Brenna’s Blog

Earthquake! July 29, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 12:08 pm

I was telling a story when my mom interrupted suddenly, “Earthquake!” We ran to the doorway like good little Californians. Then we ran to the TV. The instant we turned it on the newscaster says, “It’s too early to tell what the damage is, but stay with us and we’ll keep you updated.”

Too early? The ground stopped shaking like two seconds ago. Come on NBC, get on the ball.

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Mother, May I? July 28, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 1:12 pm

For the record, I think “Mother, May I?” is a stupid game. “Mother, May I?” being the game where children line up in a row some 100 ft. from the game leader and then ask for permission to advance. “Mother, may I take two steps?” To which the game leader, the “mother,” responds, “Yes, you may,” or “No, you may not.” “Steps” can be replaced with “leaps,” “jumps,” “gallops,” etc. It is neither a game of luck, nor skill. If an authority figure is playing the “mother,” the game advances fairly, with children evenly paced in their efforts to reach the finish line. If a child is the leader, the results are haphazard, usually favoring the friends of the leader. “Yes, [popular child whose attention I would love to gain], you may take twenty frog leaps.” “No, [child who spends recess crying in a corner] you may not take three tiny penguin shuffles.”

I never realized as a child how completely arbitrary the game truly is. Now, why would I want to stand in a line waiting for permission to walk to a randomly chosen point? Looking at it now, I can hardly believe any child would want to participate in such a lame non-game. And yet, my Sunday School class of three and four-year-olds has declared it a hit. We play it every week. I won’t make any blundering attempts at child psychology as I observe that these children adore asking for permission, and then having that permission granted. I’m a very permissive “mother” in the game. Mostly because, in my class, no one actually wants to win. “Yes, you may take three baby steps.” “Yes, you may take two hops on one foot.” Usually they advance halfway across the play mat in a series of steps and leaps, and then run back to the starting line, not wanting the game to reset itself with a winner.

Except for the one little boy who wins the game every round, usually multiple times, with outlandish proposals for the method of advancements. He sits on the sidelines, watching the other children slowly advance a step or two at a time. Then he jumps in and asks to take horse gallops, or kangaroo hops, or fast runs, or some other mode that will take him to the finish in two permissions or less. He’s sort of playing his own game. But they all are, really. I think they feel like it’s a game between us, each child and I, rather than between each of them and the other children. They ask their permission from me, and then I grant it or deny it. It’s the attention of getting to make a request that they like, not the supposed race involved.

I like this game better. Really, the kids are the leaders. And like the “Simon Says” game where Troy instructed us to do a “ferris wheel” (i.e. cartwheel) and a “cool trick,” I get a lot of amusement out of seeing what kids will ask permission to do. I also get a lot of satisfaction out of granting it. Out of being able to say “Yes, you may,” when the real life answer is more usually, “No, you may not.” No, you may not take off your shoes. No, you may not climb on the table. No, you may not lick that playdough.”

“Mother, may I take four bunny hops?” Yes, you may.

 

Women Danger Travel Asia July 26, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 12:29 pm

Before Blaine and I left for our two-week whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia, my google search box was littered with terms like, “women traveling danger” and “women southeast asia alone” and “how not to die a gruesome and terrible death that your parents will hear about on the news.” I’m not an especially paranoid traveler, but after reassuring my boyfriend, my parents, and then my boyfriend a few more times that I would come back alive, I thought I should do my part. I wrote up our full itinerary, complete with flight numbers and contact info, and sent it to all interested parties. Then, I set rules:

  • No separating, at all, ever. If for some reason this rule was broken, we would meet back at our hotel as quickly as possible.
  • Every hotel room must be located on the second story or higher, have a bolt lock on the door, and have windows with bars and/or locks.
  • Each of us would carry on our person: a form of ID, a US twenty dollar bill, a credit card, and the business card of the hotel where we were staying. These items would be carried in at least two different locations (i.e. a shoe and a money belt.)
  • Maps would be consulted only in the privacy of a hotel room, restaurant, or other non-conspicuous location.
  • Hotels would be chosen in advance. No recommendations from taxi drivers, hotel owners, or fellow travelers would be taken.

These rules were paired with basic safety measures like staying in well-traveled areas, checking around regularly for anyone who might be following, never saying our hotel name or room number out loud, and using ATMs in well-patrolled, touristy areas. Really, I was probably safer in Cambodia and Vietnam than I have been on many trips in the US, because I was perpetually aware. Despite the strict safety guidelines, or perhaps because of them, I wasn’t really fearful. I new that the risk of actual danger was small, even smaller than the encouraging statistics might indicate since I was taking steps to protect myself. I focused on enjoying my trip.

In Cambodia, Blaine and I managed to find our way onto a public bus traveling from Phnom Phen (the capital) to Siem Reap (home of Angkor Wat). We were the only foreigners on the bus, and the only females. We attracted…a fair amount of attention. WWE wrestling and Cambodian karaoke videos kept the crowd entertained for the four hour bus ride. Either these Cambodian men did not understand that WWE wrestling is not real, or they did not care, based on the whoops and hollers and wincing groans that the wrestling tapes elicited. But the frightening spectacle of a bus full of men fully engaged in the worst drivel our culture has to offer could not compare with the frightening spectacle of getting off the bus.

As soon as the dusty, puttering bus pulled into the dirt lot that served as a station, dozens of tuk tuk drivers began pounding on the windows, frantically waving their arms to grab our attention. They held signs with the names of hotels printed on them. Some of the signs had our names on them, as many of the hotels have partners in other cities. I watched the scene for a moment from the inside of the bus, steeling myself for the inevitable plunge into the crowd. We were the last ones off the bus, and the men were pushing towards the door in a frenzy, flapping their signs at us desperately*.

I stepped off the bus, Blaine clinging to my backpack. A policemen, seeing the crowd of men swallowing us, ran over and stared waving a huge stick at the men, screaming Cambodian words that must have meant, “Back away!” “Don’t touch!” I shouted at the men still pushing around us, holding up a firm hand of warning. I scanned the crowd for the name of our chosen guest house, ignoring the wheedling calls of drivers begging for our business. One driver, seeing my unrelenting focus, tried to sell Blaine on a specific guest house. “I’m with her,” Blaine said firmly. “You decide for yourself!” he shouted, “You can decide!” It was then that I started laughing at the pure absurdity of the situation. Yes, Blaine, why don’t you just head off with that stranger to a random guest house. See you in a few days!

Ahh, there it was, a sign for the “Shadow of Angkor” guest house. I called to the man, who quickly pushed into the crowd, herding us through the men still shouting sales pitches. He then corralled us into his waiting tuk tuk and sped off. I sighed heavily, said hello to the driver, and settled in for the short ride. As we cruised into town, the driver suddenly pulled over and stopped. Uh oh. My stomach dropped. We had not reached the guest house. The driver turned around. “I don’t work for the guest house,” he said. My face froze in terror. My mind whirred with terrible thoughts of kidnapping and pillaging of our valuables. I considered jumping out of the tuk tuk. “No, no, no!” He quickly backtracked, seeing the panic in our eyes, “I’ll take you to whatever hotel you’d like. I would simply like to please be your driver during your stay. It’s just business, you see.” I let out my anxiety in a laugh. I turned and noticed we were stopped in front of the Foreign Correspondents Club in the ritziest part of town. Hardly a dark abandoned street corner. “My name is Kai, and I can take you all around Angkor Wat,” he continued. “How much?” I asked, now smiling. I noticed his kind eyes. We agreed on a price and then chatted about his wife and baby son.

That night I emailed everyone to let them know we’d arrived safely. And I let go of the remaining fear that had been seething just below the surface.

*This is the beast of tourism in a developing country. When winning the business of a tourist means the difference between eating or not, a certain desperation is only to be expected.

 

But Keep the Old July 24, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 1:41 pm

“Brenna, I like you,” said Dylan, my four-year-old former babysitting charge. “Thanks, Dylan,” I smiled. But he wasn’t done. “Ya, I like you, but I like my new babysitter better.”

Ouch. He wasn’t trying to be mean. It’s just that he’s four, and hasn’t quite grasped the silver and gold wisdom of making new friends. Before I graduated at the beginning of the summer, Dylan had never really had another babysitter. He was barely toddling around unassisted when I first started taking care of him. Now he speaks eloquently, using full sentences. In fact, he’s often pretentious, inserting the word “actually” liberally in conversation. “Actually, I would like another cracker.” There was also the phase where he took to calling me “sir.” It started when he asked for something in a way that failed to meet my rigorous politeness standards. “Try it again, please,” I said, holding the jug of milk poised above his cup. He folded his hands together, resting them on the counter, looked up at me with wide eyes, and said in a measured tone, “Sir, may I please have a glass of milk.” “Yes you may,” I replied, trying at first to stifle my laughter and quickly failing. After that, he realized that “sir” added power to his requests, and he utilized the word often.

“Dylan, there are some things that are okay to think in your head, but that might hurt someone’s feelings if you say them out loud*,” I said matter-of-factly, “It hurts my feelings when you say those things.” He nodded, “I’m sorry, Brenna.”

Really, it’s a sentiment we’ve all shared at some point. Most of us wouldn’t share our feelings aloud, but I can remember times that I’ve felt like a new friend is more exciting than an old one. Usually, this circumstance makes me feel guilty, like I’m being disloyal to the old friend because I’d rather spend time with the new one. So it’s understandable that Dylan would look to me for reassurance that it’s okay to like the new babysitter more. I mean, she plays “super crash” and apparently enjoys disassembling toy cars. My bag of tricks has long been empty. After three years, Dylan has depleted my store of fun, exciting babysitting material. The “sink or float” game. Making goop out of kitchen supplies. Running under the outdoor shower fully clothed. Monster truck videos on youtube. That’s pretty much the best I’ve got, kid. But I can learn.

“But, Brenna, do you like crashing cars?” Hmm, crashing them sounds like more fun than driving them around a race track for hours on end. “Yes, I think I do like crashing cars,” I answered. “Well, will you play ‘super crash’ with me?” He asked hopefully. “You’ll have to teach me how, but, sure.” And I believe that should be, “Will you play ‘super crash’ with me, sir.”

*Huh, now that I think of it, this a lesson that would have well served the guy my freshman year of college who told me, “I like you…kind of.” “You know, some things are okay to think in your head…”

 

SoftV90 Data Fax Modem with SmartCP July 23, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 12:27 am

I’ve been known to go overboard on decluttering projects. I’m not overly sentimental with things. I’m definitely not a pack rat. I just get so much satisfaction over a clean, organized space that knick knacks and papers get tossed with hardly a thought. Sometimes this results in tears a few days after a good decluttering session when I realize I’d been saving that newspaper clipping for a reason, but mostly I breathe easier when my drawers are cleared of junk.

When Matt looked at the disk space on my laptop and sighed that I really should defrag, but I’d probably need to clear off some stuff first, I nodded and dutifully set to work deleting unused programs. I’m not completely lame with computers. I’m technologically savvy enough to build a simple Access database, code very basic HTML, and find print drivers online when I’ve lost the disk that comes with the printer. And I like using the uninstall button.

There is something so pleasing about hitting uninstall and watching the free space percentage increase. Panda antivirus? That’s from three years ago. Delete! Microsoft Money from 2005? Delete! SoftV90 Data Fax Modem with SmartCP? I don’t even know what that is. Delete!

The next day:

Matt: “You deleted your modem?!?!”

Brenna: “What?”

Matt: “Your modem is in the recycling bin. That would be very bad to delete. Don’t do that.”

Brenna: “You mean that fax modem smart thing?”

Matt: “Yes, that’s important. You don’t get to delete anymore.”

Brenna: “It said rarely used! It had the word “fax” in the title. I haven’t used a fax anything since like 1998.”

Matt: “Yes, well, perhaps we should work on deleting programs together.”

Brenna: “I know what I’m doing!”

Matt: “Do you remember those engineers from my work talking about people who know just enough about computers to be dangerous?”

Brenna: “I don’t really see your point.”

So maybe I confuse “solid state” with “steady state,” or “delete my modem,” or “send my computer in for a two hundred dollar repair that could have been fixed with a blast of pressurized air into the clogged fan.” Hmm. Okay, I do kind of see his point. The point is that maybe I’m that guy who is so convinced he can fix his own plumbing that even though it inevitably results in five trips to Home Depot and several extraneous holes in the wall, he still has to attempt the project every time.

In the future, when I feel the need to go head-to-head with a computer engineer over a computer issue, I will instead start spouting off about mid-cap growth funds. And I will hand over the laptop.

 

Dancing in a Brothel July 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 6:52 pm

Before I left for Thailand, I read some random article about packs of wild dogs roaming the streets of Bangkok. I was skeptical of the horror stories people were fond of sharing about Thailand. I wasn’t worried about getting sold into prostitution, or having a stranger lure me into acting as a drug mule. But the story about the dogs scared me.

I usually opted out of the nightly excursions to random bars with my fellow study abroad students. Thai bars in Chiang Mai are mostly fun because of cheap whiskey buckets. Since I wasn’t going to partake of the cheap whiskey buckets, a loud, smoky party with other foreigners rarely seemed worth it. But when our program director was headed back to the States, the whole group decided a karaoke night was in order. “Alright,” I thought, “karaoke sounds entertaining. And a night out with professors isn’t going to get wildly out of hand.” So, we piled in the back of a rot dang (basically a pick up truck with a covered bed and benches) and told the driver to take us to a karaoke bar. He looked confused, but nodded and delivered us to a remote bar in an empty parking lot. Neon lights buzzed above the bar entrance, outlining music notes, and a few sultry silhouettes.

Inside, the decor was harshly modern, with stainless steel panels on the wall, some red, vinyl booths, and a black and white checked floor. At 11 pm, the place was empty save a couple of Thai guys sipping beers at one of the booths. Thai women in five inch heels, and five inch skirts, quickly escorted our group to an upstairs karaoke room. The room was lined with a long vinyl couch that curved around the walls, with enough space to fit our whole group of 20 or so. The women scrambled to get the karaoke machine working on the large TV in the room. “How odd that a karaoke bar isn’t really set up for karaoke,” I thought. People started ordering beers and whiskey buckets. The wait staff started bringing in beer after beer, opening them before anyone indicated that they wanted one.

I sat on the red vinyl couch, my legs sticky with sweat. The smell of perspiration seemed to hang in the air. Unsurprising, I guess, considering the ever present dampness of my own brow. But there was something about the body odor that seemed to emanate from the couch and the walls. It unnerved me. I walked out of the room. My roommate, Blaine, followed me, along with our friend Jon. Techno music blasted through the deserted bar. I started to dance. What else was there to do? I was only aware of some vague discomfort. I didn’t want to go back to our hostel. And I still wanted a fun night out. So I grabbed Blaine’s hand, pulled her out toward wide open expanse in front of the booths, and wiggled around in the most embarrassing way possible. Who was going to see me? The five inch skirt waitresses? The amused group of Thai men at the other side of the bar? I didn’t care.

Jon watched us with a raised eyebrow, but said nothing. Some foreign men started trickling in. A white guy walked over to Jon and started chatting. After he left to get a drink, I went over and asked Jon what they were talking about. “He’s German. He was wondering what you girls were doing in here.” “What? What do you mean, ‘doing in here?'” I asked, my stomach clenching a bit. “This is not really a karaoke bar. Those rooms are not for karaoke. 150 baht for the room. 250 for the girl,” he answered, carefully taking in my reaction. “You didn’t notice who was coming in here?” he asked. I looked around. Blaine and I were the only women in the bar aside from the Thai waitresses. I’d become so used to being a curiosity, I hadn’t even noticed the stares of these men.

My stomach felt like it was falling. I remembered the smell of the room and tried to keep my mind from following through on any of the thoughts that were pouring in. 350 baht, that’s ten dollars. “Do you want to leave?” Jon asked kindly. I nodded weakly, turning to Blaine who looked similarly pale. We told the group we were leaving, and walked out. “Should we tell them what this place is?” I asked Jon. “I think they know, and don’t really care,” he answered.

Outside, now there were dozens of men, reeking of alcohol. We walked quickly toward the line of tuk-tuk drivers. They reeked of alcohol, too. “I’m not riding with them,” I said firmly. We walked out to the street, expecting to quickly find the one of cabs that constantly crowd the roads. The streets were empty.

So we walked. And walked. I couldn’t stop thinking about those women. Just the stares of those men felt slimy. I thought about the German man who apparently lives just across the street, and frequents the bar nightly. A pack of dogs started walking behind us. Maybe not a pack. Maybe just two or three. We crossed the street and they didn’t follow. I had read about prostitution in Thailand. I knew that it was disturbing and rampant. But unlike the mangy packs of roving dogs, it didn’t seem so very dark and terrible. Before I came right up next to it, it didn’t seem so horrible at all.

 

21st Century Family July 20, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 9:45 pm

Kelly and I were on Skype the other night, testing out my new web cam. Which of course involves giving my sister a remote view of the inside of my mouth. I still think Skype is kind of freaky. Probably because I’m not so good at hanging up. I ended my call with Kelly, only to hear her singing along with my cell phone ring about a minute later. “Ahhhhh! You’re still there?” “Yup.”

Since I had failed at hanging up, I figured I’d just invite Matt to join us on Skype, and soon we had an entertaining conference call going. My dad was down in San Diego with Kelly for her graduation, so he was in the background of her side of the conversation. Molly would occasionally walk into my room and join the banter on my end. Matt’s mom and dad came in and out, adding a couple more voices at different points.

At some point in the conversation, Molly left for the store. About twenty minutes later, Kelly asked, “Do you need milk?” “What? Me?” I asked. “Ya, does your house need milk?” “Um, ya, I guess we are almost out,” I answered, unsure about this sudden interest in our dairy supply. “Okay, Molly’s on the phone with dad and she was wondering.” So, just to clarify, that request for milk traveled through three different parties, at two different locations, before reaching Molly at the grocery store. I just love all the little ways that technology streamlines our lives.