Monday, June 13, 2016

Dear God. Love, a Cleveland Fan.

You've got a lot going on right now. I know. The world is full of evil, hatred, death and violence. There's poverty and sickness. I also know you are all powerful, so you can juggle multiple requests.

I don't ask for much. And by not asking for much, I mean, I ask for a lot. I'm not sure if you intervene in sports. I've always prayed that everyone plays to the best of their abilities and no one gets hurt. But just this once, I'm asking you to give Cleveland the W. Then give them the W on Thursday. And Sunday.

You see, I was watching game four with my niece and nephew the other night. They are eight and nine, that innocent age full of hope, excitement, and unbridled enthusiasm. Both of them went to bed before the game ended, because 1) the games start at an ungodly hour to accommodate the west coast, and 2) the agony of defeat is, o, so real.

It's been real for so long, and I understand why they didn't want to stay until the bitter end. I remember when I was their age. I grew up on Cleveland sports. Televised baseball may seem boring to some, but while other kids watched Nickelodeon, I watched every Indians game I could from '94 - '99. Hot summer nights were spent at my grandparents, marveling at the Vizquel/Baerga double plays. My heart jumped when Ramirez, mouth full of tobacco, made contact and dropped his bat as if to say, "No need to look. It's outta here."

Some girls had folders with the Spice Girls, NSync or Backstreet Boys. I had a folder with the Indians all-stars, including Jose Mesa, whose arm nearly hit the ground from the mound, and whose effortless pitching saved so many games. I lived for the sacrifice bunts, the walk off home runs, and the diving outfield catches.

My dad had a chief wahoo etched on the back of his head. He took me to a game after church a time or two, and wasn't that the order of life? God, family, then Cleveland sports.* But it wasn't just sports. Any diehard fan gets that.* Sports represent the fight. They represent grit, discipline, and sacrifice. They are an untainted picture of passion and resolute will. Even as a child, I appreciated that the will to win in sports is the same will needed to succeed in life.

But isn't that will supposed to lead to victory? At least eventually. Every season, I, along with the Cleveland faithful, clung to that belief, trying to balance hopeless optimism with resigned realism. And over the years, I've watched with butterflies racing around my stomach, as we have approached elusive victory, only to be thrown into the precipices of defeat.

I watched from our basement as we lost in game seven to the Marlins.* I watched in disbelief as the Red Sox stormed back from a 3-0 deficit en route a World Series title.* I've watched the Browns find every way to lose possible, which, admittedly, at this point, is mostly entertaining. And I've watched the Cavs, coming so close to greatness in an era among legends.

I don't want the same for my niece and nephew. And I get it. There are more important things than a championship. Winning isn't everything.* The agony of defeat has defined a generation of Northeast Ohioans. It has bred a hearty bunch. But we won't lose our grit if we win. I promise.

Maybe you want something from me in return for a victory. For starters, I'm writing this instead of applying to an internship. If I had to choose between a Cleveland championship and becoming a nun or no championship, I could make the sacrifice. Of course, you don't work that way. I know there's no bargaining. So I'm just asking - for the sake of my sweet niece and nephew. And for a city that has poured their heart and soul into supporting their teams.

I'll understand if you don't intervene. Again, I know you have a lot going on. Besides, the Indians are looking pretty solid this year, and there's always next year for the Cavs.

*And Chardon football.
*And anyone who isn't a diehard fan is rolling their eyes, thinking, "She's crazy."
*The Marlins!! No one in Florida even cared.
*Because that's what Boston needed - another championship.
*Or so I'm told.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Anna Eats a Donut. Part Two.

Alright, little dudes. We're off.

It's 4:30, which means we should barely beat rush hour.

I open the box to waft the scent.

Ahhh. Taunting. We're on the freeway now. I realize it's nearly a five hour drive, I've been up since five because the conference facilitators thought a five o'clock wakeup call was necessary for a seven o'clock breakfast - who the heck needs that much time?- and I haven't had an afternoon cup of coffee. Doesn't matter, I can wait no longer.

I need to be strategic though. I can't waste bites on the doughnut's perimeter; perhaps I'll just try a bit of each and share with the Crossfit class or Commonwealth tomorrow.

Alright. Round one begins with you, peanut butter creme. I wish I had a knife so I could cut you cleanly, but alas, I shall have to rip. Watch the road, Anna. Now, to find the perfect first bite ratio. One part frosting, two parts donut, three parts creme. Sometimes that means not eating the bottom of the doughnut, either. O yes, this peanut butter creme is amazing. Subtle, perfectly whipped, not too sweet. And the doughnut is as amazing as I remembered - the perfect explosion of flavor without being overwhelming. How do they do it? One more bite, then onward.

Elvis doughnut seems an appropriate segue. Banana creme - not quite as good as the peanut butter, but I love what they're doing with its consistency, the bacon flavor and added texture. Let's stick with the bacon theme and transition to maple bacon.

O, sweet white creme, I remember how delicious you are. I may convert to Mennonitism just to acquire these skills.

The taste explosion continued with maple walnut, the only doughnut that did not blow me away. I consider the value of having a palette cleanser between each so I can approach each flavor with fresh buds. Next time.

Salted caramel. I remember you. Still amazing. The caramel frosting is dense, accentuating the flavor and complimenting the white creme and sea salt perfectly. And this one appears to be extra cremey - I would say an 80% fill ratio. I just want to lick it. I'm going to. I'think it's safe to say these doughnuts are not being shared with anyone. It's crazy - I don't even feel full. It's like eating air. Maybe I'll blog about this.

I'm getting too excited. I need to cut myself off - put the box of doughnuts in the back seat - and get some protein in me - stat. Ahhh beef brisket sandwich, you are clutch. Maybe I'm able to eat so much because my brain has been working so hard the past two days.

Traffic continues to be smooth, and I stop to get gas, some hydration, and caffeine. I vacillate between five hour energy and regular coffee, but choose the five hour energy because a) it's right by the register and 2) the liquid will inhabit less real estate in my stomach.

Should I change from my dress into comfy clothes? Nahh. Not yet.

I pass through Dover and Baltimore with relative and ease and a few tasty donut/beef brisket burps. The time is 7:30 as I approach DC, and inevitably, there is a slowdown.

Well, Anna, nearly perfect timing, but you couldn't expect to make it all the way down 95 without traffic. I wonder why there are two spellings of doughnut. Speaking of donut... You know what this you should do? More doughnut. Before doing so, though, let's do a quick wardrobe change into stretchy pants and loose fitting tank top. Thank you, sixteen year old Anna, for becoming a pro at changing in the car.

I first revisit the peanut butter, my second fave behind the salted caramel. After consuming all cremey bites and discarding the doughnut perimeter, I move through the others, eating the best of each. Then, I look at the pumpkin donut.

I probably owe it to you to take a bite. But I know what I'm going to think - this should be filled with creme - and at this point, you're a sunk cost. And the salted caramel is so good. Screw it. I'm eating the salted caramel - perimeter and all. Definitely the better decision.

With round two finished, I assess the damage. Quantitatively, I probably ate 45% of the 6 doughnuts and consumed 60% of the doughnut's calories because every bite contained creme and frosting. Respectable.

I wish I could say I finished them all, but I didn't. I stopped at a gas station and threw the ravaged remains out so they didn't tempt me the remainder of my journey. I had a bite more of my sandwich to end on a salty note, arrived home at 9:30, and passed out. I was awakened Wednesday morning by a bacon forward burp with hints of sea salt, peanut butter, and whipped creme.

Ahhh. Perfection.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anna Eats a Doughnut. Part Uno.

I love donuts. The only thing I may love more than donuts are brownie sundaes, but even that is questionable, because while donuts are versatile - can be eaten for a meal, snack, or dessert at any time of day - brownie sundaes can only respectably be consumed past noon. I consider myself a dessert revolutionary, but even I cannot claim the sundae deserves a space on the breakfast menu. I do think there is a greater difference between mediocre and exceptional for doughnuts than there is for sundaes, but this debate is for another time.

Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken doughnuts this long to enter my blog. I could have reminisced about the maple long john from Ricard's, a special after school treat, and my first introduction to creme filling. I could have told you about the time I inadvertently consumed four donuts and couldn't zip my dress for my cousin's wedding. To make it up to doughnuts, they will be the subject of my first two part blog. Today, I will elaborate on how I came to have a half dozen doughnuts accompanying me, and tomorrow, I will give you a window into my inner dialogue regarding the strategy of consuming said doughnuts.

I was in Philadelphia for a marketing and brand management forum the past couple days. Exciting, yes, but perhaps even more exciting was the conference location - a block from Reading Terminal, home to Beiler's, the donuts of legends. When I say legends, I mean Lydia's endless pontifications and swoonings. It is, of course, the subject of many pontifications, giving credence to the belief that the Amish and Mennonite traditions have the strongest pastry foundation of the hyper-zealous religious sects. My theory is that, being restricted in more areas than, for example, Mormons, pastries have become an outlet for decadent indulgence. And this particular bakery is the marriage of an Amish and a Mennonite! I would have invested in it based on that, but having had the doughnuts once before, I knew they was the perfect roadtrip companion.

After two and a half days of listening, participating, networking (which still feels slightly akin to what I imagine speed dating to be), I deserved a reward. After all, the biggest challenge my brain had conquered the past three months was converting to Baht to Ringgit to USD. I entered Reading Terminal and promised myself not to get distracted by all the other goodness. No chocolate. No cookies. No cupcakes. Just doughnuts. I was doing well until a homeless woman asked me to buy her a sandwich. With my blue dress, blonde hair, hopeful glimmer in my eyes, I definitely had sucker written all over my face. Nevertheless, I find it hard to turn down a request for food, so I bought her a sandwich, knowing the kind butcher probably pinned me as a sucker as well. O well... now I felt better about all the times I said no to donating a dollar to the children's fund while checking out at CVS last week, and I bought myself a beef brisket sandwich that would prove to be crucial sustenance needed to counteract my forthcoming immense sugar intake.

A brief diversion. Now - to Beiler's! There was no question I needed to buy a half dozen instead of one. I couldn't deny myself that flavor variety. A girl approached and asked if I was ready. Are you kidding me? This is the biggest decision I have made this year. Of course I'm not ready.

First, some ground rules. I approach dessert and fruit like I do work and relationships. Sure, I may occasionally flirt between the two, but never will the latter be the the dominate ingredient in the former. So no jelly.

Potato or cake: Pretty apathetic. Creme and frosting are my priorities, and I think those doughnuts are normally not potato.

Candy and cereal - I want to taste something I can't find at 7/11. M&Ms? Not appealing. Sprinkles. Cute, but not a must.

Glaze vs frosting. Frosting. 9 times out of 10.

Creme. I'm unapologetically racially biased regarding creme. I don't touch the yellow. I prefer my creme whipped, not custardy. Same goes for the black. While I generally love chocolate in all forms, be it frosting, cake, fudge, brownie, I'm opposed to dark creme in my doughnut. I think this is because I like chocolate so much in its plain form, that I want the doughnut to be an entirely different experience for my sweet tooth. My one exception would be nutella creme - someone, please stuff a doughnut with Nutella.* I'm flexible with brown, as it indicates a variety of flavors - peanut butter, yes, mocha, maybe, depending on my mood. Fruit? See first point. White. Love it. The perfect balance of sugar and heavy creme, whipped to perfection.

Also, the creme needs to occupy at least 60% of inner donut region. If I don't break the creme barrier by bite two, I'm questioning your legitimacy as a vendor. To that point, I like a little oozing from the side to assure me this will not be the case.

You can see why this process was so time consuming, but I finally approached the counter and chose:

Salted caramel - easy decision. Fan fave. It's hard to go wrong with the salty/sweet combo.
Elvis - wild card due to the banana creme, but it has peanut butter frosting and bacon. Sold.
Maple bacon - Another bacon, yes, but nothing says doughnut like maple, bacon, and creme frosting. Another sweet/salty classic.
Peanut butter - Since they had sold out of the nutella doughnut, this seemed a good second choice. Peanut butter or chocolate frosting? Toss up, but I decided peanut butter frosting with a light chocolate drizzle. Again, I don't love chocolate as the overwhelming flavor of a doughnut.
Pumpkin potato donut - fine, I'll get a donut with a hole.
Maple walnut - I panicked on this one. In retrospect, I could have added a different varietal since I already had a maple, but this one had maple innards as well.

I walked back to my hotel, half dozen in hand, strategically planning my trip home. I obviously needed to try them all. Did I want to finish them all? How would I make sure this didn't happen if I didn't want it to? How would I avoid a sugar coma? My thoughts were interrupted as I entered the hotel and saw a few of the conference attendees.

I considered offering them a share of my treasure. Afterall, we had just been told the importance of exposure, and what if one day they are ruling the world and remember the time I shared this tasty goodness. Or, what if someone wanted the salted caramel? Not worth the risk. I skirted by the group and to my vehicle.

Tomorrow, join me as I answer the questions - how do I maximize each bite? Do I really want to exert a bite on the pumpkin donut? Am I going to try to preserve any doughnuts for others? Is it socially acceptable to just lick the creme filling?

*Beiler's does have a Nutella frosted, but I believe it has white creme.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On Teaching English

Flexibility. One of the keys to travel. I know it well, so when the organization asked me to pilot an English program in an orphanage once a week, I said of course.

It is my third week, meaning I am practically a native on the bus, weaving in and out of scooters to catch it, wearing my mask, no longer staring at every landmark along the route to make sure I get off at the right stop. I am also taking full advantage of the hour rides by listening to podcasts, so I will be able to spew random facts about Hulk Hogan litigation, women’s wages, bipartisanship and pencils your way. Did you know that no one in the world actually knows how to make a pencil from scratch? Even simple technology is crazy.

Speaking of technology, I’m in awe of how connected I am despite being across the world. It feels like cheating. I have emailed and whatsapp’ed friends, Facetimed my sister, iMessaged my family and stalked everyone on Facebook. If it weren’t for the abundance of rice, the lack of the NCAA tourney, and the wave of pollution that greets me every morning*, I might just think I was in the States. Two months is no time at all, and adjusting has been very easy.

I went to a Bible study the other night - another comfort I have been fortunate to find - and some of the women are here for two years or indefinitely. I would have a much harder time adjusting if that were the case, and I secretly – or not so secretly - hope I don’t get called to do that down the road. Which means maybe I'll be called to do that down the road.

Ahh KFC! That's my stop. Walking to the headmaster's car, I wonder why Chipotle has yet to expand into Southeast Asia. I think the Vietnamese would embrace the burrito, and they have an endless supply of rice. Plus, people are used to food poisoning here, so that won't make headlines.

The headmaster doesn't answer this question, and I continue listening to my podcast on K-Pop, the Korean pop culture phenomenon. We pass through VinHomes, owned by VinGroup, the most powerful corporation in Vietnam. This is the Orange County of Vietnam, where homes are worth a billion dong, or 100,000 dollars. An hour later, the paparazzi has liberated K-Pop stars from forced isolation. We arrive at the orphanage, and I step outside and breath in the fresh, mostly unpolluted air.

The Vietnamese supporter and I spend the morning visiting the Phat Tich Pagoda, only a kilometer from the orphanage. It is said to be the place where Buddhism first entered Vietnam, and if the number of stairs were any indication of age, it would be really old. A woman asks to take her picture with me. I learn more about the tradition of giving food at the altar. Apparently, you can give food, pray, leave it for a few minutes, then retrieve it for good luck. I then wonder who's monitoring this behavior. Could I meander around a temple for awhile and snatch a package of Oreos on the way out under the guise of homage and luck? Out of respect for tradition, I decide not to find out.

Lunch is served at 11:30 and is literally farm to table. The duck, milk, fruit, vegetables. All fresh. All delicious.

Walking to the dining hall, we are accosted by young Vietnamese girls. As a white woman with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes, I am certainly novel in Hanoi, but here, I am the first of my kind. The Vietnamese men ask if I am married and suggest I stay in Vietnam and marry one of them. Afterall, 27 is a lucky age for getting married. Since I am technically 28, because I have to count the time in my mothers womb, this luck no longer applies to me, so I assume I am free to go back to America.

After lunch and my siesta, it's time to teach. We go around the room and introduce ourselves, though I have already given up on learning all forty names. I just mumble syllables such as uh, ah, on and assume I am calling on someone. I am Teacher Anna from America.

The children are very enthusiastic about learning, although I’m slightly skeptical as to how much knowledge I’m imparting. I didn’t sign up to be an English teacher for a reason. I don’t know how to teach English. My last lesson went something like this:

Hard and soft.
Hard at the beginning of the word... unless it’s soft. Give, giraffe.
Hard in the middle of the word... unless it’s soft. Forgive, garage.
Hard at the end of the word, unless it’s – no wait, it’s always hard! Yay!! Dog.

As annoying as pronunciation is, today I am teaching the one thing I would change about English, the number system. Where the heck did eleven come from - for that matter, the entirety of the teens?

I have mastered 1 – 10 in Vietnamese, which essentially means I have mastered every number. In learning the English counting system, however, students often stumble on eleven, twelve, thirteen and fifteen. I can’t blame them. Eleven and twelve are completely random, and consistency implies threeteen and fiveteen. No wonder American children struggle with math – their first introduction shows no logic. I would also change our foot/yard/mile system, because that makes no sense either. For that matter, I’m content switching to Celcius so I can stop doing the 9/5 + 32 calculation every time I’m discussing weather with a foreigner.

I keep these thoughts to myself, and we make it through the two hours counting, playing games, and learning a song. There were shouts and screams of enthusiasm, so I assume the children have mastered the numbers. The time is four o'clock, which should be the time we depart for the trek into the city, but since the Vietnamese are similar to cable companies when it comes to timeliness, it could be four, it could be five. We sit by the lake while waiting, and a group of students admires my paleness, sitting in a circle, and staring at my bright blue eyes.

Should I dance? Should I sing? Should I show them the correct form for overhead squats? My question is answered when they ask my to sing. I perform a rendition of Five Little Monkeys, and they ask for my autograph.* I oblige, signing, “Lots of love from America” (We’re not all crazy)!!!, just as our driver arrives. Promptly at five o'clock. I hop in, grateful for flexibility.

* Seriously, pollution is not a joke. I have started donning the pollution mask, which has inspired a subsidiary of Pimp My Religious Head Garb – Pimp My Pollution Head Garb.
* The only time I will be asked for my autograph after singing.

Picture Descriptions:
1) Big Buddha
2) My favorite altar
3) View from the pagoda's top
4 - 6) Corn, Papaya, Tomatoes. You can figure out which is which.
7) The latest number whizzes
8) A riveting crossword competition
9) To break up the silence during the staring session, I took their picture
10) The boy who dubbed me Teacher Anna from America

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Day at Friendship Village

Ten minute walk to bus 32. The man in front of you hocks a loogie. The Vietnamese, while conservative with their clothes, seem to be liberal with their phlegm, likely due to pollution-induced congestion. Ride the bus until the last stop. Disembark, avoid eye contact with the motor taxi drivers - unless they begin petting you, then politely smile and shake your head - walk ten minutes to bus 57. Ride along the narrow, bumpy road until you pass the first intersection. Walk a few meters and you have arrived at Friendship Village. Nailed it.

I met the teacher a week prior. Lin, the CSDS staff member, and she spoke about the project in rapid Vietnamese. My head rotated between the two of them as if watching a ping pong match, being sure to look engaged, though we all knew I had no idea what was said until Lin translated. My brief tour of Friendship Village included housing, a small school, a dining hall, and, most excitingly, a veterans' hall with a ping pong table. I determined my new goal was to run the table by the end of my two months.

Today, I head to class and am immediately greeted by high fives, hand holding, and hugs. I am introduced to the nine students, ages 15 - 23. To my surprise, I am able to remember their names, though they keep correcting my annunciation. Apparently, I can't annunciate in English very well, either, because they call me Iana. I don't mind; it sounds exotic.

All have some form of down syndrome or autism; one, Hai, is severely hyperactive, which means I will become quite good at saying, "Oi" to get his attention, as he runs away every five to ten minutes. These are the most advanced students in the village; they all have motor skills and are able to perform small tasks. Tiem is the most capable, and she explains to me in English that they have spent the last hour preparing a meal, their morning routine. A few others can speak well, but a couple communicate through grunts. Everyone can laugh.

We gather round to eat, and I quickly realize God has brought me halfway around the world to overcome my aversion to chewing. This is a symphony of chomping, and the children are looking at me expectantly, wondering if I will like the food. I eat slowly, because it is ten o'clock, I am about to eat lunch, and I selfishly don't want to waste my morning workout. Plus, in usual Vietnamese style, I had been served a heaping portion of rice. The kids are clearly disappointed by my pace, and Kien, shy but extremely sweet, gestures to me, showing me how to use chopsticks. I swallow my healthy conscience for the moment, finish my plate, and give two enthusiastic thumbs up. They laugh, knowing their fine work has been appreciated.

After eating, the kids clean up. Thoo is very diligent and does much of the work, focused and steady. Mi grabs my hand and asks "Bang tenh layi," or "what's your name?", a phrase she will repeat each time she sees me and throughout the day. Each time I answer she will respond with a big smile and a giggle. Duc gives me a high five and a hug, and soon, it is time for a three and a half hour break.

I eat my second lunch, then meander to a small cafe with cozy booths and strong Vietnamese coffee, served appropriately with a layer of sweetened condensed milk. I quickly find this a perfect spot for inspirational writing and determine to write a book by the end of my two months. If I tire of writing, I am free to nap in the booth - another part of Vietnamese culture America could embrace.

I pay 20,000 dong, or one dollar, and return for our afternoon session. On my way back, I ponder the dong. I still don't quite understand why the lowest denomination of dong is 1000. It seems to me they could remove the superfluous zeros and start the currency at a single dong. As it is, I'm carrying thousands of dongs in my purse and have to divide by 20,000 instead of 2 every time I want to approximate dollars - or is it 2000? You can see the problem.

My deep thoughts are interrupted by the ringing of the gong*, signaling the beginning of class. The students spend an hour doing work, ranging from coloring to writing numbers to mathematics to sleeping. I sit by Cham, the most severely autistic, and she shows me the numbers she has written. "Tot lam," or well done, I say enthusiastically. She giggles and grabs my hand while petting my hair. We spend the final hour working on a life skill. Today, we wash hands and feet and clip nails, a life skill that some men still have not mastered. Although I am not very keen* to clean toenails, it's preferable to cleaning bathroom mishaps.

Instead of going home after class, I help the house mothers with yard work. I am initially reluctant to do so, and then I remember I came on this trip to volunteer. I tell myself to suck it up and have a servant's heart, dang it. Plus, this allows me to size up my ping pong competition.

The day finishes at five. I hop on the bus for the hour-long trip home, forcing me to confront my distaste for commutes. The three and a half hour break in the middle of the day makes this a much easier task, and the ride is made even easier when the conductor forces a girl to move so I can have her seat. I refuse, but they insist, and so I sit, basking in the Vietnamese hospitality - or their assumption that I'm an incapable foreigner.

I stroll home, enjoying the smells of Banh Mi and Bun Cha. Not quite bbq pork or truffle fries, but it still smells quite good.

* Yes! They have a gong.
* I'm trying to incorporate British phrases.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Obligatory Robin Williams reference.

This post is brought to you the nearly ubiquitous availability of WiFi, which you can access anywhere from Starbucks to one of the ten karaoke bars on my street. Whether everyone here just loves karaoke or karaoke is code for something is TBD.

The night before embarking on this adventure, my brother-in-law, Mitch, informed me of all the ways I could die in Vietnam. On the list: abducted by a kidnapper holding a sign with my name on it at the airport. I told him my pickup was safely arranged, but when I saw a man with a sign labeled Mr. Anna Navatsyk, I gestured and pointed until he called the head of the organization to confirm I was not being whisked away to the human trafficking market. He was legit.

Thanks to a healthy blend of sleep aids and caffeine, I overcame jetlag quite quickly, and mild paranoia aside, my first few days in Hanoi have been a breath of fresh air. And by fresh air, I mean polluted air. Weather apps often include the pollen count, and I believe they should show a similar pollution count, so I can be prepared for bouts of sneezing.

The foliage seems to have adapted to the pollution, because the main streets are lined with beautiful flowers.*

Don’t stare too long, or you will be run over. The Vietnamese and I have a similar view on traffic laws: they are more like guidelines. This leads to real life Frogger every time you cross a street - a childhood dream come true! I’m on level six right now.

Not only am I successfully crossing the street without a scooter driver grabbing my cross body bag and dragging me down the highway– another danger Mitch warned me of - I have learned a bit of Vietnamese, a language in which the basic courtesies make conjugating Spanish verbs seem as easy as ABC. I may say “Nice to meet you” or “Chopsticks, soup, Band-Aid,” depending on my intonation. I’ll probably stick to hand gestures.

I am staying in a house with about 15 other volunteers and am older than most – apparently, not many people in their late twenties have the freedom to sacrifice months of their lives.* Thankfully, the adjustment to living with others has been smooth; I’m even comfortable with the cacophony of chewing during house meals.* Everyone is quite welcoming, and I spent the weekend discovering more of Hanoi.

I found quickly that temples are to Southeast Asia as cathedrals are to Europe. They’re around every corner, I feel awkward taking pictures while someone is praying (but I still do), and many cost money. The difference is, the average temple entrance fee is a dollar, so I'm more likely to enter.

At the first pagoda – fun fact: pagodas are exclusively Buddhist, while the idea of a temple dates back to the origins of Confucianism and its contemporary Taoism - we definitely get our money’s worth, as we happened upon a ceremony of sorts. There was dancing, fan waving, and a procession offering gifts such as cookies, beer, candy and chips.

Apparently, descendants want Buddha, and their ancestors, to enjoy modern decadences. This is a sentiment I can get behind, because if double stuffed Oreos and Reese’s peanut butter cups are combined to form a super food following my death, I want that box placed on my gravestone. With a bottle of Malbec/IPA blend and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos’ and movie theatre popcorn’s lovechild*.

During this same ceremony, a few locals asked to have their picture taken with me. My blonde hair and blue eyes are exotic. Finally, a place where my blondeness is appreciated rather than ridiculed and stigmatized.

Of course you are wondering about the food. Alas, I’m not prepared to speak to that yet, as I simply have been enjoying the meals prepared at the house. I can say there is a lot of rice and fried goodness, and should I ever be craving some Western food, I can walk to a Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, or Popeyes.* Speaking of Western comforts, I joined a gym for $15/month (take a note, Crossfit) to avoid becoming a fried rice patty and began attending a charismatic church where no one photographs me while I’m praying. I even saw a man in an Ohio State t-shirt, although I determined he was not from Ohio when I shouted “O-H” and he stared at me like I was crazy. Go buckeyes.

And o yes, I am volunteering. I met the teacher last week who is kind and eager to have my help, and I am looking forward to meeting the kids later this week. As long as I remember my bus route...

* The side streets, on the other hand, are alleys just large enough for you and two scooters passing one another as you put your back against the wall.
* Suckers.
* I don’t know why I hate the sound of chewing. I wish I hated the sound of the Blue Angels, because I encounter that much less often.
* Trust me, it would be good.
* Yes, they have Popeyes here. I expect Burger King and Dunkin Donuts, but this surprised me. For interested minds, there are 1500 Burger Kings in the Asia Pacific are alone and only 350 international Popeyes franchises, so my instinct was correct, per uszh. (I'm not sure how to right the abbreviated form of usual, but that seems close.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Off to Change a Few Things

Have you ever been to Southeast Asia? No.
Do you speak the Vietnamese? No.
Have you ever worked with disabled kids? No.

I do have some pluck, though. Thanks to my sister, Julie, who gave me this picture as a reminder.

A couple months ago, I left my job and shortly thereafter was accepted to business school. With that, I received a rare gift - an amount of time too short to begin another job, but long enough to justify an adventure. I heard the voice of future Anna. She talks to me sometimes to ensure we will not be annoyed with present Anna's decisions. "You better not waste this time, twenty-seven year old Anna with zero responsibilities. Do something you will never be able to do again. And while you're at it, try to do some good."

I turned to Google: "how to travel abroad cheaply." The SEO powers of Greenheart Travel landed the site as one of my first options, and I immediately fell in love with an organization that offers a way to contribute to a culture while learning from it. It seemed a happy medium between hemorrhaging money to travel and the Peace Corps. Most of the offerings were with animals and the environment. While I love both of those, I love people more, so I chose to volunteer at a school for disabled children in Vietnam for eight weeks. By no means an intense amount of time, but certainly enough time to add a few items to my bag of pluck.

Best of all, they want me to be a featured writer. "Do you have a blog?" they asked. "Do I?!?" What an opportunity. My readership can expand from 15 people to 20, and more humans will be exposed to life according to Anna.

I know those loyal to the blog are wondering how this trip furthers my plan to conquer the world. Don't worry, it does. One of the points made in 33 Strategies of War*, is that adaptability and flexibility are integral parts of success. The more you are exposed to new experiences, the more nimble you become.

So off into a new experience I go! I am looking forward to good food, new relationships, and exciting adventure. I am looking forward to opening myself to a different culture, being influenced by those in it, and impacting others. And I am looking forward to sharing it all with you.

* I just like mentioning that I'm reading that book as often as possible.