Proper Placement

When we went on our epic trip to South America several years ago, we decided to rent out our home . . . about a month before we were leave. This forced us to clean out some stuff and pack away everything else for storage in a mad dash. After living in the same place for over a dozen years, we had naturally accumulated a lot of stuff. Moving out was a good exercise – it forced us to get rid of things we hadn’t used, or hadn’t gotten around to getting rid of before, like a broken filing cabinet, our CRT TV, etc.

Now we’re doing the same thing again. Some boxes were never unpacked since our South America trip! This time, there’s less stuff to purge, since we got rid of the obvious ‘low hanging fruit’ last time. But with longer advance notice, the process is slower, since I can be deliberate more about that to keep or discard. This is not a good thing: I feel like I’m dragging things out, and in the end, it’ll be another frantic mad dash to finish it up.

Last time, we knew we were coming back within a year, so we kept all our furniture and appliances. This time it’s long term and long distance, so it requires a different approach in deciding what to keep and what to discard. There’s also a timing issue: some items I am still using (bed, tea kettle), so I’ll have to wait until the last to get rid of them (and hope I’ll find a quick taker). Others like the pressure cooker I haven’t used in years I could sell now on craigslist.

I’d read both Marie Kondo’s  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and  Spark Joy. One of her premises is to keep only things that spark joy in you. Even if they don’t have a practical use, you can still keep them. Conversely, if something is functional, but doesn’t spark joy, you should get rid of it anyway. Regrets, swung both ends of spectrum.

OCD: One personal hang-up is slowing me down. Some items have worth and value and value to me, and while I could just give it to a thrift shop and forget about it, I want it to go to  a good home. This isn’t even a pet I’m talking about, but inanimate objects. Yet I feel concern for its welfare even after we part. It’s a bit like leaving a job under amicable circumstances: you hope the person after you will take care and do well in those tasks that used to be yours, even after they are no longer your responsibility. Legacy issues.

I want the my discards to go the appropriate someone or someplace where it will be appreciated, used, and even needed. Even things most people would simply throw away, I try to find a use for them. I want to recycle things and avoid adding to landfills.

Finding the right recipient for different things takes a lot of work and thought. Which one of my friends would like it or could use it? Who has tastes or interests which are similar to mine? What good cause/charity would take it? It’s an obligation and a responsibility.

I have been foisting things on people. My friends are probably cringing each time they get an email from me “Hey, want a . . ?” But I also don’t want my discards to become a burden on others. Problem is I’m at that age where most of our friends already have their own established households, and/or trying to get rid of de-clutter/ downsize also, so they don’t want to take more stuff!

Sometimes I give something to a friend who wants it, which makes me happy, yet slightly guilty because I know they have too much stuff cluttering their home and I’m adding to the problem! I sold an insulated teapot and a set of nesting colanders to an acquaintance. When I went to drop them off at her house, I was surprised by how much stuff she had piled up around her place. She’s really into cooking, so I’m sure she already has a teapot and a colander. But these were really nifty versions, so I knew she would also appreciate them.

My four main avenues to discarding: (1) emailing/talking to our friends, (2) Freecycle (an online bulletin board for giving away stuff for free), (3) craigslist (both for selling and giving away for free), and (4) donating it to the appropriate charity.

Some of my recent adventures in discarding . . .

Lonely Planet books (travel guides):

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I had a hefty collection of LP’s, now very outdated. Still I’d kept them because I thought one day I would write up travelogues, and use them then as reference. And sometimes it’s fun to read the descriptions of how things were before they became how they are now. Neighbourhoods they didn’t mention or even told you to avoid, which have now cleaned up/gentrified, like Times Square. Restaurants that have since closed down. (I don’t like the new format of Lonely Planet, it’s not as informative as the older layouts. Nowadays, I tend to check out the latest editions from the library, rather then buy them, to save money and space, since I still like browsing hard copies.)

I did an email blast to my friends who are afflicted with wanderlust. I was quite surprised when I got quite a few takers for the books. It’s amazing how some destinations are so in-demand. Every one wanted Pacific Northwest. Europe locales were popular too. No one wanted Venezuela . . . or Brazil. I guess I don’t know anyone going to the Rio Olympics. (I ended up never going to Venezuela.)

Bandannas:

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I collect bandannas and use them for travelling. They are versatile, multi-purpose, decorative, and keepsakes all in one. A makeshift towel, a jaunty scarf for my neck, I can also tie them up to bundle gummi bears or pinon nuts.

The recipient was a no brainer: Fifth-graders at Lincoln School for science camp, where bandannas are used as lunch plates, i.e. ‘crumb-catchers’. Last time I chaperoned, I had brought along one extra bandanna, for just-in-case. But there was more then one student who hadn’t brought a bandanna. So now those ten bandannas can be spares for future science campers.

Bike water bottle:

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I spent $13 mailing a bike water bottle worth $2 to Hong Kong! Yes, I am THAT anal. But Pat really wanted a pull-top water bottle. “Remember those palmolive dishwashing liquid bottles?” he asked me. When Pat takes his dog for walks in Tsimshatsui, he rinses the spot where Brownie has done a number one with water. Pat is a very, very responsible pet-owner. So I gladly sent it to him.

 

 

 

Holey socks and ratty old T-shirts with fraying collars that thrift shops won’t want because no one would want to buy them:

I had accumulated a lot of them to use as cleaning rags, but I don’t clean often enough! A friend of a friend of Anne’s collects them for a group who will use them as stuffing for the pet beds and toys they make for a local animal shelter. It warmed the cockles of my heart that I was helping unknown Fidos and Fluffys out there. And I still have holey underwear to use as cleaning rags.

Ironically, when Marcella organized a crafts booth at Zoe’s school last year, she recycled the stuffing from a dog bed that her dogs had torn up, for the students to use in making pumpkin pin-cushions.

Cardigans:

It’s hard to get rid of winter things in the summer – people don’t think about unseasonable things. I foisted a couple of them on Anne. One she liked, because it’s machine washable. The other was a cashmere one I wore around the house quite a bit. She didn’t really want it “I’m a sweatshirt person!” but I persuaded her that come winter, she could wear it under a sweatshirt, and she’d thank me for the warmth and coziness!

Books:

I discovered there’s a non-profit program called Prisoners Literature Project here in the Bay Area. They will take all old dictionaries, thesaurus, current text books, self-help books, how-to books (especially drawing/art) and books by/about people of color, because there’s a constant demand for them amongst the incarcerated. You can drop them off in the hidey-hole under the stairs at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, so it’s very convenient.

This is a case of giving your items to someone who really NEEDS them rather than just casually wanting them. You might be able to sell such books, or you could donate them to a thrift store where eventually someone would browse and buy them. But those in jail who are trying to improve/educate themselves would most appreciate them, since their access to books is most limited.

I emailed one of the project coordinators to double check what they would and wouldn’t take, because I didn’t want them to be burdened with things they couldn’t use. Hardback books are generally a no-no, because they can potentially be used as weapons? There wasn’t as much demand for books by/about Asians – not too many people of yellow color in the prisons around here, I guess.

Postcards:

In my 20’s, I liked visiting art museums, and buying postcards of the works of art in the museum that had spoke to me. I also bought postcards of tourist attractions, since often they looked better than any photo I could take with my 35-mm camera. Now I had too many. But who needs postcards nowadays when you’ve got smartphone cameras and digital mail?

Perhaps prisoners could use them to send notes to their friends/family outside of prison? I consulted PLP again:

“Thanks for thinking of us regarding your postcard collection.  Because we’re a ‘books-to-prisoners’ group, we don’t receive prisoner requests for postcards; but we do get plenty of requests for art books (particularly drawing & painting).  If you’d kindly donate a shoebox or small filebox of postcards, we could tuck them into packages, along with the art books.  I don’t think we’d be able to take more than a shoebox full. As you suggested: Please omit any nudes. FYI, prisoners seem most interested in drawing and painting (representational, not abstract), and sometimes copy the work.  Few have access to sculpting materials.”

I could understand PLP being a little wary of getting too many postcards, if they didn’t get many requests for them. I sifted through for censorship, keeping Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe and Matisse’s La danse II. I had enough to fill one of the Lindt boxes in which I had stored some of my collection.

“OK, the postcards will be in a small pink chocolates box (less than a shoebox) at Moe’s,” I wrote back.

“Thank you for giving prisoners a gift much more valuable than chocolates!”

I never thought about that. If I were in prison, would I long more for art postcards or chocolates?

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A teapot missing its lid:

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This garnered 5 wanters on freecycle! (I suggested using it as a planter, which is what I used it for, for a water-based creeper plant.) Maybe that did the trick: a bit of copywriting to give people ideas of desiring something they didn’t even want.

There’s a reason why I’d kept it for so long. I used to use this a work. I dropped the lid and broke it at the office on September 11th.

 

 

TV tray tables:

I think it was the strawberries that did sealed the deal.

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It takes some effort to sell stuff on craigslist: not only do you have to write a compelling-enough description, but you have to stage it for photo, setting up the lighting. Lots of people are selling the same item you are selling on craiglist, so how do you make yours stand out other than low balling the price? I’m convinced my TV tray tables sold quickly because I put a bowl of strawberries on top of one in the photo . . . and my description said “Strawberries not included.”

Wooden blinds:

We replaced our kitchen blinds recently. They still worked, the wood slats still in good condition, but the paint was starting to flake off from countless sunny mornings. I didn’t want it to go to landfill. Perhaps someone could use it for a Burning Man orcraft project.

Things I give away for free get posted on freecycle. Things I sell go on craigslist. Having no takers on freecycle, so I posted it on craigslist as well, since that gets a wider audience. I had 2 takers. I offered it to the first respondent, who volunteered that he would use it for gardening, either as a trellis or shade structure.

He also offered to give me some tomato and pepper seedlings in return, which was icing on the cake. I wasn’t looking to get anything for the blinds, being happy enough they weren’t going to a landfill. I asked if he had basil instead. I had made caprese salad last week, and bought a bunch at Milk Pail, forgetting that I should have gone to Trader Joe’s instead to buy a plant for a little more money.

He wrote back:

There’s a quote “Every time it’s different and every time it’s good” I read in a BBC magazine interview about making pesto that’s stayed with me. I think it says so much about basil – how can one not fall in love with basil and the art of making pesto.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36014143

Yes I do have couple basil plants remaining but it’s not doing well (think it was too cold). I’ll bring them and also bring some seeds. Unfortunately I mixed fhe seeds by mistake during harvest last year and I forget which one is which (3 kinds – I think Italian Genovese basil is the smaller black seeds).

You meet some pretty thoughtful people through random craigslist transactions.

A blue cheong sam:

Other people I know have the same philosophy as I do in wanting their discards go to someone they know, rather than a complete stranger, in which case, they’d rather keep it themselves even if they have no use for it.

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My step-mom was culling some old clothes, and came across a blue cheongsam, a gift she’d never worn. It was polyester brocade with flowers, the type you’d find in souvenir shops in San Francisco Chinatown selling to tourists.

I accepted it, more to relieve her of clutter, rather than to wear it myself. I ended up foisting it on my cousin on my mom’s side and mailed it to her in Minnesota. She has two daughters and two nieces who might have fun playing dress up in it. There’s no Chinatown in Minnesota, so I think they would appreciate its exotic Chinese-ness more than people in California.

Black patent leather rainproof boots:

I gave them to Truc. We have shared memories of the boots: I got them at Bloomingdales, when we were on a trip to New York. They fit her. I’m glad she has them now, I’ll be able to see them again.

Tall purple suede boots:

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They are flat and comfy, not “slutty”, an impulse buy from Nordstrom Rack. But I understand that they are not to most people’s taste. I offered them to two high-school age girls (daughters of friends), but no takers.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m going to stop writing here, and stop procrastinating, as I have lots more stuff to get rid of, and to pack. Well, actually, I’m going to procrastinate some more and go cook/bake.

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Recent good reads

Not quite beach fare, but worthwhile reading. . . .

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese:

I’ve been reading less and less fiction over the past year; it seems like the writing just gets crappier and crappier. This book renewed my faith in fiction: it tells a good story that is engaging, yet detailed enough so that I didn’t gallop through to find out what happened in the end, but savored the descriptions of an Ethiopia of a not so distant past. The ending is just slightly contrived, but still a surprise.

I’ve never been to Ethiopia, and I don’t even think I personally know anyone who’s been there (shocker!?), but now it’s on my to-go-to list. (Even though I’m sure it’s very different now. When Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature, I read his novels and ended up going to Egypt, expecting to find real settings of those stories. Not quite.)

Like Khaled Hosseini, Verghese is a doctor, and lives locally. It blows my mind that someone so smart, and who is probably very busy professionally, has written a beautiful book. How they find the time, discipline and stamina to do so staggers and humbles me.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell: I enjoyed this book almost as much as ‘Cutting for Stone’. It’s set in time/place I know little about: the Dutch trading post in historic Japan. “Shogun” it is not . . . quite, even if there’s a white guy and a Japanese chick for the love interest angle. In fact, the plot splits into two threads, one of which is bizarre and macabre.

The following two books are non-fiction, but are fairly good reads also. They both deal arts/antiques: specifically the twists and turns of the somewhat dodgy journeys by which artifacts end up in, or exit museums, even prominent ones. As someone who enjoys spending time in museums (and used to do so quite often), I find the background dirt fascinating.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to recover the World’s Stolen Treasures, by Robert K. Wittman

Loot, by Sharon Waxman

falling off the wagon

Wow, it’s been another long stretch I’ve gone without posting. A combination of things, I was working on the proposal (didn’t get the gig), then right afterwards I came down with a sore throat/cough, which always takes me a while to get over.

Why does it always take so much longer to get over a sore throat/cough than a cold. I essentially avoid biking and swimming when that happens, so the lack of exercise and being trapped indoors drives me a little nuts. Especially when I have to cancel social engagements because I don’t want to get people sick.

While I was sick I did read a lot of books (the only place I went to was the library.) Of the books I read, these are the ones I’d recommend.

Flow: the cultural history of menstruation
Sir Vidia’s Shadow
Orange County:a personal history
Alan’s War: the memories of G.I. Alan Cope
Why I killed Peter
The adventures of Blanche

Anyways I got well in time for … allergy season! I made up for the lack of exercise by going hiking at Elkhorn Slough yesterday with Joe (followed cioppino at Phil’s Market, and a nap on the beach), and biking with friends, once up to Woodside/Portola Valley on Tuesday, and then the Sawyer Camp Trail today.

I’ve been doing daily battle against the sparrows. Last year this time, they built a nest under the eaves of my porch, and made a big poopy mess. But I waited too long, there were already eggs in the nest, so I had to wait they were hatched and gone before cleaning up. This year, they came back, but each day as they try to add/build their nest, I take my long broom and brush off the partial nest. Then the next day they’re back again. I come out with my broom again.

It reminds me of that stupid parable about Robert the Bruce and the spider spinning its web seven times (moral: try, try again.) I’m just wondering. How many times does it take before the the stupid sparrows figure out they’re not welcome here and just go build their dangetty nest in the tree on the street already!

The lovely thing about spring is artichokes. This year, I’ve been harvesting them much smaller, so they are more tender.

Someplace where they drive crazier than in Thailand . . .

I just finished reading Peter Hessler’s new book Country Driving. Of course I highly recommend it. The first part is about how he actually rents a car and drives around China, mostly following the Great Wall.

(I told April about it. Actually she was the first person to recommend River Town, Hessler’s first book, to me. We jokingly considered quitting our day jobs, getting Indian drivers’ licenses and then driving around India, and then writing a book about it too. Imagine two Chinese-American women driving around India in a geezerly white Ambassador, that would be such a hoot! Actually there was one season of Amazing Race where the challenge was for the contestants to pass an Indian driver’s license test!)

Country Driving is actually split into three parts. One of the other parts is about a factory that makes bra rings (the little metal notion to hold the straps). It was a little deja vu reading it: then I realised I had read an article in the National Geographic that he wrote and now incorporated into the book.

Accessible books . . .

Growing up, Mr. Han says he was given wide latitude by his parents. . . His family’s home was packed with literature, he said, and his father made sure to put the good stuff — books published before the Communist revolution — low enough for an 8-year-old to reach. “He put all the poorly written books published after the founding of the People’s Republic of China high enough so I couldn’t reach it,” Mr. Han said.

The above is an excerpt from a New York Times article/interview with Chinese novelist/race-car driver(!), Han Han.

I just thought it was really funny but telling; his dad was smart! I also thought about how my dad’s voracious appetite for reading, and his utter lack of concern/oversight over my reading choices when I was a kid has been a powerful factor in shaping the way I read today, and by extension, shaping who I am today. For a household of three, we subscribed to four newspapers: English, Chinese and Thai newspapers in the morning, and then the afternoon tabloid-sized English paper, the Bangkok World, until it went defunct. On top of that, Dad brought home (the subscriptions were sent to his office) Time, Newsweek, and other Asian English-language weekly newsmagazines, like the Far East Economic Review, Asiaweek, etc. On top of that, Dad liked to buy books on history and political figures. In parallel, he bought books and magazines in Chinese, but I could only browse through them for the pictures.

Not all reading material in our house was high-brow edification. There were trashy novels lying around, traded or left from uncles and aunts who were moving about, frequently flying on business trips: Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon; my dad had a preference for Danielle Steel and Erich Segal. To this day, I don’t think my parents know that I learnt about the mechanics of coitus from a Harold Robbins novel waay before I was in middle school.

I had access to everything, and being an only child, the default entertainment after school was to browse all the English newspapers, magazines and books in our house. (TV didn’t have programs on until 4 PM, due to the oil crisis!) If there were books on a higher bookshelf, I simply climbed up on a chair to reach them. Those books weren’t there to be kept out of my reach; it was simply because the lower shelves were full and out of space.

I didn’t understand everything I read, but I got a pretty good sense of the what was going on in the world: the Cold War, the Iran hostage crisis, Pope John Paul getting shot, the KAL airliner shot down over Sakhalin, Lady Di getting married, etc. And the little domestic details/human interest anecdotes that were simple enough for me to understand, those have stayed with me. I remember a story about how some of the American hostages in Iran were freed because the Canadians helped get them fake passports. Afterwards, someone put up a billboard at the US-Canada border facing north that said “Thanks, Canada.” That was very touching.

Likewise, when Dad bought Richard Nixon’s autobiography, I read the first volume, but really never grasped the significance of Hiss or Checkers. What I do remember was how Dick and Pat went on their road-trip honeymoon, and their friends had played a joke on them by stripping off all the labels from their supply of canned food. So their meals were a crapshoot, perhaps two cans of beans for breakfast, or two fruit cocktail for dinner!

The main advertisers in weekly news magazines back then were airlines and booze. The airline ads were invariably variations on the same theme, a pretty smiling air hostess in the uniform of an Asian national air carrier (back in the one nation, one airline days!), and a simple route map that showed all the other cities that the airline served from their capital city/hub. I learned a lot of geography that way, but more importantly, one day, I wanted to go to visit all the cities on those airline route maps (Rarely did those maps show cities in China or India!) Back then I was locked in between two destinations, Bangkok and Hong Kong. It planted the travel bug in me: it nagged at me that I had never been off that beaten track to go to Seoul or Manila or Taipei. (Wait, I still haven’t been to any of those places!)

Theroux talks about nature and makes me think . . .

So tonight I went to a talk by Paul Theroux (of travel writing fame.) Since it was sponsored by a local open space group, he talked mostly about the importance of nature and wilderness, and nature writing by other writers like Thoreau, Stegner, Darwin, Basho, etc. In fact the title of his talk was “Madly Singing in the Mountains: Traveling in Natural World” which is taken from a poem by 白居易 (Po Chu I or Bai Juyi).

This talk made me think:

1) Theroux read a quote from a ‘blog’ about the earthquake in Concepcion, Chile . . . and it was from Charles Darwin’s journals from his voyage on the Beagle, over a hundred years ago. People really had better writing skills in those days. It was so well written, it’s hard to imagine it was something Darwin scribbled in his journal. If it was me, I’d have to labor over it, and edit a few times. This blog is my journal of sorts, but no one is going to read this in a hundred years and quote it as good writing. I really just dash things off here.

2) I really should go and read all these good-but-old-timey writers Theroux waxed on about. I go to the library pretty often, but I just usually browse the new section, and rarely find anything worthwhile. There’s a universe of literary classics for me to read now that I didn’t while in college. I should read Thoreau, instead of reading about him. (I knew of Thoreau and how his ‘reclusive’ lifestyle at Walden was not actually so hermitic; his mom did his laundry for him regularly. Come to think of it, I learned this titbit from one of Theroux’s books!) Part of my not having read these books earlier is that I have a hard time and little patience with reading Victorian writing; the style was rather convoluted, with flourishes of phrasing and literary arabesques. It takes a lot of attention and effort to read, and sometimes reread ‘to get it’. Unlike straight-forward contemporary prose that I can just gallop through.

3) Theroux talked about being a boy scout and going camping and how it was a formative experience in his life, and led to an appreciation of nature. That resonated with me: I go camping every year with some college friends and their kids: it’s become an annual ritual. For myself, it’s to ensure I don’t forget how to camp, to sleep outdoors, and ‘rough it’ a little. For us all, it’s a reunion that’s a constant, because we hardly see each other otherwise. For the kids, I think it’s a good and happy thing for them to experience, because camping is one my of favorite childhood memories, a yearly event I anticipated more than Christmas.

People are often surprised that I know how to build a campfire, without lighter fluid! Will gets the credit. It was in depths of his parents’ backyard (bottom of a petit canyon) where we slept ten cousins in a tent and built campfires . . . . to toast marshmallows and heat up take-out dim sum. Will being almost twice as old as we were (OK, 15 years to our 10) was the de facto camp counselor. Since he was a very responsible eldest-brother-type, he taught us practical skills like how to build a camp fire, ensure it was put out properly, and how to pitch the tent, invaluable skills to this day. Since he was also intellectually precocious, he tried to teach us how to play chess in the tent. That was not so successful; we ended up mostly playing card games! I’m very grateful though, that Will taught us how to camp.

4) I forgot to bring my copies of Theroux’s books to get autographed. Part of it is shyness, or a sense of not wanting to be cheesy and going up to a celebrity to say “I’m a big fan of yours.” Also, both copies I have are mass paperbacks, used and quite dog-eared from constant re-reading. It would have been embarrassing.

The two volumes do have quite a lot of sentimental value for me. “Riding the Iron Rooster,” while mostly about the trains in China, starts off from Europe on the Trans-Siberia. A bunch of us cousins (who used to camp together in Santa Rosa) rode together on the same one-week train ride from Beijing to Moscow. We ate haw flakes and saltines with peanut butter, played cards, and read and passed Theroux’s book around amongst ourselves. Fortunately no one got duffiled, although one of our new Russian friends on the train had her camera stolen (with all her pictures of her trip to Beijing!)

My other Theroux book is “The Great Railway Bazaar”. It’s the book which put him on the map, so to speak, and is a definitive work on traveling in the 70’s on the overland trail from London to the Far East. (“Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” is where he retraces his steps 30 years later on that same corridor.) Very aptly, I was given the book by a fellow traveler named Max at the pension I was staying at in Cairo, on my first ‘solo’ backpacking trip. I don’t know how Kindle will change things, but back then on the backpacker circuit, it was a perk to swap books, because English books were a treat. They were expensive and/or hard to find. Most people who like to travel also like to read.

Max’s destination after Cairo was Istanbul, specifically “Room XXX at the Pera Palas Hotel.”
“What’s so special about that particular room?” I asked. “The view?”
“I was conceived in it.”
It turns out twenty years ago, his parents were traveling the hippie overland trail; had split up for part of the trip but made plans to meet up in Istanbul at a certain point. And then, an unplanned consequence from that happy reunion. Presumably Max’s mom and dad had paid little attention to the view of the Golden Horn.

Max also taught me a good strategy for budget traveling, if you can afford it. Stay in the cheap two-cockroach hotels for most nights to save money. But once in a while, splurge and check into a five star hotel to enjoy the mod-cons of air-conditioning, hot showers, cable TV and ordering ice-cream sundaes from room service. You’ll really appreciate it, and it’ll keep you sane on the road.

Half the Sky

‘Women hold up half the sky’ – attributed to Mao Tse Tung

Lately, I’ve been struck by the idea that people are realising that it’s better to give women, rather than men, powers of management and decision-making, because women are more responsible. The outcomes will be better!

My opinion on this solidifed based on the few things I read recently. I came across them randomly, but they all happened to have this same underlying theme.

1) In the editorial pages on the NY Times:

“Not too long after the tsunami, government officials came through the village and announced that all new homes would be titled in the name of women (some were jointly titled to men and women). The men grumbled, but the officials told them they had no choice. Men drank and gambled, they said; women were more reliable.

Almost 50,000 houses have been built along the coast of Tamil Nadu. The result of titling these homes to women has transcended the economic gains of home ownership. It has changed the very social fabric of the coast.”

See the full article here

2) Likewise, in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Haiti, the coupons for food rations were given to women.

3) Half the Sky

The most attention-grabbing/memorable quote in this new book by Pulitzer Prize-winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is:

” … a medical technician named Sonette Ehlers developed a product … Ehlers had never forgotten a rape victim telling her forlornly: “If only I had teeth down there.” Some time afterward, a man came into the hospital where Ehlers works in excruciating pain because his pen1s was stuck in his pants zipper. Ehlers merged those images and came up with a product she called Rapex. It resembles a tube, with barbs inside. The woman inserts it like a tampon, with an applicator, and any man who tries to rape the woman impales himself on the barbs and must go to an emergency room to have Rapex removed. When critics complained that it was a medieval punishment, Ehlers responded tersely: “A medieval device for a medieval deed.””

Men reading this are probably cringing. Don’t worry, it’s equal opportunity cringing. As a women reading about fistulas, and worse, well I was taking lots of deep breaths, but soldiered on.

The authors are up-front about this book being a pitch for their message: ‘a call to arms . . . against the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.’
See also the halftheskymovement.org

This book is a must-read. There’s a lot of rationale for why empowering and educating women simply makes good economic sense, and stimulates overall growth and development in developing countries. It will also in turns horrify you by its descriptions of atrocities committed against women, and inspire you with its accounts of strong, resilient women who are fighting back, doing amazing things to help themselves and their communities, against social/economic/political/cultural odds. But above all, it’s written in a way that’s so engaging and accessible, you’ll end up with a good understanding that these aren’t just ‘women’s issues’, but why things happening in the world are the way they are.

Banker to the Poor

This autobiography by Muhammad Yunus is about how he started Grameen Bank and how it evolved. For these efforts, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Grameen Bank provides small loans, known as microcredit, to the poor, as start-up capital so that they can improve their livelihood. (As a matter of fact, microcredit is featured in ‘Half the Sky’ as one of the most potent tools to help women. )

I started reading the book because I was really intrigued by the idea that what could be considered small change, say $15, the cost of lunch, could end up propelling a family out of poverty A hundred bucks is about what I donate to my alma mater in a year, which might cover half a textbook for a student in the UC system. Yet half across the world, as a loan it could probably enable a woman to invest in some bananas and cooking fuel, make banana cakes; and sell them for enough to put her kids to school for a year and cover their uniforms, and cover loan principal and interest. Such small sums, yet so potent! As someone who tends to be thrifty/cheap (hey I collect pennies 50 at a time and deposit each roll in my bank account!), I’m quite taken with this concept. Plus, these are loans, not handouts. Teaching fishing, not giving a fish!

Back to my original point about empowering the women . . . I was surprised to learn from this book that Grameen Bank quickly figured out that these mircoloans should be directed to women, not men, for better results. Women were more likely to do something productive with the money for their family, than men, who might abuse the loan for personal benefit, or just be plain flaky. Grameen developed a system where the loans wasn’t just offered to individual women, but to groups of five women for peer-enforcement. If the first two women repaid their loans, then the others would get their loans. (Actually, Grameen does give loans to men, but by they focus much more on women. )

By the way, if you’ve saved the cost of lunch by bringing leftovers, and are inspired, you can take that $15 and make a loan to someone halfway across the world, woman or man! via kiva.org