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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui

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08055, Medford — Goodbye, Old Fads


Maybe I didn’t have a set of Multiples and I thought my parents were holding me back from being really in style. But a lot of the crap in my old room showed that I couldn’t really get away from some of the fads.

Fad 1: Cabbage Patch Kids and Popples

I’d say, except for the Cabbage Patch Kids and Popple, these stuffed animals could be in any grubby little kid’s room these days. I had three Cabbage Patch Kids that I adored: Adela, Lyda and Adam. I kept the adoption papers that came with them and the “one-year birthday” card the Cabbage Patch folks sent. You’ll notice there’s a poor man’s Cabbage Patch knock-off, too, on the upper right. And then there’s the green Popple, the Murphy bed of stuffed animals: the creature that folds into its own pouch. Remember how they even had their own TV show?


Fad 2: Trophies and Awards for Just Showing up

OK, I actually earned a few of these — I think I bowled a 135 in 5th grade to get a “High Score” trophy and the first year our high school had a girls’ volleyball team in 1994, we tied for first in our division. But then again, every year I did after-school bowling at elementary school, I got a trophy. Every year I played pee-wee soccer, I got a trophy. Every year I played in the band, I got a certificate of participation. And now what do I do with trophies? You can’t donate them because why would someone else want this awkwardly-shaped object with your name on it? They’re probably not even salvageable for the marble they’re screwed into. I was sad throwing these out, but I was actually even sadder when my dad threw away the trophies he won at company ping-pong and tennis tournaments and the plaques he got for a good job at work. It felt as if he was throwing away all the hard work he did at the office and on the courts. I joked with him, “Do you feel less important now?” He shrugged — there was no difference for him between the moment before and the moment after.

Prom dress IMG_2798

Fad 3: Velvet Party Dresses

That all-black dress is my senior prom dress. I even wore it in June because I loved velvet so much. The purple polka-dot dress is the first “party” dress I got as a 12-year-old. I think I wore it once, to a wedding. But man did I feel special matching it with a scrunchie and doing a Molly Ringwald-inspired dance.

Sigh. All of that is going now to Goodwill, where someone is going to find the right goods to make  a banging 1980s Halloween get-up.

Today’s random bonus is drawings from my tween years. Glamour apparently meant crazy eye make-up, fingerless gloves, jumpsuits and side ponytails. This is how I really wanted to dress if my parents let me.

Fashion! IMG_2819 IMG_2810  


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08055, Medford — Musical Time Capsule (and a Book Report)

My First Mix Tape

Today I attacked the book shelf where I kept old tapes and school papers. These mix tapes were the emotional currency of middle and high school in the late 80s through the 90s. Did any of us know then that the equipment to play them would be obsolete so soon? Here’s what I put on that very first mix tape:

Playlist of my first mix tape

So I’d have to date this to early 1988, given that Jodi Watley’s “Some Kind of Lover” and Tiffany’s “Could’ve Been so Beautiful” both came out in 1988. But I have to say I was moved to go find Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” on Youtube, so here it is for your reminiscing pleasure:

I’m pretty sure this mix came next, though it’s undated, too. (I guess my librarian need to catalog didn’t kick in yet.) This is the movement into what I’ll call the “mood” mixes.

Bliss Mix Tape IMG_2770

Thorough Googling and radiocarbon dating put this one c. 1991. I was just another tween girl with a crush on the ABC lads (who were, I guess, a little younger than me, but so, so fresh). Watch this video for “Iesha”: (“We ate cereal …”). I know I discovered “American Pie” in 1991, when I first went to nerd camp (also known as CTY). This started my mini-fad of mixing the oldie-but-goodies with the new stuff.

This next mix is funny because the graphic I drew underneath is so early 90s. Also, I guess I was learning vocabulary words that made me feel deep.

Genuine Faux Eclectic Mix IMG_2759

And then, in 1993, I was 16 and feeling the full brunt of teenagehood:

Angst Mix IMG_2746

I don’t know why Monty Python’s “I’m a Lumberjack” had any relationship to angst — I probably recorded it off the sound part of the TV, which was easiest to do at the beginning of a tape rather than somewhere in the middle. But, oh, how “Living in Oblivion,” “Wish You Were Here” and “Forever Young” stoke those smoldering adolescent coals of longing and frustration. This Anything Box video with a guy with Fido Dido hair makes me want to find my trench coat:

And what were my friends listening to at this time? Well, my friend Shannon made me this mix:

Shannon's Mix IMG_2757

As a bonus, I also include this picture that shows the teacher comments at the bottom of a book report I wrote about “Anne of Avonlea” (the sequel to “Anne of Green Gables”) when I was 12. I was breathlessly in love with Anne and Prince Edward Island at the time.

Too verbose

In case you can’t read it, the important part says, my report “is a bit verbose. You’re writing a book report, not another novel. Try to cut it down.” Well, I had enthusiasm anyway.

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08055, Medford — T-Shirtapalooza

All Cherry Hill Band 1989

I’m here to clean out my old room.* I know I’ve been a packrat, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing what I’d squirreled away over the years. Today, the first day, I worked on the t-shirts. It’s amazing how quickly you remember exactly what you were doing when you wore these silkscreened pieces of cotton.

I mean, who can forget being a flutist in the 1989 incarnation of the All Cherry Hill Band in middle school (even if my name was spelled wrong)? (If you can’t remember if you were in this band, here’s a handy close-up.)

The fine members of the band

And then, of course, there was CTY — when I learned there were hundreds of nerds like me. I apparently even drew the t-shirt for our fiction-writing class in 1993. I can’t summon up any memory of the inside jokes on the back. The underwear organizer? The chair saying, “Hey man! Sit on my face!”?!

CTY shirts

And then there was the jersey from “Powder Puff” rough-touch football when the junior girls played the senior girls. I played defensive end. But then as both Kiran and I were going for the quarterback and I lifted one of my arms to block the ball, I hit my elbow into her forehead and split the skin. Oops. At least we won.

Powder Puff Football

I also found a t-shirt from camp where I learned how to ride a horse, kill mosquitoes with my bare hands and tread water in a lake in the pine barrens. Here’s where I learned ridiculous songs that started like, “Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts …” It was only in retrospect later that I realized we were also singing a lot of religious songs about giving “God your glory glory.”

Girl Scout Camp

And then there was this jacket, mixed in among the t-shirts: the lacrosse jacket with the waterproof butt flap so you could sit on damp grass and stretch without getting dirty. I think I’ve kept it in part because I somehow think I’ll get back into organized sports activities that actually involve stretching on a damp field.

Lacrosse jacket


I remember taking this jacket with me to college and thinking I’d wear it all the time. Only, people were apparently so afraid of being associated with being fresh out of high school that no one wore their high school stuff. So this went back into the closet with the t-shirts.

Somehow it feels as if taking pictures of all these t-shirts lets me save something of the emotion behind them and put them in a plastic bag to give away to Goodwill. So long, shirts. May you find someone good in Bangkok to create some new memories with them.**


*While I technically didn’t grow up in this exact room, my parents moved the entire contents of my old bedroom to this house when they moved here in 2001.

**One time in Bangkok, I literally saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said CHESA (Cherry Hill East Soccer Association — the youth soccer club I played with). I guess this is where a lot of American t-shirts go to die?

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Costa del Sud, Sardinia, 09019


A Spanish watchtower in one of the bays of Sardinia’s Costa del Sud

Dear ——–,

I spent five days at Cagliari’s T Hotel for a science meeting and appreciated the modern amenities (wi-fi! a good restaurant! a bath tub! coffee breaks!). But at the end of the meeting, I was ready to get outside. Cagliari itself was unimpressive and we were on the fence about renting a car (60 Euros for a day). But thank God we did. We drove down to an archaeological site called Nora, which was first settled in the 8th century B.C., dominated variously by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Spanish. It was less than 200 kilometers from North Africa and remnants of North African marble and mosaic designs could be seen in the ruins of a wealthy citizen’s house. We also took a winding drive along the Costa del Sud, a rugged part of the Sardinian coastline that reminded us of California’s Pacific Coast Highway. It was a land of aquamarine bays, jagged, toothy rocks, and lonely, abandoned Spanish watchtowers. I don’t know if many of the other meeting goers were able to get out to the Costa del Sud, but it made me understand why tourists would come here and why Sardinians would be proud of their survivor of an island.


The archaeological site of Nora, near Pula



Montalcino, 53024

Three glasses of Brunello di Montalcino

Dear ——–,

We had thought we had made a wine-tasting appointment at Poggiarellino, a brunello di Montalcino producer recommended by Leah, but the owners Lodovico and Anna somehow seemed surprised that we showed up. Anna was apologetic — she couldn’t set up the wine tasting because the wine needed to breathe. How about she just gives us a bottle of brunello 2007 to take home and try on our own? We just had to promise to leave it open for three hours before drinking. Well, okay. But what kindness and hospitality! Still thirsty for an immediate wine tasting, we headed to the town of Montalcino, where we sat down at Enoteca Osticchio. A three-flight brunello tasting gave us a 2007 (like fog on the tongue), a 2004 (a fine, almost sugar-coated finish) and a reserve from 2006 (somehow less memorable than the first two). It was a nice way to end the day and Stella was even waiting patiently for us in her stroller. We finished the day at Why Not gelateria with a mix of creme caramel, extra dark chocolate and blood orange — easily one of the best cones I’ve ever had. A fitting end to an epicurean day!

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Siena, 53100


View from the City Tower

Dear ——–,

We skipped the dirt roads today for the efficiency of the motorway and made our way to Siena. The color “burnt siena” is apparently named for the place and practically all the buildings have that same warm brick color because that’s the color of the earth here. We climbed the 400 steps up the city tower — Stella rode up on Bryan’s back in the Ergo carrier — where we could see the whole city and surrounding patchwork of green and yellow fields. On Cara’s recommendation, we checked out Osteria La Logge, just off Piazza del Campo. The burrata was so creamy it almost tasted like butter. The fresh egg tagliatelle with Tuscan ragu was gone in 5 minutes. The Duomo was our last stop in town — an impressively bold mix of patterns and colors, with figures etched into the marble on the floor. (Was there an Egyptian influence in the black and white striping?) It reminded us that Siena was once a very powerful city.


Siena City Hall and Tower



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Torrita di Siena, 53049


Dear ——–,

We reached Tuscany just as the sun was setting over orderly rows of vines and olive trees. The directions to our bed and breakfast Follonico were a bit vague — “Around a curve to the left, after 1.4km there is an intersection on the right that is not very obvious…” But we came to appreciate that this is just how directions around Tuscany’s roads are. Those directions were better than relying on Google Maps, which uses some kind of road numbering system that is not apparent on any signs on the ground. After recuperating, we spent the next day winding up and down local roads lined with poppies on a route recommended by our host Fabio. We stopped by the hermitage where they filmed the English Patient, a tiny, well-preserved medieval town that is inhabited now by only three families and an abbey from the 14th century. We somehow managed to take the longest route back to the hotel because we missed several turns. But we did make it back. Maybe exploring Tuscany means getting lost.