Monday, November 24, 2008

The Turduckin has landed

My fridge is full to bursting of things like turducken, heavy whipping cream, and cranberries.

Tomorrow is school and work, and I'm off to start my baking (and to continue to write those last two papers).

I never thought much about Thanksgiving until I spent that fall abroad and it was just really... different. It was only then that I realized how much I really like the holiday. Dan and I hosted a Thanksgiving when we were living in England. It took weeks to find pumpkin pie filling and recipes had to be converted to metric and the firemen were all on strike. But, in the end, it was American friends and British ones, with a real football game on the satellite TV and then the next day everyone asking me if I "enjoyed my day off" because, apparently, cooking dinner for 15 people is a day off.

Plus, many of my British friends can now say that they've tasted pumpkin pie and know what an American biscuit really is.

But, you know, book time:

How Not to Be Popular Jennifer Ziegler

Sugar Magnolia (but please, call her Maggie) is sick of moving. She's sick of starting over once again, sick of her former best friends becoming an email folder full of "sent" messages with only a few replies. And, what was worse, this time, she had to leave behind a boyfriend who dumped her just a few weeks later, over email.

So, they'll only be in Austin for 4 months, and Maggie just isn't going to make any friends. No sir. It'll be lonely, sure, but it will be so much easier when she has to leave.

The only thing is, Maggie forgot that just because you are turn off the popular kids and hang out with losers doesn't mean that you didn't make any friends.

Funny and fairly realistic (despite *spoiler alert* the big cry fest in front of the entire student body)*** What I really loved was the writing, Ziegler has a way with subtle metaphor in her descriptions that we just don't see enough of in funny, light-hearted fiction. And I totally wanted to smack Maggie upside the head for moping over Trevor the whole time (annoying! and he was so! obviously! not! worth! it!) but, it was pretty realistic that she did that.

I really liked it and just ate it up!

***If you highlight that bit you should be able to read it.

Page 56

  • Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
  • Turn to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence. (or fifth line)
  • Post that sentence in the comments below
  • Don't dig for your favourite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.
Ok, so pages 56-57 were a pictorial spread--NO WORDS!

the 5th sentence of page 58 is...

"Remove the dried leaves and flower heads from the newspaper"

The book in question? A Greener Christmas ed. Sheherazade Goldsmith

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Factory Girls

I finished this book half an hour ago and if you are at all interested in China's economy, changing China, the role of women in China, migrant workers, modern China in general or where your stuff comes from, this is a must read.

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China Leslie T. Chang

A fascinating look at the life of China's migrant workers. Chang's account focuses on the Dongguan area in southern China, part of China's manufacturing boom area. Her she meets the young girls who have left rural China to move to the coast in hopes of building something better for themselves and their families. (Dongguan is about 70% female. Chang speculates that one reason for this may be that families are more reluctant to let their sons "go out" and move so far away from home.)

Chang follows these girls as they jump factories and move up and down the ladder of economic and personal success. She visits their home villages, hangs out with their friends. While there is a wealth of information about trends and modern China, it is through the lens of these girls, these women, and the reader connects with them on a personal level.

Entwined with the personal stories of these girls is the story of Chang's own family, and how they also migrated (but due to political rather than economic reasons) across China and then to Taiwan and the States. Through these duel narratives, she explores the similarities and differences, but also the Chinese mindset about the past, about individual and shared history and responsibility.

I most appreciated Chang's portrayal of factory life. Her descriptions of work schedules and conditions are colored only by the perceptions of those who work there. The focus is not "look at these horrible conditions" nor "such great opportunity!" but more, "this is what it is" and these are the people who work here, who live here.

Extremely readable and fascinating. I also think that this book would be a good read for teens--not only to see what the world is like and a little about where their stuff comes from, but also to see how 16 year olds live on the other side of the world and what they are doing and what their lives are like.

Read an excerpt here and an interview with Chang here

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gipsy Tango (Music Meme)

I really liked this Music Meme that I read on Becky's blog. If you're reading, this, consider yourself tagged!

1. Put Your iTunes, Windows Media Player, Winamp, etc on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
4. Put the artist after a dash following the song name.
5. Put any comments in brackets.
6. Tag some lucky people to spread the disease.

How would you describe yourself? Red Hair (Acoustic Mix)-- The Weasel King (So... am I Harry? Ginny? Or a supreme dork with lots of wizard rock?)

How do you feel today? Dirty Laundry--Bitter:Sweet (Hence tonight's lack of paper starting)

What is your life's purpose? Gembi - Diakité, Ramatou (Telling that this song is in a language I don't understand?)

What is your motto? El Digusto de la Runa--Celia Cruz

What do you think about very often? Here's That Rainy Day (Koop Remix)--Astrid G

What is your life story? Agua Pa Mi--Celia Cruz (it's not that I have a lot of Celia Cruz, it's just that one album ripped like, 15 times and I haven't deleted the duplicates yet)

What do you want to be when you grow up? Blood on the Coal--The Folksmen (ACK!)

What will you dance to at your wedding? Felino--Electrotutango (um, Dan would have vetoed this even if I had tried...)

What will they play at your funeral? It's Alright--Patti Rothberg

What is your hobby/interest? La Bruja--Conjunto Jardin

If you could do anything right now, what would it be? sands&stones&bricks&rocks--Aromabar

What do you want most of all? I hate MCI--The Nields

What is your greatest fear? Viola--Girlyman

What is your darkest secret? Touch and Go--Abra Moore

What is your favorite thing in the world? Love Me Like You--The Magic Numbers

If you could have one wish, what would you wish for? Kim--Lord Shorty

What is your theme song? I Can't Stand It--The Velvet Underground (now that's what I'm talking about!!!!)

The next time you hear this song (aside from now, that is), you must dance. India Song--Mariana Montalvo (not really a dancing song, but... um, ok.)

What will you post this as? Gipsy Tango Earth Wheel Sky Band

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Well, I didn't mean to drop off the face of the planet there. Last week featured a paper, a presentation, and the sinus infection from the deepest bowels of hell--one of those where you can feel your pulse in your face.

Things might be a little touch and go here until after the holidays. Dan and I are hosting Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. AND! On the first night of Hanukkah, which is in 4.5 weeks, I will graduate from Library School. But classes end the week before that. And I have 2 research papers due before classes end (and this is where I start hyperventilating).

Also, today featured flurries! Flurries count as snow! SNOW! Yay!!!!!

Anyway, books!

Pulling Princes Tyne O'Connell

Calypso isn't poor, but she isn't part of the unbelievably uber-posh set that her classmates belong to. Plus, she's American, which is another strike against her at her all-girls British Catholic boarding school. But, this year, she's determined to break into the inner ranks of popularity.

And, thanks to a fake boyfriend, she totally does. But, then the Prince, (yes the Prince of England! he attends the nearby boys school) takes a shine to her. Calypso is thrilled, or would be, but she already "has" a boyfriend, and the meanest girl, the one who never accepted her, has claimed the Prince for her own.

Hilarious hijinks ensue!

Funny, sweet, and a little frothy, I look forward to reading the other books in the series.

My favorite part? The nuns. (This is a Catholic school after all!) How often to you get anything with awesome nuns? They aren't overly strict, they aren't overly mean. They're super nice and listen, and like a good gossip with the girls. Also, they totally save the day a million times.

The horrible mean teachers? Are the non-nuns. And the Mother Superior can be strict, but not any more than the head of such a place has to be. Hurray for O'Connell for writing nun characters who aren't stereotyped charactertures used for a cheap laugh!

French Kissmas Cathy Hapka

Wahoo! Another addition to the SASS series! But this one's a little different, this one is a sequel to Pardon My French (also by Hapka, reviewed here.)

So, after Nicole finally got used to France, she went home, graduated from high school, and then took a year off to travel the world! Now it's Christmas and she's back in France to film a SASS recruitment video with some of her old friends, and plenty of new ones.

So, there's Luc (oh la la, Luc). Nicole doesn't need the trouble of rekindling that romantic flame, so she's firmly keeping that relationship set on "friends only." Well, she's trying to. Then there's fellow DC-area American Mike, a great new friend, until it's obvious that she wants more. All Nicole wants is an uncomplicated holiday with no strings to hold her back!

Great SASS fare. I loved seeing the long-term effects of the SASS experience on a character. Plus, Christmas! In Paris! *swoon*

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Get off the Bus!

Well, I voted this morning in my local elementary school. Then, I went to school (University of Maryland) and in swinging by the student union to pick up lunch on my way to class, visited another polling station. After class, it was on to work, which is, of course, another polling station!

As I wait for the results to come in and as I wait for the election party I'm attending to start, I thought I'd review some books, hopefully to keep my mind off things. I love election night. Even when I'm burned out on the election, even when I couldn't vote yet, I love watching the results come in, especially the other races that are going on during big years like this one. Will Senator Stephens be reelected? Who knows?! But the energy of election night infects me. Heck, I even like watching British election night coverage! (Of course, there have some much more fun political parties, like the Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party.)

Anyway, until then, let us review some books. A shocking proposition for a book blog, I know, but there it is.

Man, I am punchy tonight. I apologize.

Piper Reed: Navy Brat Kimberly Willis Holt

Piper Reed's father, the Chief, has been transferred again, so the family is moving from California to Florida. Piper and her sisters have never moved in the middle of a school year before, and it's not always easy to fit in. Especially when your new house is small with no tree house, you have to share a room with your little sister, and there's only one bathroom.

Still, after a long road trip, Piper has plans to start a whole new Gypsy club (too bad she promised them a real Gypsy!) and make Pensacola the best posting yet!

Piper is an excellent middle child, full of life and optimism. I especially appreciated the way Holt portrays her dyslexia, making it part of her, but not a defining part of her character.

Christine Davenier's black and white drawings are full of motion and great facial expression.

Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy

The Chief has shipped out, but life goes on at home as the girls get along without him and eagerly await his daily email. There's a special trip to New Orleans and new Christmas traditions. Piper thinks it would be an excellent idea if the Gypsy Club held a pet show, because then she could teach Bruna a trick and win and the Chief would be SO PROUD of her!

Piper's adventures continue, and I think I liked this one even more than the first.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Blog the Vote!

It's time to BLOG THE VOTE!

Here's my story on why voting matters:

Do you remember 2000? I do. I bet you do, too, but I bet the way I remember it is WAY different than the way you do.

As promised, this story features a distinguished gentleman standing on a table, room service, death-defying election parties, an ex-boyfriend with an adorable accent, and my odd Chinese vocabulary.

2000 was my very first presidential election. My story starts early in the year, during the primary. I was living in Iowa, and the Iowa Caucuses are a thing to behold. You have no idea until you've voted in one. I live in DC now and am surrounded by people who are convinced they run the world. But to stand in an elementary school gym, literally standing for your candidate, that's something different. My adviser, a distinguished older gentleman with a Tennessee accent that sings, stood on a table and directed us, shouting to be heard over the crowd.

He knew who the crowd was going for. The Republicans were in a classroom down the hall, the Democrats in the gym. He knew who the Dems were going for, so everyone who was for Gore was ordered into the hall to do a head count. Those for Bradley stayed in the gym, clumped into groups of 10, so we were easier to count. I stood with a French professor, some other students, some people from town... we stood and were counted. We were the only precinct that Bradley won that night, but he won it by a landslide.*

Fast forward to October. I was studying abroad in Nanjing, China. (Yes, that was my campus on the left.) In October, we had a two-week travel break. Sitting on trains, I talked to several Chinese citizens about the election. I was surprised that we were so pro George W. Later I found out why. Clinton was tied to the Chinese embassy bombing in Sarajevo. Gore was tied to Clinton. Meanwhile, Bush Sr. was an extremely popular ambassador--he didn't wall himself off in the diplomatic compound, he rode his bike to work, he ate street food. George W. was tied to his father.

For my last stop, I was in Harbin, sick, and having forgotten my towel, 5 days seriously overdue for a shower. I skipped the hostel and checked into the Holiday Inn** Do you know what the Holiday Inn had? SATELLITE TV! With English language news! I hadn't seen English language news since mid-August. I jumped on the bed, I took a bath, I wrapped up in the super plush bathrobe, and ordered room service. Then a friend from my program showed up at the hotel and we sat on my bed, eating pizza and watching CNN.

I have never enjoyed CNN so much. Jamie went to Georgetown. About about half an hour of catching up on the world, she turned to me. "You know, I think this election might be really close." She isn't dumb. This is just how hard it is to get English-language news behind the Great Firewall of China. We had NO IDEA. Later in the week we returned to Nanjing and told everyone it would be a close election. Little did we know...

A few weeks later, and I voted absentee. I was one of the few Americans on my program who voted.*** I was ecstatic because I didn't think I would get my vote counted. My friends were jealous, because they didn't. Our Chinese friends were confused--what was the big deal?

Yes, what was the big deal? And how could we explain it to our Communist**** friends with our limited vocabulary? Little did we know the bigger conversations to come...

November rolled around. We were exactly 12 hours off Central Time. We had class from 8-12 and figured that we'd just pop by the internet cafe on the way to lunch, see who won and then go eat.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Really, that was our plan.

For the next 7 hours, every internet cafe in town was filled with Americans hitting the refresh button every 30 seconds, wishing we could get more sites.

China filters its internet. Yes, you can get an anonymizer to work around the firewall. But in 2000 in an internet cafe, you really couldn't. I just remember that MSNBC was reporting two different winners on the same page. I didn't understand. None of us did. A few weeks previous, I had made a joke that Bush would win the popular and Gore the electoral. My next prediction was that Texas would succeed in protest. Little did I know.

I was counting down the hours until 7pm, which would be 7am at my parents' house and they would be waking up. I was sure they would have answers, but they didn't.

Later I would find out that Florida was the sticky wicket. Much later, when I returned home right before Christmas, I would learn about Dan Rather's folksy charm. I would first hear about hanging chads. I would find out that Florida got called several times. I would find out that a friend of mine ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning doing victory shots for Gore--he had to do Florida a few times and it pushed him over the edge. (He was ok.)

That Wednesday, the day after the election, I woke up and called home again. Surely after a full day, they'd know something! Still no answers. We went to class. My teacher started with Bush winning. I told her he didn't. "No no, I saw it on CCTV this morning."
"Yeah, well, I talked to America this morning. They still don't know."

We waited. The guy I was seeing (Scottish! The accent!) threatened to reneg my American independence. I had broken English/French/Chinese conversations with my Swiss friends explaining the electoral college.

We waited. I watched the evening news every day and every time I heard the words Xiao Bu Shir***** or Ger ah, I screamed for Xiao Mao to translate.

We waited. Xiao Feng wondered why they couldn't just share the job.

And that's why voting is important.

Why couldn't they just share the job? Trying to explain the two party system, to explain democracy to our friends, in our limited vocabulary was hard. I'm not sure they ever got it. These were students chosen for their party loyalty. But they were our friends. They were amazed at our decadence (we had hot water 24 hours a day!)***** They taught us how to play mah johng and phrases in local dialects. We helped them with their TOEFL preps. We watched movies together. We jumped on our beds, lip synching along with cheesy pop songs. We teased about boyfriends and girlfriends. They took care of us using Chinese medicine when we fell ill. We pumped them full of Tylenol when they had a fever or headache. We had our inside jokes and nicknames.

They were our friends.

When we got to China, we wanted to learn how to swear, so we asked. We couldn't figure out how to ask, so we asked our friends what words we couldn't say on television. They told us ziyou and we were excited and then we remembered we knew that word. Ziyou means freedom. Welcome to China.

Da Lu wondered why the party chairman just didn't appoint the next president.

We get to vote. We have candidates to choose from. A party chair doesn't get to appoint anyone. While we complain that our candidates are too similar, they do have differences. They can't just share the job.

And that's why voting is important. It was my first presidential election and it was staring me in the face. These were my friends who might never get to vote, and if they did, it would be one Communist versus another Communist, and they wouldn't vote for the leaders of the party. If they ever get to vote for the leaders, if they ever get a choice in parties, it will be after a serious revolution.

You can say one vote doesn't count and maybe it doesn't. But the act of voting counts. We think of it as a right, but it's a privilege that so many in the world don't get. We do. We can vote and that means something. We can vote, but most of us don't. So go do it already.

Only, this time, just this once, can I please find out who won before I have to go to bed?

*He had given a very good speech on campus earlier that year. Gore never came.

**Seriously, the NICEST Holiday Inn I had ever seen. It came with bath salts! But I was just overjoyed by the soft bed and Western style toilet.

***Not that the others were disenfranchised. It's a long (and boring) story about where people had their paperwork sent.

****In China, we lived in a foreign student's dorm. They read our mail. They read our email. The maids wrote reports on what was in our trashcans, on our desks. In my program, which I HIGHLY recommend BTW, there were 3 of us to room, 2 Americans and 1 Chinese student. Being able to room with a Chinese student is a huge deal, but we also knew that in order to room with us, they had to be model students and citizens. But, by the end of the semester, Xiao Mao was sleeping until noon and had picked up some of my more atrocious grammar patterns.

*****This later got me into trouble when I came back to the States. In Mainland China and Taiwan, the news transliterates George H. W. Bush as Bu shir. In Mainland China, George W. Bush is Xiao Bu Shir (or, Baby Bush). In Taiwan George W. Bush is Bu xi. My Chinese prof (who reads the Taiwanese media) and I got into it over the proper transliteration. Luckily, the visiting prof (from the Mainland) backed me up.

******Xiao Mao would take 2 hour showers because the she was so amazed that she could. Then her friends would come over, too. Just to use our shower. Our shared shower (3 showers in the girls bathroom serving a floor of 30+). It was pretty grotty-dorm standard, but it had 24 hour hot water and was an absolute luxury. Also, our rooms only had 3 people instead of 8. Oh, and we had heat.