Friday, December 25, 2009

Buzz, your girlfriend -- woof!



Merry Christmas to one and all! And even if you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you're enjoying having the day off and eating obscene amounts of food like the rest of us. I am in California, celebrating Christmas with my parents and big ol' Irish-Mexican family as usual. It's a short trip, since I am only taking half a day of vacation off work and I have to go back to DC on Sunday. Boo. But at least I get a few days of quality time with the fam in beautiful, sunny San Francisco.

This year's Christmas blog is going to be my top 5 essential Christmas movies. I'm not claiming that all (or any) of these movies are rare or indie or deep or moving. But they are my absolute favorites and essential to my enjoyment of the holiday season, so I want to share them with you. In no particular order:

1. Home Alone

Home Alone came out when I was in second grade and I remember seeing it in the theater. It's kinda weird to think that the late, great John Hughes was still pumping out classics in 1990. I'd say that Home Alone was John Hughes' last great work. Curly Sue and Beethoven were good, I guess, but come on: Home Alone is in a league of its own.

Things I love about this movie: the big, beautiful suburban Chicago houses, Macauley Culkin's insolent cuteness, the blood curdling girl scream that Daniel Stern emits when a tarantula is dropped on his face (see below), the cozy disfunction of the McAllister family, the scene where Kevin asks a salesperson if a certain toothbrush has been approved by the ADA, the John Candy cameo as Gus Polinski, and, of course, the soundtrack. The title of this blog post is an homage to this amazing movie. I am watching it now, actually. It's at the part where Kevin sits in the living room with a huge bowl of ice cream and watches Angels With Filthy Souls. ("Too bad Acey ain't in charge no more.")



2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

This gem of a movie is a particular favorite of my Dad's. The scene where Clark Griswold flies down the hill on a saucer makes my Dad laugh so hard every time he sees it, I think he is going to have an aneurism. Christmas Vacation came out in 1989: I am starting to think that late 80s, early 90s was the zenith of Christmas filmmaking. Anyway, this movie is unfailingly hilarious. Best things about the movie: the awful yuppie neighbors (Todd and Margo), Cousin Eddie's big-hearted cluelessness (and his classy white sweater-black dicky get-up), Juliette Lewis as a sullen Audrey Griswold, Aunt Bethany and Uncle Lewis, the squirrel, and my favorite quote from any Christmas movie, ever: "Mister, if I had a rubber hose, I would beat you..."



3. A Christmas Story

If you own a TV, you've probably seen this movie many times (today). It runs 24 hours on like six different channels during Christmas, and deservedly so. My favorite part is when Ralphie and Randy are waiting in line to see Santa, and the weird kid behind them in the aviator goggles says, "I like the Wizard of Oz... I like the Tin Man."

In sort of disturbing Christmas Story news, though, I recently found out that Scott Schwartz, the actor who played Flick, the kid who got his tongue stuck to the flagpole, grew up to become an "adult entertainment" actor. This might possibly be the saddest thing I've seen this Christmas season, including those emotionally abusive ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan music and starving puppies and kitties:



Oh, Flick. Why?!

4. Mickey's Christmas Carol

This was my all-time favorite Christmas movie when I was a kid: it came out on my second Christmas (1983) and my parents had the foresight to tape it so that I could watch it, repeatedly, often during the summer, over and over, for the next 10 years or so. Consequently, I am pretty sure I thought that the Dickensian classic, A Christmas Carol, was based on this movie. Which means I thought that Ebenezer Scrooge was modeled off of Scrooge McDuck. Maybe I shouldn't be broadcasting this.

This movie is heartwarming and wonderful, and all of the Disney characters mash up oddly well to their Dickensian counterparts. Jiminy Cricket was the Ghost of Christmas Present, Mickey Mouse was Bob Cratchet, Daisy Duck was Belle, and Scrooge McDuck was, you know, Scrooge. The opening credits kinda sum it all up for me:



It warms the cockles of my cold little heart!

5. A Charlie Brown Christmas


Okay, I'm betting you are all familiar with a Charlie Brown Christmas, but if you haven't seen it recently, please watch it immediately. The cultural impact of this movie can't really be understated: yesterday my mom and I were at Christmas eve mass and the priest was reading Luke 2:8-14, and all I could think of was Linus' speech in a Charlie Brown Christmas:



So sweet.

On that note, I will bid you all a good night. I just ate my weight in London broil and cake, and am not even sure I'm typing in full sentences anymore. Hope you're all watching Christmas movies and enjoying yourselves as much as I have this weekend! Merry Christmas.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanks.

I know it's been a while since I've written, and for that I sincerely apologize. I have a pretty good excuse, though: I no longer am a lady of leisure. That's right -- I was finally forced, kicking and screaming, into the real world. I got a job.

The good news, I guess, is that I am now a real lawyer. The bad news is that being a real lawyer requires going to an office, wearing professional clothes , and doing lawywerly stuff all the time. Plus, having to account for my time minute-by-minute while at work really cuts down on the incentive to blog, since every minute spent blogging is an extra minute I'll have to stay at the office, and one fewer minute that I can spend watching Oprah on my DVR. And I'm not about to lose precious Oprah minutes -- the clock's ticking, people.



Having said all that, if I can't spare a few minutes to take to the blogosphere on Thanksgiving weekend, then I should just throw in the blogging towel* now, and that ain't happening -- not today. Anyhoo, since it's Thanksgiving weekend, I would be remiss if I didn't write a semi-predictable post about all the things I'm thankful for. Okay, not ALL the things -- there's not enough space on this server for that list -- but some of the highlights. Here goes:

1. Gummi candy
2. Family and friends
3. The smell of burning leaves
4. Central heating
5. Air conditioning
6. Diet Coke
7. My Slanket
8. Scrabble and my familiarity with the list of acceptable 2-letter words
9. My law degree
10. Passing the bar
11. My Le Creuset frying pan
12. My dad's lentil soup
13. Stained glass windows
14. Ballet flats
15. My boyfriend's chimp impersonation
16. Digital cameras
17. Living in a mild climate
18. Dogs that sing to opera music
19. Shopping/froyo trips with my mom
20. Froyo (with sprinkles)
21. Palm trees
22. Ceiling fans
23. Ordering food online
24. Mineral makeup
25. Trashy gossip magazines
26. Jeopardy, and the theme song that never changes
27. The purple plaid trend
28. Karaoke
29. Dark rum
30. Michigan accents
31. Father Ted
32. My one-cup coffee maker
33. Skype
34. New York Times Sunday crosswords
35. Latin pop, especially Juanes
36. Portuguese nasal vowels
37. Omelettes
38. Ugg slippers
39. Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches
40. Ivy-covered buildings
41. Fireplaces
42. Belgian beer
43. Dogwood trees
44. Fat dogs and cats
45. Veterans and servicepeople
46. Seals and other mammals with flippers
47. Chilean Spanish, cachai?
48. Hoodies
49. Alpaca gloves
50. Reliable public transportation

Looking back on what I just wrote, it seems like the list is disproportionately composed of things that keep me warm and comestibles. Oh well. I yam what I yam. And that's all that I am.

Oh, and I'm really thanksful for blog readers. Love you guys. Happy Thanksgiving!



*blowel.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Golden Birthday

Today is my golden birthday. Those of you who are completely and utterly out of the loop are probably asking, "What in tarnation is a golden birthday, Eteffi?" I'm glad you asked, you old so-and-so. The golden birthday is the birthday when your age matches the day on which you were born. So, today is October 27, and I am turning -- dun dun DUNNNNNNN! -- 27.

I know, I can't believe I am this ancient, either. Plus, I have now finally reached that age where if I make a joke about being old, people don't really laugh anymore. When you're 21 and you say, "Oh my God, I'm so old!" people either laugh or smack you upside the head. But when you say that when you're 27, people just sort of nod sympathetically and avert their eyes. But you know what? I'm okay with being just heartbeats away from (gasp!) thirty. I still feel as young as I did when I was 25-and-a-half! Maybe even 25!

You know, they say that 27 is the new 17, which means that I should be expecting my parents to buy me a 1997 Chevy Cavalier any day now and should start thinking about my prom dress. So I have all that to look forward to.

Anyway, I'm off to celebrate my birthday by hunting down a seasonal flu shot, a task that has proved nearly impossible here in DC. Wish me luck. And happy birthday, if you think of it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An Ode to Wife Swap

Hi bloggerheads. I am writing you from the cozy interior of a tea shop in Cambridge where I have been camping out for the last few days, since my internet no longer works in Al's place. It's okay, though, because this place has Argentine yerba mate (sin bombilla y mate gourd, unfortunately) and free wireless. Oh, and they serve bi bim bap. Yes!

Since I only use the internet while I'm at the tea shop, I take advantage of the time that I'm here to catch up on celebrity gossip, email people, read advice columns, check my horoscope and very occasionally read the news. Today, in fact, I was scanning the news and I saw this headline: "Six-year-old boy floats away in homemade balloon." I clicked on it, thinking it was a really early (or really late), mid-month April Fool's joke, but it turned out to be a real story. The kid who floated away (maybe -- we're still not sure) in his parents' homemade experimental balloon (sigh) is the child of a family that was featured on the truly underappreciated ABC show Wife Swap, one of my favorite shows on TV.

I actually saw the episode featuring this wackjob family, the Heenes, and had to turn it off midway because the nutcase, manic, rageaholic dad was driving me batty and I couldn't watch the poor swapped wife be abused by him anymore. Also, I was watching it at the gym and I was done with my workout, so...yeah. Anyway, this family, the Heenes, claim to be "science-obsessed" storm chasers who sleep in their clothes and pull their kids out of school to go chase tornadoes. In reality, though, they were just all kind of a-holes. The dad, as I mentioned, was a scary nutjob, the mom was a subservient, unhinged nutjob, and the kids were disgusting, unruly little hooligan nutjobs who were encouraged to fart and burp at the dinner table and jump off furniture, etc. They were truly awful.

So now, one of the little monsters from that family has apparently climbed into this balloon and has floated away. But the balloon has landed and there was no child inside, so now people are wondering whether he fell out or whether he was even in there to begin with because it was a publicity stunt staged by the family. Like I said, wackjobs.

But the point of this post is not to give the Heenes any more press than they already have, but to extol the virtues of Wife Swap. Here's the basic idea of the show, if you haven't seen it: http://abc.go.com/shows/wife-swap/about-the-show.

Only on Wife Swap do you unearth such wonderful moments as this:



It's pretty amazing. ABC somehow manages each week to find extremely odd families with bizarre parenting philosophies and lifestyles AND swap those families with ones that subscribe to the polar opposite set of philosophies and lifestyles. It's an art form. They've done neat-messy, hippy-conservative, winners-losers, safety-adventure, feminist-misogynist, junkfood-obsessed-exercise-obsessed...and the list goes on! Oddly, I always find myself siding with the uptight, rules-bound families that make their kids take Chinese language classes and aerial gymnastics lessons and have a rigid punishment/chore system. (Hey future kids! You have a lot to look forward to with me. Get ready!)

Part of the reason the show is so fun to watch is the sheer craziness of the families and the fireworks that inevitably ensue when the uptight, neat-freak wife has to milk a goat or whatever, but the real joy of Wife Swap is seeing the families actually learn from each other. Seriously, it's heartwarming. Everyone should watch this show.

Oh, yeah, and I hope the balloon kid is okay.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bangkok, finally.

I have been putting off writing about the end of our Thailand trip for several reasons, partly because the trip ended well over a month ago, and the longer I put off blogging about it, the more absurd it seems to write the post at all. But the real reason is that I don't have that much good stuff to say about Bangkok. You know that saying "If you can't say nothing nice, don't say nothing at all?"* Yeah, I kinda feel that way about Bangkok. But to be fair, let me try to create a list of nice things about Bangkok:

1. Lots of cute street cats that don't seem obviously rabid
2. Noodles
3. "Little Arabia" neighborhood with bomb kebobs ("kebombs?")
4. Air conditioning in our hostel -- actually, our hostel was the best part of Bangkok. It was called Lub'd and it was super, super cool. They had UNO in the lobby!
5. Noodles
6.

That's all I got.

My basic problem with Bangkok is that it's impossible to have good, clean fun there. Don't get me wrong, I didn't come to Thailand and expect to sit around a campfire singing Girl Scout songs and making s'mores (although some s'mores would have been nice), but I did expect to be able to go into a bar and have a drink without my boyfriend being solicited by prostitutes, or walk down the street without several people asking me if I want to see a woman cut a banana with her hoo-hah (answer: no). I mean, come ON! Shouldn't Bangkok make some effort to appeal to the approximately 3% of its visitors who aren't interested in having sex with underage prostitutes and/or seeing a woman smoke a cigarette using mainly her Kegel muscles? Bluh. I was grossed out by the whole scene.

On our last night in Thailand, which was supposed to be our big blow-out night, all we wanted to do was karaoke. That turned out to be an impossible dream. Like many things in Bangkok, turns out that karaoke involves prostitutes (and, as it happens, obscenely expensive beers). I think we could have lived with the prostitutes (even though they had terrible singing voices) but the $10 beers were completely unacceptable. So, we traipsed around the city for well over an hour trying to find a legit karaoke establishment (preferably one with The Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man"), but to no avail. After several disastrous and unmentionable** turns of event, we ended up back in our hostel, drinking Changs and playing UNO. Sigh.

So Bangkok was not my cup of tea. But at least now I've blogged about it. Yay. Now I can move on to other things in my life and you can look forward to more frequent blog posts (maybe). We'll see.

Okay, bye.


* Folksy double-negatives added by me.
** Won't-mentionable, really.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A sad, sad day for Stanford

Okay, so I promise I will write about the rest of our Thailand trip at some point, but this news was just so disturbing, I had to post it immediately. Are you sitting down? Here it goes: FULL MOON ON THE QUAD IS CANCELED THIS YEAR. I know. I am not even in college anymore and this is still tragic news.

Deemed ‘recipe for disaster,’ Full Moon cancelled

Posted using ShareThis

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Stanford's many wacky, quirky, "out-there"* traditions, Full Moon on the Quad (or, as it is often obnoxiously abbreviated, FuMooOnQua) is a tradition dating back to Stanford's early days, where the senior men would welcome the freshman women to the campus with a kiss. Under the full moon. On the quad.

Over the years, this sweet (yet sort of creepy) tradition developed into, not surprisingly, a debaucherous free-for-all where students from all classes and all stages of (un)dress engage in a drunken, outdoor kissing orgy. It's the best. Like every Stanford event, there is plenty of booze, gross antics by the Tree (our mascot), loud music, and nakedness. The best part is that the whole thing is sponsored (read: paid for) by the school, and only a few people get mono. Probably.**

But this year, the fun has come to an end thanks to the gosh darn swine flu. I mean, I get it: it would suck for Stanford if a bunch of people made out and then dropped dead from a virulent strain of the flu, but come ON. What's a few deaths in the name of one, glorious night of socially sanctioned kissing sluttiness? Okay, yeah, I guess those few deaths would kind of be something. Point taken.

It still sucks, though, for all of those little Stanford freshmen who will lose out on the opportunity to swap boozy spit with a couple of cute guys, then have a supremely awkward 9 am Spanish class with both of them the next day. Hypothetically. Plus, if Stanford cancels Full Moon on the Quad forever (perish the thought!), what will the students have? There will only be like 6 other school-sponsored booze fests with naked people and loud music left! That just ain't right.

Hang in there, Stanford kids. There's always Exotic Erotic to look forward to.


*Some would say "trying too hard," but not me.
** In my opinion.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Beach

Remember that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio where he goes to Thailand and finds this idyllic, Utopian island filled with backpackers, where everyone lives in peace and harmony and smokes weed on the beach and wears white-person dreadlocks, until something goes wrong and they start turning on each other and then these opium farmers kill everyone? That was filmed near where Al and I went in the south of Thailand! Don't worry, there were no run-ins with sharks, AK-47s or white boy dreads on our trip to the beach, but there were plenty of fruity drinks in inappropriately-shaped glasses.



So yeah, our beach vacation was a tad less exciting than Leo's ill-fated trip to a hedonistic island paradise, but we still had a lot of fun. We first went to Ko Samui, a really beautiful island that a lot of people use as a jumping-off point for many of the other islands off the southeast coast of Thailand. Ko Samui is crawling with rich Italian and French tourists who spend piles of money on lavish accommodations and carafes of watered-down wine at the beach-front restaurants. Al and I, being the poor students we are, opted for a more budget-friendly guesthouse and kept pretty closely to our diet of Changs and fried noodles, with some exceptions for those drinks in the sexy glasses. The closest we got to experiencing the lifestyle of the rich and famous was when we picked up our luggage in the absurdly well-appointed Ko Samui airport. That airport was so fabulous I would gladly have stayed there, sleeping next to the baggage carousel, but I bet it'd be out of my price range. Maybe I could afford one of the comfy chairs by one of the gates, but probably only for a few nights. This is me at the AIRPORT:



Man.

Okay, enough about the airport. Ko Samui itself was fun, too. I overcame my fear of riding on a motorbike and allowed Al to drive me around the island on a little red Honda number. I am proud to report that we did not crash into a bus, drive over a cliff, or careen into a storefront, all of which I was pretty sure were real possibilities before I climbed aboard. Al is an excellent driver. We spent the nights lying on pallets at an outside beach bar, drinking mai tais and watching people light huge, lantern-like balloons and send them off into the dark sky.



Gorgeous.

After Ko Samui, we headed to Ko Tao, a much smaller island nearby, to meet up with Al's friend Tim and do some SCUBA diving. I had never dove before, but I wanted to try it, so I signed up for the beginning class to get my open water certification. I made it through the first two days (which involved so much pool time we all looked like white, wet prunes when we emerged) and my first open water dive without incident. During the second dive, however, several disasters occurred, I freaked out, and came to the conclusion that SCUBA diving is not for me. Most of it was just me panicking under water and thinking I was drowning, but after that happened twice and I was sobbing into my regulator, I realized, "Wait, isn't this supposed to be a recreational activity?" So yeah, I tried it, but I'm afraid SCUBA is one of those expensive, jet-setting hobbies that I'm going to have to pass on from now on, just like cliff diving and extreme yachting.

After I gave up on SCUBA, I had a fantastic time on Ko Tao. I went running in the hot, hot heat, discovered some new beaches, read a book in the shade, and ate a lovely salad in a restaurant that clearly catered to white girls who miss their fresh vegetables. Al and Tim quit diving early and we spent our last full day drinking Changs (surprise!) and hanging out. That night we headed out for a semi-debauched night at a beachside bar that allows drunk people to jump rope through fire. Suffice it to say that by the end of the night, one of us, who will go unnamed, had a burn on his leg from falling in the fire jump rope. Okay, it was Tim.

So, that was Ko Tao. Our next stop, after an excruciating ferry ride back to Samui, was Bangkok, for our final two nights in Thailand. Stay tuned for my next post on that experience. Laterz!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Therapy Elephants

Hi loyal readers. Thanks for being patient while I got my Thailand on for the last 2 weeks or so. I'm now sitting in the Seoul Incheon Airport, eating a bag of this Thai snack that Al and I call chicken sticks because the bag has a picture of a chicken on it, even though the ingredients don't mention chicken. We choose not to question it. Anyway, I have a 10-hour layover here, and I'm in hour 7 now. I spent the first 7 hours wandering aimlessly around the shiny shopping area, reading a trashy book about vampires, and sleeping on a bench, probably drooling on myself. Now I am up and about and want to begin the semi-arduous task of blogging my Thailand adventure for you all.

The best place to start would be the beginning: Chiang Mai, the first place we went after our Cambodia detour. Chiang Mai is a very pleasant city in the north of Thailand that has somehow morphed into the activity center for tourists to Thailand. The options are overwhelming: trekking, ziplining, Thai cooking class, muay thai fighting class, massage class, Thai language class, whitewater rafting, elephant parks, tiger parks, monkey parks. Basically, if there's a dangerous wild animal that is capable of being doped up for tourists' enjoyment, you'll find it in Chiang Mai. (As a side note, I'd like to point out that although I am completely against drugging baby tigers so that they won't claw out the eyes of the chubby British girls who come to "play" with them, I am still not totally convinced that ALL of the animal parks are abusive. I seem to recall reading somewhere once that when elephants paint pictures by holding paintbrushes in their trunks, it's actually therapeutic for the elephants. Al thinks this is an absurd idea, and claims that no elephant would voluntarily paint a picture without being beaten, Dumbo's-Mom-style, behind the scenes. But I am not so sure.)



After much consideration, Al and I decided to go with two days of Thai cooking class, and a two-day, one-night trek to see the so-called "hill tribes" in the countryside outside of Chiang Mai. The cooking class was held at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, which is a well-respected school run by a popular Thai TV chef at his beautiful home on the outskirts of the city. The class was really fun (we got to use a real stone mortar and pestle to make curry paste, and I didn't crush my own fingers!) and we learned a lot. We cooked six dishes a day and ate each one, so by the end of each day we were deep into curry-coma and had chili and garlic oozing out of our pores. Delicious.

On our third day in Chiang Mai, we embarked on our trek, which was a package deal that included trekking, staying overnight in a hill tribe village, riding elephants, whitewater rafting, and bamboo rafting. Like most things in life, there were disinctive highs and lows on this trip. The highs: seeing beautiful scenery on our trek, playing in waterfalls, not being murdered in our beds by our opium-addled guide, getting to pet an elephant! The lows: seeing elephants being speared repeatedly with large hooks by their handlers (this wasn't a therapy-elephant kind of place), having zero contact with actual villagers (except the ones who came around peddling candy bars and massages), peeing in a hole. Actually, the peeing in the hole wasn't so bad: it made me feel rugged.

Overall, the trek was fun and I'm glad we did it, but it was tainted by the bizarre antics of our guide, Johnny. Johnny, who referred to himself as "Mr. Johnny Walker," was a crazy-eyed, wiry man with long fingernails and wispy facial hair who smoked like a chimney and occasionally made howling noises as we were tramping uphill through the forest. His jumpiness and bug eyes were later explained by the fact that Johnny was smoking opium the entire time we were trekking. I know. It's like, come ON Johnny, get with the times: opium is SO China in the 1870s. At least upgrade to heroin.

Yeah, so, Johnny was creepy, but we somehow made it back down to Chiang Mai without him going all Opium Wars on us. After our trek, we decided to get Thai massages, because it's not a trip to Thailand without some small lady pulling your body into weird configurations, right? We tried to pick a place that looked like it gave legit massages and not "sexy massages," which would have been awkward, I think. The massage place made us wear these giant Thai pants that we had to hold up with our hands, and weird, ninja-style tops. Apparently wearing ill-fitting clothes makes the entire massage more effective. Al and I were on pallets right next to each other, but I still kept my eye on Al's massage lady for the first five minutes to make sure she wasn't pulling any funny business. Hey, this is Thailand: you can never be too careful.

The rest of our Chiang Mai activities were less structured. We spent a lot of time at the night market, buying knickknacks (or, as Al called it, "Sawasdeecrap"), eating noodles, and drinking Changs. We also went to a few bars in the city, with mixed results. The first bar we went to had a dart board and played classic rock. The second bar we went to had Connect 4 and was filled with prostitutes. The instant we walked into that second bar, Al and I both knew something was weird. I was the only non-Thai female in the place, and the Thai women inside thrilled at the sight of Al, then looked disappointed when they saw me. Once they realized that we were just there for drinks and not for "massage," they went back to sitting around expectantly, scanning the street with their eyes, on the watch-out for potential business. I imagine that they normally did a pretty brisk business, since Chiang Mai is crawling with old white men who are eager to pay for sex with young, Thai women. It's completely astounding to me how many creepy old dudes I saw with girls young enough to be their granddaughters, strolling down the streets unashamed. If I were a sex tourist to Thailand, I'd at least try to hide it, I think. Not these guys: they seemed proud of the fact that they were exploitative skeezeballs. Chiang Mai was our first encounter with the blatant sex tourism that is rampant in Thailand, but it wasn't our last. Turns out that Bangkok makes Chiang Mai look like Mr. Roger's neighborhood. Yick.

After five days in Chiang Mai, we headed off to the south of Thailand for the beachy leg of our trip. I will write more about the South later, but my time at the free internet kiosk is running up. Sawatdi for now!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Cockroaches and spiders and Cambodia, oh my!

Hi everyone! I am writing you from lovely Chiang Mai Thailand. Since I last wrote, my life has improved approximately 1000000%, given that I finished the bar exam (and didn't die of exhaustion/hot-tub-borne illnesses) and flew to Thailand to meet up with Al. Vacation has never felt so sweet and well-deserved, let me tell you. Al and I met up in Bangkok and spent a few nights in the swanky Royal Orchid hotel before packing our bags and heading to Cambodia for a few days. In this post, I'll try to convey our Cambodia experience: the good, the bad, and the extremely creepy.

So, our initial plan was to spend three nights in Siem Reap, a town known mainly/only for being the site of the impressive Angkor Wat temple (and a bunch of other temples), now a U.N. World Heritage site. We decided to get to Siem Reap via the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, because one of the airlines has some sketchy monopoly on direct flights from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and Al and I didn't feel like being extorted quite so early in our trip. If only we had known then that trying to avoid being screwed royally (no pun intended) in the Kingdom of Cambodia is like trying not to get your ass grabbed on the subway in Italy: functionally impossible.

Our trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap got off on the wrong foot almost immediately, when we were taken by our tuk-tuk (motorcycle rickshaw) driver to The Sketchiest Bus Company in Cambodia/The World, against our wishes, and then charged twice as much for a bus ticket to Siem Reap than the correct price. The "luxury bus" we were put on was hot and smelled kinda weird, and the driver insisted on blasting weird Cambodian television shows that seemed to involve an inordinate amount of shrieking. Did I mention the bus ride was six hours long? It was.

The absolute worst part of the ride was the rest stop that we made halfway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, in what can only be described as the armpit of Cambodia. Several disastrous elements collided to make this place particularly putrid: the intense heat, the piles of garbage, the mud, the standing water, the mosquitos, the grubby children relentlessly badgering us to buy pineapple from them, the heaping baskets of fried cockroaches and other unidentifiable insects for sale, the flies circling the plates of rice for which we were forced to fork* over exorbitant amounts of money. Not great.

The kids selling the pineapple were particularly tragic. Obviously their parents are forcing them to engage in this kind of behavior, since it's one of the only feasible ways for them to make money (especially US dollars), but these kids were super aggressive and a bit intimidating. One girl, about ten, would not leave Al alone for the entire half hour or so we were forced to stay at the rest stop. Her spiel went something like this:

Girl: You want pineapple?

Al: No, thank you.

Girl: You buy pineapple, you buy from me?

Al: I don't want any, but thank you.

Girl: (whipping out gigantic, live tarantula from somewhere and waving it in Al's face) You want spidaaaah?

Al: (hopping out of the way) WHOA! No, no, thank you.

Girl: Pineapple? You want some?

At one point, I walked away from Al and the spider girl to try to get around a big puddle of smelly mud, and the girl said to Al, "You want girl?" So not only do the adults have these kids peddling pineapple and spiders, but they have them pimping out prostitutes as well. AWESOME.

It wasn't the best rest stop ever.

We got back on the bus and made it to Siem Reap, where things improved immensely. Siem Reap is a cute, touristy little town with dirt roads lined with bars, restaurants, laundromats, and knick-knack shops (to meet all your Hello Kitty needs!). The entire place runs on tourism surrounding the temples, and there is not much else to do there besides temple gaze, except to sit around eating noodles and drinking Angkor beer, which is a pretty good alternative, really.

Al and I stayed in the uber-backpackery and fun Garden Village Guesthouse, where we spent a considerable amount of time in the rooftop bar, eating noodles and drinking beer. Like I said, it's a pretty big activity there. We went and saw the temples on our second day in town. Perhaps I'll post pictures of the temples eventually, but suffice it to say they are impressive, imposing, and quite unique. We spent most of the day hiking around the temples and taking cheesy pictures among them, and were ferried to and fro by a really nice tuk-tuk guy named Nai, who was one of the only service people in Cambodia who we encountered who didn't try to overcharge us, cheat us, or take us to a crappy restaurant so he could get a commission. We really liked Nai.



After spending approximately 6 hours in the intensely hot sun and semi-suffocating humidity looking at the temples, we felt pretty templed-out and satisfied with our day, so we returned to the Garden Villa and decided that we'd take off the next morning. Since we had seen all we wanted to see of the temples, it made sense to go back to Phnom Penh to see something different for our last day in Cambodia.

After arriving in Phnom Penh on a cheaper and MUCH less creepy bus, we decided to visit the genocide museum that documents the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime during their nearly four years in power in Cambodia. The museum is situated in a former high school that was converted into a massive torture center by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Oddly, this is the second former-torture-center-turned-museum that I have visited, since I went to la ESMA in Buenos Aires two summers ago. Perhaps not the most uplifting way to spend an afternoon in either city, but I think as a visitor it's important to try get a sense of the terrible things that people in these places have gone through in recent history, whether it's comfortable or not.

My basic thoughts on the genocide museum were the following: the Khmer Rouge was pure-D evil, the UN, France, and China should be ashamed of themselves for supporting them, and Cambodia seems to continue to suffer immensely almost thirty years after the regime was ousted. After all, during the Khmer Rouge regime 1/4 of Cambodia's population was killed, either executed or starved to death by being forced into the fields to work, since the government couldn't produce enough food to feed its own people after exporting most of its crops. Pretty horrific.

The Khmer Rouge also did things like banning music, perfume, colorful dress, the right to choose one's own mate, family units, money, schools, books, etc. Surviving a regime like that has to have long-lasting effects on the society that suffered through it, I imagine. It's crazy to think that when the Khmer Rouge took over in the 1970s, all of the cities, including Phnom Penh, were evacuated, forcing everyone who survived into the countryside to labor in the fields, as per Pol Pot's great plan to make an entire nation of peasants. It's hard to imagine a city as busy and bustling as Phnom Penh today, with all of its zig-zagging motoboys and tuk-tuks and cars, as being empty and lifeless just over thirty years ago.

Maybe the after-shock of the Khmer Rouge regime explains some of the swindling, hustling vibe that we got from a lot of people we encountered in Cambodia, but who knows. Long story short: I'm very glad I went, but I'm also really glad that I'm in Thailand for the rest of the trip (it's fantastic so far). Also, SUPER glad that the spider girl didn't throw the tarantula in my face. Close call.

I'll write more about Thailand soon. Keep it real, peeps.

*chopstick?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Notes from the Front

Hello, dear readers. I am writing you from my hotel in beautiful Oakland, California to let you know that I am now 2/3 done with the California Bar Exam and have lived to tell the tale (knock on wood!). For fear of being harshly reprimanded by the Committee of Bar Examiners for revealing their heavily guarded bar secrets, I will be cautiously vague and say that so far, the exam has not been overly heinous, but is no walk in the park, either. I think it's the sheer length and intensity of the exam that are wearing on me. All I know is that into hour 4 of today, I kept finding myself contemplating dinner (Chinese food on my bed again?), or hoping that good reality TV would be on later (post-post-Bachelorette session?), or thinking about packing for my trip to Thailand on Saturday (how many maxi-dresses is too many maxi-dresses?) and then I'd snap out of it and reprimand myself for losing focus.

But despite my wandering mind, overall, I think it went pretty well. Anyway, I have one more day to go and then I am freeeeee!

So, enough about the bar. My real objective for this post was to have an excuse to show you the whirlpool that is incredibly situated right next to my BED, which obviously allows for convenient soaking while watching TV, eating, making phone calls, doing your nails, online shopping*, whatever!



Awesome, right? Anyway, time to wrap up, my Chinese food just got here and I need to go eat it in my bed.

*Do not actually attempt online shopping while immersed in water at home.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ruh roh!

I am officially losing my study marbles. Today I had to do a three hour "performance test" that involves reading a bunch of fictional law, then applying it to a fictional client's case, and writing that fictional client a letter explaining how the fictional law helps or hurts their case.

While reading, I actually made the following notation in my performance test:



What would lawyer Scooby Doo?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hermione and Harry grow up. Sort of.

It's a time of transition for me and a lot of people I know. We've graduated law school, we're going to start real jobs in a few months, we're studying for the bar and hoping it's the last ridiculous and anxiety-fraught test we'll have to take for a long time, and we're approaching that weird, late-20s period of life where we feel like we should be real adults but we're still living in our parents' basements and dressing up like Hermione Granger for Harry Potter movies. Those last two items might just be me, actually.

Dressing up for Harry Potter movies is a tradition between me and my friend John that dates all the way back to 2007. That summer, as you might recall, John and I were both working in Buenos Aires for human rights NGOs. By July, after being fully immersed in porteño culture (lo bueno y lo malo) for two months, we were both craving a good ol' American nerd-fest involving magic and wizards. So, when the 5th Harry Potter movie came out in Argentina, John and I were all over it. We decided to dress up, to have the fullest, most die-hard Harry Potter experience possible. (Also see http://teffsinbrasil.blogspot.com/2007/07/god-doesnt-want-us-to-go-to-uruguay.html)

The problem, it turns out, is that there aren't a lot of shops in Buenos Aires catering to a wizarding clientele. I ended up cobbling together a Hermione outfit out of some work clothes, a dingy yellow scarf that I found in a strip mall on my way home from work, and a wand made out of a Hannukah candle that I purchased in an odds-n-ends shop on Avenida Santa Fe. It was the best I could do. John's outfit was similarly slapdash, but we ended up being the best dressed ones at the theater!



In fact, we were the only people dressed up in the entire theater, and possibly in the entire city. Okay, let's be real: we were the only ones in the entire country of Argentina who dressed up as Harry and Hermione for this movie. We also made the helpful choices of drinking a lot of red wine before heading out, and choosing the sketchiest theater in the city for a late-night showing of the film. Let's just say that there were more hostile, rat-tailed youths clad entirely in denim eying us and our magical get-ups than I was comfortable with.

Anyway, this year, John and some other friends and I decided to repeat our Harry Potter experience, minus the angry porteño youths, in San Francisco. I constructed my Hermione outfit entirely from the juniors department at J.C. Penney, and I have to say, it was marvelous. John showed up as a hipster Cedric Diggory, and Jon, another friend, brought Hedwig, so we made quite the trio.



Surprisingly, we were again the only people in the entire, ginormous theater, dressed up. Oh, well, at least there were no local toughs hanging around ready to kick our magical butts this time.

Anyway, John and I may be almost grown-ups now, but we still know how to have fun, no matter how many people stare at us incredulously, which is something I don't see going away with the onset of adulthood. Plus, we still have the next two Harry Potter installments to look forward to, and since John is moving to London for work, we'll have ample opportunity for extra-authentic nerdery.



Thank you, Harry Potter, for being the last bright spot on my pre-bar summer. I'll see you on the flipside, fellow nerds!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Enough already

I'm over the whole bar exam thing. Okay, wait, I was never under it, but now I'm super over it. But you know what I'm even more over? All the bar exam hysteria and ridiculousness that is going on around me, mostly via facebook and twitter. It took me a while to get to this point of being fed up to HERE with everyone's bitching, including my own, but I got here, and this is how it happened.

As you know, my entire summer (since May 18) has been completely consumed by bar studying. Sure, I've had time to have a dinner party, go to Pennsylvania, see a few movies, drink some wine, and walk the dog, but really, there hasn't been a lot of fun going on. I spent 4th of July by myself, in my pajamas, cursing the people who were out rabble-rousing. "Why can't I be out rousing rabble?" I whined. Except there was no one there to hear me, and that made me feel even more pitiful.

Making matters worse was that until yesterday, I hadn't taken a full day off from studying, because our Barbri class has us on a strict schedule of "reviewing," essay writing, and flashcard making. It's quite intense, and I was afraid to veer from it, lest the Barbri gods smite me for eternity. Anyway, up until perhaps yesterday, my attitude about bar studying was one of utter and complete misery. I had never hated studying for anything as much in my life, I was bad at it, I felt destined to fail the bar, and I was jealous of everyone else in the world, even those who live in stinking slums and/or leper colonies, because everyone else seemed to have it easier than me. You can imagine what a joy I was to be around.

And then, something snapped. Don't worry, there was no permanent physical damage. No, it was more of an internal, mental snapping, and it started when I went out to dinner and drinks with one of my friends from college, Bianca. Long story short, we drank an utterly excessive amount of wine and then went to a bar and danced around like eejits on an empty dance floor, while I took frequent breaks to request about 35 songs from the DJ (none of which he had). When I got home from my night out, I was in a fantastic mood; I felt free as a bird and didn't give a CRAP about bar studying. Part of that was probably attributable to the drunkenness. But still.

The next day, I woke up to what can only be described as a monstrous hangover: the kind of hangover where it hurts to lift your head up off the pillow, and the world seems dizzy and quaky and gray. Oh, it was awful. But you know what? I was still in a great mood, because somehow, my night of getting blitzed with my friend had given me some important perspective on this whole bar thing. I decided to take the day off from studying, since my hangover was so oppressively bad I couldn't focus on anything more complicated than putting on pants (and even that was a struggle). Instead, I went for a walk with my mom around Golden Gate Park, baked banana bread with my dad, watched Real Housewives of New Jersey, and read a non-law-related book. Heaven!

That one day off gave me a fresh lease on bar studying. I realized that there are 18 days until the bar exam, which isn't too bad, really, and that all I need to do for the next 18 days is study, but not punish myself, and keep on top of my assignments and I'll be fine. I'm not going to fail (knock on wood), and I'm not going to hate my life in the interim, either.

So, I took a six-hour practice test today, and as soon as I was done, went on facebook to see what the world was up to in my absence. I'd say about 80% of my friends who just graduated law school had facebook statuses that involved bitching about how much Barbri sucks, how far behind they are with studying, how much they HATE studying, how they are giving up partying for the next two weeks "FOR REAL," etc. Okay, I get it. I do. I mean, just two blog posts ago, I too was bitching about Barbri as much as the next girl. But you know what? We have less than three weeks to go, and in the great scheme of things, studying for the bar is not the worst thing you could be forced to do. As Kenneth Parcell once wisely said, "My mother always told me that, even when things seem bad, there's someone else who's having a worse day. Like being stung by a bee, or getting a splinter, or being chained to a wall in someone's sex dungeon."

So true, Kenneth. So true.

Whether you're studying for the bar or just living life, you should appreciate the fact that you're not in someone's basement being forced to put lotion on your skin. Just take a deep breath. Everything will be FINE.

Also, I reserve the right to take all of this back if I fail the bar. But let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The name game


Names are interesting to me. If you've read my past posts about trendy baby names* (see http://teffsinbrasil.blogspot.com/search/label/baby%20names), you might have guessed that I think one's name is important, interesting, and often painful and/or hilarious. Consequently, the opportunity to give someone else a name is a task that should be taken very seriously, whether you're naming your new goldfish or your firstborn child.

My own forays into naming started with my stuffed animals. Among my naming triumphs were Aunt Scissors (a bear), Drool (a camel), and Chad (a boy baby doll). Then, I ventured into real pet naming: Muffin (a kitten), Fred and Ted (fish), and Towser Ivy (a dachshund). A lot of deliberation went into all of these names, especially Towser.*

Naming a dog is a big deal for a seven year old, of course, but it doesn't compare to naming a child, because dogs won't ever get teased by other dogs at dog school. I really think that's the main factor that parents ought to consider while naming their child: what horrible, twisted permutations of this name will the kids at my child's elementary school come up with to make my child's daily life miserable? Fatima may seem like a beautiful name now, but give it six years, ya know?

Although, I'm not totally convinced that all the name-related taunting that goes on in school is really such a bad thing. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? I mean, Tim Allen's original name was Tim Dick, and look how well he turned out!



I do believe, though, that naming your daughter Dorcas or your son Gailord will force her or him to be a stronger person in the face of adversity. It's like training for a marathon in Mexico City: the smog and the elevation and the floating smell of poop will make running the Boston Marathon so much easier in comparison, right? Same thing with naming your kid Ebenezer. If he can get through those 12 years of school without becoming a high risk runaway and/or seeking emancipation, he's good for life. Right??

Now, I am pretty sure I won't actually do this, but I've always been tempted to give my future children first names (or at least middle names) that I personally like, but that are objectively awful. I happen to like a lot of names that I suspect people would regard as "unconventional" (meaning: ugly). When I was a kid, for instance, I was convinced beyond a doubt that I would name my daughter either Merle or Eilish. EILISH. The taunts practically write themselves: it wouldn't even take a creative bully to realize that my child's name sounds only slightly different from a piece of hair designed to keep debris out of one's cornea. I liked the name, though: it's Irish, it's delicate, it starts with an E. And, confession time: I still like that name.



Don't worry, future kid, I won't actually name you Eilish. But Merle's still on the table.

I'm not advocating giving your kid some ridiculous name like Orangejello or Lemonjello (actual brothers) just to test the kid's acumen, but I'm just saying: every kid is gonna get teased, so you might as well toughen them up early. I think my mom was thinking along these lines when she suggested to my dad before my birth that they name me Petra Sanchez, after her great grandmother. Just to clarify, Petra Sanchez would be my first and middle name, to go with our decidedly un-Mexican last name. God help us all.



* I had also toyed with the name Bowser, but Towser seemed a bit edgier

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Jell Bar

I find that I start a lot of my blog posts these days assuring my readers that I am not, in fact, dead. This time, I’ve been off the radar because my life since returning to San Francisco has been consumed by studying for the bar exam, such that the only activities I have energy for in my free time are eating and crying.

Okay, I’m being dramatic. I’ve also had time for exercise. Sometimes I multi-task by eating and crying at the same time, or by crying while exercising.

Yeah, it’s really not been the best experience, this whole bar thing. I won’t sugar coat it for you, or even Nutrasweet it for you (gross): I hate the bar, and I am pretty sure the bar hates me.

When I started my bar classes, I had this fuzzy idea that I’d just go into the lectures every day and Barbri (the bar exam prep company) would somehow program me into knowing everything that I needed to know, either through osmosis or else some sort of implanted computer chip process. It made sense in my head.

In any case, I thought that I’d walk in, sit down, watch the lecture, and walk out knowing everything I needed to know about torts, crimes, remedies, corporations, agency and partnership, contracts, real property, civil procedure, evidence, community property, and constitutional law, and it would be fine, and I’d still have time for reality TV and long, contemplative walks along the beach.

Things haven’t worked out that way. In fact, Barbri has told me, in no uncertain terms, that the first two essays I handed in for grading were of “fail” quality. That’s right, fail. Not to sound like a total type-A-hole here, but I have never in my life had a paper handed back to me with the actual word FAIL on it (in red pen, no less!). FAIL! I just graduated from Harvard, Barbri! What the hell?!

I get it, I get it, I need to get over myself and put my nose to the grindstone and the pedal to the metal and the rubber to the road and whatever other weird, car-oriented metaphor you prefer. I’m trying to do that, honestly. But I’m suddenly realizing that it’s hard to motivate when everything isn’t going your way, academically speaking. It’s scary.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to keep a tenuous grasp on what remains of my sanity by scheduling yoga twice a week, going to the gym, and still making time for reality TV. The other night, for example, I hosted a dinner party for my dear friends John and Helen, and we had the real treat of watching the MTV abomination “Is She Really Going Out With Him?,” a reality show dedicated entirely to the travails of semi-pretty girls who date d-bags with frosted tips. It’s the little things that keep me going.

Right now, I am taking the opportunity to have a glass of wine while waiting for dinner (pea soup lovingly cooked by my dad) because I finished a three-hour “performance test” that I have to turn into Barbri for grading. I am really hoping I don’t fail this one, because I’m not sure my self-esteem can take it. I hope someone from Barbri is reading this right now so they can take my fragile emotional state into consideration while grading my (brilliant) answer.

Pray for me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Stanford Revisited

Hi all. I'm back! After graduation, I spent a few days with my parents visiting my dad's family in Pennsylvania, and then I came back to San Francisco to resume my (fairly horrible) bar review classes.

I am living at my parents' place in San Francisco but commuting to Palo Alto every day to take my bar class at Stanford Law School. It's sort of a pain in the keester to have to drive for 45 minutes to get to class every day (and then spend another fifteen minutes parking on campus in one of the shiny new structures that definitely did not exist when I went to school there) but at least the drive along 280 is gorgeous, and I'm back at my alma mater, where it's always sunny, everyone is in shape, and there are red-tile roofs as far as the eye can see.

Being back at Stanford four years after I graduated is sort of weird, because now I feel like a bit of an outsider. I have to park in a visitor parking lot, I had to give myself guest access to Stanford wireless by creating a guest password for myself through my alumni account (what?), I can't get into buildings that require a student ID, and I'm surrounded by structures and plants and statues that weren't there back when I was a youth. For example, yesterday I was walking through White Plaza, the main plaza with all the fountains and old-style Spanish buildings and such, and I noticed that there are new, weird trees planted in front of the student union. This bothered me. Then, I walked into the little cafe in the union that I used to frequent, intending to get a cup of coffee, and I noticed that the coffee shop now sells frozen yogurt. The pure unfairness of this development cut me to the core: why wasn't there froyo available when I went there? All we had was stupid Jamba Juice. Waaaah, not fair!

But some things at Stanford never change: there are still Asian girls wearing white socks under black strappy heels, long-haired kids playing frisbee in any available open space, anorexic women running maniacally around Campus Drive at all hours, and a general sense of slightly forced, but nonetheless pleasant, sunny cheeriness. I miss it, to be honest. It's definitely a far cry from HLS, where women in pumps drag rolling suitcases to and from the library, people bust out bathing suits whenever the temperature rises about 45 degrees, and the closest thing to whimsy on campus is the skating rink/volleyball court outside of the Hark. But, strangely, I miss HLS, too, and I even feel a bit more connected to it than I do to Stanford right now.

I guess one's relationship with one's undergrad is always going to be a bit different that the relationship with one's grad school, especially when those two schools are as diametrically different as Stanford and Harvard. Stanford has its obvious charms: the wackiness, the palm trees, the sunshine, the laid-back attitude, the froyo. Harvard, too, has its appeal: the prestige, the white columns, the bagels on Monday mornings, the free tampons in the law school bathrooms.

When it comes down to it, I could never really pick a "favorite" between the two schools because they each played such different roles in my life and contributed to my growth as a person in different ways. I mean, when I started Stanford, I was 18 and I didn't know my a** from my elbow or s**t from shinola. By the time I graduated, I knew my a** from my elbow but was still a bit hazy on the s**t/shinola distinction. My intervening year in Brazil and three years at law school helped with that, although some of the legal s**t is still looking pretty shinola-y. I am hoping Barbri will help me with this.

I'll wrap this up by saying that in the end, despite all the great things about Harvard, it's pretty hard to beat that special Stanford smell of eucalyptus and flowers. And, of course, the froyo.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

All growns up

I graduated law school on Thursday, which I guess means I'm a real person now. Or maybe I am still just a kid, but now I have a JD. Either way, I suppose I won't really be a fully-formed, grown-up lawyer until I pass the bar in July (pray for me). Until then, I'm cool with just being a girl who went to law school.

Graduating from law school was pretty anticlimactic, after all of the speeches and toasts and mingling that went on on Wednesday, Class Day. By the time Thursday rolled around, I was ready to just grab my degree and peace out. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed all the commencement exercises and words of wisdom and self-congratulatory Harvard talk (complete with MANY references to a certain U.S. President who was HLS Class of '91), but after I finally walked across the stage and got my degree, I was pretty done. I was changed out of my robes and mortarboard and ready to leave campus before they even got through the rest of my graduating class. It's not that I don't care, but I wanted to get out of graduation while I still had a good taste in my mouth.

The thing is, I don't like graduation ceremonies. Never have, probably never will. If my future kids are reading this, sorry, kids. I (probably) love you and all, but I'm going to be bored at your graduation. Nothing personal. I hated my high school graduation (boring), loathed my Stanford graduation (hot, sweaty, sad) and was fully expecting to actively dislike my HLS graduation. But it turns out that the law school ceremonies were pretty fun, my parents got to meet and greet a bunch of my friends and their parents, we got free wine, and it wasn't oppressively hot. What more could you ask for in a graduation ceremony? It was good.

Unfortunately, since the bar exam is looming, I can't really kick back and relax after graduating. That won't happen until August 1, when I go to Thailand for three weeks (yay!). Until then, I'll just have to comfort myself by staring at my degree, in all its pretentious, Latin-lettered glory.

Anyway, cheers to being an almost-real person: we kinda did it!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Graduation Song

Yesterday I went and picked up my cap, gown and hood for my law school graduation on Thursday. I wish I could say it was a surreal experience, and that every memory I've ever had from my last three years here at Harvard Law came rushing back in a montage set to a Coldplay song, but actually, it was pretty anti-climactic. I walked in, got my regalia, walked out, and went to go get my dry cleaning.

But then, as I was walking down Mass Ave to retrieve said dry cleaning, I started thinking about all of the things that have changed at HLS since I arrived here oh-so-long-ago, in September of 2006. A lot of this stuff may seem boring/irrelevant to those of you who aren't familiar with HLS, but you know what? I'm graduating and I'm allowed a self-indulgent, Harvard-focused blog post or two. So deal.



First of all, my class at Harvard was the last class to have actual letter grades for all three years of law school. You know, the A, the B, the mythical C, the non-existent D, etc. Every class below us, though, has received the benefit of Harvard's new, wimpy, pass/fail system. I mean, to be fair, it's not just pass/fail: there's also "high pass" and "low pass." But come on. My boyfriend, bless him, just finished his first year at HLS and never got to experience the Paper Chase-like Harvard Law that I attended back in the day. Back in Aught Six, people would steal your notes and shred them, or hide your ascot before class so you'd look like a fool in front of the professor, or dump all of the ink out your inkwell so you'd be forced to take notes on a slate with a rusty nail. These kids nowadays don't know what the real HLS was like, dagnammit.

Another big change since I arrived on campus three years ago is the closure of some of my favorite restaurants and businesses. For example, it seems like every good breakfast place in Harvard Square fell on hard times and closed, suggesting some sort of bizarre conspiracy to keep me from finding a good omelet in Cambridge.

Perhaps the saddest loss of all was the closure of Three Aces, one of my favorite greasy food establishments of all time. Please see below for a picture of it in all its glory:




Three Aces had it all: curly fries and straight fries. Pizza. Grinders. Mini bottles of wine that I'd always see construction workers drinking on their lunch break. Awesome. Almost as sad as the Three Aces' demise is the closure of the little nail place next door to it, Fancy Fingers. I used to go in there to watch Vietnamese TV, read gossip magazines, and get a darn good pedicure, but it closed down, too. Sad times.

Another thing that has changed since '06 is that our beloved former dean, Elena Kagan, was appointed Solicitor General of the U.S. When Obama made his nomination for the Supreme Court last week, I was really gunning for Kagan to get it, because: a) she is our Commencement speaker and it would have been cool, and b) I wanted to be able to tell people that a Supreme Court Justice called me. You see, when I first got into Harvard, then-Dean Kagan called me to congratulate me and ask me if I had any questions, etc. It was pretty cool. But it would be even cooler if I could manipulate that story in such a way that people believed that I was buds with a Supreme Court Justice. Oh well, I guess it's not meant to be. I'm just going to have to work with that one story I have about when Sandra Day O'Connor came into the Stanford Alumni Center when I was working there and I sort of said hi to her. I'm almost famous!

So, tomorrow's the big day: graduation. I am still keeping my fingers crossed for some sort of memory montage set to music to happen as I am walking across the stage to get my diploma. I'll probably just audibly hum a song by "The Fray" and hope for the best. I'll let you know how it goes.

(Oh, and congratulations to everyone else graduating tomorrow!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ShamPOO, or, How Nigeria (Partially) Killed my Hair

Hi. I'm back from Nigeria! I managed to escape without contracting jiggers, chiggers, river blindness, malaria, the plague, tetanus, rabies, blood worms, bone worms, teeth worms, Parkinson's, Tourettes, asthma, food poisoning, water poisoning, sickle cell anemia, Legionaire's disease, swine flu, bird flu, monkey flu, cold sweats, hot sweats, or fingernail sensitivity.

I did, however, come out with a head full of sticky hair, which I have been trying, rather unsuccessfully, for the last week, to rinse clean. I guess it could be worse, considering.

I ended up with said sticky hair through a long and complicated process, only part of which was my fault. Here's what happened: the first day I got to Lagos, I desperately needed a shower after almost 24 hours of travel, so I decided to wash my hair. I was in the shower at the hotel, lathering up my hair with the little bottle of shampoo I had bought in the Frankfurt airport, when the semi-robust water flow suddenly turned into a tiny trickle. Uh oh, I thought. Panicky, I tried to wash each strand of hair individually with the couple of measly drops sneaking out of the shower head, but that didn't get me very far. I had a meeting downstairs in a few minutes, so I decided to just sack it in and try to rinse everything out tomorrow.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The next day, I woke up with a head of still-wet, sticky hair, plastered to my skull in odd formations. I tried to rinse my block of hair before we had to leave in the morning but it stayed the way it was, so I just pulled it into a bumpy bun and hoped none of my colleagues would touch my head during the day (usually a safe bet).

I guess I would have just continued the trip with semi-sticky and unmanageable hair, and things would have been okay -- good, not great -- but I made the situation drastically worse on Thursday by accidentally "washing" my hair with conditioner. I know. The deadly combination of my already gross, dried-shampoo-y hair and a tablespoon of thick conditioner can be analogized to an oil spill in Lake Erie. And I'm talking about the really foul part of Lake Erie -- the part that caught on fire.

After that, I suffered through the last few days of our Nigeria trip in a state of constant hair paranoia, positive that everyone was looking at my hair and wondering why it looked as if someone had raked their fingers through it, or why flies and other debris were getting stuck in it.

Things were getting truly desperate after the first leg of my trip back to Boston. I had a seven hour layover in the Frankfurt airport, and I decided that it was necessary to cough up 6 Euros to use the shower facilities in the airport. I never pictured myself as being the type of person who would shower in an airport, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I stood in there for 20 minutes or so, clawing at my mass of hair, trying to get the shampoo from almost a week ago out of it, to no avail. Horrible.

I've been back in Cambridge now for three days and my hair is still not totally back to normal. I've tried a lot of stuff since I've been back, including rinsing my hair with apple cider vinegar (I smelled like an overpriced salad the rest of the day). Finally, I went to Aveda and bought some cleansing shampoo, which helped, I think. Probably a few more days and my hair will be restored to its normal luster (lustre?) but it's a process. A long, excruciating, gross process, which I felt like sharing with you all.

The lesson that I've derived from all of this is that one should always use the buckets provided in Nigerian showers. They apparently do serve the very necessary purpose of catching those drops of water leaking from the shower head so that you can actually wash yourself (and your hair). I should never have scoffed at that bucket.

Hey, at least I didn't get guinea worm.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

You eat African food?

I want to relay for you all the conversation that just happened between me and a waiter here at the hotel restaurant in Lagos, before its level of ridiculousness fades in my mind. The back story is basically that I wanted to order eba, which is a dough made out of cassava flour that is boiled and then pounded into a soft cone that you can use to sop up soups and sauces, along with chicken in stew, which is this yummy, spicy red sauce served over chicken. Here is how my attempt to order went down:

Me: Yes, I'd like the fish pepper soup, and --

Waiter: (incredulously) You eat African food?

Me: Yes, why?

Waiter: No, I just asked. No reason. People say Nigerian food is very spicy. Usually people from foreign countries don't eat it. (Pointing to part of menu I was trying to order from) This is AFRICAN menu. (Pointing to page on menu with "spaghetti" listed on it) This is other menu.

Me: No, I eat African food. I like spicy food.

Waiter: (still incredulous) Okay...

Me: Okay, so I want the fish pepper soup, the eba, and the chicken in stew, please.

Waiter: NO NO NO NO NO. You cannot eat eba with stew, you must eat it with a SOUP.

Me: But isn't chicken in stew kind of soupy?

Waiter: NO NO NO NO NO. This is impossible. It is impossible. I tell you, this is not done. You must order a SOUP with eba. Only a soup.

Me: But can't I just use the eba to eat with the sauce?

Waiter: NO NO NO NO. Only soup. It is impossible to eat eba with stew. No no no no.

Me: Um. Okay, I guess I won't get the eba. I'll have rice instead.

Waiter: Okay, rice, NOW you understand. Very good.

He then swept off to put in our orders and returned to deliver our drinks and two pieces of bread (there were three of us). After my colleagues ate their bread, one of them asked our waiter if we could have another piece, since there were three of us, after all. The waiter's response: "No... well, yes, but I will have to charge you extra." Our response: "Yeah, never mind."

Oh, Lagos!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

HELLO FROM LAGOS MY DEAR FRIEND

HELLO FRIENDS. I AM WRITING YOU FROM LAGOS, NIGERIA, WHERE WRITING IN ALL CAPS IS FEDERAL LAW. Just kidding. I'm here because I sent this cashier's check to this Nigerian prince who emailed me a couple months ago -- he just needed help with some political issues, I guess -- but I haven't heard from him since I mailed him the check and my bank account information, so I thought I'd come to Nigeria to check it out.

JUST KIDDING AGAIN.

I am actually here doing a clinical project for law school! I'm here with the Negotiation and Mediation Clinical, and we're doing a project involving negotiation trainings with local communities here in Nigeria. We're working with a Nigerian NGO to help develop a negotiation training program, and it's been really interesting so far.

My mind is truly boggled by the fact that on Monday afternoon, I was in Boston, on Tuesday morning, I was in Frankfurt, and by Tuesday afternoon, I was here in Lagos. Three continents in 24 hours! I keep looking around here and realizing, Whoa, I'm in Africa. It's wonderful to be in a new continent, and Nigeria is certainly a fascinating place to start.

After a day and a half in Lagos, I remain astounded by all the movement, color, and noise in this city. The city is chaotic, strewn with trash, loud, busy, and huge, sprawling over lakes and rivers and touching the Atlantic Ocean. Riding around Lagos by car, I've seen women carrying pallets of fruit on their heads, hundreds of churches with names like "Power of Christ Heavenly Restoration Church," almost as many mosques, oddly named fast food joints (such as "Tantalizers" and "Flaky's Fried Chicken"), people in traditional gowns and head dresses, motorbikes with four people on them at once, construction sites choked with dust and rocks, chickens pecking in the dirt on the side of the highway, snaking lines of cars in front of gas stations, scattered palm trees, and car after car after car zig-zagging from lane to lane.

It's pretty nuts.

Since part of our negotiation training plan involves filming some video components, we spent a good chunk of today searching out filming locations. First, we drove to a nature reserve in the city, where we sat outside in the sweltering heat and watched two peacocks fight with each other while our Nigerian guide tried to negotiate with the reserve people about how much we'd have to pay them to film a short video on the property. Eventually, we left and decided that we'd instead film at Lekki Beach, a long stretch of palm trees and sand, punctuated by colorful bits of litter, with a row of thatched houses against the water. After that, we returned to the NGO offices and sat around for several hours while the video guy procured video equipment, and finally started filming at around 6 pm. Whew.

By the end of the day, we were all exhausted and happy to come back to our hotel to an all-you-can-eat buffet of local dishes. So far, I'm a big fan of pounded yams, which are cones of dough (made from yam) that can be used to sop up soups and sauces. I like how Nigerian food is hot and peppery, mmm.

Okay, we have an early morning tomorrow so I should probably be getting to bed soon. GOOD NIGHT MY DEAR FRIENDS.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Now & then

Today, I took my last law school exam ever. I am happy (see proof below).



It's weird to think that I've been in law school for almost three years and have taken five sets of final exams. Weirder still is that once I pass the bar (fingers crossed) at the end of July, I'll be a real lawyer. That means I'll be totally justified in writing "Esquire" after my name, and/or insisting that people call me "Dra." in Latin America. It also means I can legally go by my first initial and middle name (S. Margaret), and can begin to wear a severe bun.

I feel like I'm going to be passing on a lot of these professional benefits.

To be honest, I don't think the whole being-done-with-law-school thing has really sunk in yet. Earlier today, I was reflecting on what I did after finishing my exams spring of 1L year, two long years ago. Basically, the second I finished my exam, I went outside and began drinking with all of my section-mates, and kept that up until I had to start work that summer. It was awesome.

The afternoon we finished finals, someone thought enough ahead to bring a blender and various forms of booze and we sat outside in back of the Hark until someone came out and told us that mixing alcoholic beverages outside was against the rules. I actually think they just felt sorry for the kids still taking take-home exams in the dorms right next door, who could no doubt hear us reveling on our done-ness. Perhaps the best part of that day was when I got to jump in a giant bouncy house and express my sheer joy over finishing my first year of law school.



Now, that picture is my traditional "done with finals!" facebook picture. It really captures my feelings about the whole thing.

Today was a bit more low key. After I finished my eight-hour take home exam, I met up with my boyfriend, ate some candy, drank a Diet Coke, and walked around Harvard Yard, looking at all the beautiful buildings and flowering trees. Then, I took myself to get a manicure and pedicure, and now I'm sitting around, listening to Stevie Wonder (My Cherie Amour) and blogging. Oh, how times have changed! I haven't become totally boring in my old age, though. I'm about to go sit outside in this gorgeous weather and have a beer, before going to tear it up at salsa dancing.

Life is good, and I am DONE! Later, HLS. It's been real.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Pig-out

Okay, so I will readily admit that I am the type of person who freaks out at things like the swine flu. You don't have to drag that out of me.



If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might remember that in 2006, I expressed mild concern over the bird flu (http://teffsinbrasil.blogspot.com/2006/03/tgisexta-feira-also-discussion-of-bird.html).

My exact words were:

I've spent a large chunk of today thinking about the bird flu and wondering if this is a people-stabbing-each-other-in-Walmart-over-duct-tape-and-gallon-jugs-of-water type situation, or something I should actually be freaking out about. Let's be honest, I'm going to freak out anyway, thanks to articles like this: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060309/NEWS07/603090573/1009

Detroit what.

I also blame Oprah for some of this. I mean, not for bird flu itself necessarily (but who knows really), but for my freaking out over it. She had this frightening show where a serious-looking epidemiologist or scariologist or whatever he was told us that we're all going to die and it's going to be like a horror movie and Oprah, you better reserve your vaccination now. And Oprah acted all scared. Like anyone's going to let Oprah die from bird flu. If anyone is going to be able to secure a personal supply of TamiFlu, it's going to be Oprah, I have a feeling. She and Gayle and Stedman are going to be a-okay.


Yeah. Turns out bird flu was not that big a deal and no one stabbed anyone in Walmart over it (Walmart deaths are generally reserved for Christmas-time stampedes). Oprah also survived, thank God. And I kinda have a feeling that swine flu will probably turn out to be the same kind of deal, where it just blows over after a lot of panic. It's obviously terrible that people have died from this, but I don't think it's going to kill 90% of humanity.*

But I'll admit that when news of the swine flu first broke, I was not so sanguine about it as I am now. The arc of my freak-out went something like this, if I had to graphically/textually represent it:

Mild alarm --> Resentment over CNN's fearmongering tone --> Fear --> More fear --> Considering buying a face mask but too embarrassed once in the drugstore --> Deciding to carry around hand sanitizer everywhere but forgetting to put it in my bag --> Trying not to touch anything in the subway, even when standing --> Lots of tripping --> Slightly less alarm --> Renewed alarm when someone tells me we are expecting the next global pandemic "any day now" --> Less alarm when I see that almost no one in the U.S. is actually dying from this and it's not spreading that fast --> Irritation over people talking about it so much --> Anger over Harvard Dental School idiots that brought the virus to Harvard and spread it around --> Annoyance that the law school has not been shut down and that my finals haven't been canceled --> Apathy.

So now that peeps are saying that the disease is "stablizing" or whatever, I feel like my earlier semi-freak-out was not entirely warranted. However, I continue to wash my hands three-hundred to four-hundred times a day, even after touching things in my own room. Who knows where that book has been? Okay, on my shelf, but still. One can't be too careful with the swine flu.

Okay, gotta go wash my hands after touching my own keyboard.

* But if it does, please note that I did express some mild concern over it.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Study fail

So, instead of studying for the Legal Profession exam that I have on Monday, I have been sitting in my room, cruising the blogs and giggling like an idiot. I feel like as long as I am in my room with my outline open on my computer screen and my textbook opened beside me, I am "studying," and that is not mitigated by the fact that I am listening to an old interview of JK Rowling (http://www.accio-quote.org/audio/bbcradio4-2005.mp3) and adding C-list celebrities to my twitter following list (hi Kim Kardashian!).

Perhaps the best thing I have discovered tonight while "studying" is Fail Blog, which has had me laughing out loud -- LOL-ing, as the kids say -- uncontrollably for the last half hour. Here it is: http://failblog.org/

Here are a few fails that I particularly loved:

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

You get the idea. This website is my new best friend.

I guess I should get back to "studying" now. FAIL.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Brazilian Idols

Okay, I'll admit it: when I used to watch it (before it sucked) the best part of American Idol for me was always the really terrible auditions. You know, the ones where someone comes in with a dream and a prayer (and a terrible voice) and the judges mercilessly shoot them down and send them home in tears? My favorites are actually the ones where the auditioner argues with the judges or tries desperately to prove how talented he or she really is, sometimes by dancing. It never works.

Does this make me a bad person?

Probably.

Oh well. So, even though I have seen some truly coo-coo stuff on American Idol, there is something even more hilarious about the rejects from the Brazilian version of the show, Ídolos Brasil. I don't know how I stumbled upon this clip, which is entitled "the best of the worst" of Brazilian Idols, but I did, and it is incredible. I suppose the clip might lose something if you don't speak Portuguese, but probably not. The outfits, hair, jewelry, and general Brazilianness of the whole thing should speak for itself.



My favorite guy has to be the one who sung that "Numa numa ne" Romanian song (in Portuguese) and steadfastly ignored the judges as they repeatedly tried to cut him off. That dancing cannot be contained! I also love how the judges openly laugh at the contestants. The Brazilian Paula is actually mean, turns out. I think I like her better than our Paula.

Don't get me wrong, I am not dissing Brazilian talent. In my opinion, Brazil is one of the most musically rich countries in the world, and on average, probably has more people who can actually sing than the U.S. But Brazil also has a special wackiness that makes it one of the most endearing places in the world, and produces some of the most hilarious wanna-be ídolos EVER.

Perhaps this next clip, which might be the best thing I have seen (except for the Susan Boyle video -- love her), will make it clearer:

Créu!


I love you, Brazil.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

$29.99, two for fiddy

Growing up outside of Detroit had many unique pleasures (see, e.g., frozen custard) but one of the things that I loved most about my childhood in Michigan were the amazing TV commercials. I know that statement probably makes me sound like a corporate pawn, but I'm not talking about the sophisticated, slick TV spots for Coke or Apple or whatever that you see nowadays. No, no -- I'm referring to true TV gems: local, metro Detroit commercials from the 90s. It really doesn't get any better.*

Plus, if you know me at all, you probably know that I love jingles. If it didn't sound so pathetic, I'd even go so far as to say that jingles are one of my "interests." And let me tell you, Detroit commercials back in the day had some great jingles: the Metro Detroit Ford Dealers song alone is like 4 minutes long with an instrumental interlude. I searched long and hard on the interweb to try to find one of those Ford commercials from the 1990s, but couldn't find anything. And I was dismayed to learn that Ford replaced its old, uplifting (if not excessively long) jingle with a new, much douchier one. The auto industry really is going downhill.

Even more disappointing: my number one FAVORITE commercial of all time, for Alan Ford dealership in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is apparently now the stuff of legend and doesn't exist on the internets ANYWHERE. That means I have no choice but to describe it to you. Okay, picture this: a cartoon cowboy and his dog. Got that? Okay, stay with me here -- the cowboy sings this song:

Here dog, come on dog!
Me and dog want you to come to Telegraph Road
Right now
Get a good deal.


That's it. Ask anyone who was alive in Detroit in the 1990s and I guarantee they'll know the "here dog, come on dog" song. It had a huge cultural impact.

Maybe you'd have to be there.

In a close second in the contest for the best Detroit commercials EVER are the classic commercials from Mr. Alan's, an "urban wear" chain of a slightly ghetto persuasion (see http://www.mralans.com/locations.php). Anyway, Mr. Alan's commercials always involve a cartoon man (Mr. Alan) with big pants and extremely odd facial hair:



It's amazing Mr. Alan was able to flash those ambiguous gang symbols with only four fingers on one hand, isn't it?

A typical Mr. Alan's commercial from the mid-1990s would feature the cartoon Mr. Alan superimposed next to still photos of shoes and jerseys with a voice-over announcing the prices of those items with increasing levels of urgency. It usually went a little something like this:

MISTAH ALLEN'S!!!!
Timberland boots 29.99 two for 50!!
FUBU shirts 39.99 two for 60!!!
ROCAWEAR SHOES, 49.99 TWO FOR 80!!!!


You get the idea.

This is pretty representative:



And here is a slightly upgraded version of the classic Mr. Alan's commercial format, which actually involves real people talking:



One of the best Mr. Alan's commercials ever has unfortunately been taken off YouTube for reasons I do not fully understand, but you can use your imagination. It involved a high school kid trying to impress a girl and succeeding marvelously by going to "see the man" (Mr. Alan) and getting some sweet duds. Before he went to see the man, he looked like a total idiot in a plain red tee shirt. Once he emerged from Mr. Alan's, completely festooned with logos and insignias, though, things really started to look up for him socially. Thanks, Mr. Alan!

I miss those commercials. Here in Boston, there are a lot of cloying jingles on the air ("Bernie and Phyl's, quality comfort and price" -- ugh, we GET it already) but there aren't any ads that truly compete with the magic that came out of Metro Detroit. Oh, well. At least I have my memories.

*Except for maybe Brazilian commercials, but that's a post for another day.