Wordless Wednesday: Singapore Botanical Gardens

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Will Probably Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Will Probably Never Read

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I love this week’s prompt from the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish, as let’s face it, even the most bookish of us have titles that we either have good intentions of getting to but always seem to drift to the bottom of the “to read” pile, or we have those ones that we are just well aware that we will never pick up unless we’re desperately stuck with nothing else to read. (Actually, I’m experiences a bit of that now, having traveled without proper bookage and am not forced to choose between the few English channels my hotel in Singapore gets or a terribly boring book I brought along, hoping it would be better. I might be wishing a bit for a few of the books on this week’s list after all.)

Again, in the normal “no particular order” I present you with ten books I will just probably never get around to reading…

50 Shades of Gray by E. L. James I know these were super popular, but they just never held any appeal for me. Not that I need all of my books to be super “literary” but I do think I’d like a bit more plot than it sounds like these offer and honestly, I have a hard time with the fact that that crazy relationship was somehow twisted to be a positive and mutually respectful one. Not really a score for feminism, I’m afraid.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky– I just never went down the Russian literature road and don’t really see it in my future. I did read Anna Karenina and was so annoyed with her character that I didn’t go any farther with the genre.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert­- Again, a caveat on this one, as I may end up picking it up by the end of the year since I am currently studying travel literature, a topic I find fascinating, but this one never drew me in. It feels so overly self-indulgent and self-centered. I’m all for travel narratives that incorporate personal growth along the way (a theme heavily relied on in many travel narratives by female writers), but this one just seems over the top. (Again, having not read it, I base that on what I have read/heard about the book, so it is probably not a totally fair summary, but since this week’s list is of books we don’t plan to read, I assume we are all in the same boat on that particular issue.)

It by Stephen King– Just too scary! There is no way I could make it through this book without having to store it in my freezer, a Joey move from Friends. I saw the movie the summer I graduated from high school and didn’t sleep well for weeks. There is no way I could handle the imagines my mind would come up with if I were reading it.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville– This is probably sacrilegious considering I have a BA in literature and am currently working on an MA in literature, but Moby Dick just isn’t for me. I had to read it as an undergraduate and somehow skimmed enough of it to take part in class discussions and was lucky enough to find totally unrelated topics for my term papers because skimming is a pretty generous term for what I did on this book. My undergrad days were before internet was super useful for such searches, so I basically read topic sentences, a paragraph or two per chapter and called it in when it came to class participation. I definitely will not be picking this one up again! The white whale may be been Ismael’s nemesis, but this narrative is mine!

Snow by Orhan Pamuk- I tried. I really did. It was a Nobel Prize winner, after all. And yet, I just couldn’t get into it. I think I stuck it out for about 100 pages before finally setting it aside, something I rarely do with books. I’m a bit of a finisher when it comes to books, even the ones I don’t totally love because I never know when I am going to miss out on something spectacular. Any maybe I am. I must be. It won a Nobel Prize, after all…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson- The first of these books came out in English while I was in the Peace Corps, so I wasn’t able to jump on the bandwagon early and then they became so crazy popular I was kind of turned off by them. But, the more I learned, the less likely I was to pick up this series anyway. Graphic violence is just not my thing, either in books or movies, and I feel like there was enough of this to make me look other places with my book buying dollars.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks- (Or any of his other books, to be honest.) I have a sister-in-law who is going to kill me for this addition to the list, but I’ve just never been able to get on the Sparks bandwagon. I don’t know why. I am not much of a fan of romance novels and judging by the books covers (a no-no, I know) it seems like they all follow a very similar plotline with few characters outside the realms of middle class white folk.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Persig- I gave this one a shot. Actually, several shots. Over the years this one has been recommended to me time and time again, but each time I pick it up I don’t make it far before being thoroughly confused and bored. I know it is supposed to be deep and meaningful, but I can barely follow the plot/theories and often end up thinking about lunch, a nap, the laundry and just about anything else other than the words on the page. Even if it is pushed my way again, I doubt I’ll give it another go.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling– I am putting this one last so that maybe people won’t give up on me until they’ve read the rest of my list. I know for a lot of book-folks out there, this is the be-all, end-all of series, but I just never really go into it. (Please don’t hate me!) I read the first two. Liked the first one a lot, felt indifferent enough about the second I never picked up the third. I saw the first movie and called it good after one there as well and I have no real intentions of going back to the books at this point. I never say never though…

After finishing this week’s list, I’m not sure I’m as enamored with the topic as I was when I started writing an hour ago. I feel so negative about books right now!(In my defense, I had a hard time coming up with ten books/series, so there is much more good stuff out there!) There are so many great ones out there and even those on my list are loved by loyal readers, so I feel bad panning them because they aren’t my cup of tea. In the end, read what makes you happy! This is my list of books I doubt I’ll ever pick up, but as I learned on Reading Rainbow many years ago, “Don’t take my word for it!” Find a book, a series or an author you love and read until there is nothing else to read.

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Officially a Diver!

Open Water Dive #3-

Day two of our SCUBA weekend dawned early as every rooster in the vicinity was keen on letting us know the sun would soon rise. I was a bit sore from the previous day’s long swim (you know, the one where we damn near died) and my coral scrape was redder and angrier than the day before, but my biggest complaint was my feet. The big toe on my left foot had a giant blister, and I couldn’t imagine shoving it back into a flipper. When I got to the dive shop, I asked one of the workers about trading for a new pair of fins, thinking at least if they rubbed, they would rub in a different spot. Taking a quick glance at my fins from Saturday, we quickly realized why only one foot was sore- my fins were two different sizes! The one on my right foot was the correct size, but the left flipper was a size smaller. No wonder if rubbed so badly! After getting matching fins (and a pair of socks to help lessen the already painful blister), it was time to head out for a day of boat diving.

The first task of the day was to get our equipment ready to go, something we had done numerous times before, but never with the added challenge of a boat bumping over waves as it made its way to our destination.  It took longer, but eventually we all had our BCDs strapped to our tanks, our weight belts on and our masks ready to go. There is only one way to exit a small boat once your equipment is on- the back roll! We had not practiced this at the pool and it took me a couple of deep breaths to psych myself up for the maneuver, but with one final draw of air, over I went. Thank goodness for an inflated BCD! I quickly popped back to the surface, ready for another outing.

Convincing myself to deflate the BCD and head under the water usually takes a few extra seconds. Each time the teacher would give us the signal to descend, my classmates all quickly disappeared below the surface, but because I had been having ear problems, I was always more cautious about the decent. As I worked on getting myself ready to head under on Saturday morning, my little routine was immediately sped up when I saw a sea snake, just inches from my face. He was black and white striped and came swimming along right in front of my eyes. I’m not talking about an arm’s length away or ever a comfortable foot away. He was in my space bubble 100%. Not wanting to spend any extra time with him, I dropped at a rate faster than I ever had before. Goodbye surface. Goodbye snake! (I learned that evening that he was a particularly poisonous sea snake, lethal to those he bit. And he was inches from my FACE!)

For some reason, I had no equalization problems with my ears all day on Saturday. They easily popped and I never got the shooting pains of Friday’s dives.

This third dive was the last one where we had to check off skills, which we did in quick succession. The reef we were swimming near was full of fish, so while each person when through their various checks of removing their mask, using the compass (a skill I am sure I didn’t really pass, as I pretty much just swam in a circle, but whatever!)  and demonstrating proper buoyancy, the rest of us enjoyed swimming around in the world’s largest aquarium. Apparently, a few people saw a turtle, which I am hugely bummed I did not see, but I did see lots of brightly colored fish and sea urchins. (This weekend also taught me that those sea cucumbers that I thought were so rare and exotic when I did my 4th grade research report on them are really not nearly so special. They sea floor was covered with them, looking not unlike certain parts of male anatomy, scatter hither and thither.)

On this third dive, we went down to nineteen meters, the maximum regularly certified divers are allowed to go. (Technically, we are certified to eighteen meters, but when our instructor checked her dive computer that evening, it showed we made an extra couple of feet before hitting the ocean floor.) I think one thing that stunned me the most about this dive was how it didn’t feel like we were nearly sixty feet below the surface of the ocean. Amazing!

Open Water Dive #4-

Finally! The final dive of the weekend. A week ago I would have told you I was not sure if I would make it this far, but there I was. Off the boat I bailed, not even the last to back roll into the sea.

The final dive was really about just enjoying SCUBA. We had no skills to check off, but rather a start point and an end time and away we went. We swam through coral reefs and saw fish of all types, including the dreaded trigger fish. (Stay away from that one!) We wove our way through rock formations to which clung spiky urchins and wavy anemone. We spent forty minutes under the sea, all of which passed much too quickly, as there was always something to see around the next corner.

And, it was done.

I am now a certified diver! A few years ago, it would not have even been on my radar to get certified (not a lot of cool SCUBA to be done in Idaho, after all) and a year ago when I first saw the classes offered in the embassy newsletter, I was skeptical. A month ago I was a nervous wreck. But today, I am a SCUBA diver. While I am never going to be the Sportiest of Spices, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve!

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Wordless Wednesday: Beware!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who (Travel)

Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who (Travel)

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This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is about finding ten books whose protagonists have something in common. Of course, because my entire reading life revolves around travel literature at this point, my mind went instantly to that place, but I didn’t want to fill my list with non-fiction narratives, so tried to expand and include some of my favorite “travel” books of all time. As always, because I have a hard time just getting to ten, I avoided having to choose a #1 by putting them in alphabetical order. (Cop-out, I know!)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson– (Non-fiction) This is a hilarious adventure of hiking on the Appalachian Trail. If you’ve not picked up something by Bryson before, I’d say this is the one to start with!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– (Fiction)- Beautifully written story of a Nigerian woman who lives in the US for a time and then returns home, juxtaposing the two worlds. I loved the discussions of being African in America, but not African-American, a distinction that I had never thought about before, as well as the peek into the world of Nigeria, a country a deal with on a daily basis, but mostly in terms of warning people away from scams.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini- (Fiction) Another beautifully written story that has many elements of travel in it, both within Afghanistan and from the US to Afghanistan. This is one of those books that I can’t stop thinking about. It was both heartbreaking and magnificent at the same time. Again, if you’ve not read Hosseini before, this is the one to start with!

Blood River by Tim Butcher- (Non-fiction) This is the travel narrative of Butcher, who attempts to cross the Congo, following the path of the famous journalist H. Stanley (“Dr. Livingston, I presume”). It is a powerful look at what the country has become post-colonization and post-dictatorship with a great mix of history and culture included in the tale of his journey.

Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell- (Fiction)- One of my all-time favorite YA novels and a huge reason I decided to study a combination of YA literature and travel literature. If this book doesn’t make you want to pack your backpack and catch a flight tomorrow, I don’t know what will. (Kelsey, if you are reading this blog, find this book!)

Peak by Roland Smith- (Fiction)- Another great YA novel about travel- this one awfully timely with the horrific earthquake in Nepal this week. The main character heads to Everest in an attempt to be the youngest to ever summit the mountain, but along the way learning as much about himself and life as he does about technical climbing skills.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro- (Fiction)- A new release, just having come out earlier this year, this book is amazing. It is a strange but great combination of fairy tale and fantasy with a touch of historical fiction thrown in. The story itself meanders a bit, but I loved the overall theme of memories and whether we should take the bad with the good and what it is worth in the end. Powerful!

The Martian by Andy Weir- (Fiction) – I suppose there is no travel father than to Mars! If you haven’t read this one yet, do it before the movie comes out. (Always read the book first!) I’ve given this book as a gift to several friends/family members and have had only positive reviews.

The Odyssey by Homer- (Fiction)- What list of great traveling characters would be complete without The Odyessey? It is the first and foremost leader in travel narratives! Really, no further comment is needed.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams- (Non-fiction)- I didn’t want to get away from this week without at least one more contemporary travel literature entry. I love this one because Adams writing makes you wish you were there with him on the adventure, even when you really don’t want to be a part of some of the situations he encounters. Now that is great writing!

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Taking it to the Sea

It is no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am not the Sportiest of Spices.  As much as I sometimes think I would like to be a runner, I have no stamina and I definitely do not have any rhythm for Zumba or the like. (Heck, I can’t even get an elliptical to run smoothly!) So, it may come as quite a shock to those same diligent readers to learn that I am now officially a PADI SCUBA certified diver! That’s right. After two days of closed water courses as the embassy pool (click here for those details), I headed to the scenic Tioman Island last weekend to do my open water courses for final certification.  (Look for more on the travel itself in an upcoming blog, tentatively titled “From Marsing to Mersing”!)

Finishing my certification required four open water dives, each of which turned out to be a bit of an adventure in and of itself;  luckily, I had a good group of colleagues/classmates (and, of course, my dive buddy for life!) who braved the journey at the same time. I had been dreading this weekend for months, not sure if I would be able to actually complete the course without total panic setting in. As a matter of fact, for the entire week before the trip, I felt like I used to feel during finals week in college. I just wanted it to be over, for better or for worse. Good grades or terrible grades, certification or no certification, just let the stress end.

We made it to Tioman by midmorning on Friday, dropped our stuff in our rustic (clean, but low on amenities, like a flushing toilet) cabin and headed directly to the dive shop. We were off and running with no time to fret. This was smart planning.

Open Water Dive #1

 This dive is meant to be just a dip of a toe into ocean waters. After becoming comfortable in the pool (not an easy task to begin with in my case), it can be a huge jump from knowing the surface is always just a few feet overhead to being in a much less controlled situation. Because this was a shore dive, we had to suit up at the dive shop and walk to the ocean, a few hundred meters away. Let me just remind you that I am about the wimpiest person on the face of the earth (I’ve never been able to do a single pull-up and I could do maybe three pushups if my life depended on it), so hauling that tank about did me in. Picture Quasimodo in a bathing suit. Once we reached the water, it was a literal weight off of my shoulders.

For the first dive, we only went down about five meters and I don’t think I even realized we were that far down, though my ears screamed we must be at the bottom of the Marinas Trench. This session was mostly about passing off skills that we had previously practiced in the pool and it all went well until we had to change from our own regulator to the spare one our dive buddy was carrying. (Thad has been my dive buddy throughout this process. If you want to send him condolences, I can provide you with contact information! He definitely got the short end of the dive-buddy stick.)  I took my regulator out and grabbed his spare one, only to have the mouthpiece of it fall off! Luckily, our dive instructor was there and handed me back my own regulator before I even realized what was happening. Before I knew it, I was back breathing my own air, Thad’s spare was fixed and away we went.

The biggest issue for this first time out to sea for me was my ears. They just wouldn’t equalize! I’ve never had a problem with them when we fly, but for some reason the water pressure really got to me. My ears would not pop! (I also realized on this trip that I apparently do not know the difference between my nose and my mouth. I would try to hold my nose and breathe through it to pop my ears and each time, air would come flowing out of my regulator. Or, I would take a deep breath in preparation for clearing my mask, only to realize my entire breath went out my mouth instead of my nose, leaving me with salt water to the eyebrows. After three plus decades of life, how do I not know the differences between these two parts of my respiratory track?!?)

Since this was a shore dive, it meant surfacing and wading back to shore the way we had come, which was fine until a wave crashed me into a bit of coral, leaving a rather nice scrape on my right leg. My first (but surely not my last!) SCUBA injury! (Can I be on the SCUBA DL?)

Dive #1 was only about twenty minutes and while we didn’t see a whole lot worth reporting home, it was nice to have some fish to look at while my classmates checked off their skills, rather than staring at the pool tiles like I had done in the past. Watching bright little fish flit does a much better job keeping my mind calm than smudgy blue tiles.

Open Water Dive #2-

This is where the poo hit the fan. Dive two was another shore dive, but rather than wading in from the beach, we all did the “giant stride” off the end of the jetty. I did a much slower ascent on this dive, hoping my ears would take care of themselves, which they did, kind of. They never fully equalized and while they weren’t killing me like the first dive, there was definite pressure as I went lower and lower.

Once I finally reached the bottom with my classmates, we were all just floating in a circle, waiting for another round of skill checks when I felt a nip on my leg. Already a bit freaked out about the possibilities of hostility beneath the sea, I looked at my instructor, wide-eyed, only to see him laughing (as much as is possible through a mask and regulator.) He pointed at white and yellow fish and then made a biting motion with his hands. Not a second later, I felt the nip again. That dang little fish was biting me! Apparently, I had invaded his territory and he was having none of it. Jerk fish! (To be fair, maybe I was the jerk by stationing myself right on top of his house, but still…)

Dive two was going swimmingly (yup, I went there!) until the end, at which point it the whole thing went a bit south. We were all supposed to head back to the jetty, but a strong current kicked up and no one could make any progress under the water. Some divers made it back to a rope as a meeting place, but others of us were hauled in the wrong direction. Soon, we all surfaced, but fighting the current on the surface was no easier than below. For every foot of progress I made, I lost the same amount of ground. Using a brightly colored fence on the shore as my gauge, I quickly realized that I was getting nowhere, quickly.

After nearly half an hour of paddling (remember, I am a terrible swimmer and super wimpy) I pretty much thought I was going to die. With the shore just 100 meters or so to my right, I had pretty much resigned myself to death at sea (or at least the need for a boat rescue.)

Instead, though, I gave up on the jetty as a goal and just headed inland. It didn’t matter that I still had two more skills to check-off; I was done. I aimed my body for shore and paddled like mad. Before long, I realized most of my classmates had done the same thing. No one could fight the current any longer and we all just wanted out of the water at that point.

To shore we headed!

Meeting up again on the beach, the general agreement was to call it a day and to finish our skills during the first dive on day two. Even the instructors seemed surprised at the strength of the current! (Neither of them made the jetty either, both making for shore with the rest of us.) Friday evening, as we sat at the dive center, filling in our dive logs for the day, one classmate succinctly and cheekily summarized the dive in his log with a single sentence, “We damn near died.”

Day one was done. I had a nice battle wound; I provided a bit of nourishment for an angry fish; I bobbed at sea like a tropical Titanic survivor. I finished.

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Wordless Wednesday: Malaysian BMI

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