2017 New Year’s Resolutions

From my bullet journal:

Read 110 books
I read 100 books last year, so I don’t think this will be impossible. If you sign up for the Goodreads challenge, you get a handy little meter that tracks your progress and tells you when you’re ahead of or behind your goal. If you’re trying to read at least two books a week, this is invaluable. Also: short books are books, too!

Complete the Yale lecture series on The Novel: 1945-Now (read all the books and listen to all the lectures)
I followed the Yale lecture series on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner last year and it was really enriching. Definitely put me on track in terms of trying to read the “American canon”, whatever that might be. I mean, whatever it is, The Great Gatsby, something by Hemingway, and something by Faulkner are on it. I have high expectations for this series and the books I’ll be reading.

Complete the list of 100 things to do in Zhongli and all blog posts
Why? I don’t know. It’s fun for me, gets me engaged with what’s going on outside, and gives me something to say when partypoopers say Zhongli is boring. It’s not Tainan or Hualien or Taipei, but we have a good time.

Plank for two minute every day (even if it’s not continuous)
Um I am already failing this. It’s not too late to get back on track, though. Just I’ve been having these lower back pains…

Stick with yoga 2-3x a week; if class with Neil ends, enroll in a yoga gym
My buddy has been showing me some of the ashtanga yoga moves and we’ve been meeting up to go through Leslie Fightmaster’s 50-minute ashtanga yoga video three days a week. I am worried that taking Chinese class might make it easy for me to find excuses not to go, but so far, so good. It feels great and I know it’s good for me in terms of mindfulness, too. (That back pain tho…)

Keep hula hooping, even if it’s just five minutes a day
I wish I had some people to hula hoop with because having someone show me what they know would be so helpful, but until then me and my exercise hoop can spin around the living room in between classes. I’m not really committed to the every day thing, but I learned a lot last year just by hooping every couple of weeks, so I want it stay on the menu.

*Pay off all our student-loan debt
This would be so great, but unless we make it absolutely our number one priority, I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t want to teach more than I have to, but I want to the go to the U.S. to see my family this year. Also I want to take Chinese classes at the university, J has some trips in mind, and my scooter is possibly dead now, so I think the realistic thing is just to keep on paying and saving what we can.

Resume studying Chinese with a tutor or at the uni or a language exchange partner
So right before the end of 2016, like literally the last Friday of 2016, I enrolled in a Chinese class. So I have eight hours of Chinese every week now, and I am considering upping it to 12 or 15 hours a week next semester. I know that I always get excited at the beginning of new projects, but I am especially excited this time, and as long as the enthusiasm’s there, why not ride the wave? Also, tutoring is way boring in comparison, and I kinda sorta don’t love language exchanges as they usually end up being either free language lessons or you spend like two hours a week chilling with someone who isn’t actually your chosen friend when you don’t even have enough time for your real friends.

Get back on the Wahls Protocol diet-HFLC, organ meats, no dairy, limited alcohol, lots of fruits+veggies
So that probably isn’t exactly how Dr. Wahl would have described her diet, but that version of it was working really well for me and J in the beginning of this year. We both lost weight and every day it was like a competition of who felt better and had more energy. We rode that wagon until June, when we went to Thailand and Cambodia and decided nothing was off limits. Now we’re back to chasing that wagon as it rolls down the road. But now that holidays are over, we have no more excuses for making or eating hash brown casserole, and I feel like there’s a better chance we can stick to it.

Play the receipt lottery
So in Taiwan in order to encourage businesses to actually provide receipts (and thus keep their books in order and pay their taxes), the government came up with a plan to provide lottery numbers on every receipt. So every time you buy something, you get a lottery ticket. J and I have never really participated, but it seems like you can win a little bit of money quite often, and who are to throw money away? The Rockefellers? Maybe some of that can go towards our student loan payments or helping someone in need…

Give charitably every month
We haven’t figured out like life insurance or our retirement funds yet, but we have more than most people on this planet. I wish we were better stewards of it, to give ourselves a more secure base from which to help others…anyway, start small. Maybe sponsor a grandmother in Cambodia? Donate money to build toilets in India? You really gotta do your homework, too.

Re: writing = measure activity, not results
Yeah I am getting sick of myself talking about writing, too, except that I do write a lot, whether it’s this blog, short stories, memoir, or in my diary. I beat myself up regularly for not finishing more things, for not submitting anything, for never really being published, but all I need to do is write, and anything that gets in the way of that, including self-flagellation, has to go.

Write for myself every day
For me, this kind of means journaling, but also not wondering what anyone else thinks about what I am writing. I mean, blogging, obviously, somebody might be reading it, and I’d like reading it to be a good experience, otherwise I am an asshole/sadist, but anything else, man, worrying about what people think before I’ve even started writing is creative suicide.

Make writing a priority: first thing every morning
Okay, so, no, ten days into January, still not good at this. I am still figuring out how to make time for Chinese class and Chinese homework, so I am not going to beat myself up. However! I know that I am quick to discover things that will distract me from all the complicated feelings I have about writing/not-writing or will substitute for the sense of accomplishment I get from writing, so no excuses: writing has to come before anything else.

Say yes more often!
If it’s not obvious to you, I am generally anxious and always worried about the consequences of my actions, which makes for a very boring day/year/life when you look back on it. I hemmed and hawed about taking Chinese classes for like a year, but so far, I am so glad I just made the impulsive decision to sign up. What else has this year got in store for me?

 

Out of Print tees review

So a little while ago we went to this wine expo in Taipei and it was amazing! We had so much fun!

But the point is that while we were there, this guy rocked up wearing a Great Gatsby t-shirt and everyone freaked out and wanted to talk to him about books. I got really jealous–I love books! I want strangers to know I love books and initiate conversations with me about books! So after drinking an obscene amount of wine, I went home and did some drunk shopping on Out of Print.

At that time, I got a The Sun Also Rises t-shirt and a Breakfast of Champions t-shirt. They were $28 apiece, which to me is expensive for a t-shirt. (They say with every purchase they give a free book to a library in need…but I think I could buy a t-shirt and donate some books to some schools for less than $28.)

I got a notebook, too, to get free shipping, which was cool. Also I love composition books, and they’re college-ruled, and the stationery here is so different and I have never gotten totally used to it…

This picture was taken by a third-grader, which is no excuse for my hair.
This picture was taken by a third-grader, which is no excuse for my hair.

 

I was kinda sweaty in this pic, but you can tell how the shirt fits.
I was kinda sweaty in this pic, but you can tell how the shirt fits.

So those shirts were on the way and then I get an e-mail from Out of Print saying now they’re having a BOGO offer. Ugh, I tried to hold off but…in the final hour (literally), I bought four more t-shirts: Mind of My Mind, The Great Gatsby, Animal Farm, and Metamorphosis.

My rule was that I couldn’t buy a t-shirt for a book I hadn’t read or didn’t like, and I didn’t want to to get more than one shirt of a certain color. That’s how I ended up with this white The Great Gatsby t-shirt because I really wanted to the Animal Farm tee in blue because it had a scoop neck. It took a long time to decide. I could have bought more if I didn’t already feel slightly sick about spending so much on t-shirts.

Overall, I was really pleased with all these shirts. I went with a large instead of medium, and I thought the fit was flattering. The cotton felt quality and I was happy with what I got. But this Gatsby shirt, man, it’s a large, too, but it fits like it’s a size smaller than the others, and it’s literally so thin that it’s transparent. I definitely considered returning it, but I’d gotten it on sale, and it was shipping from the U.S., and that seemed like a lot of work. So I have to wear a tank top under this one, and maybe lose another ten pounds. Honestly, it’s like a joke. I’m annoyed that I even paid $14 for this shirt.

This is the tightest of all the shirts. And it's super thin!
This is the tightest of all the shirts. And it’s super thin! They cheaped out on this one for sure.

I like the way the Animal Farm shirt fits, but then like because it’s based on the cover of the Japanese edition, and so there are kanji characters, which are traditional Chinese characters, so that I am just wearing this shirt with a pig on it that says Animal Farm in Chinese. I’d bet you like a pretty substantial sum that zero of my co-workers have read Animal Farm–why would they have? I wonder if they think I’m just weird. They probably think the pigs are cute, or aspiring to be cute…

amateur vagrant out of print tee review animal farm orwell

I also like the way my Mind of My Mind shirt fits. Actually, I really like Octavia E. Butler, but this wasn’t my favorite book of hers. But I think wearing like A Parable of the Sower t-shirt would be depressing, and wearing a Kindred t-shirt as a white woman might be kind of tone-deaf. Both of those books I preferred, though.

amateur vagrant out of print tee review mind of my mind octavia butler

I wore this Metamorphosis t-shirt, and J was like, I’m not sure if you realize that there are kind of like eyes, you know, right there…Which I did realize when I bought the shirt and I thought that would be hilarious. Also it says F. Kafka across my bellybutton when I wear it. I think that’s funny.

amateur vagrant out of print tees review kafka the metamorphosis
I did not realize these pants were reflective until the picture was taken. It’s all about the shirt, though…

Also, like more than a year ago, I bought two sweatshirts from this same company: Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen is a perennial favorite and I’m really into the peacock motif lately) and the stamped library card. They are both larges. They didn’t fit me the way I expected when I bought them, but then I lost some weight and I think they are a bit baggier now, which I like. Anyway, I often wear them over collared shirts in the winter.

And after all that…nobody even notices. If I’m not with my husband, I’m with Taiwanese co-workers and elementary school kids, and none of them are reading English novels. I taught a class of third-grade girls for two hours the other day, and it wasn’t until they were getting ready to go home that one of them noticed that my Mind of My Mind shirt “had a face on it.”

Who’s cool now? Still not me.

None of these links are affiliate links and this post is not at all sponsored. I had trouble finding reviews and helpful information before I bought these shirts, so I was just trying to give others a fighting chance to make good decisions. For me, I’d buy anything else there in the future except another white-white shirt like the Gatsby shirt.

If on a winter’s night a traveler

Well this has got to be one of the best introductions to a novel I’ve ever read. I’m actually nervous about starting the book now because I’ve got to be at work in two hours…

Any book lover is gonna at least crack a smile at the list of locations and positions you can try to read, and also the lists of reasons you haven’t read all the books you want to read. Life is really too short!

If you haven’t read any books by Italo Calvino, my friend, well your to-read list just got way longer because dude was prolific and brilliant. I started with Cosmicomics and I suggest you do the same, if you’re down with suggestions. His stories are wacky, but playful vs masturbatory, which I feel like experimental or very ambitious fiction writers can be. He leads you to a whole new world, but it’s all a big joke that’s funny because it’s true: he is a sharp observer of human nature.

Anyway, nothing I say is gonna do him justice. So glad to have decided on If on a winter’s night a traveler as my latest read, though. I’m still five books behind for my 100-book challenge, and this could be one I devour in a day or two.

Amazon link provided for your convenience. I don’t currently have any affiliates. 

Modern Literature of Cambodia

modern literature of cambodia cover

None of the links in this post are affiliate links. At the time of writing this, I do not have any affiliates or any other means of making money from this blog. If that changes, I’ll update this post to reflect that. At the moment, links are provided for your convenience only. 

I sought out a book of contemporary Cambodian short stories because I was visiting Cambodia and we were “only” going to visit Angkor Wat. But I don’t think it’s fair or good to just eat Cambodian food and visit Cambodian temples without making an effort to learn more about the people and the culture.

I didn’t find a ton of books by Cambodia authors in English. I have First They Killed My Father, which I haven’t read, and In the Shadow of the Banyan, which I have read.

There are many, many other accounts of the terrors of the years under the Khmer Rouge. I think it’s important to read at least one to just catch a glimpse of what any Cambodian in Cambodia over 40 lived through.

Other than that, there are also many books that were written by writers with Western names, but many seemed like nonfiction, travel guides, or books about girls and geckos, temples and tuktuks.

Modern Literature of Cambodia provides an array of short stories published within the past few years. It also features a handful of poems, an essay, the lyrics of a rap song by Cambodian-American rapper Prach Ly, and the transcript of a spoken word poem by Cambodian-American poet Kelley Pheng, and the script of a play by a group of Cambodian Americans. Some of these additions are maybe more fully appreciated in a visual format so I’ve included some YouTube videos below where I could find them.

The writers included in this selection are mostly young, though not all introductions included the year they were born. At least two of then ten short-story writers are women.

These aren’t stories about the existential funk you experience when you’re wealthy enough to be bored. Even the most spoiled of the protagonists, the rich girl in Seng Chanmonirath’s A Suicide Plan, gets a reality check from a legless old beggar and a starving little girl that forces her to realize that her grades and her parents’ arguments aren’t impediments to life. At the end of her journey, which for me brought to mind the story of Prince Siddhartha’s first journey outside the walls of his home, it is her worried-sick parents who find her and embrace her–she really doesn’t have it that bad.

The short stories are all very realistic, firmly rooted in this realm. When a narrator dreams,  it is a nightmare because it is realistic and awful–and waking does not bring salvation. In fact, the most “magical” scene in all the stories is what the three poor, hungry, barely-dressed children witness in Than Chan Tepi’s The Girl in A Pink Dress (1):

The people look even more exotic close up. Men in clean, light shirts and dark trousers with their hair properly combed, slightly bounce to the tempo of the music as they spread their arms out to dance behind beautiful women dressed in flamboyant, shimmering dresses and high heels, their shiny hair bundled up in buns or side curls that perfectly compliment their full faces with blushed cheeks and rich red lips. She sees a group of children dancing playfully on one side of the dance floor. Among them she spots a girl about her age in a pink fluffy dress, dancing with a cheerful smile that spreads from ear to ear across her satisfied tiny face–the smile of a promising future.

To the young narrator, the scene in front of her is not just a different world, but a complete anomaly: how did it come to be? How did the dirty, stinking, disorganized path she walked on lead her to this place? And no further–they are chased out when her little brother crosses the threshold.

What makes these stories hard to read is the self-awareness of the first-person narrators. Most concede that a kind of karma or a scale of justice exists exactly because they don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong to deserve to be so overlooked or mistreated by the universe. It is hard to read a child prostitute asking an older man why she can’t be called a “precious girl” like she hears men on the radio describe valuable women, when she hadn’t ever wanted to be sold into sex work. Shouldn’t the men and women who are making the decisions for her, who are deceiving her, shouldn’t they be criticized and ridiculed?

The whole collection suffers a bit from a kind of stilted translation that is accurate, but not beautiful. (Though of course, I have no ideas how the stories would sound in their original Khmer.) I only venture to make that criticism because the two versions of Girl in a Pink Dress that were written in English, and Starlight, which had a unique translator, are much easier on the “ears”.

The remainder of this collection was important and enjoyable as well, though I found the metaphors in the poetry to be quite heavy and blunt sometimes. I was glad for the introduction to young Khmer American writers, born to parents who have always struggled with their experiences as survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s nightmarish reign. That’s the kind of horror that can alter a person all the way down to their DNA.