Archive for October, 2007

spending time in preparation

I’ve packed up my life too many times to count, or even remember. Bags and boxes have become a permanent fixture in my house, or wherever my home happens to be at the moment. I used to get frustrated with losing things that were important to me, only to find that the distance of a few months or years made them lose their value completely.

Now I only have a handful of prized possessions, and even then I’d gladly let them burn because they’re so easily replaceable. I wouldn’t mind losing my old diaries, or photographs, or the many hard drives I’ve written stories on over the years. I’ve already lost some of them, but from those losses I’ve learned to always reinvent myself, keep things fresh, even at the risk of forgetting. It’s because I figure that the things worth remembering will stay salient in my mind (or at least on the Internet). And too often I would slip into the trap of relying on my past self too much for ideas or adventures.

Maybe those artifacts will become precious to me when I can no longer live the life I’m living, when I’m old and tired and adventured out, when I have to live vicariously through the self I remember being, and even then through things remembered for me since my memory will have faded. But for now, I’ll put aside material things and continue to write those stories that my frail, forgetful old self will read and enjoy and repeat and repeat and repeat…

That’s how you live forever, you know.


sending heavy things to various places

This post is a guide to the various stuff-moving methods you will find in different countries, to try and help you (and me) avoid an airport fiasco like mine during Spring Break.

Good luck.

A Guide to Moving Things

If you like tempting the airline gods like I do and show up to airports way overweight on a regular basis, I have found a useful guide to baggage quotas on most international airlines. (Some budget airlines have more wiggle room; for instance, RyanAir and EasyJet usually look the other way for carry-on luggage.) The penalties for overweight or extra luggage can range from doable to “Oh my EFFING GOD” (like my Air France escapade in London). Depending on the country and on whether the flight’s full, you might be able to charm the check-in clerk enough to let one slip by, but don’t count on it.

Things to note about E.U. baggage restrictions:
– for flights within the E.U., you can’t have more than 20kg of check-in luggage with you.
– BUT if you have a connecting flight and your destination is outside of the E.U., most airlines apply their baggage requirements for your destination country.
For example, I’m flying from Paris to San Francisco with Aer Lingus. Since I’ve got a layover in Dublin it’s actually two flights: CDG to DUB and DUB to SFO. However, even if the first flight is within the E.U., it’s only the U.S. requirements that I need to worry about.

Things to note about U.S. baggage restrictions:
– They’re changing all the time, so check the U.S. Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) for the latest news.
But to be on the safe side…
Don’t bring sharp things (like nail clippers) or liquids over 3 oz. in your carry-on.
– Bring some extra quart-size ziploc bags in your carry-on. (You’re only allowed to put stuff in one, but other passengers often have need of them…)
– And, above all, don’t have any sketchy documents with you, like in the case of the unfortunate co-author of Freakonomics.

For intercontinental trains like the EuroStar, “you can bring as much as you can carry” seems to be their de facto baggage policy (probably because they’re not worried about fuel charges like planes and buses are). Their passport control is a little stricter, esp. with London to Paris trains, but at least no one said anything when I hauled my ton-of-bricks handbag and two huge suitcases (and my take-out lunch) onto the x-ray conveyor belt at Waterloo station.

There’s this distinctly Filipino thing called the balikbayan box (in Tagalog, balikbayan means “to return to the home country”), which overseas Filipino workers usually stuff with things like canned food and secondhand clothing and toys to ship back to their families in the Philippines. It takes a couple of months because it’s actually shipped on a ship, but I had to send two of those puppies (two boxes and each was able to fit me inside) from Japan to the U.S., and it only cost about $200.

There are usually no weight restrictions for this, so you can stuff as much as you can inside the cardboard box’s dimensions without penalty. However, access to a balikbayan box company depends on where you are– places with large Filipino communities (the northeastern U.S., California, Japan, United Arab Emirates) tend to have more of them, obviously. (Getting one that goes from France to the U.S. might be more of a problem.)

Using a country’s national postal service is usually a huge pain in the ass, although it may be worth the extra security and time savings if you’ve got the money (most of the CDs I shipped from Japan had broken cases by the time I got them. And Jesus it took two months). It also might be cheaper than the standard package deliverers like FedEx. According to the French national postal service, it costs about 200-300 euro to send a 30kg/66lb package from Paris to the U.S. For FedEx, it’s about $400-500.

From years of packing experience, I’ve gotten used to triple-taping my boxes at every edge and across, even at the corners. String is a pain and duct tape leaves a mess, so I use clear cellophane tape, and tons of it. The real way to go now is that automatic cellophane-wrapping kiosk they have at airports; for a few euro it mummy-wraps your bags and stuff in tight, clear plastic, and all you have to do is rip through it like a birthday present once you get back home. (Unfortunately, its impact on the environment is probably enormous.)

For luggage, my family no longer uses locks because American airport security will just rip through ’em. We don’t use hard-top luggage either because it’s difficult to lug around (plus I bruise easily). I have rectangular roller bags that fit nicely into each other, and either have a distinctive colored string tied to them or are an interesting color scheme. I also like the fact that their zippers are sturdy– good zippers are more important than you think.

One of the best things you can do for your luggage security-wise is to get big bags in an annoyingly memorable color or pattern. It helps the baggage handlers remember it (thus NOT lose it), and deters baggage-stealers because it’s just so painfully obvious if they nick it.

When you’re moving yourSELF, it goes without saying to dress comfortably for a journey of any length. But there’s more to that if you want to be comfortable through security checks and the temperature fluctuations of an airplane cabin.
Clothing – Unless you like freezing your ass off, don’t wear shorts or a miniskirt for a plane. Wear or carry at least one extra layer. It doesn’t have to be heavy, but it gets cold in the stratosphere, and those airplane blankets aren’t terribly warm.
Accessories – Keep them to a minimum. If you can’t take it all off in five seconds, don’t wear it all. Also, glasses and earrings usually don’t set off the metal detector, but buckles on your belt, boots or coat can cause problems.
ShoesEasily removable shoes are a must in U.S. airports. Keep them high-comfort and low-maintenance. Loosely tied/velcroed kicks (read: sturdy sneakers) or slip-ons work fine; stilettos with fancy buckle straps are a nightmare. I tend to use flip-flops for short-haul flights in the summer, though some people cringe at the thought of walking around barefoot in an airport. But please, no Crocs unless you’re in pajamas or scrubs– do you really want to get taken for a tourist THAT badly?

Have fun packing! The earlier the better, so don’t say I didn’t warn you…


In other news, I’ve been going to the local library a lot for Internet instead of savoring my last month in Paris, so you may be hearing a lot more from me soon…

no, where are you REALLY from?

I hate judging people, but whenever I get that “So where are you from?” question I automatically brace myself for a boring and unenlightening conversation with someone fairly ignorant of the world.

A: “I’m from the U.S.”
Q: “No, but your parents? Where are THEY from?”
A: “(sigh) They’re from the Philippines.”

Even though I identify much more as American than as Filipina (I haven’t set foot in the country in ten years and I can’t even speak Tagalog anymore), the goddamn color of my skin piques stupid people’s curiosity.

This only pisses me off because white Americans never get asked about this, and it’s a pretty much useless question if you’re anywhere near culturally sensitive. See, if people ask a typically white guy:

Q: “Where are you from, white boy?”
A: “Oh, I’m American.”

they leave it at that because the white boy in question looks stereotypically American (or French or Swiss or whatever), even though if you went further you might find something more interesting:

Q: “But where are you really from?”
A: “Well, I’m one-fifth Irish, one-fifth Scottish, one-quarter German or maybe Scandinavian… some Navajo thrown in there…”

And if you ask an average African-American this question, well, good luck.

Q: “But what country are you really from?”
A: “Hmm, that’s a good one. I have no fucking clue because MY ANCESTORS WERE BROUGHT TO THE U.S. AS SLAVES. Cunt.”
Q: “Oh. …But you’re from Africa, right?”
A: “…God, just shut the fuck up.”

I personally don’t bring race or ethnic origin up unless there’s a particular circumstance that brings it up for me. I’m much more interested in the languages that people speak— it’s more useful to know in the long run. And if the person’s worth getting to know, I’ll figure it out in time anyway. Not that I give a shit.

Besides, what’s the use of asking? All it does is help you project more stereotypes onto the person. If you have a different answer, please submit your double-spaced, five-paragraph essay on cultural sensitivity to

the world according to the frankreich: don’t take it personally

If you are going to live in Paris for more than a few weeks and are wondering why Parisians sometimes seem like assholes, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Polly Platt’s “French or Foe?“. It explains, for instance:

– why French guys always sound like they’re arguing (they love to exercise their wits),

– or why you get lots of unsmiling eye contact on the street if you’re a well-dressed girl or guy (just appreciating the time you took to look good),

– or why you can get anything you want if you pour on the charm and the theatrics to everyone from the supermarket check-out clerk to the lady working at the French consulate (apparently French people just love to be entertained).

I brought the book with me to Paris but hadn’t read it in its entirety until last week. Wish I’d read it earlier. :P Granted it’s written by a woman of a “certain age” so it’s got some of the scoop on French manners that people who weren’t born before 1970 don’t really use anymore (unless they’re old money or politicians). But at least now I know what to do if I’m ever invited to a formal dinner party at the American Embassy…


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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