Which We Are About to Receive

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I have received interesting gifts over the years. I like to get gifts but I am also plagued by worries over the experience. I don’t know if I’ll like the gift. Unliked gifts remain unused and hidden in the crevices of my overly cluttered house. It sets up self-induced shame for not fully appreciating the gift and good intentions to actually use the gift. Truth be told, my gift-related concerns start before the said gift-giving celebration. I used to prepare a stock “appropriate” response for when I opened the gift, a ready “oh, wow, great!” for just that moment. I wanted to make sure that I would fulfill my presentee duties. I’d be prepared with a measured response to the awful gifts given with the best intentions.

I can’t remember my first “huh, whuh?” gift but one of the memorable ones came in middle school. All the kids in the school were randomly paired to be Secret Santas, but somehow my person turned out to be an older girl in my parents’ car ride share. Her parents were nice; more importantly, on my behalf, their car was comfortable and they were generous in heating their car on cold, wintery mornings. However, my relationship with their daughter was strained. I was a few grades below her, making it into a high schooler versus a middle schooler relationship. In other words, a teenager who didn’t want to associate with a younger kid.

My mother and I, meaning only my mother, made an effort in picking the best Secret Santa gift. We decided on a cute little silver bracelet (that was on sale, of course. Why pay full price if you don’t need to? Cheap price for an expensive gift.) The whole school was packed into the cafeteria. We all jostled to reveal ourselves and our secret gifts to each other. I found the girl before she found me. I was short then. To think about it, I didn’t grow further after 12 years old so, yeah, I’m still short. She thrust her gift at me and I gave mine to her.

We removed the wrapping at the same time. I think she liked it but I’m not sure because my gift overshadowed any attempt to check her response or to create my customary “Oh, wow, thanks!” Which, in retrospect, was a shame as this gift needed my prepared expression. I got a medium-sized rusty cow bell in a box. After a quick “thanks” my gifter ran away from me (the middle schooler) to join her high school friends in the melee of school kids on the cusp of Christmas break.

I remember my first anxious thought, whatever did I say to her in the car that made her ever think I wanted a cow bell? To be fair, I’m not sure if it was medium-sized or not, because I was born and raised in surburbia. But it was definitely rusty rather than rustic chic. And I am sure that it was Secret Santa gift exchange not White Elephant gift exchange. My Secret Santa’s family had a nice home near farmhouse country-turning-surburbia so that’d explain the cowbell’s origins. It would not have matter if we really didn’t see each other on a regular basis, it kinda stung that we kinda knew each other from our daily trips to school. I guess she wasn’t one for forethought. In the end, I made up some nice gift for myself when my mother asked how was my gift and how was our gift was received. I buried it in clutter of my parents’ home but I guess not well enough. My father found it one day and the next time I saw that memorable bell, it was part of some odd home-made windchime. Apparently it was a perfect gift for him.

Yes, there are gifts given with good intentions, but people have different definitions of good. One year I received an exhaustive display collection of miniature ships from the expansive Star Trek franchise. I am a fan of the Star Trek universe, but I do not harbor the amount adult sci-fi glee over starships as my brother when I opened the large present. Somehow I was not surprised as he had mentioned earlier his desire to own such a collection. I could forgive him because I knew his intention was that he assumed I’d change my Trekkie mind once I beheld the impressive array of starships. Nope, but I had my expression ready with modifications – “Really, now? Thanks but you can display it in your room.”

This brother has given great gifts to me over the years but he has a mischievous side (see above) so that was why I had my gift expression at the ready. One year he gave me a small wrapped box. I unwrapped it only to find it empty. Nothing. I showed it to him and my family, expecting it to be a mistake. It was not. Instead of thinking, gag gift, I got angry. Imagine a “thank you but not really thank you” facial expression. I was primed for an argument because my other brother just informed me that he planned to buy me a gift after Christmas, when we were overseas visiting family. (After holiday flights are cheaper. My family likes frugality). Looking back, I can understand his pragmatism, but, he gave everyone else in my family gifts and we live close to malls and bookstores. I’m a book-lover at heart. I’d appreciate a $10 bookstore gift card. (It would’ve been enough to buy one book back then.)

When the brother with the empty gift was followed by the brother with the empty gift box, I was ready to drop my Christmas spirit and expression. Instead there was a growing wish to shove my own definition of good up some siblings’ butt, goodwill or no. I began to open my mouth to begin the complaints (okay, the whining). My parents, seeing the potential for sparks (rather than the sparkle from the Christmas lights) started to speak. I expected to hear, hey, it’s Christmas, let’s be nice. But I was startled to hear them start to lecture both brothers on gift-giving etiquette. And their little parental speech irritated the hell out of me.

They stole my thunderstorm. Nobody likes that, especially when you are full of righteous anger. But they usurped the situation by stepping into their adult children’s situation. Yes, I was pretty bummed and disappointed that I was cheated out of some well-chosen mall-manufactured, materialistic gifts by loving siblings, but the truth of the matter is that neither of my brothers are obligated to give a Christmas gift. It may be the custom, but, truly, who wants a gift that was picked for the occasion rather than joyfully chosen for you?

One time I got as a gift a small wooden block which displayed a flowery quote espousing the joys of close, almost sisterly, friendship. It sounds like it was a good gift until the person who gave it to me was someone who never responded to my overtures in the past decade. I think she did it because she wanted an excuse to mail me a photo of her first child. I appreciated her card and gorgeous newborn (they all look good even the ones that look squishy at birth) but I wished she didn’t include the gift. Nobody needs an excuse to send me photos of wonderful, wrinkly newborns.

Lastly, I was going to complain and chide my brothers not dress them down. One of them was actually a gag gift. He said it was a “box of love”. In the end, there was a payoff for me after successfully pulling my leg. As for the other brother, if he wanted to give my gift after Christmas, he can do so. Anyway, my mall gift is only being postponed and it would be from an overseas mall for a change of pace. (He delivered handsomely by choosing for me Natalie Merchant’s first solo CD.) Not to belabor the point, but when I was a kid, little me hated it when my parents broke up sibling arguments without taking the time resolve the squabble, which left us without closure. Instead of discussing the issues that led to the squabbles, my siblings and I would try to kill each other with sulky, seething stares from afar. As an adult, I just think my parents’ attempt was pointless. I wish I could end this paragraph by describing the awesome gift the other brother chose for me after his box of love, but sadly I don’t remember. I asked him while writing this post and he doesn’t recall either. I remember the surprise and awe (hence the awesome gift moniker) when I unwrapped it and it was a large box. And no, it was not another Star Trek starship.

This brings up another moment that can occur in the gift giving and receiving procedure. What is really behind the gesture when you are given an unfortunate gift? Sometimes the giver really means well but makes unimpressive choices or he/she just doesn’t know you well (i.e. when you have to buy the boss or coworker a gift). I once worked at a college that had a very kind front desk receptionist. Every day she wore fashionable clothes and maintained an elegant appearance at all times. She was an older woman who grew up at a time when and men felt naked without wearing hats, gloves and perfectly pressed clothes.

I am the opposite. I trim my nails but skip the manicure, painted nails and make-up. Call it unintended au naturel. Some days I choose my clothes based on their uncrumpled nature, proximity to arm’s reach and my tardiness to work. Apparently, I fell below this immaculate lady’s standards when she gave me a gift of a travel nail care kit for my birthday. She never gave anyone else a gift on their birthday. For some odd reason she included a kid’s mini play calculator and a girl-sized mirror. The lady’s granddaughter had a birthday a few days before mine so I knew my math and hygiene skills passed muster, but I got the manicure message. While I got the hint, I was too lazy and too poor to follow up on being a better-groomed woman. I don’t have the funds or motivation to get a manicure, push back my nail beds, much less paint my nails, and with failing eyesight, I’m happy enough when I succeed in trimming my nails evenly. I understood the woman’s wont to be the department mom/grandmother but I wish she hadn’t focused on my nails. It could have been more uncomfortable if I got a tiny Dora the Explorer toothbrush and toothpaste set.

Sometimes my most questionable gifts have come from my parents. My gift expectations doesn’t always align with their intentions. When I was eleven or so, I patted down my stocking. I got excited because the shape seemed to indicate, an electronic handheld game of Donkey Kong or Tetris.

But my younger brothers and I each pulled out calculators. It was those high school/college calculators that included sine, cosine and other fancy buttons. How many elementary schoolkids yearn for an advanced calculator for Christmas? Not us. My parents’ actions seemed to strengthen the Asian mien towards the importance of education, but I’d have liked a more fun educational gift. A more appreciable electronic gift would have been an Atari. Hey, it improves concentration and hand-eye coordination. The most fun my younger brothers and I got out of those calculators on Christmas was making upside down words on the screen by putting in number combinations. Years later that handy calculator became my best friend as I navigated through the confusion of calculus.

Another questionable gift came years later when I was an adult. I unwrapped 6 pairs of socks. It sounds harmless enough. However, these were not cute striped Christmas socks. They were a pile of never worn 30 years old socks for kids. Yes, I am short but I am a petite woman who prefers adult-size socks. As for age, these pairs were showing their age with brown dry rot on each pair and the label wrapped around each pair had left a brown, sticky gummy residue. I couldn’t begin to imagine why they thought I’d want them much less taken the effort to wrap this mess into a Christmas present. Why or where would I wear too-small, rotting kindergarten socks? I don’t know what their intentions were but their expectant expressions told me this was definitely not a gag gift. It caught me off-guard.

I had no prepared expression for that kind of situation. This gift came after I received a thoughtful gift of cutlery from them so I know my parents harbored no ill will behind the sock surprise. I think I just said, huh, made a lame joke, but definitely left out a thanks. Personally, I thought the trash can deserved that Christmas gift more than me. Aren’t we supposed tip unsung people who help us out during year? Why not the ever-present, ever-handy wastebasket? At least I am sure I’m not being specifically targeted to receive questionable gifts from my parents. My brother once received a blood pressure wrist cuff monitor from my parents for his birthday. Perhaps, in their mind, they believe that every healthy young male in their 20’s would want and need blood pressure monitors. That was my brother’s huh moment.

Before this post becomes an ungrateful rant to people who’ve given me questionable gifts, I’d like to include some of my best gifts which have come from my parents, siblings and other family members. I have received, without any prompting from a letter to Santa (I learned early that “Santa” never read my careful lists), the exciting game of Laser Tag, a humungous polar bear, and a tiny black-and-white portable tv in my childhood. That tv gift may have been influenced by my uncle. He happened to mention to my parents the types of gifts he bestowed on his beloved (slightly spoiled) daughter. After getting the educational Christmas gift of a high school calculator the previous year, there was no need to fake an appreciative expression when that tv was revealed the next year.

Interestingly, that gift adversely affected my middle school education. When I was confronted by math anxiety and difficult long division, it was an easy decision to watch Star Trek rather than tackle pesky remainders. The tv was an awful neon pink, the screen tiny and nothing was in color, but I was lucky that Star Trek re-runs was the show I picked to skip homework. Since it was made in the late 60’s, the show made sure that those without color TV sets could enjoy the show just as those with color. Needless to say, that tv’s compact size made it easy for me to hide it so that when my parents came into my room to check on me, I’d just slide a Star Trek book over the still warm screen.

Two last things. I chose gift-giving and receiving gifts because the act can make it seem like so much is riding on the how to give and to receive said gifts. Gifts are used to express important messages: love, joy, gratitude, subtle messages or attempts to maintain courtesy (e.g. gifts to the boss). As for me, I believe I think a lot about it, and maybe hold high expectations (on my or others’ gift choices) because I have been the recipient of wonderful gifts. Or if the specific gift has escaped my memory, my mind can easily remember the joy of receiving a tangible thought of love. The odd gifts that have fallen on my lap are so memorable because the majority of the gifts I have received over the years show me how well people love and know me to the point of surprising me with unexpected gifts that I did not know I wanted or needed until I unwrapped the gift. I know as a gift giver how incredibly frustrating and impossible it is to succeed in finding suitable gifts, but it is a joy when the gift planets align to create that moment.

Lastly, yes, the original Star Trek series was kitschy and campy, and the spin-offs have more CGI and pizazz, but I think the original show’s idealistic ideas of diversity and equality amid the tumultuous 60’s transcends even William Shatner’s overacting. Also I couldn’t help having a middle-school crush over McCoy’s comic relief to Spock’s pragmatism. And that’s why my brother bought me the complete starship collection. But I’m a Trekkie novel rather than a Trekkie figurine kind of girl. Live long and prosper to another gift-exchange occassion.

Travel Photo Montage

Porch view, Santorini, Greece
Porch view, Santorini, Greece
Antalya, Turkey
Antalya, Turkey

I was planning to write about a recent trip but I don’t know where my brother has stored the files in our computer drives. Additionally, I am feeling lazy about writing a whole post. So I have decided to use photos from a different trip to Turkey and Greece to illustrate my amateur attempts at making photogenic memories. I hope I picked enough photos for everyone.

A few years ago, my brother was chosen to attend a company conference in Turkey. Since it was located in Turkey, I persuaded him to let me tag along, and without further persuasion, he decided to include side trips to Istanbul and Athens, Greece. It was a great trip, in spite of getting waterborne illnesses, almost drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, protests in Athens and a bomb attack from Syria. Fortunately, we were in Istanbul during the Athens protests and we were in Antalya in southern Turkey when Syria bombed northern Turkey. It gets all relative when you happen to be far from the action.

But, hey, you’re checking out this post for the travel photos. I picked the following photos because I could not and would not upload ALL my photos for many reasons, namely, WordPress limits on how many pictures one can upload. Now, these are not the best photos as I don’t study photography. My automatic point-and-shoot camera figures that out for me. I just frame the photos.

I chose the following photos to illustrate my penchant for photographing people (and the occasional animal) that wander into my camera view screen. Sometimes their presence makes an already scenic photo a little more interesting. And it makes me seem like some professional photographer than a point-and-shooter. Other times, I seek out the photo opportunity. After I take the iconic shot, I like to walk around the edge of the crowd or stroll in solitary spaces to find the quiet photograph beyond the hustle and bustle of the main attraction. Don’t worry, I do include photos of main attractions as well.


Istanbul, Turkey

I love Turkey for its ancient history and vibrant Islamic culture. As a Christian living in a Western country, it was a new experience to live (for several days) in a non-Western, Muslim culture. The unfamiliar food (mmm, spices, lamb and real hummus), drink (Turkish tea, Turkish coffee, and incidentally, the tap water I really should not have drunk but did so accidentally and fatefully. It only took one slip up – or I should say, sip – to get the upset stomach) sounds (calls to prayer from the minaret) and sights (mosques instead of church buildings) were a welcome adventure. This is why I spend (or let others spend for me) the money and take the time (and hassle) to travel.

View of Istanbul from the balcony of Suleiman Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey.  You can see the long Galata bridge, marking the informal marker that separates the Western part of Istanbul from Eastern-inf
View from Suleiman Mosque’s Balcony looking toward the east side of Istanbul, Turkey.  You can see the blue Galata bridge which connects the east and west sections of Istanbul.  The mosques I visited are located on the west side.

It’s hard to convey the bustling nature of Istanbul. The size, ancient buildings and vibrant culture I felt in Istanbul reminded me of its Christian counterpart (in my view, anyway), Rome, Italy.

We saw other sights besides some of Istanbul’s mosques but my best people photos occurred at the mosques. The first mosque we visited was the Suleiman Mosque. I had visited a mosque as a child as part of my school’s religious studies program. This was a much better-looking mosque for sure.

Even though the next mosques we visited seem more spectacular than the Suleiman Mosque, I like this one the best for its balance between beauty and function. I guess it’s like trying to compare a cathedral and a church. Structures like cathedrals shows the grandeur of architecture and religion; whereas a church is less on proving religious might (I think many religions feel the need to prove themselves) than tending to the needs. Personally, my mind would stray away from prayer if I had to attend a cathedral than a church. Then it doesn’t take much to get my mind to stray. It’s not like I haven’t heard it all before. (grin)

Suleiman Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Suleiman Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
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Family near the mosque's washing station, Istanbul, Turkey
Photographing a photographer near an arch at Suleiman Mosque,  Istanbul, Turkey
Photographing a photographer near an arch at Suleiman Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

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Looking up in the courtyard of Suleiman Mosque
Looking up in the courtyard of Suleiman Mosque

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Suleiman Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

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Side hallway in Suleiman Mosque

In the next photo, I saw this woman as she was primping herself up for a photogenic pose. Full disclosure: I was predisposed to dislike her when she was trying to get into mosque without covering her hair or taking off her shoes. (When entering a mosque, one must remove one's shoes and women are required to keep their hair covered.) I came prepared with a scarf to cover my hair because I didn't want to use the scarves offered by the mosque.

Woman looking photogenic at Suleiman Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

This same woman, despite the rules, was earlier caught in her attempt to enter the mosques with plastic bags over her shoes. I don't know whether she was wearing Manolo pumps, but come on, lady, have some respect. Either way I got tempted to take her picture as she was carefully draping the head scarf just so over her shoulders. As soon as she and her boyfriend got her pose on camera, she left the mosque without any backward glance at the beauty and historic religious significance. And that's what I remember whenever I take my glance at this photo.

I snapped the following photo because I was focusing on the group of young women on the floor while trying to add some foreground with the ladies on the right-hand side. I felt the same way as they did, sitting on the floor (to take a rest from the heat and enjoy the peace) and just snap away with my camera at the arresting views above me.

Looking up in Suleiman Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Looking up in Suleiman Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Balcony, Suleiman Mosque
Quiet interlude on the balcony

Istanbul shop


Hagia Sophia, or Aya Sophia was the next place we visited. I consider this place one of the most historical buildings in all of the religious world in my personal opinion. I read about it once and thought I’d never see, and now I was there, in person, with a camera. There are religious buildings throughout the world that have been built by one religion, only to be renovated and reused by conquerors with a different religion. Hagia Sophia is one of these buildings. It’s historical importance to Islam is as great as St. Peter’s Basilica is to Christianity.

Hagia Sophia, or Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia, or Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey.  The spires are called minarets and each day, the call to prayer, the ezan , the name used in Turkey, is issued by the muezzin. The person reminds Muslims to pray at the designated times. Five times a day, the muezzin climbs into each minaret to give the reminder. Other religions have similar calls to prayer.  Christianity uses church bells, Islam uses the ezan, and Judaism has the barechu which is spoken before blessings and the reading of the Torah.

Here I was able to see the religious marks made by Christians, Muslims (and Vikings) over the centuries being revered side by side. Statues of important Christian figures and painted archangels on the ceilings reside beside significant Arabic words written in gold calligraphy (the round blue circles mounted in the ceiling). I hope you can see them in the photos.

We spent a lot of time in here, marveling at many sights while knowing we would never be able to appreciate every nook and cranny of this enormous place. As I walked, I was surrounded by the crowd, and I was able to take some photogenic glimpses at the people around me.

Main area in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Main area in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

I craned my neck, stretched my arms and had the same expression of awe as these people captured by my camera.  The hanging lanterns in all the mosques were geometric beauties to behold by themselves.

Photo near imam's minbar in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Photo near imam’s minbar in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Minbar in mosque at Antalya, Turkey
Minbar inside a mosque, Antalya, Turkey

This is a better photo of a minbar which is the stairs and the pulpit the imam uses to deliver his sermon.

Tourists at Hagia Sophia
Tourists at Hagia Sophia
Tour group in Hagia Sophia
Tour group in Hagia Sophia
Stray cat strolling inside Hagia Sophia
Stray cat strolling inside Hagia Sophia
Taking a breather at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Taking a break from sightseeing at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

I took this photo as the woman was rolling up her cloth wares.  I wondered about this older woman who might have spent the day in the sun trying to get tourists to buy her items.  I remember thinking that the cart seller behind her had at least some shade from the cart roof.  And he could move around more to increase sales.  I was just lucky to get the blue-shirted man glancing at the woman as I took the picture.

Sellers outside Hagia Sophia at dusk, Istanbul, Turkey
Sellers outside Hagia Sophia at dusk, Istanbul, Turkey

Sultan Ahmed mosque (or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish, Camii as the word for mosque) was the last mosque we visited in Istanbul. We had to wait in the courtyard as Friday services came to a close.

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Courtyard view of Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

To some extent, I felt like an interloper, as if I was observing an intimate gathering as an outsider.  Ok, I may be exaggerating my emotions, but it was a different experience to enter a mosque right at the conclusion of Friday services.  Perhaps the large amount of tourists squeezing in the small entrance alongside the leaving worshppers magnified my idea of being an intruder.  I liked seeing the mix of families and worshippers talking after services as we, as sight-seers, waited to visit their place of worship.

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On the other head, as everyone filed out I did like the atmosphere outside.  The day was heading towards dusk, the weather was good, and it seemed like everybody was enjoying the weather.  It was the end of a work week and the moment was on the cusp of a hopefully sunny, relaxing weekend.

Courtyard in Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Courtyard in Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Inside I wondered how hard it would be to stay focused on and maintain privacy with your prayers among picture-snapping tourists – even as I joined in as an intrusive tourist.

Men at prayer at Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Men at prayer at Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

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Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Looking up in Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Looking up in Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Grand Bazaar, or Kapalıçarşı, translated as ‘Covered Bazaar’

Grand Bazaar
Entrance to the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Grand Bazaar hallway

Grand Bazaar Shopkeeper

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Grand Bazaar or Kapalıçarşı, translated as ‘Covered Bazaar’, Istanbul, Turkey

As an aside, soon after we returned home, Hollywood offered us their view of Istanbul as two movies filmed in Istanbul had just come out. James Bond movie Skyfall had good scenes of the Grand Bazaar and the rooftops. Do watch Skyfall for its dazzling action scenes, packed plot and the (always) admirable Dame Judy Dench.  Liam Neeson’s Taken 2 was hilarious once you accept that this dramatic adventure movie should really be viewed with a huge dollop of disbelief rather than a thriller.  The plot was ridiculous (multiple grenades go off in the middle of Istanbul’s tourist area and no one comes to check out the disturbance?). At least I got to see the inside of a Turkish spa without the outrageous prices through this film.

However, it bothered me that both movies had a lot of extras milling around in black burkas (full clothing coverings for women that only expose a woman’s eyes) in the Istanbul scene.  Istanbul is known as a modern Muslim city that accepts a wide range of Muslim practice.  Islam influences Istanbul, but it is not ruled by fervent fundamentalism. Istanbul (and to and larger extent, Turkey) have often been used as an example of balancing the benefits of religion and secular culture. When I was there Muslim women walked with a hijab (head scarf), some wore the burka, and there were those who wore neither.  All were accepted.

At the end of Taken 2 (Liam Neeson wins again with his “unique set of skills” and particular brand of retribution), as we headed out of the theater, we overheard some woman remark to her friend, “Istanbul is dangerous.  I’m glad I watched this movie.  I’ll never visit Istanbul.”

Oh, really? And yet, I understand their misunderstanding. If I watched an action-packed, violent movie set in LA, I might get the message that LA is a dangerous place that I should never visit for my self-preservation. But neither LA or Istanbul are so dangerous as the entertainment industries portray in films. In these metropolises, as in any decent city, there are okay areas and uh-oh areas.

Basically, do travel, do it carefully with caution and sense.  Don’t judge any place solely on the basis of watching films, especially Taken 2.

Istanbul


Santorini, Greece
I was excited about visiting Santorini.  This gorgeous island keeps cropping up on top ten travel lists and its sunny vistas keep popping up in travel magazines.  I would not have been surprised if I ran into some Hollywood celebrity.  Unfortunately we did not.

Here I thought it would be the best place to retire.  I was captivated by the sunny, blue skies that peeked out between the slats of the small fence gates painted bright blue (Home Depot or Lowe’s, I think, have a paint color called Greek blue) against break-taking views throughout the volcanic island.  The Santorini islands rest along the rim of an ancient volcano caldera.  It’s like a bunch of houses balancing on the top edge of a salad bowl that’s filled with water.  It seemed like I was taking the same photo over and over again as every few feet kept displaying the same breath-taking view.

Cliff view from Oia in Santorini, Greece
Cliff view from Oia in Santorini, Greece

Luckily, blue is my favorite color as the whole island (sea, land, buildings, souvenirs) was swathed in shades of blue.  Of course the country’s flag is all blue.

Blue fence in Santorini, Greece
Blue fence in Santorini, Greece
View from church bell tower, Santorini, Greece
View from church bell tower, Santorini, Greece

I tried to look up on the Internet the names of either of these two churches but I was unable to find them – or I got too lazy to search hard enough.  Or I can’t get a good close-up of the title over the entrance of the church featured below.

Church, Santorini, Greece
Church, Santorini, Greece

While it looks like a great place to spend one’s retirement, one of many things I remember from Santorini was the depressed Greek economy.  Few days before we arrived in Santorini, there were heated protests in Athens over the tanking (or tanked) Greek economy and financial efforts to stabilize the euro.  To me, Santorini shopkeepers expressed their woes by repeatedly greeting me and my brother with the Mandarin greeting, Ni hao (Hello), as we passed by their shops, stalls and walkways.  They called to us in the assumption that we were Chinese tourists with money.  We are Asian, but not Chinese, and we spent all our money toward airfare and lodging.  I felt bad for them as each shopkeeper kept uttering this phrase with dejected expressions – it was like saying hello to someone in the midst of a funeral.

And yet, while I felt bad, my souvenirs of Santorini are pictures of items that I could look at but could not afford to buy.

Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece
Quirky flip-flops, Santorini, Greece
Quirky flip-flops, Santorini, Greece
Blue souvenir, Santorini, Greece
Blue souvenir, Santorini, Greece

Here, as in Istanbul, I was able to capture nice photos of people.

Tourists taking a scenic break, Santorini, Greece
Tourists taking a scenic break, Santorini, Greece
Sun in the sky, Santorini, Greece
Sun in the sky, Santorini, Greece

I liked this next photo of people congregating at the top of the town Oia in Santorini.  Everyone, including me, were rushing to this location, which is famed as a photogenic spot to photograph the sunset in Santorini.  They call it the Sunset Serenade.  It was interesting to see how couples were relaxing together and eager photographers were waiting for just that perfect shot.  I thought I could sneak a snapshot unobtrusively but one lady caught me in the act.

People for Sunset Serenade, Santorini, Greece
People experiencing the Sunset Serenade, Santorini, Greece
Stray dog at breakfast, Santorini, Greece
Stray dog at breakfast, Santorini, Greece

On our last day in Santorini, our breakfast had an unexpected guest.  Stray dogs roam everywhere around Santorini.  They looked cute from afar, but we learned not to get too close.  As strays, they could be unpredictable, they were smelly and their frequent poop deposits were to be avoided.  The dog was soon joined by another and both proceeded to walk along the balcony.  They were amiable breakfast companions.


Athens, Greece

Greek museum piece, Athens, Greece
Greek museum piece, Athens, Greece

My excitement at seeing Athens was similar to my anticipation when I arrived at Istanbul.  All the Greek mythology I read in school as a child became true as I walked around the temples and buildings mentioned in the books.  I think I still have the sixth-grade book that was assigned in my literature class.  I had dreams of naming some future daughter Persephone, Athena or Hestia.

I knew better than to assume that I’d birth a beauty like Aphrodite or saddle a poor girl with the name, Pandora, an unfortunate woman who accidentally released pestilence and misery.  I pitied her when I read about Pandora as a kid, but, as an adult, I don’t know if I have forgiven her for her error. (grin). However, that didn’t stop the jewelry store Pandora.  I got excited when I tried the pomegranate fruit for the first time because it was mentioned during the story about Persephone, whose capture led to the mythic creation of autumn and winter.

In Athens I was entranced by the vast crowds of tourists visiting these ancient buildings.  I was amazed that I was not at home.  Instead I was standing by these symbols of ancient grandeur.  I felt the same way when I walked around Istanbul.  But since I grew up in the West, the Greek ruins evoked a sense of familiarity.  Perhaps adults, who read and grew up with the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling, might feel the same “hey, I know you” feeling if they visit the Orlando, Florida’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park.  It may be the first time we’ve seen these places, but we kinda know the lay of the land already.

Dionysus Theater near the Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Dionysus Theater near the Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Gateway entrance to the Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Propylea, the gateway entrance to the Acropolis, Athens, Greece.
Acropolis temple, Athens, Greece
Acropolis temple, Athens, Greece
Carytid Porch at the Erechtheion in the Acropolis, Athens, Greece
The Carytid Porch at the Erechtheion in the Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Some of the carytids, the female statues holding up the porch, are substitutes.  The museum is in the process of restoring the famous carytids to their former, less polluted, glory.  I wish I could get a close-up photo of the carytids but we couldn’t get closer.  My little camera’s limits was reached, but my brother, who was carrying a more powerful camera, was able to take closer pictures.  And that’s why he bothers to learn photographic techniques, buys expensive lenses, and lugs a heavy camera around his neck.  It’s worth it in order to get the more amazing photos.  Still, my trusty point-and-shoot camera works pretty well.


And there ends my photo montage post.  I’d add a sweet summary of how travel expands my mind, instills a sense of cultures other than my own and provides me a way to see the world through different lenses. But the hour is late, and I think you got the gist of it from my earlier remarks.  I hope I provided some nice photos to those who have yet to visit these places and nudged good memories from past visitors to these stunning sights.

Display of knit hats, Istanbul, Turkey
Display of knit hats, Istanbul, Turkey

Nature v. Nurture and My Dog

I’ve been neglecting my blog but it’s time to make amends.  It’s a bit late and a bit rushed, but here’s the promised post about my dog.

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As a rescued dog, I don’t know much about my dog, Ein’s life prior to adopting him.  He was rescued by his foster mom, Jan, when she looked at her local animal shelter.  She saw thin, little black-and-white dog, lying despondent in his cement cage.  Handlers told Jan he was depressed.  The puppy, estimated to be about a year old, was scheduled to be euthanized in two days.  His time was up and he hadn’t been eating or drinking.  This pronouncement spurred Jan into action and she bought the little droopy dog (who looked to be an oversized Papillion with Corgi bat-like ears) on the spot.  He might bite you, they warned her; I don’t care, she replied.  Jan told us as she reached deep into the back corner of the cage, the slim puppy offered no resistance.

This sad puppy was rescued by Jan to live at her rescue cat and dog place.  It is a loud, boisterous place full of kitties, cats, puppies and dogs of all shapes and sizes.  I like the name of it: Jamm Rescue.  Jan didn’t learn or there wasn’t any history about this despondent puppy, she told us she just wanted to get the dog out of the shelter, but he began to improve.  He got used to the animal menagerie and even got a girlfriend.  He even got a name.

Jan named him Happy.  She explained she chose Happy in hopes that this name would confer some happiness upon the depressed 15 lb. puppy.  Despite his name, Happy was very skittish and solemn.  His history remains unknown to this day, but Jan (and I) agree that people have been rough to this dog.

Happy had been adopted two or three other times already, but his adopted families kept bringing him back to Jan.  His cuteness would win people over but his behavior didn’t endear him to the people.  Jan almost pulled Happy’s listing and she was reluctant to let us take him in when we met her.  Jan considered keeping this puppy to spare him from further anguish.

My earlier post has a link to the original http://petfinders.com listing.  What she states is true.  My dog is skittish around strangers, especially men, doesn’t like kids, and his is uneasy around other dogs (and people) to the point of fear barking.  He is a one dog, one house kind of dog.  Jan believes that teenage boys or someone must have swung this dog around in the air while on the leash because he hates the leash or anything near his neck.  During his time with Jan, despite some bonding, he still could not go for a walk or become comfortable on a leash.  When we visited him, he was timid and submissive.  I fell in love with this puppy.  He was so cute and I identified with his fears and anxieties.  We proved ourselves by handling Happy during a bath and he came home with us.  Per the sibling agreement, Happy became Ein, named after an AI dog in an anime show, Cowboy Bebop.  We have embraced his strengths and weakness, accepted his idiosyncrasies (as he has tolerated ours).  We are his forever family.

Over the past seven years, some of these idiosyncrasies have eased up but some still remain.  Ein goes crazy with excitement when he hears the phrase, “Do you want to go for a walk?” and has no problem using a leash.  He just hates the length of the leash; he wishes the leash went forever.  Unfortunately, his horrible separation anxiety hasn’t diminished over the years.  We learned, the hard way, never to put him in a crate or restrict him to a room.  Ein has scraped, clawed and broke out of a dog kennel, crates and door stops whenever we put him in those places naively thinking it would make him feel safe.  Space, freedom of a whole first floor and a window to wait for our return is more Ein’s style.  Thank God he is mainly a tissue and plastic bag chewer so we can give him that freedom.

I give you an example of his separation anxiety.  Yesterday I went across the street from my house to pick up my neighbor’s mail.  Ein could see me from his window perch the whole 3 minutes it took to retrieve it.  Still, when I opened the my door, he greeted me as if I had returned from a long day’s work.  I go outside to sit on the bench and he whines the whole time.  We’ve tried all the book training but he’s still anxious.  He understands that we will return, and he can wait patiently at the window, but protect your legs from a deliriously happy, jumping dog when you return.

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That’s not as bad as Ein’s barking.  It is constant.  I don’t mean persistent barking, rather, he barks at anything that moves outside that window.  He is a quiet dog when we walk – his only weakness is that he jumps and runs away from loud noises or other dogs barking to protect their territory.  Ein takes his protector role very seriously.  He barks at the mail carrier but he goes on to bark at every house the carrier stops.  And at the mail truck as it passes by our house.

As he looks out of his large picture window, sits or lays on his comfortable shelf perch (we made sure he could see out while laying down), he barks at any cars that park in front of our house and any other house that he can see, even if it’s the neighbors’ own cars, anyone who walks past either side of the street, and of course any dog that passes by.  Basically he barks at any change in scenery.  And that’s not all.  This is how he barks: first comes the low growl of warning which crescendos to the full-throated bark-out of all animated or agitated dogs that subsides to growls.  However, Ein includes what we call are his trills – kinda like an “oooo oooo ooooaa”-like sound before he stops his tirade.  We chalked Ein’s propensity to act like the neighborhood watch dog to his anxious nature and his bark trills to be just weird Ein stuff.  Weird Ein stuff includes his way of lifting his nose like a nod when we ask if he wants a biscuit or if he is hungry (as if he is saying, “why do you bother to ask?”), licking his front legs when they are clean with no food on them, and his desire to eat rabbit poo.

However my inclination to attribute all of Ein’s behaviors to his probable upbringing or personal weirdness are my fault in not understanding him better.  I learned recently that many of my mixed (unknown) breed dog’s behaviors may be explained if he really does have Corgi blood inside of him.  Apparently Corgis, based on their shepherding background, have a tendency to bark a lot.  They like to alert their owner of any change to the environment.  Instead of barking out of fear, Ein may have just been doing his duty, by warning me when my neighbor and his car is coming home.  I have noticed that if I take time to go to window, and I acknowledge that someone is indeed walking past the other side of the sidewalk, sometimes Ein does settle down faster.

Furthermore, Ein’s trill barking isn’t just a weird characteristic of my dog.  Corgi owners have heard these sounds too.  They call it Chewbacca barking or Wookie barking – which is a better name than trill barking because Ein does sound like Chewie when he is at the end of barking or when he wants to tell us that he wants to go to the backyard.  And his separation anxiety, may in some part, be due to his nature, as Corgis supposedly don’t do well with separation.   Yes, lots of it is due to Ein’s abandonment issues but some is because of nature too.  We can attest to his strong separation anxiety.  We had Ein for a week when he got neutered.  When my brother picked him up at the end of the day, my dog literally leaped out of his cage (which was above ground) with joy to the surprise of the vet tech and my brother.  Luckily my brother caught him in his arms.  When I locked myself out of my house, I had to listen to Ein whine at me piteously for two hours as I waited for my brother to come home.  I felt so bad.

I am not ignoring Ein’s possible Papillion background either.  I read into it after learning about Corgi nature.  Not only does Ein look like a Papillion, he may possess the breed’s tendency to have emotional sensitivity.  Whenever I feel mad or bad, he seems to sense it and he comes running to comfort me.

So, my dear Ein, I owe you an apology.  All this time I have been “blaming” your quirks by deeming you as a lovable, odd dog shaped by a possible abusive past and an anxious bent.  However, you may have just been following your nature.  Instead of labeling you, I should have taken the time to learn more about you (i.e. your (maybe) breed backgrounds).  Here I am trying to get away from trying to be someone to becoming myself and I go and make fun of my dog who is just being himself.  Yes, I have accepted you all these years (and I always will because it is so easy to do so) but I didn’t try harder to understand you.

It can happen easily.  More time and effort is needed to understand someone than to place that person in a category.  We do it because it is faster, less interaction and we can put people in the right categories.  When I worked with homeless people, I could easily say that a lot of them have substance abuse issues.  Therefore one could then set up the category that, in general, homeless people have substance abuse issues.  And that is correct.  Just like I was right that my dog barks a lot out of fear of the unknown based on his past history.

However, categorization produces rough cuts.  A more discriminating view would be to look deeper than just shuttling a person.  I never looked beyond my dog’s need to bark at superficial changes outside his picture window.  If I talk to the homeless people, I’d understand what is behind the substance abuse, and, therefore, the causes that keep these people from getting and maintaining a safe and permanent residence.  I heard so many causes for long-term substance abuse: childhood abuse, violence, poverty, bad choices, untreated mental illness, no family, no job, no home and many more.  Like my dog, these life events (nurture and their own choice) and their genetic nature have culminated to create who they were now and where they are now.  Some events and circumstances  were beyond their control; some were well within their control.

Again, like my dog, the time and effort I spend trying to understand people have produced greater acceptance toward others.  I may not accept people’s perspective or opinion but I can get a deeper awareness of those around me.  I will always love my dog and I did even though I thought he was just a big scaredy-cat dog who barked at nothing.  But now I relate to him on his terms.  I don’t make fun of him for his fears; I understand his intention to warn.  I motivate my patients who abuse mood-altering substances to choose sobriety.  I don’t agree with their bad choices.  However, by understanding their reasons behind these choices, I can step in their shoes.  By doing that, I have a better chance of finding resources that will address the issues which led to their bad choices and homelessness.  Deeper understanding.  It’s a good thing for everybody.

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Memorial Day

I was going to continue exploring the idiosyncrasies of my dog Ein, but first, a post about Memorial Day.

As a young kid, I thought Memorial Day was a U.S. holiday to remember those in armed forces who died in combat but didn’t think much more about it. Back then, I considered this day in the same vein I thought about Presidents’ Day. That was a day for commemorating presidents’ birthdays. It was just a holiday, as Halloween was the holiday before All Saints Day. I knew about Halloween’s costumes and candy. You learn that pretty early in life! Actually I thought Halloween, Easter, Christmas and my birthday as the more meaningful holidays as they meant candy or gifts.

It was not until I was older that I learned about Halloween’s invokation of mortality, relatives who have died the year before, ghosts, and souls (and horror movies) which surround All Hallow’s Eve. Similarly, back then, I only knew the definition of Memorial Day rather than the full meaning behind the holiday. Matter of fact, I must have been daydreaming in kindergarten because I didn’t even get the definition right for a few years. Memorial Day is for all those who died while serving in the armed forces, not necessarily just those who died in combat.

As I got older, I began to understand the meaning behind the holiday. In school you are taught history and history is full of wars. Wars change history. Wars are declared for conquest, wars occur over territorial disputes, nation expansion and for freedom. No matter the circumstances behind wars, men (and later women) are the combatants who wage war against an opposing army.

Wage. The first time I heard that, I thought it was interesting to choose that verb to describe combat. I was the studying the American Revolutionary War. To me, it is as if people engage in war to maintain (or win their) freedom using their life and future as currency. Of course not all wars begin this way but I thought it was an apt description at the time.

No matter the cause, war is full of human misery and lives cut short. This is what separates Memorial Day from other holidays – and ties this day to Veterans’ Day (which celebrates those who serve (and served) in the armed forces. A young man’s or woman’s choice to serve in the armed forces is a brave decision. It is a significant undertaking whether it is by choice or by draft. When they enlist, no one knows if their service will be in peace or in war.

I am humbled that these individuals are placing (or placed) their life and limb to uphold our nation (or another nation’s) right to exist in peace and without oppression. I cannot make that ultimate risk to defend my country or the right to freedom at the front lines or abroad. I fear the constant danger of death too much and shy away from the expectation to kill in combat. Were we to be at war, I’d help the war effort through activities on the home front.

The weight of Memorial Day (and Veterans’ Day) gets heavier as I grow older than the casualties I read about in school (World War I and II, Korea, and Vietnam) and read about in Afghanistan, Gulf and Iraq Wars. And the burden increases for those who continue to die abroad throughout the world or at home for the cause of freedom.

I will never forget the enormous dread on the first day of the Gulf War. No one knows at the beginning of a war (for those who start it or for those who fight it) how long it will last, how will it escalate or how it will turn out. Back then, as we all faced graduation, my male classmates struggled with what to do and I worried about my brothers’ futures should it become a prolonged war. Throughout American history, many men and women risked their lives to fight for peace and they lost the gamble. As my life lenthens, their lives left the mortal coil.

It all boils down to this: multiple people have died for me to enjoy a peaceful life in the United States. I think John Maxwell Edmonds, a Bristish poet who was known to composed epitaphs during the Great War and World War II, summarized it best with this epitaph:

When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrows these gave their today.

When I was younger, this was an uncomfortable truth to swallow. What am I to do with my life in peacetime which has been sustained by the loss of others who did what I cannot bear to do myself? How can I honor the sacrifice of those who died for my country centuries ago and of those who continue to risk their lives today? I know, I know. I think a lot!

Like I said, I am older now. Perhaps a bit more wise as well. I have learned to acknowledge the courage of those who are or have been in service and those who have died while in service. And I honor them by living a life in peacetime. Yes, there are parades today, but I feel the best way to honor them every day is to enjoy the activities available to me in peace because my land is not at war. Instead of rationing, gathering provisions, or any other wartime activities, I can grow flowers rather than a Victory garden. The fact that that was the only example I could think of in a pinch indicates 3 things: 1) I don’t have much experience of life during war (good), 2) I watched a lot of PBS’ The Victory Garden (ok), 3) This post is getting too long (uh-oh).

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I think you know what I mean. Today I can enjoy the sunshine, my brother can fire up the grill and whatever else without our lives being restricted by constant threat of war on our doorstep. Speaking of which, with all this sun and breeze, it is time for us to groom my dog. He will not allow anyone to touch him or even comb him. It is a small but significant act.

Others risk their freedom and safety so that I (and others) can be safe at home to indulge my dog in a haircut and trim. It may be a long shot at an example, but it is true. My dog may not thank them for it, but I am grateful, knowing that I can never fully repay them for their risk, especially those who lost their future.

Adopting Happy

Recently I surprised myself with nostalgia and the tenacious grip of old yearnings. It started when someone showed me a beautiful photo of his new puppy. I gazed at the image. My first thought was, I wish my dog had that beautiful red-orange rust coat rather than his boring black-and-white markings. Another thought came up before I could register my surprise over the first thought: I wish my dog was a puppy so we could fix him. And here I thought my only thought would be what a gorgeous, adorable puppy!

Both are interesting automatic thoughts. This post is about the first thought and the next post explores my second thought.

I have no regrets on choosing to adopt my dog, Ein. And yet, even though I am Ein’s proud pet parent, I was astonished by the strong desire I held for a dog with less “boring” fur. Seven years ago, I decided to buy a dog and I told my brother who lives with me. As a fellow dweller, the decision to a doggie addition had to be mutual. My brother didn’t want a dog, but agreed to it as long as he had the choice of the dog’s breed and its name. Despite my persuasion, he wasn’t in the mood for any further compromises. I wasn’t budging from buying a dog.

My brother wanted a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He insisted on male Corgis bearing white and orange markings on their fur. (Furthermore, he wanted it to be beyond puppyhood. He already picked out the name. Not Einstein. Just a shortened nickname. Ein.) My brother had it all planned out. Below is a photo of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi:

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I kept my promise. But I’ve lived with all brown or all black dogs (and a great all golden dog), and I wanted a dog with more interesting markings. Therefore I expanded my search to both breeds of Corgi. I looked at Cardigan Welsh Corgis who are known to have coat combinations which include color such as black, orange, white, tan, gray, brown, rust, brindle and merle. Here is a photo of a Cardigan Welsh Corgi:

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Honestly, if it were up to me and I had no housemate, I’d forego the breed bias altogether. I just wanted to find an affectionate, healthy dog who exuded unconditional love. I looked and read about all dog breeds. So many dogs to love! As it turned out, during my search, the choice changed to Corgi mixes (due to the difficult search and cost of buying a purebred Corgi). Corgi plus another breed produced a wide range and shapes of dogs.

I found so many “maybe my future dog” dogs but my sixth sense, cost, age or location prevented me from going beyond mere perusal. Search through Internet listings was so much easier than when I visited my local dog shelter and pet stores. One day I found a listing that caught my attention. The perusal turned into frequent views and glimmer of determination. The photos were cute and something tugged my heart. Amazingly, using a search engine, I found the long ago Petfinder.com listing that persuaded me to check out this dog who is now part of our houshold. Here is the link to the original listing:
http://www.adoptapet.com/pet/1631481-earleville-maryland-corgi-mix

As you can see his foster mom named him Happy. And he does not look like a Pembroke Welsh Corgi but more like a wacky looking fox. His foster mother listed him as a possible year-old Corgi-Papillon mix. He does look like a large Papillion. Below is a photo of a Papillon or “dwarf or toy spaniel”:

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While we will never know his breeds for certain (as I do not have the funds to do DNA testing on my dog – and if I did, I’d rather learn about my own genetic past before his genes) it’s fun to guess my dog’s heritage. His height of 14 inches is a few inches higher than a Papillon and it is much higher than Corgis who are 9-10 inches. Ein’s 18 lb. weight is greater than a 9 lb. male Papillon but much less than the 24-30 lb. male Corgi. Papillons don’t have an undercoat but Ein has a double coat that Corgis possess. Ein sheds copious amounts of fur every second and at any puff of air.

However, it is obvious that despite my complaints about his fur, black-and-white markings and un-Corgi-like body shape, I (and my brother) decided to adopt this dog named Happy. I state the obvious. There are more things to consider than just coat color. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. (Okay, I pulled out that trite saying because it is true.) As an adult dog, Ein still looks like a super-sized Papillon. Or perhaps he looks like a miniature Border Collie. Maybe he has Border Collie genes. All I know is although I still pine for a more interesting mix of markings on my dog, he remains a marvelously formed mongrel.

The next post explains why his foster mother named my dog Happy and why my second thought was a desire to fix my dog – in a non-neutered matter as Ein has already had that kind of fix. Also I get past the book cover as I talk about Ein’s temperament. My biases about his personality led to misunderstanding my dog. However, looking at that beautiful photo of the new puppy, and that second automatic thought, helped me end my misplaced biases toward my dog. I gained greater understanding towards Ein – and perhaps more insight into my own biases toward my own temperament.

I know, lots of promises about enlightenment emerging from a post. It may not end up that way. But it felt like I experienced an epiphany when I realized how much knowledge I gained in understanding my dog’s annoying idiosyncrasies were actually perfectly normal. With me, enlightenment produces great emotion and superfluous, and an overhyped writing style. It is the aftereffects of the A-ha experience!

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Bus Etiquette

I don’t drive and I rely on public transit to get from point A to point B. When I am shivering on top of a snowbank, I look at cars and their cozy commuters with envy in my eye. Forget the driver. I lust after their cars, even the clunkers that emit foul exhaust as they limp past me. As a beautiful container of personal space, even the tiniest car provides climate control, serenity and personal command of music preference. Most of all, a car can go to point B whenever the driver has the desire.

Furthermore drivers can choose who will travel with them and their seat mate doesn’t sit thigh to thigh next to them. (Unless they want that kind of contact.) Drivers don’t have to witness lovers’ (or addicts’) quarrels erupting in front of you. It can get uncomfortable when one or both of the people try to include you in their argument in hopes you might agree with one of them. I can’t move away too far from them as it is the bus stop.

Meanwhile I am a slave to the bus schedule which, at times, doesn’t follow the schedule. Buses come too early or too late, don’t come at all or pass the stop altogether as it’s too packed to squeeze in one more passenger. Buses that do allow some squeezing in make me feel like a squished sardine. In these instances, I am grateful that the driver lets me embark but then I wonder if I am risking my life as I stand next to bus’ windshield. And when the bus driver asks us to move just a bit so he can see his mirror, then I am certain there is a risk.

Still, despite my extensive envy and long complaint about riding the bus, in general, I appreciate my bus experiences. The diversity of people packed into a tight, rumbling bus can dissolve into a smelly, grim, claustrophic-inducing experience, or the same situation can evolve into a shared experience of humorous, heart-warming moments. The possibility of witnessing unexpected glimpses into humanity prevents me from dismissing bus transit as dismal transportation altogether.

Many moments reaffirm my hope for humanity. I have seen people offer spare change to help others who lack sufficient fare. Many little kids have been caught by strangers when the bus lurches too hard as their caregivers are at the fare box. Bus drivers have waived fare for people in dire situations. People have collectively yelled at guys for cat-calling at female passengers. Helpful directions about bus routes have guided lost riders. I have been saved from missing my bus when people yell at the moving bus to wait for me. People assist parents and older people carry in their strollers, walkers and groceries.

However, I think the most interesting glimpses involve the vicissitudes of traveling by local bus. Oddly enough, complaints about bus service are great conversation starters. It’s a safe topic, everyone has a story and it’s more interesting than the weather. Depending on the riders, sometimes swapping stories becomes slightly competitively. I wonder if there are embellishments as each storyteller keeps extending the hours of the tardy bus or adds more harrowing details of near misses between bus and bike/pedestrian/car. In those tales, the teller always believes the bus had the responsible driver. Whether the anecdotes are true or not, I’d think a bus’ bulk is a significant factor in any situation.

My recent contribution to the story competition involved a man who tried to slip by two bus rules. Bus riders must enter the bus at the front to pay exact fare. However, enterprising individuals have been known to skip the fare by jumping on the bus through the exit doors in the back. Those of us who do pay glare at these people but no one says anything.

I don’t know exactly why, but I, and others, don’t usually make a fuss when people break bus rules. Mostly, I guess, we don’t care. But, in this instance, the man who jumped onto the bus had a companion. A pit bull puppy came with him in the back of the bus. I sat in the middle of the bus and waited for the fuss.

First there was alarm. Only service dogs are allowed on public transit.  Still, I have yet to see any service dog on the bus. The stir started with intense discussion whether the pit bull dog was dangerous. Some observed the puppy was more scared than the worried passengers.  Others countered that the dog’s pit bull breed was more important than his young age. Most people were just pissed that the man had the audacity to skip the fare and bring a dog onto the bus, particularly a pit bull dog.  But there were few who were willing to help the man hide the puppy amid the crush of people.

During the heated debate, the man stood stoic and silent in the back and tried to hide from himself and his dog from the bus driver. While everyone’s opinions started to turn into arguments, no one yelled to the driver about the two interlopers. I wondered when the moment of discovery would occur. I had some regret that I had to get off at the next bus stop. Quietly I put my bid into the “I dislike you for skipping the fare but your puppy is more distressed than dangerous” camp.

I wish I witnessed more of this tale but I had to disembark. I must leave things unresolved. However, the bus didn’t move away from the stop even as I left the area. I think I just missed that juicy moment of discovery and judgment by the bus driver. I suppose the driver refused to move the bus unless the man and his puppy left the bus.

Many sticky situations have been fixed when the driver acts like a parent and wields his or her power over us. We are dependent on when the driver comes to our stop, whether or not we can get on the bus and when we arrive at our destination. And no matter how many interesting tales I witness as a bus rider, it’s my dependence on the bus driver which fuels my envy toward any car and its independent driver.

Concern for Others

I think about the importance of empathy among human beings as I watch social unrest unfold in Baltimore, Ferguson and multiple other locations in the U.S. and abroad.  My focus is not on the events that led to the looting which are complex and deserve an expert opinon other than mine and more space than a paragraph post.  I am more interested in the presence of thoughts and emotions which might influence someone’s decision to commit unlawful activity.  This post aims to discuss possible thoughts involved in people’s decision whether to obey or disobey rules. For the purpose of this discussion, I am assuming the absence of emotional, impulse-driven decisions.

I believe people’s conscience scales balance the weight of what they want, concern for others’ welfare and their welfare before they decide whether to comply with society’s standards of law and order.  For instance, if you are running late to work, an interview or a movie, you have the choice of staying within the speed limit (and arrive late) or go over the posted speed (and perhaps arrive on time).  Your decision hinges on your desire to be on time, especially in the interview scenario, your welfare, and the welfare of others.  How likely is it that you might get into an accident?  Or what is the possibility of you causing an accident?  Do you think the police will catch you?  Is your route filled with speed traps?  Or are school bus routes along the way?  Are your kids with you?

People’s concern toward others can influence their decision to be a law-abiding citizen or not.  However, it needn’t be the overriding reason.  There have been times when I feel that the only reason my full bladder and I don’t jump the line in the ladies room is the potential backlash from other ladies and their full bladders.  Consequences for breaking rules can motivate people to follow out of self-preservation if they do not care about others and the meted punishment (fine vs. jail sentence) affects our choice.

While there are a multitude of factors which influence a person’s decision to break the law, of the three I mentioned above, I consider the lack of concern for others to be the worst.  Those who loot in the midst of social unrest, as I have seen on TV, most recently in Baltimore, or those who oppress literally or figuratively through physical, psychological or political abuse, create the most chaos in my opinion.  As citizens, we are aware that no authority can be so vigilant as to catch every transgression.  I didn’t do my homework every day as a child, my mother didn’t ferret every lie I uttered in childhood and I haven’t got caught for jaywalking.  I don’t want to be hit by a car but I also don’t want to miss a bus, so sometimes I jaywalk.

However, I believe an important piece of a successful society is built on our concern for others.  More accurately, I think it’s a combination of others’ welfare and the trust implied that others will hold the same amount of concern for them as well.  As you speed (or don’t speed), you assume that can speed responsibly (or refrain from doing so) even as you hope that other speeding drivers still drive well or that fellow drivers obey the speed limit.  As I jaywalk, I assume that the drivers approaching the intersection obey the law and stop at the crosswalk, even as I am striding against the light.

In Baltimore, when the people stole, set fires and vandalized stores and cars, I wonder if the thieves were operating on the assumption as well that the police officers would act responsibly and not harm them with undue force.  Then again, perhaps, their desire for self-preservation went out the broken window amid their desire for mayhem.  Sometimes I wonder about how strong my sense of preservation is when I have encountered some near run-ins when I crossed against the light or skipped the cross-walk.  Still, there is no guarantee that you bend/break the law and the other will comply with the law.

Safety would serve all of us if we abide by the law out of a concern for others rather than just compliance to avoid punishment.  Law and order is maintained by a combination of compliance and empathy.  For instance, I try to hold the door open if I see an older person behind me or anyone who might need a helping hand.  Is it the law?  No.  But, while I may lose some minutes waiting for the person, it makes things go easier for that person.  And as above, I’d like to hope one day that someone would do that to me when my arms are bursting with books, groceries, whatever.

Gestures like that are small but significant.  These empathetic actions can turn into greater ones.  If some of those who participated in the Baltimore riots took the time to consider how their violence has destroyed already struggling Baltimore neighborhoods, perhaps they might have channeled their emotions in a less volatile manner.  People have been injured and families lost their homes to flames.

I am not so naive as to think that consideration of others’ welfare would have been enough prevent the violence or that a mere lack of empathetic regard towards others is the sole reason behind the people’s unlawful choice.  However, I do speculate that empathy for others could have swayed their decisions. Maybe if they had learned to truly practice placing themselves in others’ shoes, internalized the need to treat others with the same deference as themselves, and believed that others in society treat them fairly and equally, these values might have helped to dissuade the decision to break the law.

I don’t know any one of those people who havocked Baltimore.  But the mystery author P. D. James’ quote brings up an interesting observation which may be relevant: “What a child doesn’t receive, he can seldom later give.”  All I can say in the end is the following. Rioters (and other abusers) choose their wants over others’ welfare.  Our decisions and actions affect other human beings even if we disregard our relationship to others.