salute her when her birthday comes.

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

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I am a very lucky girl.

Here’s how it went down: A raucous island party on a remote Sumatran lake, my 25th birthday, a long out-of-touch middle school friend, local palm wine, a traditional Indonesian skirt, and a seriously kickass time.

To rewind a bit–a few months ago I reconnected with an old friend and as two international expats from our rural Oregon town, we had everything in common. He was planning a trip out to Indonesia to meet his new step-family, and B and I were in need of a tropical scene and renewed visas.

A bit of simple planning and a couple short flights later, we (re)met, had a beer, chewed the fat, and meshed into the ideal traveling trio.

We spent the next week on this Sumatran island: A supremely clean lake to jump a few meters from our front door, motorbikes to troll the mountain villages on, a plethora of fresh pineapple juice and avocados and a crew of local and traveling friends.

For my birthday, a week into our Indonesian travels, these two amazing, kind and often ridiculous boys pulled off a pretty spectacular evening complete with chocolate cake, too much fun, and a serenading local band that made this far-from-home-girl feel perfectly loved.

So, to my two favorite tank-top clad boys: terimakasih.

we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

DSC_0984Here’s what I love about Phayong village: Everything.

I love the food: Sweet potato soup, boiled chicken fresh off the butchering block, sardines with pumpkin, and, of course, Beer Lao. Each dish served in extreme excess by a lovely, toothless granny sporting a traditional Hmong skirt and a Billabong hoodie. Each bite savory, spicy and thick with fat.

I love the boys who, up till the age of five, habitually go pantless. Pantless and fearless. Slide down a poorly sanded wooden stick, naked? Of course. Hop on your makeshift skateboard and barrel down a hill, naked? Obviously.

I love the girls. The young Hmong women who already look and feel more mature then I’ll ever be. By age twelve, they’re cooking the meals, going to school, and raising their siblings. Their faces are rich with experience and understanding, their humanity and compassion for strangers indescribable.

Here’s how much I want to live in Phayong village: not at all.

I love my life. I chose my partner. I’m 24 and am happily childless. I travel. I live where I want. I have a job that, given all the choice in the world, I would choose 100 percent of the time.

When I do manual labor, it’s for fun (ie: four poster bed building with my very handy man).

I am educated, and there was never any question that I would be.

I have absolute and complete freedom in my future.

I’ll go back to Phayong again and again. This afternoon in fact. I’ll eat the food, play with kids, and be humbled by their kindness each time.

But each time, I will come home, thankful for my partner, my education, my life.

Thankful for my choices.

and thus we enter the year of the tiger.

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

On our way to dinner, Allison and I feel a Christmas Eve-like anticipation. Streets are empty and strings of lights are lit.

A coworker of A & J’s, here in Taichung, has invited us to have Chinese New Year at his Taiwanese girlfriend’s house. We have, per usual, no idea what to expect.

When we get to the apartment, we’re given slippers to wear and pointed towards the table; the kitchen is small, crowded and smelling wonderful. The rooms are close together and cluttered, the walkway tight and the dinner table filled with plates of food.

We’re pointed to our seats where we drink a little rice whiskey (much like the burning Lao Lao we’re familiar with) and watch some TV (also a comfortable Lao norm–TV always on). Inside this family’s home, we are welcomed, warm.

The food keeps coming out and Minni, the girlfriend, does her best to explain each item and it’s New Year’s meaning, most of which have to do with a coming year filled with prosperity and money.

Our host, Minni’s mother, soon comes out after what must have been a long day in the kitchen. She sweetly, softly, in Mandarin, thanks us all for coming and says she’s happy we can be here.

With small bowls and chopsticks, we eat. And eat, and eat. Tofu skins, deep fried cakes, rice noodles, pork balls, grilled peppers. I’m impressed with my performance; I pass off only one item I can’t stomach into Allison’s bowl. B sits across from us, filling and refilling his bowl with pork ball lamb soup, slouching from fullness and going back for more.

And we continue this way, eating way past our fill, until the dinner is over.

After we thank our host and say goodbye, Minni leads us down the road to a small, smokey bar, the only open place on the street.

So here, with some 24 oz beers, a growing group of locals, and a little bit of family, we ring in the year of the tiger.

And its possible, just maybe, that we close out the night with a cousin karaoke duet of Like a Virgin .