Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Adventures of the B.L.G.

That's Beautiful Lips Girl to you.

There must have been a lot of people praying for me last week. Just saying that I'm pretty amazed I managed to make it back to Spain alive.


I returned from Fes, Morocco (where I was unfortunately labeled the B.L.G. by a loiterer outside of our hostel; call me that and die) on Saturday evening after five days and four nights, and I would say 90% of the trip was the scariest, stupidest thing I've ever done in my life. For the sake of my mother's heart, I shant reproduce all that went down (it was sketchy to the furthest extreme), but here are a few nuggets along with highlights of the day that turned the entire trip, and maybe even my life, around.

From the minute we arrived at the Barcelona Girona airport and took note of the demographics of the check-in line, we should have known we were in for it. Both long lines consisted exclusively of Moroccan men with the exception of five women, all besmocked in heavy, full-body black veils that left only their eyes uncovered. My friend Elise and I glanced at each other wide-eyed in nervousness and sheepishly attempted to ignore the fact that we really had NO idea what we were doing.

We had only booked a hotel for our first night, intending to scout out something cheaper once we arrived in Fes. The hostel we eventually found for about 7 euros a night was, well, only worth about 7 euros, if not less. It was actually so putrid that Wednesday to Saturday, I only showered once and pooped twice (both on Wednesday morning). My foremost thoughts every morning as I awoke was "How long can a person go without pooing before dying?" Great way to start off the day, I know. I was sure I caught about 80 diseases and infections from that living environment, and the prospects of imminent death by internal turmoil was a constant psychological plague as well.

But bathroom unease and all other shadiness aside, Morocco turned out to be somewhat of a positive venture after all. Though Thursday brought the scariest (no joke) moments of my life, Friday turned the spectrum on its head. We got to take cooking classes with a Moroccan chef and I can honestly say it was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced.

Lahcen, a friendly, humble chef from the south of Morocco, met us at our hotel in the morning and proceeded to take us to the souk, an open-air marketplace of fruits, vegetables, meat, and a wide array of other edible delicacies. He led us around, taught us how to pick the freshest produce, and gave us small cultural lessons along the way. We stocked up on a plethora of goods, including a chicken which I killed!!!!!, before taxi-ing it to a renovated palace from the 14th century.

There we were served Moroccan mint tea and pastries on the rooftop terrace grandly overlooking the old medina of Fes before diving headlong into kitchen duties. We then spent the following few hours chopping, dicing, peeling, sauteeing, wrapping, stirring...you name it, learning the ways of Moroccan cuisine. Together with Lahcen and two other ladies (the sweetest women you will ever meet), we crafted a delectable spread of chicken tagine, candied artichoke hearts with oranges and preserved lemons, cheese and olive briouwates, and an apple cream pastilla; seriously a feast fit for kings.

We partook of the fruits of our collective labor in the fancy palace on a fancy tablecloth and fancy plates. My taste buds all died and went to heaven the food was so delicious. Wow. (For all that Morocco was not, I will say the gastronomy was consistently amazing.) AND there was a clean bathroom, so I knew I could thoroughly enjoy my meal. Ahem.

After the delicious repas, Elise and I set to work mopping the floor, washing the dishes, and scrubbing the table covers soaking in bleach, unthinkingly shocking the kitchen crew beyond words. It was no big deal, if anything, merely the natural thing to do, but Lahcen and the two Fatimas were stunned. We were immediately afforded access into the inner sanctum of acceptance, where Lahcen promptly offered us permanent jobs and the Fatimas invited us to their "family" meal, which apparently has never happened to any guest in the year and a half history of cooking classes.

We crowded around a heaping tray of cous cous and vegetables, the traditional dish for lunch on Fridays (Muslim day of prayer, equivalent to our Sundays) squatting on small straw stools on the kitchen floor and dug in. Language barriers presented no obstacle as we all joked and laughed and ate until the point of bursting. The tight-knit family environment was so heart-warming and certainly did its work in transforming the trip. We went from swearing never to return to the continent to figuring out when we could logically go back for an extended stay.

Man. It was incredible and this blog entry does it no justice. I mean, I wrote 15 pages front and back in my journal throughout the entire trip, so...yeah. If you remember and are still interested when I come back to California, I will let you read all about this eventful African adventure. Until then though, I still have five and a half months left on this side of the world, and more immediately, finals and papers to slog through these next few weeks. Studying and productivity currently beckon, entonces so long for now.

More photos:
Morocco 1
Morocco 2

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Isaic Imagination

"All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations."-Isaiah 65:2.

"Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years,
he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them;
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.
They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune,
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call, I will answer;
while they are still speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent's food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.'
says the Lord."
-Isaiah 65:17-25

I really love the end of this book and its messages of hope and holy justice. There is such poetry and promise in God's assurances, and it's the beauty of the prospects not simply the eloquent phrasing that evokes such a sense of joy. A sense of calm that trivializes all the passing things in life and magnifies the significance of eternity to its proper infinity. Suddenly the stresses of daily life melt temporarily away and I feel the warm caress of a Father who makes life truly worth living. Gone are the insecurities, the fears, the uncertainties. In their stead is a peace that transcends the understanding of a mere soul. A mere, insignificant, unworthy soul somehow graced with the freedom and promise of a glorious forever. Mmm. Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hello, Goodbye, and Merry New Year's

The shoreline of Sitges.

With heavy hearts, we bid adieu to our last beloved visitor Sunday evening. Sigh. Parting is such sweet sorrow, except minus the "sweet." This was one of the best Christmas breaks ever. The time spent with some of my closest friends has resurfaced all my yearnings for San Diego and the sharp transition back to the reality that is daily life has found me longing for home all over again. But seeing as I still have a whole six months left before my fateful return, I shant allow myself to get too carried away in a thought process that I will most likely regret when I am back in San Diego. As such, [insert abrupt subject change].

Pardon my tactlessness, but it has been too long a day to preoccupy myself with smooth transitions. Forging on, I believe a few big thank yous are in order:

Grace E. Lee. Watching all your ridiculous YouTube and Facebook videos online these days always evoke the same thought: how did I get to live with such a celebrity last year? What am I? A big deal or something? (Clearly not, seeing as I [accidentally] gave Grace moldy yams for Christmas last year. Oops...) Thank you and your cohort Garrett so much for the incredible care package. The card, the notes, the jokes, the koala loofah, the stickers, the can of chili, Mac n' Cheese, the Jelly Belly's and travel-size dispenser, the chocolates...I can't even list everything, but YOU ARE THE MOST AMAZING KOREAN POSER WE KNOW. Put your stunna shades on and give yourself 37 million Gold Stars. Also, Happy Belated 21st Birthday, Gracers! We're sad we couldn't be there for the cereal extravaganza but we hope it was amazing!

Our ERC "Freshmen." (Sorry, you'll always be dear little freshmen to us.) Gracie, Carla, Jess, Alicia, Meg, Pau, and Jon, I almost cried digging through your treasure trove and reading all your letters, which are now all hung up around our room. Thank you thank you thank you for your incredible thoughtfulness, heartfelt words, drawings, and edible goodies galore (which we may or may not have already eaten most of our way through...ahem). You have been ceaseless blessings from the very minute we met each of you and while we miss your little faces terribly, we trust that God is doing some astounding things in your respective lives and ministries (I clearly speak for both Sierra and myself). We're praying for all of you and can't wait until our next Skype rendezvous!

P.S. Sierra also says she can't WAIT to grow her boyfriend.

Benedict and Neo-san. Where do I even begin? First of all, thanks for braving the horse stampedes to bring some good ol' American Christmas joy to this foreign side of the world. I don't think I would have made it through this year without going home during Christmas and definitely would not have been able to come back to Spain had I gone home for the holidays, so in a nice long run-on sentence that I hope makes some semblance of sense, thank you for coming. Secondly, thanks also for lugging our beasts of baggage all the way here. Minus a few particular articles of clothing, ahem, it was happiness in a bag. Clearly, I can't include everything we're grateful to you kids for here, but among many, many things, thanks for the ridiculous adventures, the delicious food, the copious laughs, and the great company. Definite good times for the history books. Hurrah.

P.S. Neo, get well soon! Ben, you too! Sierra as well. And...me also. Congratulations on winning aggregate immunity? Between the four of us, we now have the disease spectrum entirely covered. Woopee.

Kelby. I think anyone who brings us onesie pajamas that fit uncannily well is automatically counted among the top three superstars of friends (just wait for the pictures, folks). Your timely arrival also lulled us out of post-Christmas depression and provided the long-awaited balance of girl-time we've been highly anticipating all year. It was sheer joy seeing you after such a long absence and celebrating New Year's with your white coat and lack of grape eating abilities. Thanks for also being a middle (wo)man bringer of presents and such delights. For you and your truffles and your Fig Newtons and your impeccable taste in sleepwear (and your priceless friendship and your Trader Joe's chocolates and your forgiving our sleeping way too much and...), we are eternally grateful.

P.S. Please don't study abroad again next fall! :)

Sam Yee, Say Yee, Cristina, and Stephanie. You cannot imagine the realms of joy that were reached today when I found your caja in my mailbox after a particularly rough day. I felt like a miner that struck ultimate gold in '49 as the bags of Cheez-its came spilling out of the box. And the riches didn't stop there! Gracias for always thinking of me so generously; you surely brightened my day...and provided dinner. Also, your adorable pictures are on my wall and your letters shall be saved in my journal to be read over and over and over again. Hope you can all come visit soon!

Parentals. Our beloved parents, thank you for packing our enormous bags of home essentials and...non-essentials. Si and I are both pretty sad we didn't get to come home this break, but thanks for sending us all varieties of San Diegan treasures and for financing our frolics about the European continent. We are indebted to you and infinitely appreciative for a million more reasons than one. Can't wait until you comeeeeeee.

And to everyone else who contributed to our weight gain over the past month, thank you! Seriously. I haven't eaten this much in the last six months combined. Foof. And I'm pretty ecstatic about how stocked our cupboards still are. Yessss. The upcoming weeks of finals are going to be appropriately snack-a-licious! Speaking of finals, I'm about to be sucked into a vortex of death. Here is so long and goodbye should we never meet again...

A small smattering of pictures from our week with Kelby:
Hope your Christmases and New Year's were just swell!
I miss you all oh-so-much!!!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

What the hell are those? Cantelopes.

wow. Wow. WOW. New Year's in Barcelona was quite the New Year's. (I wish I could post pictures, but someone neglected to bring their uploading dock for their camera.....)

Kelby, Sierra, and I tromped down to Placa Catalunya with the Sunday Night Dinner crew, armed with our red underwear, green grapes, and bottle of Cava. It was a little anti-climactic as we somehow missed the countdown. Damn. We attempted to cram the grapes down our throats (only to find distracting seeds to our dismay). Then between the three of us, we chugged a whole bottle of champagne in ten minutes. That was....fun. Eh.

People were spraying champagne everywhere, throwing bottles into the middle of the street (Kelby chucked ours and it simply bounced but we blame it on the quickly approaching cops), chanting a variety of ditties, growling New Year's greetings, and causing all varieties of ruckus about town. It was quite the scene.

We ambled down a packed Las Ramblas, wandering like mice in a maze with no cheese at the end (credit goes to Kelby for that stunning analogy). To our delight, our favorite gelato place was open! What better way to start off a year than with gelato? Ice cream was followed by a wait in a ridiculously long line to use a nasty bathroom in Burger King (it wasn't nearly as disgusting as the public toilette I was forced to use in Paris--gak).

I have never seen such an inordinately high concentration of plastered people in one place. Even after being in Spain for almost six months, I was astounded. Walking back towards the metro station was almost like playing Jetman, except instead of pillars, cow pies, or blood platelets, it was more like avoid the Creepies. A dangerous game considering my extreme inherent competitiveness and the vulgar creepiness of the Creepers. Fortunately, a brisk walking pace and Kelby's knife eventually got us back home relatively unscathed. Foof.

Apparently, another New Year's tradition in Spain is to welcome the sunrise with churros con chocolate. Much to Kelby's chagrin, we welcomed not only the sunrise but also a good portion of the day with sweet sleep. Heh. Partaking in such custom shall have to wait another 365 days, I suppose. Now I'm just rambling. 'Tis enough. I need to get back to journaling. I have a lot to process, or so they tell me.

One last note, I feel I am expected to give my two cents about our previous traveling adventures, but as Ben said, there is just too much to tell. His riveting account shall have to suffice for the time being, though I may add non-sequitur thoughts and off-handed remarks as the days pass. No promises, but we'll see. In any case, it was a jolly old time and I have now uploaded all the pictures Ben, Neo, and Sierra took during the trip. Have at 'em: http://picasaweb.google.com/lauren.leticia.hui

Now this is Kelby writing, who while not as eloquent as Lauren, has some things to say as well. First, New Year's eve was fantastic, despite the creepers. (For the record, I won the game "avoid the gropers" because of my excellent evasive tactics.) It was a long journey to get to Spain, but well worth it!

I stepped in dog poop not too long ago and Lauren and Sierra are unaware that I have no doubt brought some into the apartment because I was not able to properly get it off my shoe. I think they are tired of my questions about Barcelona. It's a lovely city, alive with the sound of music. Techno music, that is.

We watched "Atonement" today. Si is in love with James. Lauren is in love with the chocolate delights I brought her. I am in love with cafe con leche, which, after years of name dropping in Spanish classes, I was finally able to taste. Churros con chocolate remain elusive.

Lauren writes really small in her journal. I had forgotten because of our time apart, but the young man sitting next to us at the cafe earlier reminded us.

Ben and Neo - I resent the fact that you wore Lauren and Sierra out - they are both fighting coughs and I BLAME YOU BOTH for gallivanting around Europe with them. You have left me with nothing but hollow shells of my friends. FALSE. They are just as vibrant as ever and I love them.

Personally, the little bits of different languages I know are horribly jumbled in my head now. Por ejemplo: "mish aiza mayya, pero quiero asiir por favor. shokran." or "espanoli muy mal, asifa." These make perfect sense in my poor mind.

I am so excited for our adventures to come. Who knows what the future holds. Que sera sera, verdad? Personally, I see a strapping young Spaniard in the future for Sierra.

Por Lo and Si think I am writing something worthwhile, but I don't think this has been worth reading. So if you have gotten this far, I am sorry for wasting your time. Go on with your day. You may not be with us in Barthelona, but that doesn't mean you can't have a jolly good time of your own. Go outside! Run around a little! Make the most of your time and spend it with the people you care about. Above all, love. All you need is love, love, love. Love is all you need.

And remember: "The past is history and the future a mystery. But now is a gift. That's why it's called the present" (So well put by my Lufthansa stewardess)