Archive Page 2

the world, the french and the u.s. presidential election – or, why i don’t talk about politics

First off, I’m sorry I’ve been gone half the summer. I’ve had Burning Man, O’ahu and East Coast posts on the back burner; I’ll retroactively post them in the next week or two and will turn to my regularly scheduled itinerary from then on.

This post, however, is mostly a rant. It’s about why I don’t like talking about politics— or following it too closely, for that matter.

For one, I’m a flaming liberal— pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-alternative energy, pro-universal health care, pro-globalism, anti-war, anti-oil, anti-tax raises for everyone but the rich. That’s all well and good at Stanford, but my family would likely have been a bunch of super-Catholic conservatives if my parents weren’t going to hell for producing bastard children. As I pointed out when I was in Southeast Asia, I apparently cannot and should not talk about religion or politics with anyone Filipino. It just stresses me out way too much.

I guess it could have been worse, though. My father is still a Philippine citizen, but otherwise he’d vote for Obama, and he still engages me in debate from time to time like he did when I was younger. My grandparents are voting for Obama thanks to his fantastic elocution. My mother is going to vote for McCain, partly because his illegal immigration policies are more lax than Obama’s, but partly because, in her words, “The American president shouldn’t have the last name ‘Obama'”. I’m probably not going to be talking to her during the month of December.

Anyway, I digress. The second reason I don’t like following politics is because I don’t see the point in getting so angry about shit all the time. I watched the Palin-Biden debate yesterday and ended up throwing a shoe at the screen when I couldn’t take Palin’s ass-kissing and issue-skirting any longer. That was fun because my house was watching the debate like a bunch of frat boys would watch a football game– drunkenly and belligerently, yelling things at the giant projector screen.

But after the debate, a couple of people in my house were ranting to anyone within earshot about how Palin is an idiot. Of course she is, and the majority of the developed world agrees with you. There’s no point in running your mouth off about it in the safety of a liberal hotbed with people who aren’t experts on the issues, so if you really give a shit, do something tangible elsewhere. Join the Stanford Democrats. Lobby your goddamn representatives. Team up with people who feel angry too. I’m just not one of them.

I’ve taken to politics like the French take to life. With a French accent: “Yes, maybe parts of it suck, but ‘o ze fuck cares? Ze people who care can complain. I ‘ave my sirty-five hour workweek and five weeks of ‘olidays. I do not geeve a sheet.”

That said, I completely understand the French view of the U.S. presidential and vice-presidential candidates this year. The economy is shot to shit and there’s a nonzero chance that Palin could end up in the presidency. Ah, les americains, those stupid fucking idiots.


living the american dream: a little bit about burning man

I’d prepared for the damn thing all summer, a week-long post-anarchist, post-hippie, post-punk festival of crazy art installations made by people on drugs for people on drugs, stuck in the middle of the desert to keep the godless revelers away from Christian eyes. I’d made my bike look like a pack of playing cards had exploded on it, sewed up a wardrobe of fur and EL wire, and packed for every kind of catastrophe imaginable. I was more ready than most virgins could ever hope to be.

And it was every bit as fun as I thought it’d be. Far be it from me to divulge all the details here, but a few key points must be made if you think this festival would be worth going to:

1. Don’t panic. On the playa, anything goes. There will be drugs, sex, and a shit ton of pyrotechnics. Whatever you get offered, don’t freak out. Listen to yourself. Only take what you actually want, and only give what you actually want to give. But as a general rule, people just say yes. I mean, why not? You’re already there, and chances are it won’t actually kill you.

2. You are not going to be able to do everything you want to do. I had about ten things I wanted to do every single day, and every single day I probably only got around to doing one or two of them. That’s cool, because the people you meet are the most fun part of the place, not just the activities you do. (Although that waterboarding camp was really popular…)

3. Be with people you enjoy being with. Exploring the playa with friends is most of the fun. And being with people you trust and are 100% comfortable with is key, especially if you’re particularly vulnerable-looking, or on some kind of substance.

4. Listen to your body. Remember that the desert isn’t the friendliest place for humans, and that your body might be trying to tell you something really important if you’re angry, scared, sleepy, nauseated, or starting to see crazy shit. You might be dehydrated, or on something you didn’t notice was in the brownies.

5. Sometimes there are idiots. Some people just get drunk and belligerent, spending all of Burning Man walking around with blinding headlamps destroying other people’s stuff because they think it’s funny. Some skeevy old guys walk around naked staring at people. If you’re a girl going topless, someone might try to fondle you. Prepare for the worst, but these fuckers are usually avoidable. And you can always get help.

6. Yes, everything is real. The best part of being on the playa is that, no matter what state of mind you’re in, you’ll be seeing things like giant pink bunnies, naked people in clear hamster balls, or hellish landscapes being engulfed in flames, and you don’t have to worry about thinking you’re going crazy.

All that said, if you feel really uncomfortable walking around the more offbeat neighborhoods of San Francisco, if you think things like BDSM and drug use are disgusting and wrong, or if you hate electronic music, Burning Man is probably not for you.

Yeah? Yeah. I think I’m going there again next year… After I pay off all of my camp debts from this year. People don’t talk about it on the playa, but there’s a price to pay for being part of something awesome. Maybe next time I’ll go without a camp and just walk around…

un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept… québec!

I’m currently back in sunny NorCal, but I’ve amassed the notes that I made during my whirlwind journey to Francophone Canada and am sharing them with you.

I hung out with a fair amount of Brazilians in Canada. It’s really hard to get an American visa if you’re from Brazil, so they’re now immigrating to Australia and Canada. In Québec I went to the Festival d’été with a girl named Laïs (who despite her braces and being younger-looking and skinnier than I am, is actually 30 and a lawyer in Brazil), a ridiculously outgoing person, and she practiced her French with everyone we met. It was great for me, since I usually need a week or so to grow balls and actually try the language I’m learning with a local.

I didn’t bring an umbrella. This was a huge mistake.

The only poutine I had in Quebec was in a fast food chain called Chez Ashton. It might’ve been ‘coz I went in the middle of the summer (it’s more of a winter thing), but even when Laïs and I asked someone in one of the shops nearby if they had recommendations, they pointed us there and said that they hated poutine. Wtf? It’s delicious!

Ice… everything
The province of Québec is known for ice cider. The province of Ontario is known for ice wine. Get it right.

Maple everything
There’s a shop on the rue Saint-Jean called “Délices de l’érable” (Maple Delights) and it’s got maple syrup, maple sugar, maple butter, maple mustard, maple ice cream, everything. There’s a tasting counter, just talk to the staff at the front counter (the one with the ice cream counter). The guy who helped us with the tastings was the first Québecois whose French I could sort of understand. Go me!

Nobody curses in Québec City. Seriously. I never heard the word “Tabernac!” (or any other phrases that involve God, basically – they’re sacrilege here) muttered in the same way Parisians mutter “putain ce bordel de merde”. So polite. (Montréal is a slightly different story.)

People “tutoyer” (using the familiar “tu” and “toi” to say “you”) here a lot more than in Paris, but when in doubt, err on the side of “vousvoyer” (using the more polite “vous”). (Although I did get “Madame”d once and felt pretty old and fug the rest of the night.)

Following the dots
During my search for the Château Frontenac one day, I happened to come across a bunch of green dots on the sidewalk

and decided to follow them. I was taken through some really cool places, so if you see orange, yellow or green dotted lines on a sidewalk, follow them and you’ll get taken through some of the best sights in the city. For free! (I came across the château about two hours later, though. Turns out it was two minutes away from my hostel.)

Tours of the interior of Château Frontenac
If you ask about them, people will point you to the tourist desk on the ground floor, but the real guides to Frontenac’s interior are offered one floor below, at the bottom of the staircase at the far end from the revolving doors. They’re in either English or French, and the guides are in costume and in character as chambermaids and bellhops from the 1890s. It’s pretty incredible. ($8.50)

A whole lotta ugly coming from a neverending parade of stupid
I overheard a kid who was yammering on in English to his tourist parents and he was like, “My dad let me drive on his lap before we parked. I’m practicing using my left hand now, so I can drive in Paris!”

The accompanying adults praised him. It took about two minutes for one of them to ask, “Wait, don’t you mean England?”

Best mispronunciation of an American place name by a Frenchman EVER
Missy-pissy. By our hostel’s tour guide, Christophe, who is from Lyon and really, really sucked at English. XD

Okay, that’s about it. I’m off to dinner, but I think I’m finally gonna upload some pictures from the past year onto my Flickr account later.

of bilinguals and road trips

I’m now in a youth hostel in Québec, putting my feet up on their old church pew chairs in the recreation room as I type and plan my next few days. (The pews are actually kind of creepy. I think this was part of an old monastery or something. Or maybe the pew benches were just really cheap on Craigslist.)

Montréal was a fun place, except that it was completely dead since the Jazz Festival just ended and I stayed there on Monday and Tuesday night, so no hoppin’ clubs to check out. But hey, they had fantastic beer at the bars. (More like tavernes since people all knew each other and it was cozier, it seemed.)

Sorry, but omfg I can’t understand you guys at all

I still can’t pinpoint exactly what makes the French here sound so different. I can tell whether a Canadian Francophone is stronger at English by the way they speak French (it’s just the slightest hint of a Canadian English accent, but I can pick up on it), but while I know that Quebeckers (which sounds so much more ducklike than Québecois) speak French so strangely that Parisians stop in their tracks to listen, they sound less conspicuously non-Parisian than shopkeepers and bus drivers in southern France. I have to listen carefully to hear the slightly AFLAC duck difference. That said, 1) sometimes I really DO hear quacking ducks! but mostly because 2) I still can’t understand Québecois French to save my goddamned life.

It’s like the Utopia of bilingualism

A lot of staff in establishments in Montréal were bilingual. I think they’re all required to speak English and French, but there are some who do so with complete ease and you know that they were born and raised in the city. I love it. It’s like the bilingual signs all over Canada… except that the signs are completely in French once you get to Québec (perhaps a vestige of their European counterparts’ snobbishness? lol).

Anyway, to illustrate: the cashier at the bookshop near McGill that I chilled out at greeted me with a “Bonjour, hi!” and switched to English once she saw what language my book was in. And on the train ride here, there were a bunch of old people who spoke French in the line for the bathroom, but then a guy piped up in English and they all switched to fluent English and I was like WHOA!

I know that all the politics behind this shit is pretty serious and polarized, but man, to have a thirty-second moment like that…

But what effing language should I be speaking, guys?

They say in Montréal you should always try to speak French, or at least start all your conversations with “Bonjour!”. It’s a sign of respect. It’s almost like Paris– you don’t always get an A+ for effort, but in a place where people bitch and whine about everything all the goddamn time, a B is pretty stellar. However, if you’re fluent in English and sound like you’re fluent in French (à la moi-même), starting the conversation in French can be kind of hard because they might continue the conversation in French, and then you’ll have to ask them to repeat themselves multiple times because you’ve only ever heard Parisian French and you can’t understand them to save your goddamned life (and then they’ll start to think that you’re mentally challenged). Then the person you’re speaking to will have three options: 1) continue in English, 2) continue in French, but really ridiculously slowly, or 3) just say everything in both (“Vous allez où, where are you going?”). Needless to say, #2 doesn’t happen too much. But hey, you’d definitely get an A+ for effort… if they ever find out that you’re actually American. -_-;;;

n.b.: I’m really sorry if I’ve offended anyone by comparing their language to quacking ducks. It was the best analogue I could come up with.

oh canada

I’m currently sitting in a fancy house in Londontown, a la Gwen Stefani. (London is a town two hours away from Toronto.) I never really appreciated the differences between Canadians and Americans until now. For brevity’s sake, I’ll be doing another series of shorts to illustrate my point.

Pronouncing the “ou” properly
Americans have this strange habit of pronouncing “ou” as “OW” (like the exclamation of pain), as in “abOWt” and “hOWse”. Canadians pronounce the “u” as an “oo”, so they’re actually truer to the spelling. But it still sounds really funny.

It’s like they’re British or something
Canada is what the U.K. would be like if it were transported to the sprawling plains of North America and if their accents were less posh-sounding. Signs and everything look American, except that everything’s in kilometers and kilograms and degrees Celsius, and the words are mostly British, like “colour” and “mum” and “fish and chips”. Oh, and all of the packages in grocery stores have labels in both English and French. But it’s weird French– who the hell translates “candy” as “friandise”?

My brain’s fried right now, so I’ll save the rest for later, when I’m not traveling with my mother and when I’m in Quebec, where the Francophones sound like quacking ducks.

my fake graduation, and why i’m not getting a job this summer

Since I took a quarter off last year and seriously messed up my schedule (I was originally planning to take an entire year off, remember?), I’m actually getting my diploma next year. But I walked in this year’s graduation because I am in the class of 2008 and wanted to walk with my friends. (That, and my family wanted a reason to see Oprah’s commencement speech.)

Unfortunately, my decision to have a fake graduation is having unexpected repercussions. I keep reminding my parents that I haven’t, but everyone they know still thinks that I’ve actually graduated. This means that I’m gonna have to try to avoid all of my parents’ friends for the next twelve months so I don’t have to give them that awkward explanation that no, I haven’t actually graduated yet– ‘coz then they’ll give me that strange look that Filipinos reserve for failures, fags, and teenage girls who get knocked up way too soon. -_-;

But I digress. (And I shouldn’t really care ‘coz in a year’s time, I’m graduating from Stanford, bitches! And then I’m gonna be a rock star.)

Anyway, my aunt from Toronto is helping my mom plan a July trip to Toronto, Montréal and Québec as a graduation present. (I think she knows the deal.) This is in addition to my very first Burning Man in August, my mom and sister’s Waikiki vacation in early September (which I ended up tagging along on), and a weekend in Jersey in late September for my sister’s best friend’s wedding.

I seriously thought I was done with all the traveling after last year, but apparently not. (Surprise!) This strange (and touristy :P) itinerary of mine makes it difficult for me to get a summer job that doesn’t involve Stanford psych experiments or strange odd jobs on Craigslist. But I still need a way to pay for that $300 Burning Man ticket, so psych experiments it is…

why i am a vegetarian, and why my family freaked out when i first told them

I’m a vegetarian. And no, I don’t eat fish.

I read a New York Times article today on “Putting Meat Back in Its Place“, which gives meat-eaters pointers on cutting back their meat intake, and I reflected on how I turned to a life of vegetables, eggs and dairy. I first became vegetarian my freshman year at Stanford, when someone handed me a pamphlet about factory farming on Earth Day; I still can’t think of eating meat without thinking about it. It was pretty easy for me to turn veggie– one day I sat down in our dining hall with a meatless plate and announced that I was going to try the vegetarian thing. I don’t proselytize, but I do recount this story to people who ask.

My family is heavily ensconced in Filipino food, which relies on dishes that are heavy in fatty fish, meat, oil, bone marrow, and other things that will clog up your heart but are just so good. So when my grandparents found out that more than half of their culinary repertoire was now off-limits for me, they got really worried. “How are we going to feed her?” they wondered. (Actually, the first question they asked was, “But you eat fish, right?”)

My dad was really against it at the time. I don’t have the most resilient of bodies, and my freshman year was already taking its toll on my health, so I had to convince him that no, I wasn’t going to waste away, and yes, people can live a life without meat and still be normal.

But more importantly, rejecting Filipino food is like rejecting Filipino culture. It was the same thing as refusing to go to church or refusing to respect my parents. This really was like slapping my father in the face. As I’ve said before, vegetarianism to me is more like a belief than a food preference, but not everyone sees it that way.

Also, a lot of people view eating meat as a sign of wealth and abundance, of things that their parents and grandparents never had, so rejecting it can be an insult to their past as well. My housemate Ana, who was born in Romania during the Ceauşescu regime, recounted how her family was taken aback when she first declined meat at dinner. They were like, “We never had meat when we were your age, and now you’re refusing it?! This isn’t how we raised you!” Some of my friends who grew up in Soviet Union countries have similar stories.

What people need to realize is that meat is now so cheap that it’s no longer a sign of wealth. I really think that vegetarianism is going to become the diet of the new elite— an elite that is well-educated and concerned about their environment and their health, and is able to spend a few more dollars on organic food and boca burgers and soymilk and tempeh to maintain their healthy lifestyle.

That said, I have three exceptions to the no-meat rule. The first is sea urchin, and only if it’s unagi nigiri at a Japanese restaurant. The second is caviar (especially the tobiko nigiri at Sushi Tomo)– sometimes the fish is killed to extract it, and there’s pretty much no way to tell. The third is instant ramen (like Cup Noodles), but only in extenuating circumstances, like when I am stressed or hungover. As part of my 101 in 1001, I’m trying to see if I can spend three weeks as a vegan (maybe when I’m back at school, or else my parents might just kill me). But I love cheese. I looooove cheese. So wish me luck.


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.

This Month

July 2018
« Mar