SOP english = no grammar

When I finished my last post, I proceeded to pack for my trip to India the next morning! I spent the whole next day (Monday) traveling, although only about 5 hours of it was actually spent in planes. Rather, Ali and I spent around 9 hours chilling in the Bankok airport. This might sound like a terrible prospect, but we actually enjoyed ourselves quite fully and managed to never get bored. The highlights included eating pizza and long-anticipated Dairy Queen blizzards (yum!), and spending hours people watching. We finally did arrive in Bangalore, India, around midnight and to our final destination, the Vishtar Compound.

Ali and I are here as guests/observers of the School of Peace (SOP), an annual inter-faith, inter-ethnic course for young people from Asia and Southeast Asia who are dedicated to working toward peace and justice in their communities and countries. SOP is actually wrapping up after a couple months of training, but is busy preparing for the Festival of Just Peace that will take place this weekend.

I really had no idea what to expect before coming here, but so far my experience in India has been a drastic change from my normal life in Hanoi. This might be best summed up in the words of the SOP participants who, on the first morning informed Ali and me, "Here, we speak SOP English." In answer to my question about what that entailed, they responded, "SOP English no grammar." As the school is conducted in English, applicants are required to speak it, but students' levels definitely vary. However, after a couple months living together, they really have found a way of communicating with each other, and have formed a tight-knit community. And while some of the English here is not much different from that which I read and edit at work in Hanoi, here, unlike there, it is not my responsibility to "fix" it. Rather, I listen and observe.

The first day, when Ali and I started working alongside the SOP students, clearing up the grounds in preparation for the festival, one of them apologized to me, saying, "Sorry you have to work so hard!" But I said, "It's no problem! It is a nice change because usually I would be sitting in front of a computer." And it's so true. I am enjoying the physical labor and being outside. Vishtar is a beautiful, quiet compound--quite refreshing after Hanoi. I have even learned a new skill--weaving mats out of palm leaves. Probably not something I can put on my resume, but fun anyways. The mats are used to make the walls and roofs of the stalls for the booths that various organizations will set up.

Otherwise, we attended a human rights rally at a Bangalore University (unfortunately, the speakers spoke in Hindi, so I could not understand much except that they were very passionate about their issues), have eaten lots of Indian food, have listened to a lot of stories, and have provided a feast for the resident mosquitos. The weather has been delightful. We heard horror stories of the 45 degree Celcius + heat wave that had hit India, but fortunately it is a big place and we are in a different area of the country. It is hot, but quite dry, and it cools down considerably at night. I am learning a lot, and will get to continue doing so for longer than anticipated, because we get to stay in India for a couple extra days to go on the SOP fieldtrip to Mysore on Monday!


silly me.

Sometimes I manage to worry or dread myself into quite a state about really silly, unnecessary things. I mean, I guess all worries are unnecessary, but some are more ridiculous than others. Including most of mine. Sometimes, I dread something and put it off for a long time and make it into this huge, terrible thing in my head; then when I finally get around to it, I am pleasantly surprised at how non-heinous it is.

Like tonight. To step back a few weeks, I have found myself coming off of a couple really incredible months in which I have honestly been loving life in Viet Nam, to a couple of weeks that have been inexplicably blah. So, I was already in an easily-annoyed mood.

My past few weeks of annoyance with life have been contributed to by my dear/aggravating bicycle, which has been struggling. Just the other weekend, I spent a whole morning finding a repairman and then getting my back wheel's tube replaced after having a perpetually flat tire, and yesterday--much to my annoyance--the flatness returned, even after the third time getting it pumped.

So the plan: take the bike to the MCC office, so that our guard can take it somewhere to get a tune-up while I am gone in India for a week (!!). The thing is, the only way I could figure out how to get the bike there was to walk it from my house, along the aptly-named "Smelly River." Now this walk--probably around 4 km, give or take some-- wouldn't be so bad for a strong girl like me. But have you ever walked a bike any distance before? Yeah, its annoying. Sometimes it even kicks you. And here, I expected that I would have an hour of "Allo!"s and stares to put up with--things that sometimes only make me laugh, but other days drive me crazy. And, given my recent history, I figured today was likely to be one of those other days.

Anyways, to make this already-long story short, I finally did it, and it just wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. As far as the catcalls go, I think I just got one compliment and one exclamation of "foreigner!!!" until I got to this one group of guys who really wanted me to come into their restaurant; but by that point I was able to just laugh off their comments (which were probably just responses to my height, white skin and "tall nose"--in other words, my astounding, exotic beauty--anyways).

Then, after dropping off my bike, I needed to find a xe om (motor taxi) home, because while I could have walked or ran, I really needed to pack. I found a group xe om men, and after some spirited bargaining and timely use of the walk-away tactic, I got one of them down from 50,000 (a truly ridiculous price) to 30,000. I was happy. And, of course, the men complimented me on my Vietnamese, which was really a load of BS considering that I had really only said the words "so expensive!", the name of my street, and a bunch of numbers, along with various noises of disgust. And considering that my Vietnamese really isn't good at all, as I've been reminded of a lot recently. However, these days I have been feeling particularly down about my lack of Vietnamese and--as a result--about my interactions with people, so I couldn't help but feel a little good about the encounter.

I realized two things. One, about the actual xe om bartering situation: so much is really just about confidence. I didn't speak Vietnamese well, but I was confident about the fact that the man's price was absurd. My dad gave me some advice recently that I have found to be profound. Paraphrased, it was something like this: sometimes the only way to gain confidence is to act like you are already confident. I'm not always good at living this out, but when I am, it often pays off.

The other thing was just how often I blow silly situations way out of proportion. Which is a lesson you would think I might have learned by now; clearly I still need reminders.

Anyways, remember how I said I had to get a xe om home so I could pack for India? Yeah, about that...


reverting back to my 10-year-old self

When I was in second grade, I was home-schooled for a year. During the first week of school, my teacher, Mr. Dad, assigned me reading homework: I had a week to read Laura Ingles Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. To counteract the image any of you, my dear readers, may have of me as having always been a perfect student, allow me to present you with an alternative image: little Calah playing with her long braid as she explains to her dad on Sunday night how, although she hadn't finished the book as she was suposed to, she did, in fact, read a whole chapter! However, she never again had to plead her case, because from that point on, a book per week became a laughable minimum requirement.

When I was around ten years old, my family moved to the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona. We lived about a half hour's drive from my school, and there were few children my age on the hospital compund we lived on in Ganado, Arizona. I didn't have a lot of friends. However, while the first few years were difficult, I don't remember being lonely, per se. Mostly I just remember reading read all the time.

In college, I read plenty, but--as assigned reading and competitive running are
wont to do--was too exhausted during my breaks to do much reading for pleasure aside from the occassional, long-anticipated Harry Potter book. I must admit to some sadness at the fact that I, who had in some sense dedicated my life--or a chunk of it--to words, no longer felt a desire to read unless forced. Although that isn't entirely true--I often felt the desire to be swept away by a great story again, to stay up well past my bedtime reading a book I couldn't put down. But when I would try to pick up a book, there just wasn't any chemistry there.

Well, I'm pretty sure I've found the spark again. While I probably have more friends than my 10-year-old self, I seem to have reverted back to her habit of devouring any book she could get her hands on.

Last week I finished reading Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell. I enjoyed the book, but the significance of this is not in the book itself, but in the fact that it is the twentieth book I have read in the almost eight months I have been in Viet Nam. Now, by my calculations, this is only 2.5 books per month--probably less than the weekly average of my 10-year-old self--but I still think that it is a significant number, even if some of them were on the short side. Whether or not you agree is irrelevant to me; I mention my twentieth book because reading has been a significant and very enjoyable part of my time living in Viet Nam. It has been at times an escape from loneliness, at times entertainment during periods of boredom (yeah, Mom, I know that word is not in the Bible, but sometimes I just can't find another word to describe it!), and at times a justification to myself for not watching MTV with my host sisters, just to name a few times.

Anyways, as no one but me is probably quite as excited about my entire "Books read in Viet Nam" list, I thought I would just mention a few of my favorites thus far:

The Bean Trees (Barbara Kingsolver): It's set in Arizona: automatic bonus points. I think I read this one in two days because it was so amazing. I don't really know why; it's just a good story, I guess, aside from being well written. If I was allowing myself to list multiple books by the same author, Animal Dreams would be here too, especially since that one is not only set in Arizona, but part of it takes place in Canyon de Chelly--around Christmas Day! (My family used to hike in Canyon de Chelly every Christmas Day!!!) Ok. I'm done with my AZ ad now. Don't be misled; The Bean Trees really is good in its own right, not just for Kingsolver's excellent choice of setting.

The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon): Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (I forget which year), this book drew me in from the beginning. I thought the second half dragged a little, but what book this long doesn't at some point? In a nutshell, it's about two Jewish-American immigrant cousins who start a comic book whose superhero fights the Nazis. Hannah found this lying around our office and recommended it to me. We in turn recommended it to Ali. This is how it usually goes with our reading here--our book selection is limited, so we pass books around. Added bonus is that we get to discuss them afterwards!

Telling Secrets (Frederick Buechner): It might seem strange, given my previous statement about my limited literary selection, that I am in the middle of my fourth Buechner book. The explanation is simple: my Bible study leader is obsessed with Buechner and has a personal library that contains nearly every book he has ever written (a considerable sum). Buechner is a writer (obviously) and Presbyterian minister with a knack for elucidating the divine in the ordinary. Telling Secrets is the third of his four-part autobiography, and my favorite thus far. I haven't yet, but am interested to, pick up one of his novels. Actually might do that at Bible Study tonight...

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard): You might ask how I escaped from the Calvin English Department without having read this. The answer would be that I shouldn't have...This is a book that demands time, something that I either didn't have or didn't allow myself when I was assigned it in English 101; thus, I was never quite able to understand my professors' awe of Dillard's long-winded account of her life in the forest. Here in Viet Nam, I had time to unravel Dillard's gorgeous, half-page sentences and more properly absorb the profundity she extracts from the fecundity (and other aspects) of nature. Ok, Schmidt and VanderLei, I get it now...

The Quiet American (Graham Greene): This book takes place in Viet Nam during the first Indochina War. It was fun to recognize the names of places and people, even if some of the war history went over my head. This book may have the effect of making you hate the fact that you are an American (if you are) for a couple days; but that's probably not a bad perspective to have now and then. If you're not much of a reader, it's been made into a movie that I hear is pretty good too.

The Chicago Manual of Style (The University of Chicago Press): This is not actually on my list because I can't claim to have read the whole thing (yet). However, I am ever more amazed by this orange book, which never ceases to brighten my day when I get the chance to use it. It resides just inches from my left hand all day at the office and gives helpful advice while recognizing the fact that an editor's work is often more of an art than a science (in Viet Nam it is often more along the lines of code-breaking). I must admit my nerdiness and the fact that I welcome editing questions just to have an excuse to open it, and then often get distracted from my work by perusing its pages. You think I'm joking, but I'm really not. Just ask Hannah.

So, where do I usually read these books? Often on my incredibly comfortable bed at home. Or on a bench by a lake (contrary to popular belief, these benches are useful for many things besides making out) or in a cafe during my ridiculously long (2 hour) lunch breaks.

So, what's next? Well, that's an interesting question on multiple levels. I just cracked open What Color is Your Parachute? a book my dad recommended the other week after we discussed this question in the context of my life. I can only hope that it might provide some insight...

(Note: I hope that none of you, like me, are always disappointed by things you hear rave reviews of. If you are, then I'd advise you to disregard my enthusiastic commentary about the above books, but check them out of the library anyway.)