Let’s Blame It on the Eggnog

Taking a break ’til the New Year, friends. (:
Have a wonderful time welcoming our transient friend, 2011.
Let us strive to live in the coming year — not merely exist in it.

Much love, and I do mean that “much,”
Grace

Happy Christmas


Photo: josy.hilton

Peace and joy and a merry Christmas to my friends and my love.
I hope the New Year will be the best of all years.

All my love,
Grace

The Syrian Tram Proposal

I wrote this out quite a few years back. It’s still true and still haunting me.

In the six months we were situated in Bremen, Germany, years and years ago, my mother and I found a wonderful women’s clothing store that had good-quality, low-priced clothing. We had lived in Africa for the past three years, so our supply of winter clothing was meager. After one of our afternoon trips to that shop and around town, we were waiting at the tram station waiting for the number three train that would take us home. I had my one-way trip ticket ready to be stamped. My mother beside me was frantically searching her wallet for her ticket. She pulled out one orange ticket after another orange ticket. Every single one of them had already been stamped and previously used! What to do?!

“Mum, why in the world do you keep the tickets you use?” I asked in a tone.
“You have to keep them for the whole tram trip, so I put them back in my wallet and forget to throw them out,” she replied, slightly irritated. “Don’t you have another one?”
“No, this is one’s my last.”
At that moment, a man I assumed to be Turkish – the largest minority in Germany being the Turks – started to say something to me in Deutsche. He went on for several sentences before I stopped him and tried to utter out “Ich kann nicht Deutsch sprechen.” Down the road, the number three tram was honking its horn to passers-by. The man tried to explain in English what he was saying in German.

“Er, I have a… monthly ticket? Yes. On weekends, er, it is good for two people. You can er, share it? Yes, with me.” My mother and I lighted up and agreed immediately as the tram was pulling up to the station. The three of us boarded the train together. We sat in three seats parallel to the door, myself being seated between my mother and the magnanimous man. We thanked him copiously as we got comfortable.

The tram started to move. We all sat in awkward silence, not knowing what to say after expressing our gratitude. My mother the Great Evangelizer, being braver than I, started to speak to the man.

“So! What country are you from?” my mother said with a beaming smile.
“Oh, er, I’m from Syria,” the man said with a sheepish grin.
“Oh really! What are you doing in Germany? Are you a student?” my mother inquired genially.
“Yes! I am, er, a little late? Yes, a little late. But it’s good! It’s good.”
“Oh, I see. That’s okay!” A slight nod and smile from the man. Silence.
“So, do you go to church?” my mother pressed on. The man chuckled.
“Oh no, I’m Muslim. Syria, you know? We are Muslim nation.”

“Oh I see. Jesus bring life, you know. He is the Way.” my mother had just begun her preaching. The man, suddenly empowered by his duty to defend his religion, started to speak with more confidence.
“Oh, I believe Jesus,” the man replied.
“Oh?” my mother cocked an eyebrow.
“Yes, I believe he was a prophet… He was a good man!”
“Oh no no no. He is the only One. He loves you,” my mother persisted. The man laughed out of awkward politeness.

“Jesus loves you, and he died for you on the cross. It’d be great if you went to church,” my mother continued. The man tried to be deferential under my mother’s hearty encouragements that were questioning his beliefs. My mother wasn’t being denunciatory. She was being warm and affable, trying to make this man go to church at least once. My mother soldiered on.

“You must be lonely sometimes as a student, right?” my mother said sympathetically. The man released a nervous chuckle.
“Well… yes,” another small laugh.
“See, if you go to church, you won’t be lonely! People are friendly and cordial, and you’ll make great friends. You’ll meet the greatest Friend of all.” She grinned with warmth. The man didn’t say anything. He didn’t smile. He didn’t let out his routine laugh. The Syrian man was looking from my mother to me. Me to my mother. My mother to me. He let out a long sigh. He looked at me again. His face was serious, unsmiling. After a few minutes, he started to say something and hesitated. A few more moments of quiet passed. My mother did not back down. She watched him with an unwavering gaze. I sat between them, casting furtive glances at the both of them, feeling more than a little uncomfortable sandwiched between two people voicing their beliefs.

The silence broke.
“Okay,” the man said. My mother’s face brightened.
“Okay,” the man repeated. “I will go to church.” My mother beamed.
“I will go to church,” pause. “I will go to church if you let me marry your daughter.” My mother’s face turned icy. Any signs of a smile ever existing vanished. The man stared intensely at my mother. She took a deep breath.

“Are. You. CRAZY?!” she uttered venomously. The Syrian man seemed taken aback. He stuttered.
“Er, erm, I’ll… I’ll go to church!” he finally said. My mother snorted.
“She’s fourteen!” my mother pronounced, exasperated. The man seemed perplexed.
“Yes, and?” the man said, shrugging.

My mother gave him a horrified look and pulled me closer to her, and we sat in tense silence all the way to our destination. Much to our chagrin, there were no more seats to which we could move, and the tram was already crowded. On top of that, the man got off at the same station we disembarked at, so we dealt with his ominous presence all the way home. Needless to say, my eyes were as big as saucers, and I was petrified the whole ride. So ladies, lonely, Syrian student in Bremen. Any takers?

Tell ‘Em

I just came back from watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I and the very second Big Mac I’ve ever had in my life.

Yesterday was a great day.

And here’s me rocking a Canadian tux.
And a blank stare.

I just thought a photo would spice things up a bit.
The fact of the matter is however, that I’m cold, and I can’t feel my thighs.

And that I’ll probably regret this post tomorrow.

But it’s all right.

My First Encounter with the Time-Out

I grew up everywhere. From temporary stays in Benin to extended periods in Bremen, I really cannot give an explicit answer when asked where my hometown is. However, my family’s first home in the United States was on the International Operations Center of Mercy Ships in Garden Valley, TX. And even in that confined area, our home was ever-changing.

We arrived in mid-March, only a couple weeks before my seventh birthday. Since the school semesters in the United States had different school years from Korea, I enrolled in the third to last month of first grade although I had just finished the first month of the grade in Korea. I remember the first month of school being hell. I would cry, utter the only phrase I knew through my tears: “Want home. Go home. I want go home.” My teacher was a wingless, roux, patient angel from heaven. She would assign a lengthy project and sit with me in the hall as I cried and cried and cried. I went home a couple times from crying and heaving so much that my teacher couldn’t do anything with me. However, when the tears ceased and I felt I could smile again, my kindhearted teacher would sit with me at the low, plastic table in the back of the room and go through phonics with me. She flashed an “O” card.

“What does this sound like?”
I cocked my head. I scrunched up my nose.
“Ow?”
She shook her head. “Au, o, oo.”

When I graduated from first grade, I was an unstoppable prattler. The tree had a different name from “namu”! The table had a different name from “shik-tak”! Oh, the summer was filled with discoveries and excitements alike.

I must add here as a side note that my family was the first Asian family ever to inhabit Van, TX aside from Mr. Burke, whom I believe was adopted from Japan in his infancy. And so, while enrolled in elementary school, I often took part in conversations not unlike the following:

“Are you Chinese?”
“No.”
“Are you Japanese?”
“No.”
“Then what are you?”
“Korean.”
“What’s that?”

———————

The IOC base was ridden with incandescent balls of energy in the form of children. Whoever said that energy is not created never met us. One minute, we would be inert, rolling about the grass making chains of wildflowers. In the blink of an eye, we would be in the offices of our parents, nagging them to play with us, to take us to the chicken coops. And so, after several parental meetings, they decided to create a sort of daycare for us wild tater-tots.

Some teenagers were chosen to assemble us into a single file line and march us to the small room behind the gym. The room was a cross between a storage room for dusty boxes of toy donations and a Wallyball court. We pushed the boxes to the corner of the room and set out a pink plastic table with matching chairs. We congregated daily to paint pictures of each other, to play Ring Around the Rosie, cook plastic ham and green beans, and coddle porcelain dolls to our breasts. Most days, we would be satisfied with such activities, calm in our productivity, lost in our imaginations. On other days, we would nearly explode with the want to climb evergreens, play pine cone baseball, to go hiking the Pipe Trail — a walk around the base on which we would teeter on the thick water pipes, or to go pester our parents to take us to the chicken coops. On those restless days, we would yowl and badger, tease and holler, shriek and harry. Those poor teenagers! They would take the rowdiest of the children and make their noses kiss the wall for ten minutes at a time. What was this bizarre ritual of the West? My little Asian mind would swim and try to respect this sacrament of the Land of the Free.

On one day in which we were feeling particularly boisterous and truculent, I decided to go all-in and join in with the romp and roar. I made animal noises, I scribbled inscrutable messages on the table, I threw the plastic fried egg across the room. The bags under the teenagers’ eyes were unmistakable, and my infantile sixth sense felt an imminent upbraiding.

Then they yelled. They slammed their hand down on the table. Their arms were flailing left and right. Their high school bangs flew about their faces. The pandemonium ceased as swiftly as it had begun. We sat unflustered at the table, our hands neatly folded in our laps, our face cherub-like. I giggled. A pair of flashing teenager eyes flared and glared.

“Grace, would you like a time-out?”

What was a time-out? What in the world was it? Time? Out? Did this mean time out in the playground? The end of today’s class? What could she mean? I recalled the phrase “time-out” from the other times she would ask the question and always wondered what it could be. My curiosity overwhelmed me. What do I do? My head felt electrified.

I shook my mane, flattened my skirt, and held my button nose high in the air.

“Yes. I would like a time-out.”

The girl’s eyes burst into flame as they shot daggers. She grabbed my arm with an astounding force. As she guided me to the fusty, maroon wall, she whispered sinisterly in my ear.

“You will stay here ten minutes. More if you’re smart like that. You will not say one word; you will not move from this spot.”

I was once again befuddled. Smart? Did that not mean intelligent? Nevertheless, I obeyed her orders and kept my face planted on the wall. I thought back to what had caused this doleful scenario. Time-out. This was a time-out? The enticing  mystery of the phrase crumpled in my head. It was not a set of sixty-four Crayola colors. It was not a dessert rivaling the beignets from Café Du Monde. It was not even a pat on the back. It was ten sweet minutes of my life, spent with my nose on a puce wall, my mind flashing with all the wondrous activities that could fill those 600,000 milliseconds.

Why in sweet Susan’s name would anyone ask this farcical question? Would I like a time-out? Would not the response obviously be in the negative? The absurd notion filled my wee nut as I grew more and more sullen. I thought of ideas to escape the building, taking my comrades as I went. Then who would they punish?! Who indeed!

A doe-eyed girl completely indistinguishable from the fiery woman who nearly yanked my limb off laid a calm hand on my shoulder.

“Would you like to come back to the table again with the rest of your friends?”

Pah! Another superfluous inquiry! What was this madness?!

Though ambitions of a mutinous getaway raced across my cranium, my terrified little self nodded with docility. I was led back to my chair as my peers looked at me, many sympathetic but most awed. As they colored bunny rabbits, rainbows, ballet shoes, and leprechauns, I did what most seven-year-old ankle biters would do after being chided publicly.

Pout.

Say, What’s in This Drink?

I don’t know if I’m irrationally being afraid, but these North Korea provocations have me a bit worried. The United States and South Korea are having drills on the Yellow Sea this week. I know North Korea can’t really do anything while a bit of Uncle Sam’s here, but it does not seem like it will bring entirely peaceful results.

I worry for my little student.

Christmas music has been playing a lot more than usual around my flat. It’s still November, but I have my reasons for wanting time to pass a little faster.

I believe this week marks the beginning of the steady decline in temperature. It finally dipped below freezing last night, and there will be plenty of precipitation this week. I’m not certain of my readiness, but I think I can handle it. Lots of tea, lots of layers, happy thoughts.

I’ve been watching quite a few movies lately and enjoying it. It’s been making me a bit lazy in my reading, writing, and generally more productive hobbies, but it’s been a delight. Film is an amalgamation of every corner of the arts. Spectacular.

Luck

I’ve been drawing so much more than I have been in the past few months. There is a group on Flickr that I joined, and in that group, artists draw portraits of each other in their respective styles. Just going through all the beautiful and unique portraits has been teaching me so much about rendering the features of the human face. I’ve been developing my own style of drawing faces and found myself using markers more than pens. I’d used my markers for about two years, only equipping them when accentuating small parts of my drawings. Then, when I got on board with the art group, I saw the need to replace my markers promptly.

So today, after postponing the purchase for weeks, I ventured out into the crisp, frosty air of the premature winter. Fully armed in three layers of blouse, sweater, coat, and an extra adjunct that was my scarf, I walked in step to the sound of my music: “Did I go at it wrong? Did I go intentionally to destroy me?” I took the shortcut in front of the local elementary school that led to a good acre of pubs and pig-intestine restaurants. The green tarmac concealed by the yellow gingko biloba leaves, I walked with my eyes on my feet, mesmerized by the vivid golden color.

I crossed the sidewalk, squinting as the wintry gusts blew my hair about my face. I sidestepped the people whose visions were impaired by their mobile phones, tablet computers, and mp3 players. The aesthetically pleasing buildings with services inside to make people more aesthetically pleasing towered around me, and my mind unprofitably filled with ruminations on the practice of going under the knife to enhance one’s visual appeal.

Then I stopped.

A sniffing, red-nosed man in only a mauve windbreaker sat on the sidewalk, an upturned cardboard box in front of him. A thin layer of blue felt covered the top, and scintillating shapes caught my eye. On the side of the box was a piece of A4 paper that blazoned in a lurid azure “Four-Leaf Clovers for Sale. 1000 Won for Your Luck.” The gleaming bits I had seen on the box were an array of four-leaf clovers, laminated and cut accordingly. The man looked up at me as I paused for a split-second in my stride. As a glare from his spectacles blinded me momentarily, I thought of all the things Luck could assist me in.

The instant I would purchase the fortune-bearing leaf, a multimillion lottery ticket would blow into my face. I would choke on a magical piece of lint blowing in the wind, and I would then be bestowed with a transcendental singing voice. A brilliant stuffing recipe for a Thanksgiving roast would simply fall into my head. An inventive plot for a spectacular novel would formulate as I would gaze upon the venation of the charmed clover. An esteemed film director would catch a glimpse of my plain face and think it was bizarre! idiosyncratic! and ask me to star in a new “dramedy.” My blog would suddenly get fifty million hits! My hand would suddenly be gifted with an unparalleled talent to paint rolling landscapes! The cure for cancer would come to my brain! Unite the two Koreas! Achieve world peace! Reverse global warming!

The man looked down and my senses returned as the hallucinogenic glare directed its power elsewhere. Spots appeared in my eyes. Glancing at the four-leaf clovers, the quixotic reveries flashed in all their glory and instantaneously evaporated. I turned. I looked ahead at the bookstore building that looked not unlike a compact disc rack and onward I went. Though with an amulet, successes could perchance be more frequent, I let the one thousand won bills rest in my wallet.

For who requires luck to simply purchase a pen?

What’s Wrong with Me?

I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. This truth may be due to the fact that I was born a sick baby to be stuck into an incubator the moment I took my breath, or the fact that I had a fibroadenoma removed last autumn, or just simply the fact that I try to find the answers to everything.

I will try not to divulge all sorts of intimate details, but sometimes, you — my dear reader — must indulge me.

I spent five years of my childhood in Northeast Texas in a little town (now a federally established city) called Van. I remember when the new grocery store opened adjacent to the cube that was Austin Bank. I remember when it snowed for the first time in ten years. I remember the elementary school that was built to emulate the Alamo. The architects fooling the children with their cunning chicanery, I remember entering that school building feeling valorous, the straps of my cerulean backpack slung across my shoulders, walking fearlessly into the Homeric battle that was math class.

My family worked with a charity organization, so we were always moving. We — to this day — have never owned a home. This was the cause of much of our chagrin but also much of our delight. Just in Van, we lived in four different houses. While many other half-pint gals were collecting Cabbage Patch Kids birth certificates, I was adding to my list of sundry street names. I would write the titles on Manila paper, makes designs with Elmer’s glue, and glitter that damn thing ’til kingdom come. The papers heavy from embellishment would boast in their prismatic glory: “West Virgina,” “Pecan,” “North Palm,” “Country Road”*. And it was on Country Road I began my hypochondriacal journey.

*I just realized how John Denver these sound.

Red Bud Ranch, Country Road. It truly was a beautiful house. Antiquated and creaking though it was, the house emanated an alluring charm with its cobblestone path up to the house, its six sexy cats, its ivy everywhere, its round gravel driveway, and its breathless sophistication. It was at this house that the snow fell and boy, was it enchanting. The lofty trees that encompassed the house caved in to create the effect of being in a giant green igloo. That’s not all. To the right of the house was an extensive field with two horses, Skeeter and Shorty. Horses. Did my little eight-year-old heart burst? Nearly.

I spent hours and hours on the slate-blue deck that encircled the whole house, sighing with pleasure, gazing at the beautiful beasts prancing about on the beige dirt. My mum would bring out a basket — yes a basket lined with plaid fabric — of carrots and apple cores, celery and lumps of sugar. On this particular sunny day, I forgot — as I always would — the warmheartedness of my mother in my elation and took handfuls of the horse-treats with superhuman speed. My greedy, peewee fingers barely containing the carrots and celery, I warily crept to the wooden fence where the great beasts were grazing. At the approach of my gaudy red coat with the Tweety Bird embroidery, they gracefully raised their heads, wordlessly investigating the churlish intruder. Attentive not to make any sudden movements, I reached out my hand. Shorty, whose name was more than accurate, chomped thanklessly on the carrot I’d bestowed upon him. I was tinkled as pink as a baby’s bottom. I produced even more divine nibbles for them to wolf down. Saccharine sugar! Sweet celery! Crunchy carrots! Oh how they chewed and chomped! I ran back for the last few carrots, mad with the euphoria of catering. Skeeter burrowed into my palm, my hands too slow to pull back from his assemblage of rectangular, yellow teeth.

Then I was on the ground. Spots were in my eyes. I could only see the looming silhouette of the varmint that was once cherubic. I looked down at my hand. While the rest of my hand was pale from the winter wind, there was a fine line of deep red and violet across my palm. That ass had bitten me all right, but the skin was not broken. My heartbeat started to accelerate. I couldn’t even bear to look down at my poor, poor hand again. I had rabies. I was sure of it.

The next day I went to school, knowing that in a few weeks, I would be dead. I asked my teachers about squirrels and dogs and their relative death-dealing diseases. I smiled hopelessly at my friends who wanted to play four-square. I thanked my teacher for their altruism. I went to the library and skimmed my hands over the books I loved so much. Quentin Blake’s illustrations from the Dahl covers grinned at me, unaware of my woebegone fate. My father picked me up from school and inquired after my wretchéd visage: “Hey babe, why the long face?” The “long face” would call to mind the bloodthirsty villains who had bestowed the premature demise upon my pitiable soul, and I would be again plunged into ineffable desolation.

But I didn’t die. In a fortnight or so, the ominous, mortal line had vanished and with it went the anguish of losing my life. Oh the glee that overtook me! I would survive the terrible brute’s sting of death! I vowed to never feed horses again — what would possess me to put my mind through such havoc another time? I would be careful. No more cracks that broke mothers’ backs. No more red M&Ms. No more standing next to microwaves. I would wash my hands at least ten times a day.

——————————-

I once forgot how to spell the word “hypochondriac.” I was writing a short story about a couple named Greg and Lucy, the latter being a woman who constantly feared for her health. I paused to put my fingers to my temples, rubbing in small circles to push out the Writer’s Block. My thought was: “Goodness, I don’t remember how to spell the word ‘hypochondriac.’ What’s wrong with me?” I stopped and reiterated my thought.

Then I laughed. I laughed; I guffawed; I bellowed; I cackled. I remembered Skeeter and his terrorizing demeanor. I remember when we found mice in one of our transient homes and looking up “Black Death” in the World Book encyclopedia. I remember my infected knee scrape in fifth grade that made me fear amputation. I remember losing quite a bit of cheek-fat while growing taller and consequently researching the Banded Bolivian Tapeworm.

My father always taught me that not knowing (ignorance) was often the cure. Then I remember my fibroadenoma I thought was nothing that culminated into surgery that required a full-body anesthetic. I don’t know if I’ll die of a disease. I don’t know if I’ll die a natural death. I don’t know if I’ll get hit by a car and bleed to death. I don’t know how I’ll die. And as morbid as thinking of death may seem, it’s really just another musing among my thousands. I’ll die. We’ll all die. But what’s the use in shaking in our boots about that process of death?

I want to be happy. I want to stay happy.

And so, I will continue feeding Skeeter. I will continue feeding Shorty. Perhaps I’ll get a few more bites, and some of those bites might open up and bleed. Some of those bites might cut my whole hand or even my whole arm off.

But I’ll be left with the sweet memory of feeding those daggone horses. And that’s enough for me.

[On: Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes]

It Was Only a Stone in My Shoe

I can smell winter.

The scent fades with the ray of sunlight, bringing with it the hope of another spring.

I take a sip from the lid of my thermos. I turn the page. I listen for the next song. I kick off my shoes. I chew on my snack.

This is all I need right now — a book, some tea, music, and a bar of chocolate — on the roof of my building, making my own kind of silence.

I look up. The buildings red like rust, the television antennas like fishbones, the roof vent like a royal crowns.

Then I realize, for the first time in two and a half years, I’m happy.

Because I love.

And am loved.

Someone to Bless Me Whenever I Sneeze

I love steamed sweet potatoes. Good thing I’m in Korea.

There are times when words really do not suffice. Those moments either bless or curse.

Today, a Buddhist couple approached me and asked whether I went to the temple or not. The man asked for my zodiac, then left, thinking I did not speak Korean from my not-so-loud voice.

I often find writing by hand helps me think more effectively than typing. The unhurried process of pen and paper gives time for the mind to formulate its thoughts thoroughly before inscribing them. More fresh, pristine pages. No more palimpsests! Time is key!

I walked to the bookstore today and read a bit of David Sedaris. It was on the self-help table next to the “Guinness World Records” books.