"Women are the guardians of continuity. If the hearth moves, they move with it. Remember, it is the gypsy women who keep their men on the road."

~"Boomerang Love," Jimmy Buffett

Donation Japan

Initially this blog was designed to be an outlet for me to share some of the pictures and stories from my travels, and I think it's fulfilled that function. But Margaritaville always carried a stronger significance to me. In addition to being a place to get your shakes and new tattoos, it was a search for something profound. Something sublime. That could be a place, a feeling, a person, a memory, or a piece of art. Obviously, since I'm back in my hometown of Arlington, Texas, home of 3 amusement parks (if you include Jerryworld), 2 professional sport stadiums, and 0 museums, it's unlikely that I'll find it through my typical avenues of adventure travel. Naturally, I've had to find other ways to keep myself occupied, which I have done to great success, as demonstrated by my recent absence of posts. At a later time, I might share some of the highlights of the last few with you, but for now, I feel there is a more pressing issue.

As mentioned above, Margaritaville is about my search for meaning. In my sophomore year of college, I took an Honors seminar entitled "In Search of Meaning" --a humanities course that rolled literature, religious studies, philosophy, and ethics into 3 credits. The reading list included a variety of texts throughout history exploring some fundamental questions about our basic humanity: excerpts from the Bible, the Torah, and Confucious, poetry from Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, seminal novels such as Siddhartha and Stranger. Obviously, it was a very ambitious, wide-sweeping course, filled with lively discussion and thought-provoking questions posed by a group of smart, opinionated liberal arts students who wanted other liberal arts students to hear their smart opinions. Luckily, keeping us all grounded was the infuriatingly brilliant, Dr. Michael Adams. He was a simple man who loved his wife and his dog, and he had a penchant for making absurd metaphors that juxtaposed his academic expertise with his Central Texas upbringing (ex: "Your essay looks like you sprinkled commas with a salt shaker"). Midway through the semester, he offered us the option of replacing one of our literary essays with one describing our experience doing a service project, the lesson being that one can also find beauty and serenity through selfless giving. At a school that literally boasts an ivory tower as its landmark, this type of real world application was both unexpected and refreshing. I haven't seen Dr. Adams since he hugged me at my graduation, but I've never forgotten that lesson. It may not necessarily manifest itself in overt ways,  but it has played a tangible, instrumental part in all of my major life decisions.

It's for this reason, I feel like this blog is an appropriate venue for me to share a very different side project: Donation Japan. In light of the tsunami, one of my good friends took it upon himself to establish a charity for the victims in Japan. Since I had some prior training in disaster relief, he asked me to write a post for the site. Of course I was happy to oblige, although what started as a simple solicitation for monetary donations quickly transformed into an introspective reflection on the act of giving itself. Here is an excerpt:
 As tragic as the tsunami was, we cannot forget the families in our own backyards that are displaced from disasters such as fires, floods, tornadoes, power outages, and winter storms...Large-scale tragedies often move us to generous giving, and rightfully so, but every day millions suffer less visible tragedies such as hunger, homelessness, disease, and humanitarian conflicts. 
The full blog post can be viewed on the Donation Japan website. If the spirit moves you, you can also make an instant online donation to the International Red Cross. All proceeds will be used for disaster relief efforts in the region.

Freedom to Fail: A Global Perspective

Recently, I submitted a video entry to the New Threats to Freedom scholarship competition, in response to Michael Goodwin’s “Freedom to Fail.” He claims that “entitlement mania” will foster dependence and complacency in the United States, a topic of great personal interest, since I recently lived in a leftist country that most Americans would describe as a welfare state.

I have described my campus life in Argentina as “UC Berkeley on amphetamines.” Banners and posters decrying capitalism and demanding revolution adorned the entire building. Classes were regularly canceled for indeterminable strikes and protests. Whenever we did hold class discussions, the students inevitably defaulted to the government’s failures to solve x-problem, whether it be air pollution, traffic accidents, or obesity. A blatant example of this complex was the family that calculated that it would be more profitable to produce more children and receive extra government assistance than to seek actual employment. Nonetheless, it is interesting that for all of the rampant “entitlement mania,” Argentina’s education system did not exhibit the social promotion that Goodwin describes in American schools. Unlike the US, their test culture remains rigorous and demanding. Failure is not only the norm, but expected. These stringent measures ensure that students who successfully complete their programs are not just proficient, but experts at their subjects. On the other hand, having an unlimited fully-subsidized education allows students to fail with relatively few reprisals, aside from the tedium of repeating courses year after year. With little incentives (or alternately, little consequences), it is not uncommon for “chronic students” to spend as many as 10 years completing their education, while producing minimal social output in the meantime.

Obviously, the US will not be adopting that type of mentality any time soon, nor should we. I would suggest, however, that we turn our sights towards burgeoning countries such as Singapore or South Korea whose values may be more in sync with the American Protestant ethic. Unlike your traditional “up-and-comers” China and India whose meteoric growth can be primarily attributed to industrialization, these countries are already developed. Currently, they are experiencing surging entrepreneurship and social enterprise, especially among young people. Whereas the economic crisis in the US has resulted in Goodwin’s alleged “flat earth,” these countries are thriving with new firms and innovation.

My theory is that a major factor is the existence of a robust public healthcare system that balances reasonable price controls with private practices and individual choice of providers. Limited social intervention does not necessarily have to be at odds with individual freedom, it can also reinforce it. This safety net (literal insurance) would grant citizens the freedom to fail at individual pursuits without failing their livelihood.  For this reason (and please take note of the many conditional modifiers to follow), I believe that an intelligent, restricted social infrastructure with a very focused scope could be effective in motivating people to take more risks. Nevertheless, putting these measures in place will by no means guarantee success, thereby keeping the freedom to fail intact.

My full response video can be seen below: 

Ask Jeeves - He Makes Dreams Come True

When I hearken back to my days as a mentor at TIP and my CELTA training in Costa Rica, I have fond memories of the ridiculous trainings and activities we used to do. As a 20-something college student, I have found myself doing icebreakers with toothpicks and fat smelly markers, building Macgyver-styled devices with rubberbands and legos, and reciting jazz chants to demonstrate past participle. Interestingly, one of the recurring themes that appeared at both jobs was the “criticism sandwich.” The general idea is that when you need to correct or critique a pupil, you should cushion the criticism between two pieces of positive encouragement to soften the blow. It would go something like this: You bring up a really good point. I’m not sure it’s the best solution, but you’re definitely not a complete idiot.

Get it? The ego-stroking is the “bread.” Cute, right? It sounds cheesy, and it makes the students sound like fragile, sensitive butterflies, but you wouldn’t believe what a successful strategy it was. I suppose it’s just human nature to like ending with a positive note, almost like closure. Well, if you scroll down a bit, you’ll see some traces of a Negative Nancy. Those of you know that know me well know that it’s just not my nature to be a complainer. In truth, it was always my intention to write a 3-part series about buses, and I was literally saving the best for last. I know I already shared my “good” experiences, but this trip wins in every category.

Interestingly, the best bus ride I took in Argentina happened to be the last one of our epic trip, and it mostly happened by chance. There were a combination of factors at play – both of us were slightly under the weather, we were emotionally drained, and we really didn’t have any desire to hang around the Buenos Aires station any longer than we needed to. Since it was such a high-volume station, there were frequent buses to Tucumán, and we just bought tickets for the next bus available. It just happened to be the first-class bus on Vosa, one of Argentina’s luxury fleets.


I remember stepping onto the bus, and being greeted by a smiling young gentleman in a maroon vest, holding a small basket of mints and hard candies. He was going to be our attendant for the duration of the trip. I don’t remember his name, but I secretly wish it were Jeeves (linguistically implausible, because in Spanish, it would be pronounced ‘hee-vez’), because that’s exactly how bloody accommodating he was the entire ride.

Anyway, we headed to the upper floor as usual sank into our plush leather seats, and like little children testing out a new toy, immediately, we pulled the lever. We had no intention of actually sleeping right away, we just wanted to see what “class” our seats were. Fortunately, as an ejecutivo bus, all of the seats were the full cama, reclining back to an orgasmic 180º. Moreover, as the bus pulled out of the parking lot, we realized that there were less than 10 passengers on the top floor. It was going to be a good night. But it was still early, and we had several hours of reading, watching movies, and killing time before they would turn down the lights.

I shouldn’t have doubted, though, because Jeeves had everything covered. A couple hours into the ride, he pranced up the stairs, clapped his palms together, and gleefully asked if we were ready for dinner. Uhm… chyeah. I suppose on civilized buses, we must observe the formalities. He nodded as if to say, “Very good sir,” and proceeded to snap our tray tables into place -- the tray tables had attachments that connected them to the ends of the arm rests, creating tables, but essentially trapping us into our seats. As a young, 21st-century, independent-minded woman, I felt capable of matching Slot-A to Slot-B, but ever the gentleman, Jeeves insisted. It made me feel a like a baby in a high chair.

Selene hungry! Nom nom nom.
Absently, I wondered if they had any alternative arrangements for our more heavyset passengers, but then I remembered that we weren’t in the United States, and Kevin Smith wasn’t likely to take the Vosa bus.

Our meals were brought to us, vacuum wrapped per usual. Before we could get disappointed by the seemingly paltry portion-sizes of the servings (although they were still much better than any other bus fare we’d eaten), Jeeves was quick to inform us that these were just the appetizers. After we finished them, he brought out the hot meals which were wrapped in foil. There was something very satisfying about peeling off the foil and being bathed in steam. At that point, I was so impressed by the service, I would not have been surprised if they actually had a functioning oven somewhere in the galley. Next, it was time for drinks. In true unnecessarily cute fashion, Jeeves was carrying all the drink options in a wicker basket, as if picking your beverage from a basket was somehow classier. Aside from your typical fountain drink options (water, Sprite, Coca-cola, etc), there was also wine. Uh-oh, dilemma. The white wine would have complemented my entrée very well, but I wasn’t sure if the wine cost extra like it did on planes. Letting myself get wrapped up in the sheer spectacle of the entire experience thus far, I suddenly worried about making a social faux pas by asking whether it was free. To avoid any shameful acts of impropriety, I took the safe route and asked for a soda. In hindsight, I don’t know what I was so worried about… as if Jeeves would have cast me off the bus for asking a perfectly legitimate question. I’m not even sure who I was worried about judging, since there were only 4 other people within earshot – one of whom was my roommate, and the other 3 were French students who didn’t understand Spanish. At any rate, I allowed myself to indulge in my silly Austenite melodrama. That is, until I heard one of the French students behind me utter one of the few Spanish words she knew: vino. Chancing a glance behind me, I saw Jeeves graciously pour while the girl giggled. There was no exchange of currency, no transaction. Damn. It was like that episode of Family Guy where Peter ordered a salad, but really wanted soup. “But it was too late.”

With the timing of a competent waiter, after we all had an appropriate amount of time to nosh on our dinners but before we had cleared our plates, Jeeves came by again with his magical basket to ask if we wanted a refill. Gasp. Did I dare? Switch beverages? I decided to press my luck. I was feeling trepidation, but I played it cool and asked if I could try the wine. Jeeves didn’t even blink as he happily poured me a new cup. Success! Incidentally, the wine tasted awful, but I was in such a good mood at that point, I didn’t care. When he came around a second time, I had another one. It helped make the movie we were watching, a dubbed version of “Leap Year,” seem much more touching and well-acted than it probably was.

As to be expected, the pacing and service of this ride was impeccable. I’m fairly certain Jeeves came up and down the aisle a couple more times with more drink refills, but I had to turn him down. After dessert (yes, there was dessert!) they turned down the lights, but for those of us that weren’t quite ready for sleep, they had the courtesy to put on another movie, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” The cheap wine could not have been more appreciated.

As the credits started to roll, I think most of us were ready to turn in for the night. Ever the attentive innkeeper, Jeeves made one last run-through of the aisles. I assumed he was checking on the blanket/pillow situation, so imagine my surprise when he asked, “Whiskey?” Come again? The confusion must have shown on my face, because Jeeves resorted to pantomime, throwing his head back as if sipping a shot. Seriously? A nightcap? They were really offering me free liquor. I have never felt more bourgie. I felt like I needed a maroon smoking jacket to go with my brandy. It was one of those rags-to-riches “Pretty Woman” moments where I didn’t know what to do with the escargot pliers. It was like the first time I was in a European hotel and saw a bidet. I felt so undeservedly privileged, that I was too embarrassed to accept. That’s right. I was shamed into turning down free booze. I went to sleep feeling slightly dirty… both because I was being treated like a character in a Fitzgerald novel and also because it had probably been a couple days since our last shower. But the pillows were so damn comfortable and squishy that it didn’t make a difference.

The next morning, Jeeves was up bright and early. Like a doting mother, he wanted to make sure we were up and at ‘em, since we were nearing our destination. To gently wake us up, he offered us our hot, steaming caffeinated beverage of choice. It was just like a Folger’s commercial. Sure enough, shortly afterward, there was breakfast. Yes, it was an Argentinean breakfast, but the thought was nice. And either way, we were getting close to Tucumán. And as we rolled onto the platform, Jeeves gave us a little gift box full of treats to send us off.

It hung on our wall for the rest of the year.