Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why I Can't Seem to Write About My Travels

I've started to recap my travel adventures dozens of times. I was on such a roll chronicling Vietnam. You were probably wondering if I had taken a Vietnamese lover, if I had gotten malaria, if I had indeed been kidnapped at the airport.

I had another post in the offing. It was going to be on weightroom stalking in Vietnam. The over/under on me being asked out by a fellow lifter was 28 days. I hope you picked the under, folks, because less than four weeks in, a young lad did indeed ask me to join him for dessert. I said I would think about it then changed my workout time. I was going to analyze why I seem to be asked out at gyms, but Crossfit has only prompted that on one occasion. My conclusion is: in a gym, I have an aura of mystique, but at Crossfit, I open my mouth, and everyone knows exactly what I'm thinking - all the time. No mystique = No dates. Perhaps I'll work on my mystique entering the next phase of life.

The thing is, every time I begin writing about travel, I think about family. I begin writing about the wonderful people I met in Vietnam, the cheap and delicious food, the sites, and then I remember that the moment I heard my sister had lost her baby, none of that mattered. I begin writing about the amazing sites of Southeast Asia and how to choose the perfect travel buddy - which I definitely did - and then I think about how special it was to show the pictures to my niece and nephews. And how blessed I am that the people I hold dearest and admire the most are my family.

As I was visiting each city, I asked myself, could I see myself living here, or more broadly, could I live abroad after school? And there were moments, mostly when drinking a good wine or eating a donut, that I thought it possible. Then I came home.

Maybe it's because I've spent the last month in Chardon, listening to country anthems and high school football strategy, not having a job and too much time on my hands, but I've been thinking a lot about ten year old Anna. She was definitely independent, creative, a hard worker. But she loved hugging her dad and Sunday dinners with her cousins. She wanted to get married, have kids, and give them the same thing, in the same town.

Seventeen years later, she is getting ready to embark on another adventure, once again on her own. I'm so grateful for the doors that have opened, but helping my sister move into her new house or sitting on my other sister's porch, watching boys jump off the swing set onto the trampoline - a move I suggested, probably to the dismay of their parents - it's hard not to feel a bit of longing for the same and fear of what lies ahead. Not fear about academics - I know I'll rock that - but about the other aspects. About starting over, building new relationships, navigating the job market, continuing to compete even when I'm tired. And what about after? What if God calls me to do something alone again? What if he calls me out of my comfort zone again? Dang it, will I ever know what the next year holds?

I was reminded this week of a few things. 1) God does not call us to convenience. He calls us to His purpose, and He equips us to do it. 2) Miracles do not occur within the comfortable. They occur when we need Him. 3) God is faithful. Always. Last year, I was applying to grad schools and wrote about the obsession over choice. All of the questions I asked about my future were answered so clearly, I didn't have to think twice about one decision. My future is not in my hands, but in the hands of one who plans to give me hope and a future. And finally, God hasn't forgotten about ten year old Anna. There is still time for those dreams to come true, too, even if it is not yet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Anna Thinks about Guns

I don't own a gun. I envision a scene where I am humming about my apartment, looking for my keys, and accidentally shoot myself, so I haven't invested in one. I get gun ownership, though. I grew up in a town where the first day of hunting season was a holiday and a family friend dealt firearms. When there was a shooting at my high school, there was mourning, outpouring of support, and increased police force at the school, but I don't remember anyone picketing, demanding we ban guns.

I have mixed feelings about statistics. Sure, they can provide valuable insight, but they can also be manipulated to push an agenda. So when I see headlines like, "The States With The Most Gun Laws See The Fewest Gun-Related Deaths," I want to know the rest of the story.

But articles take a long time to read, and there are the NBA finals, the fourth season of House of Cards, the gym. Sometimes, I even have to work - not right now, though, and one consistent observation from traveling was that other Westernized countries - especially Australia - do not understand our cultural acceptance of guns. Most of my life, I have taken for granted my support of guns, but being met with such adamant opposition forced me to reevaluate.

Here's what I got:

First, some things I've learned from my semi-extensive Google searching.

The Second Amendment. The battle cry of pro-gunners. And a horrendously written sentence. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Are the "people" in the militia or private citizens? Is the Militia the subject of the sentence? Is the final comma superfluous? Mrs. Gilbert, my seventh grade English teacher, would slap me for writing such a sentence. There's no way it is grammatically correct unless "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" is a subordinate clause defining State or Militia.

It reminds me of Emperor's New Groove and the crucial conjunction.

Google search one led me to this article about the mysterious comma.

"Legal scholars do not agree about this comma.* Some have argued that it was intentional and that it was intended to make militia the subject of the sentence. According to these theorists, the operative words of the amendment are '[a] well regulated Militia … shall not be infringed.' Others have argued that the comma was a mistake, and that the operative words of the sentence are 'the right of the people to … bear arms … shall not be infringed.' Under this reading, the first part of the sentence is the rationale for the absolute, personal right of the people to own firearms." A Militia is necessary for the State's security, but individuals have the right to bear arms in order to regulate that Militia and resist a takeover.

Given that America was exiting the Revolutionary War and opposed invasive government and professional armies, as well as the convoluted nature of the sentence under the first interpretation, I support the second interpretation.

Speaking of the founding fathers, a common argument is that the founding fathers were talking about muskets, not guns that could unload at a rate of 100 rounds a minute. True. But could you also argue that the founding fathers believed citizens had a right to have the same weaponry as the federal government to keep the Militia regulated, which 200 years ago was a musket but now includes tanks? I tried half-heartedly to find if there were regulations in the 1700s against owning cannons, but I found none and gave up.

Back to law. Are background checks necessary? For a licensed dealer, background checks are in place and mandatory. This is the full text of what it entails, should you care to know:

It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person... yadayadayada... Don't give guns to people who shouldn't have them. * Actual full text below

Of course, there is the classic gun show loophole. This is not a gun show loophole, but a private seller loophole, wherein unlicensed sellers are not required to run background checks. A dealer is defined as “a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms." Excluded from this are individuals who "make occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms."

Some states have extended the law to apply to some, if not all, private sales.

Next. Guns. Bahhh so many things about guns! So I kept it simple.

The definition of assault rifle can be, as this California example shows, complicated, slightly nebulous, and confusing.

Fully automatic vs semi-automatic. The Firearms Owner Protection Act of 1986 banned private ownership of automatic weapons manufactured after 1986, and certain states have banned them completely, but by federal law, there is a process in which you can obtain a fully automatic manufactured prior to 1986. There is a lot of red tape, but it can be done.

Semi-automatic, such as the AR-15, fire one round per trigger pull, and when people say they shoot 800 rounds a minute, that is assuming you are pulling the trigger as fast as possible and not having to change magazines (which you do because a magazine only holds up to 30 rounds), so that number is not realistic. Still, you can shoot a crap ton of bullets.

Some questions:

1) Should every seller need to be licensed? Reasonable. However, 1) this can be a state by state decision rather than the federal government 2) it seems costly and difficult to regulate and 3) it will probably result in a stronger black market for guns.

2) Is security worth the small sacrifice of freedom - or the 9/11 argument, stated comedically and convincingly here. At first, this argument was appealing, however, there is a non-sequitur. (Check out my use of a big word. I hope I used it correctly.) Security measures in airports do not attack ownership. In this case, a similar measure would be tightening security to annoying degrees at night clubs, rather than banning ownership of guns.

Random side question: I imagine a lot of anti-gunners are also anti-Trumpers (don't worry, I'm not saying that all pro-gunners are pro-Trumpers). I wonder though, if he were elected and moved to limit gun ownership, if it would be seen as a tyrannical move from an aspiring dictator by those same people. No idea, but a thought - and a reason that the founding fathers protected the right to bear arms.

3) Would enforcing tighter gun laws even make a difference? And would it be worth it?

The US is exempt from this chart because it is an outlier, but the stats show that tighter gun control is not correlated, positively or negatively, with gun related homicides. The chart is from this website, and if you have fifty minutes to listen to this man's podcast while pretending to do work, it's worth the time.

One of his points is how much it would cost to pass and enforce stricter gun control at a federal level, and whether or not the ROI would be worth it. Yes, human life is a return on investment. Seemingly cold, but a necessary calculation when you are dealing with a finite resource - money.

4) What weapons should be legal/illegal? I understand the argument for making assault weapons - whatever falls under that category - illegal, and having no strong desire to have one myself, it wouldn't affect me.

So then I ask, even if banning certain guns was guaranteed to reduce the number of gun fatalities and have a positive ROI*, would I support it?

This is tricky. There's a sliding scale of weaponry, so where do we draw the line? But is that even the question we should be asking? I keep coming back to alcohol, rape, DUIs, and freedom.

Another story that generated immense outrage recently involved university rape. If neither of those individuals had been drinking, would that rape have happened? No. No question - that rape wouldn't have happened if neither of them had access to alcohol, mainly because they probably would have never met.

How many rapes are influenced by alcohol on university campuses? My mental estimates from anecdotal evidence say a lot. A simple way to decrease the number of college rapes - make every campus dry.* It wouldn't solve the whole problem, but it would solve rape influenced by alcohol problem... possibly.

How many drunk driving accidents result in death? There is a simple way to decrease the number of accidents: Tighten drinking laws. Mandate that every manufactured vehicle have a breathalizer that will not allow the car to start if you blow above a .08. Limit drinks/person at a bar to two. Only allow people to drink alcohol in their homes. Only allow people to purchase alcohol at bars or restaurants. Only allow alcohol below a certain percent to be sold. O wait, we tried that.

There is nothing in the Constitution that defends the right to drink alcohol.* While there are tangible benefits of gun ownership (protection), it is hard to find an actual benefit of alcohol, except for the occasional article that touts wine as healthy for the heart, which I tell myself every time I drink a couple glasses. And yet, when you hear of another rape case at a campus party, a girl being killed when she was blackout drunk, or another victim of a DUI, no one is crying, "When are we going to draw the line? When are we going to impose a law because people can't drink responsibly?" Why do we not demand alcohol be banned or tightly restricted?

There's money - there's always money. Just like the gun industry, alcohol generates a whole lot of revenue for a whole lot of people, and putting regulations in place that threaten that revenue stream would be very difficult.

But more than that, culturally, we understand alcohol. Many of us have participated in college parties. Many are able to drink alcohol responsibly (at least we think we can); we see infringement on that right as government overstepping its boundaries.

So no, I don't see why it's necessary to own a collection of AR-15s, just like I don't see why it's necessary to own a wine cellar or a fine bottle of scotch. I don't see why it's necessary to chug a bottle of Jack Daniels, but it's not my place to impose that limit on others, and it's certainly not the government's place.

As an American, I hold strongly to the responsibility and power of the individual. Fundamentally, I, not the government*, am responsible for my safety and the safety of those I love, and, yes, that freedom comes at the cost of idiots who abuse that freedom. But I would rather that than not have freedom.

5) Finally, are these the questions we should be asking? No. The question we should be asking is how do we get our crap together and think differently as a culture. This is an issue I am not qualified to discuss at an expert level, but of course, I still have some quick, non-exhaustive, thoughts.*

Entitlement. Across races, genders, and social classes. Looking to the government to fix our problems is another example of a generation that assumes we are owed something.

Desensitization. The rise of Internet and social media has created a platform where we are able to say what we think without having to deal with real consequences face to face, making it easier for some to dehumanize and devalue life.

Discipline. Among many of their valuable lessons, my parents emphasized that ideas have consequences. That meant I couldn't think and act however I wanted, even if it was within my "right" to do so. This is active, not passive, and it's hard, because my natural inclination is not good - it's evil.* We readily embrace the "freedom" of binge drinking, one night stands, and violence, and then we're surprised by the consequences of not controlling that freedom.

Final thought: I was recently reading about William Wilberforce, the British man who led the abolition of the slave trade in the early 1800s. When he began his "Reformation of Manners," he recognized that, "British culture did not have a biblical worldview and did not regard human beings as being made in God's image and therefore worthy of dignity and respect. This unbiblical view led to every kind of evil," slave trade being the worst. Christians aren't perfect, but Christ's worldview is. He looks through a lens of love and grace, and he sees value in every life. A law cannot force us to do the same.

* Shocker.

* Full text. It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person— (1) is under indictment for, or has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year; (2) is a fugitive from justice; (3) is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)); (4) has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution; (5) who, being an alien— (A) is illegally or unlawfully in the United States; or (B) except as provided in subsection (y)(2), has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (as that term is defined in section 101(a)(26) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101 (a)(26))); (6) who [2] has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions; (7) who, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his citizenship; (8) is subject to a court order that restrains such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner of such person or child of such intimate partner or person, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child, except that this paragraph shall only apply to a court order that— (A) was issued after a hearing of which such person received actual notice, and at which such person had the opportunity to participate; and (B) (i) includes a finding that such person represents a credible threat to the physical safety of such intimate partner or child; or (ii) by its terms explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against such intimate partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury; or (9) has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

* or actually enforce the underage drinking law

* The first time it appears is when it is banned, a ban that was repealed, essentially because Americans were determined to drink, and banning it led to more violence.

* The government is responsible for the nation's safety from outside forces.

* Mental illness is here, but I don't know where to begin to talk about that with any level of coherence.

* I know, it's hard to think I'm capable of every evil.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dear God. Love, a Cleveland Fan.

You've got a lot going on right now. I know. The world is full of evil, hatred, death and violence. There's poverty and sickness. I also know you are all powerful, so you can juggle multiple requests.

I don't ask for much. And by not asking for much, I mean, I ask for a lot. I'm not sure if you intervene in sports. I've always prayed that everyone plays to the best of their abilities and no one gets hurt. But just this once, I'm asking you to give Cleveland the W. Then give them the W on Thursday. And Sunday.

You see, I was watching game four with my niece and nephew the other night. They are eight and nine, that innocent age full of hope, excitement, and unbridled enthusiasm. Both of them went to bed before the game ended, because 1) the games start at an ungodly hour to accommodate the west coast, and 2) the agony of defeat is, o, so real.

It's been real for so long, and I understand why they didn't want to stay until the bitter end. I remember when I was their age. I grew up on Cleveland sports. Televised baseball may seem boring to some, but while other kids watched Nickelodeon, I watched every Indians game I could from '94 - '99. Hot summer nights were spent at my grandparents, marveling at the Vizquel/Baerga double plays. My heart jumped when Ramirez, mouth full of tobacco, made contact and dropped his bat as if to say, "No need to look. It's outta here."

Some girls had folders with the Spice Girls, NSync or Backstreet Boys. I had a folder with the Indians all-stars, including Jose Mesa, whose arm nearly hit the ground from the mound, and whose effortless pitching saved so many games. I lived for the sacrifice bunts, the walk off home runs, and the diving outfield catches.

My dad had a chief wahoo etched on the back of his head. He took me to a game after church a time or two, and wasn't that the order of life? God, family, then Cleveland sports.* But it wasn't just sports. Any diehard fan gets that.* Sports represent the fight. They represent grit, discipline, and sacrifice. They are an untainted picture of passion and resolute will. Even as a child, I appreciated that the will to win in sports is the same will needed to succeed in life.

But isn't that will supposed to lead to victory? At least eventually. Every season, I, along with the Cleveland faithful, clung to that belief, trying to balance hopeless optimism with resigned realism. And over the years, I've watched with butterflies racing around my stomach, as we have approached elusive victory, only to be thrown into the precipices of defeat.

I watched from our basement as we lost in game seven to the Marlins.* I watched in disbelief as the Red Sox stormed back from a 3-0 deficit en route a World Series title.* I've watched the Browns find every way to lose possible, which, admittedly, at this point, is mostly entertaining. And I've watched the Cavs, coming so close to greatness in an era among legends.

I don't want the same for my niece and nephew. And I get it. There are more important things than a championship. Winning isn't everything.* The agony of defeat has defined a generation of Northeast Ohioans. It has bred a hearty bunch. But we won't lose our grit if we win. I promise.

Maybe you want something from me in return for a victory. For starters, I'm writing this instead of applying to an internship. If I had to choose between a Cleveland championship and becoming a nun or no championship, I could make the sacrifice. Of course, you don't work that way. I know there's no bargaining. So I'm just asking - for the sake of my sweet niece and nephew. And for a city that has poured their heart and soul into supporting their teams.

I'll understand if you don't intervene. Again, I know you have a lot going on. Besides, the Indians are looking pretty solid this year, and there's always next year for the Cavs.

*And Chardon football.
*And anyone who isn't a diehard fan is rolling their eyes, thinking, "She's crazy."
*The Marlins!! No one in Florida even cared.
*Because that's what Boston needed - another championship.
*Or so I'm told.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Anna Eats a Donut. Part Two.

Alright, little dudes. We're off.

It's 4:30, which means we should barely beat rush hour.

I open the box to waft the scent.

Ahhh. Taunting. We're on the freeway now. I realize it's nearly a five hour drive, I've been up since five because the conference facilitators thought a five o'clock wakeup call was necessary for a seven o'clock breakfast - who the heck needs that much time?- and I haven't had an afternoon cup of coffee. Doesn't matter, I can wait no longer.

I need to be strategic though. I can't waste bites on the doughnut's perimeter; perhaps I'll just try a bit of each and share with the Crossfit class or Commonwealth tomorrow.

Alright. Round one begins with you, peanut butter creme. I wish I had a knife so I could cut you cleanly, but alas, I shall have to rip. Watch the road, Anna. Now, to find the perfect first bite ratio. One part frosting, two parts donut, three parts creme. Sometimes that means not eating the bottom of the doughnut, either. O yes, this peanut butter creme is amazing. Subtle, perfectly whipped, not too sweet. And the doughnut is as amazing as I remembered - the perfect explosion of flavor without being overwhelming. How do they do it? One more bite, then onward.

Elvis doughnut seems an appropriate segue. Banana creme - not quite as good as the peanut butter, but I love what they're doing with its consistency, the bacon flavor and added texture. Let's stick with the bacon theme and transition to maple bacon.

O, sweet white creme, I remember how delicious you are. I may convert to Mennonitism just to acquire these skills.

The taste explosion continued with maple walnut, the only doughnut that did not blow me away. I consider the value of having a palette cleanser between each doughnut so I can approach the flavor with fresh buds... Next time.

Salted caramel. I remember you. Still amazing. The caramel frosting is dense, accentuating the flavor and complimenting the white creme and sea salt perfectly. And this one appears to be extra creamy - I would say an 80% fill ratio. I just want to lick it. I'm going to. I'think it's safe to say these doughnuts are not being shared with anyone. It's crazy - I don't even feel full. It's like eating air. Maybe I'll blog about this.

I'm getting too excited. I need to cut myself off - put the box of doughnuts in the back seat - and get some protein in me - stat. Ahhh beef brisket sandwich, you are clutch. Maybe I'm able to eat so much because my brain has been working so hard the past two days.

Traffic continues to be smooth, and I stop to get gas, some hydration, and caffeine. I vacillate between five hour energy and regular coffee, but choose the five hour energy because a) it's right by the register and 2) the liquid will inhabit less real estate in my stomach.

Should I change from my dress into comfy clothes? Nahh. Not yet.

I pass through Dover and Baltimore with relative ease and a few tasty donut/beef brisket burps. The time is 7:30 as I approach DC, and inevitably, there is a slowdown.

Well, Anna, nearly perfect timing, but you couldn't expect to make it all the way down 95 without traffic. I wonder why there are two spellings of doughnut. Speaking of donut... You know what this you should do? More doughnut. Before doing so, though, let's do a quick wardrobe change into stretchy pants and loose fitting tank top. Thank you, sixteen year old Anna, for becoming a pro at changing in the car.

I first revisit the peanut butter, my second fave behind the salted caramel. After consuming all creamy bites and discarding the doughnut perimeter, I move through the others, eating the best of each. Then, I look at the pumpkin donut.

I probably owe it to you to take a bite. But I know what I'm going to think - this should be filled with creme - and at this point, you're a sunk cost. And the salted caramel is so good. Screw it. I'm eating the salted caramel - perimeter and all. Definitely the better decision.

With round two finished, I assess the damage. Quantitatively, I probably ate 45% of the 6 doughnuts and consumed 60% of the doughnut's calories because every bite contained cream and frosting. Respectable.

I wish I could say I finished them all, but I didn't. I stopped at a gas station and threw the ravaged remains out so they didn't tempt me the remainder of my journey. I had a bite more of my sandwich to end on a salty note, arrived home at 9:30, and passed out. I was awakened Wednesday morning by a bacon forward burp with hints of sea salt, peanut butter, and whipped creme.

Ahhh. Perfection.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anna Eats a Doughnut. Part Uno.

I love donuts. The only thing I may love more than donuts are brownie sundaes, but even that is questionable, because while donuts are versatile - can be eaten for a meal, snack, or dessert at any time of day - brownie sundaes can only respectably be consumed past noon. I consider myself a dessert revolutionary, but even I cannot claim the sundae deserves a space on the breakfast menu. I do think there is a greater difference between mediocre and exceptional for doughnuts than there is for sundaes, but this debate is for another time.

Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken doughnuts this long to enter my blog. I could have reminisced about the maple long john from Ricard's, a special after school treat, and my first introduction to creme filling. I could have told you about the time I inadvertently consumed four donuts and couldn't zip my dress for my cousin's wedding. To make it up to doughnuts, they will be the subject of my first two part blog. Today, I will elaborate on how I came to have a half dozen doughnuts accompanying me, and tomorrow, I will give you a window into my inner dialogue regarding the strategy of consuming said doughnuts.

I was in Philadelphia for a marketing and brand management forum the past couple days. Exciting, yes, but perhaps even more exciting was the conference location - a block from Reading Terminal, home to Beiler's, the donuts of legends. When I say legends, I mean Lydia's endless pontifications and swoonings. It is, of course, the subject of many pontifications, giving credence to the belief that the Amish and Mennonite traditions have the strongest pastry foundation of the hyper-zealous religious sects. My theory is that, being restricted in more areas than, for example, Mormons, pastries have become an outlet for decadent indulgence. And this particular bakery is the marriage of an Amish and a Mennonite! I would have invested in it based on that, but having had the doughnuts once before, I knew they were the perfect roadtrip companion.

After two and a half days of listening, participating, networking (which still feels slightly akin to what I imagine speed dating to be), I deserved a reward. After all, the biggest challenge my brain had conquered the past three months was converting to Baht to Ringgit to USD. I entered Reading Terminal and promised myself not to get distracted by all the other goodness. No chocolate. No cookies. No cupcakes. Just doughnuts. I was doing well until a homeless woman asked me to buy her a sandwich. With my blue dress, blonde hair, hopeful glimmer in my eyes, I definitely had sucker written all over my face. Nevertheless, I find it hard to turn down a request for food, so I bought her a sandwich, knowing the kind butcher probably pinned me as a sucker as well. O well... now I felt better about all the times I said no to donating a dollar to the children's fund while checking out at CVS last week, and I bought myself a beef brisket sandwich that would prove to be crucial sustenance needed to counteract my forthcoming immense sugar intake.

A brief diversion. Now - to Beiler's! There was no question I needed to buy a half dozen instead of one. I couldn't deny myself that flavor variety. A girl approached and asked if I was ready. Are you kidding me? This is the biggest decision I have made this year. Of course I'm not ready.

First, some ground rules. I approach dessert and fruit like I do work and relationships. Sure, I may occasionally flirt between the two, but never will the latter be the the dominate ingredient in the former. So no jelly.

Potato or cake: Pretty apathetic. Creme and frosting are my priorities, and I think those doughnuts are normally not potato.

Candy and cereal - I want to taste something I can't find at 7/11. M&Ms? Not appealing. Sprinkles. Cute, but not a must.

Glaze vs frosting. Frosting. 9 times out of 10.

Creme. I'm unapologetically racially biased regarding creme. I don't touch the yellow. I prefer my creme whipped, not custardy. Same goes for the black. While I generally love chocolate in all forms, be it frosting, cake, fudge, brownie, I'm opposed to dark creme in my doughnut. I think this is because I like chocolate so much in its plain form, that I want the doughnut to be an entirely different experience for my sweet tooth. My one exception would be nutella creme - someone, please stuff a doughnut with Nutella.* I'm flexible with brown, as it indicates a variety of flavors - peanut butter, yes, mocha, maybe, depending on my mood. Fruit? See first point. White. Love it. The perfect balance of sugar and heavy creme, whipped to perfection.

Also, the creme needs to occupy at least 60% of inner donut region. If I don't break the creme barrier by bite two, I'm questioning your legitimacy as a vendor. To that point, I like a little oozing from the side to assure me this will not be the case.

You can see why this process was so time consuming, but I finally approached the counter and chose:

Salted caramel - easy decision. Fan fave. It's hard to go wrong with the salty/sweet combo.
Elvis - wild card due to the banana creme, but it has peanut butter frosting and bacon. Sold.
Maple bacon - Another bacon, yes, but nothing says doughnut like maple, bacon, and creme frosting. Another sweet/salty classic.
Peanut butter - Since they had sold out of the nutella doughnut, this seemed a good second choice. Peanut butter or chocolate frosting? Toss up, but I decided peanut butter frosting with a light chocolate drizzle. Again, I don't love chocolate as the overwhelming flavor of a doughnut.
Pumpkin potato donut - fine, I'll get a donut with a hole.
Maple walnut - I panicked on this one. In retrospect, I could have added a different varietal since I already had a maple, but this one had maple innards as well.

I walked back to my hotel, half dozen in hand, strategically planning my trip home. I obviously needed to try them all. Did I want to finish them all? How would I make sure this didn't happen if I didn't want it to? How would I avoid a sugar coma? My thoughts were interrupted as I entered the hotel and saw a few of the conference attendees.

I considered offering them a share of my treasure. Afterall, we had just been told the importance of exposure, and what if one day they are ruling the world and remember the time I shared this tasty goodness. Or, what if someone wanted the salted caramel? Not worth the risk. I skirted by the group and to my vehicle.

Tomorrow, join me as I answer the questions - how do I maximize each bite? Do I really want to exert a bite on the pumpkin donut? Am I going to try to preserve any doughnuts for others? Is it socially acceptable to just lick the creme filling?

*Beiler's does have a Nutella frosted, but I believe it has white creme.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On Teaching English

Flexibility. One of the keys to travel. I know it well, so when the organization asked me to pilot an English program in an orphanage once a week, I said of course.

It is my third week, meaning I am practically a native on the bus, weaving in and out of scooters to catch it, wearing my mask, no longer staring at every landmark along the route to make sure I get off at the right stop. I am also taking full advantage of the hour rides by listening to podcasts, so I will be able to spew random facts about Hulk Hogan litigation, women’s wages, bipartisanship and pencils your way. Did you know that no one in the world actually knows how to make a pencil from scratch? Even simple technology is crazy.

Speaking of technology, I’m in awe of how connected I am despite being across the world. It feels like cheating. I have emailed and whatsapp’ed friends, Facetimed my sister, iMessaged my family and stalked everyone on Facebook. If it weren’t for the abundance of rice, the lack of the NCAA tourney, and the wave of pollution that greets me every morning*, I might just think I was in the States. Two months is no time at all, and adjusting has been very easy.

I went to a Bible study the other night - another comfort I have been fortunate to find - and some of the women are here for two years or indefinitely. I would have a much harder time adjusting if that were the case, and I secretly – or not so secretly - hope I don’t get called to do that down the road. Which means maybe I'll be called to do that down the road.

Ahh KFC! That's my stop. Walking to the headmaster's car, I wonder why Chipotle has yet to expand into Southeast Asia. I think the Vietnamese would embrace the burrito, and they have an endless supply of rice. Plus, people are used to food poisoning here, so that won't make headlines.

The headmaster doesn't answer this question, and I continue listening to my podcast on K-Pop, the Korean pop culture phenomenon. We pass through VinHomes, owned by VinGroup, the most powerful corporation in Vietnam. This is the Orange County of Vietnam, where homes are worth a billion dong, or 100,000 dollars. An hour later, the paparazzi has liberated K-Pop stars from forced isolation. We arrive at the orphanage, and I step outside and breath in the fresh, mostly unpolluted air.

The Vietnamese supporter and I spend the morning visiting the Phat Tich Pagoda, only a kilometer from the orphanage. It is said to be the place where Buddhism first entered Vietnam, and if the number of stairs were any indication of age, it would be really old. A woman asks to take her picture with me. I learn more about the tradition of giving food at the altar. Apparently, you can give food, pray, leave it for a few minutes, then retrieve it for good luck. I then wonder who's monitoring this behavior. Could I meander around a temple for awhile and snatch a package of Oreos on the way out under the guise of homage and luck? Out of respect for tradition, I decide not to find out.

Lunch is served at 11:30 and is literally farm to table. The duck, milk, fruit, vegetables. All fresh. All delicious.

Walking to the dining hall, we are accosted by young Vietnamese girls. As a white woman with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes, I am certainly novel in Hanoi, but here, I am the first of my kind. The Vietnamese men ask if I am married and suggest I stay in Vietnam and marry one of them. Afterall, 27 is a lucky age for getting married. Since I am technically 28, because I have to count the time in my mothers womb, this luck no longer applies to me, so I assume I am free to go back to America.

After lunch and my siesta, it's time to teach. We go around the room and introduce ourselves, though I have already given up on learning all forty names. I just mumble syllables such as uh, ah, on and assume I am calling on someone. I am Teacher Anna from America.

The children are very enthusiastic about learning, although I’m slightly skeptical as to how much knowledge I’m imparting. I didn’t sign up to be an English teacher for a reason. I don’t know how to teach English. My last lesson went something like this:

Hard and soft.
Hard at the beginning of the word... unless it’s soft. Give, giraffe.
Hard in the middle of the word... unless it’s soft. Forgive, garage.
Hard at the end of the word, unless it’s – no wait, it’s always hard! Yay!! Dog.

As annoying as pronunciation is, today I am teaching the one thing I would change about English, the number system. Where the heck did eleven come from - for that matter, the entirety of the teens?

I have mastered 1 – 10 in Vietnamese, which essentially means I have mastered every number. In learning the English counting system, however, students often stumble on eleven, twelve, thirteen and fifteen. I can’t blame them. Eleven and twelve are completely random, and consistency implies threeteen and fiveteen. No wonder American children struggle with math – their first introduction shows no logic. I would also change our foot/yard/mile system, because that makes no sense either. For that matter, I’m content switching to Celcius so I can stop doing the 9/5 + 32 calculation every time I’m discussing weather with a foreigner.

I keep these thoughts to myself, and we make it through the two hours counting, playing games, and learning a song. There were shouts and screams of enthusiasm, so I assume the children have mastered the numbers. The time is four o'clock, which should be the time we depart for the trek into the city, but since the Vietnamese are similar to cable companies when it comes to timeliness, it could be four, it could be five. We sit by the lake while waiting, and a group of students admires my paleness, sitting in a circle, and staring at my bright blue eyes.

Should I dance? Should I sing? Should I show them the correct form for overhead squats? My question is answered when they ask my to sing. I perform a rendition of Five Little Monkeys, and they ask for my autograph.* I oblige, signing, “Lots of love from America” (We’re not all crazy)!!!, just as our driver arrives. Promptly at five o'clock. I hop in, grateful for flexibility.

* Seriously, pollution is not a joke. I have started donning the pollution mask, which has inspired a subsidiary of Pimp My Religious Head Garb – Pimp My Pollution Head Garb.
* The only time I will be asked for my autograph after singing.

Picture Descriptions:
1) Big Buddha
2) My favorite altar
3) View from the pagoda's top
4 - 6) Corn, Papaya, Tomatoes. You can figure out which is which.
7) The latest number whizzes
8) A riveting crossword competition
9) To break up the silence during the staring session, I took their picture
10) The boy who dubbed me Teacher Anna from America

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Day at Friendship Village

Ten minute walk to bus 32. The man in front of you hocks a loogie. The Vietnamese, while conservative with their clothes, seem to be liberal with their phlegm, likely due to pollution-induced congestion. Ride the bus until the last stop. Disembark, avoid eye contact with the motor taxi drivers - unless they begin petting you, then politely smile and shake your head - walk ten minutes to bus 57. Ride along the narrow, bumpy road until you pass the first intersection. Walk a few meters and you have arrived at Friendship Village. Nailed it.

I met the teacher a week prior. Lin, the CSDS staff member, and she spoke about the project in rapid Vietnamese. My head rotated between the two of them as if watching a ping pong match, being sure to look engaged, though we all knew I had no idea what was said until Lin translated. My brief tour of Friendship Village included housing, a small school, a dining hall, and, most excitingly, a veterans' hall with a ping pong table. I determined my new goal was to run the table by the end of my two months.

Today, I head to class and am immediately greeted by high fives, hand holding, and hugs. I am introduced to the nine students, ages 15 - 23. To my surprise, I am able to remember their names, though they keep correcting my annunciation. Apparently, I can't annunciate in English very well, either, because they call me Iana. I don't mind; it sounds exotic.

All have some form of down syndrome or autism; one, Hai, is severely hyperactive, which means I will become quite good at saying, "Oi" to get his attention, as he runs away every five to ten minutes. These are the most advanced students in the village; they all have motor skills and are able to perform small tasks. Tiem is the most capable, and she explains to me in English that they have spent the last hour preparing a meal, their morning routine. A few others can speak well, but a couple communicate through grunts. Everyone can laugh.

We gather round to eat, and I quickly realize God has brought me halfway around the world to overcome my aversion to chewing. This is a symphony of chomping, and the children are looking at me expectantly, wondering if I will like the food. I eat slowly, because it is ten o'clock, I am about to eat lunch, and I selfishly don't want to waste my morning workout. Plus, in usual Vietnamese style, I had been served a heaping portion of rice. The kids are clearly disappointed by my pace, and Kien, shy but extremely sweet, gestures to me, showing me how to use chopsticks. I swallow my healthy conscience for the moment, finish my plate, and give two enthusiastic thumbs up. They laugh, knowing their fine work has been appreciated.

After eating, the kids clean up. Thoo is very diligent and does much of the work, focused and steady. Mi grabs my hand and asks "Bang tenh layi," or "what's your name?", a phrase she will repeat each time she sees me and throughout the day. Each time I answer she will respond with a big smile and a giggle. Duc gives me a high five and a hug, and soon, it is time for a three and a half hour break.

I eat my second lunch, then meander to a small cafe with cozy booths and strong Vietnamese coffee, served appropriately with a layer of sweetened condensed milk. I quickly find this a perfect spot for inspirational writing and determine to write a book by the end of my two months. If I tire of writing, I am free to nap in the booth - another part of Vietnamese culture America could embrace.

I pay 20,000 dong, or one dollar, and return for our afternoon session. On my way back, I ponder the dong. I still don't quite understand why the lowest denomination of dong is 1000. It seems to me they could remove the superfluous zeros and start the currency at a single dong. As it is, I'm carrying thousands of dongs in my purse and have to divide by 20,000 instead of 2 every time I want to approximate dollars - or is it 2000? You can see the problem.

My deep thoughts are interrupted by the ringing of the gong*, signaling the beginning of class. The students spend an hour doing work, ranging from coloring to writing numbers to mathematics to sleeping. I sit by Cham, the most severely autistic, and she shows me the numbers she has written. "Tot lam," or well done, I say enthusiastically. She giggles and grabs my hand while petting my hair. We spend the final hour working on a life skill. Today, we wash hands and feet and clip nails, a life skill that some men still have not mastered. Although I am not very keen* to clean toenails, it's preferable to cleaning bathroom mishaps.

Instead of going home after class, I help the house mothers with yard work. I am initially reluctant to do so, and then I remember I came on this trip to volunteer. I tell myself to suck it up and have a servant's heart, dang it. Plus, this allows me to size up my ping pong competition.

The day finishes at five. I hop on the bus for the hour-long trip home, forcing me to confront my distaste for commutes. The three and a half hour break in the middle of the day makes this a much easier task, and the ride is made even easier when the conductor forces a girl to move so I can have her seat. I refuse, but they insist, and so I sit, basking in the Vietnamese hospitality - or their assumption that I'm an incapable foreigner.

I stroll home, enjoying the smells of Banh Mi and Bun Cha. Not quite bbq pork or truffle fries, but it still smells quite good.

* Yes! They have a gong.
* I'm trying to incorporate British phrases.