Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Curses and Cucumbers and Carrots, Oh My!


I know I’ve talked about grocery shopping in Sri Lanka before (here), but now that I’ve been here a while, I feel like it’s time to revisit it, specifically with my trip to the store yesterday.
I do know that we are fortunate to have actual grocery stores here. For that, I owe a HUGE shout out to British colonialism and David Sime Cargill who started a warehouse, import, and wholesale store in 1844. In most other countries in this region, getting groceries means going to a shop that has meat, then one that has bread, then one that has produce, then one that has eggs, and then who knows how many other shops to find everything one needs. I could definitely do that here, as well, but thanks to Mr. Cargill, I have Cargill’s Food City and one or two other chains of grocery stores to frequent. Since I also have three Little Explorers and approximately zero patience, I am eternally grateful to Mr. Cargill.
All that being said, getting groceries in this country still is no easy task. I used to be an obsessive menu planner and coupon clipper. I actually enjoyed the whole process of making a list, putting coupons in order, and knowing what was for dinner every week. That all came to a screeching halt when we moved here. First off, there are no coupons. Fine. I can deal with that. The real issue is that, while I make a list, I can no longer be bound to it, nor make a menu based on it. I can’t guarantee that the things on my list will be in the store, even if they were there last week. I don’t know which produce will be fresh and which will be a bit past its prime. I just don’t know what’s going to happen once I push through those doors and grab a shopping cart. Shall I demonstrate with an example? Allow me to take you inside my head during my most recent grocery buying experience:
Thanks, old dude in the white sarong and jacket whose job it is to open the door. I’m going to miss you. Have you considered getting your visa and moving to the States to be a greeter at Wal-Mart? I’ll bet they let you keep the sarong with the uniform blue vest.
Oooh, the produce looks nice today. I love living on a tropical island where the fruit is so yummy and tropical. Pineapples are in season. I wish I wasn’t allergic. Perhaps I’ll get one for the rest of the family. Dragonfruit. I love dragonfruit. Here are cucumbers. I’ll get a bunch of those for Gertrude Bell since she loves them so much. Carrots, check. Apples, check. Mangoes and papaya, check. Onions and bell pepper, or as they call it here, capsicum, check. Capsicum is a weird word. Ok, now to line up and get this stuff weighed and priced.
I’ll just get behind this old lady with the cart full of produce. Maybe it won’t take as long as I imagine. I’d better push my cart up to the side to be out of the way of other shoppers. Ooh, I guess I should get closer before that lady in the red blouse cuts in front of me. Obviously, I’m not in line if there are more than three inches between me and the old lady. The International Man of Intrigue uses the euphemism “butts to nuts” to describe lines here, but, as I have none of the latter, and as my brain is supposed to be PG, I’ll refrain. Good, the old lady is finished. Wait, what is she saying? Something in Sinhalese. Oh, that is a scary look. What? WHAT?? Oh. My. God. I think she just cursed me. She did! She gave me the evil eye and cursed me and I was just trying to buy cucumbers! What the heck?! I’m sorry I’m foreign! I’m sorry I smiled at you! I’m sorry I have to buy groceries and now I’m cursed! Aaaagh!
Okay, the produce is weighed. Calm down. On to the noodles. I really want some soba noodles but I bet they don’t have those here. Nope. Tons of ramen. What are these bags? “Special Noodles.” More “special noodles.” I have no idea what that means. Hey, Sri Lanka…If you tell all the noodles they’re special, they’re going to think everything they do is perfect. You want a bunch of noodles who think they all deserve the tee ball cricket trophy just for participating? No? Well then stop labeling them all special. While you’re at it, maybe consider getting some soba noodles, okay?
 


Mmmm. Maldivian dried fish, complete with eyeballs, on display on an endcap. Won’t see that in the States.
I’m hot. Why is it that I sweat as much getting groceries as I do exercising? Move over Jillian Michaels and your 30 Day Shred. Dorothy Gale’s 30 Minute Shop is coming for you!
Okay, now I need yogurt and cheese. Aaah, they have lots of curd. Who knew it could somewhat replace both Greek yogurt and sour cream in my diet. I’m glad there’s no nutrition info on the side. Here’s the brand I like. Should I buy the stuff in the terra cotta pot with the rubber band holding the cover on or the one in the unsealed plastic container? We’ll base that on expiration. Well, this one is expired, so the plastic tub it is! Good. Now, cheese. I really want some feta cheese. I don’t care if it costs nine dollars. I am totally hungry for pasta with feta cheese. NO! Of course! The one day I am willing to pay exorbitant prices for feta cheese and there is none! Fine. Just fine.

What am I listening to? What is this music? I can’t possibly be hearing what I think I’m hearing. Oh, but I am. Get a load of this. Traumatizing, at best.
 

Frozen foods. Five hundred kinds of chicken sausages. One brand of chicken nuggets, and why are they so tiny? I mean, it would take an entire box just to fill up Arthur Dent. Maybe they’ll have those yummy chicken fingers stuffed with some sort of curry mashed potatoes they had last week. Nope. Of course not. What I wouldn’t give for frozen pizza. Oh, well. Really, I just need to finish my shopping. I need to get out of here before I lose my mind, or before that curse kicks in, but first I have to grab eggs off the unrefrigerated shelf. Hmm. That doesn’t really bother me anymore. Weird. I guess that’s a good thing.
CHECKOUT! I made it. No, lady, I do not have exact change. What is it with the fascination for having exact change? Every single place I go, ever, wants you to always be able to magically produce exact change. Please, stop trying to look into my wallet like I have it, too! I need those small bills sometimes, okay. Don’t make me feel guilty. I’m already cursed. Doesn’t that count for something?
And there you have it, Fellow Adventurers. Exhausting. I’m going to put my feet up and sip on a Coke Light while I cool off. Think of me when you’re cooking dinner tonight, especially if you’re making frozen pizza.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Columbus Day, Fellow Adventurers!


Did you ever wonder what it’s like celebrating Columbus Day in another country? Me either. I’m going to tell you a little story anyway.
The following is a (mostly) true conversation that The International Man of Intrigue had with his co-workers on the subject of Columbus Day. One co-worker is an American we’ll call Glenda the Good Witch. We do have a Wizard of Oz theme going on in this blog, and also Amelia Earhart and Gertrude Bell think she really is Glenda the Good Witch, just in hiding from the Wicked Witch. Why do they think this? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because Glenda the Good Witch told them so. The other co-worker is Sri Lankan and perfectly dapper, with an impeccable British accent. We’ll call him Sri Lankan James Bond, because he is also ex-military and I’m pretty sure he likes his martinis shaken, not stirred.
Anyway, on Friday, The International Man of Intrigue, Glenda the Good Witch, and Sri Lankan James Bond had the following conversation:
Glenda The Good Witch: “We have Monday off work!”
Sri Lankan James Bond: “Why?”
International Man of Intrigue: “It’s an American Holiday.”
Sri Lankan James Bond: “What holiday?”
Glenda the Good Witch: “Columbus Day.”
Sri Lankan James Bond: “But Columbus didn’t discover America.”
Glenda the Good Witch: “Don’t tell anyone or we’ll have to go to work.”
Sri Lankan James Bond: “Understood.”
International Man of Intrigue: “I plan on observing Columbus Day by rowing out to a sparsely populated island in The Maldives and claiming it for God and Country.”
I should let it be known that The International Man of Intrigue did not, in fact, take over an island in The Maldives. Instead, he took time to sit back and enjoy a day of leisure. By leisure, I mean we cleaned out closets and went through the kids toys and got rid of things they don’t use any more. I’m not sure how Glenda the Good Witch spent her day. Probably hiding out from flying ninja monkeys.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dorothy Gale's Day Off

Grr...I've been trying to post this for several weeks, but Blogger and I are locked in a battle of wills, apparently. I will it to go back to its old interface which kept my font uniform and nice without a lot of trouble, and it wills me to throw a tantrum while it repeatedly refuses to upload any pictures for me. Blogger was winning until today. Now, here I am with the post you didn't know you've been waiting for since September 14.
 
I think I mentioned in passing during my last blog post that my sister was here to visit. Well, on one of our adventures, our lives took a turn for the awesome. There we were, driving up Galle Road when we suddenly found ourselves in a parade! Oh yes, it was exactly like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, if Ferris had skipped school in Sri Lanka and wound up in a cricket parade instead of a German themed one--so, not really the same at all. But seriously, how often are you just driving around and suddenly find yourself in a parade? Never? Well, Fellow Adventurers, I can now say, "This one time..." and I have photographic evidence! For some reason, since we were on a quick shopping trip, the only camera we had with us was my sister's phone camera. Pardon the not-the-best photos, but imagine yourself there, driving along, realizing the entire right lane of the road (but not the rest--this is Colombo after all) has been blocked off for a parade and there is music and dancing and fun!
 
 
The parade was to celebrate the big T20 Cricket Tournament that is still going on here.

 
These are traditional Kandyan dancers and drummers.

 
All through this, I kept texting The International Man of Intrigue to tell him we were late meeting him for lunch because we were in a parade and it was awesome!

 
Ok, so really, the parade wasn't that great, but any parade gets about a thousand times awesomer when you're in it by accident!

 
Go Lankan Lions!
 
 
Well, Fellow Adventurers, there you have it. Go forth and enjoy your Thursday. If things aren't going your way, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a parade, or Google the nearest parade and try to have your own Ferris Bueller's/Dorothy Gale's Day Off!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Part 2 in the Continuing Saga..The Question Answered

Dorothy again. The International Man of Intrigue, perhaps feeling guilty after reading my highly worried e-mail, Skyped with me this morning. He said, "I didn't crash. If I did, I wouldn't have been able to e-mail you from my hotel." I said, "Try telling that to Tall Twist and my other friends from the international copy machine corporation I used to work for." He said, "I thought the airline called that a "botched landing" or something?" I said, "Well, I can't remember the details, but I'm pretty sure the lawsuit made the airline call it a crash." Then he sent me this:
 
So there I was, cruising at 37000 feet and minding my own business when this Sri Lanka Airbus 300 decided it wanted to land. Why? I don’t know. In the sky there were only random pockets of turbulence and a vague memory of scary takeoff-associated noises. Why did we have to spoil the moment with adding the possibility of becoming a flaming 300 mile per hour lawn dart? Why did we have to mess anymore with the laws of gravity? Couldn’t we just fly up here until technology caught up to Star Trek and we could beam ourselves directly to the baggage claim? Apparently, loitering is frowned upon for adolescents and airplanes with finite amounts of fuel.
The plane’s moans and groans increased as we lost elevation. Suddenly, I thought back to Mr. Stewart’s 7th grade algebra class: This plane is like a mathematics equation, and what happens on one side of the equals sign has to happen on the other side of the equals sign. If we go down, noise has to go up. Does that make sense? I could almost see the pilot fighting to control the aircraft while the co-pilot solved for “X”. I crossed my fingers and hoped he had paid attention in class and not had to write, “I will not talk in Mr. Stewart's mathematics class without permission” as many times as I did. Wow, life could be ending and I could think only of Mrs. Johnson’s geometrical advice from 1992: “Everyone says you don’t need math after high school, but you will.”
The plane bounced, squealed, and moaned as we committed ourselves to the final approach. Why did it have to be a “final” approach? I’ve seen “Top Gun” and “Air Force One” enough to believe we might have a couple of shots at this if the first attempt to get on the ground doesn’t look so good. But Final? Yes, Ghostrider, the pattern is indeed full.
I gripped the arm rest tighter than screw in a nut house.
Thoughts: Should I look out the window? Do I even want to look? I’ve never liked surprises, but maybe I should let this landing be a surprise? Am I wearing flame resistant materials? Is this shirt a cotton blend or all synthetic? Why am I the only one about to lose it?
I pulled my eyes off the window and looked around the cabin. A few rows ahead of me sat a Westerner. I remember seeing him when we boarded, and I thought he looked familiar. Not, “Hey we went to school together” familiar, but more like, “He’s on TV” familiar. *note. To the surprise of every taxi driver I have ever had in India, all Westerners do NOT know each other. But I thought I did know this guy. His hair was short and white, but he wasn’t much older than 40. He was dressed like he fell out of a GQ mazazine. And, he hadn’t looked up from his iPad since I spotted him. OMG! Could it be CNN correspondent and media darling Anderson Cooper? No. Of course it wasn’t Anderson Cooper. Anderson Cooper was probably in business class receiving his “we’re about to die in a huge fire ball” complimentary chocolates and souvenir gift bag. All I had was a lousy Sri Lankan Air refresher towelette packet in my shirt pocket and a boarding pass that said 33K (AKA, not far enough back to be in survivor seating!) Could that be Anderson Cooper? I couldn’t quite see.
My vision of Mr. Maybe Anderson Cooper was partially obstructed by a large closed circuit TV monitor hanging above the center aisle. By a what? Holy crap, I think we were supposed to be able to watch the plane land from a nose-mounted camera, but the left-right-up-down bounce of the monitor made focusing on the picture a little difficult. Be it the CCTV or the window, I was going to watch this thing unfold whether I wanted to or not.
Then it happened. The wheels touched down for a millisecond, bounced off the ground, and set down again. Actually, I was relieved to know the landing gear was still there. The plane surged down the runway and struggled to reduce its speed. It felt as though the pilot was downshifting instead of using his breaks. Wow, this guys is good, I thought. Only a pro can engine break. It lengthens the life of your brakes and is also more fuel efficient. Wait a second, planes don’t have transmissions! Again, WTH?!
We lurched and chugged to the terminal. I expected people to clap, cheer, and celebrate our near death experience. It turned out they only wanted to turn on their smart phones and check email. Even Mr. Maybe Anderson Cooper didn’t seem to care.
The remainder of my journey was uneventful…until this morning. Almost exactly 12 hours later I was the first guest to hit the breakfast buffet, and it was nothing short of AMAZING. I lifted each lid to find the best breakfast spread I’ve ever seen. Fresh squeezed OJ. Made to order omelets in which the choices were only the ingredients I enjoy in my omelets. Pancakes, waffles, Frosted Flakes. Potato salad with little bits of bacon. LITTLE BITS OF BACON IN THE POTATO SALAD FOR BREAKFAST! For a guy that isn’t normally excited about food, I was in heaven!
Then, a 6th Sense: Maybe that plane didn’t land. Maybe Haley Joe Bob will need the assistance of an Army Foreign Area Officer, but it will turn out that I am the one that really needs his help. Maybe that was my final approach, and this is the afterlife. Well, I guess it could be worse. The wifi is ok and there’s a gym. This will do.
Wait, where are the donuts? Heaven has to have donuts! If this isn’t heaven, then… AGH!!!
The devil’s greatest feat was convincing man he did not exist…and creating a hell void of donuts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Did his plane crash? You tell me.

I just got this little partial blog post gem e-mailed to me from The International Man of Intrigue in Thailand. Do you know what happens? I don't, and since it's past everyone's bedtime on this side of the world, I'm left with a cliffhanger ending, too. Sorry about the bold--I just copied and pasted from my e-mail and Blogger won't let me undo it. Don't say I didn't warn you about the ending:

Bangkok and Sri Lanka Air
 
I saw a show a few years ago that said full planes, planes with all their seats occupied, never crash. Since then I've taken selfish gratification when I find myself sitting next to south Asia's only 7 foot tall sumo wrestler. However, today was to be the exact opposite.
 

I should have prepared myself for trouble when I asked the counter agent at Colombo's airport if the flight was packed or if I could get bumped to business class. She sad only two business seats on the Airbus 300-it's-not-a-Boeing-so who-gives-darn were booked but upgrading my economy ticket would cost more than my original ticket no matter how many zillion sky miles I have with the carrier. Well, as about 95% of the time it was worth a shot.
 
I made my way through immigration and security, grabbed an airport beef burger, and went to the gate. In this part of the world one must go through security (for at least a third time) at the actual gate and beyond the final check your boarding pass is verified by the carriers reps. I asked one last time if I could get bumped but it wasn't happening, even though the crew recognized me from my other zillion miles.
 
No big deal. They said the flight was almost empty and I shouldn't have trouble stretching out. What was that about not full flights?
 
I sat down in row 33 seat K and I had to wonder if I'd gotten on the wrong plane as ten or so other people scattered about. We were pushed back from the gate and on our way...or so I thought.
 
The plane clunkered along like my old 1979 Pontiac LeMans. And I mean clunkered. It sounded like some one was running beside the plane trying to get a luggage door closed: slam, clunk. slam, clunk. slam, clunk.
 
The noise continued as we made the turn to line up on the runway. Something's not right, I thought to myself, but I was the only person at all alarmed. Instead of announcing a delay due a wobbly wheel nut the pilot ignored it too! He actually directed our attention to the safety brief, and for the first time in two decades I paid close attention because I thought I'd be putting that info into practice as I envisioned this plane sliding off the runway and plowing into some squatter's house.
 
But the joke was on me. I bet the pilot and crew had money riding on who would freak out. We did make it off the ground, and the air was rougher then I remember it being recently, but I could have been imagining things from the safety pamphlet that was seared into my brain.
From then on the flight wasn't too bad. I finally made good use of the kick ass Bose headphones Dorothy gave me for Christmas. I broke out my laptop and did a little paperwork. I even caught a few z's...until we were on approach.
 
Now, I didn't see a little gremlin on the wing or an old lady in colonial dress, but that plane aged a lifetime while I was enjoying all my elbow room.
 
I sat above the wing and the strangest, most aerodynamically wrong sound vibrated through the cabin as the flaps maneuvered to their landing positions. Did no one else hear this? It sounded like the hydraulic fluid had leaked out over the Bay of Bengal. That couldn't be good.
 
Then a strange whining came from what I imagine was the landing gear cover. For an eternity the devil played his cover of Dave Matthews "Crash".

 

The whining stopped only when the loudest metal-on-metal collision ever recorded on a still-flying airplane caused me to almost jump out of my seat. I swear the landing gear ejected because they knew how this flight would end. And still, the flaps, THE FLAPS screamed.
 
Please, I thought, just give me some ball bearings and 10W40 and take care of it. I'll climb out there myself and oil the crap out of those things. Please!
 
Am I asleep or is everyone else? WTH?! I was surrounded by sheep, by cattle heading to slaughter. My God, what if I was surrounded by zombies?!
 
For the love of all things holy will some one show some concern?! I swore the oxygen masks would drop down as the cabin vibrations grew stronger and stronger.
 
If this is it why can't I die in business class?! Why am I going to croak back here with the weird smelling bathrooms and 30 year old trust fund hippie that hasn't showered since his dad bought him a ticket out of civilization to Lackohygieneistan? I bet the life jackets are under the seats have a personalized "Enjoy the afterlife Mr. Intrigue. Your crash will be credited to your sky miles account." I doubt my seat cushion even floats.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Muslim Anti-American Protests and Sri Lanka

Yep, I’ve been away from the blog for a bit. Not the best timing, I know. The International Man of Intrigue was in India for three weeks and I was busy wrestling the Little Explorers on my own. Then my sister arrived for a two week visit and we took a little jaunt around the southern half of the island. Highlights included a safari and not getting gored by an elephant who was hanging out on the side of the highway. I’ve also been trying to upload and edit the 867 pictures we took in India down to a more modest 600ish. Yeah, I’m also starting to believe that’s still too many. That would be about three full scrapbook albums with minimal storytelling just for a 14 day trip to India. Who’s going to look at those? I guess I could have people over for dinner and pull the old, “Let’s look at vacation pictures!” and regale them with stories until their eyes glaze over.

Enough about that. The real reason I’ve been staring at my computer screen and letting myself be distracted every five minutes by things like Pinterest and a rerun of Cougar Town is that I wanted to somehow let you all know that we are safe over here. I try to find the humor in any situation, but there’s no funny way to spin the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya or the subsequent embassy protests and attacks. One of my friends and her husband and four very young children had to evacuate Tunisia in the wake of the unrest there. I can’t imagine hastily throwing what I can into suitcases and leaving the rest of my belongings behind, not sure when or if I’d see them again. Actually, I can, because I have imagined it. It’s the nature of this lifestyle. (I’ll give you a hint—my suitcase would be filled with lots of important things like photographs and those construction paper and fuzz ball Christmas ornaments with photos of the girls pasted inside that they made last Christmas. I’d probably have to buy unimportant things like underwear when we got where we were going.)
That brings me back to the question on your minds, Fellow Adventurers: What is the current climate in Sri Lanka? To me, the situation stayed a lot less tense than it was in March when the U.N. was voting on the human rights violations made by the Sri Lankan government during their 30 year civil war. At that time, the government sponsored protests and bussed people in to march on the U.S. Embassy and other U.N. affiliated countries’ consulates.
We had a couple of protests last week. Friday afternoon, about 300 Muslims marched toward the US Embassy. Before the march started, the commissary opened for 30 minutes to allow American staff and families to get a few necessities in case things did go south. The International Man of Intrigue was first in line with booze and Diet Coke. We have to be realistic about what we want to have if we have to hunker down here, Fellow Adventurers. In the end, the protest was peaceful and the Sri Lankan government did not allow the protesters to march all the way to the Embassy.
The makeup of Sri Lanka is such that this reaction makes sense. The population is about 70% Buddhist. Less than 8% of the population is Muslim and a good portion of that population lives on the opposite coast of the island, which, with the lack of highways and infrastructure, is a long day’s drive from Colombo. The ruling party is Buddhist and does not have a lot of positive feeling toward the Islam contingent in their country. While they’ve been around as a minority for 400+ years, the last thing they want to do is give the government a reason to be angry with them. Maybe it’s not the most positive reason for these protests to stay calm, and maybe it’s not the one they’re giving, but it works for me.
That being said, there are much bigger demonstrations planned for Monday. I am not sure what the protesters’ mood will be then. I don’t know what the government reaction will be. I do know that I continue to pray for peace in the world and among religions, and that I will also be making a quick run first thing in the morning to get some Diet Coke before things get started. A girl can never be too prayerful or too prepared.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Latest Diet Trend

Since we moved here, I’ve lost a lot of weight. It’s weight I gained while pregnant with Gertrude Bell and then with Arthur Dent and just hung on to. Most of you mommies can relate, right? Well, it turns out my days of wearing those pre-kid clothes in the closet aren’t so far off. Jealous? Don’t be. You can do it too. I’m thinking of turning my success into a series of sure to be bestselling books and dvd’s. Working title: The Third World Developing Nation Diet. Lucky for you, Fellow Adventurers, I’m going to let you in on the basics. Ready?

1.Cut back on dining out.

Most restaurants here don’t open until 7 or 8 pm and that includes delivery and takeout. Since The Little Explorers go to bed at 7ish, the last time we loaded the family up and went out to dinner was…oh…never.

There’s not really any fast food here, either. No mouth watering Chipotle, no controversial Chik-Fil-A, no cool In-N-Out Burger. There is McDonalds. I find it very meh, though, so there is no temptation whatsoever there. As a matter of fact, on more than one occasion The International Man of Intrigue has offered to go pick it up and I’ve said, “Nah, I’d rather cook dinner in our unairconditioned kitchen. How do tacos sound?”

Speaking of our unairconditioned kitchen, that is my next secret:

2.No evening snacking (or not much).

See, that hot kitchen does, in fact, cool down once it gets dark outside, but it’s s-c-c-aaarry! I’m not much of a fraidy cat. I actually feel quite comfortable in our house alone, except for the kitchen, and especially that kitchen after dark. The kitchen is connected to the rest of the house, but it’s really more or less a separate building. I’m sure it was open at one time. There are still a lot of spots where I can see daylight coming in and the windows really don’t keep much out. I’m not entirely sure the roof does, either. Before we knew we were infested with squirrels, squirrels, and more squirrels I’d hear scratching up on the roof, like zombies trying to get in. Then there was the first visiting squirrel—he came in through the kitchen. There are also at least four different species of ants living there. I know there are roaches and spiders too. When I slam that door between the kitchen and the rest of the house after dinner, it stays closed until morning. I’m still kind of scared of what I’ll find in the morning, but at least it’s light outside and the monsters (or ninja monkeys) have probably clocked out for the day. Even going through the dining room to get water is scary. There are these huge reddish brown ants that only come out at night. When you turn on the light, there are always one or two walking across the table. I don’t see them do it during the day. Are they vampire ants? I can’t be sure. So, every evening after dinner, I load up my arms with a pitcher of water, a clean glass, a sippy cup for Arthur Dent, and anything else I think I might need. Once I balance a beer or a Pimm’s Cup on that, there isn’t much room for snacks.

3. I work out, kind of.

If there is one thing I hate more than working out, it’s working out while Jillian Michaels tells me what to do. I don’t like her one bit, but girlfriend knows how to get results fast. I love/hate the 30 Day Shred
because I saw results almost immediately, although I had to look at Jillian Michaels to see them. Granted, yelling at Ms. Michaels from the other side of the TV probably ramps up the cardio of the workout a bit.

When I can’t be at home to shout at my television in the evening, I find other, more insane ways to burn calories. One time I strapped 30 lb Arthur Dent to my back and climbed up around 1,000 steps to the top of the ancient ruins of Sigiriyia, mostly without the assistance of handrails, because there weren’t any. Unfortunately, I didn’t think through the part where I had to climb back down 1,000 stairs with almost no handrails and a 30 lb Little Explorer strapped to my back. It all worked out in the end, but my legs were sore for days afterward.

I admit, that is not the first or last time I’ve used Arthur Dent as a workout. He helped me sweat off several inches at the ridiculously hot Taj Mahal and was more scared than I was climbing the eighty or so stairs and in and out of passages of the Bara Imambara labrynth in India. Even here at home, I often jog up and down the stairs with him more often than I’d like, but my arm muscles do look seriously fine. Too bad no one sees them since it's considered improper in this country to show one's shoulders in public, but not to show one's midriff. True (but another) story.

4.Get sick. Really sick.

I got a touch of a stomach parasite in Dhaka, but recovered easily. Then, there was that trip to Nepal…I loved Nepal. I’d go back in a heartbeat. However, I hope that intestinal parasite that came home with me has been permanently deported from the country. I was pretty close to getting an IV on the floor of an airport in Pokhara at one point. As a testament to just how sick I was, I actually was looking forward to the idea of it. My face was numb and I was giving thoughtful consideration to the idea of just laying face down on the floor of the airport in a third world country. The stream of consciousness in my head went something like, “Oh, God, I am so dehydrated that this water isn’t even helping. I wonder if there is an IV around here? That would really hit the spot. No, probably no IV, but this is a great place for altitude sickness. There has to be an oxygen tank and mask somewhere. Who could I get to give me one of those? Would they make me pass out first? I wonder if I look sick enough. The International Man of Intrigue just looked at me from the ticket desk. Yes, based on his expression I clearly look sick enough for oxygen. My face feels funny. I can’t feel my hands. I really would like some oxygen. If I put my face on the floor would it feel better? Then I wouldn’t have to sit up either. OH, GOD! I MIGHT DIE! I AM SO SICK I’M THINKING ABOUT LAYING ON A 3RD WORLD AIRPORT FLOOR, AND IT SOUNDS GOOD! Somebody just get me a freaking Diet Coke and some oxygen. Why is there no Diet Coke or oxygen in this country?”

Those 6 kilos I lost in two days? I’m not going to lie, while they were totally not worth it, I’m not about to take them back after going through that, either! Oh, and for the record, I did not put my face (or anything other than the soles of my shoes) on the airport floor.

5. My deep, dark secret.

It was bound to come out sooner or later. The fact that I’m telling you makes me a little nervous. Please, don’t hold it against me. Don’t judge me or think crazy things about me. I know where I live. I knew how it was going to be before I moved here.

I hate curry. Not Ann Curry. I actually quite enjoy her (although I gather in my 7 months abroad that she has become as controversial as Chik-fil-a. What is going on over there, you guys?!??). I’m talking about the South Asian diet staple, curry. I hate curry. There. I said it. I am so embarrassed that telling you this is making my stomach hurt. I like naan. Rice is good. Tandoori anything is delicious. I had biryani in the city that claims to make the best biryani in the world, and it was really, really good. I could drink that green chutney stuff out of the dipping dish it’s served in. But curry? Ugh. I’ve tried lamb curry and chicken curry and cashew curry and chickpea curry and fish curry and lentil curry and vegetable curry and potato curry and just about any other kind of curry you can think of. I’ll always try new things. The problem with curry is, even though I’ve tried them all, I dislike them all almost equally. I’m not going to insult this part of the world by telling you all the reasons I don’t care for it, Fellow Adventurers, I’m just going to tell you that I don’t, and that, therefore, anywhere curry is served, I only eat a polite no-thank-you helping and hold out for the next meal, which is usually breakfast.

At breakfast in South Asia, there are donuts. They know how to make some delicious donuts over here, Fellow Adventurers. That’s one little tidbit that won’t be in the dvd or diet book. Now, the real question is, do you think anyone will buy my diet book?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'll have a beer...or a haircut.

Yet another guest post by the International Man of Intrigue. 1. He's funnier than I am at the moment, and 2. I've never gotten my hair cut in this country. (Yes, I look a bit frightful.) Enjoy!- Dorothy

Let’s face facts. A guy needs to have a hair cut every once in a while, especially when that guy is a member the world’s greatest military force. And living in country without fast and cheap military post barber shops can be problematic.

Let me back up a few years. Since going to college I cannot remember an instance where I paid more than $7 for a haircut. In fact, I would hazard to guess that I’ve spent about $5 on average per haircut over the last 17 years. Much of that average is driven down by the fact that my normal job has never necessitated anything other than a high and tight, and many times my hair could be cut by a) a cheap barber, b) a toddler, or c) myself, and few would know the difference.

But now I live on the pearl off the coast of India, and cheap barbers are not easily found. In fact, it took me a few weeks to even identify a barber shop. Part of the problem lies in the fact that barber shops here are not called “Barber Shops.” Instead, they are all called salons. Compounding my difficulty, however, is a strange linguistic quirk derived from British colonization and an accidental acceptance of the wrong word into colloquial Sri Lankan English. Consequently, many salons are not labeled as such at all. Instead, they are often labeled saloons! Now if that hasn’t made for some embarrassing circumstances in which I thought I’d get a beer, but instead left with an eyebrow wax and short side burns.

I finally decided to use the saloon (salon) on the ground floor of the hotel we stayed at during our first month on the island. The price is more than double what I was accustomed to paying in the states, but hey, when in Rome try not to get your hair cut in saloons…er, or something like that. At the end of my first experience I was pleasantly surprised to a) still have hair and b) to have left with my masculinity. After all, it was salon.

So, I’ve been going back to the same place and I think my experience is worth sharing. If for no other reason than posterity, I need the contradiction of my diverse haircut worlds to meet. I normally get my hair cut from the head hair dresser at my Colombo saloon. His name is Nimal and he is one of the shortest Sri Lankans I’ve met, but he has a Napoleon complex to give him height around the shop. He actually struts through the rows of chairs and the saloon, er, salon staff gracefully leap out of his way. He wears a strange little goatee and mustache and has the only Sri Lanka/French accent I’ve ever heard. When he needs something an apprentice runs throughout the shop and hands him whatever it is he needed. Outside the shop I’m not sure he has any social status, but inside he is a god among hair dressers. In their skin tight black matching shirts with the coolest number of buttons undone and freakishly skinny biceps, these lower hair dressers worship Nimal.

I always feel as though I’ve walked into a weird cartoon or horrible sitcom: Due to Nimal’s lack of height, I’m forced to sit in the lowest possible position in the barber chair while Nimal climbs onto a high stool cut my hair. Underlings hover in the background just waiting for Nimal to say, “get me a #3” or “mirror!” I try not to engage in small talk, and perhaps this is why I like Nimal, because he doesn’t make chit chat either. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t regularly cut thin, fine red hair off of unusually handsome American dudes of Irish descent. Maybe it’s because he’s too cool. Maybe it’s because he’s glued to the strange piped in Sri Lankan cable network that is on each TV in front of every barber chair. Oh wait, that’s me!

While I wait for Nimal to figure out how or what he’s doing with my straight forward haircut, I watch some weird TV. Last time it was 1990s music videos. I saw Shania Twain, C&C Music Factory, and a Michael Jackson video I’m pretty sure never aired in the States. Between the throw back videos, the cable channel can’t decide whether to be sponsored by feminine hygiene products or contraceptives. It would not be so strange if I’d seen either of these products advertised anywhere else on the island.

And here I wait. I know that in just a couple weeks I will need another haircut. I am no longer embarrassed to walk into a salon and pay three times the amount I think I should pay for someone to cut my hair. No, next week I’ll call Nimal and ask if he has any openings, and I’ll look for uncomfortable foreigners and hope they enjoy the weird TV selections. Maybe I’ll see if Nimal wants to grab a beer. I wonder what they advertise at saloons, er, bars?

*Disclaimer. Nimal is my barber’s real name and he is incredibly short for someone who walks around like he’s about to punch you in the face. He gave me his card once and asked that I call him instead of the girls at the front desk because, “they’re idiots sometimes.” Yes, I’m going to miss Nimal.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cleanliness is Next to Craziness

Another guest blog by The International Man of Intrigue. I've been busy trying to see if Alice from The Brady Bunch is willing to relocate.

How can I say something like, “our full time housekeeper had the gall to ask me for a raise two days after I threatened to fire her unless she started coming to work on time,” without sounding like a pretentious douche?"

One might respond, “International Man of Intrigue, you cannot say something like, ‘our full time housekeeper had the gall to ask me for a raise two days after I threatened to fire her unless she started coming to work on time,’ without sounding like a pretentious douche.” I, however, beg to differ.

Six months ago we hired “Jasmine” as our housekeeper. It was as much an experiment for us as it was a necessity. We were moving into a huge house with more rooms than we knew what to do with and we had no idea what the daily upkeep would require. Had we known it would involve rodents, floods, and indoor scootering, we might have looked for someone with experience as an EMT.

In the beginning our arrangement worked pretty well. Jasmine speaks Sinhalese and translated for us when bribing the garbage men. And, it turns out that living with squirrels necessitates a full time housekeeper. On top of all that, she does a great job keeping the floors clean in a house where the outside often likes to come inside. Dorothy would add that Jasmine has some mean bed-making skills, too. Plus, she adores our kids and is very trustworthy.

Sure,she has her quirks, and many are endearing. She and Arthur Dent seem to share a common language. She brings treats for the girls after payday. She tells Dorothy CSI: Colombo crime stories in gory detail that she hears from her brother. Wait, that last thing isn’t endearing: It’s kind of scary.

However, as the weeks passed, reality started to surface in our domestic dream. Dorothy and I joked that Jasmine is actually a Cold War-era spy that never got the word it was over because no maid could actually be this bad. Jasmine had never used a washing machine (for clothes or dishes); she had never used a vaccuum; she hates to iron and hid unfinished laundry in the spare room; she used the underside of our spare bedroom mattress as a no-interest savings account; she often left daily tasks unfinished or put certain work off for days; she commonly exhibits a very regional opinion that when things go wrong it is never her fault (even when it clearly is, but a discussion of societal differences of guilt and personal responsibility is an entirely different topic) and she developed the horrible habit of coming to work later and later.

I can put up with a lot. I can even put up with a maid that is no good at maiding, especially in a country where there is a very limited social welfare system and people who want to work ought to be given the chance. Tardiness, however, seems to be my tipping point. And that brings us to the present. I told her last week that she needed to come on time or she couldn’t not-work here anymore. Among some other things that needed to change, I emphasized Dorothy’s continuing commentary that the house begins at a certain time, and Jasmine said, “yes.” However, two days later we were out of our norm and I was home in the morning instead of Dorothy when Jasmine popped the question: “I should get a raise, now, sir?”

A raise? Really? As much as I like the fact that Jasmine is trustworthy, I just can’t bring myself to pay her more money for crappy work. Call me crazy. Call me an educated economic student of Smith, Ricardo, Freeman, and believer in good old fashioned supply and demand. Call me anything, but please, call me after breakfast when I’m waiting for our housekeeper to show up and chasing squirrels from the dining room.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Homesickness and Randomness

Yes, I know, Fellow Adventurers, AWOL again. I’ve been pretty grouchy lately and it’s hard for me to write a funny blog post when the only humor I have is the biting, sarcastic kind. Nothing is really wrong, I’m just generally kind of out of sorts. Kevin is gone. I haven’t heard her since we got back from India. I miss her wakeup call. I miss America and stuff like cheese and Target and restaurants that open for dinner before 7:30 pm. I don’t need that stuff to be happy, I just kind of feel a bit nostalgic for all of that lately. I love living overseas and I will be sad when our time here ends, but I think it’s part of the human condition to miss one’s homeland. I'm pretty sure people have been doing it since the first cavemen walked over ice floes to other continents. That’s why people call their home countries the Motherland and wax poetic about it throughout human history. I totally understand why people kiss the ground when they return to the land of their birth. It doesn’t matter how rotten things were in your motherland, it’s somehow part of your soul. I think the Irish are the biggest offenders. (See Angela's Ashes or pretty much anything written by an Irish expat.) Lucky for me, I’m about 98% German. Luckier for me, part of that other 2% is Irish and is enough to give me a really cool maiden name and the ability to wax poetic with the best of them. The jury is still out on which side gave me my mad alcohol consumption skills. (See, that was pretty funny…now we’re getting somewhere.)

Anyway, the bottom line is that I haven’t been very inspired by the idea of blogging lately. I did start writing a piece about the henchmen working on our plumbing. They’re still at it, so I’ll save it until all the hijinks are over, hopefully sooner rather than later. It’s been going on for almost three weeks now, though, so it could be a while. In the mean time, how about some random weird snippets of our life that really don’t fit anywhere else?

-When we first moved here and were staying at the residence hotel, I was very worried that our kids’ large inflatable pool rings would seem like “too much” in the hotel pool. One afternoon, we saw a family give something to the pool boy to inflate. The poor kid spent the next thirty minutes blowing up an inflatable raft with his mouth. When I say inflatable raft, I don’t mean the kind you float around on, napping. I mean an actual boat. After the pool boy finished and went inside (I’m assuming to find an oxygen tank), the family climbed in and proceeded to use oars to paddle around the pool. Tiny inflatable inner tubes? Yeah, we’re good.

-Remember that time Amelia Earhart threw up just before we arrived at the Taj Mahal? I neglected to mention that she rallied and ate four plates of Chinese noodles for lunch.

-Did you know there are thousands of varieties of bananas? In the U.S., almost all the bananas we eat are Cavendish variety, and the small percentage of the rest are primarily made up of what we call plantains. In Sri Lanka, Cavendish bananas are much harder to find. While there are many different kinds of bananas eaten on the island, including red ones, most of the bananas here are the Kolikuttu. They are much smaller than Cavendish bananas, about four inches long, and about a half inch to an inch thicker than what we’re used to. They taste different, too. They’re not bad, but after growing up on Cavendish, I’m sick of the short, fat little buggars.

-Pretty much everyone in this country wears flip flops all day, every day. Case in point: Almost every road construction worker I’ve seen is wearing a hard hat and flip flops. Safety first!

-Everywhere I go in Sri Lanka, I see mothers out with their babies. The babies are usually wearing shorts or sundresses and a knitted stocking cap. Now, this is a tropical island. It’s hot here, Fellow Adventurers. The average temperature is 80 degrees, and these poor tiny things are wearing toasty warm knitted woolen caps with little pompoms on the top. I always want to pull up next to them and snatch the hats off the babies and drive away, eventually collecting a car full of little knitted stocking caps that I would send to babies in Siberia, kind of like Robin Hood for sweaty babies. Babies wearing hats on 90 degree days is such a normal thing that the other day, when we were out driving and I spotted a baby without a hat on, I screeched at The International Man of Intrigue, “LOOK! That baby’s head is uncovered!!! It’s going to catch pneumonia! Someone call Lankan Social Services or whatever they have here!” The International Man of Intrigue sighed. He’s used to me by now. For what it’s worth, he thinks the hat business is weird, too. His theory is that if babies wear hats when they’re small, they get used to being super hot, so once they grow out of the hats, the blasting tropical island heat doesn’t seem so stifling.

- The Little Explorers might be too well traveled. They enjoy playing “airport.” They’re actually quite detailed. They check bags, go through the metal detector, get a wand and do pat downs and check passports and stamp boarding passes. They are more thorough and a whole lot nicer than TSA.

I think that's all I've got for today. My driver just came to the front door, delivering beer that The International Man of Intrigue sent home. I think it's time for a cold one! Have a great weekend, Fellow Adventurers!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Back in May, my wonderful and beautiful super-smart engineer friend who we'll call Hedy Lamarr came to visit. As the first visitor to the Intrigue home in Sri Lanka, she won a rather fabulous prize: the opportunity to guest blog. I really wasn't sure Hedy Lamarr was going to accept it. The prize didn't come with an expiration date, happily, so when I found this in my inbox this morning, I was excited to share it with you. Oh, and no matter what she says, she's qualified to write. I made a couple of very minor corrections before posting this. I told you she was smart. Also, growing up, she and I had a series of English teachers who were very serious about their craft.

Warning: The following blog post was written by an engineer. Given the choice between classes where one wrote papers and classes where one solved difficult math problems, I always chose latter. Aside from my ability to correctly use the words their, there, and they’re, I’m not really qualified to write a blog. So when Dorothy asked me to guest blog, I laughed. Then I realized that she was serious and being the good friend that I am, I decided to give it a shot…

When I learned that the Intrigue family was moving to Sri Lanka, my first thought was, “Cool, I should go visit!” My second thought was, “Where exactly is Sri Lanka?” After consulting my trusty Google map, I was able to confirm that it is very, very far from Houston, TX. It is also relatively close to Singapore where another friend of mine is currently residing. A little coordination, and I had a trip to Sri Lanka and Singapore planned. A couple months and a few vaccinations later and I was on my way.

About 23 hours and a quick stop in Moscow after leaving Houston, my plane landed in Singapore. It was 6 am on Saturday morning. Since my flight to Colombo wasn’t until 17 hours later, I had made arrangements to hang out with my friend in Singapore for the day.

It was a busy day which thankfully started with a shower (24 hours on a plane and you really, really, appreciate a nice shower), and included cable cars, Merlions, shopping malls, a short nap, casinos, and of course, food. I did get stranded in a subway station when my friend jumped on a train before I could follow. Luckily he’s a good friend and came back for me.

Later that night it was on to Sri Lanka.

Day 1 started off according to schedule with some GoNuts donuts. (Did I mention that The International Man of Intrigue provided me with an hour by hour color coded schedule for my visit? I’m glad someone did some advanced planning because I sure didn’t!). They do know how to make some good donuts in Sri Lanka. A great start to my visit! Then on to the National Museum where I learned important things like Sri Lankan history and the proper proportions for a sitting Buddha. Later that day Dorothy, Amelia and I got to take a tuk-tuk to the Gangaramaya temple. Everyone should get to take a tuk-tuk at least once.

Day 2 in Sri Lanka started off with some shopping (I believe this was the “chick shopping stuff” part of the scheduled activities) and included a little fashion show for Amelia and Gertrude. They didn’t like anything I tried on that wasn’t pink. I bought the yellow skirt anyway. It’s cute when 3 and 5 year olds dress themselves, maybe not so cute when they dress you.

The next couple of days were a mini vacation in Bentota, starting with a quick stop at the sea turtle hatcheries. The baby sea turtles were cute but I couldn’t help wondering if they were anything like the box turtles we used to play with as kids, the ones that peed on you when you picked them up. Oh well, we played with the baby sea turtles anyway. (Thank goodness for wipes and hand sanitizer!) After that we headed for our hotel and spent most of the afternoon lounging around the pool overlooking the Indian Ocean. The day ended with the grownups drinking beer on the balcony. Vacation doesn’t get much better than this!

Day 5 was supposed to be a tour of one of the china factories but we were never able to get it scheduled so instead it was more shopping but this time the kiddos stayed home with dad and it was just Dorothy and me, just like old times! It’s been way too long since I’ve gotten to shop and spend money with my former roommate. Clothes shopping, china shopping, all kinds of fun! We did go and run a few errands later that afternoon with the rest of the Intrigue family at the local shopping mall. On that excursion I learned that there are three types of stores in the Columbo shopping mall: one third are DVD stores, one third are cell phone stores, and the remaining third are everything else. Really? How many cell phones and DVDs do people need? Of course DVDs are only $1-2 so I guess that helps. I thought the fact that they are all on DVD-R was a little unusual but apparently that’s just how it is in Sri Lanka! (I’m not sure you could buy a legal DVD if you wanted to.)

Day 6, my last day in Sri Lanka. It started out with rain and a leaking roof. Fortunately there were no leaks over my bed. Unfortunately there was one right over Amelia’s bed. Other than that it was a pretty uneventful day at the Intrigue Compound. The highlight of the afternoon was the scooter/bike/foot races around the dining room table. (I swear I would have done better if I hadn’t been scared of breaking an arm or leg and ending up in a third world hospital.)

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and late that night my visit to the Intrigue family came to its conclusion as I headed back to the airport and on to the next leg of my journey. I had a wonderful trip and can’t wait see them again!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Worst Case Scenario

Remember our not-so-little roof leak? And then the huge waterfall that dumped into our dining room during a dinner party? Well, that’s nothing after last night.

It’s monsoon season in Sri Lanka, which doesn’t mean at all what I thought it would. I thought monsoons would be more, well, monsoon-y. I expected a constant deluge for days on end, the kind of things you see in movies with people sitting and staring out of their thatched roof tropical hut. In reality, it is a total torrential downpour, but it comes and goes, and things return to tropical island sunny in between. Many times, the worst of it seems to come at night, as was the case last night.

All day yesterday, the wind kept picking up. When I was out running errands, I could see the choppy waves and the storm over the ocean. The International Man of Intrigue was scheduled to return from a business trip in the Maldives last night, and I was starting to get a sinking feeling the weather may not hold out for his flight. Luckily, his flight took off only 15 minutes behind schedule, but as the evening wore on, the wind worsened. Our plexiglass skylight, which was the source of our leaks, started banging up and down whenever the wind gusted. I started getting really nervous about it. After all, the two overlapping pieces of plexiglass had never seemed that secure in the first place. And our dining room waterfall? After four visits from the landlady’s henchmen, we’d given up. They kept insisting it was just the gutters needing to be cleaned, even though the embassy’s maintenance man kept telling them there were more problems. In the end, The International Man of Intrigue and I had resigned ourselves to some leaking whenever it rained, as long as it could be caught by a single bucket. By the time I put The Little Explorers to bed, the banging was worsening, and the water was gushing in. I sighed and pulled the dining room table and chairs out of the way and battened down the hatches as best I could.

The International Man of Intrigue finally arrived home from the airport and was also sufficiently impressed and concerned with the banging plexiglass to make me feel like I wasn’t a complete crazy person. He even took a short video to show to facilities maintenance so they could get an idea of the problem. Then, we retired to the family room to relax and catch up on the excitement of the week. He told me about taking water taxis and meeting interesting people. I filled him in on which Little Explorers had snot noses and fevers, leaky bathtubs, and what kind of pizza we ordered for dinner. Oh, yes, it was obvious who’d had the more exciting few days! What happened next was inevitable, I suppose. A particularly loud series of bangs caught our attention. We grabbed a flashlight to check it out, even though we were pretty sure that a large chunk of plexiglass had just ripped off and disappeared into the night. Sure enough. We now had an open air skylight. After a quick call to the embassy maintenance staff to let them know the situation, we turned in for the night. It wasn’t like anyone could show up and replace a giant piece of plexiglass in a windstorm, anyway.

You know how, when you are lying in bed, worst case scenarios and monsters start popping up in your imagination? (Please, Fellow Adventurers, tell me it’s not just me!)Well, as I let my imagination do the thinking, my biggest concern, aside from water damage, flooding, squirrels, mosquitoes, birds, structural damage, or the roof actually collapsing, was the huge breach in security from the hole in the roof. There are monkeys on this island, people. What if monkeys came into the roof? Or ninjas? Ninjas could repel into the hole in the skylight! Or ninja monkeys? Aaaaaaaaagh!

And then I fell asleep. Apparently skylights ripping off and rain coming in sound nothing like children crying, so I had an excellent night’s sleep.

Bright and early this morning, the sun was shining down through the hole in the skylight and everything looked fine. There was surprisingly little water on the floor. A lot of leaves, but surprisingly little water. The best part? No ninja monkeys! The embassy maintenance staff arrived first thing and the henchmen shortly after. The head henchman walked in to assess the damage. He looked up at the skylight and, for the first time ever, was speechless. No blaming it on leaf filled gutters or trying to find a way to pin a leaky roof on the inhabitants (because, yes, I climb up and poke holes in the roof when you’re not around). He simply blinked a few times, muttered two words in Sinhala and walked out. I have been smiling about that every since. The Intrigues: 1, Henchmen: 0! (Okay, really, the current tally is probably The Intrigues: 3, Henchmen: 47, but we won this round, and I think we get extra points for Head Henchman Dude being rendered speechless.)

It’s mid afternoon as I write this, and the skylight is currently being replaced. It looks like I can go to bed free of worry of invading ninjas. I’m not holding out much hope on this keeping the water out, though. I’ll keep you posted, Fellow Adventurers.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lost Elephants

Well, I called the hotel where I thought I left my motivation. They’re claiming it’s not there. Riiight. Someone who works there has obviously kept it and is using it. It’s fine. I can get new motivation. I think I have some around here somewhere. Maybe under this pile of unread magazines…

Speaking of forgetting things in hotels, have you ever left anything behind? Once, when we were moving from Georgia to California, Amelia Earhart’s Cabbage Patch Kid, Molly, got left in a hotel. The hotel gladly sent it to us, except, since we were between residences, we had to have it mailed to my in-laws and tell Amelia Earhart that Molly was having a super fun vacation at Nana and Papa’s and would come home once we had a house. Then, we did it again. Ugh. This time we left Arthur Dent’s lovey, Rocco the Elephant
in a hotel in New Delhi. The problem with this little genius move was that it was on day 3 of a 14 day adventure in India, and mailing it to our house was going to require international shipping. Drat. Well, since it would cost more to ship Rocco than to buy a new one, we decided to imagine from now on that Rocco is living happily with some Indian child who doesn’t have any other toys. Plus, Arthur Dent was going to spend this trip sleeping in a hotel bed with at least two other family members at all times, so he probably wouldn’t even notice Rocco’s absence.

The miracle of modern e-commerce is that, using wireless internet and my Kindle Fire and this amazing thing called Amazon Prime, we had Rocco II heading for Sri Lanka the very next day. Our mail is actually sent to a US address where it gets injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected and finally routed here. (Aside- The International Man of Intrigue, Amelia Earhart, and I actually heard Arlo Guthrie perform Alice's Restaurant! Legend - wait for it -dary!) Mail takes a week or two to arrive from the states. We figured Rocco II would be waiting for us when we got back to Colombo. We didn’t figure that last week’s mail would be held up somewhere in the Middle East. Grr again. Lucky for us, the little dude is more attached to his pacifier, or “beebee” than to Rocco.

Rocco II finally arrived Monday, and Arthur Dent didn’t seem too phased to see him, until bedtime, at which point he snuggled in with Rocco II in his arms and let out a mighty sigh. Aaah, a boy and his elephant, together again! (Well, kind of. I’m not telling Arthur Dent that Rocco II isn’t Rocco. I’m hoping you’ll keep my secret, Fellow Adventurers!)

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Taj Mahal, People!

We just got back from two weeks in India, where I seem to have lost my motivation. I think I left it next to the bathroom sink in the hotel in Lucknow. I wonder if they’ll mail it back?

At one of our hotels, we were eating breakfast in the restaurant when another American sat down at the table next to us. This older gentleman looked at our kids and said, “Wow. Three little ones in India. You’re brave travelers.” Now, I know there are plenty of you out there who wouldn’t use the word “brave” when describing The Intrigue Family, or any other family who would drag their three very young children all over Third World South Asia. To you I quote Billy Joel, “You may be right, I may be crazy.” At this point, we’ve heard it all. There are plenty of naysayers who say, “I’d wait until they’re older and can appreciate it,” or, “I don’t want to raise my Little Explorers in a hotel room.” Luckily for us, for every naysayer, there are a dozen people who support us, even if it’s only so they can read our misadventures on Facebook or this blog. The truth of the matter is, it is hard to travel with small children sometimes, but we have been given an amazing opportunity and I think we’d be even crazier to let it pass by without seizing every chance for travel. It also helps that we’ve become experts on what to pack to make travel with Little Explorers a breeze. I’ll share the information with you for a small fee. Here’s a teaser: It helps if your Little Explorers are awesome. If they aren’t, well, I’m not sure even I can help you with that.

Despite all best efforts, sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Take our day at the Taj Mahal. We got up early on a Thursday and left New Delhi to make the drive to Agra, planning on heading straight to the Taj Mahal, since it’s closed on Friday. I had convinced the entire Intrigue Family to dress in coordinating colors. (Ok, really, I convinced The International Man of Intrigue to wear a blue shirt, which made up about half of the shirts he packed anyway. I made the Little Explorers wear what I picked out.) A picture of The Intrigues in front of the Taj has the potential to be blown up and framed or make a really awesome Christmas card.

Less than ten minutes from the Taj Mahal, it happened. I heard that sickening, wet, awful sound that strikes fear into every mother’s heart. It was coming from directly behind me, where Amelia Earhart was sitting. I was powerless, in the middle row with Arthur Dent on my lap. (I know, carseats. Have you been to India? Then don't judge. Read my rant here.) The International Man of Intrigue was safely ensconced in the front seat, oblivious. I interrupted his conversation with our driver, which was taking place completely in Hindi, to call for emergency help and baby wipes. He said, “Did someone spill?” I said, “You don’t recognize that sound? Amelia Earhart just threw up. All over.” It was at this point that I finally turned around to assess the damages. Yep. Vomit, everywhere. Now, The Intrigue Family is pretty unphased by a good barf. There was a period of time where Gertrude Bell threw up in her plate at least once a week at the dinner table. Unfortunately, that period of time was almost a year, and may have resulted in some of our childless friends remaining childless to this day, but that’s another story. The problem with the current situation was that we were 5 minutes from the Taj Mahal, in a rented van, with a rented driver, and now that van was carrying what looked to be about a gallon of barf. I’ll bet you suddenly find yourself wishing I was doing my usual and referencing poop instead, don’t you?

Calm and collected as (almost) always, we changed plans and headed for the hotel, fingers crossed that our room would be ready. Thankfully, it was, and thankfully, our driver didn’t bat an eye at the mess (which, to continue using the word thankfully, was mostly on the floor mat, Amelia Earhart, and her backpack). After convincing every hotel employee we passed that I didn’t need help carrying Amelia Earhart’s backpack, (It’s covered in vomit, people! You don’t want to help!), we made it safely to the room and got my girl cleaned up. It was at this point my hopes for the perfect family photo at the Taj, with all of us in coordinating, but not matching, outfits were dashed. The disappointment was offset by the revelation that Amelia Earhart had just been carsick and had made a complete recovery, so we were at least going to be able to go to the Taj Mahal as a family.

Less than an hour after turning our van into The Vomit Comet, we rolled up to the parking area at the Taj Mahal! This was the moment everyone who visits India waits for! We got our tickets and got into the little electric shuttle bus that took us the quarter mile or so to the entrance. It’s at this point I had a moment of panic. The temperature in New Delhi and here in Agra had been unseasonably hot. It had been either 44 or 45 degrees Celsius every day since we arrived in India. I am not fluent in Celcius, but I know the weather in Colombo stays in the lower 30’s most days, and that’s on a tropical island. I also know that the locals were so hot that events like the New Delhi Gay Pride Parade were being cancelled due to heat. I didn't dare do the math to find out the actual temperature, but you can. Here I was, about to take my three Little Explorers to stand around on unairconditioned marble. I was wearing Arthur Dent on my back and we were both already soaked with sweat. They are amazing little travelers, but was this asking too much? There was nothing to do but press our luck. Big Bucks, No Whammys!

All of that was taken away when we caught our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. A little history lesson: The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died giving birth to their fourteenth child. He loved her so much he wanted to make the most beautiful building in the world to house her earthly body. It’s made of white marble inlaid with precious stones and is perfectly symmetrical. If you are fortunate enough to be in the actual burial chamber when there aren’t many people around, you can hear the wind whispering through—it is said to be the sound of infinity. It took 10 years to build the Taj and another 12 years to build the surrounding buildings and gardens. Soon after its completion, Shah Jahan’s son forcibly took the throne from his father and had him imprisoned in Agra Fort, across town. The Shah’s prison rooms afforded him an unobstructed view of the Taj Mahal, and he spent the rest of his days staring at the Taj and mourning his wife. He had this to say about the Taj Mahal:

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.


Yes, beautiful. Pretty much one of the greatest love stories ever told, right up there with Romeo and Juliet and The International Man of Intrigue and Dorothy Gale. You know what? The Taj Mahal totally lived up to its hype. It is breathtaking in its beauty. Even in the sweltering heat, the beauty makes a person want to stop and linger. Amazing inlaid flowers and Arabic script are around every corner. Screens are carved out of marble. The heat also gave us a wonderful gift—a day without too many tourists. We were able to take our time and even catch the whisper of infinity.

In true Intrigue style, the day was a memorable one. From vomit to sweat to one of the most amazing landmarks on the planet, it was a day that will go down in family history. Stay tuned for more Intrigue Family adventures, just as soon as my motivation returns from India.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bollywood Commercials

I've told you all about our cable TV programming here. What I haven't shared with you are the commercials. They are strange. In India, companies want only the biggest movie stars doing their commercials. I mean, imagine seeing celebrities like Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, or Tom Hanks shilling everything from face whitening cream to candy. Now imagine them doing it in the cheesiest way possible. Welcome to Indian TV. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

This commercial starring Priyanka Chopra gets on my nerves and in my head. As near as I can tell, the "chip chip" she hates is shine.

Hands down, the biggest female Bollywood star, Kareena Kapoor, is on every other commercial here. This one is the weirdest. I mean, can you imagine Julia Roberts practically making out with a CGI bear? Check this one out. (You have to scroll down past the first picture to get to the video.)

The number one actor, director, producer, game show host, singer, and dancer, philanthropist, humanitarian, and diplomat in Bollywood is Shahrukh Khan. He's easily the most recognizable person in India, possibly in the world. With an estimated net worth of $600 million (US), the dude is not hurting for cash, but he is the spokesman for at least 25 brands, from paint to Pepsi. Our personal favorite are the Dish TV commercials. Here is the one that we enjoy. It's so catchy that we started calling Arthur Dent "Art Sawaar Hai," which loosely translates to "Arthur is the advantage."

Next time you're bored, just YouTube Indian television commercials. There's something entertaining for everyone.