I Finally Watched Harry Potter

I Finally Watched Harry Potter

So on most Friday nights there’s a group of us on Twitter that live tweet pre-selected movies. We just finished the Harry Potter series, which I’ve never seen or read.

Yes, I know, shock and awe.

I'll wait while you fetch smelling salts.
I’ll wait while you fetch smelling salts.

And no, I don’t want to read the books now that I’ve seen the movies.

I’ve tried. I really have. I tried when they first came out and I’ve tried in subsequent years but it’s just not something that holds my interest. No like or dislike, just resounding ambivalence to a pop culture phenomenon.

Anyway, I learned a lot about the series by watching the movies with hardcore Potterheads and I can see why so many people love the books. Rowling is an awesome writer. And while watching those movies I did ask myself why I wasn’t into the books. Really, anyone who knows me would think I would be a Potterhead. It’s got magic, magical creatures, death incarnate, supreme evil, high stakes, and a heroine who can hold her own.

And there I found the answer.

I don’t care about Harry. Not one bit.

Hermione Granger. Now that is a story I want to read. Yeah, Harry is stuck with the Dursleys and they are fucking awful people, but after the first movie they only pop in every once in a while so we don’t forget how terrible they are. Harry’s the chosen one, The Boy Who Lived, blah, blah, blah. Whatever.

But Hermione. Think about it. She comes from parents who aren’t magical but know that she is and support her magical studies. Is it the first or second movie Draco brings up mudblood? I’m certain that’s not the first time she’s heard it or really considered the word. Think of all the hateful people in our society that don’t have any qualms calling children racial epithets. I doubt the wizarding world is much different. So already we have a great set up for character identity conflict. I mean, the first time someone yelled an epithet at me I was in third grade. That shit sticks with you. And she works so hard to get her spells right. Is she a perfectionist or is she trying to show herself and others that just because her parents aren’t magical that doesn’t make her lesser.

Next, she has all the answers. She is the Wikipedia and Google of Hogwarts. The Boy Who Lived needs to know where the bathroom is or how to whip up a face warping potion? You bet your ass Hermione knows.

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And as the movies progressed Ron and Harry almost always looked to her for answers in nigh impossible situations. What kind of pressure does that put on her? She went from random Hogwarts trivia to trying to stop the end of the world. Was she ever afraid she wouldn’t have the answer or she wouldn’t see the solution in time?

And in the middle of all of this saving the world nonsense, she has to deal with all the regular problems of growing up. Awkward teenage school dances, heartbreak. Death of classmates.

Crushing hard on Ron.

I mean, that alone calls for a great deal of quiet contemplation, which she never gets because she’s trying to figure out how to destroy horcruxes.

And just think of all the amazing one liners we could have.
And just think of all the amazing one liners we could have.

And all of this character conflict leads up to the final two movies. The Dursleys get the hell outta town, I’m guessing of their own volition, it’s not really explained in the movie. Not a big loss there. I mean, by this time, Harry’s pretty close to the Weasleys. And Ron gets to stay with his family to the bitter, bitter end because they’re all magical and can fight back. But then there’s Hermione. She has to erase herself from her parents because they can’t defend themselves. Her parents who have loved and supported her all her life and she makes them forget. She’ll spend the rest of her life mourning her parents who are going about their days with no idea they ever had a little girl. And in the movie it’s never mentioned. She just pops up at the Weasleys and they head off to whatever they do next.

And I loved it. I'll take emotional turmoil over explosions any damn day.
And I loved it. I’ll take emotional turmoil over explosions any damn day.

Seriously, if I was reading Hermione Granger’s book it would take me a week to finish that section. Can you imagine the emotions not only of that moment but of the days and weeks leading up to it? That certainly wasn’t the first thing she thought of. All that intellect and intuition, all of it focused on how she can keep her parents safe and she slowly realizes if she wants to keep them safe, she needs to leave. Not just leave, but make it so they can’t be tortured into giving up her friends and their families. They need to forget she even exists.

My. Gods. I mean, that alone could be a novel. I would read the hell out of that novel. That would tear you up like road rash. So if Rowling ever wants to write that book, I will have it on pre-order.

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Adventures Abroad: China Confirmation

Probably should’ve skipped the coffee this morning. I am bouncing off the walls.

So yesterday I got my official start date for my Cambodia adventure, January 25th. (squeee!) Which I am totally still flailing about, but this morning I woke up and found an e-mail from the staffing agency that is in charge of placing me in China. (SQUEEEE!)

So I have over 100 locations to choose from, thankfully, I already figured out about which city I want to be in, Xi’an—the city with the terracotta warriors—so it only took my about an hour and a half to narrow down my top three choices.

First up, Yanliang which, according to the staffing site, is a “small” town of about 200,000.

o_o

Yeah, not in Kansas anymore.

Actually, that might be the population of Kansas.

But it’s about an hour away from downtown Xi’an and busses head that way every fifteen minutes. And it’s only an hour and five minutes away from the terracotta army. And it seems to be far enough from Xi’an that residents don’t have the heavy amounts of smog and pollution to contend with. Double points. I’d post some pictures, but it seems Miss China 2014 is from Yanliang and no matter what search I put in I just wind up with a thousand pictures of her in a bikini.

golf

…what…

Second choice is Xingping, which was very close to being first choice, again, another “small” “rural” city of 120,000. But this one is in a mountain valley surrounded by farmland. The perks listed on the school site are that a short bike ride gets you out into the countryside.

Seriously, people, look at this.

A beautiful sunset view from the top of Karst Peak in Xingping China.

The only reason it didn’t get first choice is because I can’t afford my Japanese Encephalitis vaccine and it’s listed as being an issue only in rural areas. I mean, I’ll take my chances and go first chance I get, but I figure I better at least pretend to do some preventative measures.

And third choice is Weinan. A “small” city of 900,000 *falls over laughing*

This place has the Hyde Park of China, though. It’s surrounded by mountains and rivers, one of which is HuaShan Mountain, one of the sacred peaks of China. 56 emperors made a pilgrimage to this mountain.

Look. At. This.

Wei

So I’m just running around screaming right now. Like, I’m stressed trying to make sure I’ll have my stateside business taken care of before I go, but SERIOUSLY, LOOK AT THIS

Xingping

Book Review: Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo

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Last month I read a really wonderful book by Beth Whitman called Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo. I picked this up a couple years ago at Half Price on a whim. So glad I did. I read it for the first time last month as I really started kicking my preparation for Cambodia and China into gear. It’s a really smooth, easy read. Even if you’re only looking to visit another city in you state or country, I think it would still be beneficial not only for solo women travelers, but for anyone traveling alone.

This is of course aimed at women, so if you’re a guy and want to pick this up there are some parts that won’t apply, such as the section discussing tampons, birth control, and interrupted cycles. But other than that, I’d say the advice in this book applies to all solo travelers.

My favorite section of the book is the “Idea Generator” chapter. There’s even a helpful chart you can copy down or write directly in the book. It’s a really simple way to make that dream vacation a reality. I used it to chart the logistics and costs of three trips I want to make: An Antarctic cruise, a road trip visiting a couple National Parks out west, and a two week Egyptian antiquity tour.

Let me tell you, dream trips aren’t cheap.

But, now that I have a ballpark estimate of what kind of expenses I’m looking at I can start saving now. So maybe it’ll be five years before I get to take an Antarctic cruise via the Chilean fjords, but, if I keep up with my savings then in five years I’ll be writing to you with a penguin looking over my shoulder. So if you’re serious about traveling, even if it’s to visit NYC for a week or see the lighthouses of Maine or fly to Europe for a month, map it out. Start saving. It might take a little time and you might have set backs, but start saving and you’ll get there.

Another two chapters that are really helpful is “Let’s get Booking” and “This Bed is Juuuuust Right”. They go over the different travel and accommodation options you have. In chp. 5 (Booking) some of this information is a bit outdated—it was published in 2007—and you’ll be disappointed to find that you can’t readily book cheap flights on courier flights anymore. I spent a week trying to find a way to do it, but post 9/11 a lot of companies now only hire professional couriers and won’t accept anyone off the street to hang out in their planes. The explanations on a lot of things are also a little outdated, she spends a great deal of time discussing e-tickets versus paper tickets, sites like Priceline and Hotwire and how they work. But some of the cheap fare sites are still active and if you’re looking to book last minute on the cheap they’re a really good source.

Chp. 6 discusses accommodations ranging from resorts to campgrounds and gives the pros and cons of all depending on your preference and budget. We’d all like to stay at five star resorts, but for most of us the budget won’t allow it. That doesn’t mean you have to sleep in your car. Whitman mentions the often overlooked family owned Bed and Breakfasts that can add a really unique twist to a vacation and are often cheaper than the local Fairfield. There are also tips on booking European lodgings such as Hostels and Pensions. Did you know that women can overnight at YMCAs? I didn’t, so there’s a handy fact if you need somewhere to rest for a night.

The chapter I’ve been rereading the last couple of weeks is “Pack it Up”. There’s a list in there of handy first aid supplies, and honestly, I 100% forgot about a first aid kit. I don’t usually bother with band-aids and antibacterial stuff. But I got hellaciously ill for a week while in London and if taking a dose of Nyquil and eating a cough drop will keep even half of that kind of sickness at bay I’ll fucking take it. I know I’m going to get sick, it’s inevitable as I’m being introduced to radically new environment with new bacteria and whatnot, so anything I pack to keep me ahead of the game is a win. There’s also a general packing list for clothes, toiletries, and accessories/documents. Again, really helpful if you need a jumping point on what to pack or just a list of reminders for obvious everyday things. I almost forgot to throw deodorant in my packing box.

I thought this book was pretty thorough on dealing with language barrier and culture shock and ways to work through it. The language barrier, of course, is to purchase a phrase book beforehand and practice a little so you’re used to the language. Or, you can do like I did and download a language learning app and practice a couple hours a day. Memrise is the app I have and of the free apps it has the most languages ranging from French to Icelandic. As for culture shock, you just have to know it’s coming. I didn’t get it too bad on my trip to Europe, but I wasn’t dealing with an unknown language and I had a professor who from day one explained some of the differences in culture. This time I’m a bit more anxious because I’m heading into two unknown languages and two very different cultures both from each other and from my home culture. So I’m certain the “shock” will hit me this time, but Whitman gives a list of common culture shock symptoms and the best ways to ease yourself through them.

In one of the final chapters “Coming Home” she also deals with reverse culture shock. That I can attest to experiencing. I spent three months in London and after a couple weeks of being back on US soil I was patently irritated with the “odd” way people spoke, the way people drove—although that could be my road rage—and I was irritated with how far away everything was. I could walk everywhere in London or catch a bus. Here? Maybe if you live in a big enough city. So I’m glad this book mentions reverse culture shock because I feel like a lot of travel books forget to mention that part of coming home. Yes, it’s nice to see your pets and sleep in your own bed or eat your favorite food, but there will still be an adjustment period where you have to reorient yourself to home culture.

Another great chapter that I don’t think a lot of general travel advice books mention is “Responsible Travel”. It gives tips and sites that help you do low impact travel both on the flora and fauna but also on the native cultures you might be going into. Remember, if you’re going to visit a little town or village no matter where it is, these are people you’re meeting, they’re not zoo animals for you to gawk at. Also avoid taking pictures with exotic animals such as monkeys, tiger cubs, etc. Often these animals are taken from their parents—or their parents are killed—and their teeth and claws are removed so that when they try to snap and bite when frightened they don’t harm the paying tourists. They’re often not kept in humane conditions and once they’re too big or wild to be cute they’re sold or killed.

The only chapter that’s a real bust is “Gadgets and Gizmos”. Technology has come a long way in eight years and when this book was written it would have been prudent to choose between phone and laptop if you were backpacking across Europe. But now, we have smartphones, tablets, and featherweight laptops. All of which you can download a compass onto or already have one installed. Buying an international phone isn’t really worth it when you can just upgrade your phone plan to an international one. And packing a camera is up to you since the phones you can get now take excellent pictures.

Overall, this is a quick read with a lot of great information streamlined in the chapters to make it easy for you to either read cover to cover or to pick and choose the sections you want/need at that moment. If you’ve ever wanted to travel, I highly recommend Beth Whitman’s book Wanderlust and Lipstick.