“I work with endangered sea turtles, but really, I write songs for a living,”

she said when I met her on Maui (or at least that’s how I remember it, of course my brain was going “yeeee, Hawaii!!!” the whole time I was there). (And she’s amazing, but that’s a story for another post.)

“I work for the Ministry of Labor, but really, I edit/translate articles and theses for a living,” is what I told my friends I work together with on ASEAS, the Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies. After an editorial meeting on the forthcoming issue on “Conflict Dynamics and Transformations” (call for papers open till 15 Dec, btw) I’m working on as the managing editor, and our annual general assembly where I reported on the finances in my role of auditor, we were walking to a bar to have our well-deserved christmas party.

Now, on the face of it, sea turtles beat public service, and songwriting adding commas every time, and my life just sounds incredibly busy and boring. But all I could think of the whole time was how much I fucking loved it – yes, the State paying me so little for 40h/week that technically, I earn below the poverty line, is pretty despicable (n.b., as a lawyer…). But then, I actually, consciously, of sound mind and so on, chose that job over working at a law firm. I just didn’t feel like working 60+h/week with mean people. Instead, my job in labor migration law even lets me combine my two degrees in law and anthropology, and I love it. I don’t take my work home with me, and if you get up early enough, there’s quite some hours in the week (to translate. to edit. even to summarize movies). Though – note to self – students as a client base is kind of a stupid idea because they themselves are mostly poor. I just kind of got roped into editing since I love language, languages, and grammar and getting paid for it for a change felt good. (If you’re curious, have a look at my new editing site still under construction but accepting feedback and orders.)

But I digress. Really, what I wanted to describe was that wonderful, warm and fuzzy feeling I got, sitting in a bar over my coconut curry and second spritzer, taking time out from the conversation to just look around at my colleagues and friends and listen to different strands of conversation, mostly to watch the cloud of interdisciplinary discussion over our heads: because I’m me, and my mind wanders, I imagined different theories in different colors and fonts. (And all of this took place in a matter of two seconds and just made me smile and feel blessed before I went on to my next “yeah, but…”; not in a way that would make a random passer-by give me the side eye and move on to the next bar.) Sitting there with a geographer who was on national television as a Thailand expert a few days ago, a political scientist who just got a postdoc position and positively spouts theory and critique and logic, an anthropologist who just spent a year in Indonesia while managing editor of her issue and getting a prize for it, too, and… well guys you’re all so amazing, I can’t do you all justice in a blog post. This could all make me feel incredibly inadequate, just at the beginning of my PhD, but all I felt was bliss. And so happy to be a part of it.

I think all I was really trying to say was… I love my friends, and I love my life. Thanks for being a part of it and making it richer. :*


Dear Austria,

I’m looking forward to coming home. Home to my family and friends, home to my apartment close to a market with healthy food that’s affordable, in a city where public transportation is excellent and university is free.
What I’m dreading, however, is election season. Especially the blatantly racist posters that come with it.

Posters that incite hatred, and call for putting ‘your own’ before those, well, less ‘your own’. I don’t usually question my identity, but there are times when I wonder, which one am I?

I, myself, know clearly who I am, and I don’t need to hyphenate my identity, combining my parents’. Yes, I do believe in the socialist principles that make my student life affordable, I didn’t have to acquire my taste for root beer and salted caramel so many Austrians hate, and I always thought I had what I considered my dad’s American sense of humor. I like public speaking and competition, and at times I can get grantig, too.

I look Austrian, I sound Austrian. My name does not.

I didn’t feel that different as a kid; maybe because kids couldn’t care less, maybe because my parents protected me.

You make me feel different, Austria, when you ask me where I’m really from. Because of my strange name, so difficult to pronounce for ‘us’. If you are ‘us’, what does that make me?

When you complement me on my German – yeah, so maybe I speak five languages, but don’t praise me for the one that’s my mother tongue…

I haven’t been spat at, or told my children should be gassed (which has happened to people I know – others identified as ‘migrants’, as ‘non-native’, and thus as targets). But my name contains ‘illegal characters’. Every time I try to buy something online, like a ticket that should match my ID, I stubbornly enter my correct name. With the apostrophe. Every time I get told it’s not right. Glaring red phrases, pre-programmed to react to strange names, tell me my name is illegal.

I used to think one shouldn’t be proud of one’s heritage. After all, you did nothing to achieve it. You’re the result of your parents having sex. Let me reconsider: I’m proud of my name.

My ancestors braved state terror, famine, and the transatlantic passage – at least that’s how I imagine it. My father was the first one in his family to attend university, and chose to raise me in Austria because of its excellent public schools – at least that’s how I remember it. My name is not illegal, it bears witness to resilience, endurance, making tough choices and enjoying the good times. My name is O’R***, and it rhymes with fork. If you can’t pronounce it, it’s for your lack of education, not for its illegality.

Don’t tell me to ‘integrate’ when my great-grandmother was a Sennerin in the Alps and my grandparents were traumatized by the Nazis. Don’t tell me to ‘learn German’ when I work as an editor for a scientific journal and translate legal texts. Don’t judge whether I’m a ‘real’ Austrian or not, despite my name which can be overlooked in special circumstances. Don’t put a question mark instead of an apostrophe when sending me mail, because that’s not my name. The apostrophe is right there on your keyboard, next to the ‘ä’.

And please, don’t pretend to be so Germanic, monocultural, like you haven’t always been a melting pot. Don’t demand I speak German, and only German, during recess. Jealous of my sweet language skills? Try educating yourself. Don’t be so petty, greedy, insensitive. Don’t pretend that I’m different, that you’re better, just because your family has lived on the same plot of land for the past few centuries, or your grandparents changed their name to sound less Slavic.

So much talk of home, homeland, culture. It’s not just donning a Dirndl or going to church at least twice a year. To me, home really is where the heart is, and my heart does not give one fuck about national borders. It is offended, though, when not served a glass of water with coffee at a café, something I have found to be distinctly Austrian because it shocks me every time it happens (in other countries). It is being able to talk freely about sexuality, and critically reflecting the way violence is portrayed in various media.

‘My own’ are not other Austrians, other Americans, other migrants. I don’t define ‘my own’ by whom their parents fucked, or where their mom happened to be when they were born. The two concepts I am most passionate about are justice and democracy, and my own are those who share these values.

Coffee Porn at Zeitgeist

Or what would you call a 16 oz. mocha that looks like this? DSCN5533Zeitgeist is a great café downtown, perfect for rainy days, probably just as nice on sunny days. Didn’t have the chance to verify that hypothesis, though. High ceiling, grungy toilet. Pretty cool bird art on the walls, cut out of feathers. Almost inspiring, if you’re into that. Kinda hot, chatty baristas, too, if you’re into that. In other news, apparently the WA laws on dragging giant octopi from the sea and beating them to death on the shore are being toughened, after just that happened. I swear, these Americans and this feeling of being somehow entitled to violence. It’s happiness, guys.

On that note, even though I felt obliged to scoff at the “giant wheel”, it’s actually pretty awesome. You go around a few times, and boy was the sun shining again! Kinda cool, but kinda creepy that we could see a gingerbread person down below who kept taking her head off to look at pictures people had taken of her. Then again, she probably earns minimum wage to run around dressed as a cookie.

Road Rage on Candy Cane Lane

Game of Thrones seems to be a favorite on both sides of the Atlantic. After starting to read the first book, however, I wonder how it ever made it through the publishing process- the tv show’s so much better than the writing!

Also, really good Mexican food, really good Moscow mules, and fell asleep before the pumpkin cheesecake, unfortunately.

Gotta go celebrate Christmas now.


Recreational Excitement, Inc.

Christian Grey’s got nothing on REI. Go to the Pacific Northwest’s premier outdoorsy fancy schmancy sporting goods store, on the last Saturday before Christmas, add fit, middle-aged women fighting over the sales, and stir- and you get a real-life S&M story no one could make up. Especially since REI really is a love story. Grab an ice pick by the handle and tear open those big, hefty doors. Inside you will find running shoes, laptop bags, luggage tags, backpacks that would be great for trekking, sleeping bags that would be great for trekking, really a lot of things that would be so good for trekking! Trekking in Nepal, for reals, that will happen very very soon. You could get your whole outfit for trekking at REI. Or you could get a windbreaker, reduced, for $ 130. If you want. No pressure. Or get instant Starbucks hot chocolate, for when you’re hiking and have hot water handy. Now that’s just ridiculous… right?

And if you’re hungry, they’re bbq-ing sausages outside. Very healthy. The great thing at REI, aside from all the stuff, is how much everyone smells like pot… I mean the fact that you can try everything out- there’s a mountain bike track outside, or you can climb the pinnacle, or there’s trails inside, with different kinds of terrain, and rain cabins. Fun, fun, family fun. On the last Saturday before Christmas.

Refuel at Trader Joe’s. They sell peppermint hot chocolate and salted caramel chai. White cheddar popcorn. All the good stuff. The vanilla and cinnamon black tea does a pretty good job of mentioning how it contains natural cinnamon and other natural flavors, but doesn’t mention a steeping time… I get a real kick out of reading American food labels- how else would I know that my yogurt is made from cultured pasteurized grade a reduced fat milk, modified corn starch, and kosher gelatin?

Also, let one of my cousins win in dance central 2 (just kidding, I sucked, but seriously- who chooses “the humpty dance”?!) and introduced them to the best Christmas character of all times, Mr Hankey the xmas poo. Happy holidays, y’all.

The Rolling Stones on four ukuleles

After spending the rest of my xmas money on eyeliners, nail polish, and donuts (if you’re ever in Seattle, grab the legendary grasshopper or the raspberry riot at mighty o’s, even after 3 years of fantasizing about them, they did not disappoint!), I was glad to spend a relaxing evening out at Café Forza, where the Castaways performed ukulele classics like Paint it Black, American Idiot, or Lucy in the Sky. Also got to meet my dad’s college roommates from way back when. Good times looking at old pictures and hearing cute stories about me while explaining my specialization in anthropology (terror and genocide).
Meteorological blurb of the day: bright, bright sunshine in Seattle! So glad I got those sunglasses the day before! (If purchases have any prognostic properties, I will so need that kitty cat beanie today…)

Candy cane and choir concert

I apologize for the sad alliteration, but I was probably influenced by bad writing after reading this piece http://newmatilda.com/2012/12/14/how-write-about-indonesia satirizing bad writers appropriating countries they know nothing about.
So how’s that going for me? I realized yesterday why real Seattleites don’t use umbrellas, or at least why I won’t use one anymore: either they’ve all tried and failed before, like me, or they were born with the knowledge that the wind that comes with the rain is strong, comes in gusts, and will turn your umbrella inside out from any direction (un-)imaginable. No matter how many times you turn it back outside in. But then, that’s what the many Starbucks/Seattle’s Best Coffee/Tully’s/et cetera are for, right, to regroup with a steaming hot salted caramel mocha. Or, for the health-conscious sisters among us, skinny peppermint mocha, which, no joke, only has 100 calories. As much as a banana.
I cried several times yesterday. The first was when said regrouping around said mochas took place and we were just chilling, with our loot from Sephora, Nordstrom Rack, Sephora, and who knows what other stores (oh yeah, Anthropologie, best sunglasses ever! I had to wear them headband-style when we were having lunch at Pike Place Market, inside, for them not to get wet) (speaking of Pike Place Market, I found treasures at the Left Bank bookstore- Michael Taussig fieldwork notebooks if you can believe it!) (oh, and speaking of Sephora/Nordstrom: candy cane lipgloss! my snack for the rest of the day!), so when all this was going on and I just looked at my family, and the city we were in, and the shiny happy Starbucks baristas (I forgot whatever silly special name they’re called), and became so shiny happy myself I just couldn’t take it anymore. So much happiness at once, for such an extended period of time, I’m just not used to it anymore. So that’s the first time my eyes got a bit moist. Of course everybody noticed.
The second time was when we all (9 people) went to my cousin’s middle school choir concert, and I basically just cried out of jealousy because none of my school choir concerts were ever this cool. They got to sing pop, rap, and reggae, and the kids looked like they were totally enjoying themselves, as did the teacher, and nobody had to wear black clothes with a bright scarf. Anyway, I was so proud of my not-so-little-anymore-cousin, and glad that she gets to go to such a nice school. Also, delicious Italian food at Café Lago that night.
Also, forgot to mention the incredible incredible Seattle Aquarium! I’ve always loved the otters, but they have so much great new stuff! Like a jellyfish ring with colored lights! I could have stared at that forever, or at least for a very long time.