Tales from Botswana: An introduction

For years Andy and I have talked about going on safari in Africa. Two weeks ago we actually did it.

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 4.44.56 PM

Here’s an overview of our trip:

  • We flew from Cincinnati to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Johannesburg, stayed overnight, then flew from Johannesburg to Maun, and finally Maun to the Moremi Game Reserve (on a teeny tiny Cessna!).
    • The ATL to JNB flight is supposedly the 4th longest in the world, at 16 hours. Thank goodness for those personal media screens!
  • Our guide was Mike, a native of Botswana, and he led a group of 9 of us on a week-long tour from the Moremi Game Reserve, over to Savute, and on through Chobe National Park.
    • Andy and I were the only Americans. The other guests were a French couple, a Swiss couple, a German couple, and a Slovak. I would say English was only spoken about 65% of the time.
    • Also supporting our tour group was a young cook named Rasta, and an all-around helper-guy named Talo.
  • June is the beginning of dry season (aka winter) so it was cold and (surprise surprise) dry. Temps ranged from 80ºF or so during the day to below 40ºF at night.
    • This is supposedly a very good time to see the wildlife, since the rivers have all receded and the animals have to congregate where there’s still water.
  • We saw, vaguely in order of abundance:
    • Antelope of all kinds — impala, kudu, water buck, red lechwe, reed buck, sable, puku, steenbok, and maybe another one or two I’m forgetting.
    • BIRDS. Too many to name, though my favorite kinds were the “flying bananas” (hornbills, like Zazu) and the lilac-breasted roller.
    • Elephants.
    • Giraffes.
    • Buffalo.
    • Zebra.
    • Wildebeest.
    • Hippos.
    • Crocodiles.
    • Warthogs.
    • Vervet monkeys.
    • Mongooses. (Andy prefers “mongeese.”)
    • Baboons.
    • Ostriches.
    • Hyenas.
    • Jackals.
    • Honey badgers.
    • African wild cats. (That’s a specific thing, despite the generic name.)
    • Leopard. As in, singular.
  • For the record, going on safari is like playing the hardest game of Where’s Waldo ever. It’s like someone is constantly turning the pages, and oh yeah, Waldo’s walking around.
  • We did a mobile safari, meaning we camped in tents that we took with us from site to site. However, Talo and Rasta were responsible for setting up and breaking down camp, plus there were bathroom and shower tents, so it wasn’t a hotel, but it wasn’t exactly a hardship either.
  • When the safari was over, Mike escorted our group across the river to Zambia, where we all stayed the night in Livingstone and had the chance to check out Victoria Falls.
  • To get back home, Andy and I flew from Livingstone to Johannesburg, then Johannesburg to Atlanta, and finally Atlanta back to Cincinnati.

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 4.45.01 PM

Over the course of our travels, I read 2 books, 2 short stories, and several articles. I watched Cloud Atlas, Prometheus, The Hobbit, and This Is 40. I learned a handful of words in French and Setswana. I took roughly 2,000 photos. I journaled every night. I watched the sun rise and set each day. I ate probably more PB&J than I did throughout my entire childhood. I broke my glasses, and I had French toast stolen off my plate by a monkey.


It was, as you can imagine, an amazing experience, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of it here, both in images and words.

Friend and author Jamie Ford happened to be in Africa at the same time, although in a different country and for a different reason. You can read about his family’s experiences in Tanzania on his blog, and I especially recommend his “passing thoughts on poverty,” as they echo some of the things I saw and thought during my trip.

Stuff worth reading

Veronica Roth’s speech at Book Expo America 2013:

Every writer I know is also here to learn — about spaceships and fall-out shelters and international abduction and horitculture and language and everything. Everything else, everything that makes this world strange and rich and mysterious and ugly and beautiful. Humility in reading and in writing really means freedom, freedom to love things with unbridled enthusiasm. Freedom to critique things thoughtfully, freedom to write about topics you aren’t that familiar with, freedom to admit to your mistakes and learn from them. Humility is freedom.

A guest post at Diversity in YA by E.C. Meyer:

Even without realizing this was a seriously messed up situation, I was subconsciously drawn to characters like me wherever I found them. In the Babysitters Club series, Claudia was my favorite; not only was she Asian, but she was artistic, as I was. While it was nice to see Sulu on the bridge of the Enterprise, I was more fascinated by Spock, who had grown up caught between two cultures, not belonging fully to neither.

In most stories, I was lucky to see one multicultural character, the so-called token character, and often it seemed like enough as long as the story didn’t resort to racist stereotypes for characterization. We take what we can get; even imperfect representations of ourselves are better than none at all. But as long as this mentality continues and we settle for the bare minimum, damage is being done…

IGN interview with Anita Sarkeesian:

Mainstream popular culture has become, for better or worse, our dominant form of storytelling especially in Western cultures and these stories do have a profound influence on our lives, perceptions, values and belief systems — even if we don’t always like to admit it.

Feminism was actually not part of my life growing up, at least not consciously. My generation has been caught up in an extreme cultural, political and media backlash against women’s rights. I hear far too many young people say, “I believe in the equality of women but I’m not a feminist,” and, to be completely honest, I used to be one of them. It’s a silly nonsensical statement to make, of course, because at its core feminism is about working towards equality through ending the systemic oppression of women in society. Despite this reality there, unfortunately still exists a great many misconceptions and misunderstandings floating around out there about the word. Some of it is just ignorance but some of it is deliberate misinformation spread by regressive forces hell bent on trying to persevere the good old boys club.

If we look at the long and diverse traditions of feminist movements over the past 100 years we find that feminism has fundamentally transformed almost every aspect of our society. So in actuality everyone engages with feminism on a daily bases (especially in the west), but we have just been taught not to think of it as such.

Summer reading

A couple weeks ago, the New York Times asked a dozen writers to share their memories of reading in the summer. I was not among those invited, hehe, but I’m participating anyway.

Growing up, my parents and I went back to my mother’s homeland every 4 years or so. Just getting there took almost a full day, as we flew from from city to city across the globe. Houston to Taipei by way of Los Angeles, Tokyo, or Seattle. One of these times, I found myself facing a 14-hour flight with nothing to read. I had either forgotten my book at home, or else finished it during the first leg of our travels. Either way, I needed another, so my mother took me to quickly raid the nearest airport shop before it was time to board.

In those days, your cell phone (if you had one) could not tell you what the Amazon or GoodReads reviews were. You just looked at covers, read some jacket copy, and bought the book that sounded the most interesting to you. Crazy, but it worked.

I ended up with MONSOON by Wilbur Smith, an epic story of 3 brothers in the 19th century, spanning from England to Africa to the Middle East, full of sailing, warfare, and sex. It was unlike anything I had ever read before, and I tucked into my window seat and blazed through it nonstop. By the time I finished the 800 or so pages (mass market paperback) we were halfway across the Pacific. Though only hours had passed, I felt older and wiser by years, and excited but weary from battling pirates on the high seas and racing camels across the desert.

I don’t remember anything else about that flight, but I still keep MONSOON by my bed at my parents’ house, so I can relive those adventures time and time again.

Want to share your memories of summertime reading? Email me with brief anecdotes, or post on your own blog and then send me a link, and I’ll publish a roundup!

A day for Loving

I was born in America to a Taiwanese mother and a Caucasian father. I grew up with three other “halfie” friends, their mothers also immigrants (former classmates of my mom’s) and their fathers white men from this country, just like mine. Three boys and me, only two of them brothers, but all of us family in those days.


To me, this was the norm. Mixed race families, with mixed race kids. Even my other best friends were girls with brown hair and brown eyes, so I kind of assumed they were halfies too. Or rather, I didn’t really question what they were — didn’t see them as being different than me — because it didn’t matter.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized a family like mine wasn’t necessarily the norm. That mixed race marriages were not only uncommon in this country until the late 20th century, but also illegal in most states until the Supreme Court invalidated those laws.

That landmark case, Loving vs. Virginia, was decided on June 12, 1967. So today I’m celebrating 46 years of my family being allowed to exist — and hoping for a future full of more loving marriages, between whatever races, genders, backgrounds, and beliefs there may be.

Note: I was inspired to write this post after hearing about this adorable Cheerios ad, and the unfortunate backlash against it.