We’re having communication problems chez fibermom. For one thing, if you are talking to a robot on the phone, you have to be careful. #2 son talks to robots all the time, but I always hang up when they call me. I figure, if it’s not worth the time of a human, then it’s not worth my time, seeing as how I am a human. I therefore have limited experience in talking with robots.
But in this case I had called someone, and suddenly found that I was speaking with a robot. Because of my limited experience, it took me a while to grasp that I could talk back to it, rather than pushing buttons on the phone. And then, once I got the hang of that, I made my big mistake. It said it wanted to ask me something, and I said “Okay.”
This put the robot out of sync. It seemed to believe that it had already asked me the question, and that I was giving it the wrong answer. I tried saying, “What was the question again?” I tried saying, “Could I talk with a human, please?” It didn’t work. It kept saying, “That is also incorrect.” It put me on hold. I waited for fifteen minutes, in case there was going to be a human involved in the discussion at some point, but it kept playing misogynistic music at me, and eventually I gave up.
My husband wrote down “ngon” and “ngohn” and said, “How would you say those?” This was in the nature of an experiment to determine the most likely spellings. I retaliated by writing down “John” and “Jon.” “How would you say those?” I asked him.
We are not sure that you have to change the address into our alphabet, for that matter, but cannot find anyone who knows the answer to this question. The post office says it is best to write in English, but I am not sure that an idiosyncratic guess counts as “English.” We are thinking that perhaps just writing “LAOS” in large letters would get it to where people could read it in the Lao alphabet. However, there are a lot of people who would not recognize “LAOS” as a country, so we are uncertain about that.
My husband said, “Everyone in Laos speaks French! Just write it in French.” He gave me pencil and paper and recited the names of the towns and instructed me to write them down in French, as though that would be more successful than trying to write it down in English. I was, meanwhile, pointing out that — while Laos was a French colony when my husband was born — it has not been one for a long time. What made him think everyone in Laos would still speak French, I wanted to know. I may have been frowning.
Following that pointless exercise, we called the people we are sending it to, in Laos, and he asked them to spell their address for me in French.
They recommended writing their phone number on the envelope, with a note telling the postmen to call them when it arrived, and they would just go get it.
Lao always sounds very emotional to me. Once, early in our marriage, I was a silent and uncomprehending participant in a conversation. People were going “Oy!” (a sound requiring at least an octave between the beginning of the word and the end of it) and much gesturing and many papers were being waved around. Later, I asked my husband what they had been talking about. Whether an “E” on a child’s report card meant “excellent” or was between D and F, he explained, surprised that I hadn’t realized that.
So we continued dithering about how to write the address. Meanwhile, I went to the bank to get some form of money to send in the envelope.
A couple of the workers were debating the best way to do this and making phone calls to check, when I noticed a third teller. She looked like a Lao girl. Her hair covered part of her name tag, but I could see that her name began with an X. I heard her speak to another customer, and she spoke English like my own kids. What a miracle! I was thinking. A Lao-American right there in the bank!
I stared at her, politely, I hoped, until she joined in our discussion.
Her parents sent money to Laos all the time, she said. I was delighted. I was about to pull the envelope from my purse to ask her opinion, when she said, “Is it ‘Sabaidee’? Is that ‘hello’?” My heart sank. This girl spoke less Lao than I.
Well, so do my kids, if it comes to that.
I asked her how her parents sent money — did they use a money order?
“Oh,” she said, “They just send cash.”
It is specifically forbidden to mail cash to Laos. I had learned this from the post office.
We just put the money order in, and bunged down some letters which we hope will get the envelope to some place where they know the guy it is addressed to.
#2 son and I took it to the post office. I asked whether it could be registered, or have delivery confirmation. “Nope,” the clerk said firmly.
We relinquished the envelope to her anyway.
We took these cheering pictures, picked up #1 son from his ACT test, took him out for a birthday lunch, and got him home in time to leave for a climbing competition. He had only climbed once before, and yet made it into the top five in the beginning class. As a prize, he won a marvelous Gerber Nautilus, sort of like a Swiss Army Knife for climbers. A nice thing to happen on his birthday — perhaps enough to make up for having to take the ACT on his birthday.
Then we finally had time for him to open his presents. There were just a few, as he wants a sound system for his car, and the main present is a promise to take him to shop for such a thing. I had gotten him Da Vinci’s Challenge, a cool new game. Unfortunately, the box had two sets of light pieces, rather than one of light and one of dark. Rather like opening your new chess set and finding that it contains two sets of white chessmen.
So we could not play the game. Instead, he spent the evening lying on the couch watching DVDs and ordering people around with the plaintive cry “It’s my birthday!” He probably enjoyed that just as much.
As we all know, unblocked lace looks like nothing at all. But I think it will turn out nicely.
I also did a bit of experimentation with the origami wallet. I can fold it from the printed-out pattern pretty well. But I want to make a more permanent one in cloth. So I tried it in a soft handmade paper, as a sort of intermediary step. This type of paper doesn’t take a crease the way ordinary paper does, and is much more fibrous and cloth-like.
As you see, it doesn’t hold the folds well, and rounds a bit at the corners. I made an initial attempt with a piece of cloth, too, but there is no point in my showing you that, because it really doesn’t keep its shape at all.
Fortunately, I know cloth. Pressing, interfacing, and if necessary topstitching will tame a piece of cloth.
It is Palm Sunday, and we are meeting my parents for lunch, so there may be limited time for pursuing my origami, but I intend to give it a try.