Sunday, November 16, 2008

Armchair Travel

I'm not a big chick-lit kind of girl. From time to time, I pick one up for a little fun. But in most cases, if I wander past Meg Cabot, I get annoyed. The writing is artificial and the plot is Disney with a bit of "Adult content" thrown in. Everything is contrived and overworked and unrealistic.
Every once in a while, though, I come across a more bearable one. I think the thing that makes these books more enjoyable is when the offer some little multi-cultural twist. Frangipani succeeded because it's a study of cultural and generational differences. (Though some would argue that this belongs in the group of books unpleasantly labeled "mum-lit", not chick.)

Coffee and Kung Fu made it only because of this. In most ways, it's your typical young-woman-in-the-big-city-with-a-boring-dead-end-job. Her grandpa is the only one who understands her. And she's dating a guy who's obviously a jerk.

But she's a missionary kid and she grew up in the Phillipines, and despite the books title, she's really more of a perfectly-prepared-jasmine-tea-served-ceremonially kind of girl.

And the ending - I trust none of you are really going to run out and read the book - is satisfying, because the girl dumps her stuff on her parents, buys two plane tickets with the money her grandpa leaves her, and jets off to Hong Kong, expecting the barista guy she hardly knows to follow her in a few days. Which we all know he will.

But that's not the point. The point is, she goes somewhere to be happy. So despite the love lesson that is necessary in every chick-lit novel, I find this one to be a bit more realistic. I guess it's just closer to home for this reader.

I finished the book, finished my tea, and rushed off to school to finish the draft of the analysis section of my IRP. As you can probably guess, it isn't going that well. No one really wants to read about people stopping caring about consequences and rushing off to do something exciting and gutsy when they have to put on their coat, walk across a common room with gluey floors from last night's birthday party, and sit in a computer lab that is hospital-like in its whiteness.

I'd much rather fly to Hong Kong.

And then you'd all be reading about something more interesting than my ventures into chick-lit reading.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Elections, Expat-style

A lot of people around here are sick of hearing about the U.S. elections. But more of them aren't. Since RA specializes in social sciences, and Middelburg is home not only to RA but also to the Roosevelt Study Center, an unrelated research center, and the new Middelburg Center for Transatlantic Studies, news about the election has been a pretty big deal here.

So RA and the Study Center got together to organize an All-Night American Election Party, complete with pub quiz, youtube spoof videos, CNN coverage on a big screen, live music, DJs, and let's not forget, Hertog Jan beer for only 1.80/glass.

It was a happening event, to say the least, but we went two hours late and missed the fun pub quizzes, etc. Instead, we caught my housemate, Romy Uitdehaag of 4y-d, performing Pink's "Dear Mr. President"; an RA band featuring a saxophone solo by Dr. Herman Lelieveldt, and entertaining MC work by an exchange student from Nebraska.

Unsurprisingly, Obama won the mock vote. I was a little surprised that McCain actually received as many as 4 votes, considering the audience.

The place was overwhelmingly Obama-y. Everyone had hats, pins, posters, shirts, you name it. My friend told me I had to put on my pins, like the ones my mother sent to my friend Joy, and I had to explain that my mom didn't love me enough to send me a "My mama loves Obama" pin.

But my mama did send me an "Obama chick" t-shirt, so I wore that, and paired it with a PDX pin. I figure a Portland pin, aka "Little Beirut", is more or less synonymous with "Obama supporter". No one knew what it was, but a bartender asked about it and liked it.

Joy and I realized that, since I'm American and she's Kenyan, put together we make Obama.

At 2, the crowd decided they would rather listen to music than CNN, so they muted the television and the DJ spun some retro stuff, and my friends and I decided to head back to Liana's place and watch there. We ate popcorn and I knit and everyone was in a different state of semi-sleep, waking up to talk about the silly holograms and the new percentages and statistics pouring in. At about five, we were confident enough to go home and sleep, knowing we'd wake up smiling.

The next day, I'm looking over post-election coverage. I remember the morning after the 2004 elections. Everything was gray, like Portland had put on a black veil of mourning. My mom and I went out for coffee and the barista said, "I feel like blacks are still sitting on the back of the bus." I'm never going to forget that.

In English class that day I wrote a poem about it, but today, I'm blogging. That, and regularly checking the news to find out about the Oregon results, and scrolling through facebook to look at people's post-election statuses. A high school friend "is on the streets of Chicago celebrating". Two people are waking up knowing that it's not a dream. I'm watching footage of the celebrations in the streets and semi-wishing I was there.

But on the other hand, I'm even more happy to be here. Pretty soon, I might stop emphasizing the half-Czech part of me so much. I have more reason to be proud of being American than I ever have since leaving the states.