The Elected

He Loves Me, He Loves me Not.

It was the tenth time he called. Him again, urgently trying to win me with his deep, passionate voice. His desperation knew no bounds. There were letters, Facebook messages, and notes stuck in my door.

red love garden plant

But the phone stalking had to stop. I sighed, resisting Pavlovian tendencies to pick up the receiver again. It wasn’t just his pursuit tactics that repelled me. It was the one-sided relationship we had: He desired only one thing. And it wasn’t me.

This is the double-edged sword that is election season. For six short weeks, we are debutantes – pursued, “valued,” wooed, and then instantly forgotten after that second Tuesday of November: Conditional love, at its finest. We knew it would never last – as shallow, duplicitous relationships never do. Still, somehow, as responsible citizens, we wade through the pathos, and choose.

Pride and Privilege

I approach voting much like I used to take exams:  I start cramming just before (because I have a few other life responsibilities, like keeping my children alive. No excuse for college). I wade through the study material in the blue books, small surges of power flowing through my veins, as I decide which amendments, propositions, judges, and candidates get to stay or go. Carefully, I fill each circle – resisting old standardized test temptations to create pictures with them instead.

I feel a deep sense of pride as I drive to the nearest early voting center, because I’m “early” — day-before-election-day-early. I nod condescendingly at the road-side campaign signs, pretending they’ve always made sense.

Darth-Vader-sign

I feel empowered, decisive, and patriotic all at once. Moments later, I stand alone in a group of vacant voting booths. It feels surreal. There are ten other people in the room – the wonderful and eager election volunteers who accosted me at the door with nothing else to do. (They voted months ago). I think I was the first outsider they’d seen in days.

Commitment Issues

Usually, I pass go (the volunteer mob), turn in my pre-signed ballot and collect the coveted “I Voted” sticker – yet another source of voter pride. But this year was different. Driving there, in that flood of decisiveness, I flipped on a candidate. (Maybe it was the flyer I saw about him from his opponent: The one where his head was convincingly photo-shopped to look like it was behind bars . . . just the head.)

i voted sticker spool on white surface

Stooping over the new ballot, I felt the approving eyes of my new friends around the room, and the adrenaline rush of wielding great decision-making power. I felt the pride and privilege of being a US citizen, until I realized something: I deserved none of it.

My grandparents and mother immigrated here with nothing, committed to steadily earning their citizenship through years of perseverance. I needed only to be born on U.S. soil – my mom enduring the lion’s share of that labor. My citizenship came without sacrifice or hardship; rather, it was a byproduct of others’.  My commitment to vote (comprising a brief study session and short drive) suddenly seemed trivial. The pride that swelled in me deflated instantly, a punctured balloon. Not even an “I Voted” sticker could redeem it. It left space for me to ponder a second truth, about that other citizenship of mine.

He Loves Me.

This one too was undeserved and won at great cost.

Here again I encountered a Lover in pursuit, desiring just one thing. But it wasn’t my vote. (He didn’t need it.) He wanted me, and he wanted me to choose Him. It was a wooing for my own sake, not for a consolidation of power or prestige. To be sure there were extravagant promises made, but they weren’t the kind I expected: There would be trouble, hardships and pain. But there would also be deep joy, profound peace, and Him in the midst of it. Strangely appealing, these words did not ring with empty optimism, but with transcendent hope. I would have Him, His body, and His blood.

My “yes” to His proposal made me not a member of his base, but his beloved bride. Neither was I a byline, or an afterthought in an acceptance speech, but instead I was acknowledged before the Father. This was citizenship unearned, instituted through His marriage pledge and a sacred new birth. My birthright: Power in weakness, gain in forfeiture, life in the loss of it. My dowry: Unconditional love at its finest; forever kinship to Father and Bridegroom.

I stood in the voting booth, reminded of all I’d been granted, and all I so readily took for granted. The electing and becoming the elected; bought at price, extravagantly payed.

I grabbed an “I Voted” sticker on my way out, wearing it – this time – with a little more humility and little less pride.

A Beautiful Melon’s Unofficial Guide to Cultural Literacy

 

I sort of don’t fit in here.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. But at 5’10” with frizzy, auburn hair and pale, white skin I haven’t got a chance. Walking Taipei’s narrow alleyways, riding the subway or cramming into an elevator, I feel a strange kinship to this:

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Taipei 101: Ninth tallest building in the world. Some liken it to a stack of Western-style Chinese take-out boxes.

Though acutely aware of my high-level profile, I defiantly choose the path of denial, and refuse to resign myself to “Ugly American” status. (There is no irony in this.) I’ve taken up my cross to disprove such stereotypes, one encounter at a time. I share this knowledge and experience here, knowing that the probability of cross-cultural encounters are increasing, even as our world gets smaller and smaller. Here’s what’s worked for me:

#1 Immerse Yourself into the Culture

Language Mastery

  • Mandarin: Billions of people speak it. How difficult could it be? In preparation for my first trip to Asia (to meet my future in-laws), I practiced – on the flight over, between instant noodles, naps, and movies. Thirteen hours of “practice” was sufficient indeed, to turn a standard, respectful greeting into “Hello, old items.” Appropriate, as we were there to celebrate a retirement. (Tip: Producing heirs – in my case two grandchildren – covers a multitude of sins.) I also had success with language CDs prior to my first trip. I learned to express my nationality by saying “I am an American” in a way that actually translated as “I am a beautiful melon.” Neat.

Or, arrange for reliable translation.

  •  Except at certain restaurants, like these, where ignorance is bliss:

 

 

 

 

  • When joining a group that will not be conversing in English, avoid sitting beside husbands who only translate jokes. In this way, delayed laughter will not offend the person across from you, who just shared that her pet hamster died. Also avoid sitting near people that enjoy pointing out the chicken testicles on your plate.

Better yet, just take a language class.

  • I highly recommend this route. You can kill two birds with one stone, especially if you hope to grow spiritually (humility, long-suffering, self-control) as well. I opted for the more difficult Mandarin immersion class seeing as I’ve only been out of school 20 years. I was easily in the top five of my five-person class, as displayed in this quiz:

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 I was batting over 50%  –  a respectable 6 points out of 11. Finding out later that this score was actually the date (June 11) did not steal my thunder. I was the teacher’s pet. I know this because she kept walking back to my desk to give me hints on the final. (Something about me saving face. . .)

#2 Become a Student of the Culture.

Through Available Resources.

  • Take advantage of the ample resources available prior to traveling. I skimmed Culture Shock: Taiwan (also on the plane, after watching Pride & Prejudice three times) for its understated approach to cultural sensitivities. It really helped me integrate, especially when locals noticed the title.

Through Observation.

  • Public transportation provides excellent opportunities to appreciate and practice the beauty of a new culture. I marvel that you can ride Taipei’s MRT (subway) with hundreds of people, and still hear a pin drop. Passengers regularly offer up their seats to elderly or disabled. Locals wear masks if they are sick, out of consideration for others. My husband and I have endeavored to teach our kids to follow suite. By the end of our recent month-long visit, my heart filled with pride as I felt the approving eyes of passengers in our packed car. It was rush-hour, and my crew was handling it beautifully – speaking in whispers and giving up their seats to those who needed them more. So considerate were we that one in our party (the one who was coughing without a mask) did not want to trouble us with the need to use the restroom, and instead left a parting gift on the floor, before exiting.

#3 Engage with Locals to Overcome Stereotypes.

In Rural Areas.

  • This is especially effective outside of the major metropolitan areas, less-frequented by overseas visitors. It is here where locals may first encounter Westerners. Language mastery (“Hello, old items, I am a beautiful melon.”) and my Culture Shock book have allowed me to provide a powerful alternative to “Ugly American” stereotypes. Like the time I strolled in a rural park, and graciously allowed a group of middle school girls to take their picture with me. Their enthusiastic cries of “big nose” (eagerly translated by my husband) as they departed was purely coincidental, I’m sure.

Among the Stares of the Curious.

  • I often solicit the curious stares of babies. I’ve found that peek-a-boo has universal appeal, and communicates that foreigners are not weird, but fun. They in exchange, return cautious smiles. Sometimes I wonder what they are thinking. Something like, “If I cover my eyes long enough, maybe she’ll finally disappear.”
  • I’ve had dogs stare too. Once, one continuously peered at me from outside the window of my favorite coffee shop. I found myself nervously smiling back, wondering what the dog was thinking. Something like “Finally, someone with a nose as big as mine!”

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The staring continued for about 20 uncomfortable minutes. I almost resorted to peek-a-boo, when he finally flinched as the person (his person) just beside me stood up to leave. Was he devotedly zeroing in on his owner the entire time? Perhaps. But I think we bonded in the solidarity of being “outsiders”.

I may never fully fit in here. But at least I’ve tried.

I’m optimistic that some “Ugly American” stereotypes have died along the way. At least I hope so. Replaced, I daresay, by the modest appeals of a “Beautiful Melon.”

 

 

 

 

 

Humanity, Unwrapped. And Fanta.

It was love at first sight.

I was twenty-five, in the heart of Eastern Europe. What began as a “set up” by a mutual friend has blossomed into a lasting love affair.

We’ve weathered many storms:  Separation, temptation, disapproving friends  . . .  also diets, cavities and lots of mom guilt. There were days I swore it would never last. Then my eyes would meet its shiny, aluminum exterior, and I’d fall for Fanta all over again.

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This is where I ate yesterday. Yep, those are toilet seats.

Recently, I’ve engaged in some mid-life soul-searching, and I’m reevaluating our relationship. It’s orange, carbonated sugar-water, after all. I was young and impulsive, but I’ve changed. I have a different perspective on life, and unfortunately, a different metabolism. I’ve matured. Even my pallet has grown in sophistication.

So, why am I still in this?

Once again I find myself half-way across the world — this time traveling in the opposite direction. Crossing into unknown territory, with all its uncertainly, I long for the familiar. After nearly two decades, with countless oceans crossed, Fanta is just a “constant” I crave. One sweet sip of thirst-quenching goodness and the world feels reliable and right again — even if it isn’t. Its packaging may vary by country and continent, but I can always count on what’s inside. Here in Taiwan, you’ll find the iconic orange can everywhere. You just have to look with intention. If you pause a few moments, you’ll find it — adorned in Chinese characters. Surly it means something glorious, like “Heavenly Orange Blossom.”

“Heavenly Orange Blossom”

So, Fanta with in hand, I’m pausing here for a while. I want to look with intention at the world around me.  I’ll do a lot of staring, since I won’t understand what I hear.  And for one of the first times ever, I’ll do it all with my mouth shut, because  . . .  Mandarin.

Humanity is diverse in its packaging, but strangely familiar once unwrapped. There are glorious narratives unfolding all around me.  I’m hoping to capture some of them in the days that follow.


From Across the Room

Athentic Dork
It’s not that far of a stretch. And I probably didn’t have my contacts in.

Pithy wine labels always catch my eye. I appreciate the whimsy of names like “Middle Sister,” “Mommy’s Time Out,” “7 Deadly Zins” and “Goats do Roam.”

Recently, I met the weirdest one yet: I was curious to discover the bottle my husband had paired with dinner. It was the exclamation point to the meal he was creating, and I wanted a preview. I peered across the kitchen, past the simmering pots on the stove, and strained my eyes for a sneak peek. The regal-looking label read, “Authentic Dork.”

I must have said it out loud — with a few exclamation points and question marks thrown in — because my kids burst into laughter. My husband, always unfazed by my words, cracked his “whatever, weird” smile. Intrigued, I leaned in for a second look. With closer proximity, the words morphed into something completely different.  This time they spelled “Apothic Dark,” simultaneously restoring faith in my husband’s wine selection abilities, and sense of humor.

This bizarre misnomer has since become our favorite family joke. Saying it out loud, at unexpected moments, is always good for a few giggles. Try envisioning what an “Authentic Dork” is, and you’ll see what I mean. Clearly I’ve contemplated this past the point of sensibility. (This is unusually fun.) But over the past few weeks, it’s pointed me back to something I’ve long forgotten:

Life, and our interpretation of it, often emerges with limited context. It comes in small doses and scribbled pictures, rather than as a finished masterpiece.  Like a novel, we crack it open at random intervals, fully expecting to comprehend the whole story. (I wouldn’t know, because I never procrastinated in college, except for all the studying parts . . .) We assume we are seeing things (often people) in totality, unobstructed. So we “read” our labels with brazen authority, never acknowledging the steam clouding our view: bias, assumptions, wishful thinking, anger, expectations, even our own insecurities.

We end up with “Authentic Dork” — obscured truth — in moments where infinitely more than just a bottle’s reputation is on the line.

When our conclusive default is to “jump to,” may we endeavor instead to “lean in.”

We just may be surprised.

Weak is the “New” Strong

By Nichole Woo

This post originally appeared at Leslie Verner’s http://www.scrapingraisins.com. In it, I shared some of my thoughts on the “Strong Girl” movement.

My best friend’s daughter hates her middle name. Columbine

As a parent, how do you not take that one personally?  After all, most of us spend about nine months contemplating, debating, and often agonizing over the matter. We sift through the millions of options, scrutinizing name meanings with a fine- toothed comb. We do the nickname test with first, middle, and last names to ensure survival through middle school, and then veto all options that remind us of mean people from childhood.  Some of us are so weighted down by this heavy responsibility that we are still deliberating on our drive to the hospital. (This happened to my grandparents, who succumbed to the stress by drawing names out of a hat. Thankfully, my uncle was named “George” instead of “Machine Washable”.) Somehow, we all arrive at the “perfect” name. Nailed it! At least my friend thought so.

Continue reading “Weak is the “New” Strong”