Monday, January 30, 2012

Friday Pizza Nights Are Back!

I don’t even know how to make this funny because it’s embarrassing, so I’m just going to come right out and say it. We ate at Pizza Hut on Friday. We did. We moved our entire family to the entire other side of the world so we could eat at Pizza Hut on Friday night. And it was delicious, thankyouverymuch.

Back stateside, Friday night is pizza night in the Intrigue house. Sometimes we ordered in, sometimes we’d bake frozen pizza, and sometimes I’d make homemade pizza using Trader Joe’s dough, homemade sauce, cheese, and turkey pepperoni. I’m not big on eating pig, but I do love “roni” on my pizza.

Now that we’ve been in Sri Lanka for a while, we decided it was time to revive our Friday night tradition. Our residence hotel has room service, and they make some decent pizza, but we felt like going out, and Pizza Hut is within walking distance of our hotel, which is handy considering we have yet to find a car to purchase.

Are you just dying to know what a Pizza Hut in Sri Lanka is like? No? Well, too bad, because I can’t think of any other way to finish this blog post.

Pizza Hut in Sri Lanka is like…well, how do I say this?…Pizza Hut. I guess that’s kind of the beauty of chain restaurants. For the same reason we sometimes despise them, “They’re all pretty much the same,” “They have no personality,” they are also nice when you just want to know what to expect. We walked in and it was air conditioned. There was a big salad bar in the middle. The d├ęcor was a little more modern than I remembered, but I’ve been boycotting Pizza Hut since 2009, so I could have missed some corporate redecorating. (Yes, the Intrigue family likes a good boycott. We also boycott Heinz Ketchup and Amarillo, Texas, among a few other things.) Annoyingly, they didn’t have any high chairs, but that isn’t the most unusual thing in Colombo. All the employees were in their black pants and red polos. The managers meeting at a table in the back were wearing their blue chambray shirts and pizza topping ties. The female manager had on a white headscarf, but that was pretty much it for anything out of the ordinary. The menu stated that the restaurant started in "Kansas, United States, "also the birthplace of yours truly, coincidentally. Our girls were even given balloons. Amelia Earhart looked at hers and said, “It would probably pop if I stuck it with a toothpick.” We told her that’s exactly what would happen. The first time we turned our heads, she stuck it with a toothpick and it popped. She promptly dissolved into hysterical tears. Yes, just like dining out back in the States.

The menu was a little different. We had French fries for an appetizer—excuse me, “appetiser.” We could have stuffed crust pizza filled with cheese like in the States, or stuffed with chicken sausage. Not ground sausage, a big old log of chicken sausage. It didn’t look very appealing to me, but I had to talk the International Man of Intrigue out of it. We decided on two pizzas, one topped with Australian beef pepperoni and one tandoori chicken. Both were delicious. I loved that the pepperoni wasn’t pork, and the tandoori chicken was really flavorful and not too spicy. We branched out a little on drinks, too. I got a Fanta instead of my usual Coke Light and the International Man of Intrigue tried a cream soda, which turned out to be shockingly neon yellow colored and a bit gingery tasting.

Even though we spent the evening poking fun at ourselves for being the uncultured Americans who travel to the other side of the world and eat at Pizza Hut, it was kind of comforting. I made it up to myself by trying the cashew curry the next morning at breakfast.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Want My MTV

While we’re in our residence hotel until our house is ready, we have about 35 cable channels. Allow me to break them down for you:

-About half are in languages other than English.

-Many of the English language stations are subtitled. One is subtitled in English. Redundant much?

-We have two Al Jazeera channels. I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t hot, botoxed, western dressed anchorwomen or a little box at the bottom with a guy in an Arabic style headdress translating in sign language.

-We have MTV Delhi. I don’t watch MTV in the states, but I’ll watch the heck out of MTV Delhi. The music videos are all Bollywood and totally entrance the little explorers. I also caught something the other night that I can only assume was “India’s Next Top Model.” It was half English and half Hindi, so I’m not 100% sure of the details, but I watched it anyway. Like its sister program in the states, there were weird costumes for a photo shoot, a couple of judges hacking away at beautiful girls’ self esteem and someone crying and going home at the end. Let’s just say my lack of Hindi understanding didn’t really leave me scratching my head as to the outcome.

-There are three channels that appear to play cricket all day and all night. This could actually be because cricket matches last for days, or maybe weeks. I think one of the cricket channels is showing a match that has been going on since we got here twenty days ago. There was some big match between Sri Lanka and South Africa that went on for a week or so, even after South Africa apparently won, because, from what I can tell, “best of five” means “We’re going to play all five games even if that means the outcome is 5-0.” Obviously they don't apply the good sportsman run rule they learned in Little League Cricket.

-There is one channel that appears to play sumo wrestling all day and all night. If you’ve never watched that, it consists of a lot of pomp and circumstance followed by about 20 seconds of stomping around, followed by 5 seconds of actual wrestling, followed by another ten minutes or so of pomp and circumstance in which the winner gives some other guy a ladle of soup or something equally not refreshing to drink and then the guy blots his mouth with the tiniest napkin suitable for the job. It’s entertaining for about five bouts, then you realize that it’s really only the stomping and “Mystery Science Theater”-like dialogue that you’re adding that make the sport worth watching.

-There is another channel that appears to play “CSI Miami” –you guessed it—all day and all night. Why anyone would want to watch that much “CSI Miami”, I don’t know….[removing my sunglasses dramatically]…I. Don’t. Know.

-One channel is called DIVA and it appears to be Asian Lifetime for Women. Its major redeeming quality is that it’s currently showing a season of Top Chef I haven’t seen. DIVA appears most proud of the fact that it has the latest season of “The Good Wife.”

-Commercials are a billion ear shattering decibels higher than the show you were watching no matter where you live.

I guess if you’re looking for a moral to this blog post, it’s that cable television is the same everywhere. It’s a bunch of channels with nothing good on to watch. It’s pretty obvious to me that the only reason I miss American TV is that it’s much easier to shut off my brain at the end of the day while watching TV I can comprehend with only marginal use of my very limited attention span. Speaking of which, I stopped paying attention halfway through that last sentence. I guess it's true what they say about TV ruining your attention span. Oh, and I miss watching “Bones”. Darn it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Carnegie Hall

“Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.” –Al Gore

How do you get to Sri Lanka? Practice, practice, practice! What? That’s Carnegie Hall? Well, I think it might actually be easier to get the five of us to Carnegie Hall than it was to get us to Colombo. (Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital. It always made me think of the TV detective, until the International Man of Intrigue pointed out that the show was actually “Columbo,” and now it just makes me think that he ruined it for me.) Our entire trip, door to door, was about 36 hours, if my math is anywhere near correct. Math is not my strong suit, so give or take 12 hours on my calculations. Even though I’m sure you’d just love to read every word of a blow by blow account of our trip, I’ll hit the highlights.

We lived a 5 minute car ride away from our small airport. Cinch, right? Nope. Getting 14 suitcases, 6 carry-ons and 5 people there proved to be a major hurdle. Seems no cab company had a mini van available at 4 a.m. Fine. We’re the Intrigue family, we can deal. So, one poor cab driver got to make three trips to get all of us and all of our crap there.

I know some of you are immediately annoyed at reading the amount of luggage we were taking. Not as annoyed as I was. Oh, and not as annoyed as the people standing in line behind us, trust me. The International Man of Intrigue and I fancy ourselves travelers. In college, we traveled Europe for weeks with only a backpack and a tomato box. (What? You use luggage? Well, obviously you’ve missed travel enlightenment if you aren’t using a tomato box. True.) Here’s the thing I had to get over: We weren’t traveling. We were moving. We have children. Small ones. We needed a pack and play, diapers, tons of baby food (because it can’t be ordered through the mail), and lots of OTC medicine. We also had Christmas and Gertrude Bell’s birthday to celebrate after our household got packed up and before we left the U.S., and Amelia Earhart’s and Arthur Dent’s birthdays to celebrate shortly after our arrival. Oh, and we had to pack a box containing 2 high back boosters and one convertible car seat (which will come back to haunt us later in the story). So, we had a boatload of stuff. It was still one less bag than we were authorized, so maybe I should have packed more shoes…

Well, I just got all defensive, and no one has even made any snarky comments or anything. Sorry. Moving on…

Can I tell you, while LAX is the scourge of the Devil, Cathay Pacific Airline is awesome?! Immediately upon boarding, our girls were given Disney themed activity kits and we were handed a diaper kit for Arthur Dent, which even contained sample sizes of Mustela baby goodies. I’m a sucker for free sample sized toilitries, so Cathay had me right there. They also had a pre-installed infant seat for Arthur Dent, as promised, and their flight attendants were so in love with the kid, I thought the biggest problem might be that they’d have to say goodbye to him in Hong Kong.

It’s at this point I have to wonder how people like the Pilgrims crossed the ocean on ships with no in-flight on-demand movie and game system. That thing was a lifesaver. Amelia Earhart got to watch Alice in Wonderland twice in a row. Gertrude Bell enjoyed playing an episode of Handy Manny on repeat because there was a baby in it. (She’s almost as big a sucker for babies as those Cathay Pacific flight attendants.) I got to watch THREE WHOLE MOVIES! And, since they were my choice, I could pause them every five minutes to take one of the little explorers to the lavatory! I watched “Our Idiot Brother” (HILARIOUS!), “The Help” (predictable but endearing), and “The King’s Speech” (totally get the Oscar hype).

And then we got to Hong Kong. Late. And discovered that the infant seat we had been repeatedly promised and had gotten on the first leg of our trip was unavailable for and incompatible with the plane we were riding on from Hong Kong to Bangkok and Bangkok to Colombo. Talk about two grouchy parents. For the next 7 hours, we were going to have to hold Arthur Dent. The folks at Cathay were very apologetic, even offering to get our gate-checked carseat out of the plane in Bangkok. Unfortunately, it wasn’t gate checked, it was under 17 layers of packing tape in a moving box with who knows what else we shoved in there, since they had assured us during no less than five phone conversations that we would have their handy-dandy infant seat. So, we sucked it up and made it through the next 7 hours and arrived in Colombo sometime in the middle of the night.

Arriving in Colombo in the middle of the night after a 36 hour trip is kind of like partying at a club all night and then having the lights come up after last call. You’re left squinting and wondering how bad your hangover is going to be the next morning. Two weeks later, and I’m still wondering. I’m going to take some asprin and a Diet Coke and get back to you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In Other News

I don’t want my (hopefully) loyal readers to think I’m going to post every day. I don’t want you to get tired of me! I do have to share this, though. I’ve been laughing about it for a full day. This little tidbit appeared in the Colombo Sunday Observer yesterday. It was hidden a few paragraphs down in an article about cobblers (who, in Sri Lanka, are street vendors that spread out a blanket on the sidewalk and fix shoes and bags).

Legend has it that shoes of soldiers in the American Army were repaired by the elders of an American tribe, called “Cobblers”. The tribe “Cobblers” was living in the Southern part of America during the early part of the 19th century. They killed animals for their livelihood. The hard skin, they removed from animals was used to produce clothes and slippers. A platoon of the American army during their routine in this tribal village had spotted old men mending clothes out of hard skin of animals. The legend further says that cobblers thereafter gradually practiced the 200 year old art of mending shoes and had done a tremendous service to people by repairing shoes, leather belts, bags and hats.

Now, I am no history major, but the International Man of Intrigue is, and he concurs with my assessment that, if his memory serves him correctly, this is a load of made up craziness. Honestly, the paper here has something laughter inducing every day. I’m going to miss it when we move out of our hotel into a house and it’s not waiting tucked in the doorknob every morning. The story does bring up the deeper theme of perceptions of America and Americans, but I’ll save that for another blog post (or twenty).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Once Upon A Time...

I don’t want to bore you with the details of The International Man of Intrigue’s job, but in the interest of explaining how we ended up moving our family to a Third World Country Developing Nation, I’ll give you the rundown. The International Man of Intrigue works for a large government organization paid for by your tax dollars. One day while taking a break from being shot at by terrorists in a war zone, he called and asked, “How about if we try for a job where I get shot at a little less, and travel the world in between my turn at being shot at in war zones?” Always up for something that sounds exciting, I said, “Sure, whatever. Sounds great. Listen, the fridge is broken. I went ahead and googled it and I’m going to take it apart and try and fix it, but I might have to buy a new one if this goes badly, okay?” Then, we exchanged pleasantries and he went off to get shot at some more while I went back to cursing at the fridge.

Fast forward several years and lots of training later and The International Man of Intrigue was well on his way to becoming an expert in the field of South Asia. Either as a reward for a job well done or as punishment, depending on who you ask, the large government organization was sending the entire family to Sri Lanka. After acting cool and sophisticated at the possibility for a few minutes, I finally worked up the nerve to ask the hubby, “By the way, where is Sri Lanka, exactly?” Oh, yes, we were moving to a place so remote, so unknown, that we had to get out my 1980’s globe. Hmm… Here’s East and West Germany… Here’s the USSR… Perhaps Google Maps would be a better choice…Oh, here it is! Sri Lanka! It’s the island off of India. Or, as Michael Ondaatje, author of “The English Patient” and native Sri Lankan called it, “a pendant off the ear of India.”

And that’s really all there was to it. Or at least all that you actually need or want to know. The next thing we knew, we were packing up 14 suitcases, 6 carry on bags and our three kids- Amelia Earhart (5), Gertrude Bell (3), and Arthur Dent (1), and taking off on an airplane to a country many Americans weren’t even sure they had heard of, let alone could identify on a map. I hope you’ll follow me as I share some of our crazy adventures in this year of trying to raise our family in the Third World Country Developing Nation of Sri Lanka.