Thursday, March 31, 2011

To Catch a Dollar

For tonight only at 7:30, you can go see To Catch a Dollar, a new documentary by Gayle Ferraro about about the efforts of Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank and the potential for microfinance to be successful in America.  A list of participating theatres can be found here.

I'd write more about how awesome microfinance is and how you should go see this movie (both true statements) but I've gotta run!  Gotta run some errands, get in a yoga class, and then catch this film at the only theatre in Maryland that is screening it!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

wishful thinking, Wednesday

It's been one of those days where things just don't go right.  You wake up ready to take on the world, and the world just laughs at your optimism and sets you straight.  When I woke, the skies were gray, but full of promise.  And as I prepare to put everything behind me, to keep truckin' on toward tomorrow, it is not only raining but snowing-- a cruel mix of raging wet ice.

75 degrees and sunny in New York was only ten days ago, but it feels like an eternity when I am no longer laughing with my best friends, carrying on in blissful ignorance of the daunting task I have willingly undertaken as of late.  I'm remembering what it means to have goals... and rediscovering how terrifying it is to not be in complete control of one's fate.

As much as I'd like to go running from this moment of despondency and savage weather, I shall ultimately suck it up and cling to my ambitions, allowing myself a brief mental vacation instead.

Happy Place..Happy Place....warm water, sunny beach, palm trees....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

sex and the Arab world

Those of you who know a bit about me might be cognizant of the fact that over the past couple years I've become quite interested in the issues of sex and gender as they relate to women's health and empowerment-- so much so that it has begun to shape my academic pursuits and career pathway.  Sex has become so intrinsically tied with power throughout the world, yet so few people dare to scrutinize this pivotal linkage.  It really should come as no surprise that places with a greater taboo on sex have much greater injustices against women-- not just in more public realms like political and economic freedoms and opportunities, but in more private spheres as well, where such oppression can be debilitating and deadly (think significantly higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, HIV, intimate partner violence- the list goes on and on).  I applaud those brave enough to tackle the issue of sex, which is such a fundamental part of everyday life, yet has been relegated to the "shameful" and "taboo," only to be touched upon in the bedroom and, far too often, only to be decided upon by the male.

Last weekend, The New York Times Magazine blog published a story about Joumana Haddad, a Lebanese woman who is daring to pose vital questions about sexual taboo to the Arab world.  I applaud Haddad for asking the questions that others are not bold enough to ask and challenging the power game of sex that is pervasive in the Arab world (though certainly not limited to it).

As I have a standardized test coming up that I should at least pretend to be prepping for, I will let someone else speak for me today-- and in more revealing and poignant words than I could ever speak on the subject.  A Lebanese-American friend of mine, Diana, recently wrote a piece for her blog in which she shares her thoughts on Joumana Haddad's work as it relates to her own experience as the child of a broken American-Arab partnership.  Diana has graciously allowed me to share her words here:

Beating The Arab Patriarchy Over The Head With Sex Toys

                   I Killed
I’m a mutt of sorts. My native Californian mother, a nurse, met my immigrant Arab father, a surgeon, in one of those stereotypical cross-cultural hospital love affairs of the early 1980’s. You know the ones: foreign-intellectual-seeks-loophole-to-prevent-deportation-to-war-torn-homeland. There was more to the story, but I’m now cognizant of the fact that this was the driving force of the narrative of my parents’ ill-fated romance.
My father wined and dined my mother according to the contemporary American dating rituals; she believed him to be someone he wasn’t. In direct opposition to my father’s sociocultural values, they cohabited before marriage. My mother became pregnant and gave birth to my father’s saving grace — an anchor baby. With the help of a hot shot D.C. immigration attorney and his natural born American son, my father received his coveted free pass to the United States of America.
The West-Meets-East fairy tale quickly unraveled.
Women are objects under the patriarchal Arab gaze. They are pawns, vessels, and prizes. They should be pleasant, passionate and amiable, but never assertive, outspoken, or defiant. Sexual only at the behest of the male proprietor, whether father, husband, or brother.
My father used my mother in precisely this fashion. He used her to escape the gruesome squalor of Beirut in the 1980’s. He duped a liberated, idealistic American to gain the freedom to practice his misogyny in peace.
Sex is the weapon of choice for the Arab patriarchal assault on womankind. In The New York Times blog post Sex and the Souk, Joumana Haddad bluntly states:
“People tell me, ‘There are so many things wrong with the Arab world, why do you just talk about sex?’ And I say, ‘This is the main link.’ Who decides what’s haram — what’s allowed and not allowed? The religious figures. They are linked with the political powers, and together they work to control the society through this medium, the sex drive. If you break the power over sex, you can start undermining and questioning the religious and political powers. You cannot do it the other way around.”
I love this. So obvious, yet so taboo, and so intricately defines the Arab world. The chains that bound a woman’s sexuality in the Arab world also place a gag order on sexual discussions from the female perspective.  Viewing sexuality through the male gaze perpetuates female oppression. By dismantling the power structure of sexuality, we create spiderweb fractures in the glass ceiling.
                     Joumana Haddad
Ms. Haddad, dubbed the “Carrie Bradshaw of Beirut,” is the publisher of Jasad — body in Arabic — an erotic literary magazine that explores the spectrum of sexuality. According to The New York Times post, it boasts “articles by intellectuals and poets about masturbation, homosexuality, fetishism and polygamy alongside antique photos of nude Arab boys luxuriating in voluptuous Ottoman settings and close-ups of female genitalia.” Racing to get my hands on a copy — William & Mary’s own literary erotica group, Lips, would do well to sneak a peek.
While her reactionary opponents outnumber the bullet holes freckling Beirut’s downtown, Haddad’s feminist critics question her authenticity and efficacy. While I understand their hesitancy to embrace a celebrity as a bona fide political activist, I find their cautionary attitude premature. The Arab woman’s world is in crisis. Who are we to deny any effort on her behalf? Ms. Haddad’s fresh and unyielding take on sexual politics is uncharted territory that young activists like myself would do well to embody.
The lone daughter of an ill-fated American-Arab partnership, I am acutely aware of the sexual conflict inherent in the Arab world. Forced to patronize my father’s fellow Arab doctors, I had no privacy in my personal medical affairs. In college, my brother was lauded as his fraternity’s Vice President, pretty American girlfriend at his side, chaste as they come in my father’s eyes. This veneer left my father free to revel in blissful ignorance of my fortunate brother’s extracurricular activities. In contrast, my father responded to my responsible use of birth control with shame and outrage, and told me that I should “try to keep my legs shut” when I contracted a UTI.
And so, Joumana, mabrouk. Mabrouk, and please continue to write for us.
Her latest work, I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman is for sale on Amazon. It will be published in the United States in late 2011.

Thank you, Diana, for your insightful words on a personally painful topic that has such far-reaching significance.  (Diana's blog can be found here)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Finspiration

Since a friend of mine recently (correctly?) stated that my blog is about pretty pictures and sharks, I thought I would do that notion justice with some more finspiration from the great white shark, with a guest appearance (well, stealing the show really) by the orca (killer) whale.

I recently came across some rather old news about killah whales killin' great whites in the Farallon Islands (that place I talked about off the coast of San Francisco where you can go whale watching and shark watching/cage diving).  While this particular incident actually happened way back in 1997 (is it weird for anyone else that the 90s are getting kind of far away?), the National Geographic Channel dug it up for somewhat recent use in their Nature Untamed series under the title "The whale that ate Jaws."  Basically, biologists have observed orcas taking down sharks and rays by placing them in a state of tonic immobility, and this one time back in 1997 a tourist boat in the Farallons witnessed this act between an orca and a great white and everyone was like "wtf?!"

What I really enjoyed from these videos is the description of the "LA Pod" of killer whales.  According to Alisa, the Killer Whale Biologist, "With the LA pod virtually every single animal has big chunks out of the dorsal fin.  Other researchers who have looked at 'em say, 'your whales look like they just got beaten up, got in a gang fight or somethin' like that.'  They can have scars on the dorsal fin, scars everywhere and chunks gone sooo I think they might have a similar history with sharks and this might indicate that."

Essentially, what we have witnessed, folks, is no more than a gang fight between the LA Pod Killah Whales and the Farallon Great Motherfuckin White Sharks.

I swear I work and study and have hobbies and don't spend all of my time making weird whale/shark crips/bloods photoshop things
oh, whatever, this is probably the greatest thing you've seen today and you know it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Night Souvenir: shopping Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market

If markets are your thing, then browsing the Chatuchak (Jatujak or JJ) Weekend Market in Bangkok is probably a must, as it is the largest market in Thailand.  Even if you are not looking to buy anything, the sheer size is impressive and there is plenty of nomming to be done.

this is not a great photo at all, but whatevs, I was too busy shopping and nomming on everything in sight

As I would be traveling on and could not afford to spare any room in my bag, I didn't have much place shopping at the JJ, but I did manage to score some some tiny trinkets.  I bought two pairs of fantastically wild earrings at 50 baht each and spent another 30 baht on a large (but weightless, so still practical enough!) bag of lemongrass, suitable for tea-making.  Lemongrass tea was something that I came to look forward to after a long day of massage school, and while the citrus flavor makes a great addition to both black and green teas, it can also stand on its own as a purely herbal drink.

Some of my friends would probably give me a hard time for these additions to my eclectic earring collection, but they clearly don't know what they are missing.  I love the combination of colors and the wire coiling in both of these.

though I can't claim that these are made entirely of precious stones, I can't argue with paying just over $3 for two pairs

Another great thing that I picked up from a street vendor during my stay in Bangkok was a sturdy embroidered bag that was perfect for schlepping my stuff around during my three months in Nepal.  I can't tell you how great it was to have something large and durable enough with the safety of a zipper to carry around a heavy DSLR, water bottle, book, etc. all over the place.  And bright.  Very situationally appropriate.  I think I'm starting to miss the bright colors of Thailand and Nepal...

here I am awkwardly posing in a photo that was originally about the gorgeous scenery of the Kathmandu Valley as seen from a hilltop monastery, but has now been cropped down and made all about the bag I'm carrying.  And how hot is my Speedo watch?  Even hotter= the bright orange Princess Jasmine (slash harem) pants that I have conveniently shielded your eyes from.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

just like lions

While watching The Last Lions, I was blown away by Ma Di Tau's ability to recognize the sound of her cubs even with an incredible distance between them.  Like, holy shit, ma, that's really impressive.  Lioness of the year!

But then I realized that I, too, have a similar ability.  I can pick my parents out of a crowd based on the noises they make.  My mom does this coughing/throat clearing/honking thing.  If we were at the gym and she was in a shower stall, I could, with absolute certainty, pick hers every time with total confidence that I was not about to awkwardly barge in on some stranger's naked time.  My mother probably would not be too thrilled with me encroaching on her shower time simply to prove a point, but that's fine.  Point taken?  The ultimate is when we do not arrive somewhere together, but I can instantly tell that we are in the same place.  I occasionally meet the woman for a meal of food around lunchtime at the hospital in which we both work.  We come from opposite ends and usually meet where the food is (logically).  On a recent occasion, however, I stopped by the restroom first.  You know how this ends-- I immediately knew I was in the presence of my mother based on subtleties of her head noises.  Am I the only one who thinks this is cool?  I mentioned it to her, and she was like oh yea, nobigdeal, you used to be able to find us when you were younger like that.  In my head I imagine wondering off at the Philadelphia Zoo, probably within the confines of the reptile house (where we once "lost" my youngest sister and had to call security-- she was just staring at the turtles the entire time), and being brought back by hearing my mom clear her throat.  Really, what better place than a zoo to illustrate our animal instincts?  And it is not just my mom that I can identify.  Yesterday, while doing some work in the suite that my dad shares with several people (and others in the department stop by to use the suite's sweet individual tea/coffee serving machine), I heard a yawn from outside in the common space and instantly knew it was faja.  OK, so you are thinking that there is probably about a one in, say, twenty-five chance that it had to be him based on the number of people that would reasonably be around that part of the building and have access to the office suite, but whatever.  I am certain it is significant, and I think it is kinda neat.

I wonder if my (hypothetical) spawn will be able to find me in a crowd based on the uniqueness of my everyday noises.

Also, I'm pretty sure this was a somewhat pointless post, so apologizes if that was a waste of anyone's time.

Just kidding, I'm not sorry.  Let's look at some pretty lions!

photo courtesy of

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday Thai: litterulae from a Bangkok cab

While cabs are often not the ideal method of transportation in Bangkok due extreme congestion on the roads (try the river boats or the sky train when possible), they are cheap, and sometimes the best option if you traveling beyond the bounds of water and sky.  If you are staying in a big tourist hub, particularly Khao San, many cabbies might try to fix a rate before hand.  It might seem like a great deal, especially if you have just arrived in Southeast Asia, but the fixed rate they demand will usually be at least double the metered fare.  Ask them to run the meter or find another cabbie that will.

From what I could tell, this was my VIP cab ride to karaoke (noraebong!), gambling, booze, hookers, and sodomy.  Unfortunately, I only utilized it to get home faster for much needed sick nap time.  My loss, I guess.

In other news...

I'm tres excited that my La Mer watches have arrived!

fantastic post about girl guilt from The Sexademic

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

wat is the wat?

As two friends of mine are soon meeting up in Bangkok to commence their envy-inducing peregrinations of Southeast Asia, I thought I'd take a moment (or a few posts) to reminisce about my time spent in Thailand on two separate occasions last year.

Menacing clouds roll over the Wat Pho temple complex.  Intermittent downpours are to be expected during the summer monsoon season-- my mid-July jaunt was no exception.

Wat Pho was beyond a doubt my favorite of the traditional sights in Bangkok, which was fortunate since I spent nearly every day of my week in the city at the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medicine School earning my certification in Thai massage.  I'll delve more into my escapades in masseuse boot camp another time, but I'll have you know that I can massage like a champ.  And Thai massage is not for sissies-- done in full, the standard procedure takes about two hours to complete, which amounts to quite a workout for the masseuse as well as the recipient (some liken the benefits to completing a yoga class).  Wat Pho is the place to learn the art of Thai massage, and people come from far and wide to learn the Thai Traditional Massage treatment (yours truly included).

But back to the temple complex itself.  For those of you who might not be onto this already, wat means temple in Thai.  Another helpful hint for Thai is that in the Romanized spellings of Thai words, "ph" is pronounced like a hard "p," not an "f" (Wat Po, not Wat Fo).  I also happen to think that written Thai is gorgeous.  Spoken Thai, not so much.  Wat Po is actually just a nickname given to Wat Phra Chetuphon, the largest and oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok.  In English, it might also be referred to as "the temple of the reclining Buddha."  From this, you might (correctly) assume that there is a reclining Buddha located somewhere within the temple-- in fact, the temple houses one of the largest Buddhas in Thailand at 45 meters long.  Over one-thousand additional Buddhas lie on the premises, which is great if you are into BuddhaBuddhaBuddhaBuddhas rockin' everywhere.

 Oh hai.  I'm a BFB.  Big Fuckin' Buddha.

What makes Wat Pho so special in my mind are the intricacies found in every corner of the sprawling complex.  From the spectacular ceramic detailing covering every inch of the temple's 95 chedis to the mother-of-pearl inlaid in the reclining Buddha's feet to depict the 108 auspicious characteristics of the Buddha, you could return to Wat Pho every day and still discover new features that managed to elude you on previous visits.  As half of the duo that will be in Bangkok shortly has a background in graphic design and tends to document interesting patterns in her travel photographs, the elements of this temple complex are sure to please.

Within the hall of the reclining Buddha, you can exchange a nominal amount of money for a bowl of tiny coins, the idea being to drop one in each of the bowls lining the walk to the exit-- no doubt to provoke some sort of cosmic blessing.  When I ran out of coins with several bowls to go, I wondered if I was sending a sort of nefarious smoke signal up to the heavens, however unintentional it may be.  Though I shrugged it off and walked on, I can't stop thinking about how I managed to fall incredibly ill the following day, spending the majority of massage school in a fevered delirium.

While the cause of my sickness is up for debate, Wat Pho's exceptional beauty is not.  Enjoy!

 clockwise from top left: I miss the ever-present vibrant flowers of Thailand; graceful ceramic details of a chedi in the foreground, the glowing opulence of a temple building in the background; a rather large toe; temple belfry; the long legs of the BFB (big fuckin' Buddha); corner of a building ornately decorated with glowing glass and mirrors; coins for good luck; a sage old man keeps watch over the wat

-Wat Pho is located in the old city, right by the Grand Palace.  If you are staying near Khao San Road (the main backpacker haven), it is easily reached by walking or taking a cheap cab (about 45 baht- make sure the cabbie runs the meter) or tuk-tuk.
-Entrance fee is 50 baht.
-A Thai massage will be more expensive at Wat Pho, but at about $11/hr vs. about $8 or so on the street (maybe less, maybe more- probably about $9 or so on Khao San), you might want to be able to say that you've gotten a massage at the ultimate traditional Thai massage mecca.
-Get there early-- everything in Bangkok is better before the crowds and the stifling humidity! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

hey laaaadiees (a different type of, ahem, tourism)

A few months ago, I was on a bit of an evolutionary biology reading kick (highly, highly, highly recommend reading Sex at Dawn, hands down one of the most entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking books I've read in the past year-- make that several years, actually).  Between a well-delivered fun fact about gorilla testicle size while cabbing it downtown on a New York Saturday night and a gem of a map that I stumbled upon just now and have to share, I've got evolutionary biology on the brain again.

The following world map gives a breakdown of the world according to penis size.  I am in no way commenting on the importance of said measurements and do not want to read too much into the underlying tones of this dick waving contest as a pretext for global politics, but hey, it's science!

Korea, my former country of residence, ranks the lowest, coming in at at average of 3.9 inches and confirming the wisdom learned from a Filipino whore last spring.  In the Philippines, among sex workers, Korean men are often referred to as "3x3x3s."  3 inches, 3 minutes, 3,000 pesos.

And if you are into, ya know, the more well-endowed, it might be another reason to go seek out a Latin lover (hmm... do I sense a forthcoming chapter on "how Lindsey got her groove back?").  But whatever you do, keep it safe, kids.

Monday, March 21, 2011

how not to pack for a long weekend

Despite the fact that I have been in perpetual motion for the past couple years, I am still the worst packer ever.  I struggle to remember one trip in recent memory that didn't begin with a scramble to get everything packed at the last minute-- whether that be a weekend jaunt in nearby Philadelphia or a year-long move to the opposite side of the world.  Often this ends in gross over-packing, frequently in poor sartorial decisions, and time and again in random acts of packing stupidity, as I end up with several pairs of pants and only one shirt for the weekend or completely forget to toss in underwear (which can only somewhat work if you are headed to Mexico and plan on spending most of your time rotating through the bathing suits that you, thankfully, did not forget to pack).

This weekend was no exception, and Friday morning found me struggling to finish a final paper and throw together a weekend bag for New York with highs of 75 and best friends on the horizon.  75 is well and nice, but the excitement over basking in the glory of an early spring day can easily corrupt the reasonable part of the brain that tells you that highs of 50 the following two days really mean that it will get down close to freezing over the weekend-- don't hang up your winter jacket just yet.

Flash forward to Sunday night, as I'm waiting for the bus to take me home, away from the chaos of the city as well as far away from the people I love.  After a night of dancing in heels and retiring yet another sad pair of black opaque tights, I've been schlepping it around the city in a pair of yoga pants and gold Toms.  While I am vaguely embarrassed about my state of being, at least New Yorkers are wonderfully active, and traversing Central Park in workout attire (albeit of the perfectly matched Lululemon variety) is nothing out of the ordinary on a sunny Sunday.  Having just made it in time for my bus back down below the Maison-Dixon line, I'm high on the adrenaline of a close call and not really expecting a long wait out in the cold.  But the buses are backed up, and so nearly forty minutes later, I decide to pull a pair of jeans over top of my pants in hopes that I will stop shivering uncontrollably.  Never mind the awkwardness of shimmying into denim that was not meant to be layered and bending over to fish for the ends of my bunched up yoga pants while surrounded by hundreds of Megabus customers-- I'm certain I am borderline hypothermic at this point, and dammit, I am not going to go into shock just because I can't pack or predict the changing weather worth shit!

My bus ended up boarding a few minutes later, but the damage was done, and I shiver shiver shivered all the way home.  While this should be a lesson in how not to pack, experience tells me that I will continue to get this wrong time and again.  How does one pack for a short weekend with drastic temperature changes and drastically different social situations (a Saturday night out at a swanky lounge vs. lounging on a Sunday morning, for instance)?  Will I ever get it right?!

a self-portrait. the big apple is just sooo much better in the comfort of my yoga pants, yea?  I'm pretty jazzed about the situation, anyway, if you can't tell.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

a moment of silence for Japan

I'm not really sure what to say in the wake of the tragedy that Japan has been dealing with for the past week.  The last funeral I attended saw me smiling a lot at the relatives that I hadn't seen in years before realizing that smiling probably betrayed the thoughts I had of sadness and loss and was not the most appropriate face to showcase at such an event.  So here I am, trying to make sense of the incredible losses that the Japanese people are suffering right now, and my only response is to say nothing.  Tomorrow, I'll be participating in the Blogger's Day of Silence out of consideration for the multitudes of losses the Japanese have suffered and in support of some of the ongoing disaster relief efforts.


I will say this.  On two occasions while living in Korea last year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Japan.  I found the country beautiful and the people incredibly warmhearted.  Friends of mine that worked in Japan often remarked on the kindness of their Japanese coworkers who made them feel welcome and made an incredible effort to share with them their culture.  

I'll never forget arriving at Kawaguchiko Station near dark on July 1st of last year.  The previous day I had taught my last day of class and packed up my apartment to move out.  Earlier that day I had scrambled to get the rest of my belongings out of the apartment and to a friend's house for storage while I got out of town for awhile, rushed to make my afternoon flight, frantically walked around the overwhelming Shinjuku Station (the busiest train station in the world) looking to catch the bus to the Fuji Five Lakes area, and finally found myself walking alone in a dark, quiet town searching for the hostel where I was to meet a friend.  Tired and still unwinding from the stress that had accumulated over the past month, I passed a man on the side of the road near his apartment building and asked if he could point me in the right direction.  Instead of pointing down the road, he pointed to his car and insisted that I accept a ride.  It was only a short ride, but it was a really nice thing to offer.  His wife and adorable kids were there, and I'm sure that everyone had been eager to get home for the night before some random foreigner arrived.  It is the kind of thing that I wouldn't expect many people to do in the US-- and I think we have been conditioned from a very young age to think that accepting such an offer from a stranger will ultimately lead to a ghastly demise-- and yet in Japan, it seems really normal.  People really are just that nice.

I send Japan all my love, and for the next 24 hours may you hear the sound of my silence.

"Irish Potatoes" for St. Patty's

Tucked into my memories, still just within reach, I am sitting in the kitchen of my first house helping my mom roll "Irish Potatoes"... and helping myself to several in the process.  I would later eat so many that I would vomit everywhere, as my four year-old self probably did not understand what could possibly have be meant by "too much of a good thing."

Though I am not sure I could trust myself to have just one (or five), my memories of St. Patrick's Day growing up in Philadelphia are dotted with the sugary goodness of "Irish Potatoes."  I'm not sure if they are a regional thing (utilizing Philadelphia cream cheese), but I have not have one since the family moved from the Philadelphia area to Maryland-- though it could simply be that as teenagers, the homeroom was not still a place to cut up shamrocks and celebrate the Americanized secular version of an Irish Catholic holiday.  

image via here with a parve version using tofutti that could easily be made vegan

It has been many, many years since I last experienced an "Irish Potato" melting in my mouth, but I am willing to bet that they are just as delightful as they were in my childhood.  They are super easy to make, so why not whip up a batch to enjoy with your Guinness?

"Irish Potatoes"
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups flaked coconut
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon


In a medium bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add the vanilla and confectioners' sugar; beat until smooth. Using your hands if necessary, mix in the coconut. Roll into balls or potato shapes, and roll in the cinnamon. Place onto a cookie sheet and chill to set. If desired, roll potatoes in cinnamon again for darker color.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

a night out in Baltimore: Mediterranean food & Pete Yorn

Nothing like some good ol' live music to pull you back into the moment, right?

A long, otherwise boring day that started with 7 am power yoga followed by nine hours in an office (with lots of intermittent daydreaming of far-off lands and friends) ended on an exceptional note-- a mouthwatering dinner and a night of musical revelry.

We started the evening in Fells Point-- at 6 pm and still light, I was beyond grateful for daylight saving's time despite still dragging even more than usual from spending one less vital hour in the arms of Morpheus over the weekend.  The vegan struck gold once again with her choice in restaurant--everything we ordered at Mezze, specializing in Mediterranean small plates, was delicious.

After dinner, our party split, and two of us headed towards the concert venue that was playing host to Ben Kweller and Pete Yorn for the night.  I can't afford to carry on with any sort of verbosity here, as I have a final paper that I should be prioritizing, but I'm not sure I even want to reduce what ultimately was just an enjoyable evening of energetic performances by both musicians to mere words.

Ben Kweller                                                                                                        Pete Yorn

Standing directly in front of the stage was close enough to observe that PY was sporting a wedding band.  It appears that some lucky lady has snatched up this beautiful and talented hunk of a man.

I'm not even upset with my heels or knees for screaming after four hours of standing in ballet flats or stressed about the need to write a final paper in the next two days that will largely determine my grade.

Bottom line: I need some more live music in my life. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

(humble) Pi Day

For all my talk about freeing oneself from guilt (the requisite affliction that reappears with each passing Lent), I have succumbed to a similar mental plague as of late.  Perhaps it is not coincidental that these sentiments arose around my lusting for a certain Catholic island that shall not be named.  Nevertheless, I am trying my best to remind myself that I have done nothing wrong here by wanting to seize the day.

A friend, and sometimes blog reader, sent me this link to a podcast.  Upon receiving it, I shuddered at the title and description-- "Back to Work" in response to a listener in the midst of a quarter-life crisis.  Oh god, I asked with trepidation, is this going to catapult me right back into the abyss of an existential crisis?  He assured me it would do quite the opposite.  Now, I am fairly decent at the internets-- at the very least, I can Google like a pro.  There are, however, a few things that I have yet to embrace.  Blogs used to be one unfamiliar realm, though I am slowly conquering this blogging thing (with moderate success?) whereas things like podcasts definitely remain uncharted waters.  But I had no reason not to keep it on in the background while I did pointless things on the internets, so press play I did.  Addressing Quarter-Life Crisis Richard, these middle-aged dudes seemed to quell the exact fears bubbling out from my being at that very moment.  They seemed to be suggesting that I'm not an awful person for going after the opportunities that present themselves to me while I am not committed to things like mortgages, a grueling 9 to 5, a significant other, a kid (a dog!), a tenure track position, etc., etc., etc.  That I should not feel bad doing things for myself!  That I should commit to doing something for myself every day, like writing!

Quotes that I liked:

Nobody's every going to be happy with how far along you are at being the person they wish you were. . . true, and good, but as much as it would be nice to say that it 100% does not matter what others think, individuals do not exist in a vacuum... to some extent gaining approval, or at the very least not being the subject of disappointment, is important in relation to those that are most important in our lives.  I wish I was impervious to this, but, alas, I am only human.

The only way I have time to do nice things is if I don't do everything.  I used to try so hard to do everything.  But it really is so much easier to enjoy things when you are not in a rush and you are truly doing the things that make you happy.  And sometimes, it isn't simply a matter of choosing the thing that will make you happier because you are presented with two (or more!) deeply satisfying options.  If you have to choose, you might lament not being able to do both, but if you try to be accommodating, you run the risk of not having enough time to energy to devote enough attention to either.  I think of this often whenever I am traveling somewhere close for a short amount of time (i.e. New York, Philly, DC) where I have a number of dear friends that I would like very much to see.  I could run around the entire time, like a chicken with my head cut off, shuffling between city blocks, on and off public transportation, drink after dinner after coffee after lunch date, trying to give everyone due diligence, for I do truly want to spend time with all of those near and dear to my heart, but it is not fair.  It is not fair to me, exhausted from this hypothetical jaunt up and down the isle of Manhattan or on and off the DC Metro, and it is not fair to those that deserve my fullest attention and appreciation.  In the past, I might have tried to pencil everything in, squeeze as much exhausted time out of my days as possible, but I realize now the importance and the luxury of being able to savor every enjoyable moment without the pressure of trying to do everything at once simply because I can.

It brings me back to the notion I once clung to of being able to exist solely in one moment without fleeing (mentally or otherwise) to the future or the past.  It was an awareness cultivated during my time in Nepal, and despite my best efforts, the remains are slowly slipping through my fingertips.  I realize that I might not be able to get back there from here-- to exist in my society requires a certain amount of consideration for the future-- but while I should not lose touch with reality, maybe I should cut myself some slack.  For (here is my inner-nerd coming out) as Gandalf says, All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us, and, at 24, I can already say that I've had a pretty good go at things.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday night classic: dinner and a movie... and lions, oh my!

Last night I went out for a low-key outing in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore-- dinner at Marie Louise Bistro and a movie at The Charles Theater.  The choice in restaurant was prompted by the vegan in our party, who had been there previously and found satisfactory options for her picky palate.  Continuing with my fish kick, I went with a pistachio crusted salmon with braised leeks, citrus-glazed carrots, and roasted potatoes in a buerre blanc sauce.  Mmm mmm good.  My two companions both enjoyed the Zucchini Louise- a zucchini "fettuccine" dish with tomatoes, onions, garbanzo beans, lemon and couscous that was tres delixieux.  For dessert, the non-vegan and I indulged in a pistachio creme brulee topped with chocolate.  The selection of French pastries and desserts is worth a trip alone. 

After dinner, we made our way over to The Charles, an independent theater that is often the only place to catch limited release films in Baltimore, to watch The Last Lions.  I highly recommend that everyone see this movie.  Maybe I just totally geek out over nature films, but the footage is incredible and the storyline captivating-- with equal parts heartbreaking and triumphant.  The fact that the narration is provided by Jeremy Irons, the voice of Scar in The Lion King, was not lost on me- especially when describing the scar-faced leader of the water buffalo.  The couple that filmed this, Dereck and Beverly Loubert, are some serious badasses.  While watching, I kept thinking how insanely amazing it was they that captured the footage they did-- following individual animals around a vast expanse of Botswana and weaving a compelling story along the way.  It boggles my mind.  I'm quite in awe of them and their work.

Upsetting fact: There are about 20,000 lions left in the wild.  50 years ago, there were 450,000.  Yet, lions are not included on the endangered species list.

Watch the trailer!  For every YouTube view, National Geographic will donate 10 cents to lion and big cat conservation in Botswana.  I'm not really sure how it works with embedding (whether a view here will be counted- anyone know?), so go to the YouTube page and watch this on repeat for awhile :)

For more information go to National Geographic's Cause an Uproar.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nom inspired Chile wanderlust

Tonight I am donning my domestic hat once more (or perhaps the proverbial hat should in this case be a proverbial apron?) to make a fillet of Chilean sea bass in a Thai marinade with mango salsa.  Nom nom nom.  I thought I would take a look at the origin of my dinner and provide some lovely images of the South American country, as the images most recently burned into our retinas and consolidated in our hippocampi are of trapped miners and catastrophic earthquakes-- and I think we have seen enough of the latter already today.

photo credit: Richard T. Nowitz for National Geographic Traveler
This adobe church, San Pedro de Atacama, is probably the one my sea bass attended.  Regularly.

Photo credit: Jerry Alexander for National Geographic Traveler
My fish probably never swam past these mountains in Torres del Paine.  But I'd sure like to walk around them.  ¡mierda!   Somebody trek here with me please?

 Photo credit: Joel Sartore for National Geographic Traveler
My fish was definitely never in the Atacama desert, as it is arguably the driest place on Earth and I think I once heard that fish like water.  I might be making that up.  I recently did a little reading about the Atacama after seeing a preview for Nostalgia for the Light (viewed here), a documentary that juxtaposes the space observation conducted through the giant telescopes in the desert with the tragedies that many Chileans experienced during the August Pinochet dictatorship.  Fun facts: some of the most important astronomical observatories in the world are located in the Atacama desert due to the high altitude and excellent visibility provided by the lack of humidity.  I geek out over space things, so this is of great interest to me.  The desert is also dry enough to mummify bodies.  I used to mummify barbie dolls with paper mache.  Same thing.

Photo credit: Michael Dunning for National Geographic Traveler
Perhaps my fish swam past Easter Island on his travels, as he was probably an excellent swimmer.  I was once an excellent swimmer, but I have never swum to Easter Island.

Photo credit: Richard T. Nowitz for National Geographic Traveler
Well isn't that volcano just lovely and menacing.  If the Iglesia del Sagrada Corazon in Puerto Varas seems rather European, it is because it is modeled after the Marienkirche in Black Forest, Germany.  Fun Fact: only 5% of Chileans are indigenous-- the rest are of European descent

Photo credit: Rodrigo Anguita for National Geographic Traveler
Perhaps my fish ended up here in the port of San Antonio?

Another fun fact: Chilean sea bass is just the American name given to Patagonian toothfish

Another not so fun fact:  In doing some research I discovered that Chilean sea bass is not the most responsible fish to eat due to overfishing and environmentally unsafe practices.  Though the fish I bought did come from one of the only MSC certified "sustainable" fisheries that sells Patagonian toothfish, this information is definitely duly noted.  For tonight I'll enjoy him, perhaps paired with a Chilean wine for good measure, and I'll attempt to be more conscious of my seafood purchases in the future.  Nom nom nom.

I has a sad

for Japan.

three wise monkeys at Tosho-gu Shrine in Nikko, Japan

Thursday, March 10, 2011

places I'd rather be on this dreary day...

It's raining in Baltimore, baby...

at a rate of something like three inches an hour at its peak last night?  That's a ridiculous amount of liquid falling from the sky, no?  This would probably make for an excellent museum day, but for now I'm going to sit around feeling melancholy and long for an escape to someplace warm and sunny.

On my wish list...

Cartagena, Colombia
I've had my heart set on Cartagena ever since a visit to neighboring Panama two summers ago in which my travel buddy and I realized that had we planned for some extra time and been willing to spend a little extra money, we could have sailed from the east coast of Panama down to Cartagena, stopping in the gorgeous San Blas Islands (Panama) along the way.  The colonial walled city is a UNESCO site and gorgeous from all I can discern from several internet searches over the past couple years.  The city is also home to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and has provided the backdrop for several of his novels.  So magical realism + pura vida + frolicking in a well-preserved colonial coastal Latin city = what I want right this moment.

image courtesy of Robert Caplan for

I've been lusting after this island nation in the Pacific after my diving trip in the Philippines.  It seemed as if every dive master I talked to in the Philippines either had come to the consensus that Palau had the best diving they'd ever done or had placed it at the top of their diving wish-list if they'd never been.  And that is saying a lot, because the diving in the Philippines is phenomenal.  Diving Palau is clearly a huge pipe dream, as I definitely do not have almost $2,000 to spend on airfare at the moment-- though I was actually kind of surprised to find that a flight from Baltimore to Palau wasn't more expensive.  I would love to be there right now, though in the full day of travel that it will take me to get there, maybe this nasty weather will subside.

photo courtesy of

San Diego, California, USA
Well, come on, I can't be a huge brat all the time and expect to jet-set somewhere international at the onset of disagreeable weather!  It is currently 70 F and sunny in this southern California city, and if I leave right now for the airport, I can be in by later tonight and back for class on Monday morning.  OK, so I don't have an extra $500 to drop on a last-minute escape to the West Coast, but for a moment let me mentally vanish to the sunshine, beaches, world-famous zoo, and Spanish Mission architecture of San Diego...

 photo courtesy of

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

hump day musings: on women... and wednesdays

Quote from a friend working in finance:  "Proof I work in a frat house: a girl was like it's women's day. My boss 'oh when I'm trolling 8th ave later I'll be sure to show my appreciation with an extra $20'"

Anyone else think it would have been more awesome if International Women's Day was today?  Women's Wednesday?!  No, just me?  Because alliteration isn't totally corny or anything...  And I never do corny things like use alliteration...  But I guess Mardi Gras was more fitting--what could be more empowering than showing your tits for beads?  Beads!

This is old reading by about a week, but still a great, thought-provoking read for those of you who haven't come across it already.

Innerestin'.  Many women have feelings of guilt when their work life spills over into the home- men do not experience this to the same degree.

I don't even really have words for this.  While it is upsetting to reaffirm that there are men like this out there preying on my insecurities and treating those of my gender as "targets," I know this is not representative of men everywhere.  Let me just say that I've had to remind myself that I have several wonderful male friends that I truly believe would never stoop to such a level of misogyny-- and for that, I am thankful.

Granted, I have no place to really say this as I am not coming from a background of Catholicism and the requisite guilt and shame... but what if instead of denying ourselves something for forty days, we instead just added a good habit?  Like forty days of consistent exercise or forty days of an extra piece of fruit?  Like New Year's Resolutions but better because you aren't fighting everyone and their mother for space at the gym on January 1st?  Yea that is pretty much a cheesyfuckingthing to say, but whatever, I have been listening to my friends' Lent-shame-rants for the past couple of days, and I'm tired of shame culture after living in East Asia.  Hypothesis: East Asian Catholics = most shame ever!  I hope that isn't a culturally insensitive thing to say.  I'm already totally getting in trouble for daring to suggest a revamping of Lent and shit.  Sorries!

Addendum:  Did anyone else know we got new pennies?  While scouring my pockets for change I noticed it- no more Lincoln Memorial on the back, just a shield with a "one cent" ribbon.  Hmmm...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day...

Forgive me for being cynical, but for all the "progress" for women's rights that is being lauded today, I see a lot of ways in which we are missing the mark, both globally and at home in the US.

When I was living abroad in Korea, I starting thinking eh, things for women in the US aren't thaaaat bad, right?  At home, I usually don't entertain questions of why I am not married at 24 (and I was 22/23 at the time I was fielding said questions).  I can apply for jobs knowing that it is my resume being scrutinized rather than a requisite attached photograph, and I am not being told to get plastic surgery to land a job in my field of choice.  I went to a good university for more than just my MRS degree (and, anyway, it would appear that I have failed to achieve a "joint-degree").  30 "Korean age" (28 or 29) is not a death sentence for my career and any hopes of starting a family or being an acceptable member of society.  I have been given access to information that helps me to make informed choices regarding my own sexual health, and finally, at 24, feel comfortable navigating a tricky playing field in which men often exercise far more control than women-- my decisions really are my decisions.

But for all of that, there are the buts.  Since returning to the States, I have been bombarded by the vitriolic rhetoric our politicians are spitting.  It seems that many lawmakers in this country have made it their goal to vehemently oppose women's rights through agendas that are decidedly anti-reproductive health.  Regardless of your stance on abortion, it is legal in this country.  Research indicates that abortion rates are no lower in countries where the procedure is illegal-- the difference is that women seek unsafe methods to terminate pregnancy.  Globally, about 13% of maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortions.  And this seems pretty obvious, but unwanted pregnancies occur when family planning services are either not available, not being utilized, or not being advocated.  Family planning is simply "the conscious effort of couples of individuals to plan for and attain their desired number of children and to regulate the spacing and timing of their births."  This doesn't necessarily mean the use of modern contraception; it could simply mean a conversation between two individuals to decide whether fertility is a goal or not.  The reality is that in much of the world these conversations do not occur.

Sexual education matters.  Attitudes about gender matter.  In Korea, I was baffled by how little young adults knew about sex.  Health knowledge in general seemed to be dominated by rumors and old wives tales.  Modern contraceptives are readily available in Korea, but sometimes I had to remind myself of that fact.  In fact, birth control pills are often available over the counter for very little money (about $5), but relatively few sexually active women use them due to misleading information from doctors and hearsay from friends, and the prevailing attitude that sex is a man's realm, and therefore women should not be involved in decisions about when to use birth control.  As a result, an alarming number of abortions are performed every year in secret clinics (as abortion is illegal).  In 2005, there were over 340,000 abortions in South Korea, while there were 476,000 live births, suggesting that roughly 2 in 5 Korean pregnancies result in termination (if those numbers are not gross underestimates due to the secretive nature of illegal procedures).  The situation in South Korea is simply one of many anecdotes regarding the interplay of misinformation, the effect of gender and culture, and restrictive reproductive health legislation.  Why then do certain groups in the United States want to deny access to family planning services (many of which are already unaffordable for a lot of people) and encourage school curricula that pay insufficient attention to sexual and reproductive health?

In class of mine a little while back, I saw the following statistic:

"Men between the ages of 15 and 44 face no single threat to their health and lives that is comparable to maternal death and disability."
-UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health

The reality is, that most Americans don't view pregnancy as a huge threat to our health.  If it is planned, childbirth is an occasion for celebration in "developed" countries, but globally about 1,000 women die per day from complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth.  99% of these deaths occur in "developing" countries, and almost all are preventable.  Difficult childbirth can also leave women with additional health concerns, such as anemia, infertility, abdominal pain, and fistula (which often results in the woman being shunned from the household).

If this were a "men's issue," would it be handled differently?

I tend to shy away from arguments that might seem to vilify men in this realm, because while there are a lot of upsetting gendered reasons why women's health is often neglected globally, men are an important piece of the puzzle and should be utilized rather than alienated in the women's movement.  I think that too often feminism gets equated with thinking that women are better than men or that men need to be knocked down a few pegs, when in reality most people who consider themselves feminists are simply looking to level the playing field and certainly are not looking to trample all over men.  I find that I sometimes shy away from identifying as such because it carries such different (and somewhat extreme) connotations for some people.  Do you give a shit about reproductive health and fair pay?  OK, cool.  Me, too.

While women's health is a crucial part of the equality puzzle, the theme of this year's International Women's Day is "work," so why not take a look at US women in the workplace?  (Granted, the theme is really the "pathway to decent work for women" rather than "equality in the workforce," but as this is something that I do think the US can be somewhat proud of, I want to look at what comes after the initial foray into the workforce: equality in the workforce).  Like I mentioned before, I feel fortunate to be a woman working in the US.  It probably is not great that my justification for this is simply a comparison with a typical 24 year-old woman in Afghanistan or even a comparison with one in S. Korea (one of the so-called most developed countries).  But at least I've been educated, legally can work in the same fields as my male counterparts, and have not been married off against my will or forced to get pregnant before I could make my mark in the workplace.  So, win?  Oh, wait, but I'll likely never make as much money as my male counterparts, even though there are, like, laws about that shit.  Hello, glass ceiling.  But how bad could it really be?

As I am going into a sector that works closely with the medical field, let's look at how women fare there. The New York Times ran an article accompanied by a really cool interactive graphic last year titled "Why Is Her Paycheck Smaller?"  I would encourage everyone to check it out-- if nothing else, it is just a super-fun interactive graph (woo!).  Female physicians and surgeons make about 40% less, while medical scientists make 37% less.  Although some of the gap can be explained by differences in specialties (for instance more men going into certain high-paying surgical specialties than, say, pediatrics or family and community medicine), that is not enough to explain a 40% gap.  40%.  Whoa.  Another study looked at starting salaries for physicians, so as not to run into problems trying to compare across specialities or later in life when men and women might opt for different types of benefits.  In 2008, female physicians' starting salaries were $17,000 less than starting salaries for male physicians.  In 1999, that difference was $3,600.  Is that what progress looks like?  And when we explain such staggering differences by saying that women are choosing different types of benefits (like more time off, less hours, etc. because they have families and certain roles they are expected to play within them), does it matter that this is often a reflection of a constrained choice?

A question that is often asked is whether the quest for women's rights is a zero-sum game.  Can women attain gender equality without men relinquishing some of the power and privilege they currently enjoy?  Is it reasonable to ask men to make such sacrifices?

What do you think?  Is gender equity/equality a zero-sum game?  Are we making sufficient progress?

my refusal to fold becomes costly

This morning I cracked open a book to find a 10,000 won note.  A whole lot of good that does me in America.  That's a night of Korean BBQ!  Two bowls of dolsot bibimbap!  A tea set from E-Mart!  Thirty red bean filled fish cakes!  Twenty hot-tteoks!  (and then 1/10 of the gym membership required to work them off my hips!)

I really need to stop using cash money as a stand-in for a bookmark.  At the very least, couldn't I have done this with a 1,000 mark?  

mmm hot-tteok in Insadong- this stand would cost 900 won each (instead of 500 near my former abode), so I could only buy eleven with my bookmark won, cutting my theoretical gym time from four hours a day down to two.  oh, the sacrifices one makes for hot-tteok...  
*also, props to anyone who can polish off more than one or two of these and not want to die.  there is definitely a significant hot-tteok threshold- once you hit it you go from this is the most amazing paty in my mouth to send me to north korea to die an untimely death at the hands of dear leader for I cannot handle the copious amounts of oil and brown sugar coursing through my veins

Monday, March 7, 2011

ya sas, s'agapo

... is what Mr. Morrison would have sung had he been Greek.  And is precisely what I said to Oia, the picturesque cliffside town that clings to the northernmost hook of the Thira (Santorini) cresent, the moment I arrived with my companion.  Hello, I love you.  Ya sas, s'agapo.

sweeping landscapes & proper storytelling to follow at a later date.  for now, here is a small taste of our Santorini trip- all images taken in Oia on March 7, 2007- yes, four years ago today.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Night Souvenir: earrings from Athens, Greece

Four years ago to the day, I was tucked into bed at the Neos Olympos Hotel (at $19.51 for the night) in Athens, sleeping soundly in a room shared by one of my favorite travel buddies.  The journey was our maiden voyage, and the following morning we would embark on our first "Honeymoon" destination together, catching a noon flight to the idyllic Santorini.

Earlier that day, in addition to taking my companion on a tour of the city in search of a camera battery charger (for I had a project I was supposed to shoot for a photography class and had forgotten to bring the charger for my fairly new DSLR- oh, how this made me miss film and curse my semester-long foray into digital!), I managed to get in a little shopping.  Side note: apologies, J.  Years later, thank you, thank you, thank you for helping me find that needle in a haystack.  I'm the worst sometimes!

As my mother would say, I am an earrings slut.  I guess there are worse things to be called a slut over?  No earring slut shaming here, please.

Lapis lazuli is one of my favorite stones, and though I don't have the gorgeous baby blues that my mom and sisters possess, I still wear it with some frequency.  I loved these lapis lazuli and sterling silver earrings the moment I saw them.  Is this what the locals wear?  Probably not, but for me the geometric pattern and color scheme is very evocative of Greece, and these earrings bring back fond memories.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Happy ལོ་གསར་ (Losar)!

Today is Losar (Tibetan New Year), so I thought I'd share an image from the roof of the world:

Friday, March 4, 2011

j'adore: travel inspired watches

I've been looking for a casual yet chic watch for awhile now.  Over the past few months, I have been mentally ogling a wraparound watch that a friend of mine wore out to cocktails during the Thanksgiving holiday, but I'll admit that I have not been putting much effort into finding a timepiece to call my own.  This morning, while browsing a sample sale site (which one in my financial position should know better than to do), I came across La Mer and immediately knew I had found the one(s).  I'm really digging the wraparound style and the fact that they are available in practical black and brown leathers, as well as in a more bold color palette-- like Grecian blue or pony pink.  And if you don't find what you are looking for, you can always customize.

The inspiration for the watches is also notable, as it comes from the designer's world travels:

"La Mer was established in 2001 when Martine rummaged through her jewelry drawer and could not find a simple, stylish and feminine watch to wear. Combining her passion for design, love of quality materials and simple beauty, La Mer Collections was born. Inspiration is drawn from her journeys: South Africa’s colorful markets, Bali’s lush flowers, Italy’s gorgeous leathers and Thailand’s clear blue ocean. Each season La Mer’s color palette is chosen from these bright and colorful experiences."

La Mer's look books are a lot of fun to browse and are, naturally, travel inspired.  2011's theme is Costa Rica, and cruising through the pages of watch porn against the backdrop of the jungles, beaches, and markets of Costa Rica gave me crippling wanderlust.  But, alas, I am stuck here in my comfy chair with little money left because I just blew it on watches.  At least I'll look awesome for an East Coast spring and summer?  Affirmative.

loving the lurid colors of the rainforest wrap watch shoot

 this was taken in Puerto Viejo, on the East Coast of Costa Rica- I spent a few days there two summers ago and would kill to go back right now!!!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

dreaming of great white sharks

Maintaining neutral buoyancy, I held still as the shark swam toward me.  Wanting to trust the creature, but fearing that placing too much faith in the good intentions of a 5,000 lb predator could end disastrously, I held out an arm to bop it on the nose should it come at me too aggressively (as if a simple bop would be my saving grace).  Just when I was starting to get nervous, the great white turned around and swam off, and a man hopped out of the tank and walked away.  Oh, the man was the shark.  That's why he left me alone.  That makes perfect sense.  Later, I sat on the edge of the tank watching a mass of people swimming in the water.  An eruption of screams caught my attention as swimmer was thrown across the tank, landing near me.  Blood seeped from where a toe once stood.  Expecting outrage over being hurled by a shark and losing an appendage, I was astonished that he was unimpressed by the damage.  In fact, the only thing unnerving this man was that his injury was not severe enough.  How can I expect anyone to even notice this little thing?  I guess I'll be healing for a little while, and then what? It's not alright, ma- I'm only bleeding.  Yes, sir, those were my exact thoughts when the lizard attached to my face failed to remove my entire nose.  Oh, wait, just kidding-- I was hysterical over the fact that I would be disfigured.

 nom nom nom.  photo credit: Stephen Frink for National Geographic

I turned over and looked at the clock.  5 am.  Yes, ma, I was only dreaming.  Playing a quick game of mental calculus, I decided to take advantage of my natural waking at this ungodly hour and head down to the city to take in a 6 am Bikram yoga class.  Nothing to start the day quite like ninety minutes of dripping sweat for spinal health, right?

Hours later, and I still can't stop thinking about great whites.  Had I allowed myself to drift back to sleep, it would probably be buried deep within my subconscious by now, never to resurface again.  Yet, here I am googling "white shark diving" and contemplating whether I would ever partake in such a venture. 

As a species, sharks are vastly misunderstood.  Conservationists often say to look in the mirror if you want to see the most dangerous predator on our weary planet, and the statement certainly rings true when it comes to sharks.  For a prime example, look no further than the shark fin business, a horrendous practice in which sharks are hunted for their fins alone, which was a constant source of outrage for me while living in Asia where the practice is fairly visible.  Fins are hacked off at sea and the bodies dumped overboard, similar to the practice of poaching elephants for the use of their ivory only, except it is done on a much larger scale.  Shark fins are used in delicacies like Chinese shark fin soup, which used to be consumed only by the elite during special occasions, but has now made its way to the middle class as they grow increasingly wealthy.   Estimates of about 70 million sharks killed for their fins only appear to be growing by about 5% annually and underscore the importance of setting protective measures to stall the rapid decline of shark populations worldwide.  An important piece of legislature from the Obama administration that you may not have heard about:  The Shark Conservation Act was signed into law this past January.  US legislature may send a strong message to US fishermen and the Asian communities in the US that support this abominable practice, but how much of an impact does it really have globally if Asian nations (and the Europeans fishermen that supply a large percentage of their shark fins) don't follow suit?

While shark tourism does nothing to convince rich Chinese men that eating shark fin is a horrible practice that will not increase sexual potency (high mercury levels can actually cause sterility) or prevent cancer (it doesn't), it can teach local fishermen that the protection of sharks and their use as a tourist attraction is a sustainable business that in the long run will net considerably more money for a community than the per fin price of a shark.

Now that I have finished my shark finning tirade, let's look at great white tourism.  Though I typically associate great whites with South Africa and New Zealand, they are really found wherever there is a winning blend of ocean temperature, depth, and aquatic life to nom on.  Close to home, the Farallon Islands about 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco and the the Mexican Guadalupe Island 150 miles west of the Baja peninsula seem to be the best North American locales for great white shark tourism.  A day of cage diving with Great White Adventures in the Farallons will set you back $775-  beer and wine included, just in case you need to take the edge off after nearly crapping your wetsuit over your encounter with a 20 ft long predator.  If you just want to go along for the ride and observe from the boat, you can do so for $375.  (You could also take your chances and go with a whale watching company from SF during Sharktober for about $100).  Great White also offers a 5-day live-aboard trip to Isla Guadalupe from San Diego that includes 3 days of cage diving for $3,195.  At a similar price ($3,100) and a guaranteed encounter (if you don't see great whites you can return at any point within two years to give it another go), Shark Diver offers a similar package with a commendable focus on the importance of conservation.

Would I ever do this?  Well, for the price of a flight to San Diego and over $3,000, at this point in my life there are a lot of other worthy endeavors I would probably rather partake in (diving in the Galapagos for starters), but it does sound pretty awesome.  I've been diving with whale sharks before (at nearly twice the length of great whites, they are the largest fish in the sea... but they eat plankton), which was beyond phenomenal, so I can only imagine that having something as large and potentially dangerous as a great white swimming within a foot or so of you is indescribably exhilarating-- and the kind of encounter that you gush about for the rest of your life.

Issues of money notwithstanding, would you ever considering cage diving with great white sharks?

loookieemeee I'm just the happiest frolicking great white shark!  photo credit: Brandon Cole for National Geographic

If you are interested in shark or other marine conservation efforts, you should check out the Shark Diver blogProject AWARE, and the Ocean Conservatory.
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