Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Legendary Love

After a long, busy week, I was thrilled to get to sleep in this morning on my work week "Saturday." I did, however, wake up briefly to say, "Happy 35th Anniversary," to my parents. I can't believe it! Thirty-five years . . .

I had crawled out of bed around 10:30am and made breakfast while one of my room mates, Greg, played video games (which, I promise Tori, he wasn't playing for too long).

I have to note, first, that I have the best room mates ever. One of the reasons I felt comfortable moving here was that I already had my room mate in my significant other. I had so much anxiety when I realized I'd have to move because I was scared I'd get stuck in a living situation that I'd be miserable in. When it worked out that a room opened up in my current apartment, I was optimistic, because I knew all my new room mates from work, but hanging out at work and living with an engaged English couple and a newlywed American couple can be two very different things. And of course, I also had the worry of being a fifth wheel, especially having just come out of a relationship.
Tori and Greg in 2003

I could not have asked for a better arrangement. I really truly could not have. These are two of the best couples I have ever been around and as much as I constantly say, "Everything happens for a reason," I know that this is another example of that. They make me feel so welcome, so happy to be living where I live, and so hopeful of having the kind of love for myself that they have found in one another.

This morning as I ate breakfast, I was chatting with Greg (who plays the male role in the English couple). Tori (the English female heroine) and he had just gotten engaged a month or so back. The two of them have been together for over nine years, having met when they were fourteen years old. Tori had already told me quite a while back the whole story of their courtship. How they had met so young and had split a few times when they were younger so they could feel like they had experienced life outside of just the two of them being together. It was nice to hear Greg recount the story and say how lucky he was. Their families are best friends, he will go to Tori's house to watch the game with her dad when she's not there, he has keys to their home, etc. It's so nice to see a young, gorgeous, energetic, loving couple who seem to really grasp how fortunate they are.
Tori and Greg in 2006

Greg said, "I knew she was the one when I was fourteen, I mean Tori is legendary," as he stared at the TV screen with the game controller in his hand and a smile on his face.

Tori and Greg in 2009

Whether I am married for thirty-five years, a newlywed or newly engaged, I want to find that person who thinks I'm legendary and that I think is pretty darn legendary themselves. I think we all want that. So . . . here's to finding it, and if you have found it, realizing how awesome that is!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Marching on . . .

I was on Skype with my mother yesterday and we both had happened to have gotten new haircuts this week. My mother always has a trendy, bold hairstyle and this time was no exception. I complimented my mother on her haircut and said something I realized I rarely said, "You are so pretty, Ma." Immediately, I watched the same reaction I have when I'm paid a compliment to my physical appearance. She looked down and away and gave a little nervous laugh, then changed the subject. "Oh," I thought to myself, "that's where I get that from."
On the train home from work today I was thinking about this. I was thinking about how my mother always instilled the idea of "marching to the beat of your own drummer" in me from very early on and didn't put much emphasis on being an ideal physical beauty. My mother has always taken extremely good care of herself, don't get me wrong. I don't think I've ever seen my mother in a ratty t-shirt or sweats unless she is cleaning the house. She has costume jewelry that fills and entire dresser and is always put together from her sculpted red coiffed short hairdo to her coordinating fashionable footwear but underneath the leopard print, fuzzy vest is a woman who is tough as nails. My mother's beauty radiates from within. She is the most sympathetic, empathetic, caring and nurturing person I have ever met, but she will also put her foot down when necessary and tell you exactly what she thinks. Growing up in Queens, New York didn't create a shrinking violet.
(My mom and cousin Joe.)

When I was in fifth-grade, I went school shopping for clothes with my mom. I don't know if anyone else remembers feeling this way but of all the new outfits I would get, there would always be one that I couldn't wait to wear to school. I remember this particular outfit so vividly: black and white horizontal striped knee length leggings, an over sized black silk and lace tunic, matching black and white striped socks, patten leather Mary-Jane flats with a black satin bow and a black satin headband with matching bow. Yeah, I know what you are thinking, "AMAZING!" I floated out the door to my first day of fifth-grade and was expecting everyone to be pretty much floored by my style and panache.

Fast forward to me returning home, in tears. My mother was in her scrubs preparing dinner for my brother and I before she had to work the night shift at the hospital. "What's the matter?" she asked, seeing me walk sulkily through the door.
(My mom and cousins)

"Everyone at school made fun of my outfit! They said I looked like the wicked witch of the west!" I cried.

"Who cares what they think? Don't you love that outfit? Weren't you excited to wear it?" she asked.

"Yes. I think it's pretty," I replied. "Well, then you need to stop caring so much what anyone else thinks. March to the beat of your own drummer!" she replied. And though I had vowed earlier that day at school never to wear that outfit again, I wore it often. And the kids stopped making fun of me, because I didn't care what they thought. I wore what I wore because I liked it, and I still do it to this day.

Later, in middle school, there was a group of girls who constantly bullied me. I was sort of an awkward goofball. (I mean, it was middle school after all. Not the finest years of our lives for most of us normal people.) My way of fitting in was making people laugh, but this did not sit well with these girls for some reason. They constantly called me names, and would torment me during gym class, throwing things at me, threatening to beat me up. My way of dealing with it was avoiding them or running away. I came home one day, exhausted from the stress of it and said, "Mom, this girl at school won't leave me alone! She's always making fun of me and she said she is going to beat me up! Can't you tell the principal or something?"

Now, my mom would take a bullet for me, I am sure of this. Whenever I have been in any pain, emotional or physical, my mom would take it from me on herself if she could but she just looked at me and said, "So tell her you'll fight her if she wants to fight." Keep in mind this was before the times of knives and guns at school. A little schoolyard scuffle was fairly harmless. My face dropped in horror, "WHAT?!"
(My Aunt Lucy and my mom, the little one.)

"If you tell on them or run away, they'll just keep coming after you. Stand up for yourself! When I was your age I got picked on too. The bully told me, 'Meet me after school, and I'm gonna kick your ass,' so I met her after school. She was so surprised that a lanky little girl like me still came to challenge her that she left me alone after that. She may or may not beat you up, but you have to stand up for yourself. Fight your own battles, Erin," my mother said.

Well, I couldn't believe it! My mom was leaving me out in the cold to get my butt kicked! But, I thought, "Well, I'm gonna stand up for myself and when I get beat up, that'll show her! Then she'll feel really bad!" So the next day in gym class, all the girls formed a circle and we were supposed to kick the soccer ball back and forth to each other for practice. One of the bully girls put the ball in a pile of ants so it was covered with the creepy crawly insects and threw it towards my head. I caught it and threw it with all my might right back at her. It bounced off the side of her head and I will never forget the look of shock on her face. I just kept eye contact with her and said, "The next time you pick on me, I'm going to get in my brother's car and run your ass over. So throw the ball at my head again, I dare you."
(My mom, the younger one, and my Aunt Dot)

Needless to say they never bothered me again, and later on actually invited me to skip class with them. I never did that of course. I was still a goody-two-shoes at heart.
There are too many stories like this to even recount. I don't think my mother would even remember all the things she pushed me to do that completely impacted the woman I became. A sweet young girl that I have worked with in LA recently sent me a letter saying how she is going through hard times right now and thinks of me, and how strong I am as an inspiration. I was so humbled, and immediately thought of how thankful I was to have the mother I have. Any compliment to my strength is a direct compliment to hers.
(Just LOOK at that yellow hat! Fantastic!)

But in the last seven months of living in Singapore, these early lessons have really come back to strengthen me. Yeah, I still want to sport the latest hairstyle, Betsy Johnson bag or Guess stilettos, but I know that what I really care about is what's underneath all of that. My mom is so beautiful not only because she still has amazing skin at age 60, dresses flawlessly and looks amazing in earth tones, but also because she has taught me that you can be generous, empathetic, caring and vulnerable but still carry a big stick (or in some cases, a soccer ball.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shanghai Trip Vol 2

My trip to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park definitely changed my outlook on zoos and whether or not I can really support them at all. I love animals and always want to visit the zoo no matter where I am. I had such an amazing experience at the Singapore zoo with it's cage free policy, happy looking animals and rain forest atmosphere that I forgot that zoos like the Shanghai Wild Animal Park exist.

When Kat proposed the idea of holding a baby tiger or panda while we were in Shanghai I thought, "That would be amazing!" I was picturing being in a beautiful, clean animal nursery, and getting to hold a tiger or panda baby under the supervision of caring veterinary experts. In reality, a scruffy looking man who looked like he just walked off the streets plopped a scared, sedated baby tiger in our hands and snapped a picture before I knew what happened. I walked away shaken and upset thinking, "Is that what this poor baby tigers life is like?" As you can see from the picture, I'm trying to smile through discomfort.

The Wild Life Park was dirty, the grounds unkempt and the animals looked miserable and many of them were in bare cement rooms with just a large window for people to look in on them. The worst part of it though was an area we walked through where there were just numerous miserable sedated animals on display: an elephant literally changed to the ground, only able to walk about two feet in any direction so that guests could take a picture sitting on it's trunk; a bear laying askew chained to a large stump; an emaciated tiger looking up at us with sad eyes; camels that could barely stand up, whose humps were pathetically slumped to one side or the other. All of these animals and more were chained up and either sedated or just depressed and miserable while locals yelled to us to come take a picture. I refused, having already felt awful enough having paid to get into this zoo and for the tiger picture. We left that area, feeling sick and depressed. Shortly after that, we left. There wasn't much to see there that wasn't disturbing and we had endured an hour long cab ride to get there. It certainly was nothing like what I was expecting and I felt extremely naive to have imagined a scenario so far from reality.

Next time, I will do much more research on a zoo before I visit, or I may just boycott zoos all together. I don't know. What I saw made me think, "Is there such a thing as a 'good zoo?'"

Kat and I headed to The Bund after the zoo and had an amazing afternoon and evening there. We had snacks and cocktails at Glamour Bar, a beautiful boutique lounge overlooking the Shanghai skyline.

We had much needed girl talk and I once again realized how blessed I am to have had Kat as my friend for so many years. When I think back to our family vacations at 15 years old, I can't believe I'm sitting across from that same goofy teenager, in China, over a decade later. We have learned so much from each other, and changed so much, but we continue to let the life lessons shape our friendship and ourselves. Who knew we would be sitting in Shanghai giggling, smiling, sharing our secrets and thoughts all these years later. For that evening alone, my trip to Shanghai was more than worth it.

We finished out the evening before I had to leave by strolling the waterfront of the Bund as the sunset, enjoying some Hagen-Daz green tea sorbet. We were often stopped by people wanting to take pictures with us, The Americans. I felt like I was back at work, sans the red dress and crazy Betty Boop head.

Saying goodbye to Kat was bittersweet. It's always so wonderful to get to see her and it couldn't have come at a better time for both of us. I think we felt a little stronger going back to tackle the challenges that lie ahead for us and also being grateful for all of the blessings we have. I miss her already.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kindle Kurse - Shanghai Trip Vol. 1

What are the odds that during my year in Singapore, my best friend of over fourteen years would book an aerial tour in China for three months? Apparently, pretty darn good. Be it divine intervention, coincidence or fate, at a time that Kat and I very much needed it, we were able to get together for four days in Shanghai. Kat had a week off of work and I had an itch to get out of Singapore so I hopped on a plane (or two) and headed off to see her. The first flight took me to Beijing in six hours and the second flight brought me to Shanghai in two hours so I had a lot of time to think and read. My new favorite toy, my Kindle, has become an essential to my every day life and was an especially valuable asset to this trip.

I took a break from reading here and there to reflect on this experience. Here I was, by myself, flying to China. Four years ago I was hesitant to take an auto show product specialist position because it required flying to four US cities within a few months and I felt like I would be too frightened to fly that often (and these were approximately two to three hour flights accompanied by a bunch of my friends). Just seven months ago I took on the 25 hours of flying time to get to Singapore and had been nervous to get on a plane again because it was definitely not fun. The longest flight (15 hours) was riddled with turbulence and I couldn't sleep a wink. Now, I sat there by myself in another country, far away from home ready to fly to ANOTHER foreign country where most people do not speak English and take two flights spanning eight hours. Strangely, I was cool as a cucumber (as my mother would say).

The first flight was at midnight so I slept for the majority of the trip, only waking briefly for my vegan-ish breakfast. On the second leg of the journey, I read the entire time. I kept noticing the Chinese man sitting next to me looking at my Kindle and I knew it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened.

You see, it's funny, because as much as I love my Kindle, it brings along a curse. You can rarely have a peaceful reading session without someone interrupting you with, "Wow! What is that? Can I play with it?" Then, you spend the relaxing time that was meant for reading as a Kindle salesperson, displaying all of the features and benefits of the electronic device. The "interrupter" then plays around with the Kindle without bookmarking your page (because they've never seen this new-fangeled device) and you lose your place. It's a routine I have down to a science at this point and can never seem to deny anyone the chance to play with it and give them the run-through of features. Sometimes it makes me laugh because it's only a matter of time until every person has one and I will be telling my children about how people could not BELIEVE what a crazy and interesting device I had!

He breaks the ice, "Excuse me, what is dis you have?" (I'm not going to do his broken English justice so bear with me and use your imagination.)

"Oh! It's a Kindle. It's electronic and has a bunch of books downloaded on it," I reply.

His face lights up with amazement and confusion. "Can I see?" So we begin the obligatory Kindle demonstration, except this time it's much more tedious because there is a language barrier. His English is limited, and my Mandarin is non-existent, but he is so endearing and sweet that we continue to try and communicate and have a conversation about our backgrounds and jobs. Tao is a sales director from Beijing and is headed to Shanghai on business. He is floored by the fact that I am an American performer living in Singapore. We started talking about our families and he said, "I am very lucky to have one sister. Most families are not allowed to have more than one child." I told him, "Americans sometimes have too big of families! There is a family on TV that has eight children!" He scoffed in disbelief, "How do they feed their family?!" I tried explaining food stamps and welfare to him but a lot of it was lost. We have such different governments and culture.

Tao asked if I wanted to get married and have children some day. It was funny because that is something that I have had to get real about and reassess in the past six months. "Yes," I replied, "I definitely want to be married some day. But I don't know about children. I love them, but who knows what life will bring, you know? I want to achieve certain things in my career first." Tao just looked at me, puzzled, "Your career? Money? Isn't that what the husband is for? He will take care of that." I smiled, "Yes, but I want things for myself too, Tao!" We laughed.

"You strong independent American woman, I guess!" he said and we walked off the plane together towards the baggage claim. "You very looking nice," he said as we walked along. I was ten hours into traveling, no make up, in jeans and a tank top dragging my luggage across and unending hallway towards the exit, so I appreciated the compliment.

We reached baggage claim and Tao looked around nervously. He got his card out of his bag and said, "Hope Shanghai is fun times for you. If you want to talk more, here." He handed me his card. I smiled and said thank you.

It was really interesting to meet someone along the path that reminds us how different we all are in this world and how much we can learn from each other. The Kindle Kurse was a blessing in disguise this time. I didn't contact Tao while I was in Shanghai, but I am smiling as I think of how nice he was during our short exchange. He was definitely one of the nicest Chinese folks I met during my trip! And, hey, it never hurts the ego to get hit on when you are looking like a total wreck, right?