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Posts Tagged ‘creative writing’

It’s been many months since I last wrote on Jewtah. I have a good excuse – my Mom died. And while you might now be readjusting your eyes to the subject line, give me this page to explain. I am writing a novel about my mom. She was funny. Then she died. So, now I cannot write a book about my dead mother that isn’t funny. I am in grad school for creative writing as most of you know. If you are just joining us – welcome! If you are a longtime listener, thanks for tuning in again and sorry to have been gone for so long. So to recap: mom funny, writing book about mom, mom dies, starting therapy, creating therapy for myself through the writing, being more honest than ever = death is laughable (at times). Most of us don’t think that death is something to joke about, but some of us (like me) don’t know what else to do. It’s easier to laugh than cry these days.

My graduate advisor just sent me a response to my latest creative work. He appears to be the kind of guy that wouldn’t know how to be compassionate with my feelings, but I’d say he’s the best guy to have in my corner. He adeptly moves between sympathizing with my loss while maintaining a critical eye on the work, giving me keen insight to become a better writer. I found one thing he said in particular to be spot on: “Can we get away with saying that writing about your recently deceased mother is…fun?”

Yes, yes we can. Which is weird, but true. It’s also heartbreaking. Because the person who would appreciate the poking-fun-at-death the most is, you guessed it, my mother. She could flippantly laugh at the worst of moments in her life, but the truth is, she was keenly aware of the pain behind the laughter. She was an empathizer to the max. If one of her children or friends or distant relatives or the person featured on the cover of People Magazine was having a hard time, she would feel their pain. But when it came to her own sorrow, she would laugh, laugh, laugh. Now that she is gone, I realize how much we are the same in that regard. It’s scary when we begin to know we are our parents, when for so long, we tried to separate ourselves, and yet, now knowing I am just-like-her and not being able to tell her we are so alike, is painful in itself.

So, here I am: I have lost my best friend in the whole wide world, laughing is easier than crying, therapy is good, sleeping is difficult and writing has become a magical connection to my inner thoughts. And writing about my dead mother is at times laughable and fun.

Thanks for listening today. Tune in next time when we explore the insane things people say to you while you are grieving (that’s a warning people, leave it be).

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The title of this blog is in reference to a song that plays continuously on TV in conjunction with the World Expo. Have you heard of the World Expo? It’s an updated version of the World’s Fair and it’s happening in Shanghai for the next few months and there are enough monogrammed handles in the subway, posters on the wall of buildings and songs on TV to remind you, if you were here.

We spent a month teaching in Shanghai last year and I swore I would never return. I couldn’t handle the spitting, the babies peeing everywhere, the constant staring. Then the university offered us free flights, and to pay us to teach and suddenly we couldn’t turn down an opportunity to travel again. So we agreed! I brought all of my negative feelings with me and when first arriving here, I broke down and wanted to go home. This is not me. I sleep in mountain villages with no electricity, I take overnight buses that curve around hairpin turns a thousand feet over a valley, I bike through traffic in Laos and Vietnam. I do things that most people wouldn’t want to. And suddenly, I couldn’t get past our tiny, dark hotel room with two single beds (but they moved us two days later). So I wrote a cryptic short story and I put all of my negative emotions into it in a humorous way and I felt better. I needed to look at it with humor glasses on, and once I did, I could finally accept the oddities. I now find the spitting hilarious and egg them on whenever I hear the low guttural throat procession begin. I smile at children when they stare and often their parents smile back. I like the slow pace of the people, how they take their time sharing a meal with family and friends, or how they cross the street slowly, unfolding each footstep carefully. It’s a big city with a small feel if you choose the right places to hang out. Everyday is opposite day and once you know you’ll get the opposite of what you expect, it’s easy to accept.

We had a three day stopover in Tokyo on our way to Shanghai. I heart Tokyo. It’s everything a city should be and more. The food is out of this world, the shopping is almost too much and it’s clean, the people are super polite, the subway efficient, and the weather pleasant. We had a blast exploring the city and eating the best sushi I’ve ever had. Most of the restaurants don’t have English but you soon learn how to point and figure it out. Most Japanese speak some English, you just have to ask. The only downfall is that most stores carry a one-size-fits-all and I’m almost twice their size so couldn’t buy much. We met a great guy our last night that owns a delish restaurant called Jewel of India in Roppongi. We stayed at the restaurant until 1 a.m. talking and drinking beer. Thanks Sid!

I have mostly been holed up in our Shanghai hotel room working away at my last packet for school. And here it is: I finished my first semester of grad school in creative writing and I feel amazing! And what’s better is I have so many ideas and want to keep writing. And I can’t wait to start my next book, which is To Kill A Mockingbird. Yup, that’s right, never read it. I was a bad student in the days when this was probably a requirement.

Back to Shanghai. I wanted to make a list of some of the weird/funny things from this trip:

  1. It is easier to cross the street to our guesthouse in the middle of the road then at the crosswalk (it’s three lanes going each direction).
  2. Most restrooms have toilet paper this year.
  3. One of our cab drivers knew a few English words. He said, “Okay, thank you, you’re welcome, bye bye, welcome to shanghai” all at once as we exited the cab. He is the first cab driver we have heard speak any English in this city.
  4. We have learned more words in Chinese than any other language besides maybe Spanish. A few of these new words are: beer, baby (endearing to your sweetheart), check, green tea, dog, Shanghai University and fuckin’ great! On a similar note, I speak great Chinese sign language.
  5. This was heard second hand, but a cat was outside our guesthouse and a man took the cat and put it into a bag, like something that would hold fertilizer. The cat was screaming from inside the bag. Another man came up to the man with the cat-bag and paid him money to release the cat and he did. The man who paid the money even stuck around to make sure the other man didn’t catch the cat again.
  6. Ben and I drank snake blood and snake gallbladder. I wouldn’t say it tastes like chicken.
  7. We went to a nightclub and they stopped the dance music to put on a S&M show. The girls wore black skimpy leather and had whips. The guy wore a full face mask with a ball-gag. (I said, “that’s weird” to my student from last year who was with us and she said, “that’s very Shanghai!”
  8. I watched a man pee right outside our guesthouse, facing the road. I saw a little girl pee in the middle of the sidewalk and a little boy take a poo outside a popular tourist area where there are several bathrooms (with toilet paper!).
  9. I prefer chopsticks to a fork and knife.
  10. Turtle is quite chewy. It was served in a soup with snake. I guest turtles and snakes get along after death.

If you are in the market to visit Shanghai, please eat at Guyi (Hunan; the ribs are incredible!), Haiku (sushi; better western rolls than I’ve ever had in the U.S.) and Masala Art (Indian; great curry and good atmosphere).The food is fabulous in Shanghai and there is always a cute cafe to linger at with a book. They never shoo you away. The shopping is plentiful and I’m off to get my fill today!

And I’ll admit it, we might come back next year! I’m a little sad that we’re leaving on Saturday. However, we are going to an island in Malaysia called the Perhentians, then to Borneo for a two week adventure with Craig.

Please leave your comments! And happy life!

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I don’t know where to start, it has been so long. I am in Dalat, a mountain town in Vietnam that is at least 20 degrees cooler than everywhere else. We arrived yesterday and couldn’t decide what to make of Dalat. It is called the Paris of the east, which is fitting since it dons a mini Eiffel Tower, there are swan boats that float on the central lake and everywhere you look is a cafe. It truly is Neverland. I don’t know how to feel about M.J.’s passing. I love his music, but not the man. He’s a legend of good and bad, but I was happy to hear his greatest hits belted out at a cafe situated along the Disney-esque lake while the fake swans floated by.

Dalat is a magical place, literally. This may not be true for everyone, but one of the strangest moments happened to me yesterday. My mom met a student in Dalat over two years ago. She has told me they keep in touch by email and that she sends photos from my wedding to her student friend. When my mom found out I was going to Vietnam, she made me promise to visit Hong, her friend. I promised, although my fingers were crossed behind my back. It’s hard to arrange a travel schedule around meeting someone, but luckily it worked out. So we arrive yesterday and after visiting four hotels with no availability, we stumbled upon the $9 Hotel, the actual name. They had a room for us and as I checked my email in the lobby, I struck up a conversation with the owner, whose American. I mentioned to him that I had to meet this girl (didn’t give her name) and said that I only had her email. I emailed her the address and I hoped she would check her email that night. As we’re talking about how I’m going to find “this girl”, a girl walks out of the back rooms of the hotel, carrying the owner’s baby. She looks at me, and walks by. When she returns, she comes right up to me and hugs me. It’s Hong!!!! She recognized me from the pictures my mom sent and checked our passports that were on file to see my name. Of all the hotels in this massive town, I ended up at the one that Hong works at as a babysitter. I don’t believe in fate, but this might make me a believer.

I have completely skipped over China, but I will come back to Shanghai and Beijing and teaching and all the spitting, and peeing on the ground in the next few blog posts. I want to tell you about Sapa, but first Halong Bay. These are in Northern Vietnam. We had a few hiccups on our Halong Bay trip, but it worked out when we finally boarded the boat – a small cruise ship that reminded me of the final moments of “Goonies” when the ship breaks through the cave and sails into the ocean. We met some great friends on the boat, the Four Guys, and they convinced us that it’s really fun to jump off the top of the boat into IMG_1548the water (they did it the night before while intoxicated). Since I’ve become an adventure junkie, I decided to give it a try, but not before jumping from the first and second floors to make sure I had the guts to leap from the top. Standing forty feet up is nerve-wracking enough, but I was in a bathing suit too! After several minutes of hesitation, I┬áleaped to the water. It was exhilarating! Ben jumped too and we jumped tandem, holding hands (hey, we are still newlyweds, only two months until our one year). We spent the night drinking and talking and we’ll have great memories of Halong Bay if it didn’t start out as mystical as we were told it is.

Immediately after returning to Hanoi, we boarded the overnight train to Sapa. We booked a three day bike trip with Handspan (amazing! great tour! ask for Huong as your guide!). Our first day we biked 30 km down the Tram Ton Pass, whoa! My hands were knotted from gripping so hard. Our guide, Huong, let go, using his arms to make a bird shape. He’s not crazy, he’s NUTS! And funny and super smart. He took us to the different minority villages pf the North – H’Mong, Thai, Tay, Laos and a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head. We IMG_1595helped pick tea (did you know the plant is strong enough to hold you if you sit on it?), we picked peanuts (they start as a flower and then lower into the earth and become a root), we watched as noodles started in a powder form, then liquefied, congealed, then squeezed through metal holes onto wooden planks and dried.

Everyone says “hello”. And the children yell it over and over again, the excitement to share the word with a foreigner to great to waste. The people were wonderful and we didn’t see another foreigner for all three days. We stayed in guest houses and ate and drank with the locals. Our last night, Huong’s friend invited us for dinner at his place. We all sat around on the floor with heaps of food prepared for us and a few other Vietnamese men. So, it’s me (the only women), Ben and Vuong (our host), Huong (our guide), the driver and two friends of Vuong. And drinks, and drinks and drinks. Ish cup, what they say when you ask how many, it doesn’t matter, just keep drinking. We had at least 10-15 shots of rice wine drank in a ceremonial manner, not religious, but out of friendship. Someone chooses who they want to drink with and you have a shot. That continues throughout the whole meal, until the wine is finished, along with the Bia Hoy (beer). So in between shots, we sometimes had to drink an entire glass or 50%, as they referenced, of beer. Without a common language, we had a party! It was one of the most fun dinner parties I have ever been apart of. Thank you Huong!

I have so much more to share but it will come in the next few posts. I have great news too – I was accepted to two MFA creative writing programs, both distance-learning, so my dream of going to graduate school is one step closer and ┬áPark City is home for as long as we like it to be!

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