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Archive for January, 2011

Inspiration takes Work

I haven’t written about how things are going with my Foster Youth kid in a while. I’ve been working with him for 6 months. The available metrics indicate that he’s making progress. His GPA has risen almost a full point (to 3.5) this past semester, his attitude is getting a little more positive, and his focus is improving. Although I am unwilling to take much credit for his improvement, I sometimes think that –perhaps– I’m inspiring him positively.

About a week ago, I was asked by the Court to administer his Educational Rights. I accepted. Unfortunately, the State is very limited in their goals for Foster kids. All the State wants is for the kid to graduate high-school and turn 18. There are some bridge programs and scholarships, but it is a patch-work quilt at best. Without the guidance they need to negotiate the complicated youth-to-young-adult transition, an outrageous amount of these former foster youth end up immediately homeless– and even more face homelessness down the road.

Which brings me to my goals and how I can help him. I want him to graduate college, in a respectable timeframe, with a decent GPA, and a useful major.

The first step on the path to those goals is the prepping for college applications and helping him decide where to apply. There’s a lot to consider. He needs a school with a dorm that stays open during holidays. He also needs a low (or free) college tuition. Yes, he’s eligible based on financial need… but all that paperwork will be daunting, so I don’t want to get him into a situation where there’s a lot of unnecessary complication.

I just spent a couple of hours watching TV and looking up info about colleges. I’m overwhelmed. Let me put that in italics so that you can understand my amazement: I’m overwhelmed. Wow. Colleges are expensive, hard to get into, and very few have year-round dorms. Yeah… this will be difficult.

I did find one school that intrigued the heck out of me, but I don’t know that he’ll be interested. Ever heard of Deep Springs College? About 15 boys are admitted each year to this 2-year alternative college. They live and work the ranch, which has a reputation as a feeder school to the country’s most prestigious colleges.

It will be challenging for me to guide him through conversations in an attempt to figure out the best place for him to thrive and flourish. Wish me luck!

Update: I met with him today and chatted about all this. He’s thankful for my guidance, but we have a lot to do.

Singapore Is Great

If you get a chance, visit Singapore. It is a really nice city. Yes, they are known for being strict: they fine people for all sorts of things, they even cane men. But you know what? I think it works. Call it an extreme version of the Broken Window Theory.

Here are my photos.


The Traveler in Me – Fogey Rant

Yesterday, in Kuala Lumpur, it occurred to me that my sense of adventure and travel was shaped by my early experiences, and those experiences/preferences/interpretations may not be serving me so well in this Flat World. I also realized that I’m an old fogey… because I’m about to launch into a “back in my day” rant. Forgive me in advance. I hope it’s at least entertaining.

My parents took me to Europe several times when I was young, in the 1980s. At that time, global brands were not at a saturation point. Starbucks was not on every corner. McDonald’s was the most common western brand, but it wasn’t ubiquitous by any stretch of the imagination. As late as 1993, I recall that there was no McDonald’s in Florence, Italy.

Those early trips were challenging, but exhilarating. I remember one time we ate at a hole-in-the-wall that could hardly be called a restaurant somewhere in France. My parents didn’t speak French, nor did I. (Later, I studied the language in high-school, but never really learned much.) The meat dish we ordered (by sight alone) was a bit tough, but quite flavorful and prepared in a distinctly French cuisine kind of way. At the end of the meal, we played a game of charades to figure out what kind of meat we’d consumed. It turned out to be horse. C’est la vie!

And I recall my mother dragging me to every museum in every town. If I complained of being hot or tired and she’d cajole me: “One more room, just one more room. There’s a masterpiece ahead!”

And so, I have an idea of what traveling should be: different, with lots of fantastic local stuff to see, do, and experience. The concept of getting on a plane for 14 hours only to see the same stores, eateries, and experience the same stuff doesn’t jibe for me. And that’s kind of what’s going on in this new, flat world: especially in the modern cities around the world. It just took me a little while to figure that out at a really personal, internal level. Don’t get me wrong: I read the book… I just didn’t really think about what that would mean for my sense of personal adventure.

I thrive on the culture shock of a good trip. Gambling and shopping in a different locale are never going to thrill me, and seeing the famous local landmarks may only fill up a day on the local Hop On Hop Off bus. Unfortunately, local cuisine and authentic, local, non-touristy entertainment is getting harder and hard to find. I have struggled in this city (Kuala Lumpur) to find authentic, local food. I had to pass not only Starbucks, but also Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Carls Jr., Tony Romas, and Subway before coming to a place called Madam Kwans, which serves the famous malay dishes: curry laksa and nasi lemak.

Passing all those western restaurants made me sad. Globalization certainly employs a lot of people, but it is making the world too homogeneous for my taste. And I’m sorry to report that my entertainment – on my last day in Malaysia – consisted of getting a tan by the pool after strolling through Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s, and other luxury stores. I know…. it sounds like a shallow, high-maintenance-girl, thing to do. It is not my finest world traveler/globetrotter moment.

The point of this post is that I think I better find something else to challenge/entertain myself whilst traveling. I need to become a different kind of traveler. I am intrigued by these people that travel the world to do their sport hobby (e.g.: surfing, scuba diving, biking) around the world. I like hiking quite a bit, but I was quite scared in Tasmania and subsequently decided to be more cautious about hiking in foreign terrains where I don’t even know the name of, or know how to spot, the wildlife that can kill me. Urban hiking is good too, but can be a bit sketchy for a single woman in many cities around the world, so I don’t stray too far of the beaten path anywhere.

Maybe I should collect something (besides magnets) from around the world. Something that will spawn a treasure hunt in every city. I don’t know, I’m reaching here. Does anyone have any ideas for what I should be doing as a traveler? If so, drop me an email.

Best Spanish food? Kuala Lumpur, of course!

Look, I’m not one of those travelers who will blow smoke up your butt, dear reader. Sometimes I love my travel destinations (ex: Vienna, La Palmilla, NYC, Maui, etc.), sometimes I loathe places and vow never to return (ex: Hungary), and sometimes I’m glad I came, but don’t have much to write home about.

Such is the case for the city of Kuala Lumpur. I know, I know… there are those amongst you who say: but you’re only in the city? What do you expect? You gotta get out into the wilderness areas! Yeah, maybe. But I’m a girl. And the wilderness part of this country has leeches and malaria. No thanks.

So back to the city of Kuala Lumpur. It’s clean! It’s easy to get around! The shopping is great! And it is boring as hell. I don’t know what to tell you. No explanation. And I’m having quite a difficult time getting something that is specifically Malay. Everything that is highlighted by the tourist bureau is “influenced” by somewhere else: English, Chinese, Indians, Iranians, and others. Not to mention all of the European brands. Those stores are all here to: Fendi, Chanel, Bally, Ferragamo, Ermenegildo Zegna, etc.

I think that the stand out parts of the city of Kuala Lumpur are as follows:

  • Awesome Indian temple: Sri Maha Marimman Temple Drevarthanam
  • Unbelievably yummy tapas/spanish food at La Bodega restaurant at the Pavillion shopping center
  • the outside of the Petronas towers and the mall inside. Everyone agrees that going up to the skybridge is a massive waste of time, so we skipped it.

That said, I’m quite glad I came to the city. I’d come here again. The people are quite nice and, like I said, the place is pretty clean. Just not particularly interesting.

Update: I had Malay food tonight for dinner. Pretty good. I liked it. Not as much as I liked that Spanish restaurant, but that place should be Michelin rated.


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