12/31/12

Moral Pray Countdown

P1020602Greetings from the future! It is 2013 here already, and so far it is pretty great. I think you’re going to like it.

We spent the end of the year pampering ourselves. First we took our first tuk-tuk (cabs about the size of golf carts)  to a new part of town  for a western-style restaurant at a place Isaure had read about in her French guidebook. (It’s so wonderful having her here. Not only is she my personal paparazzo, she knows the best place to get a banana pancake.) Speaking of banana pancakes, fruit of any kind was very high on my doctor’s Do Not Eat If You Don’t Want to Spend Hours in the Bathroom List. But it is also basically my favorite food. In my one day in Chiang Mai I had bravely resisted smoothies, fruit salads, delicious-looking breakfast cakes, and the stall at the Sunday Market that sold tall cups full of absolutely gorgeous strawberries. But one look at this menu and I knew that resistance was futile. I got some French toast with a side of fruit salad, figuring that individual pieces of fruit I could at least rinse off with my bottled water. (Yes, it was a really weird thing to do and yes, I am sure our waitress will be talking about me at cocktail parties for years to come.)

After breakfast we decided to explore the neighborhood, which was really cute—narrow streets with lots of restaurants and guesthouses, so we walked around for a while, admiring flowering trees, exotic caged birds, and families on motorbikes. Highlights included an adorable little girl of about two sharing a motorbike sidecar with an equally adorable bulldog, and a woman at a market reaching into a barrel of fish, grabbing one, weighing it, and matter-of-factly bludgeoning it to death with a mallet. Since we were being indulgent and we were in Thailand, we decided to get massages. We picked a place that looked nice (through the window we could see a row of chaise lounges for people to recline on while they got pedicures) and chose options off the menu. Isaure and I both chose an hour-long traditional oil massage for $10. Now, I have had a lot of massages in the US, from a lot of different people, but this was definitely unique. They brought us to the top floor of the building and put us in individual curtained-off areas  and had us take off our clothes and leave the clothes in a little basket, which they then removed (presumably so they didn’t have to step over them in the narrow space).  Then once we were covered up they proceeded to sit on our feet and crawl up our backs (which actually felt really good). The one part that was slightly weird for me was when my masseuse began massaging my chest. And by my chest, I mean my chest. At the time I decided not to say anything and just experience the traditional massage all the way through, but I think in the future I would let them know up front that I’m not a fan of that. Or of having my stomach massaged. Especially when I’m so preoccupied all the time with whether or not it’s going to suddenly turn on me. After the massage we got pedicures (hey, aren’t you supposed to start the new year with a clean house? We thought that this was sort of along the same lines).

Then we decided to walk to the river, which we had yet to see (though we walked by the city’s moat every day). It was not the most pleasant walk—the neighborhood was not very pretty and we inhaled a lot of gas fumes—but eventually we did locate the (unremarkably, brown) river. We also saw the first person we had seen in Chiang Mai who appeared to be a beggar (though I can’t be sure since he was not begging, but lying facedown on the sidewalk beside his crutches, asleep). I have been amazed at the lack of panhandling in this city full of tourists. I can’t figure out if it’s because the city has somehow removed street people from the Old Quarter, or if it’s because the tourists make the town so prosperous that nobody needs to beg, or something in between.

Anyway, the highlight of our trip to the river was a visit to a tea house from Isaure’s book. It was a spectacular example of a colonial house, with beautiful woodwork and a flat-out beautiful back garden where you could have your tea. (Here I really went off the rails and had a fruit smoothie.)

By this time it was 5 o’clock, the time our Buddhism PhD student had told us that the walking meditation circle would begin, but we thought that it would probably last for a few hours at least, so we strolled back to town through a pedestrian market. Alas, when we finally reached the appropriate wat it was over. But another wat was having a “Moral Pray Countdown” at 11:30, so we added that to our agenda. Even though we had been to countless wats at this point (one thing I am very curious to find out is how on earth the city manages to support so many—each wat has several buildings and well-kept grounds, and you can often see the next one from the grounds of the one you’re standing in), we decided to explore the grounds. And I’m so glad we did because it turned out to be Chedi Luang, which is the most breathtaking temple I have ever seen. It is 80 meters tall and incredibly imposing. I’d describe it but I don’t think I could do it justice, so you’ll just have to look at the pictures!

While we were walking around Chedi Luang we spotted a sign for something called “Monk Chat.” No, it’s not a dating service; it’s a twice-daily opportunity to help the monks with their English and ask them questions about their lives. Which is now at the top of my must-do list. We decided to go into the main temple of the complex to look around. Like the wat with the money hanging from the ceiling, this one had narrow multicolored strips with all the signs of the Chinese zodiac. An older woman was selling them by the door. We asked her about them and she explained that you signed your name on the side and then hung it. We got one and each signed our names next to our animal, and then I took a long wooden pole and hung it in an empty spot. It felt like such a special thing to be a part of.

By this point we were exhausted (we had been up until 2:00 the night before, but the internet wasn’t working so I couldn’t post my blog entries, so I got up early and posted them), so we went back to the hotel for a nap. When Isaure and I were ready to go I went across the hall to make sure Khalid was ready, and he suggested I check out the view from his balcony. It took my breath away—the lanterns we had seen in the sky yesterday paled in comparison to the galaxy of lights there now. And the fireworks, which were being set off with almost equal abandon. (I should mention that the only reason we were in Chiang Mai for New Year’s was that the island we had wanted to be at was booked up. I had briefly googled to see what was going on in Chiang Mai for New Year’s, and I had read something like, “people gather for fireworks at the city gate.” So I was totally, totally unprepared for such an amazing sight.)

We hurried out of our hotel and pushed our way through the crowds towards the city gate. Watching the lanterns float up into the sky all around us, I said a little prayer that none of us would get burned. At the (very crowded) concert by the gate a beautiful woman was singing a Thai pop song. We listened for a while, then decided to go see what was happening at the Moral Pray Countdown.

Ten minutes later we had arrived back at the wat, now transformed by hundreds of candles flickering at a 15-foot wide makeshift altar in the side yard. Dozens of worshippers knelt on blankets they had spread on the dirt in front of it. We watched from a distance, beside the wat, but a Thai woman slid over to make space on the fence she was sitting on so I sat down beside her and copied the hand motions she was making. While the monk (we couldn’t see) was speaking over the loud speaker, she pointed her hands upward and bowed her head. When he stopped, she touched them to her face in what must be a sort of physical “amen.” After a few minutes of this a line of monks filed out and took seats among the candles. The speaking (all in Thai) continued. More fireworks went off and I glanced at the time; it was midnight. We gave each other discreet half-hugs since the monk was still talking (and a sign in front of the wat says “no hugging or kissing in the wat!”) Almost immediately after midnight the voice switched to English, and welcomed everyone and wished them a happy new year. He began listing some of the tenets of Buddhism, including remembering the past and reflecting on your mistakes, which sounded like very good ideas to me. We sat for a while and listened to him tell a parable about a boy who was so cruel to his mother that she jumped in a lake, but then he turned his life around and became good, so it is not too late for any of us.

With that happy thought, we went to a bar and danced the night away.

Yeah. 2013 is looking pretty good so far.

12/30/12

Chiang Mai Photo Album

Incense at a Buddhist temple.

Incense at a Buddhist temple.

All this exhausting not-working calls for some ice cream!

All this exhausting not-working calls for some ice cream!

Wat else?

Wat else?

Money hanging from the ceiling in the largest temple

Money hanging from the ceiling in the largest temple

In the garden of our favorite wat. Those long pink things are growing on a tree!

In the garden of our favorite wat. Those long pink things are growing on a tree!

Buddha

Buddha

Wat, wat, wat

Wat, wat, wat

Another beautiful wat. Love the elephants!

Another beautiful wat. Love the elephants!

 

(All photos by the lovely Isaure, who is a much much better photographer than I am. I am using her to fool you into thinking I’m really good at this, so by the time she leaves you will already be hooked and unable to stop reading. Carry on.)

12/30/12

Wat’s Up, Doc?

406004_10151220836271025_1294180131_n[1]

Buddhism is a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

Of course, I didn’t think it would be much fun at all. Not that I had anything against Buddhism. It always seemed very nice and laid back. It would definitely win the prize for Major Religion Least Likely to Start the Next World War. And I am a big fan of saffron.

But I can’t meditate. At least, I couldn’t the last time I really tried, which was in high school when we were all required to do a sport, and one semester I did Tai Chi. (If you are going to require hundreds of people of all athletic abilities to do sports, you have to offer things like Tai Chi. Other sports I did include ballet, modern dance, and ultimate Frisbee.) While Tai Chi was certainly pleasant, I found it excruciatingly boring. (To answer your next question: no, I didn’t letter in it.)

Anyway, I don’t know if Buddhism is always fun or if some sort of festival is going on (I suspect the latter), but right now if you go to the largest temple in Chiang Mai a monk hands you a yellow carnation-like flower, some incense, and a lotus bud and says “happy New Year.” Dozens of fresh baht bills hang from the ceiling, and people are adding more with long poles. Every member of the kneeling congregation holds onto a piece of string from one ball. Outside, there is incense burning, gongs for tapping, a market with crafts, and a pulley system that raises a small bucket of water and then dumps it on the side of the temple. And no, I don’t know the reason for any of it.

It’s too bad—in Chiang Mai you can take Thai cooking classes, ride elephants, and go trekking in the jungle on an ATV, but I haven’t seen any classes or tours advertised that explain Thai Buddhism. And now I am really, really curious. I don’t know how many temples (wat) I went into today (ten?), but I wish I knew what to do (besides take off your shoes). I saw people genuflecting of course, and while I don’t feel comfortable going quite that far when I don’t believe, if there were some sort of other respectful gesture that people do in the direction of the Buddha I’d be happy to do that. At the first couple of temples I just walked around and admired the art (some have images on the walls that tell stories, much like stained glass windows), but when the monk handed me the flowers I decided to copy the worshippers I had seen. I kneeled at the front by the Buddha, pointed my hands upward and close to my face and prayed for good luck in the new year for my friends and family. Then I added my flowers and incense to the small pile. (Isaure then told me she had taken a picture for me to have in case I write my own “Eat, Pray, Love” book and need something for the middle section.)

My favorite wat was actually the first one we went to, a tiny one where we were the only tourists. While we were walking through the gardens a man approached us and introduced himself as a PhD student in Buddhism who was spending a few days in the city to pray. He talked to us for quite a while, telling us about how he had once been a very angry person, but that meditation changed him. He suggested that on New Year’s Eve we join a walking meditation circle at a large temple in the city. Even though I’m not crazy about meditating I loved the idea, because we had already seen the stage set up for the city’s New Year’s Eve party at the city gate, and it looked disappointingly western. This would at least be a truly Thai experience. (Incidentally, two different people came up to us and started chatting and neither of them tried to get us to buy a thing.)

Another uniquely Thai experience that we had today was lighting a paper lantern and watching it float into the night sky. (The lanterns are about three feet tall and rectangular, with paper on every side but the bottom, where there is a doughnut-shaped thing you light that provides the heat that makes it float.) At least, I’m not sure it’s uniquely Thai, but Khalid assures me that it’s “completely illegal” in the U.S. And we soon found out why—one group released their lantern before it had enough power to launch into the sky, and it hovered dangerously over the cars before lurching into some telephone wires, and bouncing into a tree. We all held our breath, and then cheered when it floated into the sky. Eventually all the lanterns became slightly-brighter-than-average stars in the distance.

The day’s other highlight was visiting the Sunday Market right when it opened. The sun was setting, and the vendors were setting up their stalls in the street. It was so nice to be able to walk side by side instead of in a row, always worried that a motorbike would appear out of nowhere (they drive on the left in Thailand, and that is not easy for Americans to get used to). I was truly impressed by the quality of goods they were selling—most were really attractive and well-made objects that I would be proud to give as a gift to anyone. And they were so cheap that despite our already full bags we could not resist buying presents.

Speaking of cheap: everything. Of course I had heard that things were very cheap, but everything I read on travel blogs sounded almost too good to be true. But it is! Our cab from the airport was $4. Our meals (at sit down restaurants, one of which was extremely elegant) were $1.50-$4.  Isaure bought me a beautiful handmade notebook to keep track of expenses (one of my obsessions) for a few cents. Burning the lantern (which could have burned down the city) cost less than $2.. I can see how people can live here for $20 a day (we went a little crazy and spent about $25).

 

 

12/30/12

Chiang, Chiang, Chiang

Khalid and I have breakfast in our hotel lobby

Khalid and I have breakfast in our hotel lobby

I don’t want to brag, but I do have some hidden talents. One that I have been exercising a lot lately could be modestly described as “sitting around in airports.” Why, yesterday alone I sat in Hong Kong. Then I sat in Bangkok. And then my friends Khalid and Isaure joined me, and we sat at the parking lot beside the airport in Chiang Mai together, for over an hour, at midnight, waiting for something resembling a taxi. And if I do say so myself, we did it with panache. When we finally pulled up to our hotel, we looked at each other nervously. “This can’t be right. It’s too… nice!” The five-story colonial building had balconies, a floral archway, a lobby/verandah with vines winding up the pillars, and a swimming pool. As soon as we got to the front desk I asked the receptionist to confirm the price, just to make sure there had been no mistake. (The last thing you want to find out at 1am after four flights and approximately 40 hours of travel that you booked the wrong hotel.) But no mistake—we were paying $12 a night for our rooms. (Isaure and I were sharing, so we were paying $6.) I’m not saying it’s perfect—the lighting in our room is neon, the bathroom is of the “stand in the middle of the room and shower” variety, and the mattresses are so hard I suspect that the hotel owners might be getting kickbacks from the local masseurs. But the location is terrific, and did I mention the pool? Alas, I won’t get to wait in an airport again until Wednesday. I guess I’ll just have to think of another way to impress people.

12/29/12

China, Baby

You learn something new every day. Today I learned that one pair of pants, even cozy fleece-lined ones, will not keep me warm enough to sleep on an airplane. So I am utterly exhausted. In fact, I am practically cross-eyed.

I tried everything I could think of to help me sleep. I stole blankets from empty seats (by the end of the flight I had four.) I tried keeping my backpack on my lap to create an extra layer. I tried legs up, legs down, head to the right, head against the window. I think I slept a little bit, but we’re talking a very little bit. So please forgive me if I am totally incoherent.

On to the exciting adventure part:

As the plane descended into Hong Kong I peered out the window expectantly. When I booked my flight and saw that it arrived at 5:30am, I had visions of the sun rising over the bay as I landed. No such luck: we landed in the pitch black.

I stuffed all my heavy items into one of my carry-ons and stowed it at the Left Baggage counter, which lets you leave a bag for $10HK an hour. (They gave me a $1US/$7HK exchange rate.) Then I got a roundtrip Airport Express ticket for $100HK. When the train arrived, I was immediately struck by how clean it was. It actually smelled good—sort of like dryer sheets. As we pulled out of the airport I got more and more excited as I began to make out the outline of mountains in the mist, and then saw the sea, which is a beautiful shade of green (a start contrast to the north Atlantic, which is black).

As soon as I left the subway station, I knew I was going to love Hong Kong. The mountains, the sea, the little narrow streets with never-ending steps up the hillside. Surprisingly, the city it most reminds me of is Las Vegas. Maybe it’s the combination of palm trees, luxury shops, and endless malls? I wonder if anyone else has made that connection… I am guessing no.

I wandered up and down streets, looking for the famous covered escalators that led all the way up the hillside. I saw the movie “Chungking Express” a few weeks ago, and in it the main character’s apartment is clearly visible from the escalators. I think I found them–at least, I found some–but I was very surprised to find that one side is stairs, and the other escalator (or rather, moving sidewalk, not steps)–and the side that moves is the side going down! And these are some pretty serious steps we are talking about. I was getting quite warm in all my layers. There must be a reason that the moving sidewalk goes down and not up, but for the life of me I can’t think what it could be.

Anyway, it was about 8am at this point, so I was pretty hungry. I passed numerous French bakeries (my favorite breakfast on earth is a pain au chocolat), but I was determined to have a Chinese breakfast. (I was especially determined not to go to Starbucks, which seems to have sprouted up on every corner.) Eating a Chinese breakfast in a Chinese city wasn’t as easy as you might think. Since it was so early, at least half the restaurants were closed.  Some of the restaurants that were open were quite intimidating to me–no English or even pictures on the menus, just characters–and only Chinese people in the window. I was sure that if I walked in, all conversation would cease and the music would come to a screeching halt. One that did have English and pictures advertised “pineapple buns with iced butter” on its breakfast menu. Now, I love pineapple anything, but the picture made it look like a very large piece of bread. I was craving protein, so that was out. I may have wandered forever if an old Chinese man had not suddenly appeared beside me as I was eyeing the photos in his restaurant window dubiously and said, “Breakfast?” with great enthusiasm. I responded with some version of “Why not?” and followed him inside.

It was definitely a western-style restaurant (booths, lots of English)–but at the same time it was like no western restaurant I had ever been to. First, the old man handed me off to a woman standing just inside the door who might have been the hostess. She signaled to a woman who was standing in the middle of the restaurant, who signaled to a woman standing farther into the restaurant, who indicated that I should sit at the table in front of her. I was wondering why three people were needed for that task when I noticed that they (and all the other women working in the restaurant–and there were close to ten of them–were wearing sparkly red Santa hats. On December 29.

Someone brought me a hot cup of tea. I say “cup,” but I mean the Dixie variety. I studied the three breakfast menu options. They were rather perplexing combinations; I ended up picking the scrambled eggs, bun, and instant noodles with satay beef. I was given a knife and fork but could not be offended since everyone there was eating that way too.

When I left I walked down the street a ways, then turned around and decided to walk back in the same direction. When I passed the restaurant the old man was standing in front, smiling. He called to me and I told him that I only had a few more hours in Hong Kong: what should I do? He suggested the escalators. I ended up taking them again (or rather, hiking up as high as I could stand it, then riding down). The main streets contained a wide range of stores, from what seemed like mom and pop restaurants to very fancy stores like Vera Wang. But the alleys that connected them were narrow pedestrian walkways lined with vendors selling watches and goldfish and fresh vegetables. I walked up and down quite a few looking for a phone (my American phone does not have a SIM card), but I didn’t see anyone selling electronics.

At this point the fatigue was really starting to hit me–and it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was going to rain. (Ironically, since I had just finished convincing my mother that I did not need to bring a raincoat.) I decided to find somewhere with wifi where I could work on my blog.

I am not proud of it, but just when I thought I might actually collapse I spotted one of the ubiquitous Starbucks. I grabbed a seat with a nice view and settled in for… 20 minutes of free wifi. 20! (For those of you unfamiliar with American Starbucks, you can get there when it opens and leave when it closes and use wifi all day if you want.) Anyway, the 20 minutes passed much faster than I expected and I ended up having to finish writing back at the airport, where I am now, watching it rain cats and dogs through the window.

Soon I will be off to Bangkok, where I am meeting up with two of my friends, and then flying to Chiang Mai, Thailand. As proud as I am of myself for doing this trip largely by myself,  I’m really looking forward to sightseeing with other people. I don’t have high hopes for my Hong Kong photos–I took them hastily while trying not to draw attention to myself. (I half hoped that my athletic get-up would make people think I was a local on my way to the gym.) It will be so nice to have someone to take pictures with! (Not to mention talk to, eat with, and tell me if I look too much like Chas Tenenbaum in my athletic gear.) I didn’t feel remotely concerned for my safety today, but it’s so nice to know that I won’t have to worry about that for at least another two weeks.

 

 

12/27/12

Boy, are my arms tired

The adventure has begun! It was hard saying goodbye to my family (especially seeing my mother watching from the window as my car pulled away), but once I got to the airport I was practically dancing with excitement. Which was good, because I had a lot of waiting to do. First in Boston, where I arrived 3 hours early for a 7pm flight, then in New York, where my flight didn’t leave until almost 1am.

When I arrived at JFK I overheard a Chinese family asking where the flight to Hong Kong left from. Feeling magnanimous, I offered to let them follow me. The father fell into step right beside me, while the kids trailed behind. I asked if he were from Hong Kong. He said no, Beijing, in very halting English. Sensing an opportunity to practice my Mandarin on a genuine native speaker, I told him in Mandarin that I spoke a little. He did not react at all–I may as well have said nothing.  Was my Mandarin totally incomprehensible? Or did he just really not want to talk to me? After a few more minutes of walking side by side in silence, I decided to try again. “Ni xihuan Boston?” I asked (“do you like Boston?”) He responded with one syllable: “Yeah.” Then back to silence. I really, really hope that this is not the response I can expect in China from my attempts to make small talk! I made sure he got to the check-in desk (I already had my boarding pass) and then said goodbye with what I assumed was relief on both our parts. Weirdly, I saw him later at the food court and he waved eagerly, motioning that he wanted to give me some of his Chicken McNuggets, but I was talking on the phone so I mimed that I would see him later, totally bemused by his sudden interest in me.

Speaking of things that don’t make any sense: how do women taking international flights manage to look cute? There are women sitting in this terminal wearing  heels. Hell, there are women wearing skirts! I don’t understand it. Granted, I produce all the body heat of a medium-sized reptile, but surely I can’t be the only person who finds airplanes freezing cold? And who wants to curl up and fall asleep in a skirt?!! Lined with tulle??? Only crazy people. Still, I am jealous because while I may not be a crazy person, I usually look like one when I fly. Because of my aforementioned body heat issues, I sleep and fly in two pairs of sweatpants, socks, two pairs of slippers, a t-shirt, a polar fleece shirt, and a hooded sweatshirt, with the hood up. Not many people can say that their pajamas would be heartily approved by the Taliban. But this time I am not wearing my usual ensemble because my mother pointed out that lugging all that polar fleece around the tropics would be truly insane. We found a pair of what I can only describe as ski pants—they are like spandex leggings, but lined in something fleecey. They are so warm that one pair seems to be enough. I’m wearing them with the most sophisticated sweatshirt I could find and new sneakers. So now I look like I’m going to Asia to run a marathon. Which is pretty funny, because the reason I have new sneakers is that I thought I should probably buy some practical shoes before my trip.

Next stop: Hong Kong!

12/26/12

Happy Christmas

People keep asking me how I feel. “Are you nervous or excited?”

I used to be excited. Now I just feel… weird. I don’t know how else to describe it—something is off. Things aren’t normal. Everything is weird, weird, weird.

Which is better than a lot of people around me feel. Because they feel sad.

Of course, I should have expected this. Especially since I have been on the left behind end of people going far away. A few years ago a very close friend of mine got married and moved to Seattle. We were the sort of friends who had keys to each other’s apartments, made each other dinner at least once a week, and took trips halfway around the world together. On one such trip, to South Africa, she told me that if she married her boyfriend, she wanted to get married on the beach. I joked that she should have her bridesmaids dress as lobsters. At her rehearsal dinner, three days before she was leaving for the other side of the country, she presented me with a lobster hat. I put it on and promptly burst into tears—while all around me, people snapped my photo.

So why does it surprise me when people react that way to me going away? There’s no logical explanation. It just does.

Making people sad of course has made me somewhat sad. Which is not the way I want to feel right now.

I know that once I am on the plane I will be excited again. I know it.

Now let’s say a collective prayer that the megastorm that’s hitting western Massachusetts does not affect flights from Logan, my electronic devices don’t run out of batteries, and there are no screaming babies on any of my flights. Amen.

12/24/12

My Week With Marilyn

Special Delivery

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I seem to be losing my mind.

Normally I am a fairly organized person. Not type A exactly, but a huge part of my job for the last eight years has been organizing logistics, including travel.

So why, now that I’m organizing the biggest trip of my own life, have I turned into someone so ditzy that if my life were a movie, I would be played by a young Marilyn Monroe?

Take my netbook. You may recall that I was going to order one so I wouldn’t have to risk the life of my Macbook Pro in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Order one I did, and I got an email that its anticipated arrival time (or language to that effect) was a Friday. My mother works from home on Fridays, so I asked her to keep an eye out for it. When I got home that evening I asked if it had arrived, and she said no, but since the confirmation had only said “anticipated” arrival time, I immediately stashed that issue on the closet floor of my mind.

Fast forward to Monday night. “Whatever happened to that netbook,” I wondered. I called up the company I ordered it from, and lo and behold, they had delivered it on Friday—to the wrong house number.

Because I had entered the wrong house number when I ordered it.

Now, while it is true that my parents moved into this house only four months ago, I have never once forgotten the street number. So this was definitely my error, 100%. A fact which both I and Customer Service Lady were completely cognizant of.

In other words, if I could not get my neighbors (who could be mafiosos, for all I knew) to give me back my computer (which, while much cheaper than a Macbook Pro, was by no means cheap), I was screwed. By my own careless fingers.

At this point it was basically Civilized People Bedtime o’clock, and sleeting. But I had to at least try to find the netbook. So I begged my mother to join me in what was sure to be the thankless task of donning many layers, heading out into the slush, and waking up her new neighbors.

So we tromped up the street, peering ineffectually into the darkness, trying to make out house numbers. Fortunately there weren’t many options. We soon singled out the house that must be it. All the windows were completely dark, of course. And the driveway was empty. It looked like no one had been home for days. But as I slipped and slid up the driveway, I could just make out a lump on their porch, under the snow.

I dusted it off, and lo and behold, it was my sodden package, which the FedEx guy had left—without a signature!—four days before. The paper was so moist it came apart in my hands.

My mother could hardly speak. “You. Are. So. Lucky!”

Long story short, the computer works fine; so I guess I won’t have to locate my mind anytime soon.

12/18/12

Tom Sawyer

I don’t think I have ever been the guest of honor at so many parties. In addition to the surprise gingerbread/tea party, my friends threw me one of the alcohol-serving variety this weekend. It had a joint holiday/Asia theme (one of my friends wore a tiny Mrs. Claus dress under a jacket with a Mao collar; she looked like someone in a 1950s musical about to break into a racist tap dance). As if that weren’t enough, tomorrow is my goodbye party at work.

An unexpected perk of saying goodbye to everything in your life is that everything in your life says goodbye back. I have never felt so popular! People I haven’t seen in ages keep getting in touch, saying the nicest things. I feel a bit like Tom Sawyer sneaking into his own funeral (without all the, you know, death).

I told this to one of my friends (the racist tap dancer, actually), and she said, “I hope you don’t really mean our party felt like a funeral!”

That’s the problem with email. It’s so easily misinterpreted. You tell people that the party they threw for you felt like your own funeral, and they think you meant it in a bad way.