ei·do·lon (-dln)
     n. pl.   Image of an ideal.

Plato believed that we lived in a world of images, three-dimensional shadows of the true one.  What we see with  our eyes is nothing more than a cheap imitation of its true state.  For  example, the chair we see before our eyes is nothing more than a shabby image of the true chair that exists.  We carry on everyday with flawed perceptions of the true ideal form. 


Life After College: Year 3 -  In Transit    

[Tuesday, September 28, 2004]

The pleasures in life.

Being at camp is like being in jail in a lot of ways. The food is bad, you're a slave, and at the end of the day - you feel like you got your ass kicked. Food and candy bars become the currency the way cigarettes do. Counselor NiceBag got each of us a Bar One when she went into town (Bar One is the South African equivalent of a Snickers). I told myself I'd save it for the end of a really bad day, but I already took one bite. Then I told myself I'd ration it for the remainder of the week (obviously not feeling too positive about the rest of camp), but I ended up eating half of it, before forcing myself to stop and put it back under my pillow. But oh that guilty pleasure was so good. I could feel the chocolate coursing through my veins and that warm sweetness filling every corner of my mouth... I had to really brace myself before puutting it back, telling myself I'd need it for the remaining days.

The kids were so bad today I was ashamed. I've had to yell at them all day, and tonight's evening activity was chaos. They're not getting dessert tomorrow. I had to pull L. aside and tell him, "As long as you're at camp, you have to follow camp rules, which includes doing what the counselors tell you to. If you don't want to follow the camp rules, we can send you home. Being at camp is a choice." I've changed my plan of wanting 16 children. These past 6 days, I got a taste of having 12 children and I'm at my wit's end. I find myself wanting to shake them and asking the unanswerable questionn, "Why are you so bad?" Glasses said it might be homesickness. According to camp philosophy, all this bad behavior is because we're in the "Storming" phase (the phase that comes after "Norming") where the kids begin to test their boundaries. We've had at least 4 fights over the past 2 days. When I wake up in the morning, I drag my feet on the way to the cabin because I can already anticipate the scene that will greet me. Tears and fists. The other counselors have started to comment that our cabin is particularly hard to handle.

The most well-adjusted cabin kid is the one who lives with his mother. The next well-adjusted ones are surprisingly the ones from the children's homes. Some of our kids evidently have problems. One of them regularly doesn't eat, or will fail to respond when being spoken to. Another one is bigger than the others and ends up hurting them often when they wrestle. A third one is a complete mystery to me since he rarely smiles, only sometimes participates, but is otherwise well behaved when he's not pounding some kid into the dirt. He helps clean up and such all the time though.

Some of the boys in cabin H have crushes on me, which I suppose is flattering in a 14 year old sort of way. It's been a tough day. Tomorrow I'm teaching Swimming. I get to spend all day sitting in a freezing pool.

Posted by ink |  4:52 PM

[Monday, September 27, 2004]

Cranky is the word of the day.

I'm in one of those unexplainable fussy moods where nothing makes me happy and I'm generally listless. Bob only serves to annoy me more as he still visits every night and Venda keeps pressuring me to take a walk with him. I really shouldn't be so ungrateful, but right now, he's just an additional social obligation that I can't seem to duck out of. Being at camp means that you never really get a moment to yourself without someone knocking a friendly hello, which you then feel guilty about feeling resentful of. I guess this is where my loner side kicks in.

The kids are starting to drive me a bit batty as well. They're fighting and crying and generally being horrendous to each other. One kid smeared toothpaste all over the other kid's bed. S, the former sweetheart, alternates between being a little monster and wanting to blow love strawberries on my neck. X competes with S for my attention, making him the equivalent of a limp puppet hanging around my neck half the time. I feel like Venda isn't taking an active enough role with the children. Oh, and we haven't had running hot water for 3 days and the food has been awful. I haven't been getting any fruits or vegetables over the past week and they're normally the majority of my diet. It's been eggs, oatmeal, mac and cheese, bread, and more and more empty carbs. What I want tomorrow morning is a leisurely breakfast of strawberries and cream and a good book. I want to read out in the sun on a lounge chair. Alone. I don't want to see or talk to anyone.

Posted by ink |  1:11 PM

[Saturday, September 25, 2004]

Rewind: To the teenage years.

I think I may be dating Bob and not be aware of it. I put my finger on that disturbing quality tonight. I'm entirely too old to be playing silly little games like this. Besides, the more I find out about him, the less I like him. His supposedly romantic overtures only make me feel like he's irresponsible and immature. Like when he left his cabin on the first night (thus leaving the kids alone) because he had to see me. He returned to a cabin filled with chaos. The kids were causing a ruckus and pillow fighting, and the neighboring cabins were complaining. To give him a bit of credit, he's very regular about visiting me, though I'm starting to feel guilty about continuing to talk to him. Especially since now, I only do it because I feel bad. This undoubtedly fits the definition of leading someone on. But, how do you tell someone that your initial attraction to them has faded because you've decided that they're arrogant, irresponsible, and immature? And that the more you see of them, the more underwhelmed you are and the more your impressions are confirmed?

That and, once the attraction fades away, all the little flaws you never noticed before begin to come to the foreground. Like the dirty little smudge of a moustache that he has. And to think, my cabinmate Venda told me today that I'm the kindest person he's ever met and he'd like to take me on a date. Me. Kind. If he only knew some of the awful thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis. It's a bit strange for me to be receiving this much attention abroad since I obviously don't get it so much domestically. Maybe it's because I'm actually happy here and it shows. Wayan told me the other day that he likes hanging out with me because I'm always upbeat and happy all the time. I started laughing. If my friends at home could only hear him. My college roommate once told me that she kinda likes the pessimism and sarcasm. She considers it part of my charm.

You wouldn't believe how good some of these kids are at sports. Soccer, against an African backdrop. Red, the counselor from Monaco got to teach Sports. I was intensely envious, because he got to be outside everyday. Not that I'm any good at sports anyways, but I am an excellent timekeeper.

Posted by ink |  11:50 AM

[Friday, September 24, 2004]

Love me tender. Love me true.

I now know why younger men are an anathema. There is nothing more unattractive to me than unnecessary neediness. That and (I never thought I would say this), pretty words. Pretty words spoken at inappropriate moments just smack of insincerity. Bob pulled me aside during lunch to whisper in my ear, "Do you miss me?" Quite frankly, when I've been spending the past hour cleaning up spills, cutting food for kids, and fending off sticky hands, I'm not thinking of him at all. That and it reeked of cheesy schoolboy romance. Does he have no sense of professionalism at all? Since when did one smoooch mean eternal commitment?

I asked him how his day was today. He gave me a spiel on how much he missed me and how much he was thinking of me every moment of the day. Considering that I only met him 4 days ago, that's a lot of thinking to be doing. What I really wanted to hear about was how his cabin kids are, how his classes went, etc. The love letter soapbox annoyed me a bit. I suppose this is hypocritical in a lot of ways since my usual complaint is that boys don't say enough pretty words.
I only gave Bob 10 minutes tonight. I could see that he was pouting about it. I don't understand why it can't be like it was before. Friendly. None of this lovey dovey stuff. In the States, it's usually a problem to get boys to talk to you at -all- after they've kissed you. Here, you can't keep them away.

My kids. Cabin B =).

Posted by ink |  11:38 AM

[Thursday, September 23, 2004]

The Big Day.

I met the kids today! And my cabinmate Venda. I'd already met my other cabinmate Glasses during counselor training. We're the counselors for cabin B. I have never had a more hectic and chaotic day. The kids were shy at first, introducing themselves with small voices. But by lights out, they were rowdy and raucous. I'll never be able to remember all their names. The only ones I remember so far are the names of the bad ones, because I have to call them so often. "Siboniso! Don't run! Siboniso! No pushing!" Siboniso, coincidentally, is also the one who started running up to me anxiously saying things like, "Mamie! Mamie! Toilet!" and "Mamie! Juice!" Basically, when he doesn't need anything, he generally ignores me and makes himself a nuisance - like yelling "WAKE UP!" ten minutes after lights out, or pouting "No! I want to play!" when I tell him to get into bed. His older brother Karabo is a sweetheart and very eager to please. Very much the elder sibling, he responsibly came up with great Cabin Rules like "clean the bathroom" and "don't be mean". He also shushes the other kids when I'm talking and is concerned when we miss announcements because I was taking him to the toilet. "Glasses will tell us back at the cabin what the announcements were, right?"

A few of the kids were very homesick right off the bat. Two of them sprawled face down on the bed as soon as we got to the cabin and pulled their pillows over their heads. One of them dumped all his food onto another kid's plate and wouldn't eat, clutching onto this little white bear that had "I love you" embroidered onto it. Obviously, from his mom. Now that I'm a counselor, I question the value of such mementos as they only serve to push the already homesick child over the edge. I think they do more on the parental end for easing their anxiety about leaving their kids at camp. Most of the kids here are urban underserved, and a good amount are from children's homes. Out of the 12 kids in my cabin, 9 of them are from children's homes. Of the remaining 3, only 1 lives with his mother, and the other two live with siblings and without adult supervision. A social worker comes in to check on them once a week. Two of the kids are HIV positive.

I can't seem to get a grasp on how different underdeveloped countries are. Though my cabin is full of 10 year olds, a lot of them have trouble reading and writing. They're also a lot smaller than the 10 year olds in the States. I'd put them at age 6 or 7. Only some of them know their 2x tables, but camp friendships don't seem to mind such educational borders and boundaries as they became friends despite mathematical differences. Not knowing how to read and write doesn't mean they're not smart though. Upon arrival, we asked the boys if they had any questions before proceeding to the cabins. Karabo raised his hand and asked very seriously, "Are there lions here?" I answered very seriously back, "Good question. No lions. Just some spring buck."

One of my most glamorous moments today happened when I was trying to get Siboniso to drink some water. To convince him, I took a sip of it myself, going "Mmmm! So good!" before choking on it because it went down the wrong pipe.

PLil, the camp director, asked me whether we had a cabin name yet. I promised him we'd have one by tomorrow, so we asked the boys tonight what they'd like to be since being simply Cabin B is Boring. I thought they'd come up with the Bees, or the Buffalo! But instead, they came up with... Boxes. Bagels. And Beds. Finally after some more thought, Bums. I told them their homework was to think about it during dinner. Right before lights out, they came up with... Boys. Evidently, Venda, Glasses, and I will have to pick a name for them tomorrow. As it is, I'm exhausted and it's only 10 pm.

You wouldn't believe how much food these kids can inhale. I asked one of them incredulously, "Do you eat this much at home?" He paused between shoveling food into his mouth and said "No." He drinks a glass of water for breakfast. He only gets one small bowl for lunch. And for dinner, he eats 2 pieces of white bread with water. Having 3 meals a day at camp was incredible for these boys, and they ate each meal like it was their last. After the meal, they kept pulling their shirts up to show each other how big their bellies were. This Cabin B-er is also wearing my watch. I wasn't aware at the time, but my 7 dollar indiglo watch that lights up at night made me an instant hit with the boys.

Posted by ink |  10:14 PM

[Wednesday, September 22, 2004]

Why's it always gotta be about boys.

My MD player has made me instantly popular. Being with the same 25 counselors for 3 days straight during training has made us bond faster than possible. Apparently, liking Black Eyed Peas and Outkast automatically gives me street cred. I get to meet the kids tomorrow and I'm excited and nervous. My nights have been filled with all sorts of anxious dreams about losing puppies. I think camp goggles are in effect as well as the boys have become more aggressive in general with the girls. I'm guessing that the male to female ratio being as it is (20:5), it's to be expected. Bob has gotten warmer, but he generally keeps to himself, aloof from the rest of the crowd. I think that's what draws me to him. The loner maverick thing. I guess because I've always felt a bit like one myself without always being one.

Bob smooched me. He had dismayingly bad breath.

Posted by ink |  6:59 PM

[Tuesday, September 21, 2004]

Even in Africa, some things don't change.

Today, sadly enough, seemed a little less amazing. Maybe the thrill of novelty wore off. Kinda like how by the second day of my safari, it was no longer "Oooo! Look!" and more of "Oh. Another giraffe." Or maybe it's simply because I've been cranky and tired all day. More staff training. More games. And a BBC video about the camp that made me cry. The day was saved though, by a fabulous conversation with Sideshow Bob, one of the South African counselors. Bob told me about South Sutu culture. Most interesting to me was the practice of putting prices on your daughters that's still current today. If Bob was to meet a girl he wanted to marry, he'd have to "buy" her from her family before he could do it, which is the complete opposite of every other culture I can think of where the woman's family pays a dowry to the man who wants to marry her. Despite the patriarchal nature of African societies, perhaps African women have an almost stronger role because they must be bought. Granted, that smacks of slavery, but having a price on your head for your hand in marriage is still a step up from your parents paying someone to take you away - which is pretty much what a dowry is. In fact, in Africa, if you get a girl pregnant and decide not to marry her, you have to pay her family for the "damage".

Even more jarring was the realization that its not just the campers here who are from the inner city, but many of the counselors as well. I found out over dinner today that Wayan never met his father. He doesn't even know who his father is. Him, his brother, and his sister all have different fathers, and this is a common scenario in African culture. Because it's so prevalent, it doesn't carry the same social stigma that it does in Western culture. I don't know why it was so startling for me to hear Wayan tell me that. But I suppose there's a difference between knowing a fact and seeing it. So many assumptions are made on a daily basis that the people you meet are similar to you. I found out tonight that Bob's mother as well is a single mother of two - also from different fathers. As Bob is one of my favorite people so far, it was a little strange to hear that he comes from such a dramatically different background. Besides being relatively good looking and funny, he also hasn't ever gone to college, doesn't have a job, and is 22. Yes, I'm finally getting old enough that there exist "younger men" over the age of 21. He's even younger than my ex boyfriend. Like most girls, I caught myself dilly-dallying down a path of daydreaming in which we dated and he came to visit me in the U.S. I realized quickly that it'd be a Sweet Home Alabama sort of situation, except I wouldn't move to South Africa to be with my down-home sweetheart. Bob is very cute and attractive at camp in South Africa, but I have no qualms that placing him in a New York or Philadelphia setting would be bizarre. Though I think my friends would be impressed by his good looks, I have to conclude 2 days after meeting him that sadly - we are never meant to be together. Perhaps a smooch. He has that strange boyish appeal I was attracted to back when I was 15. I'm surprised at the reversion to prior "types". Since then, I've developed a taste for solid manly bodies. One with a bit of heft. I'd rather have a man with a paunch than a skinny boy. No more lankiness. But lanky he is. And looks so good after playing soccer. Maybe I'm Mrs. Robinson.

Many Africans believe that worms live in the condoms, or that they're too small to fit. So, during counselor training, each group was given a condom, and we were told to fill it with whatever we wanted - leaves, twigs, water, or in our case, air. Washington shows exactly how big a condom can get.

Posted by ink |  6:37 PM

[Monday, September 20, 2004]

Day 1 of Camp. Counselor Training.

It's been the most amazing experience and I'm less than 24 hours into it. I've always felt a bit odd that Africa didn't feel as foreign to me as I thought it would, but today - today I gained a peep into the true voice and face of Africa through the singing and drumming and dancing that went on in the bus. The energy was just incredible, and I felt this tremendous sense of gratitude and disbelief that I was given the opportunity to witness this and be a part of it. The other counselors are very friendly and open. I've noticed that Westerners in general are much more reserved with strangers and much less warm than what I've experienced here. If I was on a bus full of Western counselors, we'd probably all be making polite chitchat with each other, generating a low buzz, not the hand-clapping drum-beating toe-tapping singing-and-dancing I saw today. Plus, the ability to improv is amazing. I can see the roots of hiphop and rap in the singing of these Africans - many generations and an ocean removed from African Americans, but sharing still the beats that are the foundation of their music. And the improv, oh God the improv. None of the music I heard today was scripted or practiced before. It was all done on-the-fly. Words cannot describe how incredible it was and I can't help but feel like I'm doing it a gross injustice by even trying to describe it. Even as someone who doesn't have African roots, I can feel the beats resonating in my body, as if it was speaking to me on a more primal human level that race doesn't even approach. Africa is the motherland after all. I find it interesting that a lot of African sayings are similar to ours. "You can see a rose. With thorns. Or you can see the thorns. With a rose." The majority of the counselors are from Soweto. There are 7 different cultural groups there and 7 different languages. This means that most Soweto inhabitants know all 7 languages plus an eighth one of "street talk" which is a mixture of the 7. Plus English. It makes you wonder who's really more educated.

One of the counselors gave me an African name. Palesa. Which means flower. Being 1 of 5 girls at a boys' camp means I get a lot of attention I'm sure I don't deserve. Am too tired to write more. Feeling incoherent.

singing and dancing.wav

Posted by ink |  2:48 PM

[Sunday, September 19, 2004]

Hurrah for server space!


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

8 AM: Rhinos! White rhinos! It looks huge, but Adrian (our guide) says it's a small one.

8:10 AM: Zebras. A whole family of them crossed the street.

8:15 AM: This is like a moving version of Where's Waldo. I'm traveling in a safari vehicle but I'm surprised at the number of high-end vehicles cruising by considering how ill paved the roads are.

8:30 AM: Base Camp Pretoriuskop. New Dorito flavor - sweet chili pepper. Every time I leave the U.S., I'm always shocked at hohw prevalent smoking is.

9:43 AM: Seen lots of elephant poo, but no elephants. Am getting sleepy. Breeze from car is great. Park doesn't smell as bad as I thought. Smells normal. Nothing like a zoo.

10:06 AM: Young bull elephant standing in shade of tree. Elephant's life: eat. drink. stand in shade of tree. smell for receptive female elephants.

10:53 AM: Impala. The "Mcdonald's" of the bushveld due to the M on the bum and because they're everywhere.

11:18 AM: In college, when we chose animals to represent each other, my roommates gave me the giraffe. Because I'm long, lanky, and a little awkward. Well, giraffes apparently have no vocal cords and are mute. They communicate in ear wiggles and snorts. I, as most of my friends know, am most definitely not mute. Though I like to think I'm okay at the body language thing. Giraffe's tongues are 60 cm long and can twirl around branches to rip the leaves off. Kinda makes my tie-a-knot-in-the-cherry-stem trick lame.

11:26 AM: more impala.

12:10 PM: Lunch. This vervet monkey stole my sausage right from my hands. I briefly considered snatching it back from him since I'm considerably larger, but I was afraid it might attack. In a battle between a 10 pound monkey and a 120 pound human, sadly I think the monkey might emerge victorious.

1:30 PM: Another giraffe.
3:30 PM: warthogs.
5:00 PM: Saw a croc! Too far for photo.

6:00 PM: This is a very very blurry picture of lion. If you look really carefully you can see him in the bushes. He was roaring and I was too frozen in delicious fear to gather my wits about me enough to snap him. They must have evolutionarily evolved to roar at a specific frequency that makes your chest cavity vibrate. I felt a very primal fear deep inside me in response to the roar.

10:30 PM: I'm sleeping in a tent. The sleeping pad is a little stinky (smells like feet) and the entire tent is a bit mildewy, but I don't care because I had the most wonderful day. I like the savanna at night better. I like the forest and how it seems dark and safe, like the night is enveloping the world. I like how the sky is so dark and the stars are so bright. It makes me feel like this, the sounds of the mozambique nightjaw and the chirping bats, is what life is. Not fluorescent lights, cubicles, and deadlines. I haven't heard the lions roaring outside yet but I hear they do that. I'm sure it will thrill me to my toes with fear but also make me feel so so alive. This is what generations of man has heard for much longer than the buzzing of an alarm clock. This feels undeniably real and alive. I'm writing in my tent by flashlight, which feels oddly reminiscent of those sleepover days, except I'm about a decade older, I'm in a smelly tent, and I'm in the jungle instead of at a girlfriend's house. But the thrill of fear, life, and discovery remains the same.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

6 AM: The sun rises very fast in AFrica. Blink and its light.

6:50 AM: Saw a male baboon from afar, sitting in a tree on the side of a mountain, looking at the sunrise. I've never seen anything so beautiful as that silhouette. It seems oddly human and prehistoric and m akes my life in the U.S. feel so trivial. We've lost touch and lost sight of the important things, the moments that don't cost a thing and are free for the grabbing if we're only willing to take the time. There are so many beautiful things around us that are free. Why do we place so much value on those with an artificially created pricetag? Society is the problem. We should all lead solitary existences like the male baboon.

8 AM: Today's Dorito flavor: Salsa BBQ

10:15 AM: Funny how every adjective I've heard used to describe animals is not just cliche, but true. Majestic elephants. Graceful giraffes. I don't know why I have such a hard time believing that things are just like in the movies (I just saw two waterbuck sparring), but I suppose it's because real life is never like the movies, but animals really -are- like Animal Planet. Seeing such simple things as elephants by the water make my life seem needlessly complicated. Everything stress-related in my life seems to be tied to money in some way. Money -is- the root of all evil.

1:15 PM: Baboons!

3:59 PM: Giraffes on the other side of the bank. Life somehow seems so simple here, watching them graze. Granted, I never have to worry about lions either. I like seeing animals fromm afar. It makes them more philosophical and contemplative somehow, and less biologically wild.

4:10 PM: Hippos! Hippos have no natural predators. Which of couurse makes it the animal I want ot be. Fat. Lazy. And all they do is sunbathe and sit in the water. Oh, and everyone fears you. Hippos are responsible for more human deaths in Africa than any other animal. I imagine it must be like being the U.S. president.

Lake Panic viewing area. Absolutely gorgeous and peaceful.

Posted by ink |  11:01 PM

Irish friends.

I've managed to remedy the tragedy of losing a pen by getting one from the hostel, only to replace it with an even greater tragedy - I lost my Let's Go guide book. I met 3 irish boys at the bar on Friday night and decided to go with them on the Panorama Route. Sean, Davey, and Emmet were there names. I handed my guide book to Emmet in the navigator seat as a supplemental map and never managed to get it back. This may quite possibly top the losing of a pen. The stores are all closed already (we got lost on the way back and ended up driving up a mountain). I suppose I'll just play it by ear. At Funky Monkey's, I met and hung out with the guy who's writing the Alternative Route guide book to hostels in South Africa. Very cool Brit guy. The 6 hour ride from nelspruit back to Pretoria was bad. Not for any discernible reason besides that I was cranky, tired, and irritable. I'm back at Pretoria Backpackers, minus a travel guide, minsu a USB memory card, minus a usable sleeping bag liner. Checked into a dimly lighted dorm room. Still have to:

1. call malealea lodge to arrange blomfontein transfers
2. arrange plane ticket from port elizabeth back to jo'burg
3. arrange train tickets to blomfontein

Posted by ink |  9:04 AM

[Friday, September 17, 2004]


I've lost my pen =(. That may be the greatest tragedy yet today. The safari ended alright. Still no lions, but I do have that spectacularly blurry shot I took yesterday. I said goodbye to Adrian and Darryl (our guide and chef). Darryl's quite the talker (though by all appearances, he looks like an unkempt homeles man I would've avoided in the street), but I turned out to like him quite a lot. Adrian is obviously someone who likely connects with animals better than he does with people. Very quiet, a little shy, he comes to life only when spotting an animal or directly addressed. He seemed very sweet. The fact that he's an orphan endeared him all the more to me. That and I've always felt an affinity for socially awkward people. His dad was murdered when he was 13 (they never found out who did it) and his mum died of cancer a year ago.

I've checked into Funky Monkey's in Nelspruit instead of staying at Big 5 for another day. The thought of having to endure another grueling moth-filled ordeal was too much. The morning shower idea was only marginally b etter. I managed to kill a bug in the shower with my flipflop without screaming (whereas its okay for me to give in to my natural instincts in my own home, I am quite aware that a 23 y.o. grown woman should not be screaming like that in public). I got naked, only to notice a gigantic moth on the wall near the toilet. I got dressed quickly and tried the other bathroom. Only to also kill another bug (also without screaming), get naked, close the shower curtain, to find a moth on the inside of the curtain. At that point, I told myself I'd just have to wash my hair real fast and showered with the curtain open (thus giving the moth less of a chance to fly out at me). I was in such a terrified state that I fled that bathroom, leaving my shampoo in the shower and dropping my undies on the stone steps leading to the bungalow (which I was told about later by the cleaning lady who informed me that she thought I dropped "something" outside). I brushed my teeth outside the bungalow, using my spring water. I'm such a cowards. Regardless, here I am at Funky Monkey's, my only regret being that I saw a fabulously cute boy in the self-same moth-y bathroom as the shuttle pulled away. Likely, he is staying there alone. Perfect bonding time. But not even cute boys is enough to incite me to stay another night. A shame really since Anthea, the hostel owner's girlfriend is very nice.

I've checked into Nelspruit into my first hostel dorm. Being a newbie at this, I forgot to ask for a girls-only dorm. So I'm now in a room with 3 boys, one of whom - I'm sad to say, smells. Smelliness is reason enough to ask for a girl's dorm. Much less the safety factor and ease of changing. He did kill a mosquitoe on the wall for me though. After three tries. Drunkenness does not become one's aim. Regardless, seems like I'm here for the night so I may as well deal with it. Funky Monkey's is okay, but the food is tremendously overpriced. There are more backpackers here, which is a thumbs up, and I don't even mind the lizards on the wall whose tails fall off if you get too close. However, more backpackers means the shyness sets in. Large groups of people do that to me. With smaller groups, I'm readily willing to chatter away, but now's as good as a time as any other to start breaking this Pavlovian response to new people. I rinsed my mouth with salt water to help the sores heal. Right now, it hurts to eat and smile. Rinsing with salt water always makes me feel slightly ill. But I can't hide in this room forever, writing away. I suppose I'll try the bar.

The hostel is dominated by men and the bar sounds entirely too raucous for me. My mouth still hurts and its hard to eat or smile. I'm lying in bed alone in the dorm room. Reminiscent of camp. But what with just being on a safari, the last thing I want to do is engage in a game of beer pong. I think i'm just tired and cranky. If the dog outside doesn't stop barking, I'm going to shoot it.

Even Later.
So, it turned out alright. Smelly Man came in and professed his eternal love to me. Oh the wonder of beer goggles. I was thrown in the pool along with the hostel owner. Made new friends though. Staying extra day. Ellen, the manager here, is great.

Posted by ink |  8:51 AM

[Thursday, September 16, 2004]

Kruger Park Safari.

Will post entries and pictures retroactively as the hostel computer does not seem to want to accept my USB device for me to upload photos. Boo...

Posted by ink |  8:36 AM

[Tuesday, September 14, 2004]

From the Travelogue Journal.

9 AM
So, its my second day in Africa. And I started it off with a bag of "Doritos Italiano". Very healthy. Being the snack fiend that I am, whenever I travel, I like to try the local snacks. Doritos may not be local, nor is "Italiano", but "Doritos Italiano" most certainly seems to be. Or at the least, theyr'e not American. I'm the sole passenger on the Citybug shuttle right now. On my way to Nelspruit so I can be picked up by Big 5 BP's to Hazyview for my Kruger Park safari. Oh, and I have one thing to add to things I wish I'd brought. One of those cheesy and largely useless Nalgene splashguards. I remember balking at the 3 dollar pricetag. But at moments like this in the shuttle and during specific moments on the plane, I could've really used one.

The radio stations here play an odd mix of modern top 40 and 80's.

"When friends just can't be found, like a bridge over troubled water."

I sang the line softly to myself along with the radio as I looked out the window when it suddenly struck me that if this was being shot as a movie scene, it'd be a rather lonely and kinda pitiful moment. Which is odd because I don't particularly feel lonely or pitiful. And I usually revel in bouts of wallowing in self pity. If I was traveling with someone, we'd probably be yapping away instead of looking out the window and noticing things.

The traffic here is awful. I could really use a seatbelt.

4 PM
Arrived at Big 5 BP's. I'm beginning to question the wisdom of my switch away from Kruger Park BP's. My original reasoning was that big 5 received the official thumbs up from Let's Go South Africa. But - Kruger Park has internet access... Considering that I'm here alone currently and no one is around (not even the person who owns it), I'm thinking I could at the minimum use internet to email my dad. Or blog. I can't even find a listing of the tours they do with accompanying prices. I suppose I should read some of my thesis papers... I brought about 12 papers with me and have obviously done nothing with them as far. I have a vague feeling that meeting other backpackers is not going to happen. My "dorm" room is empty besides my things. Tomorrow's safari will likely be a solo venture as well. Me and the guide and the chef. I'm hoping the guide is at least cute, for eye candy purposes. Though I guess I'm here to see the animals, not the cute boys. Though cute boys can be considered a kind of animal. I slept the entire Citybug ride. Again, I think I was the only backpacker on the shuttle with a bunch of locals. It was nice chatting with them. I feel like the Lone Ranger. The television here only has 4 channels, 2 of which are staticky.

7 PM
Have watched 2 episodes of Oprah. Nice to know that Oprah has penetrated even to South Africa. I tried to buy a phone card, but no phone cards are sold here. No phones are around either. And no internet. Most definitely picked the wrong hostel. Have left living room where I was sitting in the company of a wasp and the Young and the Restless to head to the dorm, where I now sit in the company of empty bunk beds and an owl hooting outside. I'm a bit afraid of using the bathroom in the dark. I'm convinced all sorts of creepy crawlies are in there. Damn you Let's Go guidebook for leading me astray! At least I get this thatched roof hut to myself.

9 PM
So, I thought I was a very "wilderness adventure" sort of girl. Never have I been so wrong. I went to use the bathroom before dinner, and it was completely filled with creepy crawlies. I kid you not. And I think I saw a roach. Are there roaches in South Africa? After peeing as quickly as I could while being terrified that a moth or roach would bust in on me (and you can't do anything but sit frozen in fear until you finish peeing since you can hardly jump up screaming mid-stream), I decided the usual nighttime shower could wait till morning. I think my irrational fear of moths, birds, and butterflies (or in fact, anything with fluttery wings) precludes me from being anything but a wannabe wilderness girl. Though, quite honestly, I'm much better at being "all out wilderness girl" (camping in the woods, not showering for days) than I am at being "halfway wilderness girl" where you stay in a hut but have an outdoors bathroom with lights that attract every nighttime bug for miles. Though, even without the light, I'm sure my pale naked body would equally attract bugs. With the weather being as hot as it's been, I hope to change that soon. Tomorrow is my safari. I really am going solo. I was right about the hostel - I'm the only guest. I'm thinking it's probably like this at Kruger Park BP's too since Anthea (the hostel owner's girlfriend) said it's been very slow in the month of September. It's just me, Anthea, and the architect building Anthea's house. Hrm, feels suspiciously like a horror flick. Alright, making final bathroom run for the night. Trying to decide whether taking contacts out BEFORE going is better since I won't see creeply crawlies, thus living in relative safety with only my imagination to horrify me, or being able to see so I can perceive any dangerous proximity between me and a bug. Anthea made dinner for us, and I naively asked whether this was traditional South African fare. She laughed and said, "No, it's just burritos."

Posted by ink |  9:17 PM

[Monday, September 13, 2004]

Girls' Guide to Traveling Africa.

The hostel has a nice atmosphere of welcoming but not too raucous. No one's particularly chatty, but I'm most comfortable dwelling in that awkward phase when strangers don't know each other. Perhaps because it's my natural state of being so I have a competitive advantage over those not accustomed to being awkward on a normal basis. I shine in such moments. When people are chatty or seem clique-y, I tend to shy away and shrivel a bit. I like my bathroom. The shower has a gabled glass ceiling so I feel like I'm showering outdoors. There's separate faucets for hot and cold water in my sink, just like the olden days.

Now that I'm in Africa, I'm realizing that my best buy so far is without a doubt my camp towel. It was one of my last purchases, and a purchase made reluctantly at that. Who wants to pay 20 bucks for a towel that will barely cover my ass? I bought it anyways, grumblingly. And it rocks. I've folded it up to use as a pillow on the plane. It was handy when I brushed my teeth and washed up at the airport, it dries super fast, takes up almost no space in my pack, and I lay it on top of my pillow to protect my face against the questionable pillow cases here. What did I wish I had brought but didn't? My sneakers. Inspired by the go-light traveling phenomenon, I decided to avoid being a silly girl and packed only hiking shoes and flipflops (for the shower and other casual occasions). The hiking boots are so heavy and clunky and the streets are too dirty to wear flipflops. My saucony sneakers would have likely become my regular every-day-shoes unless I was going hiking. It would've been worth it to carry an extra pair of shoes in my opinion. The one thing I'm glad I packed was my favorite jeans. Of course, I'm breaking every rule in the backpacker book (never bring jeans, don't bring 2 pairs of "sneakers"), but I've decided that these rules only apply in tropical areas. When it's only 60 degrees, jeans are a necessity, especially since they're sturdy, comfortable, and don't show dirt. Plus, I'd much rather horseback ride in jeans than in thin nylon pants. And everyone else wears jeans anyways. I also think my compression sack is worth its weight in gold. I have yet to use my mosquitoe net or my bug spray or my water purification tablets. Dead weight.

Another thing that I was recommended to NOT pack (but am glad I did) is a big vat of body moisturizer in addition to facial moisturizer. The air here is so dry my skin is almost cracking.

Must figure out how to post pictures on my blog.

Posted by ink |  9:32 PM

London and Africa.

After a much needed nap, I'm feeling much better. Being here on my own hasn't really been that much different from being in Boston on my own, or New York. My 10-hour layover in London was quite productive. Besides sitting in gum, I also saw Picadilly Circus (Statue of Eros), Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was disappointingly un-palace-y and disturbingly White-House-like. My favorite building was Parliament, and I'm looking forward to seeing the inside of Westminster Abbey on my return flight. All cities seem similar. It's only when you live there for an extended period of time that you get to know the nuances of its character.

I met a Brazilian woman at the airport who was staying at the same hostel as I am. She lit up as soon as we got outside. Little did I realize at that moment that I was to see that same motion a million times over the course of the day as we decided to take on sightseeing in Pretoria together. Pretoria/Johannesburg is a little disappointing, but the other hostel'ees seem friendly, if not too chatty. There's a dog at the hostel that I can't help but keep petting, even despite its tendency for profligate drool.

The sheets at the hostel live up to their reputation. I've never been so thankful for lugging around my sleeping bag. I made my mom make me a sleeping bag liner too before I left. She sewed up a twin sheet into a little burrito-bag for her little pork chop (that's me), and then decided to wash it and dry it in the sun in the backyard. During today's nap, I climbed into it and caught the aroma of sunshine and home. I'm very much an out of sight, out of mind sort of girl which means that I get spates of homesickness interspersed with extreme adventure. I'm a little ashamed to admit that my parents did not even cross my mind at all since I left, until I slipped into my sleeping bag and smelled the sheets. Then homesickness rolled over me in waves. Or perhaps more accurately - parent-sickness since it's not really "home" that I missed, but my parents. I cried a little, scolded myself for being such a silly girl, and then slept like the dead. I'm not too surprised, as the same happened in Asia. Tons of fun and giggling and partying, until it came time for my weekly phone call home. I think it's best that I keep communication limited to email. That and, calling the U.S. from S. Africa chews up my phone cards like you wouldn't believe. I've already gone through 2 and I've been here for less than 24 hours.

Figures, now that it's time for bed, I'm wide awake. Tomorrow, I'm taking the Citybug out to Nelspruit, where I'll be picked up by my next hostel - Big 5 Backpackers. I made a last minute change away from Kruger Park Backpackers who I had reservations with originally. I don't remember why I originally chose Kruger Park BP, but I was re-reading my Let's Go guide and realized that Big 5 got the thumbs up from the researchers -and- its prices were cheaper. In fact, Kruger Park Backpackers wasn't even listed in the guide. How I even got information for it to make reservations is a mystery. The experience is probably quite similar and my last minute change is likely nothing but a slight case of nerves.

I'm very pleased with Pretoria Backpackers so far. It has a lovely backyard with a pond and candles, and I got a nice suite with my own bathroom in a stand-alone guest house for the price of a single room with a shared bathroom down the hall. I'm not sure how I lucked out, especially when I saw the Brazilian woman's room (we paid the same amount). I had my doubts about reserving a single room, but I've never been so thankful. When I'm this tired, the last thing I want to do is make chitchat with people in the room. They say that introverts are those who recharge when they're alone, and extroverts are those who get their energy from interacting with others. By that definition, I'm an introvert, though if you ask any of my friends, introvert is the last thing they'd call me.

Alright. My 2 dollars worth of internet time has run out (even with my 92 wpm typing speed). This is to all the people who I promised I'd write to reassure them that I'm alive and well. Though if I'm maimed, I'd be okay as long as they left my fingers intact. Can live without a leg, but can't live without the ability to write. Though I suppose I can be like that girl on TV who paints, writes, and types using a stick in her mouth.

Time right now: 8:46 PM. The 6 hour time delay means that I can never call home because by the time my parents get home from work, it's midnight here. That may be a good thing. Tomorrow is Kruger Park and my two-day safari. Cross your fingers for no lion-mauling.

Posted by ink |  2:46 PM


So far, the first 24 hours of my "adventure" has been... well let's say, less than ideal.

It consisted of having serious sinus problems on the first leg of my trip to London (my ears hurt when we descended because they couldn't re-pressurize properly without clear sinuses). Then, in London, after managing to get through my entire life with zero incidents involving gum, I sit in it within 2 hours of arriving. It's still on my jeans. On the second leg of the trip, I got a bloody nose on the plane and was sitting next to the most unpleasant old man. Getting up to go to the bathroom twice within a 10 hour flight sounds quite reasonable to me. He told me multiple times that if I have such a small bladder, I should seriously reconsider taking the window seat next time. The third time I got up, it was to puke in the airplane bathroom. I have a healthy suspicion that the doxycycline was what caused it. I forgot to take it with food. Upon my return though, the old man reiterated his thoughts on my window seat.

"I wasn't getting up to pee again you know. I was ill."
"So you say."

I should've vomited all over him instead. He should consider the alternative before berating me. I'm now in South Africa and exhausted. Logistically, it's been a bit of a nightmare as I'm trying to schedule a pickup by the non-profit I work for before I take off sightseeing. Having only use of public phones is hard because I have to hang around and wait for them to call back. What I really want to do right now is sleep, but I promised this girl I'd go around Pretoria with her at 1 pm. It's nearing 11 am, I haven't heard back from the non-profit yet for a scheduled pickup time, and I am still unshowered.

I did manage though, to brush my teeth after puking. And the stewardesses nicely made an announcement asking the passengers to donate their unused toothbrushes and toothpastes for the summer camps I'm working for.

The funny thing is, I was quite nervous before coming here. On the car ride to the airport, I came close to crying a few times. Largely because my dad was giving me all these warnings, and with my overactive imagination - I was imagining all the possible worst case scenarios - which of course, all end in death or maiming. I felt incredibly sad, not for myself, but for my parents. In the past year or so, I've come to realize how much they really love me and how much they've invested in me, emotionally and financially. It would be tragic for them to lose me. I felt all choked up on their behalf, because obviously - if I was dead, I wouldn't be able to feel anything, even sadness. Once I got to the airport and they left though, I started to feel a bit more stable again.

I feel like I have to take care of myself. Not just for my sake, but also for my parents.

Posted by ink |  4:42 AM

[Saturday, September 11, 2004]

And she's off!!

Today's the big day. I leave in half an hour, and I am frantically trying to cram my MD player with as many albums as I can for the 27 hour long flight. My reading of choice is Salinger's Nine Stories and A Curious Incident of A Dog In The Night, recommended by Fisher , though I think I thoroughly mangled the title. Considering that you have to arrive 3 hours ahead of time for international flights, I have a feeling I'll be done with all my reading before I even get on the plane.

I don't have any sense of anticipation or excitement. Strange. It feels like just something else I have to do. I think med school applications are weighing heavily on my mind, as well as the prospect of returning to my thesis, which I'll have to write in one month. It feels like going to camp by yourself, where you know you ought to be excited but instead you're just apprehensive. And whereas you kinda like the feeling of independence and going on your own, another part of you wishes your friend were coming.

I've been feeling non-verbose lately. Maybe my journey to Africa will re-inspire me.

Posted by ink |  6:02 PM

[Wednesday, September 08, 2004]

Life after moving back in - with your parents.

It's been surprisingly okay. I moved back into my old bedroom and assumed my usual positions. On the bed with a book, or at my desk with a pen. I skimmed over my bookcases and refamiliarized myself with some goodies but oldies, and also refamiliarized myself with my parents. They were oddly foreign. But in a good way. My mom is back on speaking terms with me. I can tell because she fusses. She wanted to get me a super waterproof jacket for Africa and asked for my help in picking out thank-you cards for her coworkers. Oddly enough, I think my parents actually want to spend time with me. It's kinda cute. My mom wanted to lie on my bed today while I worked on my secondary essays at my desk. She promised me she wouldn't talk. Ha.

She ended up telling me that my dad is excited that I'm home. That while I was in New York this past weekend, he made comments like "I wonder where our little princess is right now. She's probably on the bus by now" and "I think she should be hitting New York right about now." Me. Little Princess ("Xiao Gong Zhu"). I've never been called that in my entire life. In fact, I've never been called anything but my name, and the occasional family pet name, which translates to "Stinky" in English. Not exactly endearing. I asked my mother if my dad was being facetious. Calling me a little princess because he thinks I'm spoiled is much more up his alley. She claims he actually meant it.

The pleasant surprise of this trip home is that its turned out alright. I originally came home because I felt that this might be my last chance to live at home as an adult. I wasn't really that pleasant of a teenager growing up. I decided that I should go home and learn how to be Chinese, which is something I've been my entire life but never really did properly. And instead, I'm slowly beginning to realize that... I think my parents like me. I mean, I've always known they loved me. They're my parents. They have to. But I never really felt like they LIKED me.

I leave for South Africa on Saturday.

Posted by ink |  1:44 AM



 about a 25  year old girl, ex-consultant, ex New York City inhabitant, newly minted med student, (still) largely single.

  about big change, the choices we make in life, gut instincts, on-the-whim hairpin turns, the search for truth, the desire to be happy, the journey to finding out what makes us happy.  

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