Danielle Solof

Writer / Traveler / Comedian

Trump Dong-un

Not too many people know this about me, but when I lived in Seoul I helped three North Korean refugees write speeches in English.  This was so they could share their experiences with the world.  At the time I had sympathy for them, but I never expected I would ever have any direct, personal experience with their stories.  It was early 2015.  I was American, Obama kept being the leader of the free world, and I had the privilege of being the helper, not the victim.

But here we are.  Two years later.  The first full day our new President is in office he sends his Press Secretary out to tell the media they shat on his brand new white carpet, all because they presented the fact that his Inauguration wasn’t as well attended as past Inaugurations.  Any of us can look at the pictures and see he’s wrong.  The Washington DC Metro rider numbers tell us he’s wrong.  The news organizations’ ratings tell us he’s wrong.

But when a fact is no longer a fact, and the only knowledge that is correct is knowledge that comes from the great leader, do you know what you have?  You don’t have a government- you have a regime.  And you know who’s in charge? Trump Dong-un.

Let’s circle back to the refugees.  I worked with three, but there’s one in particular who’s story is most pressing now.  She was a kindergarten teacher in North Korea.  We all know what they do: they teach little kids basic knowledge and social skills that will serve them later in school and life.  Sounds pretty straightforward.  But how does that play out when The Great Leader is responsible for everything good and wonderful?  It sounds kind of like this:

Kid Question: Why does 1 + 1 = 2?

Teacher Answer: Because The Great Leader made math!  He is so smart and he figured out this whole way for us to count and know how many things we have!

Kid Question: How come when I drop this thing it goes down instead of up?

Teacher Answer: The Great Leader made gravity so we could always get things we need.  If things kept going up, how could we get them?  They need to come down, and thanks to him, they do.

It was totally fucking crazy.  Part of me really didn’t believe what I was hearing.  Not because I thought she was lying.  I 100% believed her.  But I just couldn’t understand how a whole country could be like this.  Intellectually I could imagine it working, like how a novelist could imagine a fake world.  But on a personal level, I had no direct experience with anything like that.  It was so alien to me it didn’t feel like a real thing.

And then yesterday I watched that press conference and it started to feel real.  It’s not 1984.  This isn’t a book report I just have to do and forget about.  The White House Press Secretary actually got up in a huff and refuted plainly obvious, easily measurable facts presented by the press.  Wait- what?  The country that’s been saying for decades that North Korea is crazy for this shit is now doing the same thing?  Huh?

We’re not special.  We’re not exempt from crazy just because we’re America.  We’re prone to it just like anyone, anyplace else is.  We used to think North Koreans were the unlucky ones- and they still are, for now- by a long shot.  But we can so easily make ourselves just as unlucky if we don’t put a stop to this.

I asked her, “Did you believe what you were saying?”

“No.”

“Then why did you say it?”

“Because that was my job.  To attribute anything good and great to the Great Leader.  If I didn’t say it I could be put in prison and probably killed.  They could hurt my family, too.”

“Did you know the truth?”

“I would wonder, ‘How could one man do all of these things?’ It didn’t make sense to me, but I had no answers.  So I didn’t think it was true, but I didn’t know how else to explain things.  But now I know it was all a lie.”

“How did you find out it was a lie?”

“My friend and I got an American dvd.  We lived near the Chinese border and they smuggle things in.  So we hid in my bedroom late at night and watched the dvd on a laptop.  We had it open just wide enough so we could see it, but could drop it shut in case anyone came in and saw us. It took us weeks to get up the courage to watch it because it’s illegal to watch outside media.  But we finally saw the movie and everything looked so nice and wonderful in America.  That’s when I realized it was all a lie.”

After much deliberation, she decided to escape to China.  She ran across the border in the middle of the night.  One of the North Korean guards saw her do it.  She could have been imprisoned and killed for attempting to leave, but she said she was lucky.  The guard knew her and decided to do nothing.  He just let her go.

Trump is The Great Leader.  His cabinet is the regime.  They are the kindergarten teachers and we, the public, are the curious little kids getting fed garbage answers.  This is us now, but it doesn’t have to be us in the future.

I was fortunate enough to travel and live overseas to have this experience.  But you can find it right here at home.  We have refugees here and I encourage you to talk to them.  They can be from anywhere.  Refugees are often very willing to share their stories because they want the world to learn from their horrific experiences.  It’s not going to be a nice conversation.  You’re going to hear things that make you uncomfortable and feel very sorry for the person you’re talking to.  But it’ll, hopefully, also be a wake up call for you about how easily societies fall into tyranny.

We do have a choice here.  We can steer ourselves away from it, if we choose to.

 

First Project: DIY laptop sleeve

It’s the first day of the new year and I’ve already run into something I need: a laptop sleeve.

It’s not clothing for myself, but it is like a coat for my laptop.  I just got a chromebook and ordered a sleeve on Amazon, one that was supposed to fit, but it’s too big.  The spirit of my new year’s resolution is getting to me, so instead of ordering another I figure I should get creative.

I looked up how to make one.  It can be pretty simple.  I decided to give it a try.

My dad had some extra vinyl fabric lying around.  It’s waterproof, thin, and looks like fake leather.  It’ll work.

I used an old sheet to practice.  I took some measurements, turned on the sewing machine (something I hadn’t done since middle school sewing class), and got to work.  Within 10 minutes my prototype was done.

I then cut the vinyl and sewed it.  Easy.

So instead of buying another sleeve, I have a custom made one.  It took about 90 minutes from concept to completion, and I used stuff I already had in the house.  Plus I had the fun of a creative project 🙂

Here are some more pictures of my stuff:

Sewing tools.

Sewing tools.

Sewing machine.

Sewing machine.

Vinyl fabric and prototype.

Vinyl fabric and prototype.

Finished product.

Finished product.

Finished product.

Finished product.

New Year’s Resolution: Stop Buying Clothes

Buy no new clothes.  Whoa.  I think this is my toughest resolution yet.

Why am I doing this?  Well, fast fashion is causing the fashion industry to spiral out of control.  I didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw the documentary The True Cost on Netflix.

In a nutshell, here’s what I learned:

Low Prices = Bad Working Conditions

  • stores need to keep clothing prices low to stay competitive
  • so, the cost of clothing production keeps getting lower and lower
  • factory workers ultimately suffer with low wadges and horrible working conditions

Environmental Impact

  • stores quickly turn clothing to keep customers coming in to buy
  • excess clothing production creates waste
  • consequently, the fashion industry becomes one of the world’s largest polluters

With that in mind, I question how much I really need.

 

I also think about how my purchasing behavior has changed throughout my life.  When I was little, my mom would take my brother and me clothes shopping maybe twice a year.  Once in late August before school started for fall/winter clothes and once in the spring for spring/summer clothes.  That’s it.

Then in high school I started going maybe once every month or two.  Image is important when you’re a teenager.

Then when I was in college I’d go whenever I felt like it.  That could be multiple times a week.  And if you were dating someone you definitely were always shopping.  You always wanted to look good, and the amount he took you shopping was a sign of how into you he was.

Now as an adult, I have a hard time thinking of when I last went shopping because I actually needed something.  Like REALLY needed it.  Most of the time I shop because it’s something to do.  It’s a way to blow off steam or just let my mind wander.  Getting stuff has been an artifice to fulfill some other need.

When I stop and think about it, the whole thing seems pretty screwed up.  And I’m not even that bad when I think about how much other people splurge.  But this who we’ve become as a society.

 

Ten years ago I read about a woman who resolved to wear the same brown dress everyday for a year.  She did it and walked away learning a ton about herself and the fashion industry.  Her blog is no more, but others have written about her.  Here’s a link to one article.

A few years later, in 2009, someone else did the same thing, except her dress was black.  She also raised oodles of money for for underprivileged children in India.

These women were making a few statements:

  • forget societal pressure on women to be fashionable
  • don’t waste your money on clothing
  • over-consuming clothes is not socially or environmentally sustainable

I’m not bad ass enough to wear the same dress everyday.  I don’t even like dresses.  But I do think there’s something I can do, and I do think by doing something I can grow.  So I’m going to start with buying no new clothes.

This actually scares me, a lot.  Like, I’m so nervous about it that I wonder if I have an unhealthy attachment to consumption.

The reality is, though, when I look in my closet, I have more than enough things to wear.  Even after shedding so much because of moving overseas and losing weight, there’s still a lot.  I don’t actually need anything new.  But the thought of not being able to buy any new clothes for a year is still frightening.

My closet.

My closet.

I keep having thoughts like,

  • what if my running shoes get shot?
  • what if all my underwear gets stretched out?
  • what if my weight changes and nothing fits?

There are plenty more, but you get the idea.  And it’s these fears that, in part, probably keep me shopping frequently.

So I’m just going to have to find another way to deal with it.

This ought to be an interesting year.

How I did a Low Carb Diet

I recently went on a low carb diet and lost 18 lbs.  This was by far my biggest weight loss ever.  It was pretty rapid too.  I lost it in 10 weeks.

People have been asking how I did it, so I decided to write this as a reference for anyone looking for some guidance.

I’m not an expert.  I’m not a doctor, scientist, or dietitian.  I’m someone who did a lot of research and took advice from other people who can be considered experts.  Here’s what I learned and did.

Why diet?

I gained weight in the winter of 2013-2014.  There were a number of reasons, including:

  • I was living in Chicago at the time and it was the coldest winter in 30 years (so I didn’t go out much)
  • Because it was so cold I ordered take-out a lot more than I ever did before
  • I joined a new team at work that catered lunch several times a week
  • I stopped exercising

I gained around 15 pounds that winter.  I’m really short, 4’11”, so 15 pounds is quite a bit on me.  Since I wasn’t exactly lean before that, I needed to lose it.

Why low carb?

I normally do low calorie diets, but I found it wasn’t working for me this time around.  Most low calorie diets say I should eat 1200 calories a day.  I did that, jogged 3 miles a day every other day and did yoga on my off-jogging days.  My weight didn’t budge.

Then I dropped to 1000 calories a day.  I increased my exercise.  My weight still didn’t budge.

I played around with calorie amounts for a month before concluding it wasn’t working for me.  I figured I’d try low carb to see what would happen.  If that didn’t work, that would mean something wasn’t right and I should see a doctor.

Turns out the low carb diet was very effective.

What did I eat?

I based my meals around vegetables and lean protein.  I ate as much as I wanted of these.  Then I’d have some dairy and fruit if I felt like it.  Here’s a list of food I frequently ate to give you an idea:

Breakfast

  • 0% plain greek yogurt w/ chopped grapes (the juice from the grapes has sugar which gets into the yogurt and sweetens it)
  • 2 scrambled eggs (or egg whites) w/ whipped chive cream cheese, side of grilled vegetables
  • Smoked salmon w/ side of grilled vegetables

Lunch & Dinner

  • Mixed vegetable salad, including a little cheese & lean protein, like chicken, fish, or turkey, add low carb dressing like lite goddess dressing – *varying meat, cheese, vegetables, and dressing keeps this interesting*
  • Turkey & cheese lettuce wraps w/ mustard, side salad
Turkey lettuce wraps.

Turkey lettuce wraps.

  • Turkey/Fish/Chicken/Boca burger (no bread), side salad
  • Tuna salad
  • Baked fish w/ steamed vegetables
  • Chicken or Turkey w/ steamed vegetables
  • Miso soup
  • Chicken soup w/ vegetables

Savory Snacks

  • Almonds
  • Cole slaw
  • String cheese

Sweets

darkchocolate

  • Dark chocolate
  • 0% greek yogurt with lite whipped cream folded in, add berries or grapes for more sweetness
  • Hot tea with milk and cinnamon

Eating Out

  • Look at the menu and decide before eating out
  • Japanese and Korean are always safe bets- avoid the rice
  • If you’re not sure, get a salad

What to avoid?

Don’t eat

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Sugar
  • Potatoes or Corn (or products based on them, like potato or tortilla chips)
Buh-bye.

Buh-bye.

If you want something sweet, eat fruit.

Why limit fruit?

If you really want something sweet, you can have fruit.  But don’t make fruit a staple.

Fruit has naturally occurring sugar.  Sugar from this source is much better for you than sugar in processed food, like in candy and pastries.  The difference is, fruit has fiber while processed food has little to none.  The fiber will help stabilize your blood sugar, helping you to avoid spikes and drops that lead to more cravings.  I’ll get into this in more detail in the next section.

That said, while dieting, only eat it if you need it.  Introducing sugar can lead to cravings later.  So you decide how important it is that you have it.

How to stick to it?

This was an easy diet to stick to.  I rarely felt hungry or craved something I couldn’t have.  A few times I wanted bread or a pastry.   It always came about from the environment: someone would talk about how good the bread was somewhere, or I would be watching someone eat a piece of cake.  It never came from my own need.  That said, the feeling almost always passed within 30 minutes.  If I still had the feeling, I’d eat a little bit of what I wanted, like half a slice of bread, a spoonful of someone else’s dessert, or one cookie.  It never tasted as good as I thought it would, so it was easy to stop eating it.

The diet is easy from the perspective of biology: how your body processes food.  The diet is hard from the perspective of peer pressure and the food environment.  I’ll explain.

Biology

I’ll try to keep this simple and brief so anyone can understand it.  We all know about insulin.  Our bodies produce it to keep our blood sugar stable.  The more sugar- including carbs- we have in our diet, the more our body needs to produce insulin to get the sugar in our blood to our cells so they can use it as energy.  This means if you eat cake your blood sugar will go up so you’ll initially have a surge of insulin to deal with it, then later the insulin will crash.  The crash will make you hungry and you’ll crave more sugar.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Blood-Sugar-Rollercoaster

This clip from the documentary Fed Up explains it well:

If you don’t eat sugar- or many carbs, your blood sugar and insulin levels will stay pretty stable.  They won’t have high highs and low lows.  This means you won’t feel too hungry too often, and when you do feel hungry, you’ll be satisfied with food that keeps everything stable, i.e, you won’t crave high carb food.

Here’s another 1 minute clip from Fed Up to help explain.

So, the more you eat high carb food, especially sugary food, the more you want it and crave it.  The less you eat of it, the less you want it and crave it.  When that happens, you’ll find that you stop thinking about it. 

The Food Environment & Peer Pressure

The reality is, the food environment in the United States makes it very easy to eat lots of high carb, high sugar food.  If you pay attention to food labels, you’ll see a lot of this in much of what we eat.  It wasn’t always like this and it doesn’t need to be there.  Food manufacturers know, for example, that sugar makes food more appetizing to the American palette, so that keeps us buying, which makes them more money.  It’s not healthy, but they’re not in the business of keeping us healthy.  They’re in the business of making money.

Additionally, your friends, family, and colleagues will most likely not be doing this diet with you.  They’ll be eating all the stuff you used to eat.  It can be really hard to say no and feel you’re still part of the group.  A lot of social activity centers around food, so you may feel left out, or like you’re being antisocial by not doing what everyone else is doing.

This means that we have to be very focused on our goals.   When it’s so easy to make bad choices, the real work is in your head.  The good thing is that focus is a muscle you can build.  The more you work at it, the easier it’ll be to make the right choices and avoid the wrong ones- and to feel okay about making the right choices.

Should I track my food intake?

This is up to you.  Lots of people don’t with low carb diets because 1) it’s a lot less work, and 2) they know if they’re eating the right foods they’ll be fine.

I did track my eating, mainly because I’m detail-oriented and like to analyze trends.  I also found that when I didn’t track I’d get lazy and start eating Doritos, or something.  No one will know…

App I used to track food.

App I used to track food.

I tracked everything through an app called My Fitness Pal.  It’s free, but there are upgraded versions for a small fee.  They have a low carb setting for a small cost, but I didn’t bother with it.  If you track your food you can see your carb intake for the day.

How many carbs can I eat?

Again, this is up to you.  Your height and current weight, along with how your body works, will inform what is best for you.

I know people who are very strict with low carb diets and eat only 20 carbs a day.  That was too strict for me.  I know I’d give up on it fast with so little flexibility.  So I aimed for 50 carbs a day.  If I just had lean protein, veggies, and some dairy, I’d end up around 30 carbs.  This gave me an extra 20 to play around with, which means I could have some fruit or a cookie, if I really wanted it.  Some days I went over and had 70 or 80 carbs.  But overall it averaged out to 50 a day.

Results?

If you’re like me, you will start to see results quickly.  Even if people are giving you shit about your diet- and they probably will- within a month or two they’ll notice a difference.  They’ll start complimenting you, telling you how great you look, want to know what you are doing, how to do it themselves, and who knows- they may become converts.

You’ll also notice a difference in your own mindset- that you don’t need all this food that you once thought was so near and dear to your eating life.

Do you have before and after pics?

No, but I do have this.

Lu Hao. Google him.

Lu Hao. Google him.

Will it stay off?

I don’t know.  I just did this thing.  From what I read, you need to be careful when you finish.  What I will say is that I was bad for a couple of weeks and gained a couple pounds, but then I got back on track and lost it.

At this point I figure I can’t go back to what I was doing before, so this will have to be a lifestyle change, as they say.  So maintenance will probably end up being 100-150 carbs/day.  That seems more than do-able.

 

So that’s it.  If you have any questions, hit me up.

 

SoloFemale Travel

TL;DR: Don’t worry about it.  Be smart, plan your trip, and have fun 🙂

 

Do you like the pun in my title?  I’m playing with my last name, Solof 🙂

Moving on, I’m going to get serious for a minute.  Solo Female Travel.  It’s a thing.  Ladies, you can do it.  You can so do it.  You just get a job, save your money, buy a ticket, and go.  It’s your fucking life, so take it by the ovaries and go.

Oh my god. I'm a girl.

Oh my god. I’m a girl.

Here’s the thing: I never thought about traveling solo as a woman.  I never worried for my safety or loneliness.  Not until other people  brought it up.

It didn’t occur to me until I read another travel blogger’s post on solo female travel.  This guy actually has guest posts from women on traveling solo as a woman.  Again, I never thought about it as a thing.  I’m a person- what difference should it make if I’m male or female?  If I want to do something, I should find a way to do it.  But the more I live and the more people I meet, the more I realize it’s a thing and it’s worth addressing, because regardless of if it’s top-of-mind for me or not, it’s top-of-mind for other people, and it can hold them back.

I must be lucky that I grew up not ever thinking I was different- that I could or should be different- because I’m female.  The “female” part of me is just biology as far as I’m concerned.  The rest of me is my own creation, and what that is is my own decision.  Therefore, focusing on “female” travel is a cultural issue, not a personal one.

Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve come to realize are hot-button issues when people think about women who travel.

Independence

I’m a VERY independent person.  Sure, I like company, but I also need time and space to do my own thing.  It’s no different with travel.

When you’re on your own, you don’t have to discuss anything with other people.  Every decision on what you do is yours.  You never have to deliberate or negotiate, you just do what you want to do.  That’s freeing.  That’s simple.  That’s easy.

Boat ride. -Borneo

Boat ride. -Borneo

Even when I’m traveling with friends, we need time away from each other.  Every few days we may go our separate ways and do different things.  We’re two separate people who have different needs and interests.  I don’t want to hold someone back from what they want to do and I don’t want to be held back either.  So, we’re together when we want to be together and apart when we need to be apart.  It has always worked out well.

Being Alone

So often people think I must get so lonely when I travel.  Like, my god, how could I possibly spend a few hours on my own?  Let alone days or weeks, or even MONTHS?!

For starters, I’m not actually alone that whole time.  I do meet other travelers while I’m out doing stuff.  We become friends and hang out while we’re in the same place.  I genuinely enjoy this part of solo travel- all the people you meet on the journey.

Also, I like my own company.  I don’t need other people to entertain me or distract me from myself.  I enjoy the space to explore my thoughts and experience a new place through only my own filter.  When you’re with other people they often share how they experience what they see and that can influence how you see things.  What if you took that away and just had yourself?  What would you see?  What would you discover on your own?  That’s a powerful and important thing to experience, your own views and insights directed only by yourself.

Enjoying listening to rain forest sounds.

Enjoying listening to rain forest sounds. -Borneo

This isn’t loneliness.  It’s solitude.  And it’s much needed, especially in a day and age when we’re bombarded with messages from every angle.

Men

So you’re a woman and you’re on your own.  Don’t men, like, want to, you know?  And like, isn’t it uncomfortable?  Or, are you, like, loose?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves when people find out I travel.  They make all these assumptions about the kind of person I am.

Girl who travels = floozy.

It just doesn’t make sense.  Like, I don’t even know where they get this idea, that’s how off-the-wall it seems.

Look, if a woman lives that life, that’s her thing and let her go do that.  But these two things do not go hand-in-hand and I don’t appreciate it when people assume I must be this way because I travel.  In fact, I’ve met plenty of female travelers who are not this way and plenty of women who never travel who are this way.

And for the record, some of the sleaziest guys I have ever met have been in my own backyard in the United States.  I lived in Seoul for a year and rode a sardine-packed subway everyday to work and was never touched inappropriately.  The very day I arrived in New York I could spread my arms out on the subway and not touch anyone, and some guy still grabbed my ass.  So what does that tell you?

Dating

It must be so hard to date.

Again with the subject of men.  I know my purpose in life is to get married off so some guy can inherit my dowry (my grandma did hand sew some lace and towels for me, and they are rotting in my parents’ basement), so I guess we should address this.

First, I don’t travel to meet guys.  I travel to see the world.

Second, who knows who you’ll meet when you travel.  Chances are, you may meet someone, get to know them for a week or so, and then go your separate ways.  Maybe you’ll keep in touch through social media, and maybe you’ll meet again, temporarily, in the future, and you’ll keep nice memories.  That’s probably what it’ll be.

But you might meet someone great and the connection will persist.  You’ll keep in touch, very close touch, and find a way to bring your lives together.

I’ve never had this experience, but I know quite a few people who have.  Like with most dating, most relationships are temporary and thus end, but some do last a very long time.

This is who I dated in Seoul.

This is who I dated in Seoul.

The trouble I find is that most people believe that if you’re traveling there is no shot in hell you could meet someone great.  Or if you did, there’s no way it could last because of the ephemeral nature of a nomadic life.  But I disagree, mainly because of people I know who’ve made it work and what I believe is possible.

This is what I think: a relationship lasts because two people want it to.  That’s it.  I know people who live in different cities, time zones, and countries from their partners.  But the relationship lasts because they want it to.  All the other shit people bring up are excuses.  I’m not encumbered by all of that, but most other people are.  I also know that if I start bringing that up, it’s a sign I’m just not that into the person.

So while being set in one city and having the opportunity to see someone a lot over a long period of time makes things easier, being nomadic makes you cut a lot of the bullshit.  You only bother with people you really like and only great connections turn into relationships.

And only great relationships are worth it, because you need time and energy to focus on the world 😉

The World is Not What You Imagine It To Be

Americans seem to think of the world as the United States and the Rest of the World, as if all other countries that are not the US must be the same.  Well guess what?  They’re not.

Traveling solo, female or not, varies from country-to-country.  You need to do your research before you go abroad to any country.  How women are treated in that country may be different from what you’re used to, and sometimes it may be better.  I’ve found that as long as you do your research and follow the customs of the culture you’re visiting, you will be fine.

Some of the customs or “changes” you make to your normal routine may not be obvious.  An obvious thing would be wearing a headscarf in conservative Muslim countries.  But I also found that having my hair dyed blonde in Mexico drew unwanted attention.  When my hair was darker I blended in more and it was less of an issue.  In South Korea, the issue was v-neck tops.  Women there do not show their breasts, not even a teeny, tiny bit.  Not even their chest above their breasts because it’s considered too sexual.  These are all things you can figure out by doing little research.

I had to cover my knees at Batu Caves. Not a big deal. -Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I had to cover my knees at Batu Caves. Not a big deal. -Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Men generally have less to think about on this front, but it’s never a reason for women to stay home.

 

The big point I’m making is this: it’s not a big deal.  If you want to travel, do it.  You’ll be fine on your own.  Be smart, do your research, and jet set.

Just remember one thing: Love everything you get from it.

Malaysia: Part 1

I’m about to embark on big trip- a Southeast Asian adventure, and it occurred to me that I never wrote about the other trips I took this past year.

Here’s Malaysia.

flag_map_of_malaysia-5555px

Malaysia.  Why did I go to Malaysia?  I don’t know.  Maybe it was those “Journey to Malaysia” commercials that aired years ago.

Not this, but something like it.

Even before I decided to teach in Seoul I thought, ‘But maybe I should go to Malaysia???’  It was one of those alluring thoughts you have, but you don’t know why you have them.  I just felt compelled to go.  So I did.

I found a round trip ticket from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur for only $314.  Sold.  The next day I realized it was because the airline, AirAsia, had just had a crash.

Fuck.

‘It’ll be fine,’ I told myself.  ‘It was one crash in how many years?’

Days went by.  I did research.  The airline was notorious for safety issues.  They were more concerned with quick turnaround times than making sure the plane could safely get off the ground and stay in the air.

They were banned in Europe and the American government strongly advised not flying with them.

Shit.

Teaching in Korea was a way for me to get away from a terribly run American company.  A place that was more concerned with making money in the short run than customers coming back next month.  ‘If they had an airplane, would I get on it?’ Absofuckinglutely not.

Oh shit.

More time goes by.  I put it in the back of my mind.  I focus on planning the trip.  My friend Carmen wants to join.  She buys a ticket for the same flight.

Carmen and I meet up one evening to outline our trip, using the Malaysian government’s tourism website.  The afternoon prior we each review the site and make a list of where we want to go.  Then that evening we compare lists.

A lot of what we want to do is the same- everything there is to do.  We spend the evening figuring out how we could bounce around the country and do it all in 2 weeks.  We’re two weeks out at this point.  Within a week we have it all figured out and booked.

Now it’s a week out and I start typing up an itinerary for both Carmen and me.  This is a tip I learned working at Ashoka, an international organization whose staff travels A LOT.  Having your itinerary on one sheet of paper keeps you sane.

I go to input my flight details and I see this:

Flight confirmation email.

Flight confirmation email.

 

DIE62R.

I mean, I just can’t.

I stop sleeping.  My mind is racing with thoughts that I’ll disappear, my carcass strapped into a seat, limbs floating, head bobbing, in some Southeast Asian sea.  It would happen in Southeast Asia.  No flights go down around Korea.  They only go down down there.  It’s like Asia’s Bermuda Triangle.

I turn into a mad woman.  Looking at that email I felt like I was staring death in the face.  All because of the allure of going to Malaysia.

My third sleepless night I get up at 3am.  I check my email.  AirAsia’s moving my flight time and I can get a refund.  Oh thank god.  I open Google flights, read reviews of Singapore Airlines, book a flight, and fall asleep.

I tell Carmen the next day.  She gets it.  She thinks I’m crazy, but she gets it.  Whatever.  I’m not above “a sign”.

A few days later, Sunday, I arrive in Kuala Lumpur.  Carmen’s already been there for day because she took the worst flight of her life.  Crowded.  Noisy.  No food.  She described landing as, “the plane falling on the ground.”  But she survived.  And the flight attendants were hot.  SO HOT.

air asia flight attendants

Of course they were hot.  This company was just like the one I had worked for in Chicago.  The only way they could have their women was hot.

My flight with Singapore Airlines was great.  It was like being in an adult crib in the sky.  They even played delicate music during landing.  It was like we weren’t even doing it.

And the flight attendants were beautiful.  They were not cheap sluts you use and abuse for the night.  They were classy.  They were worthy of being- dare I say- the one.

Don't you want to marry them?

Don’t you want to marry them?

Getting into the city was easy.  There’s an express train from the airport to KL Sentral, the city center.  It comes every 15-20 minutes, takes about 30 minutes, and only costs RM35 (~US$8).

We stayed in a hotel right by the train station, mainly out of convenience, so I waddled over to it.  Carmen wasn’t around.  She was out seeing sites for the day, and of course I ran into international travel confusion.  The hotel only had one key for the room, and Carmen had it, and was I really who I said I was, and oh, I don’t know where the cleaning people are, maybe they have one, sit here for a while at this desk in a back room with piles of money on it because I don’t trust you to go in that room but I do trust you to sit alone in front of tens of thousands of dollars in cash.

Eventually they found someone to let me in, and when they did I definitely got A LOOK.

I freshened up a bit and decided I should go out and see something of the city.  Maybe the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park?

Kuala Lumpur Bird Park

Kuala Lumpur Bird Park

Didn’t happen.  I stepped outside and the afternoon heat and humidity of a thousand dragons’ breaths hit me.  I walked across the street into a mall and just stayed there.

The thing about shopping in Korea is that, Korea is so gung ho about its own brands that sometimes you just can’t find what you’re looking for.  Like, I get that you have all these awesome clothing shops, but I’m not a size -6 so I can’t buy anything here.

But in Malaysia, people are all shapes and sizes.  Oooooo.  The clothes fit!  So the nasty heat led me to a much needed shopping spree.

The mall's Lunar New Year display.

The mall’s Lunar New Year display.

After clothes shopping, I stopped in the pharmacy for a few things.

Packaging at the pharmacy reminded me of the medical journals my parents have laying around the house.

Packaging at the pharmacy reminded me of medical journals my parents have laying around the house.

Then after the pharmacy, I discovered laksa (because looking at gross pictures of people’s skin infections never killed a doctor’s child’s appetite).

Laksa.

Laksa.

This is how Wikipedia describes it:

Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup in the Peranakan cuisine, which is a combination of Chinese and Malay cuisine.  Laksa consists of rice noodles or rice vermicelli with chicken, prawn or fish, served in spicy soup; either based on rich and spicy curry coconut milk, or based on sour asam (tamarind or gelugur).  It can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Southern Thailand.

I didn’t know any of that at the time.  I just looked at a picture, pointed, paid, and ate.  I also had a milky tea, too.  It was the right thing to do.

Six months later I ordered this dish at an international restaurant in Beijing.  I was eating with my friend Matthew.  He’s gay and has the taste buds of a god.  He was super jealous.  It’s moments like that that make you feel like you’re winning at life.

So yea, I recommend laksa.

I don’t really remember what happened after that, other than weird men staring at me.  At some point I went back to the hotel and somehow got into the room.  A while later Carmen came back and we exchanged stories.  She’s a Cuban refugee who grew up in Miami.  She was loving the heat, humidity, and fresh fruit juices.  And palm trees galore.

I don’t know what we did.  Probably bummed around the hotel for a bit and then I think we got something to eat.  We were heading out that night for Borneo, so there wasn’t time for much.  We had to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Miri, then Miri to Mulu, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We were going to explore caves.

Goin’ to Asia, Again

southeast asia

It’s December 10th.  I’ve been back in the US for 3 months.  2/3 of that time has been relaxing.  I’ve slept a lot.  I’ve gotten back into jogging and yoga.  I’ve reconnected with lots of friends and relatives up and down the east coast.  I’ve even managed to stick to a low carb diet and lose 17 lbs.

But I’ve got the itchiest fucking feet and I can’t wait to catapult myself back to Asia.

I leave in a month, January 10th.

Why then?  My friend Liz, who I grew up with, is going to Singapore for a month for work.  She wants to travel on weekends and is nervous to do it on her own.  That’s where I come in.

Liz and me before our 10th grade dance.

Liz and me before our 10th grade dance.

A more accurate portrayal of our friendship. Slaving away doing homework at my kitchen table.

A more accurate portrayal of our friendship. Slaving away doing homework at my kitchen table.

 

In my mind, traveling in Asia is easy.  Flights and hotels in the region are cheap, many attractions are comfortable with last minute planning, and there’s always something interesting happening, even when you’re just lounging in a cafe.

‘What is that guy doing?’

‘What kind of bug is that?’

How do they poop?’

It’s so easy I end up driving myself crazy considering all the possibilities.  There’s so much I want to do, and putting the puzzle together to make it all fit is a challenge.  When it comes to travel, FOMO is very real for me, at least during the planning stage.  In the moment, though, I’m not above saying, ‘Fuck it.  I’m tired,’

So what’s the plan for this trip?  I fly into Bangkok on January 11th.  Spend the week there, adjusting to the time and seeing the city.  Liz will meet me there the following weekend.  Then off to Bali for a week.  Liz will meet me that weekend.  Then we’ll fly together to Singapore.  I’ll stay with her, in her corporate housing, spending her hefty per diem, for the week.  From there, we’ll go to Ho Chi Minh City.  After that, Liz will go back to Singapore and I’ll stay in Vietnam, or something.

 

What’s different about this trip is that I don’t know when I’m coming back.  Every other trip has had a definite start and end date.  This has a fixed start, but no fixed end.  That’s unusual for me, but I have my reasons.

Originally I thought I’d teach English in Vietnam next.  That I’d use Liz’s work trip as a deadline to get myself back to Asia, and that after she left I’d settle in Ho Chi Minh City, find a job, and teach again.  But part of being home has made me realize that’s not what I want.  I liked teaching English, but not enough to want to make a career out of it.  What I really want is to travel.  And I really want my home base to be in a thriving, multicultural city.

Earlier this year I came up with a challenge for myself: visit one new country for each year I’m alive.  That means, when I’m 54 years old, I will have visited at least 54 countries.  I’m 31 and I’ve been to 27, so I have some catching up to do.  This trip is an excuse to get 4 or more countries on my list.

That said, I don’t want to be adrift.  After being tied down to jobs for many years, a few months of running wild is nice.  REALLY NICE.  But I am craving having projects and working in teams again.  I am, and always will be, independent and a free spirit, but there is a sense of purpose and security that comes with being tied to something, and if I get a long leash, I’m happy.

So I figure as I travel, I can job hunt.  As long as I have wifi and a VPN, it’s no different than being in New Jersey.  And any place or person I’d want to work for would have a hell of a lot of respect and admiration for my approach.  Then once we’ve sealed the deal, I can board a plane and head wherever I’m needed.

Until then, I’ll be trip planning, job hunting, and probably contacting you for leads 😛  If you’re curious, I want to return to either non-profits or tech (I love tech solutions for social problems).  Check me out here.

 

And in case you’re curious…

Countries I’ve Visited:

  1. USA
  2. Canada
  3. The Bahamas
  4. Mexico
  5. Colombia
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Chile
  9. Argentina
  10. England
  11. Ireland
  12. Scotland
  13. Wales
  14. The Netherlands
  15. Belgium
  16. France
  17. Portugal
  18. Italy
  19. Hungary
  20. Norway
  21. Australia
  22. Qatar
  23. South Korea
  24. Malaysia
  25. Japan
  26. Hong Kong
  27. China

These are the countries I can comfortably say I’ve been in and done some exploring.  There are others I could list, like North Korea, because I technically was on their soil during the DMZ tour, but come on.  I didn’t really visit North Korea (though I’d love to go and keep my eyes wide and mouth shut).

 

 

Alexandra

piggy2

Alexandra.  The weird girl.

I met Alexandra as a third grader.  She was fat for a Korean kid.  She was also obsessed with pink.  So she was a fat Korean girl who always dressed in pink.  I thought she looked and acted like Miss Piggy.  No one in Korea knew who that was.  But when I showed my co-teacher and her homeroom teacher a video of Miss Piggy they cracked up and agreed, Alexandra was just like Miss Piggy.

In addition to the pink, she also had a pudgy face and pig nose.  Her voice was nasally, like sound originated somewhere between her throat and chest, then traveled up into her nasal passages and out through her nostrils.  It was delightful.

All of the other kids in her grade knew she was weird.  When I first met her she was in class 3-3, class 3 of third grade, which had two bad boys- the worst in her grade.  One kid, Colton, was kind of bad, like you could sometimes bring him to the good side.  But the other kid, Gabriel, was so bad a good day was when no one cried.  

Colton had ADHD.  He had trouble sitting still and focusing on classwork.  Instead he often goofed off for attention, ripped paper and ate it, licked glue sticks, bothered other kids, and ran around the room.  According to his homeroom teacher his mother didn’t know how to mother him, so she’d just let him do whatever he wanted.  So Colton’s issue was a mix of needing a parent who knew how to handle him and getting his ADHD under control.

Gabriel, on the other hand, was a wreck.  He was evil.  He would bother the shit out of other kids.  Not in a lighthearted, silly way like Colton would.  He would torment and bully them until they cried.  I kid you not- almost every single 3-3 English class the first half of my first semester there someone cried.  He had a knack for knowing how to piss off people and get lots of negative attention.  He shredded his English book, the pieces would be on the floor after class, so he couldn’t do any work even if he wanted.

Since Alexandra was weird, these boys loved to pick on her.  They’d run up to her and pull her hair or pinch her, she’d scream, and then my co-teacher would get upset that she was being disruptive.  She didn’t care about the details of what had happened, she just wanted Alexandra quiet.

Alexandra didn’t give up without a fight, though.  Every time one of these boys would torment her she’d try to get my co-teacher’s attention.  First she’d raise her hand.  If that didn’t work, she’d call my co-teacher’s name.  When that didn’t work, she’d get out of her seat, walk right up to her, and explain what was going on.  I had to hand it to her, she was determined to get justice.

Where was I when all of this was happening?  I was in the room, observing, trying to help.  But the thing is, when these kids don’t speak English and you don’t speak their language, there’s a limit to what you can do with classroom management.  You can’t have a discussion with them.  At best you’ll rely on body language and simple common words and hope it works out.  After that, you need to involve the co-teacher, a native speaker, especially when you’re dealing with complex, long term problems.

My co-teacher, though, was apprehensive when it came to discipline.  She didn’t want to fuck them up.  She was afraid that disciplining them would draw more attention to their bad behavior and egg them on further.  She wanted to ignore it, hope they would stop and all the problems would go away.  From my perspective, she was burying her head in the sand.  

My biggest concern with how this class functioned revolved around Alexandra.  She was the sorest subject of these two boys’ negative influence on the classroom environment.  Everyone was victim to these boys, including us teachers, but Alexandra got hit the hardest because she was weird.  

Being weird makes you a target.  I love weird people.  I’m weird myself.  The last thing I’d want to do is encourage a weird kid to stop being weird.  Being weird in Korea just isn’t allowed in most contexts because they value sticking to the straight and narrow path.  This is especially true in school, so if I could offer a kid even a little reprieve from that- a place where they could just be-  I’d feel I was doing something good for them.  So I didn’t want to snap the weird out of Alexandra.  Instead, I wanted to give her a space to be weird in English class, if that’s what she wanted to do.

Working with my co-teacher to pull this off was hard.  She really didn’t want to pull out the big guns in terms of discipline.  It felt too wrong to her.  But she was open to reorganizing the seating.  It was an indirect approach that didn’t call out any one kid- everyone would get a new seat and therefore everyone would be treated the same.  I wanted to give Alexandra some space.  3-3 was a stressful class for her to be in with those boys, and I wanted coming to English class to be 40 minutes of peace from the drama she normally found herself in.  I felt that if I could give Alexandra that, then maybe everyone else in the class could benefit too.

I decided to put Colton in the front of the room in the corner.  That way he could easily pay attention but not be so close to other kids and random shit in the room to mess with.  It also meant that if he ever needed to get up and move around, he had some empty space to do it.  Plus he was right next to the door so he could slip out and make an ass of himself in the hallway, if he so pleased.

I put Alexandra on the opposite side of the room.  She was in the back corner.  She had no one in the seat right next to her, so she could stretch out.  The kids who sat in front of her were mellow.  Helpful if she needed it, but otherwise kept to themselves.  

Gabriel I put in a solo desk, in the back, by himself.  He needed to be away from other students for a while.  He lost the privilege of being near classmates because he just couldn’t play nice.  To bother people, he’d have to make a big, bold effort, which it turned out he wasn’t interested in doing.

It’s amazing what a simple seating arrangement can do.  At first, Alexandra quietly sat back there and observed the room, taking it all in.  She’d put her feet up on the empty seat next to her, sitting sideways, with her right arm over the back of her chair, looking up at the board.  Sometimes she’d play with her pink pig pencil case.  I didn’t care.  She was relaxed, having some fun, and at times focused on class and learning.  Then after a few weeks she started getting into class the full 40 minutes.  She’d pay attention, follow along, write in her book, and she even started raising her hand!  And getting answers right!  She was coming into her own and into class so quickly in her new seat.

As we got into December it was getting cold outside.  We had our first snowfall and the ground was freezing over.  One day as I was walking back to the classroom from lunch, I noticed all the third graders were outside on the playground, playing on the ice.  No adults were around (which is completely normal in South Korea, that kids play on their own, even at school during school hours).  “They don’t bubble wrap their kids,” as one of my British friends put it.

So I’m walking by, kids are running and sliding on ice, giggling, playing, and Alexandra is on her own, sliding in her own weird way towards the edge of a huge patch of ice.  She slips and falls.  I then see Gabriel in the distance immediately yell something, then charge towards her.  A group of boys follows.  They run and slide to her.  They surround her and start kicking her.  Alexandra is on the ground, on the ice, surrounded by the boys of her grade, getting kicked from all sides.  Like some Lord of the Flies shit.

I yell at them.  They all flee and I can see Alexandra laying on the ice, crying.  Gabriel then runs back for a few more kicks.  I yell again and he runs away again.  I go to Alexandra, as do a couple of girls in her class.  We have a hard time getting her to sit up, then stand up.  She wants to be left alone.  I spend at least fifteen minutes trying to help her.  Still no other adults around.  Eventually she gets up and the two girls somehow tell me they will take her inside to their homeroom, I think.  

I should have gone with them, but instead went to my room.  About twenty minutes later the two girls came running to my room, asking if I knew where Alexandra was.  They lost her and didn’t know where she went.  I felt like shit for not sticking around.  I didn’t know what to do or how to explain anything to the other teachers in Korean.

Eventually my co-teacher came back to the room and I told her what had happened.  She called the homeroom teacher and headteacher to explain.  They then held a meeting with Alexandra’s mother and the mothers of all the boys who kicked her.  I wasn’t invited, but this is what was later relayed to me:

Alexandra’s mom spent the meeting apologizing for how weird her daughter is and kept saying she understands why the boys acted that way- because her daughter is strange.  The boys were never punished.  According to the school handbook, whenever there’s any kind of violence the abusers will have a long punishment, like lots of hard labor to do around the school for several weeks or months, depending on the situation.  But nothing happened to these third grade boys because they lied to their mothers about how bad it was, and Alexandra’s mother accepted that her daughter will be tormented sometimes.  

The head teacher told me she wanted to slap Alexandra’s mom across the face for putting her kid down like that and not sticking up for her.  I couldn’t believe her mother’s wishes could override the terms of the school handbook.  It was a disheartening outcome.  That abusers can get away with abuse.  That boys can get away with mistreating girls.  That “normal” kids mean more than “weird” kids.  That the feelings in a discussion weigh more than established protocol.  These were not ways I was raised to think.  These were not norms I was accustomed to living with.  It was a way of thinking and operating I found hard to respect.  It worried me what else Alexandra, and kids like her, endured for being different, and it scared me to think of the long, hard process it would take to truly carve out a free space for them.

 

Winter break rolled around a few weeks later.  Alexandra and all the other kids had five weeks off from school.  They came back to school for two weeks in February and started their new school year in early March.  Alexandra was then in fourth grade and got placed in the best homeroom teacher’s class.  She was still an oddball, but in no way a nuisance or embarrassment to anyone.  If anything, she inadvertently provided comic relief in an otherwise serious, studious class, and we all welcomed her wholeheartedly.

Colton was in her class, too.  He was also a changed kid, for the better.  Apparently his teacher ripped his mom a new one, which improved her parenting.  He was still goofy, but the big difference was that teachers could get through to him.  He was sweet to work with.

Gabriel ended up in a different class.  He remained disengaged, but he kept to himself.  He was still a problem, just a different kind of problem.  I never figured out how to work with him.  He was so broken I don’t know if I ever would have.
It’s been four months since I’ve been in that classroom in Korea.  I’ve had time to reflect on my experiences and what I can say is this: the classroom environment absolutely makes or breaks a student’s ability to learn- to see themselves in the space, to feel a part of the lesson, and to trust it enough to add to it.  It’s the teacher’s responsibility to do everything in their power to create that welcoming environment.  I hope I was able to do that for my students.

How it Pays to Buy an $850 Phone

Nine days after I came back to the US, AT&T charged me $121.86.  ‘FOR WHAT?!’ I wondered.  I hadn’t put their SIM card back in my phone.  In fact, the SIM card hadn’t been in my phone for 13 months!

It seemed ridiculous to me that I should have to pay so much for a service I wasn’t using.  When I called to get the details, they said they had put my contract on hold for a year and I should’ve known when it was going to restart, without any warning.  Meanwhile, I had been paying $11 and some change monthly so they could hold onto my number- that’s about $135 for the year, and with no communication about when anything would change and how it would change.

Over a few phone calls I was able to talk them down to charging me only $50, but that still seemed like a lot to pay for something I didn’t want or use.  I could understand if they had sent me a notice giving me a head’s up of when the account would be reactivated, but that never happened.  It was all done passively in the background and I was supposed to be the one on top of it, contacting them to find out.

I have to say I felt cheated.  They did something for me I never asked them to do and they expected me to pay for it.  Why should I?

One of the benefits of living abroad is you experience how other cultures handle things.  Nothing like this happened to me in South Korea.  Even with the language barrier, my cell carrier was straightforward and a breeze.  I didn’t have one surprise.

Even when I traveled abroad, as soon as my plane landed my carrier sent me text messages saying I’d have to use a different network to make calls, send texts, and use data.  The roaming price per unit was spelled out in the text, along with the price to get unlimited roaming and instructions on how to sign up.  The last text said roaming would be automatically shut off at $100/month.  That means when I was in China for 2 weeks and I roamed on occasion, I got a daily update saying how much I had spent on roaming and I knew I’d never exceed $100.  It was considerate and fair.

It was also 3 weeks before AT&T slapped me with a huge bill, unannounced, with no services rendered, which made for a shocking juxtaposition.  It didn’t make sense how the company in Korea could offer great customer service and a superb technical experience (they do have the world’s fastest internet), all for around $70/month and that AT&T couldn’t.  It hit me that in America, large companies don’t do what’s right, they do what they can get away with.

Bejeweled toilet at AT&T (at least in my imagination).

Bejeweled toilet at AT&T (at least in my imagination).

This attitude doesn’t sit well with me.  So much so that I will complain and try to get as far away from it as I can.  So I figured out another option, and it’s way, way better.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Buy whatever phone you want outright (or use your existing unlocked phone)
  2. Set up a Google Voice account and use it as your main number (you can port your current number, if you want)
  3. Turn off cellular data access in your phone’s settings so you automatically use wifi*
  4. Get pay-as-you-go minutes, texting, and data in case of emergencies when you don’t have wifi**

*For step 3, think about where you spend most of your time.  For me I’m typically home or at work.  Since there’s wifi at both places, this means the majority of my web browsing I can do through wifi.  It also means that when I’m out shopping,  killing time on public transportation, or whatever and there’s no wifi, if I want to browse online I’ll dip into my prepaid data.  Knowing that, I typically will choose not to use my phone unnecessarily because I don’t want to pay extra for it.  This has the added benefit of keeping phone addiction at bay.  That said, people’s browsing and spending habits vary, so be self aware and consider what you’ll likely do.  Even if you use a lot more talk, text, and data than me, the savings are so great I expect you’ll still come out ahead with prepaid.

**If you’re concerned about connectivity issues with pay-as-you-go, fear not.  The company I went with, Tracfone, uses the same towers as AT&T, so coverage is exactly the same.

Now, let’s say you do what I do and it turns out you only need 300 MB for web browsing a month from cellular data (because you’re doing the rest of your browsing through wifi).

Here’s the math if you get the latest iPhone 6s Plus, 64G:

Option A: Buy phone, then do pay-as-you-go with Tracfone

iPhone 6s Plus: $849 ($35.38/month)

Service: $300 ($12.50/month for 24 months)

2-Year Total: $1,149 ($47.88/month)

Service Details:

Tracfone Nano SIM card + 1st 90 days access: $40

(includes 360 minutes, 360 texting, 360 MB data)

2 years of minutes & texting:

$120 1 year service, 800 minutes (also doubles all future minutes) & 800 texts (remember, these are for emergency, non-wifi times)

$40 9 months service, 300 minutes & 300 texts

2 years of cellular data:

300 MB/month x 24 months = 7.2 GB/2 years

–> $50/4 GB card x 2 cards = $100

 

Now let’s say you want to go the traditional route with a cell carrier:

Option B: Get new phone with 2-year contract with AT&T

iPhone 6s Plus, 64GB: $400

Monthly Bill: $60 (300 MB) or $70 (2G) or $140 (15G)***

300 MB/month: $1,840 ($76.67.month)

$60/month x 24 months = $1,440 total 2 year charges + $400 phone = $1,840

2 year savings with Tracfone: $1,840 – $1,149 = $691 ($28.79/month)

2 GB/month: $2,080 ($86.67/month)

$70/month x 24 months = $1,680 total 2 year charges + $400 phone = $2,080

2 year savings with Tracfone: $2,080 – $1,149 = $931 ($38.79/month)

15 GB/month: $3,760 ($156.67/month)

$140/month x 24 months = $3,360 total 2 year charges + $400 phone = $3,760

2 year savings with Tracfone: $3,760 – $1,149 = $2,611 ($108.79/month)

***I’m including the 2GB and 15GB pricing options because I suspect most people fall into these categories, or somewhere in between.  I know I used to.

Finally, let’s talk about my own savings.  I decided to keep my old iPhone 4S because it still works pretty well.  Also, when I started the new iPhone wasn’t out yet and I didn’t want to buy a new phone that was about to be an old model.  So, I had no upfront phone cost.

My old plan with AT&T cost me $121.86/month.  If I hadn’t changed anything with them and continued to pay that bill with my old phone, I would have paid $2,924.64 in service fees over 2 years to use an old phone.  Given that the service fees with Tracfone are $300 for the same amount of time, I would have paid $2,624.64 in additional service fees I wouldn’t use with AT&T- that’s equivalent to 3 NEW IPHONES!

So there you have it.  Get rid of traditional service carriers.  They’re like any bad relationship: they’re expensive and come with a ton of bullshit.  You don’t need that.  You have better options.

Speech Police: Stop Telling Women How They Can Talk

About a month ago I noticed several female friends sharing this article on social media.  It’s about how using the word “just” makes people tune you out in the work place.  And the people who use it most?  Women.  So all you ladies out there, cut that word out of your vocabulary if you want to be heard!

I got so annoyed seeing this.  Sure, it was shared in the spirit of trying to help each other out.  It came with comments like, “I had no idea how much I was holding myself back!  I will need to work on this!” It was as if they had just learned that drinking soda was keeping them from losing weight.

The difference between this and hard sciences like food science is that, the way you talk and the way you’re heard is socio-cultural, meaning the society and culture you’re in influence how you speak and how people hear you.  There are no absolutes.  It’s completely based on culture.  And the thing that pissed me off about this is that no one ever shames men for the way they speak, but they openly and comfortably shame women for their speech.

If you don’t believe me try this experiment:

1. Think of 5 annoying speech traits characteristic of women.

2. Think of 5 annoying speech traits characteristic of men.

I bet it was much easier for you to come up with the first list about women, than it was the second list about men.  And I bet you also don’t realize that all the things you listed about women are also true of men, you just don’t pay attention to it.  And the reason you didn’t notice is that in American culture, we think it’s not just okay, but our place, to tell women how they can speak.  We do not do this to men.

So now I’m going to say: Shut up.

If you’re the one policing people in how they talk, shut up.  It is not your place to tell other people how they can talk, just like it’s not your place to tell other people how they can dress, who they can hang out with, and what kind of job they can have.  Speech, like so many other things, is a marker of our identity, and it’s not your place to tell another person how they should craft their own identity.

So…

If I want to use the word “like” often in my speech, I should do that.  And you should shut up.

If I want to use vocal fry, or have a creaky sound to my voice, I should be able to do that.  And you should get used to it, and shut up.

If I feel the need to say I’m sorry to convey understanding and respect for another person, I should be free to comfortable do that.  You should understand that without negative judgment, and shut up.

If I feel like having uptalk, or a rising intonation at the end of my sentences, I should just do it.  You’ll learn to live with it, so shut up.

If I want to use the word, “just” as I’m making a point, I should go for it.  Nike makes a ton of money off of that word, so, just shut up.

If you don’t want to use these parts of speech, that’s fine.  You don’t have to.  The way you talk is your choice, so you’re allowed to not use them.  But the way talk is my choice, and the way other people talk is their choice.  I don’t get to tell them how they’re allowed to or supposed to talk.  You don’t get to either.

But if you think you do, perhaps you should ask yourself why.  Why do you think you get to tell other people how to talk?  Why do you think you should be allowed to control what other people say?  And, why do you only direct your control at women?

Instead of trying to tell other people that the way they talk is bad, you should try understanding what nuanced meaning they’re conveying.  Because when you tell women- or anyone- how the way they speak is bad, you actually expose that you just don’t get it.  It shows you have a limited understanding of and respect for the variety of identities that exist in the world, and that YOU are really the problem.  And the more people try to control others without examining themselves first, the more intolerant we are as a society of differences.  The less tolerant we are, the more problems we have.

So, enough with trying to tell women what they can or cannot say, and with “diagnosing” how they must feel (like they have no confidence) because of what you think you hear, and instead try harder to understand and appreciate the variety of styles you do hear.  I guarantee the effort will broaden your horizons, deepen your understanding of other people, and get you respecting them for who they really are.

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