Tiana around the world

Tiana has written about her studies and travels in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Nazi death camps, The Czech Republic, Arizona, and Australia.

You don’t cook?

Really? Never?

Tove, my future sister-in-law, looked at me with a combination of pity and disbelief when my culinary disability was revealed. To me, cooking is a matter of trial and error – since I rarely try, there are a lot of errors.

Tove gave me what she felt was a simple task – whipping cream. She pointed to an area by the sink with an electric whisk. Naturally I did not know that it was a whisk, because the beater was detached from the doodad that powers it (handle).

Once she helped me solve the mystery of how the two parts connected, I was off to what I thought was a good start. I didn’t have enough cream in the cup, and I didn’t know how to turn the tool on, but standing there in the kitchen, I felt that I was cooking.

Then I figured out how to turn the whisk on, and I liked using it a bit too much – the cream turned into butter. This boosted my confidence- there was one less thing I could do wrong.

So, for my second attempt I loosened my grip. This resulted in a moment that seemed to last forever as whip cream painted the cabinets, stovetop and floor Pollock style, and seeped into the lace overlay of Tove’s beautiful dress.

Throughout my travels, my ability to completely humiliate myself has been what charms people. Let’s hope this holds true for Bjorn’s family. I meet his mom and dad Monday – wish me luck.

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I’m engaged!

And in Denmark!

I guess I should have put that at the end of the entry, but I know that you may not have the time or patience to read through the rest of my rant. Bjorn asked me to marry him – he’s the one who tried to teach me to cook when I studied abroad here two years ago through SMU. I’m back at SMU working for the Engineering School and working on my master’s in Dispute Resolution.

So, I am one of those people who can’t stand surprises. If I find my Christmas presents early, I unwrap them, and then once I know what it is, I carefully re-tape the sides. Bjorn is the kind of person who cannot keep secrets. We both worked really hard on this, which made for a long but somehow pleasant day.

He bought me a pretty new dress and some red high-heeled shoes. You’d be proud of me – I made it through the entire day in those shoes. I tried to wear them later, but my feet won’t be fooled twice. Trying to funnel my square-shaped sausages into some peeptoes for another day is simply asking too much. The dress was so lovely that some young girls complimented me on it, which is rare in a country where everyone sits stoically facing forward on the train.

Bjorn first took me on a canal tour – the one touristy thing I hadn’t done whilst in Denmark, and had been nagging him about for quite some time. The tour took us through the central and historic part of Copenhagen on a canal built hundreds of years ago. The tour guide warned us in three different languages that the bridges we were cruising under were low. They truly were, as we periodically had to duck our heads. I kept thinking that Bjorn would ask me to marry him then, but he didn’t.

After the canal tour we ventured to the main walking street and shared a cup of ice cream. I really like ice cream, so I kept thinking that Bjorn would ask me to marry me then, but he didn’t.

Bjorn then took me on a tour of Rosenborg Castle. The castle is small and centrally located in the King’s Park next to the botanical garden and is surrounded by Danish Royal Guards. We went through all the rooms and closets of the castle to see all of the treasures of the royal family. We saved the best part for last, and went down to the basement where the crown jewels are kept. The crowns were something you would see in a pirate movie (but real!), covered with jewels and pearls. This is the only moment that I didn’t think Bjorn would ask me – the most stately of engagement rings would pale in comparison to the crown jewels.

We spent sometime outside in the garden however, and I kept thinking that Bjorn would ask me to marry me then, but he didn’t.

Keep in mind at no point of the day was I told where we were going or what we were doing, so it was getting more and more intense. When I would pry, Bjorn did a good job of ignoring me or telling me that I was going to run a marathon in my new shoes.

Our next stop was at Frederiksberg. We went to Peter Beier, a chocolate store. Bjorn believes that Peter Beier is one of the greatest chocolateers in the world, and recommends anyone visiting Copenhagen visit their store for a handmade piece of heaven. Since I think chocolate is a food group, I kept thinking that Bjorn would ask me to marry him then, but he didn’t. With a big box of chocolate for later, we kept walking.

Our next stop was Fabio restaurant. This was an extremely nice restaurant. Fresh flowers and tea candles decorated the intimate space. The food was amazing, and the chef came out to confirm we were enjoying it. I kept thinking that Bjorn would ask me to marry me then, but he didn’t.

After dinner we caught a cab and went to a park called Faelledparken. Beside the park is the Danish National Stadium, and people covered the area. This confused me, as I am not much for sports, but Bjorn is, so I worried he would ask me there. Without knowing it I made a Marge Simpson grumble as I got out of the cab. Fortunately we weren’t there to enjoy a soccer match, and kept walking. I thought he was looking for a place to propose, but he didn’t!

We made our way to a stage surrounded by trees, hidden in the middle of the park. Since my Danish is limited, and does not include words such as right, left and sashay, it was a bit rocky. I don’t know if you can say we learned to dance the cha-cha-cha, but we had fun trying. I kept thinking that Bjorn would ask me to marry him then, but he didn’t.

We then walked out into the park. Bjorn said that he had a question to ask me. Being a bit bossy I pointed to the ground, but it was too late, he was already on one knee. Bjorn asked me to marry him, and I said, yes.

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Not telling you goodbye.

So where have I been? Or rather, where haven’t I been? Avoiding telling you goodbye. So, I’m not going to do it. I have too many stories I haven’t told you yet about my trip to Asia.

Right now, however, the only traveling that I’ve been doing is back and forth from my computer screen to the kitchen. I’m job hunting. Apparently I’m not chesty enough to work in a front office, and I’m not experienced enough to do much else.

Today I got calls for two interviews… I was so excited. I immediately googled the companies to see what they were about. One of the jobs is “events management,” which I soon discovered means selling bootleg t-shirts in a parking lot… and the other job, well, it’s actually for the same company- super sketchy, they go by different names. I’ve never laughed so hard while crying.

Why did I think it was going to be easy? Alright, I didn’t think it was going to be easy, but I didn’t think that it was going to be this hard… having a degree from such a fine university as SMU, volunteering extensively, not asking for a high salary or benefits…

And maybe I’m a little disappointed because I thought that being unemployed was going to be great. Watching day time television, eating junk food, not having to write papers all the time. But now I can only tell the passing of the days by the new stains on my pajamas, and the man with twenty-five kids on the Montel show didn’t make me feel any less sorry for myself.

I’m in a funk. But it will get better. Right? If not, will you buy a shirt from me in the Albertson’s parking lot?

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Communicating through gestures

American moments… I haven’t really experienced them until coming to Asia… only being able to communicate through gestures (this one is particularly fun when requesting toilet paper)… having the maximum amount of luggage… struggling with the maximum amount of luggage… being stared at… everywhere else I have traveled to I have mostly blended in, until now my purpose or identity hasn’t been questioned.

My stomach is also confused by all the newness. While in Tibet I experienced Acute Mountain Sickness (thus the need for more toilet paper). Plus my tummy just couldn’t handle all the yak. Yak’s milk, chocolate yak’s milk, butter tea- made from yak’s milk, dried yak, fried yak, yak stew, yak, yak, yak.

Other than the dietary limitations and their ramifications Tibet was amazing. I can’t say that enough. Now I’m in Malaysia again, another awesome place, and tomorrow I leave to begin a study of Non-Governmental Organizations in Thailand and Laos. Hooray.

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Joe introduces us to China

We’ll call my tour guide Joe… that’s what he tells me to call him… that’s the American name he has given himself in order to make it easier on tourists. Joe not only kept his Chinese name hidden, but much of China as well. Joe took us to amazing places, beautiful places… The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, The Temple of Heaven, Ming Tomb.. my friend Hannah and I had a private driver, so we couldn’t accidentally go somewhere that wasn’t Westerner friendly. But we had a day off. And just one street down from our fancy hotel we had to witness people living on roof tops, under bridges, and sleeping on sidewalks. A blind elderly man and a war vet played traditionally instruments in the street for money. The pollution is so bad in Beijing the sky looks cloudy. There are millions of people in the city, so the traffic is always terrible and the driving is a bit crazy. People honk their horns when they are trying to pass someone instead of using their blinkers. So, there’s a lot of noise pollution too.

Joe says that in order to get into college he had to beat seven other people out of a spot. And that he worked hard and was lucky. He wanted to use his degree to teach school, but he couldn’t find work, so had to learn English in order to become a tour guide. I hope to find more options with my degree this December. Joe has no religion. This is not surprising, but I was shocked to learn that his professor condemned him for this, and said that there would always be something missing in his life. I’m inclined to agree that a spiritual belief is fulfilling, but couldn’t believe that such an attitude was promoted through an academic authority.

Another tidbit of information from Joe that I found surprising about the educational system in China is that people who attend private school are looked down upon. Since getting into state school is so competitive some students choose to pay for private school instead of retaking high school until they can pass their exams.

In my free time in Beijing I went to a martial arts show where men did flips and broke steel using their heads. I also went to an acrobatics show where 12 people rode on one bicycle. It was like Cirque du Soleil except without the storyline – Every moment of the performance was filled with something unbelievable. Even the beginning, when I saw the performers trying to sell programs and merchandise.

I’m generally adventurous when it comes to food but once I saw dog in English on a menu with a picture I got a bit ill. Peeking duck is delicious… please don’t remind me how the animals suffer. Eating Chinese food for every meal has been a bit challenging… of course I have other options that I try not to resort to – The Colonel is King in Beijing. There are KFC’s across the street from each other, without a McDonalds or Burger King in sight. Even though it was comforting to see Sanders happy face everywhere it was also disturbing. Everything is changing for the Olympics.

While in Malaysia I went to the communications tower and roamed around down town. I got a foot massage for $10. It was a bargain of a beating. The massage therapist karate chopped my feet and legs. I thought massages were supposed to feel good? I got my hair trimmed for about the same price. I felt so sorry for the hairdresser. He kept asking me if I go for a swim everyday… I kept telling him no, but he didn’t believe me… he had never cut hair like mine before, and didn’t understand how it could be so dry.

Right now I’m in Tibet. It more wonderful than I had hoped it could be. Everyone I’ve encountered has been friendly. The mountains are beautiful. And while the altitude makes it hard to breathe it is still easier to inhale minus the visible pollution of China.

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Tasmanian devils are so cute

Hobart is amazing. Tasmanian devils are so cute and, contrary to popular belief, in the wild they do not hurt humans. They were named devils because of the sound they make when they argue over food – it sounds kind of like a woman screaming. Sadly the devils will be extinct within a decade or two if a cure is not found for a disease that causes them to get so many tumors on their face that they can’t even eat.

I also spent time with a lot of wombats and koalas, which I learned are related. It makes sense – if you pin back a koala’s ears it looks a lot like a wombat. Both animals have a hard plate in their bottom area that can be used as a defense mechanism. It’s so hard that wombats will burrow and use their bums as a manhole cover, which predators can’t chew through. Wombats are also interesting because they cannot be tamed. Even if they are raised by humans, at some point instinct takes over.

On top of the beautiful landscape and the interesting animals, the people in Tasmania are so friendly. Everyone I met was helpful. When I went to the Cadbury chocolate factory, the bus driver got out a map and spent a great deal of her break showing me where to go… which I really appreciated because I had to go to the chocolate factory! It was as informational and tasty as I had hoped it would be. Hobart was chosen as the location of the factory instead of more populous cities because during its construction air-conditioning wasn’t an option, and chocolate has to be temperature regulated – as anyone who has ever held M&M’s in their hand for too long knows.

Melbourne was really special because I was there during the cup. Everyone dresses to the nines for the horse races. My friend bet $10 and his horse won – he received $3 in winnings. When I asked a few people in Melbourne why gambling was such a big deal, the response was – It’s not, we just like having an excuse to drink, dress up, and have a good time.

I’m going to miss all of the friends I made in Perth, and the Cadbury chocolate. My sorrow for leaving Perth is subsided by the excitement of traveling to Asia. Hooray.

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Missed My Bus, But What The Heck

I purposely arrived at the stop early and wore bright clothing to prevent the bus from leaving without me, but it happened anyway. I was able to catch a taxi in order to catch up with my group.

We saw the blue lake – beautiful … almost the same color as the lake was the cloud of smoke that began to grow behind the bus. The vehicle slowed and eventually stopped. Being stuck on the top of a mountain is not an ideal place for a bus, or its passengers. Luckily we had plenty of food and water … and I had enough emergency toilet paper, so the seven hour wait for rescue wasn’t too bad. It was strange to see snow as summer is approaching here.

I hope to have better luck with buses soon, but I can’t think of a better crew to be left behind by, or stuck with. Backpackers are friendly and sturdy.

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Halloween in Australia

Spend Halloween in Australia if you ever get a chance. Not as many people dress up, but the ones that do take it seriously – some people wear two costumes at once in order to make up for years that they were unaware of the holiday. The Americans at the International School nearby put on a haunted house. Very well done for the limited resources they had.

Without true recognition of Halloween, and no Thanksgiving, Christmas is already being promoted. You can’t turn around in a mall without being stared down by a cardboard Santa or confronted by a candy cane.

Right now I am leaving Sydney for a bus trip to Melbourne. I enjoyed Sydney. Unlike Perth, stores stay open past 5 p.m., and you are never alone walking down the street. I saw “Don’s Party” at the Sydney Opera House, a play about politics in the 70s. It is a popular performance because the conflict in the government then is similar to today’s struggle. I went to two art museums, both free and amazing. I love going to galleries – I feel like I’m visiting old friends… and sometimes I make new ones.

My hostel in Sydney was less than posh. Situated in the heart of the red light district, a hobo greeted me near the door with yellow roses. He didn’t even ask me for money or knock me in the head. He probably thought I was worse off than him. That’s a tip for all you travelers – In order to not get robbed look poor – carry your stuff in a crinkled up grocery bag and only wear nice clothes when you have to.

The view from my room was fantastic, but when I closed the door I realized it had been left open for me not for the view, but because it didn’t lock. The door would also randomly blow open. Not the safest of setups, but luckily none of my stuff was stolen. I had to hide my food from the roaches. I didn’t see any, which was good because they give me the heebie jebbies… I knew that they were frequent visitors however because of the empty can of raid on the “desk,” and the mounds of black roach bait squares. You never know what you are going to get with a hostel, but no matter the condition I always meet nice people from all over the world. And they sure make for more interesting stories than the Holiday Inn.

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I ran away and joined the circus

I ran away and joined the circus. Okay, it was only for a weekend, but it still counts. Before traveling to the tiny town of Tambellup I was nervous. And I should have been nervous – I don’t have any circus skills. And country fairs only want entertainers with skills. Juggling? I can’t throw one ball without it coming back to hit me in the head. Unicycling? I endanger myself and others when I ride a regular bike. Balloon animals? No matter what I tried to twist, it turned into a link sausage.

That’s where Maureen came in, or Mo as her children call her. Mo sat down with all of us and showed us the basics on how to make balloon animals. Mine began to look more like dogs and swords than leftover animal parts. My skills still weren’t there so Steve, our group leader tried to help. He patiently watched as I dropped the juggling balls an embarrassing amount of times.

I made a lot of progress, but while in Tambellup I stuck to something I knew I could do – face painting. I transformed more small people into Spiderman and dogs and cats then I can count. Children really are booger factories. They would pick their noses and immediately a new booger would form that needed to be found. I got over it. I painted over it. Working on a moving canvas with the knowledge that your creation will be washed off in a few hours can be disheartening, but when I’d finish and a kid would smile real big or say “wicked” it made it all worth it.

As is the case with any place the people make the experience. The farm family that we stayed with was incredibly hospitable. The dad took us out into the bush and told us about all the different kinds of plants and flowers. My favorite is the trigger plant, a tiny white flower that when probed smacks down this little do-dad that helps pollinate the flower. In place of a dog eagerly awaiting scraps underneath their breakfast table was a kangaroo. Getting to see a kangaroo out in the open interacting with people on its own free will was amazing.

The people in my group were also fantastic to spend time with. In fact, we all liked each other so much that even after a long day of driving and manual labor, we still wanted to meet up for dinner after the trip ended. Everyone brought something special to the group, and I would not have met any of them had it not been for John Curtin Weekend. I tend to be a bit lazy when it comes to making friends- it’s not entirely my fault, it’s just easier to build relationships with people in your classes, at work, or who live by you. Plus you might get the police called on you if you walked up to someone who didn’t meet any of those stipulations, told them your life story and requested their friendship.

But I wasn’t talking about restraining orders, I was talking about Tambellup. A couple of the guys did fire twirling. Have you ever seen that? And not just on TV, but close enough that you can smell the petrol on the batons? I held my breath the whole time. I can’t even light a candle without losing a clump of hair, so to see the control that these guys had over the fire was incredible. And to watch the children watching them was even better. It would be a real treat for someone in a big city to see fire coming within centimeters a dude’s face, so I can’t imagine the appreciation that a town that doesn’t even have a Mackers felt for the flames.

The town stuffed us with BBQ, and the evening was completed with star gazing. The sky looks completely different behind the sheet of pollution that we city folk look at it through. If you doubt this then you have to drive out to Tambellup just to see the night’s light. Of course Steve even found a way to make this better, as he whipped out his giant lazer. The green beam was so long that I felt that I was touching the stars with it. I hope that everyone has a chance to experience a small piece of what I did in Tambellup.

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How does Australia compare with America?

Australia and America are the bastard sons of the U.K. America is the older brother, so Australia looks to it for its decision making… America left the house sooner, and calls home less. America has had more privileges and had more time to make more mistakes… that’s the best way I can describe the differences anyway. And I get asked for a comparison all the time. In fact that’s how most conversations start off. I’ve taken a lot of abuse because of my citizenship, but when I think of this relationship it makes things easier. I hear Aussies talk about how America does this or that wrong, and in the same breath talk about a Simpson’s episode.

As far as race relations goes I hope that Australia looks to someone other than it’s big brother. We are not to be admired… we’ve come a long way, but we have so long to go. At first I was super defensive of America… we are less racist. Which I still believe to be true, but then I start thinking about how privileged I am just because of my borderline albino complexion… I can look like a hobo (or be one), talk like a sailor, and do a number of things without people saying the reason for my behavior is my skin color. If I go to a hairdresser the stylist will know how to cut my hair, and if I buy “flesh” colored make up it will match my skin tone. If I walk past a car at a stoplight it is doubtful that the driver will lock the doors or feel nervous. If I am in my car and a cop pulls me over I can be sure that I have not been targeted because of my race.

Today I went to the Egyptian exhibit at the museum. I could not find a single item in the exhibit that was not related to death. It seems to me that the Egyptians spent their whole life preparing for the next one. It kind of reminds me of all the people that I know who worry all the time about their pension plans. Not that planning for retirement isn’t important, but I feel like being so consumed about the future prevents one from concentrating on and enjoying the present. That and who would want to bury all that neat stuff? I’d want to look at those items all the time. But I guess I can now that my culture “acquired” such sacred items that are intended to stay in one place forever, and if moved can set the owners soul at rest. Oh, culture, the cause and solution to all problems… or is that beer? Homer Simpson thinks its beer, or at least that’s what the Aussies tell me.

The Perth Royal show is like a smaller version of the Texas state fair with a less impressive fried food selection. While there I saw a flower arranging competition, a wood chopping competition, sheep shearing, and dog and cat competitions. I’m not quite sure how dog shows work, but the canines look so funny. I definitely wouldn’t want to be the one who has to shave giant poufs in a poodles hindquarters. The fair also included an entire barn filled with llamas and alpacas, which was so great because I had never seen either before. The highlight of the afternoon was watching traditional Indonesian dancing accompanied by live music. It was kind of like the opposite of river dancing- the emphasis was on hand and arm motions.

Here is a link to my pictures from the Perth Royal Show.

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