Is it true because you believe it? Not even remotely.

This is what happens when you don’t finish your short story in time: you go through your old college homework and pick out something. I had grand plans about posting something of creative worth this week, but a very short essay from my memoir class is what you get instead. This is a memory (or a collection of memories) from when I lived in Thailand.

The last time I talked to Yun Kyung she was shouting over a bad phone connection, a call that had to cross over the Pacific Ocean to reach me.  I was delighted to hear from her, even if I couldn’t hear very well, and there was a fifteen minute shouted conversation about how we needed to email each more often.  I had tried, but the emails kept bouncing back.

Yunni was one of my best friends in Thailand, a Korean girl with the shiniest black hair I had ever seen, neatly cut around her round face.  She told big stories, and I could never tell where they split from truth into exaggeration.  There was one about the pet hamster she’d flushed down the toilet, still alive (she’d been trying to clean it off, by all accounts, and flushing the toilet had proved to be a disastrous method), and another about the Chihuahua that had disappeared in her room, never to be seen again.  It had yelped once, Yunni told me with wide eyes, half grinning but serious, but she never could find it in the messy piles that surrounded her bed.  She believed every story she told, and because she told them, I believed them too.

I learned all the best gossip from Yunni, juicy bits of information that may or may not have been true.  There was an element of hyperbole to every rumor she told me, and I gasped in horrified delight at the darkest secrets, like the one about the schoolmate who’d gotten his girlfriend pregnant.  They never spread beyond me because 1.) secrets between friends were more fun, 2.) some of the rumors (like the girlfriend) were damaging, whether true or false, and 3.) they had likely grown far beyond themselves already, without my help. I knew how the game of telephone worked.

This was a lesson I learned in 9th grade, when she told me that my sister was on a diet.  I talked to my sister, amused but kind of startled, and she huffed with irritation, said that she had refused Yunni’s offer of peanut M&Ms in the middle of Spanish class (she loved plain M&Ms but hated the peanut kind), which had apparently convinced my friend that she was on a diet.  Yun Kyung honestly believed it, no matter how many times I assured her my thin-mint sister wasn’t anorexic.

She was absolutely and brilliantly absurd, and she was my friend the instant I met her. I was in 6th grade at the time, the new girl in class, and feeling utterly bewildered by the unfamiliar sound of nearly everyone speaking languages I didn’t understand in the halls between class periods. I was standing at the top of the stairs, headed for the bathroom while I had the chance, when into the scene rushed this girl like a bat out of hell. She headed right for me – clearly on a mission – and immediately demanded:

“What country do you think I’m from?”

I stared at her, and made a noise like, “Uh…”

“No really,” she said.  “Chinese?  Japanese?  Korean?  You think I’m Chinese don’t you?  Everybody thinks I’m Chinese.”

I’d been living in Thailand for two weeks, and hadn’t yet learned to recognize Asians by their country of origin.  I shook my head no, because I didn’t want her to think that I thought she was Chinese (in point of fact, I had no opinion on the matter) when she clearly found the thought offensive.

“I’m Korean,” she said.  “My name is Yun Kyung.  It’s okay if you can’t pronounce it.”

I grinned, told her I’d never, not even for a second, thought she was Chinese, and realized that this country wasn’t so bad after all.

The Good, the Bad, and the Lego

Yesterday I received my new license in the mail and good gracious. Of the many things I like about myself, my face shape – square with a rather prominent forehead – is not one of them. Unfortunately, the state of Montana is apparently into extreme close-ups; I look like the bust of a Lego. I also had the added misfortune of clipping back my bangs into the kind of hair bump that went out of style last fall, which is a shame considering I’ve got eight years to go before I try again. In the meantime, this is what I get to enjoy every time I open my wallet:

I just realized that I’m going to have to move to a different state in the near future.

(And I’m not kidding about those teeth either – I always smile like I’m about to take a bite out of crime in official pictures. Next time I hope they just go for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly eye zoom-in. I think I could live with the Spaghetti Western style squint-eyed glare. I have very nice eyelashes.)

At least my signature is semi-respectable, considering I signed it with the kind of credit card machine pen designed to make it impossible to emulate your actual handwriting. 15 or 20 years ago, standing in line with my family at an embassy in Thailand while we renewed our Visas, that wasn’t the case. Back then I signed my paperwork with a flourish: two dots right above the swoosh I’ve always squeaked out of the last “a” on “Andrea,” to make it look like a smiley face. When my parents spotted it they made me start over, despite my protestations that that’s how I signed my name in my day-to-day life. Not that I signed a lot of official documents in middle school, but my friends and I liked to practice our autographs, mostly to compare them with one another. I can’t remember now who started the smiley faced umlauts, but we all agreed it was about the best idea ever. It only took a couple of years to figure out that my parents knew what they were talking about.

The other restriction at the time was the fact that we weren’t allowed to smile for our renewal pictures. Though Thailand’s official tagline is “The Land of Smiles,” the government frowned on (I wish I could say that pun wasn’t intended) frivolity in official photographs. When I asked my parents why, the answer was “because they don’t,” which, when translated, actually meant, “It’s been a long day, honey, please stop asking questions.”

Mind you, I don’t think that would’ve helped this travesty any. Next time I want a mugshot of myself I’m going to the county jail.