Holiday Mail: Week 249

Fantasy Sports by Sam Bosma

In Colombia the bills never arrive in envelopes. They are left in a pile at the main entrance of our apartment building, along with everyone else’s. It’s an odd thing to miss, but I really do like receiving mail. Even when it’s just junk and bills.

This Christmas was the first one I’d had at home in Virginia for the last five years. Of course I was excited to be around my family, but I was also looking forward to collecting all the packages and mail that had been sent there in our absence.

Barret had gone on a graphic novel buying frenzy before we arrived. He couldn’t wait to curl up in front of the fire with a beer in one hand and a book in the other.

Wwake gold band ring

I, on the other hand, had made a late-night-last-minute wedding band purchase. Wwake 24 hour sale until midnight! I’d been out drinking with my friends when I saw this email, so of course I bought three rings.

The travel time between BWI airport and my house was about three hours. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so anxious to rip open a package.

BTW – they all fit!

About: Sam Bosma, author of Fantasy Sports

About: Wwake

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An Engagement in Hawaii: Week 221

Polaroid of a church in Lahaina: Maui, Hawaii

Lahaina is lush but also arid- red dirt and hibiscus.

Front Street, the epicenter of the town, runs parallel to the coast. It is filled with tourists, restaurants, and shops. From Front Street the land makes a parabolic rise up into the shrouded West Maui Mountains.

It was around 2:30 in the afternoon when a troop of yellow school buses honked their way through Lahaina. The kids from Kamehameha III Elementary were celebrating their last day of school by sliding out of view and waving their hands out the windows.

At the south end of town, near the school, a massive banyan tree canopied a public square. Families sat in the shade and a backpacker rubbed ointment onto his tanned foot. Barret and I strolled down the street, past a stand of parrots that squawked aloha, and had lunch overlooking the waterfront.

Boys bodyboarding at Kaanapali: Maui, Hawaii

To the south and north of Lahaina, all along Honoapiilani Highway, the coastal side of the road was filled with cars. The charcoal grills were hot and the ocean was filled with people and boards. Everyone knows Hawaii is famous for surfing, but it is still surprising to see so many people out in the water at all times of the day. It makes you wonder when and if they ever work.

Barret eating a popsicle at the Twin Falls Farmstand: Maui, Hawaii

The Twin Falls Farmstand is on the eastern end of Maui, which is the side that receives all the rain. The little stand sells smoothies, drinking coconuts, and popsicles on sugarcane sticks. Just beyond the stand is a trail that crosses a small river twice before ending at a waterfall.

Large puffy white clouds floated out of the woods and hung over the clearing. A mother of three studied the dissipating clouds with a large frown. Her husband, a man with thinning hair and an armband tattoo, enthusiastically watched stoned teenagers jump off a precipice and into the cool water below. “I’ve jumped off higher,” he mouthed in her direction. Her frown deepened.

North of the falls, Barret and I stopped at a lookout point. I bought a drinking coconut from a brightly painted van that was manned by a woman with voluminous hair, a voluminous bust, and big jewelry.

At the lookout point Barret distracted me with sea turtles while he pulled out an engagement ring. Although I had selected the ring, I was completely caught off guard.

Polaroid of the proposal in Maui, Hawaii

“Look at what I am wearing!” I exclaimed as I surveyed my wrinkled pants and Teva sandals. My arms were caked in sunblock.

“This is who we are,” Barret replied. “This is what we look like most of the time.”

I had always thought that the proposal would make me cry a lot, but looking back I just remember laughing with joy. Although if you ask Barret, I cried for five minutes behind my sunglasses.

I couldn’t wait to share the news, so before we left I returned to the coconut stand. The vendor squealed in excitement before proclaiming, “isn’t that a cute little promise ring.” Not exactly the response I was expecting, but I think our tastes were a bit different.

Polaroid of a van selling drinking coconuts: Maui, Hawaii

After living in Sydney, I knew Honolulu was a popular destination for Aussie shoppers. However, it wasn’t ’til I was there that I realized the scale of the development- it was a tropical Las Vegas minus the casinos. Older vestiges of the Waikiki beach culture remained, but massive hotels, shopping centers, and restaurant chains dwarfed those two-story bungalow apartments. The main thoroughfare was filled with people in neon green shirts advertising shooting ranges.

Flyer for a gun range in Waikiki: Honolulu, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor was just north of the airport. Barret and I showed up on empty stomachs and we laughed when we discovered that the food court only sold hotdogs and nacho chips- both covered in liquid cheese. Everywhere else in the world the food cart is a culinary treasure, in the US it is most often a form of torture.

Photo of the boat which transports visitors to the USS Arizona War Memorial: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

It cost nothing to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, which could only be accessed by boat, but we had to collect a ticket for a specific time. Because there were so many people, we had a few hours to explore the museums beforehand. One of the things that stood out most for me was how well the collection explained the events leading up to the bombing without reducing everything to: USA good, Japan evil.

However, the most interesting site at Pearl Harbor was of course the memorial for the USS Arizona. This unfortunate vessel had been scheduled to leave the day before it was attacked but had instead been docked for an overnight repair. Because of this, it was fully manned and stocked with fuel- 1.5 million gallons.

Postcard of the USS Arizona: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

After the attack, the USS Arizona burned for three days. Despite this, about 500,000 gallons of oil remained intact and have been leaking ever since. Up to nine quarts of ‘black tears’ bubble up to the surface every day and leave a rainbow-colored residue on the water.

In total, 1,177 crewmen died and of the 37 sets of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona, only one complete set made it out alive. In 1982 a repatriation program began which offered survivors of the USS Arizona the opportunity to have their ashes laid to rest inside one of the ship’s gun turrets. More than 30 crewman have chosen to have the watery grave as their final resting place.

Photo of Waikiki Beach at sunset: Honolulu, Hawaii

Hawaii is a tropical paradise, but it was also a little bit different from what I had anticipated. The number of boxy strip malls surprised me just as much as the massive size of the sea turtles I swam with in Napili Bay.

Honolulu had a thick knot of traffic and a massive highway infrastructure, but when I met a woman in the hotel lobby who had just moved there, I could understand why she was so happy. She had just found her own little slice of heaven. I was sad to be leaving.

Polaroid of swimmers at Waikiki Beach: Honolulu, Hawaii

About: Lahaina

How to get to the Twin Falls Farmstand: East on Hana Highway past the town of Paia. Around mile marker 2 is a bridge- on the right hand side is a parking lot and the farmstand.

How to get to Pearl Harbor: Take bus #20 or #42 to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

About: Waikiki, Oahu

Dress Cafe: Week 184

Polaroids of a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

“Is it ok for Barret to see you?” Amy looked worried when she saw me come out of the dressing room in a strapless wedding gown. “He isn’t supposed to, right?”

“Nah, it’s fine.” I replied as I glanced at my freckled scoop-neck tan line in the mirror. “It’s not like it’s my real wedding dress.”

Amy, Eun Soon, Barret and I were right next door to Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul. Most good university neighborhoods cater to their student population, and in this regard Ehwa does not disappoint. Within walking distance from the hallowed school grounds are nail salons, jewelry carts, cafes, and tiny clothing shops crammed with pastel blouses and hair ribbons.

While those are all great reasons to visit the bustling neighborhood, the four of us were there specifically to visit a dress cafe.

Prior to arriving in Seoul, I had lamented the fact that the four of us didn’t have any photos together. “Eun Soon,” I declared as our flight drew nearer. “We need to go to a dress café.”

“You mean the wedding one?” She asked.

“No, just one with lots of dresses.”

Barret at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

“There are only two types,” Eun Soon quickly clarified, “hanbok and wedding.” The loose-fitting traditional Korean costumes, called hanbok, are beautiful and come in a rainbow assortment of colors. However, the idea of renting wedding dresses for a photo shoot with friends was just too oddly intriguing.

“Let’s take a bunch of wedding photos!” I decided. “Can you make a reservation?”

Tree prop at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

We were the only customers when we arrived at the café. The term ‘photo studio’ is a more apt description, but we did each order a sweet beverage. There was a large pink flowery tree behind us and over to our right was a vanity mirror piled high with makeup and glittery tiaras. The closet next to the vanity held three racks of dresses divided into four separate price categories. The most expensive dresses cost 40,000 won a session.

When I finished my drink I picked out a dress and slid the curtain across the closet. The barista helped me into my dress and afterwards asked what size shoe I wore. “Namu kun,” I replied and she laughed at the thought of my feet being too big for the 40 odd pairs of heels on the ground.

“Well,” Amy translated, “she said you should just wear your sandals.”

Choosing accessories at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

While I waited for the others I sidled up to the vanity to touch up my makeup and select a tiara. Almost immediately, the photographer came over, removed it, and put a different one on my head.

“OK?” She asked.

“Sure, why not.” I smiled. She then selected a necklace and clasped it around my neck.

“OK?”

“Yeah!”

A veil appeared next to my head in the mirror. Ii was long and had gauzy fabric and a lace detail along the edge.

“Heck yeah!” I wasn’t planning on saying no to anything.

While Barret was putting his tux on and selecting his bow tie, Amy and Eun Soon were curling the tips of their hair and touching up their makeup.

About an hour after we first arrived we were finally ready to go. I just don’t know if the photographer was ready for Barret.

Barret playing the piano at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

The group posing with a boquet at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

The dress cafe rose room: Seoul, South Korea

How to get to Ehwa University neighborhood in Seoul: Line 2 – Ehwa Women’s University Station – Exit #3

A Wedding in Christchuch: Week 162

On a vinyeard just outside of Christchurch

“Is that all your luggage?” the customs official had asked with a skeptical glance.

“Yes.” We only had two small backpacks and a canvas bag with my dress and heels.

“We just jumped over for a wedding.” I felt like a jet-setter, but in reality we had caught a cheap red-eye flight to Christchurch. It was only three hours away.

It was after midnight by the time we reached our motel, the door to our room left unlocked. We ate an airport dinner on the bed and turned on the TV. There’s something about watching the news in a hotel room that elicits an inexplicable excitement in me.

Maybe it began back in ’94 with the promise of a new start in the Sunshine State, my mom turning on the news while my dad sat outside smoking the day’s first cigarette. Pack the last few items in the U-Haul and stop at the McDonalds on the way out of town. A long, long road lay ahead and the sun was just rising.

***

Barret and I have had an odd relationship with Christchurch. It’s a city still working to overcome a crippling earthquake that destroyed its entire downtown. Because of this, out of all the possible cities to visit in New Zealand, Christchurch would not currently be at the top of our list.

However we keep going back: once on our own, twice with Barret’s mom, and once again when my sister stopped there on her way to Antarctica.

I hadn’t planned on returning, but there we were the following morning in the only taxi that didn’t use GPS. The driver, an elderly guy who liked to talk about LPG tanks, handed Barret a thick book of maps. “Don’t worry,” he announced, “you have that discount coupon.”

Five minutes later we were back on track and pulling into a gravel parking lot outside a vineyard on the city’s outskirts. The wooden pavilions at the entrance were draped in pastel bunting and the soft autumnal light was filtering through a row of oak trees.

A Maori prayer was sung, then Bahá’í vows (a faith which originated in 19th century Persia), then traditional Christian vows. I tossed my sachet of oak leaves on the newlywed couple and tried to discretely wipe my tears away.

I’m not quite sure what impels me towards movement, to crossing oceans and mountains and state lines and doorsteps. However moments like these, when I’m seated at candlelit table decorated with gnarled driftwood and surrounded by good friends, I’m reminded of how important it is to sometimes stop. Or, at the very least, slow down long enough to be invited to awesome weddings in Christchurch.

63 Building & Hello Kitty Cafe: Week 27

The observatory inside the 63 Building can only be reached by a transparent elevator. On my way up, the twinkling lights of the city unfolded while the dark flowing water of the Han River shrank beneath me. Exiting the elevator, families and dopey-eyed couples wound their way through the exhibits of the Sky Art Museum.

The current exhibit, Faces, was a collection of portraits from Korean and international artists. At night the artwork reflected against the windows of one of the most iconic buildings in Seoul. Guests peered through the vibrant colors of an Alex Katz or Julian Opie ghost exhibit before taking in the glittering view of Seoul.

When I approached the last room, a small crowd of people were whispering and pointing. A rope separated the gawking group from a single girl seated in a balloon covered room. A heartfelt essay was being projected while a cameraman filmed the slouched figure. Considering her petite frame and casual clothes, she didn’t look old enough to be proposed to. She obviously felt self-conscious of the crowd behind her and occasionally glanced back at her impromptu paparazzi.

When the projection finished, a slender man emerged in a suit for an awkward hug. The little crowd began to chant what I’m pretty sure was, “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” However, the romantic moment failed to materialize and the couple walked over to a table for a private toast. While the view was beautiful, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the decorations and method of delivery were embarrassing. Balloons are a bad symbol for love as they deflate and pop, while a power point is too impersonal. Perhaps he should have tried giant rock pyramids- now that is a decoration which demonstrates durability and dedication.

As our group stumbled in, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the familiar ovular face on the photographic menu, the woman at the cash register appeared bored and irritated. She dully pointed to a sign which read, “Please find a seat before ordering”. The bright and cheerfully decorated front room was full, so we proceeded to the interior room. The walls were pink and the lighting dim. The chairs were comfortable, but I could tell the staff hadn’t been back in this corner to wipe up spilled drinks and sweep away stray hairs.

The pricy coffee was served in thin paper cups. “I would be disappointed if I didn’t see Hello Kitty on my Earl Gray latte,” I exclaimed before photographing my beverage. “I’d be disappointed if did,” my Finnish couchsurfer replied indicating her black coffee. While I enjoyed my drink, I didn’t feel like I was in Hello Kitty’s café. The space felt like my claustrophobic dorm room- small and void of sunlight.

How to get there:

63 Building – Line 5 Yeouinaru Station, Exit 4 (11,000 won for the Sky Art Museum)

Hello Kitty Cafe – Line 2 Hongik Station, Exit 9

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