26 September 2009

A titillating campus housing moment

**Be warned, adult content! Read at your own risk.

I just have to share this story with you because it is so funny and absurd and downright squeamish. But be warned, it does involve adult content so don't tell me I didn't warn you.

In the graduate housing complex that I live in, sound travels. The buildings are arranged in U shapes around parking lots so that it forms a courtyard of sorts and sounds just bounce of every which way. If a couple is having an argument, you can hear it loud and clear if you're walking by outside.

Every quarter, people move in and out but of course, the big move is fall quarter. That's when you can really sense the change in energy. Lots of new people moving in, new cooking smells wafting up (we live on the 3rd floor and the new people who live beneath us are killing me--every night they make ribs or curry and bake chocolate chip cookies afterwards).

We also got a new neighbor in the last week who is very expressive when having sex. The first time I heard the woman yelping, I thought, goodness, she's having a good time--and her windows are wide open. Her groans and moans turned into something orgasmic and high pitched and giggled and that's when I thought, dear lord, this is a bit much! I couldn't help giggling myself.

Since that special first inauguration into the sexual life of my new neighbor, she has been having an orgasm without fail at 10:30pm each night. Every night, I'm laying in bed ready to go to sleep or sitting on the couch finishing up a last chapter in a book and there she starts up again! It's really remarkable how regular she and her partner are.

So last night, when Jacob and I were chatting in the living room, we of course heard "that woman" go at it again. Her moans kept climbing and climbing and climbing and right when you knew she was just screaming her head off and having a grand ole time, one of our neighbors yelled into the courtyard, "BE QUIET!!!!!"

Our eyebrows shot up in shock. We fell over laughing hysterically. Apparently, someone had had enough and couldn't handle it anymore. I'll never forget that "Be quiet!" It was the be quiet of all be quiets. It was low and mean and so well projected that you knew everyone in the three surrounding apartment buildings felt silenced under its spell. "That woman" did fall quiet. And I wonder if she will stay quiet. But until she proves us wrong, I'm going to be giggling to myself whenever I have an odd moment.

24 September 2009

Paulo Coelho

I've been on a Paulo Coelho kick lately. Come to find out, many of the world's readers have been on a Paulo Coelho kick for some time.

Since reading The Alchemist, I have read Brida, Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a Pilgrim, and last night, I finished By the River Piedra I wept.

Brida is named after the main character, an Irish woman in search of her soul mate and spiritual truth. Her search leads her to pagan rituals and initiations and the discovery of herself as powerful strong woman and witch. Yep, that's right. Witch. Brida is not for close-minded readers, especially those who would have a hard time seeing the intersection between Christian spirituality and Wiccan spirituality. At times, I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of the spiritual concepts that Coelho was writing about but I appreciated what he was exploring nevertheless.

In Brida, I found a woman I could identify with and in her search for mystical experiences, I recognized my own mystical experiences with God. At the same time that I was reading Brida, I was reading the biography of Paulo Coelho by Spanish journalist Juan Arias. The biography was fascinating and insightful and I was able to see more of what Paulo was trying to do in Brida because he spoke at length about his writing process with Brida.

The biography is set up as a Q & A so that the questions and responses come across clear and unadulterated. There were many moments when I would stop and stare at the pages and yell, "Yes!" I think that Paulo's gift lies in being able to articulate spiritual truths so well, especially in the context and metaphor of Journey.

In my last post, I wrote on travel and what travel does for me. For more reflections on travel, I highly recommend Paulo's biography. He speaks at length about how travel has shaped his life's journey and provided him with the experiences and encounters to give him courage and wisdom to keep following God and his dreams.

By the River Piedra I wept was a quick read, about 2 hours. The themes of following your dreams and learning to break free of the rules imposed on you by family and society were present as in the other books. This one was interesting though because Paulo placed the two characters in a charismatic Catholic context (speaking in tongues, gifts of the Spirit etc.) and took them to Lourdes and other sacred sites in France. In the midst of this very Catholic setup, Paulo wove in ideas about the feminine divine which is present in pagan and other major world religions. This one out of all the others that I have read felt the "preachiest." It felt like he had a concept and then had created a story to support the concept--instead of the other way around where a concept flows organically out of a story. I still appreciated the story and his ideas however. As always, I sat around musing and pondering his thoughts, being encouraged by many passages, and wishing that I had someone to discuss it with. At one point in my reading, I turned to J. and said, "I feel like he has described everything that I've learned and gone through in the last 6 years!"

I can see how Paulo gets responses at book signings and conferences such as "You were describing my life in this story" or "I have gone through the exact same thing, how did you know?" In The Alchemist, Paulo describes the soul of the universe, the language of the world that we can all tap into and do when we follow our dreams. I can attest that he has tapped into this language that speaks to our hearts, and I wonder if he will do the same for you.

13 September 2009

On Travel

Traveling has many benefits but one of the best things it does is to teach me the gift of action.

At the beginning is an idea for travel. The idea takes time to shape and form. I spend many minutes mulling over if this idea should become something real that happens to my body or something that stays in my head.

For me, the notion of travel is not real until the plane ticket has been bought. I spend hours searching for the right price but most importantly, the courage to say yes.

Once I get to my destination, I disappoint myself. I have traveled enough to feel that I am a seasoned traveler. But even seasoned travelers get rusty.

Mistake #1 (perhaps the biggest and only mistake you can make)
I think that I can figure things out on my own and fail to act.
I clutch my guidebook at baggage claim and look through it to find information on how to get from the airport to my first hotel. I can't find the right information. I turn to my partner in veiled panic. We discuss together and come to a loss quickly. We don't know what to do. We are afraid to look like stupid Americans in a foreign country. So we discuss all the possibilities of what the ambiguous phrases in the guidebook could mean about how to find an ATM or cell phone card or transportation. We come up with three, possibly 4 theories as to why we are in our current predicament.

Finally, a wiser member of our party says, "Hey, there is no way that we can figure this out on our own. Let's just ask someone for help." And goes over to the information desk and asks in English and the problem is solved, pronto.


When J. and I arrived in Venice, we were all fumbles and no action. We were afraid to act, to make a mistake as vulnerable tourists. But by the time we had traveled through Italy and arrived in Rome a week and a half later, we had learned to recognize our limitations faster and ask for help as soon as we recognized them. We had learned that the only way to get something done was to act.

We learned that smiles, "Scuzi," "por favore," and "grazie" can go a long way. As Paulo Coeho says, when you have a dream, you will find people who are willing to help you get to your dream.

Gracious Italians and fellow travelers helped us at all times. By the end of our time, we never had a moment wasted where we stood around stymied and muttering amongst ourselves about possible tangential solutions to our problems (most of which had to do with being lost). We took action, we reached out to others, and found our way again and again.

If I was lost and the map was unhelpful, I learned to ask for help from one person, then another, and then another, until I had what I needed to find my destination. The first person gave me lots of hand signals for right turns and lefts. The second person was incredibly friendly but had no clue. The third person let me borrow her close-up map which ended up being the wrong neighborhood. But those three people combined gave me the right combination of information and support to venture out on my own, to keep my tired legs going over the cobblestone paths and find my address at the end of an improbable alley.

When you make a mistake, you truly do learn from it. You learn more Italian phrases. You learn to use more hand motions. You learn more of the universal language that communicates friendship and desire.

The spirit of traveling is the spirit of action and I am so grateful for it. Once that plane ticket is bought and you've reached your destination, you find that it was all worth it--the money spent, the strength it took to face your fears and muster the courage to say yes to your desires. Again and again, without fail, traveling shows how decisions and actions bring change, how mistakes are part of the journey, and that the true pleasure of life is being on the way and following our hearts.

Back in my apartment, I can see my old spirit--the one that used to sit dejected looking out the window, full of ideas but feeling discouraged. This old spirit would look at the dirty dishes or piles of laundry and think, "I wish I lived in a cleaner place. I wish this place wasn't so dirty." And then return to sitting and wondering how life could feel so hard.

Now I have the lived experience to say to it: Do something, anything, and you will be on your way to your desires! The only way to get something done is to act. You must move your body, reach out to someone else, tip the dominoes and let the chain of action begin.

10 September 2009

Free Books: Home by Marilynne Robinson

The spirit of decluttering has entered me via living in small spaces in Europe. I'm going to try and give away stuff regularly, especially books that I'm happy to pass on.

Today's giveaway is Home by Marilynne Robinson. If you would like this book, let me know in the comments and send me an email with your address. I'm too poor at the moment to pay for shipping so if you can send me $3 in the mail for media mail postage, we'll call it a happy fair exchange.

I just finished this book yesterday and a post may come up soon.

Back from Europing

Before I plunge into my overflowing email inbox, I thought I'd post some thoughts on my trip to London and Italy. I just got back last night from Rome and the memories and differences of time abroad compared to my life here are acute and distinct.

Has it only been 17 days since I left for the Continent? It feels as if I have passed a short lifetime, such was the difference of life abroad.

In London, I felt as if a part of me that I had forgotten existed came alive. Even though there are some marked aspects of British culture that would seem to make me run the other way (like the absence of good Korean food and food in general although things have vastly improved, the lack of vernacular about racial/political identities--Asian Americanness etc., the bad sausages (yeah I really do prefer American and Italian sausages), the damp and chill)--I still feel this strong kinship and understanding with British culture that I felt when I was there 9 years ago. In an almost visceral way, I feel as if I belong in ways that are hard to explain. It's like the sky is the limit and I feel this optimism about life that is overpowering. My creative juices flow and it's like my heart is opening to the universe.

Sigh. Yes, why am I in America again?

We flew to Venice and while we were there, we had the most delicious pasta with clams--briney, chewey, earthy, and delicious. A visit to the Basilica of San Marcos solidified any questions I had about my desire and call to study religion, spirituality, and sacred spaces.

In Florence, we partied it up with a wedding party of 50, drinking wine, eating prosciutto and cheeses and steak until we burst, laughing for hours, and crying freely at the remarkable display of love between Dan and Sarah and their family.

A very hot and awful train ride later, we were in Cinque Terre basking on the Ligurian Coast, sitting where the waves crashing on the rocks could mist us with their salty spray. The hike from Vernazza to Corniglia was breathtaking and glorious and the seafood stew cooked in an earthen vase (lobster, mussels, clams, a whole octopus came flying out) in Monterosso was unforgettable.

In Rome, we visited the Vatican and took lingering walks in the evening through the cobblestone streets. We drank cocktails with hipsters in Trastavere and continued a conversation that had sprung from the beginning of the trip about how we could come back and live on the Continent for an extended time.

24 hours later, we are back in southern California. We have already had soontofu and reveled at the spaciousness of our apartment. It's good to eat an apple fritter again and wake up early to a pacific coast sunrise. But I'm counting the days till I can go back.

Gelato flavors eaten:
- Pistachio
- nocciola
- Bailey's
- fragola
- caffe
- cioccolato negra
- cioccolato fondente
- menta
- stracciatella
- noce
- limone
- melone
- fico
- pesca

Steps climbed:
10, 417. (Actually, I have no idea. But it was a lot)

Daily Breakfast:
Espresso or Americano (the cappuchino made my stomach hurt) and a croissant

Memorable shopkeepers:
The twins of Il Pirata, a Sicilian bakery in Vernazza

Memorable dish:
Polenta e funghi

Favorite wine:
Cinque Terre white wine

A memory that comes to mind right now:
Eating grapes picked fresh from the vineyard high above off the Ligurian coast trails