29 July 2010

asunción, paraguay

Back to the travels! It feels like ancient history now, but I'd still like to share some of what we discovered. We started our South America trip with Paraguay, which is not an obvious destination but is definitely an agreeable way to pass a few weeks (or however long you have).

Paraguay doesn't boast many tourist destinations, its cities are tiny (and bus rides between them long), and even the food isn't something to write home about, BUT the people are lovely, the music and crafts are unique and lovingly created, the architecture is charmingly colonial and vibrantly colored, and there seemed to be no tourists anywhere. (Unless you count the Argentines, who cross the border to shop because goods are cheaper in Paraguay.)

When we arrived in Asunción, we liked that the airport and city were so small, we could just walk out of the airport and hop on a bus to the downtown.

And one can't help but love a country in which everyone carries their own thermos of tea around with them (hot for winter and iced for summer). Since thermoses are so ubiquitous, you can personalize and find just the one to suit you.

Here are some colorful doilies I've never seen anywhere else:

There are random murals everywhere, like in this park:

Even the sidewalks seemed to have personality:

We enjoyed just wandering around:

It just seemed like everything sparkled with quirk and life. Even our snacks were charming. Here's what a fruit salad and ham and cheese toast look like:

Here's their lovely senate building:

There's a neat blend of old and new in the culture, as nicely embodied in this old red brick mission-turned-mirrored-glass-office building downtown:

And the long bus rides are made palatable by a constant offering of food. When you board the bus, when the bus stops, and at random intervals, people will appear out of nowhere and either sidle up alongside the bus or board the bus with baskets of chipa (chewy, cheesy bread-- yum), sweet pastries, fruits, sandwiches and sometimes even little take-out boxes of meat and rice.

And you can say what you like, but the Irish presence in South America cannot be denied:

28 July 2010

how to win friends and influence people

Okay, this sounds like the corniest title ever, but I now wish I'd read this book ten years ago (at least!). Not only did I learn a lot, I realized I was doing all of the terrible things the book recommends against. I'm embarrassed to admit I criticize, I argue, I interrupt and I get mad at silly things. In order to rectify this, I've just sent this email to my husband, mom and brother:

Dear family,

After reading How to Win Friends and Influence People, I realize I've been making many of the mistakes the book talks about. I want to be my best self, so I'm going to make a few changes that I think you'll really like. Really, really like. :-) I'm putting this down in writing so you can hold me to it (oh, boy!).

From today on,

1. I will not criticize.
At least, not until I'm perfect. It may take a while, but hey, you never know. :-)
Confucius said, "Do not complain about the snow on your neighbor's roof when your own doorstep is unclean."

2. I will not argue.
Benjamin Franklin said, "If you rankle and argue and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent's good will."

Abraham Lincoln said, "No man who is resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take the consequences, including the vitiation [corruption] of his temper and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you show no more than equal rights; and yield lesser ones though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite."

For Mama: (沒有人誰是決心使自己最能騰出時間個人爭。更不能他冒不起的後果,包括vitiation (corruption)他的脾氣和損失的自我控制。產量越做越大,您最多顯示的平等權利;及產量較少雖然清楚自己的。最好給你的路徑是狗比咬了他對參加競爭的權利。即使不打死狗治愈咬.)

3. I will not interrupt.
Dale Carnegie (the author of the book) said, "If you want to know how to make people shun you and laugh at you behind your back and even despise you, here is the recipe: Never listen to anyone for long. Talk incessantly about yourself. If you have an idea while the other person is talking, don't wait for him or her to finish: bust right in and interrupt in the middle of a sentence."

4. I will think before I react.
An article from the Economic Press said, "You can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry."


P.S. I also typed up a passage from the book I thought you might appreciate:

How to keep a disagreement from becoming an argument
(article from the Economic Press)

Welcome the disagreement. Remember the slogan, “When two partners always agree, one of them isn’t necessary.” If there is some point you haven’t thought about, be thankful it is brought to your attention. Perhaps this disagreement is your opportunity to be corrected before you make a serious mistake.

Distrust your first instinctive impression. Our first natural reaction in a disagreeable situation is to be defensive. Be careful. Keep calm and watch out for your first reaction. It may be you at your worst, not your best.

Control your temper. Remember, you can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry.

Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding. Don’t build higher barriers of misunderstanding.

Look for areas of agreement. When you have heard your opponents out, dwell first on the points and areas on which you agree.

Be honest. Look for areas where you can admit error and say so. Apologize for your mistakes. It will help disarm your opponents and reduce defensiveness.

Promise to think over your opponents’ ideas and study them carefully. And mean it. Your opponents may be right. It is a lot easier at this stage to agree to think about their points than to move rapidly ahead and find yourself in a position where your opponents can say: “We tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”

Thank your opponents sincerely for their interest. Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you, and you may turn your opponents into friends.

Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem. Suggest that a new meeting be held later that day or the next day, when all the facts may be brought to bear. In preparation for this meeting, ask yourself some hard questions:

Could my opponents be right? Partly right? Is there truth or merit in their position or argument? Is my reaction one that will relieve the problem, or will it just relieve any frustration? Will my reaction drive my opponents further away or draw them closer to me? Will my reaction elevate the estimation good people have of me? Will I win or lose? What price will I have to pay if I win? If I am quiet about it, will the disagreement blow over? Is this difficult situation an opportunity for me?

09 July 2010

from world travel to real life

I'll get back to catching up on our travels soon, but I need a place to go for a moment where I can organize my thoughts.

Sadly, my incredibly kind mother-in-law has a brain tumor, and my partner and I have now been in DC for almost three weeks, waiting for her to come out of intensive care in the hospital.

The days blur together into a strange mix of visiting Mutti (our nickname for my mother-in-law) in the hospital from morning till night, coming home to eat at odd hours and then rushing back to the hospital, and yelling at the television while watching World Cup soccer. (And the darn psychic octopus isn't helping.)

The bad news is that Mutti's tumor is at least a grade 3 (out of 4, 4 being the worst), and she hasn't been able to do much since her operation. The good news is that the hospital is taking good care of her, and she's coming back slowly but surely.

She is awake now for much longer, she squeezes our hands, she tapped her toes when an upbeat Roberto Carlo song came on (we brought in some music we thought she would like), she waved goodbye to her husband when he was leaving the other night, and she even smiled at my little sister-in-law's boyfriend today.

So, we have hope, but it's been a tough process. For the record, Mutti was the epitome of health before all of this brain tumor business: in Mexico, she did yoga every morning and walked miles on the beach, she ate tiny portions of food (usually salads) and drank gallons of water, etc. We were all shocked.

The other rather remarkable positive is that the entire family (with wives, babies, boyfriend and all) is here, going to see Mutti day and night. But my in-laws are amazing like that-- everything else (jobs, medical school, house-hunting...) gets pushed back if the family needs us all to be here.

Well, that's basically it. I guess I just needed to get that off my chest. I haven't told anyone other than my parents and brother about Mutti's brain tumor because we still don't have complete information yet.

Thanks for letting me vent. If you can, send some healing vibes to Mutti. You'd love her if you knew her, and I think she could use all the support she can get.