Tuesday, July 29, 2014

#MyWritingProcess BlogTour

Its been awhile since I blogged about life.  I'm back in Minneapolis working the strangest summer job I've ever had (for which there is some competition).  Abra Staffin-Wiebe tagged me from her blog (here).  So, without further ado: My Writing Process Blog Tour Post
  1. What am I working on right now?
My big project is a travel guide to Vanuatu. (Think Lonely Planet back when they were a scrappy young company.) I'm currently in the editing stages and I wish it were going faster. In other travel writing, I just turned in an article for Groove Korea about silversmithing in Bali which will run in their fall issue.


On the fiction side, things are slower. I'm editing a zombie apocalypse story that I hope to sell to an audio market and wrestling with a story that started as a short piece and is trying to break free into a novela. It will probably write itself into a novela in the end, but I can pretend it will be manageable for awhile.


There is also a script for a comic that may or may not ever see the light of the internet, but I'd still like to write the story and see the characters grow into the complete badasses I envision them to be. In this world, the environmental collapse coincided with another form of apocalypse and caused a complete societal collapse. The chemicals poisoning the environment cause regular and significant genetic mutations which some people worship and others revile. The main character sports a comb of feathers instead of hair in a society that thinks that she should have been put to death at birth. The first episode is her coming of age, and her leaving everything she's ever known.
  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don't know that my work differs dramatically from other related work. Writing within a genre is a conversation with other writers and the readers. The conversation progresses and iterates with each new story, it doesn't take sharp turns and leap about. My work is unique to me, but it hasn't left the conversation behind. So, to say that my work differs strongly is to say that I'm not listening to the conversation.


I will say that my strength as a non-fiction writer is a willingness to do the research, which for travel writing means living through the experiences. I delight in travel and love to experience new places, cultures and foods. I take much less delight in 11 hour bus rides on bad roads and intestinal parasites.


As a fiction writer, my experience traveling and living outside the US has informed the worlds I build. Everything from differing cultural values to differing climates influence how a person interacts with their daily world. I've been lucky enough to observe several ways of living, which in turn informs my work. I hope that my works can in turn inform the ongoing conversation and help lift it to the next iteration.
  1. Why do I write what I do?
I love to travel. I love dragons. I love Vanuatu. I love social change and challenging the status quo. I love snarky people with strong moral fibers. I love experiences that change my outlook. I love stories.


I write what I love.
  1. How does my writing process work?
I'm a binge writer. I write best when I can sit down and write for hours upon hours and crank out a story in a day or two. Then I may not write much at all for several days to recover. I think its like averages. If I do a few days of massive word counts, I have to balance my average words used out by not using any for a few days.


I don't do a lot of conscious pre-writing. I'm working on learning to plot as conscious effort, but I'm not there yet. Instead, I wait for the character to walk into my mind. If there isn't a character home that day, it is a great day to do some editing.


My sit-down-and-write process is pretty informal. I used to have a routine involving tea, solitaire and music but a few years with limited electricity boiled that down to just the writing. Now, I decide I'm going to write, and I sit down and make words happen. They aren't necessarily good words, but that's not important.



Next up are Jen Green and Doug Cole (http://gamingballistic.blogspot.com/)

Jen graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2009 with a degree that included writing. Now, she is a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Vanuatu, a tiny archipelago in the South Pacific. She mostly writes novels, though she has been known to try her hand at short fiction when inspired.

Doug blogs about Role Playing Games, specifically the GURPS system, and how to incorporate realistic violence into your game.  His experience includes intensive study of martial arts and casual target shooting, along with a lot of research into guns, bows, and physics.  He wrote the book on grappling rules in GURPS titled "Martial Arts: The Art of Technical Grapping" and is a regular contributor to Pyramid Magazine.  Check out his blog for information on all things technical fighting and interviews with gamers and game designers.


Friday, April 25, 2014

4-22 By the Numbers

I know that I have missed a few months of blogs, but I wanted to do the wrap up post sort of on time. I'll fill in the details later.

Countries visited: 15
Passport stamps received: 24
National languages heard: 10
Religions seen: 9
Cities slept in: 34
Seasons passed through: 3


Number of plane rides: 14
Hours on a plane: 45
Number of train rides: 15
Hours on a train: 62
Number of bus rides: 12
Hours on a bus: 50
Number of boat rides: 4
Hours on a boat: 38
Other transport methods used: 7 (Taxi, rickshaw, tuktuk, walking, gondola, car, public transit)


Unesco Sites visited: 21
Major monuments visited: 50+
Museums visited: 33
Places of worship visited: 53
(Tech Meccas: 2)
Shrines, chapels and offerings: 100+
Photos taken: 10,711


Hotels slept in: 34
Friends houses slept in: 6
Longest time at one place: 6 days


Days traveled: 122




Sunday, April 6, 2014

3-13 The Multitude of Museums in Malacca

Red Roofs of Singapore
We left Singapore on a bus on January 8th. We had to jump out at the border and go through border control then get back in, which was amusing. There were only 3 of us on the bus, so it took about 45 seconds despite our extremely impatient driver's laments of it being very slow.

Malacca has an amazing amount of museums. There is a district that seems to be primarily devoted to stuffing medium sized buildings full of relics, models and large blocks of text. Some of the museums are grouped into sets, where you can pay a single admission for all of them. This is how we ended up in the Literature Museum, the Democracy Museum and the Military Museum all within 3 hours. There were two more in the set, but they were closed for renovations.
Museum of Literature!  Books and authors and things!
I really like that Malacca has a museum devoted to literature. Generally speaking, people assume that libraries are enough, but as the Museum showed, there is a lot more. They highlighted people who have made important contribution to Malaysian literature through writing or through maintaining traditional storytelling techniques. They gave short histories on different styles of Malaysian literature and what they were based on. And they showcased books. Honestly, I was a little lost. I don't know Malaysian history or literature enough to know how all the pieces fit into the greater whole. I can learn all about the specifics of the first woman to be published, but only makes a little bit of sense because I don't know the history and context of women's rights in Malaysia. Still, it was cool to see a museum devoted to books.

The military museum was less interesting. Jason and I can't agree as to weather it was military or military leaders. It had models of rooms in a mansion, lots of clothes and photos of important people and a table set for a formal meal. Again, I'm sure it would have been more interesting if I'd had context for any of it.

The old fort, partially restored with
red tile instead of red stone.
The third museum was the most modern. The Democracy Museum had a mission statement that was something along the lines of, “Teach young people about the history and importance of democracy in Malaysia.” They seemed to be doing a good job, since we watched about 2 dozen people between the ages of 18-30 wander in and out while we were there. The museum itself ran a nice line between giving some of the context for the foreign visitors and not re-telling Malaysian history to the Malaysian visitors.

The Deomcracy Museum had a display of royal formal clothes over the course of a hundred years or so. At the beginning, the clothes are what I would expect; men's wrapped skirts and jackets held at the waist with a wide fabric belt. The belt was decorative, practical and held a kris, or Hindu sword. (My favorite kind of clothing are the kinds that contain swords.) As the years progressed, the style of clothing started to change. By the end of the display, the jacket was cut like a British miliary jacket, the skirt had been traded for pants and the kris had been traded out for a saber (good) or removed entirely (lame). This made me think about culture appropriation and how culture morph and change. There is a forthcoming post exclusively on this topic.

Crow's Nest on the Maritime Museum
We left the 5 museum zone and went to look for food. Instead, we found the Maritime Museum. It was a giant ship. Awesome. We got to climb around the different parts, including going into the sleeping quarters, captains cabin and the holds below decks. Each area had a small exhibit and a note about what part of the ship it was. While we were there, there were several students drawing, measuring and using auto-CAD to create diagrams of the building. I wanted to ask what they were studying, but the language barrier made it too intimidating to even try. Instead, I took pictures of them. (I did managed to ask permission for that.)

I do love museums. They are vastly informative places. Going to 4 museums in one day was a bit overwhelming. I'm not sure how much information I actually managed to retain. Enough to know I need to learn more history, that's for sure.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

3-13 Media Storms and Tragedy

At this point, no one seems to have a clue about what has happened to Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

We genuinely don't know. This is uncomfortable. In our current era of instant communication, we've gotten used to being able to know anything. Even if we don't have facts memorized we know how to find those facts and how to double check the facts to make sure we have them right. (Granted, this could be done a wee bit more often, but still, we know how it works.) We might not know how to lay a row of bricks or juggle four balls but we can YouTube it and find a helpful video with all the basics. We can look up weather forecasts, stock predictions, and election results around the globe.


So the idea of not knowing what happened to an entire plane? That's bizarre. Our phones have GPS, our cars come with GPS units, and we use mapping software to get the grocery store. We have made a hobby of using satellites to guide ourselves from our front door to a specific oak tree. We can get directions from Minneapolis to London (it involves swimming). But somehow, all of our radar, satellites and GPS are failing us. We don't know where the plane is, or even where it was last spotted.


It is our human nature to tell stories. We've told ourselves stories about how the world was made, why that man cheated on his wife, where our clothes come from and what motivates the chicken to cross the road. We are good at creating stories. We just aren't good at creating true stories. As the information available from MH370 becomes less interesting, we've started creating stories.


The facts are unclear, and the situations is shaky. Instead of saying simply, “We don't know,” we are choosing to speculate. The speculations don't help. They give false hope to the families and further muddy the already muddy waters about what happened. They make a chaotic, difficult situation into something that looks like intentional misdirection.


Much of the news coming out to the public seems to be meant to hit a deadline, not relay reliable, factual information. Often, when the facts aren't interesting enough, they get jazzed up with crying family members, ringing cell phones and stories about unstable co-pilots or other nefarious plots. This constant news stream has created the need for a team of professionals to monitor the currents of politics instead of the currents in the ocean. There are people devoted to quelling the fires started by public speculation. Imagine if they could spend their hours working on finding the lost plane instead.


This is a tragedy for families who are now missing a mother, a brother, an aunt, a son. The people left behind are grieving, angry and hopeful. They are in emotional turmoil of not knowing what happened and hoping against all odds that their loved ones survived. This is not a circus show, this is not entertainment. This is not to be sensationalized for the nightly news. This is a tragedy.


Let's stop making hourly updates and instead say honestly, “We don't know.” Let's use this as a learning experience in how to improve international cooperation efforts. Let's reflect on our expectations on the unknown. Let's take time to grieve with the families.

Friday, February 21, 2014

2-12 Singapore!

Things I noticed about Singapore:
  1. There is excellent public transport.
  2. Food is expensive unless you eat at Chinese takeaways or Little India
  3. Little India smells delicious. Like the whole area, starting as soon as the doors open on the train.
  4. The story of Singapore is very much like the story of the USA. Immigrants looking for a better life or opportunity but often finding a squalid existence for at least the first 10 years and land disputes with native peoples.
  5. It is a very clean city.
  6. I love not being hassled by hawkers.
Creepy hand print at the water and light show. 
This image is being projected onto sprayed water.
We arrived at the Singapore airport and caught the train into town. This alone was a bit of a shocker. There was a train that went from the airport to town in a simple, well-mapped fashion. Brilliant. Then we had to find our hostel.

The hostel was hidden and I kind of think the manager did it intentionally. We looked around for about 15 minutes from the street corner it was meant to be on. Then we called the reservations number. We asked where it was and said we'd like to drop off our bags. The manager babbled something and hung up. We waited on the street corner, thinking she'd said she'd come down. No such luck. Finally, we started opening random doors to see if the address was wrong. Through the second door and up a flight of stairs, we discovered the hostel. We knocked. No answer, we rang the doorbell, which did finally get an answer. The manager stuck her head out to say that check-in didn't start until 1 pm. She was shutting the door on us when we asked if we could leave our bags. She grudgingly allowed us in and pointed to a corner of the common room. We dropped off our bags and ran away. When we did go back to check in, she was much more civil but we still spent most of the 3 days we were there trying to avoid talking to her.
The immigrant stories struck a chord in this American

Singapore has an excellent Asian Cultures Museum. We were in it for close to 5 hours and only covered half the galleries. We didn't have the brain space left to keep looking at things after 5 hours. I learned a lot about Islam and Buddhism. My favorite section was the bit on calligraphy. It is fascinating to see different orthographies and think about all the different ways we could create words with squiggles on a page.

A photo of a photo.  I'm so meta.
My favorite museum in Singapore was the Chinatown Museum. It is relatively short, but very well put together. It shows how the Chinese immigrants came and made lives in Singapore. It had a very good demonstration of the cramped living quarters with the personal effects of several families. It also had quotes from people who lived during that time, which really humanized the whole thing. I would recommend it to anyone visiting Singapore.

We also took a trip to the night zoo. I love animals, so I enjoyed myself, even if the flying squirrel wouldn't jump off the tree while we were watching. They had nice exhibits with a good mix of animals all of which seemed well cared for. Watching the show gave me a sense of dislocation when they said, “This great animal comes all the way from North America.” Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. (The animal was a Great White Wolf.) The otters were the best. They've been trained to recycle. The trainer set out a bunch of bins and scattered recyclable across the stage. Each otter chose a different material and threw it in the correct bin. It was very cute.

The owl was a show off.
The shocking thing about Singapore was the modernity. Coming from Vanuatu and Indonesia, it was unexpected. Not that I think Singapore shouldn't be developed, because I know it is, but rather that the contrast between these places was shocking. Sinagpore looked a lot like home, and I guess I wasn't expecting that. Going from streets crowded with food stalls, parked cars and motorbikes to wide open walking areas and clean, timely public transportation was pleasant. But going from smiles on the street with a nod or a greeting to head down and move along on your business was less so.

We left Singapore on a bus heading into Malaysia. It was a short visit, but that's all our budgets could afford.

Friday, February 14, 2014

2-12 Night Train to Jakarta

We figured a night train saves on hostel costs. We figured a night train means more time sightseeing. We figured a night train means sleeping instead of boredom. What could go wrong?

A very buff, weird frogman statue. 
Clearly we were thinking with all our brain cells.
Most of that plan, it turns out. We did save on the hotel costs, but we did not sleep or get to see the countryside. A lose-lose. After staying out late to watch the puppet show and then getting up early to see Borobudur, I was feeling the need for a good night's sleep. Instead, we were in seats with the flourescent lights and the Adventures of Tin Tin playing at full volume all night. Even when everyone in the car was asleep or trying to be asleep, there was no dimming the lights or lowering the volume.

I slept about 2 hours. Jason slept about 4. I read an entire book.

We arrived at the Jakarta train station at 5 am, well before we could even go drop our bags off at the hostel, much less check in for a nap. We went to Dunkin' Donuts, because it was there. (And we hadn't seen a Dunkin' Donuts in about 3 years.) I fell asleep in the corner. Jason messed around on his phone. At 6 am, we decided to see if the hostel would at least let us drop our bags off. To kill time, we walked there. It took another 45 minutes, carrying all our stuff.

We woke up the attendant who was very confused. We left our bags in a corner of the common room and went for another walk. Anything to stay awake. We ended up going to the National Museum of Indonesia, which under different circumstances probably would have been fascinating. They had an ethnography section that went through each of the major tribes/clans in Indonesia by showing some of their items from daily life like baskets and clothes as well as some of their ceremonial items like religious figures, jewelery and weaponry. We kept finding signs to read that were located in front of benches so we could sit still.

One of the monuments in the National Park
 took a wander through the kastom abodes section. I forget what it was called, if I managed to read the sign at all. At that point, text was getting awfully complicated to process. From there, we went into the textiles, though we gave up shortly afterward. Neither of us could read things longer than a sentence and the logical leaps such as “this sign goes to this display” were getting difficult.

It was only 10 am, which meant no check in for another 3 hours. We found a place to eat. It was overpriced with poor service. They didn't understand my order and failed to bring me food. It was just par for the course.

We went back to the hostel at 11:30 and sat in the lobby until they gave us a room. Luckily, they had internet so, we could keep ourselves awake on Facebook.

We left Jakarta at 5 am the next morning, heading for Singapore. Perhaps not the best “last moments” in Indonesia, but I'd still go back.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

2-8 Temples Part 2: Prambanan

My continuing obsession with gargoyle-things
Prambanan is a Hindu temple built around 850 and abandoned beginning around 950. The temple complex was originally named Shiva-grha or Shiva-laya in homage to Shiva. It likely got the name Prambanan from the nearby village, though there are conflicting opinions on that. The temple was built by Rakai Pikaton of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty probably to show that the court had changed from Buddhist to Hindu. Also, because there was a really big Buddhist temple nearby and that couldn't go unanswered. In the 930s, the royal court moved to East Java, probably due to volcanic activity. That was the beginning of the end for the temple, until its “re-discovery” in the early 1800s.

Though the local people have always known of the temple, it wasn't a mark on the world stage until Sir Thomas Raffles' involvement. One of his hired surveyors found the ruins and made a report, which caused more surveyors and more reports which led to some mass looting which led to some poor archeology which led to more looting. In 1918, reconstruction began in earnest and the main temple dedicated to Shiva was restored in 1953. The restoration of the temples has continued though possible restoration is slowing down. The temple and surrounding area have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are now in use for tourism, religious practice and cultural conservation. The archaeologists are only restoring temples that have more than 75% of their original stones available. Due to the heavy looting and re-purposing of the stones in the 1600s and 1700s, many of the stones are no longer available.
The statue in one of
the main temples. 

The original complex at 240 temples. The three big ones were dedicated to Shiva, Bramah and Vishnu with 3 slightly smaller temples dedicated to their mounts. An additional 10 small shrines are located on the 4 cardinal directions inside the wall. The majority of the temples (224) were placed in four concentric rings around the wall. Smart people like to debate why and what it represents. I won't go into that for fear of the smart people.

To show respect to the temple, everyone wears a wrap skirt, much like a sarong. Because most tourists don't have this on hand, they have bunches. As you walk through the ticket booth, they wrap a strip of fabric around your waist and tie it, mostly without speaking. If I hadn't known ahead of time about the respect thing, it would have been a bit abrupt and abrasive. As it was, I found it funny.

The approach to the temple is startling. Though you can see the temple in the distance, it sneaks up on you when you come out of the ticket booth. Its like you were far away and by crossing into the ticket booth, you teleport much closer.

The extremely detailed carving was gorgeous and very
well preserved
There are two main areas in Prambanan. The first is the area is enclosed in a fence and holds thousands of blocks. The blocks were once a part of different temples, but the temples have fallen or been dismantled. In many cases, the foundation of the temples is still standing, but there is no information about what it once looked like. Instead, the blocks are stacked in neat piles in hopes that there can be more reconstruction in the future if new information comes to light.

The second area is the main temple. A ten foot wall surrounds it, though the ground on the inside has been raised about six feet, making the whole thing tower even further above the surrounding countryside. The ground is packed, dusty dirt that kicks up puffs with every footfall. The temple itself is actually a collection of buildings, not one large complex. The three main buildings are dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma with smaller buildings dedicated to minor Hindu deities.

The wall marking the inner sanctum and the
piles of stones where once there were temples
Again, the carvings are spectacular. Unlike Prambanan, the carvings don't cover every surface, just almost every surface. The carvings here seem to be meant to help the visitor read the stories on the wall as they pass through the temple. They felt more accessible to the common man. Also, they had excellent gargoyles.

In both temples, drainage was worked into the fundamental architecture. I realize that the architectural knowledge involved in creating the temples is immense, but this touch really drove it home for me. People who planned for appropriate drainage and built their statues to elegantly control water flow are people who have truly mastered the forms they are working with.

These are beautiful creations that show the master works of hundreds of craftsman. They are to be revered for their historical and cultural significance. These places show the best of humanity, the best of what people can do when we work together and create.

By the end of the day, I was in temple overload. I stopped being able to appreciate all of that. All I wanted was a nap and a plate of food.

Prambanan, as it stands now