In which Katherine Moves to England

So, it turns out that moving is stressful, and finding an apartment with only three days to do it is stressful, and realizing that the landlord is never going to take this horrendous lamp out of your living space because he’s impossible to contact is… well, stressful isn’t quite right. Horrifying?

But there is an antidote to the horror! And the antidote is the fact that Birmingham has the largest German Christmas market outside of Germany! It was a glittering wonderland with amazing food and a German performer singing karaoke Backstreet Boys at the top of his lungs, so what more could you ask for? Better photos, maybe, but that’ll have to wait until my next  visit.

Other photo highlights include weird plants, a successful British baking adventure, and a tiny taste of the best restaurant in the city (so far). Next time? I’ve got to check out these famous Birmingham canals I’ve been hearing about.

But also, NaNoWriMo is happening this month, so I can’t be wasting valuable words on the blog. More to come, probably!

An Ode to Halloween

After a long week of apartment hunting, the less terrifying terror of Halloween was a relief. Of course, I forgot it was Halloween at all until I was approached at 8pm with the hopeful, “So do you want to carve pumpkins?”

Unfortunately, pumpkins vacate every store in the area after 5PM on the 31st, so our run to the shop came up short. Fortunately, we weren’t that picky about our choice of hard-shelled fruits/vegetables.

Is there a better holiday than a low-pressure invitation to do some fun, out-of-the-ordinary craft projects with people you like? I think NOT! Here is the bragging rights to our beautiful Halloween Squash-o-Lantern and Jack-o-Melon, perfectly designed to scare away neighborhood demons and feed neighborhood squirrels.

So, happy Halloween, and happy All Saints Day!

Backlog: In which Katherine takes a journey to the West

When I got back from China, I got the glorious opportunity to hang with my besties and family, so here’s a backlog from that trip.

Wondering why there are so many flower pictures? It’s genetic.

 

In Which Katherine stares at her own face for hours!

66% of these are self-portraits, because 1) I’m self-obsessed and 2) it seems weird to stare at someone else’s face for this amount of time.

In which Katherine decides to make this whole blog a photo dump!

Because some addictions can be managed and some cannot, I no longer have a Facebook profile. But this gets rather in the way of things, because how am I supposed to efficiently share my world-class phOtOgraPHy with people that doesn’t include a miserable email chain? Before you say it, Instagram is not an option. I had a hard enough time tearing myself away from a website where my high school classmates pretend they’re living the lives of Friends characters, and distant acquaintances post vaguely threatening messages about race in America. You think I could handle a site dedicated to pictures of puppies and food?

Clearly, the problem is not me. The problem is other people. I will solve this problem the only way I know how; ignore other people and get validation exclusively from people who already like me enough to scroll through my photos. (It’s my parents, this blog is now just for my parents). I will maybe post my pictures sometimes.

Here are the pictures from CO/DC, a great last vacation in the great country of America, with great ladies!

In which Katherine finally gives an update about a vacation: Cambodia!

I preface this post with the admission that while I have tried to do my research, I am no expert on Cambodian history and before you quote me, this should be fact-checked with someone who isn’t a random American travelling through a foreign country for six days with access to Wikipedia. 

Sometime in high school, while scrolling through my ever-present and ever-important Facebook feed, I encountered a story about a mass shooting, and then some inane ‘personality quiz’. I wondered if that was what life was like; horror and triviality interspersed, both receding quickly into the distance and replaced with fresh horror and triviality. This kind of deadening of my ability to distinguish importance from passive interest is one of the reasons I got rid of my Facebook account, but that is neither here nor there.

 

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The wall where I currently post photos

This is not the most cheerful way to begin a post about a delightful vacation, but I’m having a hard time distilling my short time in Cambodia into a coherent tone. It was alternatively a trivial distraction, awe-inspiring monuments, and a reminder of overwhelming cruelty.  

 

Is food considered a monument? It was certainly inspiring.

 

I did not go to the Killing Fields where over 1 million people are buried, nor did I visit the museums commemorating the victims of the Khmer Rouge. I had the pleasure of staying at a very fancy hotel (a Christmas gift) where waiters at breakfast pulled out my chair for me like I was rich or something, and where I got to eat beef lok lak and drink by the pool. I also had the pleasure of hearing fantastic music performed by those who had lost legs to land mines, raising money for charities. I was staying in Siem Reap rather than Phnom Penh; it is primarily a city of tourism based around much older history than the violence of the 1970s.

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Much older history

Angkor Wat is such an incredible display of design, manpower, and international cooperation in restoration that it does the whole thing an injustice to read about it without spending days marching through the heat, exploring. So I will force you to do the injustice, until you decide that Cambodia is your next destination, and you can right the wrong you have committed by not seeing Angkor Wat in person.

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This gives you absolutely no sense of scale.

 

 This is where I spent my holiday, awed and violently sweaty. Angkor Wat itself has its own history of violence; Informational signs and guides inform visitors that after the king who had the temple built died, invading Cham people sacked the city. The signs describe the invaders as the ‘traditional enemies of the Khmer people (they leave unmentioned that the Khmer Rouge went out of their way to target ethnic Cham people and other minorities). 

 But then, wonder of wonders! The next king had a new temple built, and a new city, and more and more temples until the whole of the ruins encompasses many more kilometres than can be explored in a single day. There are miles and miles of stone crafted into carvings and bas-reliefs. The symmetry and grace of the architecture is unrivalled by anything I have ever seen. And who doesn’t want to be smiled down on by a series of huge, benevolent gods?

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The newer, decidedly more awesome temple at Bayon

 

The signs also informed me that Angkor Wat is a unique ancient site in that it was never really abandoned. Although it was originally built as a Hindu temple, its purpose changed with the times. Today, it is primarily a Buddhist site.

 I found that it was also unique in that there are very few ropes or prescribed paths. Unlike most sites, people are not herded in a line to watch the conveyer belt of history scroll past. Visitors are allowed to wander more or less uninhibited in most of the temples. That alone is a testament to the restoration efforts of the site, originally headed by some impressed Frenchmen and now upheld and continued by Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese, and German teams (and more, probably). The restorers have done their work well; there isn’t a lot of fear that massive stones are going to collapse on your head if you step past a rope.

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Except maybe here, where the tree has decided it could be a better roof than the roof.

 

Where the trees have taken over, it was a deliberate artistic choice on the part of the restorers; Ta Phrom (or the Tomb Raider temple) has been left largely as it was found, in the middle of a slow natural disaster. Where heads have been stolen from statues by art thieves and looters, only about half have been restored and replaced. Others are left to ruin, a testament to the ravages of time and humanity.

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This one has been left by the ravages of sleepiness 

 

Upon leaving the ruins, Siem Reap is a wonderland of 50 cent beer and scorpions on sticks, tuk-tuks, lotus farms, and cheap tourist night-market goods. And then on the nearby Tonlé Sap lake, a whole village—church, temple, school, basketball court and all—floats on the water.

 

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Houses on rafts! 

 

Siem Reap is a tourist city now, a destination so popular even with families that it has actual white children. (I have seen perhaps three white children since arriving in China two years ago, and they look so strange). Wikipedia tells me that perhaps 50% of the jobs in the city are tourism related. I can only hope that this influx provides enough income to locals to enhance the city and the temples, and not so many that the place is overrun and destroyed. In any case, I wholeheartedly recommend Cambodia as a place of wonder and reflection, and a place to get a cheap drink.

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In Which the Gap between Test Results and Actual Ability is an Overwhelming Industrial Meltdown

In one of those language classes in high school or college, a teacher handed out some paper about how language is like a house. As a baby, you start out with all the materials for all the languages in all the word, and you learn to build your house from the speech you hear. But you don’t actually need all the materials for all the languages in all the world; your parents and teachers and friends never did anything with all those [ɕ] or [ɸ] sounds, so why would you? And one day, you look up and realise that those unused materials are all gone. This, if you’re American, is usually the day you step into your first Spanish class and discover you’ll never be able to roll your [r], no matter how hard you blow. A native Spanish speaker will always look at your Spanish house and know that you constructed it with the wrong materials, even if you do a very good imitation with the sounds you can still make.

Speaking Italian and Spanish and French feels is like trying to distinguish something through a curtain. The more I learn, the sheerer the curtain, until I can squint through and make out shapes. English is seeing the world with the gauziest of veils (no view is unobscured).

In my Spanish house, I may not be able to pull back those curtains completely, but I can arrange things to let in a little more light. The details may be slipping, the floor may be slanted and dusty, but the structure if sturdy and familiar. My Italian is a small apartment. It’s cozy and sweet, each trinket and bit of furniture a treasure to be examined from time to time, even if no Italian would mistake this home for theirs. My French is an impractical museum, where I like to go to laugh at the comparatively poor job I’ve done in maintaining it.  My Chinese is barely a shack.

Chinese begins not with a curtain, but with a complex set of tiles meant to be arranged into a mosaic- tiny multicolored tiles that are slippery and often indistinguishable from one another unless you’ve stared at them your whole life. Put two together, and you most likely have a pattern that isn’t just incorrect, but unintelligible. Select the wrong tone, the difference between ivory and cream, and no following tile can be placed at all.

My whole Chinese house is rubble; I try to lay the tiles down, but mine are all the wrong shape and the roof is leaking while I scramble around conversations with taxi drivers and waitresses. Every hour I study is pouring over a blueprint. I hold every tile up to the light and try to twist it into place while my tongue mangles words. I run to my Chinese neighbour’s house to inspect her floor, but by the time I get back to my own, I can’t remember if her borders were teal or turquoise. I try to speak and receive blank looks for three or four repetitions of the same sentence until my companion lights up and says the exact same thing I just said (as far as I can tell), and nods in smug understanding until I try to talk again.

Even so, there’s a bright little mosaic taking shape in the corner, behind all the slapdash construction equipment. It’s mostly composed of words for foods and various types of ghosts.

Fitcher’s Bird: Part 5

And here we come to the last of the Fitcher’s Birds! If you have any more fairy tales that could be told more sarcastically, I’d appreciate any suggestions. This was fun, and I update faster (read: ever) when I have fun things to write.

Also, I went to all my classes today, which felt like quite the feat because everything is exhausting. The bus driver was playing Hamilton, and that kind of made up for it.


This guy shows up at my house one day, just waltzes up to my doorstep like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and steals away my two sisters. I haven’t actually seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but I’m just assuming that the Child Catcher is like this guy. He’s all sneaky about it, asking for bread, and my sweet sisters turn to grab food from the kitchen because they’re both basically Cinderella, and he stuffs them in a bag like they’re groceries. It’s just not a nice way to treat a person. He comes back for me a few days later, all, Do you have any bread for a poor old man? and I let that bastard grab me, so I can find out what happened. I’ve got magic but my sisters don’t, so he’s probably not expecting trouble from me. Continue reading Fitcher’s Bird: Part 5

Fitcher’s Bird: Take 4

I actually kind of like these exercises. It’s a little weird that different characters can make the same set of events happen, but it’s been fun to play with. I ate an unholy amount of peanut butter today, and am just trying to finish some homework before my professors decide that they hate me after all. Ah, this is the life.

This one is longer than the others have been, and I’m not sure the causation works properly but I also don’t care at all. Enjoy!


I am really such a ditz that I didn’t notice my sisters had been missing until the same weirdo kidnapped me, too. Everyone says that I’m a bit dumb, and I guess they’re right. I got stuck in his old mansion, and all I could think was, well that was why my brothers had been so on edge all week. No one tells me anything. The guy, though, the sorcerer or whatever, he was pretty nice even though he did kidnap me. He told me I could go basically anywhere in the house, and to keep this huge egg safe, which was weird, but not any weirder than some of the things my brothers used to trick me into doing. I think he expected me to carry the egg around, but I definitely would have dropped it, so I snuggled it down on a pillow and went off to explore. Maybe he was hatching a dragon or something. That’d be pretty cool, to be honest. Continue reading Fitcher’s Bird: Take 4

Fitcher’s Bird: Take 3

My sitting on the couch has progressed from ‘vague comfort and much needed  stability’ to ‘fidgeting all the damn time because my legs want to stand and walk around but my torso insists that moving at all would be a stupid, terrible idea’. This is a special kind of misery, I think. But I can eat food again mostly normally, so, yay! Still no coffee; it messes with my insides. We made R2-D2 sugar cookies in here, and they taste like processed heaven.

Here’s a completely unedited page of text for you. Look, you’re meant to have already read the story, so no I have not helped with plot here. Enjoy!


 

We got a code 207 on Wednesday night.  I was on call. Two girls had been kidnapped, part of a string of missing persons reports. Difference was, these two were my sisters. I went undercover, didn’t take long to suss out what had happened. The kidnapper was a real piece of work, going on about forbidden rooms and eggs. I waited until he was gone, then took the key ring and cased the house. Continue reading Fitcher’s Bird: Take 3