As I explain here, my theme for this A to Z Challenge is memoir, with an encyclopedia-esque twist, a la AKR.
The Aggies, Texas A&M University’s mascot, my alma mater, hold so much meaning to me. Growing up in Bryan/College Station, I was always an Aggie. You couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement of the games and the bonfires and the yells. “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” This quote perfectly sums up the Aggie spirit. It’s something you feel from the moment you step onto the campus, particularly on a game day, as you walk through a sea of maroon and white, the energy palpable. “We are the Aggies. The Aggies are we.”
Airports and Airplanes
I spend a lot of time in airports and airplanes. As an expat and frequent traveler, it comes with the territory. I have my favorite airports- HKG, CDG, ORD and my least favorites- PVG, FCO, DMK. I know how late I can push it until I really have to arrive at the airport. I know how to sweet talk the clerks at check-in so they’ll overlook my slightly overweight bags. I love the buzz of airports, the busyness of people bustling around and the excitement and anticipation of new places yet to be seen. I know how to pack a perfect carry-on bag that has everything I could need within my reach.
I’m a window seat person. I have to have the window because I hate having to get up fifteen times when someone has to pee. And I’m a plane sleeper, so the window means I can lean up against it with my pillow, put in my earbuds, pull on my eye mask, and get cozy under my blanket for a long uninterrupted snooze. Not getting the window makes me sooooo grumpy. It’s almost ruined flights before. The only thing better than the window is an empty row of seats on a non-full flight. Ahhhh…stretching out and sleeping is gold!
I hate airplane food. Unless I’m in business or first class, which almost never happens. I always bring snacks and meals for long-haul flights.
I’ve lived in 8 apartments over the course of my adult life. My first apartment, a dark, small one-bedroom chosen because it offered no deposit and first month’s rent free, which worked well with my no money situation, was a bit seedy. I lived next-door to a stripper who moonlighted as a prostitute, which I realized one night when I was awoken at 3AM by a naked man banging on my neighbor’s bedroom window, screaming at her to “Let me in! Give me back my clothes!” That apartment was also broken into, the last straw which prompted me to move.
My next apartment cost considerably more, but was in a much better part of town and in a gated complex. I loved the natural light that streamed into the living room from the floor to ceiling windows. I made it my home, and lived there two years, after which time I bought my first, and only, home.
I moved into my third apartment after moving to Shanghai in 2010. That first apartment was not my favorite. It was too small for one, and part of the bathroom was in the kitchen. Nothing says Come over and hang out at my place than your guests seeing all your bathroom stuff out in the open. That was also the apartment where I locked myself out twice- once when the stove was on (yikes!) and another time after I hadn’t yet learned about the strange Chinese lock system.
My second year in Shangers, I moved into a swanky apartment in the French Concession, a bachelorette pad clad in modern furnishings and on the 18th floor of a high rise. I loved that apartment, despite the fact that it was way over my housing allowance. But I didn’t care. It suited me well, and I lived there for two years, until the landlords sold it and I had to move.
Still in Shanghai, I moved yet again, but this time back to my roots, choosing to live on Hong Mei Lu, near the Laowi Jie. This apartment was by far the biggest, a 2-bedroom, with a huge kitchen and living room. I loved the wallpaper (I can’t believe I’m actually saying that), the bay window in my room where I could sit and read, and the huge bathroom with the luxurious tub, where I’d spend many nights reading and soaking the day away. Shady landlord shit made me move out of that place.
My last year in Shanghai, I found a place in Xujiahui, near Lines 1 and 11 and Grand Gateway mall, where my go-to restaurants, Pizza Express and Din Tai Fung, lived. Another 2-bedroom, this one was smaller, but definitely gave off a cozy, home-y vibe. I made it my own, and I loved it. I still miss that apartment.
When I moved to Albania, I rented a sprawling, 3-bedroom apartment in the city centre. It was great for hosting parties, and I have so many memories of fun times with friends wrapped up in that place. It was also my first and only apartment abroad to have a dryer, a luxury those in America take for granted.
My current apartment in Bangkok is by far the tiniest place I’ve ever lived, but for some reason, I love it, too. It’s a studio apartment in the Pak Soi, a short 8 minute ride to school. I love its simplicity and cuteness. It’s all I need for this short season in my life.
Aunts are special people. They’re like your mom, but the cooler, you-can-talk-to-them-about-anything version. Aunts are cheerleaders, shoulders to cry on, advice givers, secret keepers, and date goers. One of my favorite things about aunts is that they don’t have to be blood-related to earn the title. Honorary aunts are just as significant in our lives. I have a special relationship with my aunts, and I treasure them all in their own way.
Aunt Kathy, my dad’s younger sister, and I are very close. She just gets me. I can be authentically me around her, and she loves me unconditionally. I like that about her. We don’t talk all the time, but I know if I’m in trouble or need anything, I can count on her. Every time I go back home, I make a special trip to Austin to see her. We have a standing date night at The Melting Pot, where we always have the same thing– Yin and Yang chocolate martinis, cheese fondue, salad, and chocolate fondue. Each time, we consider ordering something different, but we never do. Aunt Kathy squeals when she sees me for the first time after I’ve been gone too long, and she gives the best hugs. She’s also a thoughtful gift giver, giving me what I never knew I always wanted.
Aunt Alva, my dad’s brother’s wife, is the sweetest, most gentle person ever. Everything she does is done effortlessly, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how she does it. How is her house always perfect? How is she always so put together? How is she always happy? I don’t know, but I love her for it. I love that Aunt Alva listens to my stories. Like really listens. She is so interested in my life and my stories and makes time to hear them. Not everyone is like that, and I love her all the more for it. I love Aunt Alva’s cooking, especially her pancakes, panny-cakes as she calls them. They are my favorite breakfast– fluffy, buttery, Texas-sized pancakes that take up the entire plate. The best part is she doesn’t wait til they’re all done for us to sit down to eat together. She calls us over, one by one, to get our pancake fresh off the griddle, so we can enjoy it nice and hot. My stomach is growling as I write this, and I know that three months is too long to wait to taste her pancakes.
My other Aunt Kathy, Uncle Mike’s wife, is my honorary aunt. Uncle Mike is my dad’s best friend from high school, a man I’ve known all my life. I’m pretty sure he changed my diapers. Anyway, he married Aunt Kathy when I was in high school, and I got to dance at their wedding. She’s his perfect match, and one of my close friends. As a teacher, too, we have a lot in common, and can gab all day about school stuff. When I chose to do my student teaching in Houston, away from home, she offered up their spare room and I lived with them for a semester. I’ll always remember that time, as it was my first time living away from home. She’ll always remember that time, too, as I never could keep my room cleaned. Aunt Kathy has the best laugh, one that starts deep in her belly, and is contagious to all who hear it.
Nearly five years ago, I joined the club and became an aunt. My niece, Randi Ann, an adorable, spunky, clever, silly, sweet soon-to-be-five-year-old, rocked my world and introduced me to a love I hadn’t yet known. All I wanted to do when I was around her, was cuddle her and make her laugh. As she’s grown up, she has developed a personality all her own, and I love it! When she turned three, I began a new tradition. Every time I go home, she and I spend a day together, doing whatever she wants to do. On our dates, the attention is all on her, and we laugh, tell stories, and wonder. Our usual day includes a trip to Shipley’s donuts, a mani/pedi, catching the latest movie (I took her to her first movie in the theater!), playing at the park, lunch, and a trip to the bookstore to pick out a new favorite book. I love that she looks like me, too. When I show her an old picture of me and my younger brother, her daddy, she thinks it’s her and her brother, Logan.
Speaking of Logan, he’s the little bundle of energy that made me an aunt twice over, and I simply adore him! He is equal parts rough and tumble, loud, tazmanian devil and sweet, gentle, loving, caring, climb-up-in-your-lap-and-give-you-a-hug boy. The juxtaposition of him is why I love him. We can wrestle on the floor, me tickling him and sending him into fits of laughter (and he has the best laugh!) or we can crawl up in bed and read a book, snuggling up close together. Logan Cole is also hilarious, his crazy antics making it nearly impossible to scold him because, while he shouldn’t have done what he did, damned if it wasn’t the funniest thing ever.
From the age of 7, I have been obsessed with Australia. When I say obsessed, I mean obsessed. I’m pretty sure that obsession was born from a school project where my childhood crush researched and presented a report on Australia. From then on, I can recall telling anyone who would listen that “When I grow up, I’m going to be a teacher. And I’m going to live in Australia.” You know what? I have accomplished both those goals. After graduating from A&M with my teaching degree, I packed up and moved to Sydney in early 2004, where I was a nanny for a family of three children. I then solo-traveled along the east coast of Oz, from Cairns back down to Sydney. My return trip in 2011 allowed me to visit my love, Sydney, but a few new places, too. Australia is life, color, vibrancy, deliciousness, culture, accents, nature, city and beach, sun, and joy. I still want to live in Australia someday. Maybe when I’m done gallivanting around the world, I’ll settle into Oz. Maybe.