Friday, May 30, 2008

VFN is in Chiang Mai

Faithful readers, you are fortunate enough that last night's lodgings in Chiang Mai, Thailand were nice enough to offer a flushing toilet, air conditioning, and free Internet access. The first two only contribute to the mood of VFN's head editor, but the third one directly influences the workings of the blog.

First, here is why I am going to Asia: I want to.

I wish I had some noble goal like busting child prostitution rings (thanks for that line Jaz!) or translating ancient Pali texts. I don't. In Kindergarten my teacher showed our class pictures of the Padoung/Karen tribe in Thailand. I was fascinated. I've wanted to go ever since. Twenty years later, I finally made it happen.

While researching travel options, I realized how close Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia were to fantastical Thailand. What started as a ten day itinerary grew to encompass six weeks! (One of the major perks to being a teacher (besides all the cafeteria food): long vacations.)


Note to readers: Korean Air gives away a lot of free stuff! We were greeted by blankets, pillows, eye masks, sockies, and toothbrushes and toothpaste. It rocked. Almost worth the $1200 plane ticket right there.

Bibimbap on Korean Airlines

Note to readers: Korean food served on Korean airlines. This was called Bibimbap.


Note to readers: Adorable Korean Air flight attendants (who apparently must meet the job requirements of being tiny and beautiful) will identify you as an ignorant American and provide you with illustrated instructions for how to prepare Bibimbap.

Summary of instructions: dump everything in the bowl. Stir. Eat.

Hilarious Colleen quote after trying the Seaweed Soup: "It has recently come to my attention that I cannot eat this."


Note to readers: try to have a long layover in the Seoul Airport sometime. They have a little area where you can do Korean arts and crafts!!!!

Colleen and I both made one of these little boxes. They have a name. The nice Korean ladies taught me the name. I have forgotten the name, but I know that it rhymed with "Angie."


Note to hygienic readers: bathrooms in the Seoul Airport are covered by a self replacing layer of what appears to be industrial strength saran wrap.


It is so humid in Thailand that your lens will immediately fog up when you are standing on the balcony overlooking your hotel's garden. :)


My favorite shot from my first morning in Thailand. The sun is illuminating the leaves outside our balcony.

Well, my Flickr pictures have finished uploading, so I no longer have any excuse to stay on the computer while Chiang Mai awaits!!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

VFN Goes to Southeast Asia!!!

Gentle readers, it is with great excitement that I inform you that the editorial board of View From the North will be journeying across Southeast Asia for the next six weeks. Honorary editor Steve Alston (world renowned for his quick wit, mad ninja skills, and stunning good looks) will not be accompanying the rest of the editorial board. Instead, VFN's head editor will be accompanied by her Second Best Friend and fellow Shishmaref teacher Colleen (you may refer to her as Cool-een if you desire).

VFN is unsure about the availability of Internet access in the proposed destinations. VFN is also unsure about the desirability of spending hours in Internet Cafes when we could be doing investigative work and getting massages.

VFN urges readers to not abandon the blog if posts are sporadic. Thank you.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Graduation Shishmaref Style

There are a few things I remember about my high school graduation:

-It was really long.

-My grandmothers sat in the front row.

-I tried to smile the whole time and clap for every graduate because I was in the front row.

-It was really long.

-Brian Winterbottom played his gameboy through the entire thing. I mocked him, but secretly I was envious.

Lucky for me, I get to relive high school graduations every single year!!! Wahoo!!! I thought I would take this opportunity to compare Shishmaref graduation with my Lewiston High School graduation.


LHS graduates: 363
SHS graduates: 4


Number of cakes at LHS graduation: 0
Numbers of cakes at SHS graduation: 10+


We took the seniors into the kitchen before the ceremony to preview the cakes. I encouraged them to sample the cakes ahead of time. Because they're used to ridiculous instructions from their spastic social studies teacher, they humored me.


This senior actually tasted the frosting. I was proud.


Since I was married to one of the cake servers, I scored the world's largest piece of pineapple upside down cake. It was good. The man who gave it to me was good-looking. He winked at me.*


Number of diplomas given to small children at LHS graduation: 0
Number of diplomas given to small children at SHS graduation: Uh, I don't know exactly, but it was about 10.

The preschool kids are awarded "diplomas" at the beginning of the graduation as the replacements for the senior class. It's very cute. One of the little girls had to be dragged on stage while sobbing hysterically. Luckily, she recovered.


Choir at LHS graduation: Uh, some performance choir. They sang a song. I think it was from a musical.
Choir at SHS graduation: The Lutheran Church Senior Choir


Number of kids eating popsicles at LHS graduation: 0
Number of kids eating popsicles at SHS graduation: about 6

Seriously, one of the sixth graders wandered in from the store with a box of popsicles and started passing them out during the middle of the ceremony. My jaw dropped. Only in Shishmaref would this every happen (kids also bring pop and candy to church, but that's a story for another blog post).

I was busy being disgusted when the sixth grader offered me one of the popsicles. I shrugged and accepted it (when in Rome...). You'll be happy to know that I waited until the lights were out during the slideshow before I ate it.


What I did during the graduations-

LHS: sat in the front row with a frozen smile plastered painfully on my face.
SHS: sat in the audience behind a laptop. I ran the speaker's PowerPoint Presentation, the Slideshow, and the music from my laptop.

(Note to astute readers: this picture was taken before the popsicle.)


One of the best part of graduation is watching the receiving line after the ceremony. The graduates line up, and community members come through and congratulate them. This picture (which I happen to think is the best graduation picture EVER) is our valedictorian hugging her basketball coach. Very sweet moment.

It was a happy night. I cried. I hugged my four graduates. I thought the ceremony was a little boring, but I think that's something all graduations have in common

*Nobody freak out. It was Steve.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How To Survive: Barbecue In the Snow

Sometimes, you have to have real food. No matter how creative you get with the stove and treasure hunts to the store, there comes a time when you have to have real meat. And it has to be grilled.

We are very lucky because we have a big tough Eskimo friend with grill. He likes to bring it over to our house and cook for us.


This is our tough Eskimo friend barbecuing hamburgers on Steve's birthday. Notice the snow in the background. (Also notice the adorable small child "helping" his dad.)

There are two difficulties when barbecuing in the snow: braving the cold outside long enough for the meat to cook and keeping the meat hot as it travels into the house.


Our tough Eskimo friend takes care of the first difficulty. He can stand outside forever as long as he is equipped with the above grilling necessities.

I usually tackle the second difficulty. As soon as BTE (Big Tough Eskimo) hollers that the meat is almost done, I run outside with a plate. He piles the meat on, and I buzz back into the house as fast as my short legs will carry me. Then I cover the meat with foil and put it in a heated over. During this flurry of activity Steve is I'm not sure what Steve is doing. Probably playing his Nintendo DS or something and giving thanks that BTE is outside grilling in the cold instead of him. (This comment is in no way meant to imply that my strapping husband is in any way lazy. He works very hard, and I love him for it. Thank you.)

On our last night in Shishmaref, BTE decided to spoil us with some of his grilling delicacies (I thought about being offended at the fact that he was celebrating our departure, but I knew the food would be good enough that I wouldn't care. I'm kind of shallow that way.)


This is the barbecue sauce that BTE used to marinate the ribs. It is made of bottled barbecue sauce, lots of garlic, and probably some other stuff (sorry for the vague details, I was busy doing important stuff on my laptop while he was concocting it). He soaked the ribs in Sierra Mist as a tenderizer before marinating them in this sauce.


These are the ribs cooking. I'm salivating just remembering them. The soda pop tenderizer really did the trick. They were so easy to chew and yummy!!! I practically transformed into a feral animal gnawing the meat off the bones as fast as possible.


This is the chicken marinade. BTE made it by mixing ranch dressing, lots of garlic, bacon bits, and Sierra Mist. I'm not always a huge ranch dressing fan, but this stuff smelled a-freaking-mazing. I wanted to eat the marinade all by itself. Only my fear of salmonella from eating it with a soup spoon.


The chicken was major yum too. Steve came close to falling in love with it. That's funny because he usually thinks that chicken is a sissy food. He said it was Rodizio's good (Rodizio's is our favorite Brazilian grill in Salt Lake City. It's like an Alston family law that we have eat there every time we're in Utah).

My contribution to these dinners usally consists of running the meat back and forth to BTE and other mundane tasks like slicing pickles and asking Steve to set the table as soon as he finishes the next level of Mario World. In honor of Steve's birthday, I tried this home fry recipe from my favorite cooking blog: Amateur Gourmet.

I would recommend this recipe who wants to celebrate the real gem of Idaho and is okay with a little deep frying. (If you're interested, definitely check out Amateur Gourmet's directions. They will be way better than mine.)

I started by boiling the potatoes. When they were soft enough that my weak wrists could stab a knife through them, I took them out and cut them into chunks.


Then I fried them on one side with in oil and butter. After slightly browned, I flipped the chunks and added minced onion and an assortment of seasonings.


The finished potatoes were a huge hit. Everyone at the birthday party (BTE, BTE's oldest daughters, our coworker Coleenie, and our new friend visiting from the Netherlands) devoured them completely. This recipe instantly made its way into our list of favorites.


I usually leave one of our kitchen windows open when we (meaning: BTE) barbecue. That way I can hear when BTE needs something, and we can pass meat, foil, sauce, small firearms*, etc. through the window. Our open window becomes a magnet for any young (and not so young) children in the village. I've even had my high school students hanging inside my kitchen asking me questions and making small talk...

Our Arctic Barbecues break up the monotony of my crock pot and/or frying pan delicacies. I would encourage all readers to barbecue even if the obstacles include freezing temperatures and high meat prices. It's worth it.

*No members of the Alaska Alston family actually have any type of firearms in their possession.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Field Trip: Junior High Sliding Trip

As the seventh grade advisor, I had the extreme pleasure of accompanying the seventh and eighth graders on the annual Junior High Sliding Trip.


We rode in sleds pulled by snow machines. I have never driven a snow machine, and I didn't want to learn with a bunch of junior highers behind me. I opted to be a passenger. We spent the trip huddling under tarps and blankets and making faces at each other (I like to set a really mature and refined example for my students).


I claimed the sled with the highest sides and kicked the boys out. Then I invited the girls to ride in the good sled with me. We sat on top of a very nice very thick reindeer skin. It is pictured in the above photograph.


The trail was marked with these three legged things. They're meant to show the way during bad weather.


This was my first time being outside of Shishmaref (other than flying out by plane). It was really fascinating to see different scenery. Even though that scenery was small hills covered in dirt and snow.


We traveled to a place about sixteen miles outside of Shishmaref. It took us about forty minutes to get there. The kids spent a lot of time seeing how much air they could catch with their little plastic sleds.


One of the bonuses of going sliding with a bunch of snow machines is that they kids got to be pulled up the hills. They would loop their sled ropes through the backs of the big sleds and hang on. This was the best part of the trip for me. Sometimes I would ride up to the top of the hill just to ride back down on the snow machine. It was fun.


Sometimes I rode on the back of the sleds and take pictures of the kids trying to hang on.


When the snow machine drivers drove fast (which they did a lot), kids fell off. This was my favorite series of action pictures. It started out as two classmates sharing a sled.


When they started to go fast, the boy in back grabbed his friend for protection.


As speed increased, it progressed into a full headlock...


before ending in a wipeout!


We dined on ham and cheese sandwiches out of plastic garbage bags.


We also had these yummy frozen peaches cups. They were so good that I ate three of them.


One of the highlights of the trip was when the shop teacher shot a pair of ptarmigan. Being as the ptarmigan is the Alaska state bird, we spent a moment of silence in their honor. The other chaperones on the trip said that ptarmigan is better than chicken. As soon as I can confirm that report, I will. :)


In case you ever wondered what ptarmigan feet look like, this is it. They're kind of fuzzy.

Lucky for me, I get to go on the next sliding trip. Also lucky for me, it won't happen until next year.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Con: Polar Bears

There are a lot of things we don't have to worry about in Shishmaref: frequent houseguests, demanding social lives, long commutes to work, paying for car insurance, etc. In exchange, we have to worry about polar bears.

I hate polar bears. I hate every cartoon, stuffed animal, or greeting card that makes them look cute and cuddly. Polar bears are not cute and cuddly. They are scary.


Look at the claws on that thing. These claws were not designed for snuggling. They were designed for tearing open flesh.

We don't typically see polar bears Shishmaref. They generally come into the village when they're hungry. That means that they're looking for a meal. Polar bears are one of the few animals that will attack humans even when unprovoked.

The following pictures were not taken in Shishmaref, but the COULD HAVE BEEN! They were taken on the North Slope.

Polar Bear 1.JPG

The man being chased works with our librarian's son. They work on the oil pipeline.

Polar Bear 2.JPG

Polar Bear 3.JPG

Polar bears are very persistent.

Polar Bear 4.JPG

And tall.

Polar Bear 5.JPG

Polar Bear 6.JPG

Did I mention persistent?

I used to have bad dreams about polar bears. I was always trying to run away or protect kids and something was stopping me. It was always terrifying. My students told me that I think about polars too much. The dreams would stop when I stopped being so afraid.

They also asked me what I would do if I was walking with a little kid and a polar bear started chasing us. They wanted to know if I would push the little kid down and run away. In case anybody is wondering, under no circumstances would I ever use a small child as polar bear distraction. The only thing worse than being eaten by a polar bear, would be knowing I fed a small child to a polar bear.

Lucky for me, polar bears don't last long in Shishmaref. Every male over the age of eight is anxious to shoot one. They are quite the prize. When word gets out about a polar bear in town, everybody grabs their guns and starts riding around looking for it.


So please don't think I'm bloodthirsty or savage if I prefer to see polar bears like this...


or this...


or this. I just feel safer that way.