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!)