26 June 2008

Land of 1000 Amusements

I was recently informed that there's a saying about Alaska and its inhabitants:  "Where the men are men, and the women are, too."  It's actually true.  People are a bit more rugged, and when I say "a bit", think old fishermen with skin so tough you could make a Louis Vuitton bag out of it.  It makes things pretty easy when trying to tell the difference between locals and cruise-goers.   Even the women have different fashion sense--I've been told that it's not entirely uncommon during formal events to see a woman in a dress and Extra Tuffs (think galoshes on steroids).  
No aspect of life is immune to change here in Alaska, even forms of entertainment.  At school, I find entertainment value in cruising around the Internet or hanging out on the greenspace.  Here, I amuse myself by drawing halos over Benjamin Franklin's head on the $100 bills with the counterfeit detecting marker at work.  By far my favorite form of entertainment is a little game I like to call "Confuse the Cop."  No, this is not a crime...I think.  You see, the Juneau Police Department is small enough that officers generally know other officers' cars.  When I'm out and about driving the Box, I take a probably unhealthy amount of joy out of waving and smiling at passing officers on duty and watching their befuddled reactions when they realize that it's not Ofc. Cheshire behind the wheel.  The effect is especially amusing when I drop Kip off at work at 6am and the officers coming in after nightshift are a wonderful combination of tired and on guard, which makes for optimal confusedness.  

Oh, how simple my life has become.  

Adventures in Alaska, Part 4: Retail Woes

Since entering the ranks of Juneau's gainfully employed, life has become even more of an Alaskan adventure.  Take, for instance, Alaska Shirt Company's uniform.  On my first day, I was presented with no less than three clothing options:  a staff t-shirt, a long sleeved shirt, and a sweatshirt.  No, my managers weren't being overly generous (although any place where I get a free sweatshirt AND get paid is okay in my book), they gave me these three options because I actually need all three.  Welcome to Alaska, folks.

Also take the heated arguments customers put up.  Just the other day, a customer yelled at me because I didn't know if we carried salmon jerky or not.  Yes, salmon jerky.  I later found out that it's stocked somewhere between the caribou jerky and the reindeer jerky.  Personally, I find the idea of eating poor Rudolph repulsive, but then again, I am a lower-48er.

As a testament to Juneau's top source of revenue, I was recently given a verbal lashing by another customer because we can't accept the debit cards provided by cruise ship companies for cash-free living onboard their ships.  All I could say to her demands of "Well I've been using it all over the ship!" was "Ma'am, this isn't the ship."  I can't remember if she was the one who then asked if we accept American currency.  
Yes, ma'am, we have been for about half a century now.


12 June 2008

Would You Like an Ulu With That?

After three weeks of searching and rejection, I am finally gainfully employed!  I successfully avoided having to get a job that requires asking pointless questions ("paper or plastic?" "would you like fries with that?") and landed a position at Alaska Shirt Company, the largest souvenir shop in Juneau (and "large" is a very subjective term).   That's right, I'll be up to my elbows in moose paraphernalia and ulus (those half circle-shaped knives that Alaskan natives are famous for).  

Can you say "Christmas presents"?

09 June 2008

Adventures in Alaska, Part 3: Sights of the Northwest

Since Kip's working about 110 (yes, 1-1-0) hours this workweek, we decided to take an Excellent Adventure (sorry you weren't there, Dad!) to explore the scenery around Juneau before I lose him to JPD until next Thursday.  It was neat to just hop around rocks and climb through the forest for awhile, even if it was raining.  We even saw a whale!  It kept swimming around the island we were on, puffing out air and flipping its tail.  I'm assuming it didn't think we were a tasty snack.  I am a bit offended, however, that it didn't seem amused by our rendition of the "Free Willy" theme song.  


07 June 2008

Adventures in Alaska, Part 2: The Hunt for Internet Access

One of the first things I did when I got to Alaska was to hunt.  I'm not talking about elk or deer or bears...I'm talking about something a tad bit less primitive.  I hunted for Internet access.  With no connection in the apartment and no place of employment (yet), how was I to check my email?  How was I to keep people updated on my summer?  Being the typical college student that I am, I promptly crumbled into a ball and sat rocking myself in a corner for awhile, then proceeded to hunt down any wireless signal with the ferocity of an Apache warrior.  

After dealing with the screechingly slow wireless at the downtown library and finding that the local coffee shop's connection was out indefinitely, I came across my new favorite place:  the Douglas Island Library.  Now, the mere fact that the library is on Douglas Island means that it is better suited for my needs by far.  It's close to home, its connection is way faster, and it's practically guaranteed to be less congested.  Why's that, you ask?  It's because the only people who live on Douglas Island (at least by my observation) are the local types who have little desire to know who got kicked off of The Bachelor or what the newest Mac operating system is.  Need an example?  I just looked out the window and saw a man who looks eerily similar to the Gorton's Fisherman.  Does he feel the burning desire for a wireless connection?  Somehow I doubt it.  His unknown loss is my gain, because I get this:

Yes, those are mountains across the channel.  
Yes, there's still snow on them.  
No, you can't see the tops because they're so big.  
And I get to sit in the big comfy couch in front of those windows every time I come here--because there's usually no one else here save for the desk attendant and a rogue nanny with a kid or two.  

In this hunt I am the victor, and to the victor goes the spoils--which in this case are a spectacular view and free WiFi.  It may not be a gazelle on the Serengeti, but I'll take it.  What would I do with a gazelle anyways?

JSO Here We Go!

A quick musical update: Before I left school, I had been in touch with the principal cellist of the Juneau Symphony Orchestra asking if I could audition, wondering if they had any concerts, etc.  Much to my surprise (and excitement!) they needed cellists, and they asked me to join the JSO for their Pops concert in June!  Recitals started this week, and I'm happy to report that the people are nice, the conductor is great, and the music is just challenging enough, without being too difficult.  More updates are sure to come, as the concert is next weekend.  

Wii Would Like to Play!

While my books for Oxford sit collecting dust in the corner of my room, I have found my new favorite method of procrastination.  It's small, white, Japanese, and has given me a roaring case of tennis elbow.  That's right, I'm talking about a Wii.  

Earlier this week, Kip became the proud owner of a Wii and I the proud owner of two Wii remotes, and together we make the complete console.  I'm hooked.  In less than a week, I've played at least two dozen games of tennis, boxed, bowled, ski jumped, and hula-hooped my way to firmer abs.  Kip's hooked too, and has taken to bowing at me a la the Wii commercials (you know, two Japanese guys in a teensy car drive up to unsuspecting American homes, knock on the door, bow, say "We would like to play," and the next thing you know, Mom, Dad, and 2.5 kids are having the time of their lives--Wii has saved the world!) incessantly until I agree to play.  It also has a Lego Indiana Jones game, so he's pretty much as happy as a clam.  

Entertainment, thy name is Wii.  Taking this thing to school is probably a very bad idea.

03 June 2008

Adventures in Alaska, Part 1: Driving Standard

Among the many exciting aspects of living in Alaska (amazing views, bear-safe trash cans everywhere, night only existing for about 4 hours...) the most terrifying facet in the prism of Alaskan life is the fact that I now have to drive a stick shift car.  No, it's not the bears that could lumber out of the woods at any moment and eat me whole that scare me.  It's not the unusually high population of oversized birds of prey (more on that in a later post).  It's The Box.

Meet The Box.  Born in 1997 wherever Jeeps are made, its sole purpose in life is to scare the crap out of me every time I slip behind the wheel.  When I tried to learn how to drive standard last summer, it ended in about 70% competency and a complete and utter fear of anything with a clutch.  This summer, however, I'm stuck.  I have no other choice but to drive The Box or be condemned to bumming rides or hoofing it old school in my flip flops.  Given, I have walked the two miles to and from downtown Juneau a few times in a valiant attempt to stick it to the Man, but after less than a week of that I gave in to the rainy weather and the callouses on my feet.  

Although I drove all the way to the Douglas Island library today to post, I was not always the fabulous stick driver that I am today...a week later.  My first day solo, I dropped Kip off at work and found that it was just me, a full tank of gas, and the open road...until you hit the water at least (Juneau is only accessible by sea or air, no roads go in or out of it).  High on this newfound freedom, I took off to the Glacier, thinking it would be a nice trip to boost my standard-driving self esteem.  It started out well.  It ended, however, with me stalling in the parking lot after stopping to let a gaggle of Japanese tourists cross the road.  "No problem," I told myself, "I'll just restart the car and go.  Stalling happens to everyone, right?"  But then it happened again.  And again.  By the fifth stall, a nice old man from one of the cruise ships knocked on my window and asked if I needed help.  I took my bruised ego, thanked him, and puttered my way into a parking spot, where I broke down in tears and called my college roommate, Mari, for reinforcement.   

Almost a week later, I haven't had another episode quite that bad, but I still need to give myself a pep talk every time I get behind the wheel, and sometimes even in transit.  So if you ever find yourself in Juneau and see a 21 year-old in a green Jeep Wrangler yelling something to the effect of "You can do this!  You are bigger than the car!" to herself at a stoplight, smile in the knowledge that you were once where I am now, and maybe stall when the light turns green to make me feel better.   

01 June 2008

Meet Kip

Just about the #1 question I've gotten all summer so far is: "Why are you living in Alaska?"  I'd like to give you some epic story about being called by the wilderness in the spirit of youthful vigor, adventure, and ruggedness.  That, however, would be a lie.  The real reason is slightly more sentimental.

See that looker in the middle with the sassy sideburns despite the military haircut?  That's Kip aka Dan aka Officer Cheshire aka my boyfriend, and that's the (sappy) truth as to why I'm in Alaska for the summer...because he is.  He likes pretty much anything that can be made on a grill, Lego Star Wars, and me (obviously), and we've been together for six months after being great friends for five years.  Blogosphere, meet Kip.  Kip, meet Blogosphere.  Get used to him, because a healthy 70% of my stories from Juneau will probably involve him in some way, shape or form.  

Ah, young love.

Bolivia! In Photo Form!

Working on laying the baseboard for the wall we built at Villa Frutillar.  It was so much fun to do something that I could stand back and see at the end of the week!

This is Maria, one of the girls at Villa Frutillar.  She's just about the cutest thing I've ever set eyes on, and she loves to cuddle.  Everyday when we walked into the orphanage, she'd be waiting by the gate with her arms up so someone would pick her up as soon as they came in!

This was my favorite little guy at the children's hospital.  He cried and cried and cried until I picked him up and then wouldn't let me put him down for about an hour.  And then he konked out.  Apparently being held by a gringa is very exhausting work!

This is me, hugging onto a petrified tree koala-style at the Inca ruins above Sipe Sipe.  So much fun, let me tell you.  The tree is a lot taller than it looks (shh, don't tell Mom!)

Bolivia for Dummies

I'll spare you the 80-page description of my time in Bolivia and give you the "Bolivia for Dummies" version: God. Moved. 

My mission trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia with my fellow NPUers was ten days of living, walking proof that God exists.  The mere fact that I went at all is noteworthy, as those of you privileged enough to watch me suffer through mono this semester know.  Once we arrived at our final destination, the hits kept on coming.  From answered prayer regarding puking (yes, puking) to butterflies from heaven to homesickness to clingy little girls, every single member of the team can tell of a time when God spoke, and spoke LOUDLY!  If I learned nothing else from the trip, I learned that God does in fact hear us when we pray.

The team split our time between several projects:  playing with the children at Villa Frutillar and Villa Israel (the orphanages we worked with); building a wall to separate the girls' and boys' rooms at Villa Frutillar; working on the roof at the orphanage in the Chupari jungle; sanding cribs for future orphanages; breaking ground on a new orphanage; giving out food to poor villagers in Sipe Sipe; and holding and feeding malnourished infants at a children's hospital.  I must admit, the children's hospital was my favorite, but also the most difficult to explain.  How is it possible to put into words what it feels like to hold a six-month old who is dying of malnourishment, who only wants to be held?   What's more, how do you explain what it feels like to feed them?  If I knew nothing else during the few hours that we spent at the hospital, I knew that at that moment, I was Christ's hands and feet, and I was feeding Him when He was hungry.  I am truly humbled.  

And the Adventure Begins..........sort of

So after two weeks in exotic Juneau and incredibly limited (and slow) Internet access, I realized that trying to send email updates and pictures to every one of my friends and family was a terrible idea.  The result?  My second voyage into the world of blogging--[bolaskoxfordia] (pronounced "Boh-lask-ocks-FORD-ee-yuh").  The title is shamelessly taken from the AT&T commercials that pretty much depict my life--"I go to school in Chicago, but my parents live in Maryland..." etc, etc.  Since my summer consists mainly of three locales--Bolivia, Alaska, and Oxford (yes, THAT Oxford)--I figured that combining the three would make for a fairly witty and convenient title.  

So next time you find yourself wondering "Where's Cindy now?" (I know you wonder it all the time), just scoot on over to wherescindynow.blogspot.com and ye shall be answered. 
 I'll be here all summer.