books, China, photography, The China Chapter

石象湖郁金香节 – Stone Elephant Lake Tulip Festival

Okay, I really can’t stop listening to the song I posted this morning.  I also sent it out to a bunch of coworkers this morning in celebration of a momentous birthday and just making it halfway through the week.  And this week has seemed long!  But I think that was partially because a lot happen in the past few days.  Last week I spent a few nights hanging out with friends and visiting Raffles City, a mall where all the international schools in the area had art displayed.  Then, on Friday night, Melissa and I went out to eat at Tandoor, an Indian restaurant.  The food there is pricey but delicious.  Afterwards, we walked across the street to the Bookworm to attend the opening session of the Chengdu Literary Festival.  Speakers from all over the world come to talk about literacy and life; there are presentations, workshops, speeches, and contests that last the entire month of March.  The first speaker was Anna Chen who gave her Anna May Wong Must Die presentation.  While I learned a lot, the presentation wasn’t exactly what a lot of people had expected so there was a lot of discussion afterwards over whether it was as informative as it could have been.

An interesting Friday night was followed by a calm Saturday.  Then, on Sunday, a few of us went to the Stone Elephant Lake Tulip Festival about an hour away in Pujiang County.  I’ll spare you the details of the insane bus ride and the four confused laowai trying to figure out how to pick up our pre-paid tickets to enter the park and then trying to figure out where to buy bus tickets back to Chengdu. Suffice to say, we survived.  We were at Shixiang Lake for hours, touring the grounds, snapping photos, falling in mud (okay, that was just me), and enjoying time away from the smoggy city.  Coming back to Chengdu from such a colorful, vibrant place felt a bit like Dorothy returning to Kansas after seeing the splendor of Oz.



























birthday, books

Laugh Lines

It’s New Year’s Eve, which means bringing-in-the-new-year activities.  It also means, it’s my birthday…my 30th birthday.  And while I feel, on the whole, rather unaccomplished at this age, I am so very grateful to be alive to celebrate yet another year on this twirling ball of cosmic dust.

I am lucky.  I’m alive and I’m happy.  Food, shelter, friends, a job; I have it made.  And I feel pop culture often forgets or ignores that growing older is wonderful.  But my heart doesn’t belong to celebrities I could never pick out of a People’s magazine.  I’m captivated by books.  And authors, more than contributors to other media outlets, seem to understand.

ps i love youIn P.S. I Love You, Ahern writes that it’s a privilege to grow old with someone.  And often it’s a privilege we just arrogantly assume we’ll be granted.


In The Hunger GamesCollins’s protagonist, Katniss, is taken from her poor District 12 to the Capitol where she experiences culture shock.  Katniss explains:

The Hunger Games

They do surgery in the Capitol, to make people appear younger and thinner. In District 12, looking old is something of an achievement since so many people die early. You see an elder person, you want to congratulate them on their longevity, ask the secret of survival. A plump person is envied because they aren’t scraping by like the majority of us. But here it is different. Wrinkles aren’t desirable. A round belly isn’t a sign of success.

Veil of RosesAnd finally, in the book A Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald, Tamila comes from Iran to visit her sister in the US.  She hopes to find a man to marry (although falling in love would be ideal) so she won’t have to go back to her home country.  I don’t remember much about the book, aside from crying a bit while reading it.  But one thing I can’t forget is the main character’s obsession with laugh lines.  In Iran, her sister’s face was smooth.  In the US, it has become lined from laughter.  Tamila wants love, freedom, and laugh lines.

I look in the mirror and smile.  Little lines crinkle around my eyes.  There have been many moments to smile and laugh about in my life.

Thirty years.  I’m not old, per say, but it’s new.  And the sound of the age feels funny in my mouth.  Thirty.  I’m thirty.  And when so many people are denied the chance to make it this far, I’m so very appreciative.

So, Happy 2014, world.  May your year been lined with laughter.

books, conversations, television

The Beat in My Chest

Stock Photography

Baby, you a song.
You make me wanna roll
my windows down and cruise.

A fairly light post today.

Recently, at the gym, I had a small exchange with the man on the elliptical machine next to me…

Random Guy-That book you’re reading…that’s a chick-flick right?

Me- A chick flick?

RG- But only a book…literature…something…

Me- Chick lit?

RG- Yeah. Is it one of those?

Me- No…not really… *flips over the book to peer at the cover, on which Michael Hall is definitely holding a lifeless arm*

RG- Oh, the title just sounds like Chick…Lit… Darkly Dreaming Dexter. So what is it about?

Me- A serial killer.

RG- Oh, you’re right. Chicks don’t read that.

Me- Um…but I’m…uh…okay. Thanks?

Random Guy’s Friend to RG- You are such an idiot.

Today I finally finished that book.  The end is so very different from Season One of the show 
Dexter.  I’m not sure which ending I prefer; the show seemed to have traded one character’s death for another and made Dexter, himself, a lot more careful at what he does.  I’d love to hear thoughts from others if you’ve seen the show and read the novel!

books, films

Summer Log: Day 12

I spent this morning reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, crying a bit, and contemplating a lot.  It’s a work of young adult fiction that delves into discussing why we are here and what will happen when we’re not here anymore: pure, utter, wretched oblivion.

We’ll surely be remembered when we die because, barring some catastrophe, there will still be people alive who remember and, hopefully, miss us.  But what about when they die and when those that loved and mourned for them die?  When our names are on headstones and we are only found in the databases of, will our lives matter?  John Green’s characters debate the necessity of leaving a legacy or leaving this earth quietly, hurting as few as possible with your departure from personhood.  But does it really matter?  The love ones will mourn then the loved one, too, will die.  And it’s a chain of screaming and gnashing of teeth that will carry from generation to generation.  Even those that leave legacies, good or bad, will some day be forgotten.  Someday, the human race will extinguish itself like a flame doused in water.  The birds and the beasts (or, perhaps, just the cockroaches) won’t remember Joan of Arc, Anne Frank, Hitler, Churchill.  Will it matter that we do now?

I end with a quote from Dead Poets’ Society:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.
We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.
And the human race is filled with passion.
And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.
But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.
To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!
…of the questions of these recurring;
of the endless trains of the faithless…
of cities filled with the foolish;
what good amid these, O me, O life?”
Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity;
that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?

Further question: What happens when the play ends?

books, teaching

Summer Log: Day 7

With the exception of Friday, I’ve been okay with keeping up with most of my summer goals.  No awkward first dates yet, but I went to the gym Monday-Thursday, finished reading The Lucky One and read A Mango Shaped Space for good measure.  I’m now reading a book about a man journeying to Jerusalem in search of a lost scroll or medallion or …something.  Clearly this book (whose name I cannot recall) is riveting.Every week day, though, I wake up, prepare a “To-Do” list and bumble my way through the day by checking things off.  Schedule an appointment with the ophthalmologist?  Check.  Scrub down the bathroom?  Check.  Last Friday, I spent the day at my parents, cleaning out the guest room for my family.  Shamefully, I had left a few things in there from my time living with them in grad school.  I pack up a box of books, poetry, and odds and ends to bring back to my townhouse.  These items are still in the back of my car and probably won’t make their way inside until Tuesday…when my “To-Do” list will include cleaning the trunk of my car out.  I’m not sure what the rest of the stuff in the guest room was.  I ended up with three boxes of random items to donate and three bags of trash that I hauled out just before one of my brothers came into town for the weekend.  I gave the carpet a little TLC so my brother could have a very nice, clean, room to stay in for his visit.  I don’t really remember the rest of the night.  As soon as I arrived home, I crashed, not even changing into pajamas.  I’m pretty sure some of the box lifting caused me to tear something in my right shoulder because it’s been aching ever since.

This weekend I actually treated like a weekend.  I was lazy, only organizing under my bathroom sink (it’s so beautiful now!) and checking my school mail.  I’ve been asked to teach summer school at multiple schools and am almost sad to have to decline the offers because of volunteering up north.  My first trip to Connecticut wouldn’t interfere with summer school at all, but my second trip up there starts right in the middle of the summer school session.  So, farewell extra earning potential.  Maybe next year.  Hanging out with Heather, though, it is nice to know that I’m not the only one going a little stir-crazy.  Traveling, even just driving north, is exactly what I need to break up the monotony of a long, boring summer.  I’m itching to get out of this town!

This brings in a shameless plug for year-around-schooling.  Fewer weeks of summer is perfectly fine.  Throw in a longer fall, winter, and spring breaks and I’m sold.  Travel will be cheaper in the off seasons and, job wise, kids won’t lose as much of their academic gain over a shorter summer.  Where can I sign up?

books, celebrations, films, random, travel

Summer Log: Day 2

Two days into summer vacation and I couldn’t be more relaxed.  Oh, how I wish I was roaming the streets of some foreign country or setting out on a safari across the grasslands.  But, as much as I fight it, I’m a practical girl who likes traveling with company.  And noone these days seems to want to go anywhere that my wallet doesn’t rail against.  Jamie and I have tentative plans to go to Ireland next summer, but we had also talked about a Paris trip that never happened.  So I will continue hoarding away nickels and hoping.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been enjoying summer thus far.  It’s just been very, very relaxing.  Moreso than I usually like.  I’ve gone to classes at the gym both days and have a gym date set up for tomorrow too.  I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Chronicle.  I read the better half of The Lucky One.  I bought most of Jenn’s baby shower gift, spent time with my roommates, my mates from teaching last year, and good friends from this year.  I’ve cleaned the bathroom, straightened my room, and unpacked some of the stuff from my classroom that I brought home on Friday.  I’ve been busy.  Yet I still have time for naps.  I still have time to read blogs written by my friends who are getting married, having babies, moving halfway across the country, basically living a life entirely worth writing about.  As much as I like having downtime, I would really love something meaningful to do.  Maybe even a weekend getaway would do the trick?  For now, I’m just biding my time until my Connecticut Volunteer Adventure happens.

books, health

Becoming a Loser

Last year, my goal was read 52 books in 52 weeks. I failed. I only read (well, wrote down) 31 books, a success rate of a little less than 60%. This year, from this May to next May, my goal is to lose 100lbs in the same number of weeks. Even if I fall short, with my last year’s success rate, I will still be nearly 60lbs lighter. The journey of a year begins tomorrow. Tonight I reminisce about the novels and tales of my last year’s goal…

Read It!
And Then There Were None
The Bad Beginning
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Gone With the Wind
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Murder on the Orient Express
The Saffron Kitchen
Tuck Everlasting
Waiting for Normal

Skip It.
Emily’s Reasons Why Not
French Kissmas
If You Could See Me Now
The Marriage Scheme

Could Go Either Way…
Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking
The Bathtub Reader
Believe: The Words and Inspiration of Desmond Tutu
Dream: The Words and Inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Filthy Rich
Hallowe’en Party
Have a Little Faith
I Love You, Let’s Meet
Love: The Words and Inspiration of Mother Teresa
On Time: From Seasons to Split Seconds
There’s No Place Like Here

books, teaching, travel

Vive la France!

I’ve been wrapped up in so many projects this summer, my head is spinning!

First, I’m trying to prepare for my first year of teaching which is just as expensive and overwhelming as it is exciting. I’m so pumped up–for lack of a better term–about this upcoming school year that I find myself mandating “off times” (times where don’t think about education) in an effort not to burn out before the year even begins.

Second, after being hired by the school district, my old retail employer called and asked me to come back and work for the month of July. Balancing upwards of 40 hours a week, July has not been too relaxing, but I know how to do a lot in that store, so they have me managing the cashiers or working in the cash office…which, by their standards, pays the “big bucks.” And that’s definitely money I can use to support my classroom-expansion-fund.

Third, France! Older posts elaborate on this, but over New Year’s, Jamie and I went to Savannah and Charleston. After touring–and falling in love with–the south, Jamie sent me the book Gone with the Wind. I read it, loved it, and then wished I had read it before I went on our trip. We decided to reverse the order of things. So we are currently reading books and watching movies related to France. Then, inshallah (sorry, my Arabic ability is sorely lacking), we shall make our way to France. So, I’ve been enjoying the books, the music, the Bastille Day celebrations and the new blog we have to commemorate our efforts.

Naturally, this being life, I’ve also been dealing with some not-so-great-things: computer that won’t boot, cat that is starting to show signs of kidney failure, lack of ac in the car, annoying men, potential identity theft, eerie phone calls…but hopefully I’ll get most of this sorted out in the next few weeks. Prayers are always welcomed, especially for the cat. I think I can handle everything else. 🙂

books, films, travel

l’amour du chocolat

beynac-et-cazenac (from wikipedia commons)

i saw the movie chocolat years ago and found johnny depp to be simply delightful in it. but reading the novel by the same name, i became completely enamored with the stubborn, proud roux. i was not prepared for the ending, which left me less fulfilled and more wistful than anything else. art imitating life, i suppose.

i loved the idea of visiting lansquenet-sous-tannes, the city in which the book takes place. but as it is completely fictional, i found it necessary to dig a little deeper. the film was shot in a variety of locations. the river and indoor scenes were all filmed in england, but since france is our destination, we shall overlook this fact. the remaining portions of the film were apparently shot in flavigny-sur-ozerain (in burgundy) and in beynac-et-cazenac (see above).

flavigny-sur-ozerain is (was?) home to a benedictine abbey in the 700s. in the 800s, after france experienced viking raids, st. regina’s (a martyr who wouldn’t renounce her faith to marry her betrothed) remains found their way there. pilgrims came to visit the remains and a town developed around the abbey. less than 350 people (the size of my graduating high school class) live in flavigny year round. today they are, appropriately enough (considering our book), known for the little pastilles they sell around the world.

beynac-et-cazenac is slightly larger with just over 500 residents. i don’t know much about the area save that the communes of beynac and cazenac combined to form this commune (just a municipality in the government). but the château de beynac is a well-preserved castle there. it is the highest building in the picture above. in 1962, lucien grosso bought and restored the château. since then, quite a number of films such as les visiteurs, ever after, jeanne d’arc (not to mention chocolat using the village below!) have been filmed there.

since travel is our aim, i located these cities on a map. since i don’t know the exact route we hope to take, i’m crossing my fingers that we can at least fit one of these into our travels! on to the next book, count of monte cristo!
books, films, songs, travel

je m’appelle …

today’s guest post is brought to you by my good friend, jamie:

we’re three amateur travellers, on a mission to map the curious spaces where reality and fiction intersect. our first destination is france.

en route, we’ll devour books, movies, and songs from, inspired by, and/or set in france. after planning our route, we’ll trek through the fictional geography that we studied. naturally, along the way we’ll try (however ridiculously) to recreate some of our favorite heart-wrenching scenes and tecnhnicolor moments.

and so we begin!