Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Beautiful Snake

Meanwhile, here's a picture of an absolutely beautiful little snake the guide pointed out while I was on the boat wildlife-spotting thing. It was just hanging out in a tree, right over the water. I never would have spotted it myself, but once I saw it, amazing.

It's very tiny, and beautifully delicate, but the guide said it was related to rattlesnakes, so I opted not to try to pet it. (No, seriously, I don't touch wild critters, not even if they're totally harmless, because I'm not necessarily harmless, and may carry germs or whatever. Best to look, take a picture. In this case, take a picture with a telephoto lens!)

(Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia)


I got here on Friday, and the staff member who showed me around showed me a local grocery store, and helped me pick up a few things. But I was a bit overwhelmed, and feeling the effects of being up more or less a full day and a half, so I didn't buy much.

I also started feeling a cold come on during the first flight Thursday, and by the end of the second flight, I pretty much had a good case of the sniffles. At least, I'm guessing it's a cold, since I don't think Malaria starts with sniffles, a stuffy nose, no fever, aches, or whatever else. I hope not, anyway.

Still, having even a bit of a cold has made me very aware of how illiterate I am. In the states, or even in South America, if I needed a pharmacy, I could have seen the familiar mortar and pestle, or Rx symbol. Here? Not a clue. But it's only a cold, and will probably be better in seven days without any cold medicine, or a week with, right?

I took myself to the grocery store today before my meetings started, and did some basic shopping. I was looking for some hard candy to suck on because my throat feels dry from breathing through my mouth. (How do horses deal with really stuffy sinuses? Do they?) I think I found the candy (it had pictures of smiley kids and stuff), but couldn't figure out what might be hard candy, so I skipped.

When I was a teenager, there were these occasional "news" stories about people buying canned dog or cat food and eating it, based on the pictures on the label. I figured out where the dog and cat food cans are in the store, and plan on avoiding those. Helpfully, there are cans labeled "Frisky" in English there. Even I can read that!

I did manage to buy shampoo by apologizing to a store worker and making the universal idiot motion of washing my hair and then pointing to a product. Happily, she spoke good enough English to say "conditioner" and to point me instead to "shampoo." And was kind enough to do so with a smile.

I have a basic rule for shopping: if I'm not sure if it needs cooked or not, I don't get it. I'm happy to eat sashimi or sushi, no problem with raw foods, so long as I know they're supposed to be raw. But if I'm not sure, I skip it.

I also have to be careful to choose things I can cook pretty basically, because it it has directions, I'm not going to be able to read them anyway. So I'm with pretty basic foods.

Except for the prepared foods. I have no idea what I ate for breakfast this morning, but it tasted GREAT! It was a sort of "rice ball" but with a different wrapping than the usual seaweed, almost a doughish wrapping. And it was a combo of sweet and just a tad soy-tasting, with little black dots in among the rice. No idea, but I hope I can find it again!

The cold seems to be on its way out, and the we had lots of students on campus today, so all in all, I'm really looking forward to classes starting and getting well enough to feel like walking around a lot more.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Adventures in Cooking

I faced facts today and decided to start learning to cook here. Mostly, that means learning to turn on appliances appropriately, because really, I know the basics of cooking. Simple stuff, anyway.

When the friendly and helpful staff member here took me to the grocery store to stock up on Friday (was it really Friday?), I got some stir fry looking meat/bean combo. Tonight's the night, I thought, and started exploring the stove. Here's what I saw.
See that window thing on the left and below the stove top? That seems to be a warming oven. And to the right of that is some sort of switch thing. And directions, which I can't read, of course. So you understand the basic problem. I can see the stove, but there's no way to turn the burners on. Well, there's a way, and a whole direction book in Japanese.

But you know what? My basic Japanese intro materials don't handle cooking situations. Nope, they're going to be GREAT if I need to say "This is a chair." But they don't seem to have basics such as "on" or "off" or "hot burner, don't put your hand down." And those are the things I need. I can't figure out how to look up unfamiliar kanji, though I'm sure there's a perfectly logical way. I just don't know it.

Confident that these folks do in fact cook on the cook top, I looked around some more, and lo and behold, the thing on the right flips open to reveal buttons and stuff. It's a good thing stoves and such are basically idiot-proof, because I took several stabs pressing this and that in different orders until, voila, a burner came on!

And so, fed, I'm wondering how complicated the rice cooker is?

Monday, January 28, 2008


Stilt village; near Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

My final morning in Malaysia, I took a cultural tour, and went to see a stilt village. Basically, the stilt village is one solution to the problem of living in a swampy area. You build on stilts, and then add on over the water as you need. The tour company evidently has prior arrangements with this household, and they welcome visitors and show them a typical house. Typical? Well, that's what they said.

You walk on a boardwalk of sorts to get to the house, and then take off your shoes to enter. And in you go. Inside, the entry is a living area, with some couches, then further in a table with some chairs, and a kitchen area, and then bedding areas to the side. And in front of the couches, a huge television. Really, I just about cracked up.

The host served us coffee, and I drank a sip to be polite, but it struck me, there I am, worrying about potable water and such in a house with a huge television. But, of course, no amount of money a single person could throw at the problem of water potability is going to solve it, but a fairly small bit (comparatively) gets you a tv.

It made me think of my weirdest television experience. Remember when MTV was new, and played music videos? Cable wasn't common among my college crowd, so I didn't see MTV while I was in college. But one day while I was in the Peace Corps, I had gone from my site to visit some other volunteers, which we did sometimes on weekends; it was a two hour bus ride, and anywhere else was pretty much a 4+ hour ride.

One of the guys there walked with me to the bus area, and I bought a ticket early to go home, and then we were going to have dinner in a restaurant not far from the bus area before I got on a night bus to go home. We were sitting in the restaurant, in the middle of a rain forest, open air, pretty much your fantasy of a South American rain forest town, and from the back of the restaurant come strains of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" song, you know.

K jumped up, and pulled me towards the back of the restaurant. We walked into the family quarters (he's friends), and sat on a BIG bed with about six kids, and watched Michael Jackson and his zombies scare the dickens out of his girlfriend. It was one of those things, there we were in the middle of no where, low tech land, watching this incredibly technically sophisticated music video with a bunch of kids on a bed.

Universal television.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Geisha and a Feminist Walk into a Bar

What would they have to say to each other? Or perhaps they're both feminists?

Yesterday, I met a couple other visiting faculty folks, a couple who's been here many times. We ate lunch together at the faculty place (a really good lunch, unbelievably affordable), and then they talked about going to the old imperial city with the famed "floating world" district to visit one of their favorite shrine/temple complexes. I was happy to be invited along.

We took this and that public transportation, and then got off the last and started walking along these narrow streets. Up the hill, I could see the shrine/temple complex. We were, my guides informed me, in a famous geisha district. They were telling me about the shrine, the district, a kanji, when the narrow street became an open area, and a small group of people was crescented back from a big black car. Two women, all made up and ornately dressed, and two men in dark suits were getting into the car. I don't know if the people standing around were tourists, locals, family/friends, or what. But the car drove off.

And then another young woman in full outfit went by in one direction, and into a building, smiling and giving small nodding bows to the onlookers as she went past. And then another women, from a different direction and going in a different direction did the same.

My guides told me that sometimes tourists pay to get all made up to have their picture taken, so maybe that was happening. A guy stopped to tell us about the women, and from what my guides passed along to me, the women we saw walking were trainees, which you could tell by their outfit and shoes, and not full-fledged geisha.

I felt sort of bad gawking, though I wasn't at all alone. And the women seemed to be playing the part on some level, politely acknowledging her specialness in the context.

So I was wondering, what would it be like to have a conversation with a geisha or trainee? It would have to be in English, because my Japanese gets me as far as a smile, a more or less appropriate hello for the time of day, and not much else.

On the surface, I have little in common with someone whose primary job is to entertain wealthy men, who does so in highly ornate clothing and makeup, with highly specialized music, dance, and conversational skills (as I understand it). I'm the anti-geisha of dressing. And entertaining men holds little appeal for me. I do like to think I can take part in conversations with a large variety of people.

I have a friend who grew up knowing harem communities, and she told me that while the practice does indeed have sexist elements, it also can provide a positive, pro-female community. So maybe there's a community that empowers the women involved? (Though, where there's power, there's also potential abuse of power?)

And while I'm the anti-geisha of dressing, there's an element of performance in teaching that I really do enjoy, so perhaps there's a common ground there?

As I understand it, the whole geisha world thing is pretty much a mystery to those not involved on some level, though there's a whole lot of supposition and "insider" story-telling going around. It sounds like the way non-Amish in the Northwoods think about the Amish. We see them, wave, smile, maybe talk a bit at a farmers' market, but there's a gap for most of us. And some people try to fill the gap in various ways, talking about this or that rule, which you then see someone seeming to break. Or like the way nuns and priests work in US culture. We're likely to know a few, but have we got a good idea of the way things feel within their organizations? I know I was an adult before I knew someone well enough to talk about how his vocation worked for him, how he thought about vowing celebacy, and so forth. And I was a few years older before I knew a nun well enough to chat about her life and decisions.

Or maybe it's like the way people do professions blogging, lawyers blogging about the "real deal" of law practice, or professors talking about our frustrations and difficulties, few of which are usually apparent to our students even.

I wonder if there's a geisha blog out there?

The gawking thing goes the other way, too. The three of us were stopped a couple times by folks who wanted to speak English, or told us about living in the states. I imagine it will get old, as it did when I was in the Peace Corps, but smiles and a nice conversation is a small thing to ask of people who are visitors.

I'm impatient for classes to start, for a chance to get to meet and work with students, and get started on teaching. Soon! Tomorrow, meetings with faculty and orientations and such. And then activities for a week, and classes!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Selamat pagi

Good morning! (That's Malay up there!)

I had the most incredible short vacation in Malaysia (the Borneo part), and now I've settled in mostly to my new apartment at Host University.

Young orang-utan, Sepilok Rehabilitation Center, Sabah, Malaysia

This orang-utan is one that's being rehabilitated, taught to live in the wild again, but supported with regularly scheduled feeding times. They feed the orangs twice a day, at 10am and 3pm, with bananas and milk. As I understand it, the goal is to keep the young orangs fed, but to make the food relatively boring so they'll eat more and more wild food as they grow up, and eventually move away from the feeding area into a completely wild life. The young orangs are also taught some basic skills here, though the very young are housed elsewhere, and cared for much more closely.

My guide told me they've successfully rehabilitated some 160 orangs back to the wild here over the years.

They have a great platform set up at the feeding area, with a raised walkway through the forest a bit to the platforms. People are allowed to visit the platforms (with some fairly strict rules, of course), and take photos. Raised walkways are a great way to let whusses like me avoid leeches!

Wild Orang-utan, near Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

It's considerably harder to get a good look at a wild orang, but here's probably my best shot. I took a river ride to stay at a jungle resort thing, and then another river ride up further into a smaller river, to look at wildlife. I took over 400 photos, but you'll be glad to know I won't be sharing them all with you!

And now, I'm off to try to figure out how to shower. There ARE extensive instructions on the appliances, but I can't read them. It took me forever to figure out how to turn on the heat in my room last night; it was 13c (in the 50s F) when I finally figured it out. I'm a Northwoods whuss. I hate being cold!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Less Prepared than I'd Planned

Thanks for all your good and kind wishes, everyone!

I didn't turn in my cable box today. I just didn't get it done. I got other things done, though.

What does six months of stuff look like? Here's packing prep. This is the stuff for the big bag, rather than the carry on I'll be taking on my first side trip. And this is just the basics (and not the several books and such I'm stupidly taking).

My mom taught me a trick about packing that she learned along the way somewhere, and it's a pretty good one for my style travel. You pretty much put everything you can into big gallon sized plastic bags, then squeeze as you close them up. Then you just toss in these bags, pre-squeezed, in whatever way makes sense. If you have to go through them for inspection or something, they're easy to see and re-organize. They're easy to pack and unpack because you can keep track of things.

And here's the full monty, so to speak, except for the briefcase I'll be carrying with my laptop. The backpack thing has carry on stuff, and is missing only the camera in this shot, because, yes, I was using the camera and all. It has everything I'll need for a week of travel before I get to teaching/work.

I have tomorrow to take care of last minute stuff, a bit on campus, turning in the cable box, paying some bills (where DID I put the checkbook?). I have to get a couple of small gifts (I'm told that dream catchers are good, and also hats with the local school logo and such. And the state symbol.) But the big part of packing is done. Things are mostly ready to go.

I'm excited and just a tad terrified. I'm sure I'll be fine once I get started, and there's no specific fear, just a generalized excitement with a tinge of uh oh to spice things up. (I'm always like that for new things. You should have seen me getting ready to jump out of a plane!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Don't Panic Button

I'm just about ready to go. Well, let me put it another way. It's almost time for me to get on an airplane, but I'm not really very ready. I am getting there, though.

Today, I put together my class for the semester, every assignment, reading, this and that. It's all together, waiting to be sent off so that the class packet can be made up for the students. I usually use a fairly sparse set of outside readings, but I want to give students a bit more hands on practice reading some American style essays, so I spent some time looking for appropriate essays in a typical comp reader.

And I'm cranky. What do you expect from a typical student essay that uses outside sources? A works cited section! Right. So how many essays in this book that used outside sources actually included a works cited section? Two.

If our students are reading essays without works cited sections, how are they supposed to get the idea that works cited sections should be automatic for them? They don't.

Dear comp reader publisher: Please, please, please, make sure your readings have works cited sections!

But that's done now. (Fair use and all.) I got a few other things done, too. I sent off my "just in case" information to my sibling. I got a watch to replace the one that died more than a year ago. I fed myself.

Among my plans for tomorrow, I'm going to turn in my cable modem and have the cable connection to the house turned off. That means no more sitting on the couch with the TV on, writing this or that blog post, checking email, reading blogs, checking the news.

I don't know when I'll be back posting. I expect to have internet access while I'm in Asia, but I don't know details and such.

Until whenever, que vayan bien!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Just in Case

So, if I were a responsible adult, I'd have a will and all. I'm not, I guess, because I don't.

So I spent this evening writing a note to my sibling with information about all my accounts, and what to do with things. And I've been writing lists for the person who will be watching over the BardiacShack.

Finally, I wrote a note to a friend to put up a post here should something happen.

I don't expect anything to happen, of course. But then, no one much does, I suppose. Still, it's a weird way to spend the evening.

I also got all organized to do my tax returns. Except I don't have my W-2, and a comparison of last year's W-2 with the corresponding paystub made it clear that I couldn't just use my last paystub from 2007. I also don't have any of my interest/dividend information or mortgage information from those places. So basically, I just listed out everything I have, loaded the tax program, and found out that my state program isn't available anyway.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Northwoods Civics

I went out to practice a bit with my camera the other day, and when I saw this, I couldn't resist.

When I bought the camera, I paid for a 2 hour class, and the class was Tuesday. I was expecting a few people, starting with basics. But it was only me. And some of the stuff I knew from taking pictures before was coming back, so the teacher picked up with what I wanted to learn about my camera, added things he thought would be helpful, and went to town. Yep, I got a two hour personal tutorial, and it was fantastic! I feel so much more confident.

One of the indigenous groups in the Andes uses long woven cloth belt things wound several times around the waste as a sort of belt for their skirts. When I was in the Peace Corps, I used one of these belts to make myself a camera strap. I've been sort of obsessed about my old camera strap since I got my new camera, but I can't find it. I'm guessing it got tossed with the camera when the repair place said it wasn't repairable after all the mold or something got to it.

This afternoon, I went shopping and got some D rings, a cheap guitar strap, and used the leftover from then to make a new camera strap. I'm really happy about the way it turned out. It MAY end up being too long (in which case, it's easy to shorten), but it looks just like my old camera strap, and reminds me of all the good times I had. It's soft and strong, about 2 inches wide, bright blue with a star design. I still have other belts, but that one's softer somehow, and it's what I used the first time.

I don't know why I was so concerned about the camera strap (because really, there are way more important things I should be focusing on), but I'm relieved that it worked out really well.

I also put chicken wire around my pine trees with moderate success, and took care of some of the other things I have to do.

I'm reading Cathy Davidson's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan now. Davidson writes about her experiences teaching abroad in Japan several times, starting in the early 80s. It's interesting because of the ways she talks about having thought about living in Japan, and coming to realize that while she loves Japan, she loves parts of it, and not really the whole experience. That seems very familiar to me from being a Peace Corps volunteer.

I think a lot of Peace Corps folks think about living overseas (and some do stay), but most of us realize that while there are things we love about our adopted countries, there are also things we're not willing to deal with for a lifetime, things we'd miss too much from home.

All of which reminds me how many people do leave homes behind and emigrate to new places to stay. That can't be easy, even if you're leaving really difficult circumstances. At this point I should transition seamlessly into some insightful commentary on the US political process or something, but my mind is wound up being self-concerned.

During the last election, for the first time, I volunteered at the local party headquarters. That just didn't seem conceivable when I lived in large cities, but around here, somehow it is. I also saw one of the candidates speak. I can't imagine a candidate speaking on my phud campus because s/he would have been busy with a big money fund raiser and not going to a campus. But here in smaller cities, if they come through, they're stumping.

It's going to be weird to miss the primary. I should run down and see about an absentee ballot, perhaps. It doesn't seem hugely important for the primary, and I'll be back in early summer, well before the real election.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


For the first time today, I got an email to "Bardiac sensei" from my university across the sea. "Sensei" is basically a title of respect for a teacher.

My stereotypical associations give sensei an almost mystical connotation for me. One of my friends is a ceramicist, a potter, who's studied with masters from different areas of Asia; that sort of mastery is what I think when I think "sensei." Or I think of stereotypical martial arts masters, especially with the mystical connotations of mastery that come across in US culture about Asian martial arts. And as much as sensei gives me mystical connotations, I don't feel that I deserve it; I haven't gone through the apprenticeship of the sort I associate with such titles. (Though I've done my time in US grad school.)

My understanding is that sensei is used for everything from grammar school teachers, to people like me, to masters of various arts, so while it's a title of respect, it's not necessarily got mystical connotations.

But the mystical connotations make it weirder to think of myself being addressed as Bardiac sensei. I'm a pretty non-mystical person, not even a very spiritual person in the ways people talk about spirituality.

And I have some rather typical US type reactions to titles of respect. I grew up calling all adults Mr/Mrs/Miss (and then adding Ms when that became a possibility). When I was young, I rather resented having to show all that respect, especially to people who showed little respect for me. Eventually, I got to a point where I actively value respecting others (and they usually respect me), so I don't resent using titles for people. But I'm also a fairly informal person in a fairly informal profession.

On the other hand, it took me a while to feel comfortable calling my college president by her first name.

I invite my students to call me by my first name, and am comfortable with that. But I respect that others don't prefer that, and I always refer to other instructors as "Professor X" to students. (Professor is the best I can do for a working compromise for colleagues who do or don't have doctorates, do or don't have whatever official position; it's perhaps not entirely accurate, but it's good enough for government work.) I was old enough when I started teaching that I didn't need to use a title for students to know that I was the one with power.

It's important to realize that power is part of the whole title thing. And I have enough sense of that in the US to talk about it with my students when I invite them to use my first name, and to tell that to use a more formal address with others unless invited to use a first name or something. I have a sense of how to manipulate power relations in address here. I know that when someone uses my first name, and then their own title, power's in play.

But my understanding of formality and power across the sea is minimal. So I'm bemused at my own reaction to becoming "Bardiac sensei," the pleasure of a title, the discomfort of a title, all at once. And unsure how to use titles and such myself in return.

This is going to be interesting!

Responding to a Comment

Every so often, someone responds to a comment from an old post. I only know about it because blogger emails me. Today I got an email about a comment from a post I did in 2006, about teaching Chaucer. It was one of those comments that reminded me how glad I am to be where and what I am, if that makes sense.

So I thought I'd respond to it here:
Anonymous said...
u guys are gay. no one really cares bout these lame storys? hahaha wow NERDS

To which I'm thinking:

Well, yes, and I'm guessing a fair percentage of folks are.

Clearly, we care. May I suggest a taste from "The Miller's Tale"?

Aw, you're just flattering us now!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The I Hate Rabbits Post

Have I mentioned that I hate rabbits? Not as much as I hate clothes shopping, but pretty much. Here's what they've done to my little dogwood so far this winter. They almost killed a hawthorn the first year I had it (before I got smart enough to put a tube thing around it).

And here's what they've done to one of the white pines!

Here's the best solution I've come up with so far for smaller stuff, but I need to get more wire mesh for the pines.

They've got a whole field of stuff, but they seem to like my plantings best of all. Grrrr! I need a fox to take up residence!

Monday, January 07, 2008

In the Land of Panic

I'm so potentially screwed. Or not. Depending on someone's whim.

I'm not a very experienced traveller, especially internationally. I'm pretty good at getting in my car and driving hither and yon in the US, but internationally, I'm pretty inexperienced.

So, I've been planning my trip abroad. I'm going early, going to leave my bags where I'll be teaching and then leaving the next day to go to another country on a tourist trip for 5 days. Then I'll come back in plenty of time for the teaching orientation, and do my teaching. It just so happens that I'll be coming in on a Saturday afternoon, and leaving on a Sunday. Then coming back in a week.

I was reading the other day, and just realized that my visa is a single entry visa. I can enter the teaching country ONE time, and then stay for six months. OOPS!

In order to leave the country, I need to get a re-entry visa at a local government office. Except, of course, the local government office wouldn't be open over Saturday and Sunday.

I just talked to the consulate, wondering if I could do something ahead of time, and the consular officer suggested that I should ask on my first entry to be put on a standard 90 day tourist visa, so that my one entry on my teaching visa will count when I re-enter the country. And that should work, IF the customs person at my first entry agrees.

I'm at a loss. I thought I had everything pretty well worked out, but I've screwed up, I think.

Just how much did you know?

At a couple blogs I read, there've been some discussions about grad school applications from the admissions side. Some of the comments sort of blew me away because they expect the undergrad applying for admission to know the quirks of the potential grad faculty.

Let's acknowledge that the field is very different from mine, and maybe things work very differently.

Here's how I chose my phud program, coming from a regional university where several faculty were encouraging me to go on. I talked to faculty members, and made lists of places I was considering. My advisor called someone she knew at the local flagship and asked him about programs in the field. He suggested a couple as being strong. I also looked at the Newsweek grad school information for my field.

What I didn't know, and really had no way of knowing, was that the flagship scholar was incredibly conservative in his scholarship, and suggested only the most conservative schools, including none with prominent feminist scholars, because he didn't think feminism had anything to do with scholarship. And he hated theory.

And so, I ended up at a pretty conservative English department, where out of 25+ tenured faculty, two were female (things did improve while I was there!). Theory was weak there, but improved tremendously with a couple of hires and a tenuring. I wasn't a great fit, but I made it through and the rest was history. But how was I supposed to know? I didn't have the resources, really, given where I was, to know about all sorts of grad departments. (And while it was conservative, it was an overall strong, large department with fair depth in most fields.)

And yet the comments on the other post suggest that I should have known which schools in my field had the best scholars interested in what I wanted to work on, which would be supportive of women, and so forth.

Maybe I'm totally clueless, but I don't think most people actually know that much detail about schools they aren't closely associated with, and those that do know, don't necessarily talk to people applying for grad school.

Here's an example. While I was a grad student, through a mutual friend in my program, I met a grad student at Berkeley who'd chosen Berkeley to work with Stephen Greenblatt. The student had done his undergrad at Yale, and gotten into Berkeley. He had the right connections. He was white, male, upper class, had gone to the right prep school. I'm assuming if his advisors at Yale had been able to warn him of a problem, they would have, right? Within a year or two of his arriving at Berkeley, Greenblatt had moved elsewhere. The student ended up working with a fine scholar, finishing his dissertation after several years, and then leaving academia.

Another example: in my grad program, there was a famous scholar. Every year, students applied to the program thinking they would work with him. Once in the program, no one worked with him. And a year after I got there, he took early retirement in a settlement to avoid a lawsuit brought by a male undergrad for inappropriate sexual behavior. No one warned all those grad students ahead of time, not their undergrad advisors, not when they were at interview dinners alone with other grad students, no one. But pretty much everyone knew this guy was a problem. But no one said anything, until students came, and then they figured things out pretty quickly, realized they'd better keep their mouths shut, and found someone else to work with.

I could give other examples. My point is that even when people know, they don't tell undergrads everything for a variety of reasons. And people often don't know a whole lot about the intricacies at other schools, about Joe Schmoe's sexism, drinking problem, whatever. Or maybe they don't consider the sexism or drinking a problem.

So I'm wondering, how much did you folks know about graduate programs when you applied? How did you know what you knew?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Expedition: Success!

So, just what does one pack for 6 months abroad?

I hate shopping. I hate shopping with the white hot passion of incredible loathing. Let me be more specific. I'm happy to do grocery shopping, and more than happy to spend forever in a used book store. I actually enjoyed trying out bikes last summer. But clothes shopping? Shoe shopping? Gah!

However, I really needed some new slacks, slacks that would be okay for teaching and walking around, comfortable enough in fairly cold and fairly hot weather. I used to get chinos from LandsEnd, but lately, they seem only to have either capris or low on the hip slacks. So I went on an expedition today, searching for slacks. Basically, the goal was a cotton twill or light canvas slack. Or several.

I started out at a local sports type store. As usual, there was a limited selection of women's slacks, heavily favoring the smaller sizes. Seriously, I'm willing to bet the average woman around here wears something more than an 8, you know? I sure do! I found and I tried some on. A couple were okay, but low on the hip, with tiny pockets. I tried again at a different store; same deal.

And this store had tons of sale because they're moving. Racks and racks of mens pants. So finally, that's where I went. A quick memory check, and I was trying on several pairs, and found one that I liked, that fit well. Bonus, it had nice deep pockets AND didn't ride low on the hips. But the selection was higher in camo than in slacks. Still, I got one pair on sale!

Once I'd gone for the men's section, it was easy. I went elsewhere and found three other pairs. They're good colors (dark grey, dark green, tan), with good pockets, and a comfortable fit. I need to do some hemming, but other than that, I'm very happy!

Why does it take me so long to go over to the men's section for slacks? I'm quick to get tops there, but way slow for slacks (jeans don't count; 501 is it, period).

Next up: walking shoes!

Saturday, January 05, 2008


I talked to some of my college friends today, arranging to see them for a flyby dinner on my way overseas. Whenever I talk to my college friends, I realize that I hate being so far away and hate not being more part of their lives. I should call more often, really. I feel so good after talking to them, warm in the heart and happy.

It's been well above freezing today, and there's major melt. It's stunning how much melt happens so fast. I joked with my neighbors about putting on a swimsuit to sit outside. More seriously, I was nearly tempted to throw open a lot of windows to air out the house. I managed to control myself.

For whatever reason, my nose started getting way better yesterday, and was great when I woke up this morning. I hope it stays that way!

I barely slept last night, having realized a potential visa problem. I'll call on Monday, and hope it's not really so much of a problem! EEP!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Wrapping Up Thoughts

We get emailed grade reports for our advisees, so I went in yesterday and filed them away, and then I wrote my advisees the usual monthly letter. Except, of course, it wasn't usual.

It's weird, because it's not like I socialize lots with my advisees, or even see them really very often, but I'm going to miss them. I'm sure they'll do just fine without me around, but I'll miss seeing them in the halls. Universities, even small ones, are fairly big places, and it's nice to recognize some of the faces.

New Kid wrote about the difficulty of doing the first day(s) of classes yesterday, and she's so right. It's hard to walk into a classroom filled with folks and try to make it a good learning environment and a good overall environment.

Seeing my advisees among a group of new students makes it easier for me, makes me feel more comfortable right off. Saying hello in the halls makes the whole world feel friendlier.

Take good care, advisees! And don't forget to keep in touch!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

First Rant of the New Year

When I was a kid, I really did think adults had it good. They understood things, got along well with family, and so forth. That may be true for other adults, but dang, I missed the boat.

Somehow, by this point, I should be able to get along with my Mom. I should just let things flow, not get irritated, not get impatient. But I just am not there.

I feel disloyal complaining.


I'm still reading Kyoko Mori's Polite Lies. I was talking to one of my friends about it, a friend who's read several of her works, and my friend said she gets the feeling the Mori writes about the same thing over and over. Once my friend said that, I started to get that feeling as I worked through the book. It's still a good book, but there's a sense that she's working through different aspects of the same issue using the same lens of her mother's suicide. In some ways, it's very informative because I get a sense of how she sees her bicultural life over time.

I was reading the chapter on lying last night, about how often we lie, many times a day, perhaps. Most of the lies are social lubricant sorts of lies, the sorts of things we say just to say what's socially expected or what's not going to needlessly hurt someone's feelings.

I was about to say that I'm not really good at the social lubricant lie; it's not that I try to be rude, but that I tend to keep my mouth shut at times. But as I was about to say that, I thought about how often people say things about themselves that are the opposite of other peoples' perceptions. For example, I've noticed that when someone says "I'm easy to please," they rarely are. And when someone says "I'm not critical," and then goes off on how I screw everything up, I don't buy their self assessment. So maybe I'm so expert at the social lubricant lie that I don't even realize how often I'm doing it?


I've had a stuffy nose since late November, and I'm getting tired of it. I'm pretty sure it's not so much infection as irritation, since I haven't had a fever, sore throat, chest cough, or anything actually worth complaining about. I mean, seriously, I'm whining about a stuffy nose. Could I be more of a whuss? I'm going to pretend that I actually am only worried about flying with stuffy sinuses, but really, I'm just tired of having a stuffy nose.

I checked WebMD and it said helpful things about not getting exposed to really cold air, or big changes in temperature, and avoiding dry air. Yeah, no problem. It also says to try a saline nasal wash, so I've done that. It's disgusting to have the saline go through my nose into my mouth.

I hate being such a bleeping whuss! I hate the dryness of the air, and how icky it makes everything (static, dry skin, you name it!).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Kid in a Camera Store

I've been having fun with the camera! I'm remembering how much fun I had with my camera while I was in the Peace Corps, how much I enjoyed taking pictures and seeing what I came up with. It's been a while, but I promise I'll calm down soon! (How's the loading time for folks?)

I cleaned out the bluebird house, and while I was near, took a close up of my sugar maple. Very photogenic, eh?

And I cleaned my office! You can actually see the desk! And the hip phone. Why, yes, I work for the state, why do you ask?

And there are books, lots of books! I've even read some of them.

Here's the computer desk. If you look carefully, you can see my Einstein action figure with POWER CHALK in his upraised fist (lower left of the computer screen). And a picture of my conure, done by my friend, B. There's also a kitsch collection of finger puppets.

Camera Play

I've been slowly gaining a bit of confidence with the camera, learning to take basic pictures, and now, downloading them.

I thought I'd share a couple shots from snow country.

This first shot is the indoor ride, set up in the sun room, otherwise known as the Red Room, for obvious reasons. The flash shocked me by going off automatically, without me even thinking about it!

I have to totally admit that I'd never paint a room red. I just wouldn't have the nerve or imagination. But this red is amazingly wonderful, and I love the room. Goes to show me! (I think it's officially a "glaze" rather than paint, but that's only because it looks sort of like what I saw called a glaze on one of those home improvement sorts of shows once.)

This is what I like to call the Prairie Restoration Project, or, when I'm in an optimistic mood, the Northwoods Project. This area was more woods than grassland, though it's hard to tell in some areas now. The black tube sticking up is the deer protection for the sugar maple tree I planted when I first moved in (it almost died from being chewed on the first winter). I need to plant a couple more trees back there, but they grow so slowly! (The tree's pretty close to the edge of the property line, at least according to the markers out there.)

To the right is where a bird house blew down off it's pipe stand. And to the left, the stubby thing is a more official BlueBird box (which, I think, was actually occupied this past year). I need to tromp down and clean it before I leave. (Add to list.)

And finally, here's the view over the valley which is partly my neighbor's yard and partly who knows. I was told when I moved in that there's a chunk of land that can't be built on because it's too steep, and that leads into the valley. So who knows in the future.

I mostly go down there a couple times a year to clean up the plastic garbage that ends up there from the local freeway (slyly hidden just out of the camera shot) and the other houses across the little valley (also slyly hidden so that it looks like I live out in the country!).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

I finished Pullman's The Amber Spyglass the other night; it was good, but not as good as the first one.

[I'm a lit person. I don't give spoiler warnings because being a lit person is all about talking about books and stuff.]

However, I have to say, the harrowing hell bit was amusing in all sorts of echoing other lit ways. And I liked that the "authority" faded away, killed accidentally rather than purposefully, and already pretty much totally out of things. I'm not quite sure what the "big temptation" was; anyone want to clue me in? (Was it for Lyra to choose to stay with Will rather than to separate into their own worlds? Or to leave a hole open?)

I'm semi-unsatisfied with the supposed atheism. How atheist is it if you feel the need to kill whatever diety you're supposed to worship? I mean, if you're really an atheist, there's no authority. And, of course, in our world, it's not like there's some magical power that's going to smack me down for saying there's no magical power. But in most fantasy series, there's a magical power that has real effect in the world, and so can't just be left aside while you go on to other things. And so in Pullman, there are all sorts of magical goodies, and they get fetishized and it becomes important to get them, sort of like some relic that actually has power or something.

There's a level that's satisfying about magical stuff in books, of course. But there's also a point where it doesn't work for me. I suppose that's why I don't read as much fantasy as a lot of people do.

I'm now reading Kyoko Mori's Polite Lies, and it's fascinating. Mori grew up in Japan, but moved to the US (midwest) as a young adult. In Polite Lies, she talks about similarities between Japan and the US midwest, and the ways both cultures use politeness, and how offputting she finds that in both cultures. And she talks about visiting Japan as an adult, visiting family, and dealing with family relationships. I'm really enjoying it.

Sometimes, midwestern politeness drives me nuts. I get impatient if someone asks me multiple times if I want X. It feels manipulative to me, or maybe as if the person asking isn't listening when I say "no, thanks." It's probably going to be easier when I'm away if only because I won't understand much.

I went to see Charlie Wilson's War this afternoon with a friend, after going to another's New Year's party, which was pretty fun. It was a good movie in that way that a good movie makes you think about how complex things are. Laws of unintended consequences and all that.

So much for my New Year's Day. I also dug out my deck a bit (worried about snow weight) and learned a bit more about using my camera (seriously scary!).