your hair and make-up (huge time waster and when no one else does it- everyone is au natural!), haggling- Jesse is so much better at it than I am. It makes me uncomfortable!

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Just some random thoughts…

~Have you ever seen a rubber tree? On our hike through the jungle in Laos, our guide showed us the sap sticking all over the side of the tree. It feels and looks exactly like rubber. We thought the sap would have to be processed to get to the actual final product. An hour after we saw the trees, Jesse was still talking about how amazing it was.
~I forgot what market we were at where they were selling little hats for babies that had a curly wig attached. They had pictures of three month old babies wearing these things and they looked hilarious.
~Many Asian women love colored contacts and contacts that make you look like you have cat eyes or big doll eyes. I bought bright purple doll eye contacts and one of the baby hats with curly hair just so I can scare the kids in the morning. Just kidding, but when you see someone wearing these- it takes you by surprise.
~Electricity- sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. While in Bangkok on an elevator, the power went out. You could just see the whites of people’s eyes looking around. I am not a fan of tight spaces where I feel trapped (who is) but we all handled our business and no one freaked out. We had taken the elevator to avoid a cockroach on the stairs. After that, we took our chances on the steps. We did take the elevator a few times just to face our fears!
~On an overnight train, the boys were shocked to discover that the toilet hole led directly to the train track. I guess that saves money on plumbing!
~While in Myanmar at a temple, we came across an escalator. It was weird to see an escalator in the middle of incredibly old Buddhas. There was a person standing at the top helping people get on because it was the first time some of them had ever been on one. They were so excited, some went up again to ride back down.
~ATMs are relatively new in Mayanmar (in the last three months or so.) People stand behind us to watch money ‘magically’ appear.

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