Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hundreds Riot in Fort Collins

I could see this happening after, say, a Metallica concert. But Earth, Wind and Fire? Words fail me.

Bear kills man in Columbia Station

When I heard about this, I congratulated myself yet again on living far, far from Columbia.

Dear Rednecks: Remember, if you wrestle a bear, you're going to LOSE!

Thai-style driving NOT appreciated at National Park

I got in trouble at the park today. Sort of.

At the the main gate of Rocky, I tried to drive up to the card reader and swipe my annual pass. But I couldn't get through because a big white Park Service truck was sitting in the lane, doing nothing. The driver had his hand dangling out the window, and I think I mistook a twitch as an invitation to do a Thailand-style squeeze-around.

So I did what any Thai driver would. I eased my CRV into the crack between the truck and the gatehouse. There was maybe an inch on each side--plenty of room, right? I could see I was going to have to reach over and pull in my mirror, so I slowed down. Then I heard the ranger at the next booth shout, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?"

Apparently, some mornings, before coffee, I still forget what country I'm in.

As the truck pulled away to let me through, the ranger made a joke about fining me 100 USD. Then he watched me swipe my pass over and over. "Turn it around!" he groaned. Which worked and the gate went up.

As they watched me go, the rangers were probably convinced I was going into the mountains to die. I wouldn't be surprised if they put out an all-points bulletin: bonehead at large, armed with Honda CRV. And dangerous!

When Hummingbirds Attack

If you like hiking or running with a brightly colored Buff on your head, beware! I was wearing this one when a hummingbird flew straight into my face! They buzz, so at first I thought it was some kind of giant killer bee. He pecked my head, realized it wasn't a flower, and zoomed off.

Got to stay bear safe, moose safe, elk safe, and now hummingbird safe out here in Colorado. Next time I go to Rocky, I'll wear my black buff with skulls on.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Body Snatchin'

R. I. P.

So for the first time since high school, I killed something with my car today. So depressing. Some wood grouse were loitering beside the road near Pipestone, Minnesota. I don't know why one picked that exact moment to make a break for the far side of the street!

One consolation, I hit it so hard, there was no question it was dead. Stone cold dead. Not lying there suffering. When I looked in the rear view mirror, there was a cloud of feathers fluttering in the air.

The sad thing--I was probably the first car to drive by in about three days. Bad luck, little fella.

This isn't the first animal I've hit with the Honda. Just the first kill. I was driving to a baby shower with my mom last month and I ran over a dead, bloated skunk corpse. The splattering sound--and the smell-- were horrible. My mom and I both screamed, it was so gross! Sometimes my car still reeks like skunk.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How to help your repat friend

"So. What did you do over there?"

Though I know most people mean well, I dread this question. Don't get me wrong. I love talking about my overseas experiences--with a listener who's genuinely interested. After watching a few people glaze over, repats get good at sussing out when to be real and when say, "Oh, you know. Lotsa stuff."

Some examples from my own life of people who were clearly sorry they'd asked:

Relative: So. What did you do over there?

Me: Well, one of the best trips I took was to Banda Aceh, to see the destruction from the tsunami.

Relative: The what?

Me: The big tsunami from 2004. It destroyed half the city and killed 40,000 people. There's this huge electrical ship, big as a mall, that got washed seven kilometers inland and squashed a whole neighborhood.

Relative: Uh, yeah. Did I tell you Derek got a new car?

Uh-huh. Glad I had your undivided attention for all of 15 seconds.

Here's one from a baby shower:

Total Stranger (at a table of total strangers): So. Tell us the craziest thing about Thailand.

Me: Well, I lived in the red light district. I'd be walking to the grocery store and passing all these prostitutes. Maybe half of them were trans-gendered. You know, men who were living as women.

(Silence, sound of chirping crickets)

Total Stranger: Well, it must have been a fantastic experience. Anyone see American Idol last night?

Okay, okay, I admit that's a clear case of wrong message, wrong audience. But I honestly forget that everyone doesn't sit around talking about prostitution, ping-pong shows, sexpats and lady-boys like people here talk about, well, American Idol. In the world I'm coming from, it's all pleasant social chit-chat.

Another thing I dislike about the "So what did you do over there" query: it's not like I've been away on a two-week holiday. I've been gone for six years! Quick, tell me everything you've done in six years before I get bored and change the subject to American Idol.

Okay /rant.

So what can you do to help a repat friend who's struggling? Simple. Let them talk. Be present. Really listen.

That's why my friend Julie and her husband Shaun are chicken soup for my repat soul. Here's a picture of all of us at their wedding in Australia in 2006:

Julie and I worked together at the International House at Colorado State from 2003-2004. Then we both moved to China about a year apart. Julie met Shaun, who's from Australia, in Shenzhen. They moved to Korea for awhile, went to Australia to get married and now live in tiny St. Joseph, Minnesota.

The first thing they did was take me out for yummy Thai food (not easy to find in St. Joseph). Then, over beers, they said they'd followed the Bangkok riots in the news. What was really going on over there? Would I please explain?

Well, I could barely contain my excitement. We talked about Thaksin, the Red Shirts, and the bloodless coup. I opened my laptop and showed them all the videos and pictures I'd collected on my East is Red blog. For awhile, I worried I was boring them to death, but they kept asking for more! They wanted to know what I thought of the media coverage (Answer: CNN and BBC botched it, Al-Jazeera was right on the nose). They sat at full attention through my Khattiya assassination story and the saga of my eleventh-hour evacuation from the kill zone. And when I tried to change the subject, they changed it back.

If felt sooo good. In fact, when I woke up the next morning, I'd swear my cheeks were sore from smiling.

Granted, we have some common ground, having all lived abroad. And Shaun's getting his degree in international social justice (we also talked in depth about his work with communities in Chiapas, Mexico). But if there's a repat in your life, showing interest and really listening will mean so much to them. You don't have to let them go on all night. Give them 15 minutes to share and they'll be grateful for your generosity.

By the way, if you know Jewls and Shaun and haven't been to visit them, it's time! They said I was their first non-family visitor in three years. Guys, maybe you and Kevin need to get attached townhouses somewhere kewl-er? Australia? Colorado?

Also, after listening to the AM talk radio in your 'hood, I don't know how you survive. As I was driving away toward the South Dakota border, the lady was talking about how all good Christians need to stand together against "The Green Dragon." Yup, we all need to do our part to silence the environmentalist wackos. Quick, hand me a lighter. I wanna set my hair on fire.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

WISCONSIN: Here, you're never too old to club

Here's two things I missed in Asia: PBR and my old I-House friend, Kevin. He lives in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Sounds like an awesome place to kayak, right? Well, no.

Kevin wanted me to have a real Wisconsin cultural experience, so he made reservations at the Buckhorn Supper Club. I got excited, because the only other "supper club" I know is Bed Supper Club in Bangkok, a restaurant-slash-uber-chic dance club (Boy George was the guest DJ last May). In central Wisconsin, Kev says, supper club is usually the most happening spot in town.

I told Kev my clubbing clothes were in the shipment. He said it was fine, and that I didn't even have to take a shower! Here's me in front of Buckhorn Supper Club (yes, I know those shorts don't do a thing for me).

So here's what Wisconsin supper club's all about: it's a place where OLD PEOPLE hang out! They meet up, drink beer and hork down massive amounts of meat and potatoes. En serio, we were about the youngest people there by 30 years.

Here's a shot of the inside. Sorry, no Boy George.

Supper club, as it turns out, is GREAT for people watching. Let's face it. Once you hit a certain age, you probably lose most of your hang-ups. So if you feel like busting out your bugle right on the patio and playing a craptastic rendition of Taps as the sun goes down, you just do it! We had got several free bugle performances, and a capella show tunes too.

Here's the beautiful sunset over Lake Koshkonong (sans bugle audio):

By the way, Wisconsin (and lots of the upper Midwest) was still recovering from a massive flood when I visited. In Whitewater, they actually had seven inches of rain in an hour! You rarely get that much in a bonafide tropical rain forest. Here's what's left of the boat slip outside the Buckhorn. According to our waitress, the water is still "a foot or two" above normal.

Supper Club is such a tradition in Wisconsin, that Capital Brewery in Whitewater makes Supper Club Beer. Yup, we tried it and it was light and refreshing, perfect for summer!

And the food? Two words: big and cheap! For about 13 USD each, Kev got a humongous steak and I got a four-piece chicken dinner--plenty for lunch on the road the next day.

So that's your crash course in Wisconsin's supper club scene. Kevin says he's hoping to get to the supper club more often, as there's not much happening in Whitewater. Kev, buddy, I'm thinking maybe it's time for you to move soon =) Though I'll visit you anywhere, especially now that I've eaten your ragingly good, homemade, CHOCOLATE-CHILI ICE CREAM.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Things I Learned Today From AM Talk Radio

I've gotten super hooked on talk radio since I came home. Maybe it's because I don't know any of the songs anymore on the FM channel. Also, I think when you are driving this far, your brain just needs a work out.

A sampling of my learnings for August 4, 2010:

* If you freeze any genetic material (eggs, sperm), make sure you make provisions for it in your will. Otherwise, when you have another heir born twenty years after your death, your kids will be really salty over having to split the trust fund again.

* The Gulf oil spill is a wondrous feat of nature. Seriously. There are bacteria living in the ocean that EAT oil, and they are all happy and fat now because while oil constantly seeps out of the ocean floor, this latest gusher is like ten Four Seasons Jakarta buffets to them. If the bacteria are happy, we should be happy for them. Maybe we should even have MORE oil spills (Words fail me).

* Pray about everything. Pray about money. Pray for America's deliverance. Even pray for dead people.

* While we're on a religious note, environmentalism is the enemy. All good Christians must resist The Green Dragon (snerk).

* 8/28 should be a day of fasting to honor Glenn Beck.

* Rush Limbaugh has a new Facebook page where he'll post pictures of his Old English sheepdogs. And his new wife. Yes, in that order.

* Speaking of Rush, guess who performed at his wedding? Elton John! Either Elton's hard up for cash or has a wicked sense of humor.

Really. You can't make-up stuff this craptastic.

East Chicago's Galactic Shite Hole

I've driven to Chicago a few times, and every time I eagerly await Gary, Indiana's appearance on the horizon. Just in case you missed it, Gary is the biggest piece of jaw dropping, industrial urban squalor in the known universe. Miles and miles of belching, flaming smoke stacks, rusty factories, snarls of pipes that tower four stories high ... seriously, worse then ten Jakartas and worse than Beijing on a white-out smog day. if there were an evil Gargamel of global warming and carbon emissions, the Pilsbury factory in Gary would be his castle.

Gary seems like the kind of place you could find Mad Max, The Terminator and Oliver Twist all living on the same street, but in reality, Gary's most famous native son is Michael Jackson. When I stopped at the Indiana Welcome Center, I looked around for brochures about The Michael Jackson Historic Homestead or, failing that, the Haunted Gary Toxic Waste Cruise. I really wanted an excuse, I realized, to commune with this city that had so captured my imagination. Alas, there were no tourist attractions at the Gary exit, and I can only conclude that it's the type of place where, like East Cleveland, you can't slow down or you'll die.

True to form, Gary was plagued with construction and traffic, which finally bogged down in the giant morass of Chicago. The sun was shining for once, turning the air a shimmery green. I bet Gary has great sunsets, but after driving through it a time or two, you couldn't pay me to eat a single fish from Lake Michigan. Hell, you couldn't pay me to eat a single particle of plankton.

Seat-of-the-Arse Road Trip 2010

OK, so now that have seen six years looking at cheese-ball tourist traps in foreign lands, it's time to see some in my own country! Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, Corn Palace, Wall Drug, etc.,here I come!

I should mention that this is possibly the most half assed piece of travel I have ever executed, right up there with getting bored and going to Jakarta airport with a duffle bag to see if they had tickets left to anywhere kewl. (Repeat after me: the airport is not a bus station). Anyhoo, I have waited until the last possible moment to nail down my departure dates, and I'm still not sure the owner of one of the couches I plan to crash on knows I'm coming. The temporary plates on my new Honda are due to expire en route and when I arrive in Estes Park (on Saturday, Sunday or possibly Tuesday), I will crash with Kelly and Phil for somewhere between one and three weeks.

But I must say, after six years of highly regimented living, it feels kinda neat. And since my friends haven't seen me for years, hopefully they'll have mercy when I show up unannounced (or three days later than announced) at their door. Being the flaky friend from far off lands does have its moments, though I promise I really do not milk them. Too much.

A very loose itinerary (almost laugh as that word):

Thursday -- Get up, do laundry, pack and load card (as procrastinating too much to do it tonight). Attempt to depart at 10:00 am. Drive through Chicago madness to Whitewater, WI and stay with I-House friend Kevin, who is study abroad advisor at the college.

Friday -- Drive to St. Cloud, Minnesota to stay with Julie and new husband Shaun. Actually, he is 2-year old husband, but still new to me, kind of like the Honda, as I've only met him once. I hope they got the email that says I'm coming to see them. Fortunately, they live on a tiny college campus, so confident I can locate using elementary stalking techniques.

Saturday -- Going to South Dakota! Not sure why this is so exciting, as by all indications is another vast, empty state like Nebraska or Kansas. Relatives of mine were Lakota Sioux, so bet I will just feel at home there, like I'm in a biergaarten in Munich chugging Hefeweizen with all the other Maurers and Schwartzes. No friends in SD, so will probably just check in to a No-Tell Motel and attempt to sneak the cat in.

Sunday -- Inshallah, Estes Park, CO. Seems close to the Dakotas. Easy peasy driving day.

Still amazed at how little prep required to travel in the States. No visa, no passport. Every state is like visa on arrival, only don't need to stand in line for it or leave every six months to keep it. Brilliant concept.