Not a Pioneer

If you are of a certain age (not to give anything away, but let’s say 30-something), you probably remember eagerly awaiting your turn on the one classroom computer to take your chances on Oregon Trail. (Actually, when I was in first grade, I remember having to go to the hallway to use the computer, which was on a rolling cart and had a Puff the Magic Dragon on the screen when it booted up. I have no recollection about whether that was part of a particular program or had to do with the operating system, but I loved that giant green dragon with smoke billowing from his nose. Computer time!)

I remember rushing through my phonics workbook so that I could get my name on the computer-user list early, as nothing was more exciting than taking chances on a virtual trek across the United States in search of the bountiful land promised by the Oregon territory.  (To be fair, I always rushed through my phonics workbook. It was utterly boring. And worse than the phonics pages themselves was the fact that the teacher then told me to color in all of the pictures when I was done. I remember being extremely annoyed by this request, as even at the young age of six I could detect busy work when it came my way. Coloring in the socks, fox and clocks in no way taught me that “cks” and “x” had the same sounds, but it did keep me from being first to the pillow pile with my library book!)

But I digress.

Oregon Trail.

I loved that game, green screen and all. Hunting was a huge part of surviving to the end of the game and I was an ace at taking down a bison or two (big and slow, no skills needed), but the squirrels and rabbits alluded my slowly typed “POW”s and “BANG”s. Wild game may have kept virtual-me alive long enough to fall victim to typhoid, dysentery and snakebites, but I’ve recently been reminded IRL (you know, gamer code for “in real life”—I’m hip like that!) that I was never cut out to be a pioneer.

I just don’t have a tough bone in my body.

A few weeks ago, I was home in Idaho for the holidays (the first time in years!) and was greeted by falling snow the very first morning. Luckily, I brought home my one pair of pants and my one hoodie so that I had something to wear to Target where I could pick up another sweater or two. (Right there you can realize how un-tough I am. My first stop Stateside was Target.) That beautiful snow that covered the ground through Christmas morning set the perfect scene for a winter wonderland holiday season, but it also dropped several feet of wet, sticky frozen mess on the deck/roof of my parent’s cabin in central Idaho. Not long after the wrapping paper had been bundled into the recycling bin and the last of the holiday treats were consumed, we headed north to do a bit of snow shoveling. I’ve never loved winter, but after spending nearly two years acclimatizing to a low of 75 degrees, when the thermometer in the car hit -7, I knew I was going to be in trouble! As soon as we got to the cabin, folks geared up for the cold weather, heading outside to shovel and snow blow, taking weight off the deck and making room for the roof snow to come off in sheets. Realizing I was in no way prepared to face the freezing temperatures, not in terms of clothing or mental toughness, I quickly volunteered to tend the home fires.


With flames raging in the fireplace, I made it my task to make indoors nice and cozy so when the shovel-bearing folks came in, they’d be able to thaw their fingers and dry their layers. I also spent the morning entertaining the young ones who quickly got tired of the cold. (Snow is fun when it is above freezing, but below that mark, it doesn’t take long for a little body to chill all the way through, even with sleds calling their names.) Plus, on top of fire tending and child entertaining, I made lunch for the entire work crew. (Alright, those of you who know me well are starting to think this must all be a dream. That is more domestic duty than I’ve done in my entire life! But I promise, those options were far more enticing than facing the cold, wet snow in jeans and a hoodie.)

So, I am not tough when it comes to cold. Fact established. I would have died from exposure on the Oregon Trail.

(After complaining about being frozen for a few weeks, my vacation was over and it was time to head back to Kuala Lumpur, work and my “real” life. I was looking forward to some warm weather and eating on patios once again, but it seems my complaining bit me in the butt. Let’s call it temperature karma. An embassy near the equator with no air conditioner. That is what I found on Monday morning.  The details are long and uninteresting, but basically there were generator problems, which meant AC problems, which meant our office was 96 degrees on Monday. [Not an exaggeration.] Tuesday was not better. )

Temperature isn’t the only thing that would have prevented me from being a hardy pioneer. The first major obstacle to my successful reincarnation as an outdoorsy survivalist? Food. As a matter of fact, I would most surely have died of starvation before the elements got to me. I may have made it through the virtual continent crossing on wild game and my wits, but on a day to day basis, I’m more likely to starve than eat something strange.

Case in point: Today I ordered a chicken quesa from the food truck parked outside the embassy. (Chicken quesa= chicken meat and cheese in a soft taco shell, folded over like a taco.) I ordered it plain, figuring that minus the onions and sauce, it would be an acceptable lunch and get me through the afternoon. I was wrong. I am not sure how much actual chicken meat made it into my quesa (quesa is not a thing!), but I can tell you that I must have had close to half a chicken’s worth of chicken skin in that thing. I tried to discreetly pick it out, but when I pulled on a huge, slimy chunk, I almost lost what I had already eaten. Enough of that. I pulled the tortilla off and ate that and then supplemented today’s lunch with some chocolate. Not an option for pioneers!

In the end, it appears that I was just never meant for the life of crossing the continent in a covered wagon. If the food that was entirely “meat on the bone” didn’t cause me to starve to death, the inclement weather over the passes would definitely have done me in. (And don’t even think of the possibility of the two combining in a macabre Donner party-esque manner.) As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I survived the virtual trek too many times, even as I was sitting in a warm classroom, avoiding the busy work of phonics sheets. I’ll stick to my white-meat boneless chicken breasts, my humid Malaysian climate with the comforts of AC a few steps away, claiming the giant beanbag/pillow as my own personal reading corner.

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4 thoughts on “Not a Pioneer

  1. I love this story! It also evoked memories of the past, one of which I am hesitant to tell, but what they hay! First, and this dates me, but it is not like you do not know I am your mothers age plus a few! Back at good ole Boise State I was the cats meow because I had an electric typewriter! A computer took up a very large room and was still the stuff of science fiction! Second, your food story caused an old memory of my days in the Philippines, Olongapo to be exact. First liberty a couple of friends of mine were walking around, and as always, hungry. We found a vendor selling barbecued beef on a stick. It was delicious. A Navy Master Chief saw us enjoying our delicacy and decided to take pity on the mass of ignorant Marines he found us to be! He first asked how we like our beef on a stick. We said it was really great, did he want to know where we got it. No, no, he responded! Then he asked if we were familiar with the Philippines culture, farming, etc. We admitted we did not. He said that if you have the chance to fly over the country you might spy large pens of pig, chickens ranches, ducks, and so forth. What you will not find are cattle ranches. People here about are too poor to afford the beef that is raised, and would not be able to sell you this meat for the few coins this cost you. However, their are thousands upon thousands of monkey’s in the trees here. Cheap, and I would put forth the theory that most of what is caught is old or diseased, making them easier prey. So what you are eating is barbecued monkey, not beef, have a nice day!


  2. I know you noticed the their instead of there, but it will not let me edit, so forgiveness is needed, thank you! Also I did not add the apostrophe. My computer is responsible for both, and that is my story!


  3. Hi Michelle,

    I’ll be moving to Chengdu, China for work in February 2016. I was wondering if you could provide some insight into the ex-pat community there? I’ve never traveled to China before and would love to know if there are any places/bars/areas to go where I might meet some fellow English speakers? Great blog as well!




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