The Power of the Olympics, London 2012

With thanks to artist Pashabo and

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.


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!



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!


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!


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!



Letting In

It took over an hour of convincing to tell everyone that I would be fine staying by myself at the resource center. They worried and worried, I soothed and soothed. Finally, the last of the worriers departed, I settled down to a small dinner and opened my Macbook and reveled in the silence.

The sun set and the sky darkened. I hemmed and hawed over whether to read or watch a TV show.

Then, out in the distance, I heard “Pi Jade!

I looked up.

Again, “Pi Jade!”

I went out onto the balcony and saw one of SOLD’s kids walking up with her mother. “Pi Jade, come sleep at my house tonight!” called the little one.

I invited them up and the girl’s mother began insisting I should come to her house. “It’s dangerous for you to stay here alone,” she warned. “Aren’t you afraid to be alone?”

“I’m not afraid to be alone,” I laughed. “I’ll be fine.”

“But some men could come and try to get in, while you’re here alone! And no one else is around here. No one would know. It’s not safe. Plus it might rain.”

“Really? Does that happen here?” I asked, surprised.

“Actually, no it’s never happened,” she admitted. “But it could. It’s dangerous. Especially for a girl alone.” By this time, I already know Thais are very uncomfortable about the safety of a woman doing anything by herself. Americans are much less so, and many European women are positively independent. But for Thai people, even a married, 30-year-old woman should not stay by herself.

For myself, growing up in the U.S., I’m less concerned about staying by myself than going to stay with almost-strangers. But these people clearly know the community better than I do, so I wonder if I should heed their warning. I call one of SOLD’s staff to suss things out, and she reassured me I would be fine either way, but she warned that I would not be as comfortable in their home as I would in SOLD’s sleeping quarters, which has plush mattresses, while their home most definitely would not.

I considered that, if they came all this way to get me, they must be very concerned for my safety (and whether their concerns are justified or not is rather beside the point). What they were offering me, in truth, was access into their homes and lives. They were extending friendship and trust. If I want to truly become a mentor to these girls, I cannot rebuff them. I cannot rather stay by myself at SOLD than stay with their families. It’s just one family, but the entire community would know what decision I made.

So I turned to her mother, nodded and smiled and began to pack up my things. We hopped on a motorbike, three on a bike (which I never thought I’d do), without helmets (again something I’d normally never do), and headed to their house, which turned out to be about a 7-minute walk away.

When I arrived, the family was gathered together on the floor around the TV. I bowed to them in greeting and sat down on the concrete floor beside them. The houses were built of plain concrete bricks on the lower level and wood for the upper stories. A thin mat covered the concrete floors, a simple demarcation of the area that is “inside” the home, where shoes should be taken off. A solitary light provided illumination.

There was a kitchen towards the back and an outhouse a bit further off.

Word got around that I was there and several other kids from SOLD and their mothers came to visit. I greeted the mothers and played Hangman with the kids and drew pictures for them. It made me miss my nieces.

When we retired for the evening, they invited me to sleep upstairs, where there was a large room. Hung blankets, rather than rooms and walls sectioned off sleeping areas and privacy. My bed for the night was a thin sleeping pad under a large mosquito net that reminded me of the upside-down baskets people use to cover food and keep flies off. I crawled under the net and under the soft blankets and marveled at where life has taken me.

I wakened to the sound of roosters crowing. It was not yet dawn. I lay in bed, taking it all in while I waited for some light to appear. I could hear people outside already starting their day.

I met a few more of the neighbors, all of whom expressed worry that I should stay at SOLD by myself. They told me to bring friends next time, or come stay with them. Or bring my friends and have us all stay with them. I laughed and felt humbled by their concern and generosity.

I watched as the women prepared breakfast. I offered to help, but they shooed me away. There were shared gardens, where anyone from the community can come and pick chilies, vegetables, herbs, and fruit. The kids, by the way, were less than 10 years old, and already they knew how to cook basic meals for themselves and clean up afterwards, and do so without thinking much of it. We sat down to breakfast, cross-legged on the floor, gathered around northern Thai dishes and sticky rice. There was a tasty stir-fry with pork and cucumbers and some kind of soup that had bamboo and a broth that tasted like a sort of fish paste. We talked and ate, rolling sticky rice in our fingers, and it made me miss my own family. It made me miss my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago. I told them about my mother coming from Suphanburi and that my family will be visiting soon. They were pleased with my ability to speak Thai and the little ones taught me how to say ‘delicious’ in Kham Muang.

By the time I left, the kids were sending me off with hugs and kisses. I saw the two sisters who were daughters of the “drunk uncle”. One clung to me, clearly in need of love. The younger one was more reserved. I could see already, she will be the one who pushes love away. But she still hung around, just a little beyond arm’s reach. She asked me questions by having the others ask for her, but I answered her directly and told her my sister has the same name as she.

As we walked back to the resource center, I captured pictures of these kids in my heart. I captured pictures of them pointing out the litchis growing in the trees and laughing at each other, and I captured pictures of the girls riding on a bike through the fields, one perched precariously on the handle bars. I am thankful to have had this insight into their home life. In a way, I have let them in deeper to me too.

virtual coffee

Welcome! Come on in and help yourself to a cookie (or two or three). I baked them fresh. They’re oatmeal but I tossed in some chocolate chips and a few chopped up Ferrero Rocher chocolates for some hazelnutty-crispy decadence. Do you love Ferrero Rocher as much as I do?

I’m pretty sure I need the chocolate after the past couple of days. If we were really meeting for coffee today, I would tell you about what’s really been going on in my heart. But because this blog is just so public, I’m just going to have to say I’ve been stuck in a bit of a moral grey zone the last little while and I don’t know what the better path is. The brunt of it seems to have passed, but the weight of the uncertainty in this particular instance has left me rather emotionally exhausted. I would also tell you all about a separate issue entirely that has been weighing on me, but for now I can only say it is a situation where a girl is at a crossroads between choosing what is right and what is easy. I worry for her immensely because there is a lot at stake. If you’re the type to pray, prayers that she chooses the higher path would be much appreciated. And for now, I’ll just have to say my heart is heavy and leave it at that.

Anyway, as I type this, my husband is crossing into Burma. The embassy in LA told us he has to check in with immigration periodically to keep his visa valid for one year. What they didn’t mention is that it’s not checking in with the immigration bureau in Chiang Mai. It’s an actual border crossing in and out of the country. When he went to Chiang Mai’s immigration bureau, they explained what he actually has to do (and said the embassy in LA isn’t very good), so he had to drop everything and ride up, on a motorcycle, over some gnarly roads, in the rain, to Burma and back. Things dealing with legal authorities always make me (perhaps irrationally) nervous. I feel about 70% better now that I just got a call from him saying it’s taken care of. But I won’t feel 100% better until he’s back home safe and dry.

Although, as a Californian, I never developed much of an affinity for rain (though most people I know like rain), I’m actually quite glad we’ve got some rainy weather now. It cooled down the heat considerably and cleared the air so it smells fresh and lovely outside. I never liked going outside in the rain before, so I thought I would hate riding a scooter in it. But it turns out, with a helmet, I’m perfectly fine. I discovered I don’t mind getting wet; it’s just getting rain in my eyes and the feel of raindrops on my head that I find annoying. So that’s good news because it’s supposed to rain the whole rest of the week.

I’m also excited to hold another creative writing workshop at SOLD this weekend. After watching the Women In the World summit last weekend, I have lots of ideas to play around with in terms of where I’d like to go with our education program and how to develop different aspects of it. After watching the summit, too, I think I have an even deeper understanding of the nature of the challenges we face. I realize even more deeply than I did before that what we do is not just a matter of giving children the tools they need to avoid being trafficked. It’s not just educating them so that they can have chances for a better life. There are deeper ramifications. If you educate a girl and financially empower her, she will be far more likely to change the power dynamic within the family and she will be far more likely to make different choices. She will send her children to school instead of to work (or to war). She will not accept a husband having a mistress or second wife. I realized this before and thought of it as a good thing; an end to be achieved. But now I also realize, or perhaps am more sensitive to the realization, that when you create those changes, you really do begin to mess with a whole cultural order. That can be good, when elements of a culture give rise to or perpetuate the use of children for sex. But we also have to realize how those same elements are linked to other aspects of the culture that can be forces for good (or at the very least, may just be a different way of doing things). If we really want to tackle the problem of child sex slavery, we have to attack the problem deeply. But the deeper we go, the more responsibility we carry in affecting a society and a culture. In the name of our goal, to what extent do we have a right to push? These are questions we must be aware of and try to answer as an organization. Not having clear answers is okay. It’s life. But it is critical that we are sensitive to and aware of the questions. Reducing the issues to black & white would be irresponsible.

In the meantime, we can empower individuals, one child, one woman, one man at a time. And they at least will be able to make choices for themselves. And if there are enough individuals together, they maybe they (not SOLD) can push a society to ask itself questions about what they want for themselves as a society. And then maybe the society can choose what values they want. But at least they might begin asking the questions.

Maybe it is not really for SOLD to have the answers. Maybe the role of SOLD is to just present the question and provide alternatives and the chance for individuals to choose for themselves. After all, isn’t that what empowerment really is about anyway? Having the freedom to choose.

Oooph. Heavy for a cup of coffee, eh? Anyway, how are you all doing? I’ll stop yammering away now and turn to your voices. How is your week going? Do you like rain too? What is written across your heart today? What is brewing in your mind?

- x -

P.S. I did make the crocodile last week. I sauteed it in olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper with bell peppers and pineapple. The flavor combinations worked quite well together. And crocodile is indeed a delicate flavored white meat. The hubby quite approved. However, I’m still not sure I’m sold on crocodile meat. It was a little bit like white fish that had been cooked too long – maybe because it was cooked from frozen? Whatever. I can now say I’ve tried it.


Join Amy for Virtual Coffee (and hopefully some lighter conversation)!

booking it in the e-world

So it’s no real secret that the publishing world is in need of some serious revamping or it will soon go the way of the music industry. Borders is on the verge of bankruptcy. Publishers are trimming themselves in, sticking to what they know will sell even if a lot of it is crap, and agents are accepting fewer and fewer submissions. Which means it’s even harder than ever for new voices to break into the market.

But I’m not going to complain about that. That’s not what this post is about precisely. What I’m thinking about is…what if we could re-envision how publishing works?

The publishing industry is digging its heels in, in protest against e-publishing, and when it does go along with the times, it merely converts books into a format readable by digital readers. But then I read this Wired article ( that poses the question: what if we can think differently about the format and function of books? What if we can harness the power of technology to create a whole new medium for exploration and interactivity? The author speaks specifically about children’s books. You should read the article, but if you don’t get a chance to, he outlines several ways we can eschew the limitations of books to make them even better learning tools and springboards for creativity for children.

And it makes me wonder…why just children’s books? Why not books for adults too? For example, I love blogging because I love the way I get to play around with words and images together, how I can make them flow and support each other, and tap into the beautiful and the interesting and the poignant in ways that are both visual and verbal. But we don’t have that in books for adults, not unless you wanna’ pay big bucks to publish photo books. What if we could use e-readers to provide words and images together as part of the reading experience, in a way that’s financially viable for both the producer and the consumer?

I also love blogging because it’s more easily digestible. More and more these days, we don’t have the time (ahem, and maybe attention span) to devote to entire books like we used to. (I mean, we do and we don’t, but definitely it can be hard to find the time to commit to a full-length book.) However, I’ve never personally been into short stories. I almost never read collections of short stories because, honestly, if I know a story is ending in a few pages, I don’t get sucked into the characters. I don’t emotionally commit.

But what if we could use e-books as a way to bring novellas to the fore? Stories of in-between length. Stories that you can pick up when you know you have an hour to kill while the roast is in the oven or are waiting at the doctor’s office. They’re still long enough you can get emotionally invested in the characters, but short enough you don’t feel put off by picking them up because you don’t have time. They could even be tagged by estimated reading time.

You could also right-click on any word or phrase and have a dictionary or Google search pop up if you wanted to look into something more. And you know how you might highlight favorite or memorable quotes? What if you could “like” them and it automatically tweets the quote or sends it to Facebook? What if it notifies the author that that quote spoke to you, and you could even comment on it? And, what if, with one or two clicks you could recommend it to all your contacts (or just specified ones), and with another click or two, they can purchase a copy themselves? Or you can order a print or purchase a downloaded copy of a photo? I mean, as long as we’re dreaming here, why not?

I’m thinking daydreaming about getting into self-publishing someday. Yeah, it’ll be hard and it’ll definitely mean a smaller distribution than traditional publishing (if I were ever to make it in that world). But I’m really liking the idea of having much more control over my final product. I would love if I could have a say about what the cover of my book might look like, the fonts used, and how the book, as a finished art piece looks in its entirety, not just the words inside. No middle men. Just author and consumer. And the book, as a whole, represents me. Not a marketing committee. Independent. Accessible. And better for the environment. (Think of all the trees we could save and all the gas we wouldn’t have to consume!)

So maybe technology isn’t quite there yet. But if I do self-publish, I could at least toy with the idea of doing an e-book that is of whatever length I want it to be, and I can include both words and images of my own design. That could be a start anyway.

What do you think?

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