Raising Men in the Aftermath of Feminism

Photo by Kristi Phillips

It’s no secret now that, while women are still fighting for equal pay and the face of power remains decidedly male, the gender gap in schools didn’t close, it flipped directions. Girls and women at all levels of education, from elementary to collegiate, are outstripping boys – so much so that some colleges are even giving a little extra boost for the guys (yes, you heard that right, affirmative action for white males). Nicholas Kristof provides a nice summary of the problem here and Businessweek has another good one here, but even a cursory poke around Google will bring you a slew of articles from across the Western nations documenting this counter-intuitive trend.

Meanwhile, when we look around at male role models in popular culture, what do we see? Primarily, a glorification of one of two things: underperformance (a la Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, etc.), or androgyny (types like Michael Cera, “metrosexuality,” dare I even mention Ryan Gosling?). We have to look to Mad Men to find masculinity of the type we used to revere – except they’re all philanderers and misogynists, so that ideal is certainly tarnished.

Toss in rising divorce rates plus a “gotcha!” culture of news media (if I may borrow that phrase) focused on catching politicians and celebrities with their pants down, so to speak (for good or ill), and we have a recipe for stripping society of role models to look towards. I’m being a little blase and overgeneralizing an incredibly complex issue here, but the truth is men these days are often confused about what role they should play and are taught to be ashamed of manliness rather than to uphold its virtues.

We’ve focused so much attention on girl power and what it means to raise a confident, empowered woman, that we’ve forgotten the need to guide our boys too. But we’re doing our girls no favors, when they grow up to be strong, smart, independent women only to find there are no men they can respect to stand strong beside them. Building women up does not require tearing down our boys.

A fellow blogger touched on a growing double-standard in her post, “I never thought he would feel that being a boy was a limitation.” Her children are young, so her concern focuses on erasing gender lines with the toys her kids play with and the cartoons they watch.

But it’s about so much more than that.

It’s about so much more than whether girls can play with monster trucks or whether boys can enjoy watching My Little Pony. As my friend, Brook put it, “we want ALL children to be confident, compassionate and courageous.” Courage is not just for the men, just as compassion is just not for the women.

BUT I don’t think androgyny is the answer either. We do both our children and our society a disservice when we tell them it’s wrong for men to be manly and wrong for women to be feminine. (By the way, we haven’t just hurt our boys either – teaching girls to act like men when it comes to sex has created a host of problems, including, but not limited to: undermining their own sense of value, repressed needs, and increased difficulty in finding and maintaining relationships.) Moreover, we’re simply lying to ourselves when we pretend that there aren’t at least some biological differences between the genders.

That doesn’t mean everyone has to follow a gendered ideal, though – we all suffer when we try to force anyone into a box, no matter what that box is. I’m not harping on anyone who naturally falls towards the middle of the gender spectrum. Gender and sexuality are both complex and we should honor that complexity. What I AM saying, though, is this: We don’t celebrate humanity by wishing (or socializing) away all our differences. We celebrate humanity by encouraging authenticity, harnessing the power of each individual’s strengths, and treating ourselves and each other with respect.

There are two blogs I follow despite the fact that I am neither male nor am I mother to a son. I follow them because I find the articles provide a fascinating discussion of what masculinity means in a post-feminist world: how men can still strive to be the best they can be, present themselves with distinction, be assertive, demonstrate honor and valor – and that masculinity does not have to imply male chauvinism. The first is The Art of Manliness, which grew so quickly and displayed such gratitude from its readers that it showed just how lost men feel in this age, how desperate they are for some guidance on how to be men. The other is 1001 Rules for My Unborn Son. Both hark back to the past for examples of great men, tempered with the greater understanding and self-awareness we have gained in the past decades. It’s a shame how far we have to look back to find great examples.

So whether your boy melts his G.I. Joes in violent combat or plays quietly with a Carebear, teach him to read because great communicators make for great leaders. Whether he prefers World of Warcraft or Sims, teach him to help with chores around the house, because a sense of responsibility breeds great husbands and fathers. Whether his interests lie in the sciences or the arts, teach him to show others respect and appreciation because courage means putting others before ourselves and strength should always be on the side of justice. Whether his hobby is fly-fishing or baking, encourage it because any added skill makes for a more well-rounded human being. Teach him how to change his oil, sew a button, safely discharge a firearm, and iron his shirts…because one day he might need to know all those things.

And roughhouse with him too, because we don’t learn everything there is to learn from “playing nicely” alone.

 

A Conversation

Her: So you’re telling me you live in a gated community with security guards that salute you and click their heels every time you pass through the gate. And you’re in a 4-bedroom house. For $670 a month.

Me: Yes. Except for the first full year I felt incredibility guilty about it, like we had somehow found a way to game the system and it’s all great now, but someday karma’s going to come back and bite us in the ass.

Her: Right. Because God clearly hates people who try to prevent children from being trafficked into prostitution.

Me: Yeah, well, and yesterday I felt like a total schmuck because our maid came, and she normally comes on Mondays, when I’m working, so it’s fine and makes sense, but this week she came on a Sunday, which is my day off, and I felt like a total asshole sitting on the couch reading a book while she cleaned up around me.

Her (blink, blink): Because…why?

Me: Well, you know, it’s guilt. I’ve got this whole white liberal privileged guilt thing –

Her: White liberal privileged guilt — You’re half-Thai – white liberal privileged guilt, and you’re not even all that white. Do even you hear how ludicrous this sounds now?

Me: (nodding while tears of laughter stream down my face)

Her: It’s like the Thai side makes it worse; like your Thai side is warring with your white side…and um, I barely know you, but here’s my assessment of your entire cultural identity. You’re welcome.

Me: (still laughing, but not, because it’s totally true and I’d never thought of it that way before)

::

We met to exchange written words and ended up talking for hours. That conversation stuck with me for days afterward, and I wanted to preserve a piece of it, even if I only caught the gist of how it made me feel, because it made me feel better. I love people who can make me laugh; I really love people who can make me laugh at myself. I wanted to thank her for that.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Melissa’s!
BE SURE TO CATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PREVIOUS WEEK
And head there for your daily dose of creativity:
prompts for photos, for words, for inspiration,
and for a life lived mindfully!

A Coffee Chat

Guess what? I whisper from behind shaky hands. I think I’m done. With my manuscript. It’s done. Tomorrow, I’m going to do one more run-through to make sure I haven’t missed anything (because I’m obsessive like that). But basically, I think it’s ready to ship out–and sink, soar, or barely float, whichever way it goes.

{BIG BREATH.}

So what’s in your cup today? Do you have any big news to share? Little joys to celebrate, or big kvetches to get off your chest? A week ago, I decided to try to start cutting down on the sugar I consume. I stopped putting sugar in my coffee and discovered I actually don’t need the sweet anymore, and then I wanted to see what other sweets I could live without. I decided to avoid processed sugars as much as possible, and try to only eat naturally occurring sugars like the ones in fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and dairy. (And NOT, say, the sugars naturally occurring in my cookies.)

A Thai fruit called “noi nah” or “custard apple”

It turns out, I’ve noticed I’ve gotten way more sensitive to what has sweet in it and sometimes even find some fruit crazy sweet. On Saturday, I had some ice cream and it gave me a bit of a headache which I’m pretty sure wasn’t just brain freeze.

What surprised me more is that I haven’t really had sugar cravings either–which is big because they’ve been a pretty constant (and obnoxious) part of my life.

But, like I said, it’s only been a week and I haven’t yet put it through the PMS test, so we’ll see how long this lasts.

The custard apple is one of my favorite fruits, but like custard desserts (flan, creme brûlée), one I can only eat on occasion lest I overdo it.

Speaking of Saturday night…I’m still basking in the glow of a fabulous, and much-needed girls’ night out. I went out with two lovely ladies and, together, we consumed a large dinner of fried morning glory, stir-fried eggplant, and a stuffed omelette served with a side of ruminations on life lived abroad and what it’s like to go home. We followed that up with sizable cocktails (mine involved gin, triple sec, and lemon juice) and wedding horror stories, then capped off the evening with ice cream and giggles about what women really want from their men.

That whole part I wrote above about how I’m avoiding sugar? Clearly, that does not apply to a girls’ night out.

As my friends drove me to catch my bus home, we had a conversation about irony, a concept that I’m finding difficult to convey outside Western culture. I tried to explain that it’s when things happen in a way that’s opposite of what’s expected, but usually in a way that’s funny. I used the example of the first Thai movie Toby and I went to see. It was a story about two tough guys who were in a gang but totally had each other’s back, fighting off rival gangs…and then they would occasionally break out into song, passionately singing “Friends are for-ev-AH!” Toby and I cracked up–but it was clearly a sincere moment and every one else in the theatre was getting all teary-eyed, meanwhile Toby and I were laughing like jerks. Because in American movies when gang members break out in song, it’s either a musical or possibly something along the lines of Superbad. I tried to explain the humor, but my Thai friend explained that Thai guys would be very sincere about that sentiment, so the humor was lost.

And there I was, confronted with a revelation about American culture. The stereotype about Asian culture (especially men) is that they keep their emotions hidden and never reveal how they’re feeling. It’s mostly true in Thailand, especially with anger. People are taught from a young age not to show anger in public. Westerners, on the other hand, are known for being loud and expressive and leaving everything on display. But I’m pretty sure if an American guy (past the age of, say, 8) went up to a group of his friends and was like, “We’re going to be friends forever!” he would probably be laughed at. Yet here in Thailand, men can apparently share such sentiments and not be denounced as a schmuck.

Ironic.

On that note, I’m going to head out. I’ve got a cooking date with my mom! YUM. Have a great week everyone and thanks for stopping by for a chat over coffee!

 

The Power of the Olympics, London 2012

With thanks to artist Pashabo and graphicleftovers.com

I was sitting around the TV with my family and dog watching the Olympics the other night, as the girls competed for the gold on the balance beam. As we switched from women’s gymnastics – a sport evidently designed to crush little girls’ dreams – to men’s vault and horizontal bars, I was struck by the difference in camaraderie between the athletes.

On the girls’ side, none of the athletes seemed to interact with any of the others, and most strikingly, when Deng Linlin surpassed her teammate by a tiny margin of .10 for the gold, Sui Lu, who ended up with the silver, broke out, not in smiles, but in tears. She sobbed on her coach’s shoulder, causing Deng Linlin to cry as well. Sui Lu refused to smile in photos and, once rid of the photographers, promptly ripped off her silver medal in temper. One might judge her for being a snot, but she has been training since the age of three, so one can only imagine the pressure she might have been under.

She’s not the only one who might need a little perspective check. Russian Aliya Mustafina was quoted as saying, “I’m not used to winning just one medal. You get a taste for it and you want a second medal, then a third.” And fellow Russian Victoria Komova expected golds, considering her efforts a complete failure as she only snagged two silvers.

We were kind of used to all that high drama. I still remember watching the Olympics in the ’80s, when the event was little more than a thinly veiled muscle match between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as each tried to prove themselves superior to the other via their nation’s athletes.

Heck, I still remember Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

However, a few teenage-girl snits aside, I began to wonder if there is a change in the attitude these athletes bring to the Games. I watched as American Sam Mikulak kissed the vault and swapped handshakes and high-fives with his fellow competitors after he scored fifth. I watched as German Fabian Hambuchen slipped from top position to second after Epke Zonderland’s stunning performance on the horizontal bars, and Fabian registered his own disappointment only briefly before clapping Epke on the back and shaking his hand in admiration. The two were exchanging hugs and congratulations like dear friends by the time they received their medals.

There’s more, too. We were watching the women running, and feeling a bit of pity for the women whose countries and religions ensured they were covered head-to-toe, as they came in dead last, long after everyone else had crossed the finish line. We speculated that perhaps their countries thought it wasn’t worth investing in those athletes because they were women, and perhaps wanted to prove to their audiences back home that “See? Women can’t perform well.” Except, if anything, it does the exact opposite. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei were pressured to have women compete (thank you, IOC!), and now they are forced to reveal the comparison: how well women athletes perform when you invest in them, compared with the countries who hold them back. It’s not the women who do poorly. It’s about an entire nation’s attitude. Their performance says nothing about the women as individuals and says everything about the power of women’s rights.

Tahmina Kohistani, from Afghanistan, was one such athlete whose nation did not properly support her efforts. But the surprise was, when she arrived at the Olympics, how many others cheered her on. She writes, “I wasn’t pleased with my time – I had trained so much, worked so hard. But it was still a good experience, and definitely the most important of my life. It was so good to be able to learn from all the other girls. I talked with a lot of the other runners, and they were all encouraging me….But I knew I was not going to win a medal when I came here; I am here to begin a new era for the women of Afghanistan to show people that we can do the same things that people from other countries can do. There is no difference between us.” Instead of coming to the Olympics and encountering sour and threatening rivals, Kohistani found support, mentorship, and encouragement. Instead of being trampled on, she was lifted up and given a chance to make a change for women back home.

This is what I believe the power and the promise of the Olympics and events like it can be. When it shifts from a muscle match to a show of true honor and sportsmanship, when competitors are not enemies but mentors to learn from, and when athletes demonstrate through camaraderie and hard work, skill, and determination what people can achieve, the Olympics can help pave the road of progress.

The Olympics has always been political. But I’m happy when the politics of sports means that countries are pressured to invest in their girls and that competition is not a zero-sum game – there is more to sport than winning the gold. There is teamwork and there is inspiration. Let us do better and be better, not to beat the other guy up, but to make us all the best we can be.

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. CaptureShare. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Corinne’s!

The Coconut {A Bigger Picture Moment}

Sometimes it is the simplest gestures that mean so much.

Such a simple thing, really
a coconut.

A gift, impromptu and unprompted
Likely found ripe and ready as she worked,
an unselfconscious thought in presentation.

But a sign, for me, of how far I’d come
A symbol of embedment in a culture, an acceptance.
Me, slipping into nuance
and finally knowing the right gesture
in response.

I savored the flesh, melted light silk on my tongue.
I sipped the juice, a smack of brisk breeze, on ice.
The sweat of the glass slipping on my fingertips
like remnants of a monsoon day.

I drank it up
I drank it in.

And laughed a little at my dancing heart
After all,
it’s only a coconut. A coconut’s
all it is.

 

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.” 
- Author Unknown 

 What moments stole your breath away this week? 

Each Thursday, we come together to celebrate living life with intention by capturing a glimmer of the bigger picture through a simple moment. Have you found yourself in such a moment lately? Share it with us! 

Live. Capture. Share. Encourage.
This week we’re linking up at Melissa’s!

Is this Culture Shock I’m Feeling?

By and large, I feel adjusting to life in Thailand is not such a difficult thing. The food is varied and enticing, the standard of living is quite comfortable, and if you remember to maintain a little patience, all things work themselves out – generally faster, the less you fight it. But every once in a while, something will throw me for a loop.

I had several loops today.

I was excited to find a salad-bar type restaurant close to our home. The only other one is quite a jaunt into town, which I’ll do for unique Thai dishes or the perfect cup of cappuccino, but for which I rarely feel the motivation for a salad. The first time I went to this restaurant, I ordered a specialty salad, which was scrumptious, except for the fact that it was drowned in so much dressing it more closely resembled soup. This time, I decided to try a “create your own” salad and ask for the dressing on the side.

Little did I know that by “create your own,” they really meant CREATE YOUR OWN. My salad arrived looking more like a vegetable platter, with each ingredient served whole and organized into neat little piles. Even the lettuce leaves were whole and pristine. I had to cut everything into bite sized pieces (even the corn) and toss it myself. And my dressing on the side? Came served in a cup bearing almost the whole bottle of dressing, of which I used approximately a tablespoon.

No major inconvenience, I grant you, but it does make me wonder why bother going all the way to the restaurant for the salad that’s about the same amount of work of one made at home. After two such bizarre salad experiences, I also wonder whether they’ve quite grasped the concept of a salad.

Then, after lunch, I stopped by the 7-11 on the way home to pay our internet bill. The total for the month was 950.16 baht. The cashier scanned the bill into the register, then asked me how much I’d like to pay. I’m sorry, what? Is there a pay-however-much-you-feel-like plan I was previously unaware of? So I pointed to the amount on the bill and he spent a long time entering in mysterious data. I handed him a thousand baht bill and then he handed me 70-some-odd baht in change. “The bill amount is 950 baht, isn’t it?” I ask him innocently, trying to indirectly show him his mistake. He realizes his error and calls over the manager to void the charge, explaining that he transposed the 5 and the 0. Except I see the receipt from the transaction and it says 905.25 baht. Which, 1) where do the 25 cents/satang come from? Did he just see the first number and enter whatever amount he felt like? And 2) STILL, how does that translate to 70-some-odd baht in change? I could have shrugged it off with a mai phen rai (it doesn’t matter) since it was only a 20 baht difference and in my favor. But really. How does that even happen?

But then, I think to myself, I live in a country where you pay your internet bills at the local 7-11, where you can get an ice cream bar as you hand over your payment.

And later, when I had a late-afternoon hunger pang that I decided to salve/ignore by making tea and going for a walk, I pulled out the box of tea bags, and instead of shrieking and tossing it in the waste bin when I see the cobwebs and spider inside (as I would have done in the U.S.), I reason the cobwebs are really just tiny dust catchers and the spider just a wee little pin drop. I ask my husband, “How safe do you think it is to have tea with spiders in it?” I show him the box and he shrugs, “Just don’t eat the spiders.” I wonder if it’s because I’m more comfortable with waste in the U.S., or that I’ve just gotten used to the ubiquity of spiders, that I can be so blase about the tea.

I wander out for my walk, with tea cup in hand (sans spider), and just as I step outside, the otherwise apparently sunny sky begins raining. I’m a California girl and I’ve never been one of those who welcomed rain. I’d grumble and hide indoors if it rained three days in a row. Well here, it’s been raining for three months in a row, and I’ve long succumbed to the fact that if you wait for it to stop raining to do anything, you’ll never leave your home. I also know, without a doubt, that if I leave the house and it’s sunny outside, it’ll begin raining as soon as I hit the main road and stop as soon as I reach my destination and shelter.

So I grab my umbrella and commence my walk, regardless of the rain, and halfway through the walk, the rain stops. I look out from under the umbrella and see butterflies and a double rainbow and feel grateful I didn’t let a little sprinkle prevent me from seeing this.

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Virtual Coffee

When I took this photo, I was already in a state where I was thinking, “Let’s take Virtual Coffee outside today, for I need space to think.” But the day just progressed in it’s méchant way, and now I’m looking around for the bottle of wine. So if we all had our collective cups of coffee (or glasses of wine) in hand, I’d start with something a little upbeat.

I was hoping to find a Thai translation of Harry Potter to use with the kids at SOLD and went to a bookstore that looked promising from the outside. Thus far, in Thailand I’ve only found bookshops that are little more than corner stands or maybe the size of a small shop in a strip mall. It always made me feel a little alien, as I hid away at home with my Kindle downloads. Anyway, so I walked into this one and was slightly dismayed, though not totally surprised, to see it was small and had not much of a selection. But I knew Thai translations of HP exist, so out of desperation, I asked the girl behind the counter where I might find it. She instructed me to go upstairs. Pleased as I was to discover they even had a second story, I was overcome when I got to the top of the stairs and saw a store the likes of any of our largest Borders Stores or Barnes & Nobles stretching out before me, and full of people looking for books to read! In an instant I was home. I combed every inch of that beast, just soaking it all in. Simple pleasures, folks. Simple pleasures.

If we were really chatting over coffee or wine right now, I’d try to hold back, but I’d probably not be able to help myself talking about the death of bin Laden. And the truth is, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I feel a sort of grim satisfaction, I suppose, as it seems to mark the end of a chapter in our collective history. But I cannot quite rejoice in death, even in the death of such an ignoble villain as he. And one thing that worries me is the focus the news has placed on the celebrations everywhere. The world, friend and foe alike, sees this. What they probably don’t see are the thousands of smaller, quieter voices I’m seeing everywhere saying: This is not happiness I feel.

The part that I really wonder about though, beyond the politics, beyond religion or ethnicity, is I wonder what our younger generations will take away from this entire episode. I’m about 10 years ahead of the generation who came of age in a post-9-11 world. Their lives, more than mine, have been shaped by a world in which war is a near constant background, and politics ever more than before has been characterized by folly. Will this have as powerful an effect on this generation as the Vietnam War and Watergate did when those events eroded public faith in government and set in disillusionment on the national scale? If so, what will those kids take away from it? Or have they (or even we) become so numb that even something as big as this will roll of our backs in a few weeks’ time?

I can’t help but wonder.

Meanwhile, when I turn my gaze closer to the ground, to the immediate, I find myself again contemplating consequences for the future of children. When I taught at the university level in the States, and here again now, teaching disadvantaged children in Thailand, I find myself bumping up against the same thing: people held hostage by fears, too afraid of children to stand up and guide them. Too afraid to make them upset. Too afraid to make them do hard work. Too afraid to challenge them. Too afraid of not being fun. But then I read this post and was reminded of all the reasons I feel it is right to push the children, to be the disciplinarian, and to hold them to a higher standard, even when everyone else around me is saying “don’t expect too much from them.”

The thing that I found when I taught at university though? The more I pushed the students, the higher my expectations, and the less slack I allowed for laziness, the better the students responded. It’s like they craved the discipline. Sure, I got the stink eye from them a time or two. But when I got my evaluations back? It was nothing but gratitude. They found the harder they worked, the higher their rewards.

I refuse to believe it’s any different here. At least, not until I see any strong evidence otherwise. And hell yes, I’ll take a few stink-eyes if my students walk away from my class feeling they actually got something out of it, more than entertainment.

</end soapbox>

Have you read Amy Chua’s book? If so, what do you think?

Anyway, this month will be hectic for me. I’ve written 60+ pages of my novel so far (not counting any of the character descriptions, vignettes, scene layouts or synopses, of course) and I’m getting to the point where I’m fully absorbed by it and any attention directed elsewhere makes me itchy. But I’ll be going to Chiang Rai every weekend this month to teach and to help with Parents’ Weekend. School is starting up again at the temple, and I’ve gotten back into yoga, AND I have to fly down to Bangkok for several days to take care of some business (yay, another visit with Mr. Pig…). My days shall be quick full, and I’m already sorely behind on my 365 photo project.

::sigh::

Still, busy doing what you love? Not so bad.

And I’m very excited because I’ve just finished (well, almost) putting together a textbook for the kids at SOLD. I’m gearing my writing workshops to each focus on one element of putting together an illustrated storybook, from start to finish, so that by the end, the kids will have practice in creating, planning, and executing a whole project by themselves. The exercises will walk them through it, but we’ll also have some other reading & writing exercises to help build their vocabulary in English and central Thai, build skills in critical thinking & analysis (especially understanding cause & effect and understanding how we learn things through observation and attention to detail), and improve writing skills. I can’t wait to see how it all goes! And when the kids are done, I hope to somehow put their final projects on display somewhere. So excited!

Ok, I KNOW I’ve rattled on long enough. I can’t wait to hear how your week is going! Hope you’re staying away from crazy tornadoes…See y’all around the Virtual Cafe!

Join in the fun at Amy’s!

Photobucket

 

Virtual Coffee

If we had had coffee on Sunday, you would have been like, “Dude. What happened to you?” But thankfully, we’re having coffee today, so I’m (mostly) back to normal.

Songkran was. a. blast.

(For pictures and tales, click here.)

If we were meeting for coffee today, I’d tell you just how wonderful it was to have my family here for a visit. We had so much fun with my cousins and aunt! They came into town late Wednesday, so we basically just had enough time and energy to go into town and get some dinner. The whole city was packed for the holiday and getting a table was quite the feat. but we managed to wrangle one with only a half hour wait.

Then Thursday, the party really got started. We took the truck up the mountain to the temple at the top of Doi Suthep, water fights and stopped traffic the whole way up. Paused for a brief moment of spiritual reflection, lunch and a pit stop.

Then resumed water fights and traffic all the way back down the mountain. By this time, it was about 2 in the afternoon, so we decided it was time for a beer. So we hit the Nimman (which is kind of like the Rodeo-Drive-cum-Manhattan-Lower-East-Side of Chiang Mai), found a bar, got some drinks and continued the water fights. We got invites to party at that bar later that night, so we all went home, took a nap, got dressed and headed back out to the party where we demolished a whole bottle of vodka between the four of us.

(I never drink like that.)

Then Friday, I took my cousins around for the usual tourist sight-seeing stuff…which wasn’t the best of ideas because all the shops were closed and all the streets were filled with people still dumping water on each other. So it took ages to get anywhere only to find nothing there. But it was still hilarious to watch! Friday night we were zonked and all crashed early.

Saturday, my family was scheduled to head back down to Bangkok but everyone was moping about not wanting to leave Chiang Mai and I didn’t want them to leave either, so I said, “So don’t leave. Stay!” And they did. Which turned out to be an AWESOME idea because we all went and got massages. We all did an hour and a half (which by the way, cost about $8-10 each), went and had some lunch, and then one of my cousins went back for more. He did a total of 5(!) hours of massage in one day.

And then we went back out to a bar and demolished a whole bottle of Chivas between the four of us.

(I never drink like that.)

And when we got home, Toby realized he didn’t bring the house key. And I realized my key wasn’t in my bag. We rang the doorbell, called the cell phone, provoked the dog into barking…and my aunt slept through it all. (To be fair, it WAS about 2 a.m.). So we ended up wheeling our scooter to the back of the house, underneath an open window halfway up the stairs, where my husband managed to hoist my cousin Duke (who might be the only Asian taller than my husband) up through the window to let us all in.

I never drink like that and it was the best time ever. And not because of the booze. It was because of the family. I spoke more Thai than I ever have for four days straight and by the end of it my brain was numb. But my cousins connected with us in ways we couldn’t before because of the language barrier and it was awesome. I don’t know that I sat for two minutes together without cracking up over something.

They teased me over taking in a stray dog, called Dot a “temple dog” – one of those people don’t like so go and leave at the temples, and said she looked like a hyena. But then every few minutes I’d see them sneaking her some food or trying to play with her. And if she disappeared for more than 5 minutes, they’d wonder where she went off to. By the time they left, they were saying, “She’s kind of cute, isn’t she?” Uh-huh.

Only family. But man, do I love them. To me, that’s one of the best parts about family: they’ll always tell you straight. (Even if it’s none of their beeswax.)

If we were having coffee together today, I’d say it’s kind of nice to have a quiet house again (though the memories from last week are still loud in my head and I find myself still laughing about it at odd moments). But really, I also can’t wait for the next batch of family to arrive!

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Virtual Coffee

If we were meeting for coffee today, I would be dancing.

Because Songkran starts tomorrow! It’s the Thai New Year and the water fights are already beginning. In celebration of the coming of the rainy season, it’s tradition for people to throw, shoot, dump, or otherwise drench everyone else in water. (Note to self: wear crappy clothes and bring towels in plastic bags.) I’m totally looking forward to seeing it all. Kind of not looking forward to having random people throw buckets at me while I’m trying to ride the scooter. At least it’s super hot (like 95 degree weather with 50% humidity) so the water is welcome. I promise to take loads of pictures too! We’ll take the Nikon out in a dry bag so we can document the craziness. I’m kind of feeling like this will be a rather wetter version of Burning Man – Thai people are definitely getting ready to party!

I’m also uber excited because my cousins and an aunt are coming up to visit and I really can’t wait to see them. It’ll be good times full of fun story-swapping, communal food munching, and a good chance for me to practice my Thai. (Of course, they’ll all laugh at me, but whatevs.)

If we were meeting for coffee in real life, I’d also be very, very happy because…well, I’m missing my IRL friends a lot right now. I wish so very much I could have a whole week and spend hours upon hours with each one individually, where I could hear about everything going on with them, big and small…the things we tell when we first see our friends, and the things we say when we have more time and someone is really listening. And then I’d want to have a big dinner party at the end where we all came together and had lots of yummy food and fabulous cocktails. (Can you tell my values in life revolve around food, friends and family?)

Somehow I feel like even though, day to day, not a whole lot is happening outside me, there is a whole lot going on underneath the surface. Things I probably can’t quite get a hold on unless I put words to them or allow more time to process. If I were meeting you for coffee IRL, I think I would tell you more about what’s going on underneath the surface: the changes I see on the horizon. But we’re doing this virtually, and somehow all of that just doesn’t fit in a blog post, so I’ll leave it at that. (Because I can’t imagine you all would really want to sift through a whole long slog of hems and haws – but don’t worry! None of it is bad news!)

What about you? If you had the time and someone was really listening, and you got past the surface, what’s something going on underneath that you would share?

Join in the Virtual Coffee fun at Amy’s!

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P.S. My blog is celebrating its 2nd anniversary tomorrow! Yay!

Capturing imaginations – finding the bigger picture

Sometimes awareness comes in startling revelations. Sometimes there is a moment so simple that the stunning part is how subtly it clued you in to tiny revelations accumulated over time.

I was sitting at the resource center and had finished up some small bit of work. I turned to the group of girls who had been playing together while waiting for me to finish working and join them.

“So you girls want to watch a Disney movie?” I asked.

Squeals of delight erupted and they clambered over to the couch while I pulled out the DVDs. “Which one do you want to watch?”

Without hesitation: “Cinderella!”

I chuckled over their love of an old Disney classic and was intrigued since I hadn’t seen it more than a couple of times when I was a kid. But as I watched it, it seemed to me to be such a stark contrast from my personal Disney favorite, “Beauty and the Beast”. “Cinderella” is a story that captured the imaginations of little girls of the 1950s and 60s and follows the traditional story line of an impoverished and used girl who must be rescued by magic and a prince to find love and freedom. Both Cinderella and her prince are thin on personality; they are primarily just pawns moved about by larger forces (some benevolent, like the King, some malicious, like the wicked stepmother). Slightly different from my favorite, where the heroine must overcome her own fear and prejudice to find love and freedom with a hero who looks terrible from the outside but has similar intelligence and sensibilities underneath.

But “Cinderella” is the one these girls want to see. And as we watch, the tiny memories started to accumulate into one larger revelation.

When I was at their families’ home on Saturday night, the girls were watching cartoons on TV and interspersed between the cartoons were popular music videos. These girls, all around ages 6-8 or so, were belting out the tunes at the top of their lungs. I laughed at the cuteness, though I felt a little disturbed because all (and I mean ALL) the songs were about two girls fighting over a man.

And then I remembered my cousins doing the same thing when we were teens: watching music videos and singing happily about betrayal and loss.

And I thought about all the popular Thai music videos I’ve seen, waiting in bus stations, sitting on the bus, playing in cafes and hair salons, and in shop windows…

Almost all of them feature a woman left behind by a man. A lover who moves on to be with another woman. Two women fighting over a man. Men make all the choices. The women are portrayed as scheming and over-crazed by emotions. And they haven’t the self-respect to walk away.

And as I looked at these young girls, the same age as my nieces, singing lovingly about heartbreak and affairs, jealousy and betrayal, I realize just how ubiquitous this theme is in Thai culture. How do we teach empowerment, when they’re taught to romanticize love triangles and inferiority to men at such tender ages? I’m not going to sit here and blame popular music for how these girls think. Rather, I believe that these songs strike such a chord with them because the stories are so deeply embedded in the consciousness of the culture.

In reality, most Thai women I know are actually incredibly strong. But they are also rather jaded on the whole idea of romance. I’d venture to guess it’s because what is portrayed as romance in the popular culture is really just women being weak.

I want love for these girls. When they get older, I want them to find joy in romance; stability, comfort and honor in marriage. (If marriage is indeed what they want.) I’d hope they don’t have to push away love to survive, for love and strength don’t have to be at odds with one another. In fact, they should support each other. What I don’t want is for these girls to sit around waiting to be rescued. I don’t want them to ever feel like they don’t have the power to make choices. It took forty years for the story of a generation to shift from “Cinderella” to the likes of “Beauty and the Beast”. I wonder what it will take to help even just one little girl see how much power she really has over her own life.

I wonder, if I ever have a daughter of my own, what story will capture her imagination?

What Disney film captured your imagination? What bigger picture did you see this week? Join in at This Heavenly Life!

 

 

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