Friday, February 29, 2008

The Day That Doesn't Normally Exist

I don't have anything particular to write today - just wanted the date to show up, because it will be four long years before I see it again.

You know, when I was a kid, I thought that people born on this day were developmentally delayed. Before you blast me, let me explain.

I remember overhearing my mom (or someone) explain leap year to my siblings, saying "People born on this day only have a birthday every four years, so if someone has been around for sixteen years, they are really only four."

In my childhood mind, you couldn't officially "turn" any older without having a birthday, so this explanation _clearly_ meant that there was a four year-old trapped in a sixteen year old's body. Call my crazy, but I thought that leap year babies were somehow retarded.

Ah, the childhood mind.

Have a great day!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Forever Faithful, Forever.....21?

So I headed to the mall last weekend with the HMF to pick out a belated birthday present for my sister......and to do a little shopping for myself. My wardrobe has been looking a little peaked lately, and with a pending Valentine's dinner that night, I was also on the hunt for some good deals.

Of course I tried all the grown-up places first (Nordstrom's, Banana Republic, Arden B., etc) but after hour three I could no longer resist that cotton candy of commerce, the bubble gum of bargains - oh yes you know you love to shop there, too - Forever 21.

I LOVE this store. You can find all sorts of interesting, trendy junk in there for waay cheap. Ok so yes, you might have to re-fasten a button or two, but as their inventory falls directly into the category my college roommate and I dubbed "disposable clothing", it doesn't much matter. When you pay 4.99 for a pair of shoes, are you really that surprised when the heel breaks off?

Anyway, their fashion ranges from hippy to hip, silky to sheer, and everywhere in between. The particular store I was in had a dirth of "prairie-skirts-come-lingerie" (ie paisley with black lace at the end?) in stock. It was ridiculously busy - and ridiculously fun.

Of course, I did find a beautiful sleeveless coral blouse for that evening (sans the HMF; I mercifully let him wander off) and took it home. I wore it that night, was fabulous and then went home. End of story, right?

Later that weekend, the HMF picked up the plastic "Forever 21" shopping bag to recycle, and asked me what John 3:16 was.

"It's a bible verse," I said, distractedly watching the TV. "For God so loved the world he gave his only son that we may be saved through him..." trailing off, thinking my mom would be proud of me that Sunday school atleast made an imprint.

"Why is it on this shopping bag?" he laughed, wiggling the obnoxious yellow bag under my nose.

And he was right. Right there on the bottom of the bag, in small letters - yet still visible - were the words "John 3:16". That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing flashy. In fact, if you don't look for it, you probably wouldn't notice. I've been shopping there for about three years and had never looked. We thought this was more than a litte bizarre, seeing as I was unaware that a clothing store that sold see-through blouses was also in the business of Jesus.

I've been pondering this post for a few days, but things have been a bit hectic on my end so I haven't had time to google it until tonight. I lifted this from Wikipedia:

As much as the stores look unkempt and messy, with bargains a handful cheaper than high-end brand names, the stores are always stocked with consumers and new clothes ready for the steals.

The store's trademark teal shopping bags (um, my bag was yellow? guess wiki is not _always_ right) have the words John 3:16 printed on the bottom, a reflection of the owners' Christian faith.[4]

Huh. Again I say, I find it hard to see the link between lascivious lingerie, plastic shoes, transparant dresses and God's love. But whatever, I've come up with my own interpretation:

Obviously this means God wants me to shop there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood.....


I couldn't believe this when I saw it in the St Paul Community Ed Winter Class Schedule. The best was the last line: "Participants will be able to meet with a local Muslim family."

After I stopped laughing (I mean, after all, when is this going to stop? your friendly neighborhood Jew? Come one come all and see the bearded Sikh? If so, I could make oodles of money renting out my less honky-tonky friends...), I realized that I kept going back to this class description, wondering what on earth it would be about. After I poked all the fun I could at it (joking that I would show up with pigs-n-a-blanket to share...and then act all offended...), I thought, hey, if something draws my curiousity and attention (and ridicule) so much, why not just GO?

So, on Tuesday night, I did. There was no Muslim family (bummer) but there was a very nice man from the Somali community, with a great power point presentation. I was a bit surprised, as the advertisement didn't say it would have a Somali focus, but given the demographics of Minnesota, it made sense. I was slightly disappointed, but the nation of Islam is quite diverse after all...

I wondered...who would GO to things like these? Who couldn't make their own Muslim friends? Turns out, there were seven other people there - mostly teachers, interested in learning more about Islam for their students' sake. There was also a mid-fifties couple there - a belligerant guy who had read too much about Muslims in Time magazine ("yeah, don't you all believe in 1,000 vestal virgins?") and a woman, who confessed to me that she liked cemetaries.


On the whole, it was a very good presentation. I consider myself a pretty culturally aware person, and I pay attention. (It helps that one of my best friends is a Bosnian Muslim - hope you're enjoying your tonkatsu, Emira!) That said, I feel I learned a few things.

For example:
  • There are 1.5 billion (billion!) Muslims in the world. That's about 1/6th of the global population. Wow!
  • Arab Muslims only make up 18% of that population.
  • There are 7 million American Muslims - the largest group of American Muslims come from South Asia (Pakistan/India/Bangladesh). Note: America is allied with all of these countries.
  • The root of the word "Islam" is "silm", which means "peace." This is where the words "salaam" (hello) and "Muslim" (one who surrenders to God" derive.
  • You know how Muslims need to face east (Mecca) when they pray five times a day? They are actually facing the Ka'bah, a stone structure whose sole purpose is to symbolize the direction you're supposed to pray. I always thought they were praying towards a mosque or something...
  • Some Muslims are uncomfortable around dogs because Muhammed said the saliva from dogs is severely unclean.

All in all, it wasn't a total waste of an evening, but I can't say it was worth $5. I still can't shake the feeling that it is a bit strange - after all, why Muslims? Shouldn't we, as a pluralistic society be learning about all faiths? No wonder non-Christians dislike Christians so much - we make others explain themselves to us, rather than the other way around (withOUT trying to convert them). I don't think Christian Americans (especially caucasian ones) always realize how mainstream their believes are - how white-washed Christian this nation really is - and offputting it can be, however innocuous, to those who don't fit in to that mold.

On a side - but related - note, I watched a really awesome movie this past weekend called "Murderball". It's all about the US Para-Olympic Quadrapalegic Rugby team. They're just regular jocks, but in wheelchairs. The movie moved me, because it shows the guys just being...guys. They don't fit into the "norm" and get treated differently by well-meaning idiots (one guy told a story where his girls aunt said - "I heard you were going to the Special Olympics, good job!" His comment: "In her eyes, I just went from quad to retard in 4 seconds..!") It is a terrific movie.

I couldn't help but compare the teacher's lecture to my life in Japan, when I was the "other" making presentations to school kids about "America". I constantly stuck out, having to justifying my existence. It's tough - and I found very few Japanese reached out to me in a non-fetishitic (as in "oo let's have an American friend!") kind of way. Sticking out of the norm takes courage, guts and it is very easy to become a cynic. This only makes me love those who's differences haven't managed to make them sour on honky-tonks like myself, even more. :) (You know who you are...)

So, my prior experience, coupled with the movie, coupled with this lecture Tuesday evening has kept my heart full while my mind has been busy with work this week. I haven't had time to digest it all, but the more I think about it, the less afraid I am to be different, and yoke myself to someone who is also different. In the end, those who want will still see us as retards, even when we're Olympic Gold Medalists. Only I need to know the difference.

M is for Muslim;


Monday, February 18, 2008

[Your Title Here]

Why do birds sing on the coldest days?
When I'm hunched up, and shaking
Cursing the darkness and my frozen fingertips
Hating each breath stolen from my nostrils
Eyes stinging, sinuses dry
How could they sing?
How could they?

Friday, February 01, 2008

This One is Better

Just like this blogger, I love my job. Well, I've only been there a month, but the prognosis is good. This is fortunate, because I upset a very nice existence in DC to take it. I mean, there's still work-related sludge to deal with (re: microwave posting below) but on the whole, I think I traded up.

I work for a large company, but in a small division (26 people) with people from all walks of life (Venezuela, Kenya, Australia, Illinois, Indiana, Egypt, etc). My manager(s) are awesome - thoughtful, funny, patient and kind. Also, they have lives outside of work, which helps.

I get to think about far flung corners of Asia all day, and work help improve living conditions for the people there. We do this by providing food, shelter, infrastructure, cows, and an education - for one. On a macro level, it sounds a whole lot more interesting than what it turns out to be in reality (logistics = paper pushing) but I still love it.

But the best part? The best part is today, the CEO gave the entire company this Friday afternoon off.

Just because.

Woo hoo!