Erfurt!

Nov. 21st, 2005 09:45 pm
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Super quick update.

Am in Erfurt. Was nauseous in the morning, so was rather moody, but got better.

Got to see the Wartburg castle - so pretty! Majorly long walk though, argh. I`m surprised I sisn`t sprain my foot again.

mmm tomato soup and hot chocolate.

Am staying with Dee Ann - woo hoo! this should be fun.

Going to another concentration camp tomorrow. Yipes.

And...I´m out.

Köln!

Nov. 14th, 2005 08:43 pm
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
OK very quick update.

Before reaching Köln, we all stopped at Bonn, former captial of Germany. Some of us - me included - went to the Deutsche Welle media station and saw how they did their radio shows. I got to do a voice sample, woo! Too bad I don´t speak German otherwise I could apply for an internship or a place at their Akademie...

Our host code? Singing a given song. My song? Aqua´s Barbie Girl. Danni deliberately chose that for me, I know it.

I´m staying with Eston, and 15 Fathers and Brothers in a missionary house. (They work as missionaries in Africa and this is the admin area) The only other woman here besides me and the Virgin Mary is a secretary that comes in during the day. And the Internet apparently costs €1 for God knows how long.

God help me.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
OK, a slightly fuller update on what's new in my adventure.

We took a bus from a university in Abiko to Narita airport. All the "Willy"s we freed kind of came back; they allowed check-ins of two bags both totalling 34kg. At least I didn't have to lug my carryon.

I was seated in the same row as Diana, Marina, and a Greek guy (I thought he was Indian) - the rest of the crew were around our section. Our group were split into 2 flights - one in the morning (20 people) and our flight with 30 people. We could definitely feel the difference.

None of us really stayed in the same seat through the flight - people kept changing about. Tom and Melissa as well as Jessica and Peder were snuggled up next to each other, aww. We kept leaning out of their windows to see Siberia (ooh!) and a perpetual sunrise - at one point Peder woke up and cursed us out for congregating around his chair.

I wore faerie wings and sprinkled faerie dust, which got a fair bit of stares.

Laura found herself her calling: hand massages. Apparently her grandmother is a masseuse (she also does reiki! nifty) and taught her a few things. She went around giving everyone in the crew hand massages - oh they were so good. She really does have a talent for them. I suspect she will be busy on every Travel Day from now on...

I wrote a short story on the flight about Danni, Chris, and Peder being lost in The Netherlands and having to cycle around. Just a random story, but it got good comments. Huzzah.

We arrived in Munich - welcome to Europe! - and it was 5 degrees Celsius. Brr. Well, not really; I was the least covered out of the group - I had long johns underneath a rather sheer top but that was it for me - but I didn't feel that cold, not even when we had to walk outside to get to the plane. Our plane was rather tiny; Peder still faced some difficulty fitting through the door! Everyone was knocked out on the plane, we were just so exhausted.

We arrived around 8 or 9 in Amsterdam - to my surprise, there was a casino in the airport. Funky. Nina and Christie greeted us; Christie has new hair, and Nina has new jacket! Way cool. It was really great to see them again.

They brought us to the Stayokay youth hostel by bus - we were all nearly rammed by cyclists (and I thought Japan was bad). The youth hostel was, to our surprise and delight, very nice; great colours, rooms were clean, seemed very cozy. After an introduction by our Event Coordinator, Nelleke (who was in both Up With People the tour and WorldSmart), and some general rules, we went off to our rooms. I was rooming with Cristy P, Noelle, Andrea, Marcelle, and Kara; there were 3 bunk beds and I had the top bunk of a bed (with Cristy P). Those bunk beds can be deadly; it took me a while to figure out how to use the unwieldly steps!

I was super exhausted and flopped to sleep at midnight (after cursing my alarm clock, which stuck firmly to Japan time). By one o`clock, though, I was super awake. I decided to spend the rest of the night writing my NaNoWriMo novel; by the time we left for breakfast (with a 2-hour nap in between), I had already written the first chapter. 2384 words. Some people were asking about the novel and was amazed that I had already done a chapter. Hey, inspiration strikes at night sometimes.

The next morning we had breakfast at the youth hostel - bread and meat and cheese and cereal. And HOT CHOCOLATE. My lifeblood. There were some random European cakes that I didn't quite like, ick. Me, Christie, Yoga, Atsushi, Bob, and Anke were at a table together, talking about Utrecht and how things got stolen sometimes - Bob's workbag with all his important possessions got stolen in Utrecht last year. Yikes! I had lost my PDA that morning and was worried that I left it at the shuttle bus in Munich; thankfully I found it in my room, hiding under my backpack.

After morning meeting, some of us took a walk. Laurence, Yoshimi, Hiroko, and I trekked down a road near the hostel (we were close to downtown), checking out the shops and the cafes. I found an English bookstore and we all went in to look at all the books - especially the tiny gift ones. I bought myself an incense set; that's going to be my Dutch lucky charm.

Laurence was enthralled by a group of people playing giant chess. We had to nearly pry him away.

That afternoon, we had a boad ride around Amsterdam, learning about its history and all its architecture. Amsterdam in autumn is GORGEOUS - the warm-coloured leaves floating on water, the multitudes of houseboats, the very interesting buildings (their port looks like a fish), even a near run in with President Putin. The people on deck kept yelling everytime they went under a tunnel; if this becomes some sort of good-luck ritual in the future, you know why! I fell in love with Amsterdam immediately.

We travelled by bus to Utrecht; I got to talk to Nelleke for a while. She is quite a fascinating person, and so sweet too. And she likes elephants. Heh.

We had a guest speaker coming in talking about freedom of expression in journalism, especially since it was the anniversary of Theo van Gogh's murder the next day. It definitely made me think of a few things, especially about absolute vs. relative freedom of expression, where to draw the line, and about perception. If I wasn't so exhausted I'd probably be able to phrase my thoughts better then!

My host family are a pair of IT experts - one is a consultant, another is a programmer. The programmer (my host mum) also does event photography. They have 3 children - their youngest is a psycho, heh. My schedule said they had a pet chipmunk; what they really had were a pair of guinea pigs, Winky and Coco. It's odd that I remember the guinea pigs' names but not that of the kids. Oops.

They had heard about needing to set rules for us but couldn't really think of anything. "Rules for the bathroom...sometimes it can be occupied."

Today for Personal Day I wanted to go ice skating - 4 of us had signed up for free ice skating at Vestebachen (I am so spelling that wrong). After a bit of a briefing from my host mum, I took the bus - yay free bus passes! - to the area. That particular area had street names named after different parts of the world - Amazondreef, Bogotadreef, Colombiadreef, Nevadadreef, Californiadreef...it was insane! Apparently nearby that area the names include Africa (Ghanadreef, Gambiadreef) and Asia (Maniladreef, Singaporedreef - I am not kidding). And then there is Lombok, near where I live, where all the streets have something to do with Malaysia or Indonesia. Mad.

Anyway, I made my way to the ice skating rink and managed to get in free. However, the other 3 people weren't there. There also seemed to be a bit of miscommunication; we were told that we could get free ice skates, but the ice skate people hadn't heard of such a plan. I had no one there who could back me up, and I have never ice skated before, so I just waited...after two hours I gave up and went back to the Central station.

I walked to Hoog Catherina, a shopping mall...I was wandering around a bit and ran into Sammy and Rie. They too were wandering; no one really had any plans. What a nice surprise. I bought myself a sandwich (tandoori - didn't really taste like it) and went to another cafe, where I sat down and wrote the second chapter of my NaNo novel, with hot chocolate. A guy sitting near me talked to me for a while; quite interesting. People are nice here.

I got back home around two or three - two of the kids were back, nut that's all. I finished up the second chapter; it sounds so depressing! ack. I wish I knew what else was there to do in Utrecht, just so my Personal Day doesn't feel like so much of a waste. Perhaps I should have gone to Amsterdam.

Our schedule is really random this week. Tomorrow, Thursday - Project Time and Regional Learning. Friday? Regional Learning and Celebration. Saturday? Community Impact. It's all backwards, like Nina said.

I miss Nanu. Her father passed away a couple of weeks ago; maybe we'll never see her again in the tour. I wish she was back. Irina's also missing; due to visa problems, she can only show up in Antwerpen onwards. Gah. Our group really is a Survivor group. Even my novel has a bit of a Lost feel to it.

Europe is intriguing.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Firstly, thank you so much to everyone that sent me emails and comments from my second-last entry. I know I sounded really dire then, but I'm feeling better. It's just that tiredness and exhaustion and sudden bad news and illness and fatigue came together and boom! major effect on me.

I did take a couple of days off due to the flu. On the first day, in the afternoon I joined the crew at Murouji temple - I was feeling a bit better. Apparently this wasn't a good idea. For one thing, I'm just spreading the bug around. But most importantly, I'm giving the impression that people can pick and choose where they want to go. Never mind that this was a last-minute decision.

I found the policy, while understandable, quite odd - most people came up to me and said it was great that I made the effort to come. And I was obviously still flu-ey; I suppose people can tell when someone is faking it. But what to do...considering the various forms of chaos we've been through, sometimes such things are necessary...

We had a sharing discussion time about different philosophies and faiths, and I shared some thoughts about my own beliefs. I got quite a number of interesting questions, some of which made me pause and ponder. I know many other people have many other questions (we just didn't have time) and I would like to share some more, but it did make me think more about why I believe what I believe, and perhaps how exactly to structure that.

One thing I've learnt from this program so far is that I can be horribly ignorant about things I should know about. I barely know about Malaysia's policies with other countries. (Heck, I didn't even know what a free-trade agreement was until the ASEAN + 3 + 2 summit.) I barely know about Bangladesh's own problems. I barely know about some basic things about my own culture. I've forgotten the children's songs. Laurence knows more Bangla than I do. It's quite surprising really, how much you think you know but you actually don't...how deep you think you know but how much is really just surface level...

The second day of my sick time off, the group went on a hike. One of the checkpoints was the temple I lived in, so my host mum gave me a task as some form of a greeter. I basically stood outside waving Japanese flags and saying hi to the crew that came up. Nina took my photo, Chris jokingly said I had "sexy hair" (it was soaking from a shower), some people joked about me purposely skipping this...the LOCs wanted me to come in and listen to the talk about Buddhism, and I wanted to, but I didn't want to run afoul of the policy again and just sat at home. As it is, they sent Jessica a message for me telling me to stay home and get better. Har.

I worked on some thank-you gifts for my NaNoWriMo surveys for a few days - short stories about each crew member. They will receive this story once they return my survey to me. At first they were barely a hundred words...then things got harder but they got longer...now they're around 200-300 words (some are still in the hundreds), and for some reason Tici's is a page long. Meep. A few people have read their thank-you gifts, and they liked it, so hopefully the rest will too!

The Celebration was fantastic. We had a children's choir beforehand and they were really entertaining. Japanese children's songs are a lot of fun, and they brought some Sound of Music classics. We all got up and danced by the time they sang It's A Small World.

That energy was reciprocated during our Celebration - when I walked out on stage for Rhythm Of The World, everyone immediately clapped in rhythm to my instrument. That has NEVER happened before. People were animatedly talking about the photos in the slideshow (with an "extended remix" version of the soundtrack - basically the slideshow was longer than the song) and the kids even developed clapping games for Song Of Peace and Up With People. Such enthusiasm! They even cheered during our little Expo stuff.

The kids from the choir ran up to me and gave me their namecards. How adorable.

Rie unfortunately was tired and she had to rest during Celebration and Host Family Day. Aaww poor baby. We were just talking about how she never falls ill and now she does. Oops.

For Host Family Day I was taken to the Blue Mountain Plateu, where there are about 24 windmills (counted them all!) - and, for some odd reason that day, a group of colourful motorcyclists and a pile of Toyota convertibles racing. Huh. I took some photos of me trying to be like a windmill - I look more like a wind-blown penguin...

I tried one of the painkiller pills the Nara doctors prescribed to me for my back pain. The pain only got worse, and I had weird hallucinations for almost the whole night. That pill did something to my brain. I'm definitely not taking it again, that's for sure...

The Nara host families are really dedicated to us. They even ran to some distance along our journey just to say goodbye. They really loved us.

There was some sort of odd carousel-like music playing on the bus. Really creepy; almost Hitchcock-like. It sounds innocent but you just know something isn't right. Thankfully they stopped the music, otherwise we would have become a Hitchcock movie ourselves...

Tama looks a bit like Johor Bahru and Singapore combined. The sort of city I'm used to - except they still have the confusing train system (confusing because I can't read Japanese that well). Our facility is quite big and modern, and the welcoming ceremony was typical - they even had a drum circle again! Still awesome, still amazing, and we got a chance to play the drums too, which was great. Los Angeles all over again.

Miho and Cristy were calling out the names of crew and host families - Miho kept making random comments about each person. I half-suspect she's trying to flirt with us or something. Even Bob found it amusing; he was using it as a memory device!

We were told that our host families are driving us to and fro the facility - not in our case! Sammy and I are taking the trains this time around. We even had to take the train to get back today; imagine us with our suitcases in a nearly-packed train. Omoshiroi.

The house I live in is really quite modern and Western compared to the ones I've been in Japan so far. I have a room to myself - with an actual BED. Not a mattress on the floor, an actual bed. (I'm sure my sore back is in glee.) There's a ton of flat-screen TVs, even one in my room. Their son has a music room, filled with vinyl records - he DJs as a hobby, so there are 2 turntables there too, and a keyboard as well. They even have a dishwasher.

My host mum enjoys travelling - she just returned from Canada, and is planning to go to Hungary, Prague, and Austria later this year. She loves sushi and Chinese and Italian food - Japanese traditional food is somewhere lower in her preferences. That was reflected in our dinner - corn soup, potato croquettes, broccoli, toast. Definitely not Japanese.

I'm staying in a house that many might consider to be their dream house, since it's quite ultra-modern in comparsion. Proper bed, modern food, Internet, printer, cable television - and hey, what about that record room, eh? I wonder how the reaction will be like. I already have people asking me how the heck was I lucky enough to get Internet in every house, even in a village like Murou. (This isn't accurate; there was no Internet in my house in Maruko. But the Murou one was quite random.) They'll probably envy me, mwahaha.

Modern house, walking to the train station, beer factory visits, judo and kendo. This will be quite an interesting week.

Ich bien moo.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
The parade was pretty - you know the word - interesting.

We were all dressed in green - it was new for everyone, so I went around like a pixie and pinched everyone for good luck. (Got a few questions, and very much noticed!) Miho, Scott, and I volunteered to help carry our banner, while some other people went off on the tricycles (flower carts). The rest marched behind us; supposedly in lines of five, but it quickly turned into a jellyfish-like clump. We had Elizabeth's cousin from New Jersey (lived in Japan for 6 months and counting) join us so that was really nifty.

There were tons of other floats and marching groups besides ours, including a Brazillian samba group and a Korean float with a famous Korean actor on it. Yoshimi, the MC, and two Tsubomichans (the NGO mascot) were on the float proper, talking to the audience, while we walked behind them.

There were bubbles from our float. LOADS OF BUBBLES.

The banner people changed from time to time, and even the people in our group just moved around here and there. I saw quite a number of foreigners in the audience, even some I suspect to be Bangladeshi and Malaysian. I was yelling out "Shagatem" and "Selamat petang" to them...I wonder if they heard me.

Danni and I started singing Up With People a few times but stopped because Yoshimi was giving us the "O_O DON'T DO THAT" look. Oopsy. That would have been fun though.

We all got some flowers (looked plasticy to me but they were real) and I gave some to my host mum and her sister who came by. Her sister's a webdesigner too so it was really great to meet her. Cristy and Eli were supposed to follow us bhack to Kyoto for the bamboo festival but they decided to hang out with the rest of the crew at the Hard Rock Cafe instead. So my host family and I went back on our own...we had dinner - bento boxes with all sorts of random stuff - and then we went to the Bamboo Festival at the temple right in front of our house.

Basically, since the temple is right next to a bamboo forest, they cut chunks of bamboo and placed them all over the forest, with candles in them. The only light in the whole area are these bamboo candles (and some flashlights and cameras, which to be honest spoiled the effect). Some of these bamboo candles were arranged in the kanji for "dai" - if my memory serves me right I think it means "big". And it was definitely BIG.

In the middle of the dark bamboo forest was a taiko drum performance. After a while they stopped, and everyone was given a couple of thin bamboo sticks. The idea was that the drum would provide the bass sound of thunder, and our drumming on the bamboo stalks that were still up would sound like rain, thereby creating a musical storm. And oh what a storm it was! It was just like the drum circle in LA, but with a more natural, spiritual side. I honestly felt that we were calling down the rain.

(It didn't rain though. Perhaps soon.)

We then got to take one of the bamboo candles back home. The first one I carried blew out before we reached the exit, so I took another one and placed it in front of my host house.

My host family keep giving me things! They gave me their umbrella when they heard mine was broken. They gave me hurikake (flavourings for cooked rice - REALLY GOOD) when I said that I have to go buy some to take home. They even gave me ¥100 when I calculated my travel allowance and was that amount short (I probably overpaid a bus ticket). And it seemed so rude to refuse.

The next day was a bit chaotic - my period came that morning. Ack. Last minute laundry involving blowing a hairdryer on my clothes. My host mum showed up, understood what was going on, and gave my clothes a good wash. It's still not really 100% clean (I need bleach) and it's damp but it's better than nothing! But what timing, really.

OK, enough of the too much information.

We met up at the Osaka Riverside Hotel, said goodbye to Miho, Cristy and Marco (they'll be working in Tokyo) and left for Nara. I really felt that it was hard to leave this Osaka/Kyoto family; they were my favourite Japan family, so kind and funny and generous. They wrote in my book about how they felt that I was having a hard time because they didn't speak much English; I had an amazing time, really, it lifted me out of my culture shock phase.

Oddly enough, on the way to Nara we returned to Kyoto - nowhere near where I lived, but to another large temple, designated a World Heritage site. They mentioned the statue of Kannon (Kwan Yin) at the entrance but I'm not sure I saw her, unless she also has a form of being a red and black being.

There were quite a number of fortune things at the temple, such as prayer slabs (write a prayer on slabs of wood), bronze statues to be patted for good luck, even Japanese versions of worry dolls (write your worries on the doll, drop it in water; when the paper doll dissolves, so will your worries).

One of the more intriguing things were these two stones where you had to cross between them with eyes closed - if you make it to the other side, your wishes will come true. Gaby helped me across the first time - I made it through, but partway through the walk someone brushed past my right shoulder. I don't know if this means I'll acheive my dreams after some hard knocks or something. I helped Gaby back, his was much smoother. I felt a twinge in my heart afterwards, like something opened, and I could then feel the energy of the place.

The rocks were called "Love Fortune Telling Rocks" so I'm half wondering if there will be something between Gaby and I...har...

We left a bit later than expected because Katie was missing. I was really worried about her but she made it fine, thank goodness. Huning and I (we were bus buddies) spent the rest of the trip talking to Bob and Anke, who were right next to us. Interesting conversations; photos, accents, colonization. We have really fascinating program leaders, I tell you.

We had a bit of an incident reaching Murou - our bus wouldn't fit under the bridge. Bob and Anke were joking about my planned NaNoWriMo novel being true and how I should really take notes; I laughed it off but it got a bit weirder by a few minutes and I was starting to wonder if my muses were working overtime!

We made it through eventually, and met up with Jessica and Aya again. Yay! We had our schedules, styled like ancient Japanese scrolls; Jessica wrote positive appreciation messages for each of us in our schedules so that was an awesome surprise. Mine said "Thank you for your sparkling energy and positivity you bring! :)" - awww...

Rie's my roommate! Yay! I've been wanting to room with Rie for a while - she's such a sweetheart - so I'm glad I have my chance.

(ooo! The sirens went off! Around 8 am, noon, 5 pm, and 9 pm, sirens go off to tell the farmers when to start and stop. This will get interesting.)

There's 10 of us in the same general area - Rie & I, Chris, Che-Ri and Ana, Ah-Reum and Jessica, Tici, Elizabeth, and Danni. Oono people - either Uno (#1) or Oh No, depending on what happens. As Danni said, "It's the HOOD, yo."

Our host family meeting was once again ceremonial - and once again there were drums. And this was honestly the best, most entrancing drum performance I've ever seen. I could feel the communication and magic and energy being channeled; it was like they were trying to get access to another realm, then they were raising energy, then they were celebration and making loads of magic. Completely amazing.

Our host mum is the 2nd generation in 4 generations living around this area - her parents, her and her husband, her son and wife, and their 2 kids. Interesting.

Imagine this:

We are in a village barely touched by modern civilization.
We live on top of a mountain.
We live in a temple.
Very few host families have Internet access.
WE ARE ONE OF THESE FAMILIES.

It's dialup - just like back home in Malaysia. It took a while for the connection to work but the battery is dying so I have to be quick. But wow! Of all the random places to get online! We are so the envy of the group.

Tomorrow - new internships! Special Projects for me; NaNo doesn't start till November so I'll probably be working on the Yearbook. Or at least be Free For Hire.

I leave you all with a prayer.

Konbawa!

Sep. 20th, 2005 08:13 am
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Ohayo gozaimasu from Toyota, Aichi, Japan!

My brain still hasn't registered that I am in Japan. Perhaps because the 11 hour plane ride didn't sem very long - there were familiar people and ample opportunities to chat and hang out. One of the flight attendants, Tom, was very interested in Up With People; they even announced us on the PA system on the plane and made a special greeting for Yoga's birthday. Way cool.

The one time I get an American roommate - Noelle - and it's in Japan. Funky.

The house is pretty interesting...3 kids, they don't speak much English but we're communicating. Our host mum is so sweet!

Give me a while to register Japan. I'm probably going through some mild form of culture shock but I'll be fine, I hope.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Today, while some others are wild water rafting, I got to see a different side of Colorado; one that is steeped in history, back in time.

We first went to the party shop for costumes but that was closed. Bah. So we went to the Denver Cathedral instead. Pope John Paul II once did a World Youth Day event there, so it's quite famous. The cathedral was full of stained glass paintings of scenes of the bibles and saints, with markers of names of donors or people in memoriam. There were giant thrones, and a huge choir organ on the balcony. Very, very big. And yet apparently this isn't the biggest church out there.

I got to learn some things about Christian customs and history, and how it tied in with British culture. It was very interesting to hear how the Flockheart's family used to practise their religion way back when...and whether they practice it now...

We then went to Tattered Cover, one of the most well-known bookstores in Colorado. A multi-storey building with a coffeeshop (The Three Broomsticks!) and a restaurant on the top floor and books in between. The shelves - half-empty; books are selling fast I suppose - had old-style manuscript writing as labels. There was quite a variety, and I was spoilt for choice; I was looking for a book to read while on the road, but I couldn't decide which one to buy. And they weren't dirt-cheap either, so it had to be something worth my money. I found a book on feminist activism, which was about US$14, and I took out my wallet to look for money...

...and I only had about US$15 left.

I knew for sure that I had a few hundred dollars with me, and that I haven't spent them all. But they weren't in the secret wallet at home, and they weren't here. Where could have my money gone to?

Freaked out on the concept of having to live on US$15 for 6 weeks (even if I did have a credit card), I ended up not buying anything.

We went to the Wiltshire (I think) Inn to meet Angela, a friend from NaNoWriMo, and her mother Mau. Her mum's actually from KL so it was like meeting someone from back home. Angela just had her wisdom teeth pulled out, so she didn't say much; Derek, Val, and Mau spent the day talking about cultures, politics, and silly slang words. We had quite a posh dinner, mainly fish-based; I had a bowl of seafood in tomato broth. Like tom yam without the lemon grass.

It was quite fun to meet someone from online (we are not crazy stalkers with nefarious plans!) and the Inn was quite a sight in itself; founded in the 1920s, it had a very Old English charm, with antiques and paintings and such. Like a part of history. Rather reminded me of why I enjoyed Scotland so much.

We got home and I ransacked my room looking for the money. I found it in my underwear drawer, and remember hiding it there after being in a rush to leave the house. Oh thank goodness. Moral of the story: if you're hiding something, remember where you hid it.

Tomorrow we go to Boulder for tea and scavenger hunts. And I'll know for sure if I need to practice more dances again. Eep.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
There's been quite a number of news articles that have compared Up With People to American Idol:

St. Paul Pioneer Press:
It was surreal moments like that — a little more subversive, a little less "Up with People" — that made this year's "AI" concert more than just a guilty pleasure.

Hollywood Reporter:
While such Up With People-style entertainment might not be in huge demand these days, it's crucial here because onstage individually, with virtually no production around them, most of these recent amateurs do not have the skill or presence to carry 15,000-seat arenas. Nor should they be expected to.

Toronto Sun (about Idol 2):
It was all good, clean, preppy fun, like seeing the Up With People Players work a Super Bowl half-time show. In 1978. In the Retro Dome.

E! Online (about Kelly Clarkson and Idol 1 finals):
Then, doing their best Up with People impression, the 10 finalists sang a medley of songs they had performed throughout the competition.

When fandoms collide, indeed.

Mhairi, the girl of the family, came by to visit during the weekend with her husband Chris. She's cool, and quite funny. The whole family's addicted to Sudoku and they're getting Mhairi to try it too. Har.

Chris liked stir-fry so Val cooked some stir-fry beef and broccoli. She was following it from a Weight Watchers cookbook but it was nothing like how I knew stirfry so I was trying to give some tips on how to make it more authentic. I'm surprised she didn't shoo me out of the kitchen. The American instructions just make it too complicated (marinating for an HOUR? Taking out, then putting it back in again?) but it's all simple really.

Their soya sauce is really salty. Seriously SALTY.

I have a new phone charger! We went to Best Buy to get one. And they seriously have EVERY ELECTRONIC GADGET KNOWN TO HUMANKIND. I have never seen a shop quite like that before. They have every part for everything - and they all look rather nifty. Even my new phone charger looked different, like some sort of alien pod or something. At least it works (and it was a lot cheaper than I expected), so that's great.

They refer to the Barnes and Nobles nearby as "The Library". These are my kind of people.

Speaking of books - Derek a.k.a. Host Dad has a very interesting hobby. For the past 13 years, he has been watching the Books Bestsellers List in the papers, and had kept an extensive chart of all the books that are listed - complete with rankings. He says it's to find new reading material; well, he's got 2222+ books to choose from. I don't know if that's dedication or insanity.

On the subject of Brand New American (or British) Food Tried In Denver - add quiche to the list. It's some sort of savoury pie-ish pastry with eggs and cheese and meat. (Ours was meatless since I don't eat pork) It's REALLY yummy. The cheese and the eggs separate so there's this really interesting effect. Add some sausage and pepper and it'd be my kind of meal.

Today we went to the Denver Nature & Science Museum. I'm a science museum nut; I insist on visiting one everywhere I go. This one focuses more on nature - geology, wildlife, that sort of thing. There was a nifty space exhibit, a Native American exhibit that gave me the chills, and a Health exhibit where apparently if you complete enough checkstations, you get a health profile of yourself. I've grown an inch (or that could be my shoes), gained 5 kilos (that's odd), and am decidedly unfit, since I was already exhausted part-way through the 3-minute stair walk.

There were exhibits where you got to choose (virtual) food to eat; I remember one exhibit was a breakfast shopping game, and they asked if I wanted chocolate chip cookies. I said Yes, and it adminished me for making an unhealthy choice. Oh come on, I deserve a treat. There was one exhibit styled like a Chinese restaurant (two more were Mexican and Italian restaurants) and for every food item you chose, it'll tell you the nutritional information. When I chose a regular Egg Drop Soup, it said "If you have no problems with MSG - spice is nice!". For goodness sake. MSG is NOT a SPICE. It's a FLAVOUR ENHANCER. Get it right.

Tomorrow we'll find out what internships we'll get. I have decided to do internships - I chose External Relations, Performing Arts, and News Crew. We'll also probably find out if we're going to be dancing, singing, or speaking publicly for the WorldSmart Celebrations.

Squee.
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Today was a bit of a tense day.

In the morning we had the Stereotypes activity, where mahjong papers with the names of the countries represented are put up, and people walk around writing their perceptions of the country.

Not many people wrote stuff about Malaysia and Bangladesh - both papers had some "talk fast and loud" comments, which I suspect has more to do with me than anything else. And no, Mahatma Ghandi is NOT Bangladeshi. I was surprised that people thought Malaysia had good governance, after hearing the complaints in the country about the government, and someone wrote "Kjak Rtak", whose meaning I haven't the slightest idea of. Huh. Generally, though, people weren't too surprised at the reaction - they've heard it all before.

What was tense was the discussion at the end of the day about the Capitol visit and guest speaker the day before. Katie had talked about the offensive language the guest speaker was using (e.g. referring to prostitutes as "recycled women") and Marcelle replied that basically we give meaning to words, we should try to understand what their intentions were and whether or not they meant to offend. Katie was upset (she thought she was being lectured - she kinda had a point) and Noelle and Brandi were crying too because Marcelle had mentioned how "nigger" was inoffensive in Brazil but "black" was, and that touched a nerve. It led to a discussion on ethnocentrism (basing things on your own culture) vs. ethnorelativism (basing things on the other culture), and how we should be more conscious of potential triggers.

I personally thought that while everyone had a point, there was still a level of ethnocentrism int he comments. "This is bad because it's bad in my culture therefore it should be bad in yours". It's a definite learning curve and I think all of us will have to learn how to relate to each other without needing to push their buttons. I wonder how they'd survive in a culture which would be offended at their notion of being offended - "You think our culture is WRONG? You think you're BETTER than me?!" - that'd be something.

Thankfully the day wasn't all that stressful. We had our first major Whisk Prep - we were taught the chorus of one of the songs, and also the moves to a few dances. One of them was really complicated - you really need to get the rhythm down right. The other was simpler, but it all depended on your partner and group and if they mess up, you mess up too. There was so much thigh-clapping that my thighs are now bruised...red spots everywhere.

I've handed in my Internship application, and tomorrow there's going to be auditions for singing, dancing, and public speaking (and photography though I'm not too interested in pursuing that fulltime). Let's see how that goes.

Also - I made fried rice for my host family today! It was a bit different; garlic paste, Bombay onions, brown basmati rice, baby carrots, no oyster sauce. I thought it was a bit off, but they loved it, so hey.

Does anyone have any remedies for bruises?
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
Check out my WorldSmart photos on Flickr!

Today was the Opening Session of the WorldSmart August 2005 semester. There were the typical speeches and such, some stories too...the crew went up on stage and did multilingual welcomes and also read their diary entries from their past experiences.

They showed a few slideshows of the history of Up With People (including the song) and what we could expect from the program - including some shots of us on the first day! They had to choose a photo of me looking like a tired bum on a chair, of all things. What was most surprising was that at the end of one of the slideshows, they displayed all our photos that we had uploaded on Yahoo - whether on the YahooGroup or on our profiles. Nice surprise!

We got to tell our stories about why we were there - I told them the whole thing, from me being restless, to the parents not caring, to someone telling me it was a cult...the whole thing. Katie got emotional during her speech; I went over and hugged her, and we cuddled for a bit. Even kissed each other on the top of our heads. Heh. (those hoping for Katie/Tiara will be disappointed as she has a boyfriend. Bah.)

After all that, we had a short break, and then Bob (one of the crew leaders) called up people by country and we were to intro ourselves and explain where we're from. I got a bit flustered, especially since I was the only one openly declaring my association to two countries. (There were many more that were representing more than one country, but mine was made obvious just because I happen to be the only rep for both places.)

We then divided ourselves into groups by region, and us Asians (minus Japan which had its own group) talked with Atsushi (a.k.a. Vick lookalike) and Bob about our experiences with WorldSmart so far. I was the only one who had been to the US before; most of the group were worried about the idea of people in the US having guns. It was quite an interesting discussion, even though I had the feeling a few times that I was unwittingly dominating it...

We had an activity whereby we were given a puzzle piece and we were to write our goals and attributes at the back. After that, we all had to work together to piece the puzzle. After a while - tada! The map of the world! A squished map of the world, but hey, not bad.

Lunch was a buffet of all sorts of things - chicken, pasta, salad, black beans. The chicken was quite nice. Yum.

We did some other teambuilding activities afterwards - going in circles answering questions and talking with each other, a lot of games that involve squeezing hands (GO TEAM A!), and a form of bingo where you had to find people who fitted certain attributes.

We also were to write a letter to ourselves, which would be given to us later in the program. Mine sounded rather dramatic and depressing. Talked to Cris for a while, about how life is so confusing and things don't make sense and how our thoughts just fly...we really do have a lot in common. I think we bonded a bit; we're probably going to be close during the program.

We had some time left over, so most of us just hung out outside, playing soccer or chatting. Shinpei had brought a viola and was tuning it - he's really good! Mindblowing! Danni, Ari, and I were bouncing ideas of what to do for Community Celebrations. I suggested an Up With People dikir barat - incorporating the UWP lyrics and some other cultural things into a dikir barat performance. They quite liked the idea; let's see how that goes.

Speaking of which: I need help looking for dikir barat videos. I've been looking for short clips online to show people what dikir barat is about, and I can't find any. Help! If you know any good ones, drop me a line.

Me, Cris, Che Ri, Rie, Huning, and Natsuko taught each other Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Malay, Bangla, and Spanish. (They weren't as interested in the Malay and Bangla.) The Japanese have this term which basically means "since this is the first time we have met, I hope we can get along" - all that in about 4 words. Crazy. The rest of the crew and I were also talking about traditional dances and love lives and where we come from...loads of good sharing of thoughts and history.

Host Dad picked me up and brought Andrew along - we were going to pick up Valarie, my host mum, from the airport. We had Dominos pizza for dinner...their mushroom pizzas are quite nice. It took a while before Host Mum came by, but we got along really well. There was a bit of tension related to the ownership of one of the dogs (long story) and Host Mum wasn't feeling too good, but she was vary happy to see me and was especially glad with the journal I gave them as a gift. She was especially enamoured by the wooden pencil, hee.

Yay good impressions!

Tomorrow there's more things to be done. Already I'm feeling like I want to work with these people after this semester. It's too much fun!
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
1. Denver's really pretty. However, it also makes me really sleepy for some reason.

2. The only thing I had for "lunch" on arrival day were baby carrots in dip, small pretzels, and some Cheetos.

3. I'm already pairing up people in the group (in my head). Only one pair so far, and het, but hey - OTPs are fun.

4. Huning from China was supposed to be on my flight but she was nowhere to be seen. Turns out she missed her flight due to the sheer chaos in the checkin area. She couldn't take the second flight out because it was full with people who were pushed over from the downsized first flight. She only got here sometime in the evening.

5. There was a soccer ball in the hall where we were - around evening, a bunch of the girls decided to hold their own soccer match. Indoors. Quite fun, that.

6. There was a Yathzee and Ludo game set on one of the tables. Chris was trying to teach us how to play Yathzee but none of us got it. Yoga taught us Ludo (I was already familiar with it because I grew up playing it) and we ended up playing that instead.

7. I was messing around with the Yathzee dice holder and got all sixes.

8. While playing Ludo, Chris and Yoga dominated the game while me and Brianne were stuck - you needed to throw a six to start and neither of us had managed that for a few rounds. After a hwile both of us were throwing sixes like crazy and we caught up pretty quickly!

9. I was so sleepy (I didn't sleep much in LA) that I actually too a nap on the table when I was there. When I woke up, Katie had arrived. She was the first person there I hugged, since we were chatting a lot online. She's pretty, and quite hyper, heh.

10. Katie brought along a whole digital video camera set - professional quality. She was demonstrating to us how it worked. I got to use it to record the soccer match going on behind us.

11. The van that brought us to the training center was decorated with silly slogans outside and streamers inside.

12. Part of the Welcome Packet included a pen that doubled as a bubble wand.

13. They were showing videos and photos of previous semesters, and one photo was of two students - one dressed as a leprechaun, the other as a fairy. Between this, #12, and #11, I am convinced that the WorldSmart people are secretly glamourbombers.

14. My host family is Scottish-English. Derek & Valerie Flockhart. They came to the US about 10+ years ago. Valerie wasn't home yet because she was in London for her father's operation and her brother's silver wedding anniversary. She'll be back on Monday.

15, They have two children: Andrew, who's 23, and Mhairi (pronounced Varie) who is a few years older. Mhairi's married and lives nearby; Andrew's moving back home.

16. Andrew's a trumpeter - currently he's playing music for musicals (Wizard of Oz this week!) at the theater. He also used to do karate. And he has an awesome book collection. Clearly he rules, or something.

17. They have two dogs, Sam and Simon. Sam is very manja - affectionate. Simon gets jealous very easily. They're very big, and they scared me the first time I saw them (they were jumping all over me) but we're used to each other now.

18. They occasionally have hummingbirds, foxes, squirrels, and coyotes coming to visit.

19. There's a swing outside the house. Whee!

20. Derek is an inventor of sorts - he works in telecommunications. There are patent certificates all over the office wall. And he's very interested in geneaology. There's an extemsive family tree in the living room and he runs a family tree website.

21. We went to Estes Park today - PRETTY! We went up about 9000 feet but my chest couldn't take it so we went back down. The effect it had on my circulation was interesting, to say the least.

22. They've hosted Up With People kids last semester - one from Texas and one from Brazil. Apparently the Brazillian was a real socialite and went out all night.

23. I must be really boring compared to them because I've just been sleeping the past few days.

24. My parents keep calling everyone they can get a hold of just to get to me. Mum and Dad? CHILL.

25. The WorldSmart crew seem to think Malaysia's this really hightech country after seeing my PDA. Not many people are familiar with the device. They were especially overawed when I showed them that it was a camera too. Man, I am a geek, but I can't possibly be THAT geeky...

26. I haven't had time to write in my actual journal (or heck this one) because I'm either sleepy or busy.

27. We had giant turkey sandwiches for dinner last night. People here eat a lot.

28. I have run out of things to report, so if you want to know more, ask!

EDIT: I could have left this till later, but I just found this out and it was so cool that I had to add this in:

29. One of the host families is a gay male couple.

OK, officially, WorldSmart rocks.

In Denver

Jul. 30th, 2005 08:38 pm
tiaramerchgirl: (Default)
The adventure has started! I'm rather sleepy at the moment, so this will be kept short. Apologies in advance for any incoherencies.

The flight to Denver from LA was chaotic. EasyCheckIn wasn't that easy (thank goodness I had a credit card, otherwise I would have been in a bigger bind. As it is, I was to juggle between papers and bags, and my luggage had a mind of its own. United Airlines also suddenly decided that they would downsize the plane, which meant that much of the people were shoved off to another flight later in the day. No way was I giving up my seat now just so I could fly first-class later.

The staff at United were very friendly though. And their biscoff was nice.

I was one of the first to arrive that day...I helped hang around the airport looking for people. The staff are cheery and friendly; nice people. And for you Malaysian Idol fans - one of them is a CARBON COPY of Vick the 3rd Place guy. Seriously.

Most of the WorldSmart crew are here already. We've pretty much made our friends - Katie the documentarian with a digital video camera with her at all times (Victor, you have nothing on her), Brianne the energetic friendly redhead, Noelle from NY, and Chris the UBER COOL MEXICAN CHICA WHO IS NOW MY BEST FRIEND. Well, maybe. We've got two uber-tall people (Andrea and Parker), quite a number of shy ones, a few boisterous ones like myself...mixed bag. There's more coming in the next few days, so yeah, more remains to be seen.

They had an interesting way of linking us to the host families. They gave the host familes and us a passcode ("hostcode") and they'll need to intepret the hostcode in some way they know how. My hostcode was "table tennis"; my host dad took a flat ping pong racquet and taped golf balls to one side. Heh.

I am staying for the next 2-3 weeks in Denver with a Scottish/English family who have been here 22 years. They have two kids in their 20s; one's married, the other's a musician. Their house is GORGEOUS. They also have 2 large dogs (Sam the golden retriever, Simon the boxer mix) which scare me somewhat because they're so big and boisterous.

The host mum is in London due to a family emergency; she'll be back on Monday. The host dad is really sweet. I may meet their host son, Andrew, soon.

I'm feeling sleepy, and it's hard to type on an ergonomic keyboard, so I'll write more later, Feel free to ask questions.

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