Friday, September 23, 2016

Reunion Time

I badmouth the States in general and Iowa in particular quite a bit.  One has only to look at the huge debacle that is our presidential race to see why, and yet, it has its moments.  I was reminded of this over the summer, when I looked around and had to ask myself if I was in a motherlovin' Miyazaki film.  In the evenings, I'd go outside as the clock crept up on 9 to stroll through fields strewn with fireflies.  In the mornings, I'd go for walks.  These weren't always spectacular, but the morning that I left for AnimeIowa, there was a super-kawaii pink rainbow shining in the sky.  Another morning was layered in fog as I walked around the lake park in Glenwood, where every spiderweb was hung with dewdrops.  It seemed like any minute you might step through into another world.

There's a reason why the word for America in both Korean and Mandarin is literally translated as "beautiful country."  It damn well is.  Case in point: the M_____ family - or those descended from Leland and Elaine, at any rate - decided that this was the year and Grand Lake, Colorado was the place that we should all get together.  If you've never been to Colorado, I'd sum it up as proof that God is an artist and he likes to show off.  When they decided on the end of the first week of August, I didn't think I would be joining, because I had to get back to Mongolia and get my shit together...but then I kept seeing my cousins, aunts, and other assorted familial type people talk about the reunion on Facebook and in group emails, and I thought, "Well, damn.  I don't want to miss that."  So I emailed my aunts who were arranging everything and got myself in on the action.
This involved taking a very long car ride across two states and up over 12,000 feet of elevation with my parents.  I could've made a lot of jokes about taking long road trips with your parents at the tender age of 37, but it's been a month and a half so they've grown stale, besides the fact that it actually wasn't that bad (thanks to several books and my new cat-ear headphones to occupy myself - when my dad's behind the wheel it's nonstop audiobooks and old country music).
Family Portrait, by Uncle John
We stayed at Shadowcliff, a mountain lodge whose roots crossed those of my family tree at some point in the past.  From the room I shared with my aunt and uncle, I could watch a cataract of water tumble over boulders on its way down to the lake.  The internet worked fantastically, which was awesome, because as much as I love my family I would have hated to miss snarky late-night facebook messages from the other side of the world.  And it was perfectly situated...just a short walk down the hill to the main drag of the town, where a certain ice cream shop was selling basil lemongrass ice cream on the waterfront.  The walk back, on the other hand...

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of going to a family reunion, it involves a lot of sitting around and catching up.  Although we are all friends on Facebook, I hadn't seen most of my Dad's family in several years.  Being outdoorsy people who are into all that nature shit (unlike me), several people went out on the lake, and others seized the day with some hardcore hiking.  I spent most of my time battling for the title of "King or Queen of Bad Ideas," with one of my little cousins (he won) and entertaining Bunny, who - after all - only gets to spend a little time each year with her aunt Becky.

There was also the monumental task of feeding a legion.  My aunts assigned meals to different family groups, and for once being single meant that I got the awesome assignment to cook with my cousin Micah and his girlfriend, Nina.  Next-gen single dude, my Uncle David, was also assigned to our group, but he wandered into the kitchen as we were almost finished.  We informed him that since he was late, he could wash dishes.  "I could do that," he said, and apparently meant exactly that - he had that capability, but since we never actually told him to, he didn't.

While we were cooking we made plans to hike up to Adams Falls, which was signposted as being a mile and a half from Shadowcliff.  Since I sacrificed my morning walk in order to cook brekke, I thought this was an excellent opportunity to get my walk in and make the most of the lovely surroundings.  And it was - the waterfall was pretty and I enjoyed talking to Micah and Nina.  They then went on with the loop trail, while I listened to my feet and started back down the trail.  And then started walking back along the highway toward the lodge.  At some point, I realized I was going to have to walk back UP to the aptly named Shadowcliff, and was contemplating how much that was going to suck when my cousin Amanda and her family pulled up and asked if I wanted a ride back?

Family.  It means having someone come along and offer to haul your ass up a cliff.  I love these guys.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Struggle Is Real

I love my family.  When I'm in Mongolia, I miss them like I miss tacos - sure, I can survive without them, and maybe I don't spend every day thinking about how much I want them, but when the craving hits, it's bad.  That said, it is a very real challenge for me to spend three weeks in Iowa.  So this year, I decided to plan stuff.  I started in Kansas City, visiting family when I wasn't in an AP workshop, then headed down to visit Shaggy and the fam before returning to Iowa.  I also convinced my mom that she should travel to Coralville, Iowa with me at the end of that week (aka, my birthday weekend) so that I could attend an anime convention.
I have been curious about what an anime convention would actually be like since my brief adventure with C2E2 in March.  While I was looking into them I discovered there was one happening in Iowa while I was home, so I figured, what the hell.  My mother probably would have been willing to go with me to the actual con if I'd wanted, but instead I got us a hotel with a hot tub and wifi that was just across the interstate from a mall to keep her content (because as much as she enjoyed seeing the cosplayers, I can't imagine spending vast amounts of time there would have appealed to her).
Since we made good time across the state, I was there in time to go to the opening ceremony.  This was kind of campy, but had the benefit of teaching me the con rule: 6-2-1...
6: The number of hours of sleep you should get each night.  Apparently room parties are a thing and go on into the wee small hours of the morning, although why you would want to invite a bunch of strangers into your room to party is beyond me.  I can hardly stand sharing my space with people I know and love.
2: The number of real meals you should eat every day.  So there's this thing called consweet, where they have free pocky and ramen and sodas.  Except pocky and ramen and soda doesn't really fit into any of the major food groups, hence, the need for real food.
1: The number of times you should bathe each day.  I'm not really sure why this needs to be said, especially considering that Iowa in the summer is pretty much as humid as balls, but apparently it does. 

I actually talked to Gameboy about this experience when he got back from his yearly GenCon expedition.  I was curious to know if it was standard for the organizers to lay down the law of the con and tell people to take showers.  He laughed and said he wished someone would tell people at his con to take showers.  And here I was hoping that it was just because anime tends to draw a younger, less worldly crowd.
Hygeine (or the lack thereof) ruined the effect of some of the cosplayers for me.  I am down with all sorts of cosplayers - fat, skinny, black, white, etc, etc - but for the love of all that is good, let them be CLEAN.  I have also come to the conclusion that I am pretty much just fine with never being more than a casual cosplayer.  Countless times I saw someone totally fangirl out and run up to give a cosplayer a hug.  I have some very definite ideas about my personal space, and they preclude having strangers in said space. 
And then there were all the non-anime cosplayers.  Not Deadpool, mind you - Deadpool cosplay works with everything - but the people who were dressed as Disney princesses and DC superheroes (or antiheroes, thank you, Suicide Squad >sarcasm<) boggled my mind.  I mean, I guess any opportunity to dress up is a good opportunity to dress up, but if you like anime enough to go to a convention, wouldn't you dress up like an anime character?  I'm sure this wasn't the only thing going on in Coralville the end of July.
I was possibly looking forward to the marketplace most of all.  You can't get good swag in Ulaanbaatar, so this was one of the first places I went the first night.  I spent a fair amount of time looking around, but finally came to the conclusion that there really wasn't that much that I wanted to spend money on.  I bought a few things - the ninja shoes were imperative, given I was wearing a dress I'd decorated with red Akatsuki clouds the second day - but I actually spent more at C2E2, which wasn't even an anime thing.

The most exciting part of the convention for me was the Doll, Figure, and Model contest.  The immense bunches of crap for sale at C2E2 included several booths selling plushies of different varieties.  At first I was sad that there weren't any anime ones, but I decided this just meant I should make my own.  The little megane guy on the left is mine (Kishitani Shinra from Durarara!!), and trust me when I say he looked a lot more impressive when he wasn't standing next to a 3-foot Lego model of Gundam (and even less so with the first place winner - another large doll dressed in Victorian mourning).  Needless to say, this time I did not bring home a prize, and I didn't actually care.  The judges were SO encouraging - one even suggested that next year I offer plushie making as a panel.  I went to her panel on dolls in anime the next night, and it changed the direction I'll take my lesson in when I start making them with my students this fall.  By the time we got back to Glenwood, I had decided who I could make to compete with the complexity of some of my opponents, IF they have a contest next year and IF I were to attend.  And since coming back to Mongolia (a month ago, if you're wondering), I've basically been sewing nonstop, completing 3 more with another 2 that are waiting for some finishing touches.

At the end of the day, AnimeIowa wasn't the anime convention of my dreams.  This is not to say I didn't enjoy it - I actually had a blast, and it was a great road trip with my mom, who agreed with me that cosplayers don't actually look that out of place in Wal-Mart at 10 pm.  It's just that I've seen more of the world.  At one point in the marketplace, I thought to myself, "Maybe when I move to Japan."  And then I realized that I could actually, realistically say that.  Rural Iowa isn't as far as you can get from Akihabara, but if it's not on a different planet, it's definitely on a different continent.  I'm ridiculously lucky that I have the kind of life where I can decide to indulge my nerdiness by moving to the source.  Not everyone has that kind of privilege.