Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Random Medication

My friend Ann and I were chatting on the train last night and she pulled out a little orange bottle of perscription medication.

"Check this out," she said, "lately I've been feeling really woozy and out of it, so I went to my doctor." She hands me the perscription and I look it over.

"Wait, I say, this medicine is for - VERTIGO?" I say.

"Yeah, isn't that weird? My doctor says I've got an infection in the doohickey in my inner ear."

"You have an Alfred Hitchcock disease! " I say, marveling. "Cool!"

"Yeah, but that's not the best part. Flip the bottle over."

I do as she says and see, in tiny lettering under "possible side effects" three hilarious words:

MAY CAUSE DIZZINESS.


We laughed all the way home.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cambodia/Indonesia Pictures

Me with the Leper King

Ankor Wat


Wayang Puppet Theatre


Ta Prohm (aka "Tomb Raider Temple")


Aspara Dancer - Traditional Khmer dance

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Change

I have arrived safely, a little worse for wear but getting better, back home. But, as my mom says, there's no rest for the wicked, because I've landed right in the middle of a huge upheaval of my own making.

I've decided to take a job back in Minnesota, starting December 27th. Which means I have three weeks to quit my job, escape from my lease, pack up my life, drive across country and move away from the single most influential person in my life for the last three years : my HMF. (Handsome Man Friend).

Honestly, I have hours where I doubt I can do this. Although I'm excited for the job (it's in my area of interest, in the field I'm already working in, more money, more responsibility, lower cost of living, closer to family, etc, etc), right now I am Terribly. Conflicted.

Sigh. I need another pepto.
M.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The End Is Near

In the past three days I've.....

....switched hotels in Cambodia
....poked around the awesome Old Market in downtown Siem Reap
....got a mani/pedi in the scebbiest hair salon in Cambodia, but it was done by two very fun women who promised that they could find me a nice boy here ("they no hit, but they too small" was one woman's observation, gesturing at her crotch (I am so not kidding about that either..).
....shared a cab to the airport with a nice Indian family who wanted to know if I, too, worked for Sun Microsystems (??)
...flew to Singapore and recognized most of the people on the plane as the same ones I'd flown out with
....checked back into the hotel I stayed at earlier in the week
....celebrated Thanksgiving at Clark Quay with an old high school friend
....took myself to the movies
...shopped
...went to Chinatown and saw the oldest temple in Singapore
...attended (quite by accident) the noon poojah at the local Hindu temple (hey, it was 12:30!)
...ate alot of noodles, and ice cream
...managed to rip the toenail off my baby toe!
...am now very very sleepy and ready to not be sweaty all the time
...excited and nervous about coming back to reality
...totally sold on the idea of vacationing on one's own. It rocks!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Great Day

The dinner (buffet) was a little disappointing last night, only in that I was so exhausted, it was tough to enjoy on any level. That, and the buffet food was cold. 'My hotel serves it better.

However, the aspara dancers were really neat! Aspara can be traced back centuries in the Khmer cultuer - they are the women you see who wear the long, pointy helmet. The type of dance is very stylized, much like Balinese dancing - the placement of the hands, arched feet and blank/serene expression are all part of the show.

This morning, I woke up to the sunshine streaming through the window onto my bed - I knew it was going to be a great day. Pool, massage, and a little bit of the town via motorcycle taxi - I was right! It also helped that is was sunny, and no rain, this afternoon. I went to the Old Market and shopped around, ate lunch a fabulous open air restaurant (I had "chicken amok"and it came served right IN the coconut!) I was even able to find eye solution (note to self: 3 0z does NOT get you through five weeks...)

I also stopped by the National Ankor Museum. It looked empty from the outside, but that's because it just opened five days ago. (It shows - some of the exhibits aren't fully up yet. Good thing they offered a 33% discount..) It was still a little expensive at 8$/person - but in my mind worth it for the air conditioning alone.

Pretty slow after yesterday, but am loving it just the same. Tomorrow I move hotels and it's my last day. As a side note, I could make one whole posting about how bad Lonely Planet makes me feel. Mostly, I think "they'd pay less" or I should know be speaking more Khmer than I am" or "they'd eat meat from the open air meat market" or "they wouldn't have changed their money there.." But at the end of the day, I am left with only me and my decisions. And quite honestly, I'm sure they do it better - but I'm not going to let some silly book make me feel bad!

M.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Temple List

Today I..
...got up at 5am.
...waited for my tuk-tuk driver, Noi, in the dark for 30 minutes
...decided it wasn't so bad because due to cloud cover, there would be no sunrise anyway
...arrived at Angkor Thom by 6am so I could have it all to myself
...30 seconds after I arrived a mini-van filled with a large Chinese family showed up.
...decided that the Chinese were the loudest people I've ever met in my life! (Sorry Kang)
...stepped on something, heard a "squirrt!"" and saw that I'd stepped on the largest dead frog of my life and split open it's intestines. Grossssssssssssss...
...walked on Terrace of the Elephants
...took my picture on the Terrace of the Leper King, with this guy.
...fell in love with Ta Prohm, aka "the temple where Tomb Raider was partially filmed"
...drove 28 km in a tuk-tuk to see tiny Banteay Srei, a pink limestone temple
...saw landmines being removed from the side of the road
...drove yet another 12 km on rough roads to get to Kbal Spean, to see carvings in the riverbed
...got extremely tuk-tuk sick
...got stuck in the downpouring rain
...was happy to get back to the hotel and take a real shower!

It's 5pm and I'm exhausted. The last thing on my list for today is to see a traditional Khmer dance at a special Khmer dinner tonight. I had sweet potatoe curry last night off the Khmer menu - and if that's any teaser for what's ahead this evening, I am in for a good time. I hope I can stay awake for it, but something tells me that after a refresher nap, I'll be good to go. On tomorrow's agenda will be sleeping in late and exploring the town of Siem Reap.

Honestly, this is the most relaxed I've been in years. Vacationing alone has it's pros and cons, but I don't really feel alone. I am thinking of all my friends and family, especially when I come across something that makes me think of you (Garth - there are so many awesome bugs here, you'd love it!)

Mostly though, I'm just relaxed.

M.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Today Should've Been My Birthday

...because it was terrific!

Again, I got up early (3am) to catch my flight to Siem Reap. I knew it was going to be a good trip, because we disembarked from the plane straight onto the tarmac, and you already know how I feel about that! :)

The first thing I smelled was the thick, damp, air and the heavy scent of boiled sweet corn (I have no idea where that came from). It wasn't nearly as hot as I expected it to be, as they're moving into "winter"now - the temperatures are only in the 80's.

I thought it might be a hassle to get my visa at the airport, but they were so efficient (literally, all the officials were lined up and they passed the passport down the row and you picked it up at the end) that it took no less than 10 minutes. I was glad I'd stopped in Indonesia though to get passport photos, because there wasn't a booth available - and the visa app had to have it. Phew! At least I planned something right! It was also smart to carry dollars in small denominations (thank you, experience, for teaching me that one) as the visa app was $20 US as well as the pass to get into Ankor Wat.

My hotel picked me up - and I absolutely love the place. It's outside the main drag of town, where it's not so dusty or noisy. Richard, the colleague who recommended this place to me, hit the nail on the head with this one. For $30 US/night, I get my own villa with a porch, private non-squat bath, airconditioning, cable and free internet in the lobby. Plus, the a lá carte menu at the hotel runs about $1.20 US for each item, so I'm not breaking the bank by eating here either (although I do have plans to go out and check out other places...) The only downside I can find so far is the light FM muzak they've got playing non-stop in the lobby. Um, enough with the Westlife please.

I was beat by the time I checked in at 8am, but the staff gave me breakfast and then I slept until noon. I felt a little guilty about that but hey, it's my vacation so why not? After that, I got up, had lunch by the pool and then had a facial and massage in the open air veranda behind the pool. The kicker? $9. For an hour and a half. I couldn't believe it! It was a fruit and vegetable facial, where at one point, I had tomato, some sort of ginger paste and cucumber running into my ears. Then, they wrapped a reed braided screen around me like a pig pen, put a towel over the "compound"and placed a boiling pot of water in the middle. Portable sauna! I could've done with just a hot towel o clean my face, but - when in Rome...

You have to buy a one, three or seven day pass to get into Ankor Wat and the surrounding temples, but luckily, tourists are able to purchase them after 5pm on the day before you want to go. Because it's the rainy season (read: rain all afternoon) I know that the morning will be my only chance to get some non-cloudy pictures of some of the temples, I wanted to do this today so I can get an early start tomorrow (5am - what is this, the vacation of early rising? I'm going to have to schedule some sleep time...)

So after my massage, I took a tuk-tuk over to the tourist area around 4:30, got my pass and headed to Ankor Wat before it closed at 6pm. (Special bonus about purchasing it the day before!)

Ankor Wat is amazing. Like a half sleeping giant, slowly being worn down by the elements, the once gray stones are now pitch black and green mold spotted. The artistry in the carvings is breathtaking- and is the sheer enormity of the compound.

Unfortunately, it was cloudy so there was no sunset to speak, but still. As darkness fell, I literally felt the ancient stone walls being swallowed up by the jungle. It was creepy and comforting all at the same time. I mean, this temple has been here for hundreds of years, gets swallowed up every night, and manages to come back. That's some staying power.

What I didn't know is that Ankor Wat is just one of many famous temples to visit around Siem Reap. Tomorrow, I am going to try to visit Ankor Thom, something called the King of Lepers (??) and the Elephant cascade. When it starts raining tomorrow, I might just go get another massage.

M is for More Please,
M.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Singapore Sling

So far, my birthday in Singapore has been great - albeit, quiet.

First of all, I went out with Faisal and his girlfriend last night and then my co-workers - who all wished me a good day. Then, when I checked out of my hotel at 4am this morning, the reception gave me a box of chocolates! Pretty unexpected at 4am...

When I arrived in Singapore and filled out my immigration card, the immigration offical glanced at it, stamped it, and wished me happy birthday too! That also made me laugh (she must have been bored, or at the very least terribly observant).

So now I'm bumming around Singapore, the cleanest, safest city I have ever been in. It helps to know that if anyone bothers/mugs/steals from you, they're going to get the death penalty, so chances are no one will bother/mug/steal from you. I never thought I'd be a fan of the militant state, but hey, things change when you get older I guess.

You know those signs at the airport that tell you what can and cannot bring into the country? Well, I was a little taken a back when I noticed CHEWING GUM on the sign (thanks, Dad, for breaking me of that habit!) Also, on the MRT (public transit system) it's a $500 fine - for drinking water! I was pretty friggin nervous...what other laws may I have inadvertantly already broken? Is there a Singapore jail cell with my name on it? I caught myself jaywalking this afternoon and felt pretty sneaky - until I saw other people doing it. Guess there is some leeway in the system...

So far, so good, though. I went to the Central Business District, the Asian History Museum (it was closed...) saw the Supreme Court building, walked across the Singapore river, went to the Raffles hotel and window shopped. The bulk of the hot, steamy, rainy afternoon I spent at the Singapore History museum, which was AWESOME. I learned so much, but also got quite burned out. They have such detailed exhibits, it took me two hours just to get through the 1600's - 1880's.

Then, I bought myself a doughnut as an impromptu birthday cake and ate it on the streetcorner. Hooray, life! I couldn't ask for a more random, peaceful and all around lazy birthday. I remember last year at this time, I'd felt like I'd been through the ringer - like I'd earned yet another year. This time, while I know that big challenges lie ahead, I finally feel for the first time that my age is catching up to how I've always felt. (I never made a very good teenager). When I think about it, I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, and it feels good.

Tomorrow I have yet another early morning, as I leave for Siem Reap on another 6am flight. I spent another few hours this afternoon stressing about what hotel (trying to trade up from the hostel I landed in tonight) and then thinking, hey, why fight it? Now I'm just staying in the hostel when I return.

That's the news from here -
M.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blogging By Proxy

I was chatting with my handsome man friend this morning and he told me an interesting story. After he finished, he actually said "If I had a blog, I'd totally blog this!" So I laughed and told him I'd blog it by proxy... (even though - AHEM - blogs are free and you could totally sign up for one yourself, you know :)

Anyway, a few weeks ago, the HMF was taking the red line home from Union Station. A gaggle of girls got on and off, and he noticed that after they'd left, one of the girls had accidentally left behind her newly purchased IPOD NANO. Like, with the sales receipt and everything.

Now, my HMF being who he is, he picked up the nano, felt bad for the girl, and tried everything he could to locate her. Thanks to the receipt, he had her name and the last four digits of her credit card. From this, he was able to track down her parents phone number in Florida. He called, left a message explaining who he was, what had happened and asked that they have their daughter contact him to get her nano back.

They never called.

Ok, well, maybe he had the wrong number or they were on vacation, or estranged from their daughter. No big deal.

So he goes back to the store and returns the nano to her credit card, seeing as he couldn't physically give it back to her, the least he could do was give the money back to her, right?

(Are you all starting to see why I date this man?)

But then, one of his more techno-savvy colleagues, who was also privvy to this adventure, says to him "Why don't you try looking her up on Facebook?"

A- HA! Yet another good use for this sight.

So he goes on Facebook, signs up, easily locates her (he's got her full name after all, and remembers what she looks like, vaguely) and writes her an email with the subject line: IPOD NANO.

"Hi. You don't know me, but I found your new ipod nano on the metro last week. I've been trying to contact you, but didn't think about facebook until it was too late. I've already returned the nano to the store and your credit card got the full refund."

It's been a few days now, and he's gotten absolutely nothing back. No confirmation, no THANK YOU FOR SAVING ME $200, NO NOTHING.

..and I mean, niceness is it's own reward, right? If you're doing something considerate just for the sake of acknowledgement, maybe your heart isn't in the right place exactly. BUT STILL - he didn't have to do any of this. He could've sold it on craigslist (in fact, he posted it in the lost and found - and even tho it wasn't anyone's there, the folks that replied to him were genuinely surprised and thankful to see such honesty).

So I don't know what to think. Maybe this girl doesn't check her facebook page all that much. Maybe $200 is nothing to her. She's German, and 18 (according to her facebook page) so maybe her English isn't all that great.

But still, if she DID get it and WAS grateful, in the age of instant communication, the least she could do is spend 30 seconds writing a "hey thanks alot; you're a decent person" email.

What do YOU think?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Everybody Wayang Chung Tonight

After a hot bath and a sorely needed change of clothes, I headed out Saturday night with two co-workers. We ate at a japanese hibatchi restaurant and hit a bowling alley, where I won two out of three games (I only lost the last one b/c I used my other hand...!) I thought we'd be done after that, but we ended up going to a fantastic dance club (which made me laugh because I haven't been dancing twice in a month for, well - ever!) I've got to say, what I've seen of the club scene here is mad fun, but nothing I want to tap into for much longer than a month. It's exhausting!

In keeping with my personal pact, though, I got up today knowing that Sunday would truly be my day of rest. So I got up today knowing I'd have the whole day to myelf and was going to do something fun.

When I first began thinking of the world, and learned about Indonesia, two things captured my imagination : 1) Komodo dragons and 2) shadow puppetry (which I recently discovered is called "wayang kulit"). I knew I'd probably only have time for one museum while here, so I picked the National Wayang Museum in north Jakarta. At first, I was really disappointed. It was in a small alleyway, looked pretty rundown and none of the signs were in English. Plus, the guy at the door made it pretty clear I couldn't take any photos of the cool puppets on the wall. Boo. (Yeah, I took 'em anyway..)

But luckily there was a performance going on, so I got to see the puppets in action. I didn't realize that each performance is done by just ONE person, handling maybe 300 puppets in the course of the show. They are backed up by a large traditional orchestra, with gongs and gamelans and lots of percussion (there's alot of fighting!). I watched from the side of the orchestra, until a young man came up to me and told me I should watch from the "shadow" side behind the screen (duh, I was essentially watching the back stage from where I was at!). Once I moved over there, the effect was mesmerizing. Each puppet is so intricate!

After the performance, the young man followed me out and introduced himself as Daniel, owner of the theatre and the museum. His card actually says " Puppeters Family" - he comes from a long line of puppet-makers. He explained to me how each puppet is handmade from buffalo skin (not the leather part, but a stiffer layer) and showed me the raw materials and the tools they use for carving all the intricate holes.

He explained that the plays vary from island to island and culture to culture, but are mostly moral fairy tales. The mainstay characters are King Rama and his wife Sita, plus various gods that come down to earth in various forms to teach sneaky lessons. Originally, the king had used this medium to share with the masses laws and other information.

Daniel took me the rest of the way through the museum and showed me puppets from all over the world (punch and judy, marionettes donated by Francois Mitterand, a unicorn puppet from Bill Clinton, Polish, Russian, Thai, Cambodian and other SE nation shadow puppets). There were even Christian shadow puppets of Adam and Eve (plus the devil, of course). As if to underscore the universality of using puppetry to spread messages, Daniel also showed me puppets he had been commissioned to make (and then travel throughout southern Africa) with, to impart tales of health, hygiene and family planning. I was so glad he was there to explain everything to me - otherwise the entire trip would've been a loss. I kindly turned down his sales pitch for hand made puppets, but was no soured by the experience. His information was truly more valuable to me!

Truly one of the highlights of my time here in Jakarta.
M.

Rainy Days and Saturdays....

I got back from Banda Aceh Wednesday evening and have been working (only one more week to go!) to move things off my plate before next Friday. Of course, everything kind of changed mid week, when we found out the project just got extended to April, but oh well. I'm still here for close down!

Friday night I basically collapsed in my huge soft fluffy bed and, Saturday, I got up and worked in a mostly empty office until 5:30. By that time, it was pouring down rain outside (it's the beginning of the rainy season here - mornings are typically bright and sunny, cloud cover comes in early afternoon and by mid-evening there's rain...). Anyway, the hotel is only a 10 min walk from work, so I've never had to nab a taxi before. Not that I could find one at that hour anyway (or one that was empty!) so I started walking. I was carrying my work laptop (luckily, in a carrying case) which was good, because about 1/2 a block into it, I was soaked to the bone.

I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but sidewalks are virtually non-existent here, meaning that even on sunny days, you've got to walk ON the street if you are going to walk. No problem, except that during RAINY days the side of the road is flooded with foot deep puddles of murky water, draining into the nasty open sewer pits (or rather, not really draining at all). So my options were either to walk in the nasty water, or walk down the middle of the street/traffic. I tried a little of each column, but eventually safety dictated that I stay to the puddles. I kept hoping that a car would come by, just like out of the movies, a large tidal wave would over come me, mostly because I've never seen that happen and I was already wet...

I finally did manage to find a man with an umbrella and limited English, who kindly walked me the rest of way to the hotel, but honestly, it was too late for me. I walked into the five-star Four Seasons lobby looking like a drowned cat in flip flops.

And you know, normally I could play that off, because hey, I'm used to looking like an idiot. But this hotel is infested with "helpful" staff that linger at every corner. There are the five security guards at the gate (who have to sweep every car that enters the compound - they even open all the doors - check for bombs at your feet (hello? wouldn't I NOTICE if there were bombs at my feet?) and run a mirror under the car), the four individuals at the taxi stand, the two doormen, the concierge - and there's even some random guy that stands next to the elevator. He doesn't push the buttons for you or anything, he just.......well, I don't know what he does besides watch me and say "good morning/afternoon/evening" when all I want to do is get in the goddamn elevator. Oh yeah, even the elevator annoys me, because you have to swipe your room key to be able to push the button to your floor and half the time the reader doesn't read the card...so half the time I'm stressing frantically in the elevator hoping to god the elevator man doesn't come over and check on me to see why I can't get the door to work....No one should have to stress that much about an elevator.

And,when I get up in the morning, I have to say hello to no less than five cheerful hotel staff before even getting my morning cup of coffee - and for those of you who know what I'm like in the morning, it's really a struggle for me not to punch someone, even though I'm sure they're about as enthused to be greeting me as I am to be greeted.

Right. I understand that this is a stupid complaint. One person's lingering, creepy, watchfulness
is another person's attentive, discrete and pampering premier hotel experience. I realize that I am indeed very lucky to be having this experience at all. But not when I've just waded through calf high puddles that had goodness knows what floating in it. Whatever, so you think I'm a spoiled brat, but hey, my life right now is work and hotel, so cut me a break. I've been ruminating on this for three weeks now.

I think I'm just too darned mid-westerned to really enjoy the luxury hotel experience. Aside from making my bed, I don't want to know that anyone has been in my room whilst I was gone during the day. I don't like coming back and finding my toothbrush moved to where YOU think it should be (I'm in a "GroundHog Day" type struggle with the maid service over this - every day I leave my toothbrush and paste in a cup next to the sink. Every night I come back to find the entire cup moved away from the sink, to a shelf behind me. Now why would I want my toothbrush on the shelf?). I don't need a turn down service to remove the throw pillows from my bed and turn on the shaving lamp in the bathroom. I don't shave!

I think these complaints stem from my "DIY" attitude, homegrown protestant work ethic and deep-seeded desire to do things MY way. It annoys the living daylights out of me that every night, I return to my hotel room and someone has "reset" it to some random standard. What if I DID want my panties in the middle of the floor? Who are you to tell me otherwise? Futhermore, if this truly was a full service hotel, once I expressed my desire for them to stop with the services, (turn down, not panty-pickup) - shouldn't they have stopped?

Yes, I am in a battle of wills with the hotel. Yes, I realize I am going to lose. I also realize I'm dangerously close to taking thing rant into a philsophically bend that I'm not sure I'm ready to tackle.

I think all this ranting is just a symbol of how badly I need to come home again.

M is for My Way or the (Wet) Highway,
M.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More Sightseeing

Today, Desy took me around to see the 'sights' of Banda Aceh. Namely, the Baturrachman Mosque, the Banda Aceh museum and a large oceanliner stranded by the tsunami in the middle of a small village, 5-6 km from shore.


Me in the Mosque compound. When we first entered, a big group of men got all mad because my hair wasn't covered (look, I was just through the gate, to the lawn I wasn't actually going to go inside the building...). Luckily, there was a little street market next door, so Desy took me shopping. I actually really like it - and it's very comfortable - especially if you're having a bad (or a string of bad) hairdays!

Part of the Banda Aceh museum - a traditional Acehnese house. I forgot to take a photo straight on, so the only one I have is this "artsy" one I took through the pillars of a bell.


The stranded ship, about 5 km in land. What do you do when a ship lands on your house? Desy made a special explanation though - the house ruins you see infront of the boat are fresh, they are not tsunami related. She thinks the owners are rebuilding.

I have to hand it to Desy - she did a great job of being my interpreter and safe-keeper today. Even with the flux of development workers around, I still felt I caused quite a stir whereever we went. Desy quietly stood her ground (especially amongst those mean men at the mosque) and worked around it. She even helped me buy some beautiful tunics by bargaining on my behalf. She said she was able to get better prices by saying "You'd better not be giving me a bule price or else she'll be mad!" Seriously, I wish I could take this woman home with me.

We also had a couple of really great discussions about being and becoming muslim, family traditions (Idul Filtri vs Christmas) and being "unclean." She told me she was exempt from praying today, as she was "carrying the woman's burden" (nicely euphamistic, isn't it? - took me a while to catch on to that one). I told her that most religions I knew of felt that away about women - but that personally, I thought it made us more godlike than dirty, as it means we can create and carry life - and who else but God can create life? Of course, that's a notion that's still pretty radical by Western standards, so I don't know how well it went over with her. As I learned in Japan, listening to what is not said is often more important - and I don't know the "unspoken" language here (let alone the spoken one!) well enough to know if I brought up an interesting notion or really deeply offended her.

Anyway, by 4 o'clock I was completely beat. I've been puttering around at the hotel since, trying to get on internet and watch a little HBO, but the electricity in this (brand new) hotel goes on and off about four times an evening, so it's been a little challenging.

Tomorrow, it's back to the office!
M.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

More Photos - Indra Patra and Coconuts!




Indra Patra

After the wedding yesterday, Richard suggested we drive out to the beach, to a place called "Indra Patra." Right along side the beach are remains of enormous fortresses - of which there is known very little. All Richard could tell me is that the forts were probably built long before the Dutch and the British, and that they survived the tsunami with little to no damage. Even Desy, who had taken a high school class trip here, was hard pressed to give me details.

Even when I googled it, the only thing I could find in English was this:

"Indra Patra Fortress. This old fort was built during the time of Iskandar Muda. It probably functioned as a defense against invaders."

Cursory google searches have let me down. I believe that Iskandar Muda was one of the many sultans that have ruled Aceh through the ages, but that's my own best guess. Since my Rough Guide pooped out on me in terms of Aceh, I'm left to my own terrible Bahasa and my slow computer to discover things, so you'll have to bear with me.

What I do know, and am able to glean from Richard and others, is that Banda Aceh has historically been very independent. It was the first part of "Indonesia" to have been invaded by westerners - and it was the gateway of Islam into the rest of the country. And while very observant, I don't get the feeling that the brand of Islam around here is very virulent. Conservative, but there are no mullah "decency police" wandering around.

To know the root of the conflict in BA (because yes, there was major conflict here before the tsunami - and now there's a shaky peace agreement) is to try to understand the history of Indonesia. As Faisal was fond of saying last week, Indo is make up of over 3600 islands. Do you think they all wanted to be a part of this country? Heck, half of the island of Papua is part of Indonesia - but the other half got to be it's own country (Papau New Guinea). Who decided THAT?

The fact is, Indonesia today was, at one time, millions and millions of little city-states, under the rule of their own sultans. Aceh was at one time, a main trading port with the outside world. They have their own language, their own culture - and Jakarta is over 4 hours away by plane. Who's to say they should follow what Jakarta does? This is precisely (ok a bit more complicated of course but it's a small blog, ok?) what happened in East Timor as well. And, for that matter, if we're speaking simplistically, let's go with Yugoslavia too.

I forget where I'm going with this, except to say that there are layers and layers of history, culture and war here that, in one weekend, I can't even begin to fathom. In looking at the fortresses, I got that amazing feeling again - the one where you realize you would've never known this place existed if I'd never left home. There is so much to life I have no idea about, it's scary.

Anyway, it was bloody freakin' hot at the fortresses, so we hopped on over to the beach (photo in previous posting). Richard, who is this funny Australian man my company has employed in Aceh since 2005, is determined that I have a good time here, so he suggested that we all get coconuts to drink. Coconuts! Who's gonna say no to that?

But sure enough, five minutes in the car later, we pulled up to this beachside roadstop, grabbed a couple of benches and waited in the breeze while barman chopped open our coconuts. I was tempted to ask hiim to carve a face in mine, but good taste held me back :)

Anyway (and this must be the theme) it was not at all what I expected. Coconuts you normally think of from Hawai'i - or see in the grocery store - had nothing on these things. They were enormous! The barman had chopped off the bottom, to make it sit flat, and cut open a hole in the top, and served it with a spoon, a straw and either sugar or a lime. I joked that perhaps I could make a jack-o-lantern out of it when I was done.

Richard explained that different coconuts have different tastes. I was surprised to find that my coconut "milk" was a clear bitter water - not at all sweet or milk-like. It was kind of gross, actually. But Richard went on, stating that coconut "milk" is actually very good for you - life-sustaining actually - as it is full of minerals and vitimans - and a sterile, drinkable fluid in a place that doesn't have alot of that. "Nature's gatorade" is what he called it. So of course, I had to drink up (I added a lot of sugar, though).

I was also surprised by the nut flesh. I actually really love coconut - flavorings, shavings, you name it, I'll eat it. But I wasn't prepared for the soggy flesh of a coconut that still had the "milk" in it. It was white, yes, but it was slimey, squishy and soft. I scraped what I could from the side, which then landed in the "milk" which then clogged up my straw. Honestly, I was having a hard time. I finally resigned myself to sipping what I could from the hole and calling it a day.

As it turns out, it cost about $2.80 for five coconuts, a bottle of water and all the pre-packaged cookies you could shake a stick at. Not a bad haul for a Saturday afternoon!

Today I am off to see the rest of the "sights" of Banda Aceh. As it's Sunday, the day of rest, I am resigned NOT to work and to simply enjoy myself. If yesterday is any indication, I'm sure I'm in for a great time.

More later -
M.

The Cake!

With Desy standing next to it. The "Rosettes" are in the little baggies hanging off of the "branches". Or whatever they are.

A Few Wedding Photos








Random Wedding

Today, I went along with a few of the company staff to an Acehnese wedding, held in a small village adjacent to the city of Banda Aceh. The groom was head of the community service organization that my company had helped set up in the village to help them after the tsunami. In fact, one of the grants that we gave them was for the women's association to create community wedding clothes needed for the various ceremonies - and this wedding was it's first test run.

After doing a few hours work in the decrepit office this morning, Desy (our MIS and Office Manager) arrived with her two friends to take me (and our Program Implementation Manager, Richard) to the wedding. On the way, we passed no less than five other wedding parties - either walking on the side of the road, or in a a flower-and-ribbon decorate car in traffic. I asked Desy if there has been an upsurge in weddings since the tsunami, and she said yes, most young people are trying to move on. Next week, Dwi, one of our bookkeepers, is also getting married. Like many others, it will be a second wedding for him, as he lost his first wife during the tsunami.

I really didn't know what to expect - mostly I just fretted over the long white skirt I (thankfully) remembered to pack. The practical slits (um, so I can walk) that come up only to my knees seemed awfully .... sexy, in comparison to what the other women were wearing. But oh well, I just sucked it up and hoped that my "bule" (boo-lay) -ness would give me a pass for being indiscrete.

While we didn't attend the wedding itself, the reception was held outdoors - I think at someone's house. It's hard to tell. Basically, it was a bunch of houses lumped together, with the men sitting (and eating) on one side and the women on the other. One room housed the wedding cake (I WISH I could that photo to attach - it's amazing!) and another, smaller room, swatched all in pink, was where the bride and groom sat, greeting well-wishers.

We were immediately swept into this tin 10room, which had thirty or forty dishes of food spread on the floor, along with five or six of the groom's male family members. The bride and groom sat up on a little stage, atop three steps, with a silvery curtain around them. They both wore the most elaborate costumes, decorate from head to foot in glittering gold and silver (Desy told us later that it was most assuredly not "real" gold - ha!). The bride wore an amazing delicate silvery headdress that covered her entire head and hung down the sides of her face. The best part was that, as it was STIFILING in the room, they had two little girls dressed in princess costumes fanning them.

Now, navigating squatting on the floor in a skirt is always a challenge. But try not pointing your dirty dirty feet at anyone, whilst squashing your food up in small balls with your right hand (aka non-dominant) and feeding yourself? 'Twas a challenge indeed. Luckily, I like being the center of attention, so when I saw little children pointing and laughing at me through the doorway, I just winked and laughed back at them. The dishes themselves were awesome - fried chicken (home ocoked and from KFC up the road - I'm dead serious), a beef curry, fried potatoes, watermelon, stewed pineapple, some jackfruit stew of some sort, something else spicey and meaty and little tiny dishes of water to wash your hands, both before AND after eating. I managed only to get a small dot of curry on my blouse, so I consider it an unmitigated success.

They even started taking the food away and I was STILL eating! Oh dear. It was that good.

After hanging arounda bit more (and shaking all the blood back into my legs, as I had to squat on my knees to eat) , we checked out the amazing tree-like wedding cake. It was taller that Desy, and had small intricate twigs branching out from the core. On each twig were enormous, sugarfrosted - well, for lack of a better word - rosettes. It looked awesome!

All in all, everyone was very friendly and curious. The English here is quite limited (even more so than Japan) but I find the people I'm working with and run into in daily life are so darned sweet, it doesn't matter much. Of course, it's hard being so out of place, but it was fun. And did I mention, the food was delicious?

M.

By Popular Demand (Anthro Girl)

After 45 minutes, this is the only one I could get to upload. Me, on the beach. I've also got several of me drinking milk from a coconut, but that will have to wait until later.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Banda Aceh

After taking a four hour plane ride (1st to Medan, the third largest city in Indonesia, where I got out, mistakenly thinking I could buy some lunch in the medeval airport), I landed in Banda Aceh, land of the tsunami.

First of all, let me say that I love exiting a plane right on to the tarmac. I've met quite a few lovely countries this way, with mountain views and the country smells hitting you RIGHT AWAY - instead of being directed through a sterile maze of flourscent lights and lost baggage. So I knew, when I got off in Banda Aceh, that I was gonna love this place.

It's gorgeous. Again, I was completely taken aback - first with Jakarta and now with Banda Aceh. I didn't expect it to be so lush! I'd landed just after a heavy rainstorm, and the clouds still hung like puffy wet curtains above us, threatening to drain down. The sky was all shades of beautiful grey and dark purple. Contrasted to the greenish blue mountains in the distance (mountains! who knew?) and the humid hot-breath air - I was in love.

I thought I had been the only westerner off the plane, but at the tiny baggage claim (literally, one convator belt of about 10 feet long) I saw several more. I was even treated with a highlighter made sign at the exit with my name : USAID-Merdith.

I don't think I'll ever get used to getting into a car with a strange man who speaks no english, just by virtue of the fact that he had my name on a sheet of paper. I thought little of my precarious situation though, as there was really nothing I could do about it! (I have a mobile, but who would I call? What would I say?)

Ahem, anyway. The drive from the airport to the office, I discovered, was located just where the water ended - so no real tsunami signs remain after two years. I'm told that further down, closer to the water, there are more telling signals, but as I'm not here for the "death and destruction" tour, I doubt I will see any of it. From what I can tell, Banda Aceh is a town recovering - much poorer than Jakarta surely - but definitely survived.

That's all I have for today, as my battery is dying and I left the converter at the office. On tonight's agenda: cut my bangs, eat some seafood and correct some field reports. My hotel is brand spanking new (July 07) which seems so weird, in a tropical place where things are more likely in a state of disrepair rather than sparkling. Again, I find this development racket very ....conflicting...

M.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What to Mention First

....the fact that I have pinkeye (?!?) and spent the morning in the clinic

....or that a co-worked walked in yesterday wearing a shirt that said "Even Fat Chicks Need Love" (a statement I wholeheartedly agree with, but perhaps not at work!?!?!?)

M.

Sayur Asem

Ayu, our office receptionist, brought in food for everyone today at lunch. This type of soup, Sayur Asem, is a popular dish in her home town (which now, I can't remember). Since she bought it from the supermarket, the "dish" came in all sorts of little baggies that you had to combine yourself.

Basically, it's a spicey sweet and sour soup (served cold) with vegetables and fruit. Mine had papaya, apples, pears, carrots, jicima (I'm not sure but that's what it tasted like) and pineapple. Peanuts were added and a crispy ramen-type noodles. All togther, it was a not bad combination of sweet/sour/nutty and crispy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Joys of Random Friendships

I met up with my friend Faisal and his girlfriend on Sunday night, after a long day of checking out the hotel spa and generally sleeping off the fun of Saturday night (and the reggae club from Friday).



Anyway, I hadn't seen Faisal since we met over four years ago in Geneva. There was a gang of us staying in the same old house-turned-hostel on the edge of town. Faisal is the only one whom I've kept in touch with and, as I had always said if I was ever in Jakarta that I'd look him up - I did.



It is so nice to a) know someone from the country you're in and b) be able to hang out with someone not from work. With the somewhat tenuous connection, I wasn't sure we'd hit it off, but as luck would have it - he turned out to be more awesome than I remembered - and his girlfriend was even better.



We ended up in Menteng, a hip part of town (one website called it "the Beverly Hills of Jakarta" - ha!) at a Starbucks. I had to remind myself that this, too, is Indonesia. It seems to me that Indonesia (as Fasial reminded me - all 3,650 odd islands) is full of contradictions. Jakarta is so much bigger than I imagined. There will be large, gorgeous, NEW condos, lifting 100 stories into the air - but surrounded my crumbling sidewalks and open sewers. It's like Indonesia is right a puberty - parts of it's grown up self can be seen peeking up beneath the undergrowth, but by and large it still kind of smells like BO.



Anyway, it was fun to spend time with Faisal and Nata because I got to ask them questions about things I'd noticed. For example, Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch, which is located on the continent of Europe. But continental Europeans drive their cars on the right side (as in America) and all the traffic here is on the left. Why?



We also got into a bit of American politics - did I know for example, that Barack Obama actually lived in Indonesia for four years and it's rumoured he went to a madrassa? (I argued with Faisal about this one for a long time. Turns out, it's (partially) true). There's nothing like listening to people talk about your own country's problems - so I turned the conversation to Sidoarjo mudflow, which has been spewing tons and tons of mud since last year. The Indonesian government decided the best course of action would be to DUMP CONCRETE BALLS down the pit. As if feeding a giant suckhole some concrete pills will work. Ahem, anyway...



Since I've been working 10-12 hour days (today was no exception), it has been nice to use Faisal and Nata as a grounding tool. Someone to remind me that "real" Indonesians (besides those I work with) do exist - and they aren't necessarily ojek drivers, or run the roadside rice stands. They are smart, educated (dare I say also a bit elite) and took the time to open their schedules for me. That's pretty cool.

Let's hear it for random friendships!

In other news, it looks like I'll be heading to Banda Aceh this Thursday for a week. I looked up Aceh in my Rough guide and the only thing it said was a big tsunami hit there in 2005 (um, really?) and they didn't think anyone would be going there so they didn't write a section on it. Can I get my money back?

Lastly, I just bought my tickets to Cambodia, for my vacation when all this work is done. I'll be spending my birthday in Singapore and then heading out to Siem Reap to check this out. I can't wait!

I wonder what kind of friends I'll make there?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh, THAT's How!

While I hesitate in sharing these, I think the expressions on my face are priceless. In true Evie Lu fashion, anyone care to venture a few captions?


P.S: Not my headdress.




What's funny about this picture is that he's really a nice guy, without the gold lame.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How did I get...?

...to a gay bar, dressed in a bed sheet, at 1:30 am?

Who knew Jakarta would be such a good time?

I sure didn't.

Happy Halloween!

M.

Et Tu, Wierdo?

Lately, I’ve decided that I need a new definition of the word ‘weird.’ I’ve seen so many wacky things in my short life that can only be described as such, that I’ve come to really question my concept (and use) of it. I mean, how many times can you single something out as weird before it falls back on you? That is, perhaps it’s not those things that are weird, it’s that YOU ARE? And it’s not necessarily a derogatory word, but nonetheless, you are still definitely: WEIRD.

Case in point, I’ve been working closely with our grants accountant on a project since I arrived on Monday, and thus, he has been the nearest source of cultural “weirdness”. Two days ago, we were poring over a spreadsheet.

“Elon,” I said, “Who gave you these numbers?” I was flipping through the excel files on my computer.
“I just was been looking at this tab, here,” he states, pointing to the first workbook.
“But where did those come from? Did the operations manager give those to you?” I kept scanning.“uh-uh,” he said.
“I’m sorry, he gave them to you?” I made a point to look up.
“uh-uh,” he shook his head yes.
“Wait, is that a yes or a no?”
“uh-uh, it’s a yes.” He looked at me strangely, nodding his head up and down.
It took me a moment, but I started laughing. “Elon,” I said, “in the US, ‘uh-uh’ means ‘no’ and “uh-huh” means ‘yes!’!”
“Oh – I’m sorry!” and I swear, he turned red.
Of course, I rushed to explain – it wasn’t his fault I didn’t know this. I felt so bad for making him explain himself – and was once again reminded that I’m the “weird” one here.

Another “weird” thing is being non-Muslim in a Muslim country. When traveling in a Muslim country, I try not to do the big no-no’s, like eating with my left hand, pointing the bottoms of my feet at anyone or running around naked. One of my best friends from college (hi Anthro Girl!) is Muslim and she’s forgiven me for some of the bigger faux pas’ (like taking her to a pork tenderloin restaurant), so I’m not all caught up in the Ameri-stereotype of the crazy Arab who will bust open a can of jihad on my ass if I screw up. Still, I try to be atleast somewhat culturally sensitive.

However, that being said, I think my trip to Azerbaijan this May dropped my guard. Even though it’s a largely Muslim country, the whole darn place felt like a nightclub – even at 10am on a Wednesday. Here in Indonesia, many many women are veiled (and such pretty veils! Some are adorned with pretty embroidery, or sequins – I think I even saw one that might have been ‘bedazzled’). There’s a prayer room in our work office, in a quiet corner, with the rugs facing east (strangely enough, I even saw a rug in the stairwell). I love hearing the call to prayer from the muezzin every afternoon – it is so soothing to me.

And then sometimes, I totally forget where I am. Like when I asked the omelette guy at breakfast if I could have ham and cheese in mine. He squirmed uncomfortably until I realized what an idiot I was. Whoops.

But the weirdest is thing is something I like to call “The Conversation.” Our comptroller the other day, who is the sweetest old man, asked me if I didn’t have a hard time getting a visa to come. “Why would that be?” I asked. “Because we are so many Muslim, here” he said, “I think the US doesn’t want to travel to Indoneeeezia.”

Oh Riiiiiiight. Mortal enemies and such.

To me, this is the biggest weirdness. To have to explain, somewhat painfully, that yes, my government has declared a new Crusade on your religion, but it’s not me personally that feels that way. I’ve had this conversation with students, attorneys, customs agents, taxi drivers and now, comptrollers. It’s like the enormous pregnant elephant in the room.

To me, the strangest thing about it is that most of the people I’ve had “The Conversation” with are almost, timidly, embarrassed about it. Like, they intercepted a note in math class and found out that everyone else thinks they have bad BO and you’re the best friend they ask to find out if it’s really true. And then, you, you have to play it like you know nothing about what other people are saying about them and swear you’ll come over to play house this weekend even though you TOTALLY know that the whole school, the whole town, hell the WHOLE COUNTRY thinks that they really do smell like BO.

Aside from weird, it’s also awkward. I don’t much like being the representative of hatred (as in “why does your country hate us?”) because I don’t really know or understand or agree and yet, I’m still asked to explain.

So yeah, weird.

…And now something funny:
I was walking back to my hotel from the office the other day. There is a big gaggle of ojek (motorbike taxi) drivers that gather around the entrance of an office building next door, so of course I garner a lot of attention (blonde, tall, alone, you name it, I’ve got it). Anyway, they always call out to me, and this day, one of them came up with a good double entendre – “Hey baby, let me take you home!” Hmm…business AND pleasure! I had to laugh.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I've Discovered.....

How I am going to die. That sounds so morbid, but it's the only thought that crossed my mind and I plunged headlong into traffic yesterday.

Most assuredly, my undoing will be done on one of the many motorcyle taxis, called "ojeks" that swarm through the city. I first noticed them from the airport, when two scooters ran into each other, right in front of us. The drivers and their passengers weren't hurt - on the contrary, they just laughed, the girl picked up one of her shoes that had fallen off, and they were all four on their merry way.

Literally, these moto drivers are EVERYWHERE, like swarms of flies. If your car stops in traffic, you are soon overtaken, surrounded, woven around (practially driven over) and swept aside by hordes of these things. It's a strange mixture of herd mentality and "all for one" thinking.

I have had friends travel throughout SE Asia and report back on this amazing and terrfying mode of transport. Never did I ever think I would ride one.

Well, as it turns out, Jakarta is a pretty poor place for public transportation. It's very spread out, the bus system is slow, the traffic jams are slower and what's a subway? In fact, my first impression of the city is that a) it's huge and b) it seems to only be housed either by very small shacks or very large, shiney skyscrapers. Also, if the path between my hotel and the office is any indication for the rest of the city, sidewalks are rocky (and half complete/under construction!) making walking just as risky (if not riskier!)

So yesterday, one of my co-workers took me out to lunch, and as there is nothing but two small diners in our office complex, we set our destination to "setiabuti" - a plaza complex just down the way. Before I could gather my things, James had hailed two "ojeks" and soon I was on the back of one, trying to find a modest place to cling to the driver. (I settled on his lovehandles, but stopped just short of hugging/clutching him outright!). Taking a taxi - aka normal traffic - would mean sitting in atleast 25 minutes of gridlock, vs the whizzing in and out of cars, sidewalks (even oncoming traffic) that the ojek drivers could accomplish.

Going slowly, it was easy to manoeuvre in and out without too much sweat, but when the road opened up, the driver pulled into the opposite lane. What about oncoming cars, you say? Oh, they kept coming. I couldn't decide whether to close my eyes or watch my death or squeeze my knees in tighter (but still decent) so as not to get hit by rear-view mirrors. I thought European roads were tight, but sweet mother, my toe grazed the passing car tire!

And I found out: a funny thing happens when you realize that this is the way you're going to die.

You keep your eyes open.

Once I stopped sucking air across my teeth (you know, the way mom's do) and accepted my fate, I relaxed. Actually, I think I started laughing (a crazy, OMGwhyonearthamIdoingthis laugh). To my surprise, I didn't get more than nicked and the whole ordeal didn't cost me more than 50cents.

Let's hope it doesn't cost me any more!

M is for moto-madness,
M.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Huh.

Have arrived in Jakarta, safe and sound, after going back to the transit hotel and mercifully finding a room.

Awoke with roaring cold. Cabin pressure + sinus pressure = blinding pain.

Am now posting, and discovered that my entire blog interface (for those of you in the know, the "dashboard") is in Bahasa. Now I'm trying to remember what the orange and he blue buttons do. Should I "mempublikasikan posting" or "simpan sekarang"?

Goodness, I need a nap.

M is for Mempublikasikan posting-
M.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Transit

I am currently wasting time in Singapore Changi airport. It's 1:10 am and I have eight more hours to go until my flight leaves for Jakarta.

I found out about an hour before my flight left that the travel agent screwed up and got me a hotel in the WRONG COUNTRY for my transit stop over. I thought about all the reactions I could've had with the agent once I found this out, but ultimately decided to let it go. I mean really, I should've looked at my intinerary a little closer, say, about a week ago, instead of last night.

But, ahem, that being said: how does one book a hotel IN THE WRONG COUNTRY?? As it turns out, all of the hotels near the airport are booked, too.

So, here I am. The transit hotel in the airport is also full (come back at 2am, they say) and shops are closing down. However, Singapore being, well, Sinagpore, there's still an abundance of awesome things to do here. I remember being stuck here with Emira on our way to Bali, during the SARS epidemic. We were poorer then (ie without business expense accounts...or awesome fellowships...) so we didn't get a chance to check out the shower/spa/gym/mani/pedi places - but we did enjoy the free internet and abundant window shopping (although we missed the free movie. Too bad they are showing "Cruel Intentions: 2" tonight...)

Yes, I need a shower and yes, I am exhausted (all my efforts to get upgraded were rebuffed - apparently there's larger demand for flights to Singapore than there are to Azerbaijan!) but all in all, I'm hanging in there. I'm very zen (or zoned, however you want to think about it). Mostly, I just want to get to Jakarta and get rolling.

This is one of those situations where, yeah it kind of sucks, but its pretty much the essence of travel. I mean, think about it. Travel is all about learning new things, being flexible and keeping your sense of humor. How else would I be able to deal with getting my feet stuck in a foot massager (which they are at this moment)?

I'll get there. Frankly, it's nice to have a few spare hours to myself, after the week I've had.
Chin up, coffee out -
Cheers,
M.

Friday, October 19, 2007

*pantpantpant* BREATHE *pantpantpant*

Tomorrow I leave for my long awaited work trip to Indonesia. While I'm looking forward to it, as is the normal course of events, I am more than a bit harried and exhausted with last minute errands, work and personal events. The latest adventure involved me, midnight and a "lost" passport (wasn't until morning that I found it wedged between my desk and drawers...!)

Whoops!

Anyway, am looking forward to heading out of the office, meeting the field staff and getting a chance to experience Jakarta. I leave tomorrow and won't be back for five weeks. I'll keep you posted!

Cheers,
M.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Sister Just Called...

I'm going to be an aunt!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Medical Sales

Growing up, I don't recall seeing a single ad for non-OTC medicine anywhere. Slowly, though, during my teenage years, it became more and more common to see a brand name drug touted, first on the pages of magazines, then on billboards, then radio, then TV.

Now, you can't get through the evening news without being bombarded with messages for Vitorin, Viagra, Loestrin, Lunesta, Xanax, Wellbutrin, YAZ, Seasonique (who's message goes something like this: Blah blah Seasonique! Blah Seasonique! blbabalrSeasonique! Try Seasonique! Your body is gross for having a period (gasp!) every month, banish it with Seasonique! Seasonique! I have very bright teeth and nice hair! Seasonique!)

Ahem. Anyway....

So I wasn't tooo suprised when I was at my GP today for my yearly checkup and she launched into a spiel about calicum. Like most women, I don't get my 1000mg/day of calicum and she suggested Calcetrate. Ok, fine. But then, she started talking about having a daily vitamin regimine. The conversation went like this:

(Her) "Good nutrition is important to good health; eating plenty of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables every day is critical. The American Medical Association recommends that each person get 5-11 servings of raw fruits and vegetables per day..."

(Me, eating right into her hook) "Yeah, but that's nearly impossible. I can get five, maybe, but 11? That's nuts!"

(Her) "Unfortunately, you're not alone. Most people DON'T eat nearly enough fruits and veggies, especially not every day. To do so, you should look into taking a daily vitamin supplement. Have you heard of programs such as Juice-Plus?"

(Me, still stupid) "Oh, is that like V8?"

(Her) "No, Juice plus is made from 7 different fruits. One serving contains 66% of the AMA daily recommended dose. My entire family uses it and we love it!"

This is where I start to get wise to her advertising. Also, I notice that she's rattling off information that's obviously been memorized from a brochure and looking at the wall just over my left shoulder, very rarely meeting my gaze. I nod like I'm listening, but mostly I'm wondering whose wrath she incurred/how much debt she has to have to SO OBVIOUSLY peddle this crap to her patients. Then I wonder if she'll get in trouble for not rattling this promo to me, much like when you call customer service, and you know they have a script and are being tape recorded. And, you know that the poor sap earning $8/hr with whom your chatting will get pistol whipped later if they deviate from asking you if you'd like to open 176 different credit cards, before actually assisting you with your real issue/problem.

I didn't want to get my doctor pistol whipped. We'd just met, after all. So when she asked me if I wanted a brochure, I readily agreed just to save her ass. I had to bite my tongue not to ask her why I should take the brochure if she'd already read it to me anyway.....

Other than that, the rest of the check up went ok. But I thought it was interesting. How many doctors do YOU know who are involved in pyramid schemes?

Seasonique!!
M.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sea Gull Century 100k Bike Tour

It's official.

I am 100k closer to maximizing my 401(k).

On Saturday, I completed my first ever 100k cycling tour. That's 66.2 miles for the folks keeping track at home.

The tour takes place annually, starting in Salisbury, MD and runs down the length of Maryland's eastern shore. Honestly, I would've never thought I could do it, if it hadn't been for the HMF. He did it last year (in the RAIN, no less) and swore it was the best time he'd had on his bike. He brought it up to me about two weeks ago, at which time I quickly nixed that idea of 'weekend fun'.

But somewhere about Wednesday, I had a sudden change of heart. Well, actually, it was my mind. This year has been a year of me tackling athletic activities I previously told myself were out of reach. On Wednesday, I remembered the 5k. How long had I told myself I couldn't do it? And then I did it? Yeah, I was the fat, unathletic kid in grade school (raise your hand if you hated that stupid Presidential Fitness test!) who got attacked during pin battle ball and couldn't even do "the hang". But I'm not that kid anymore. I ran a 5k! Of course 66 miles was the next logical step ;) Plus, I knew the HMF would be shocked (in a good way) and pleased if I did it. We signed up Wednesday night.

Salisbury is about 120 miles away from the DC metro area. To get there by 7am, we got up at 4:30 (that was actually 30 minutes after the alarm) and left the house by 5:15. We arrived at the U of MD Salisbury campus around 7:15, but due to registration snafu (they had my number but not the HMF's), we didn't actually hit the road until 8:25am. Plus, it takes longer than you think to get your gear on, assemble your bike, fill your water bottles, etc. We lucked out with the weather, though. Instead of rain, we had cool fog until about 11:00am and a sunny - but not too hot or humid - day ahead of us. My only complaint would be the slight wind in our faces for the last 20 miles, but but that time, I was complaining of more things than just wind.

And actually, the first 17 miles were awesome. It was early, cool and there were tons of bikers on the road (that is, lots of people to chat with). Every time we got passed by a big speedy group, I squealed "it's a peloton!" and sped up to catch their draft.

You wouldn't believe how much faster one can go when in a peloton! Birds have had it right all along - traveling in a group is the way to go. This was my first experience with drafting - following a large group (or, at mile 52, one person who loves you very much) and having them cut the wind, so you go faster but with less energy. It was awesome! We averaged about 18 mph, and as such, finished the first 17.2 miles in just under an hour.

After the first break, I noticed my right knee starting to complain a bit on the up-push. I was seriously concerned for a few miles, but I stopped using my toe-harnesses, popped some ibuprofen (from a very nice kid and his mom at roadside stand) and let the adrenaline kick in.

At mile 33, I made the HMF and our friend Billy, stop just outside a celtic fair (no we didn't go in). Not only was it the halfway point of the ride, it was also a new mark for me: the longest ride I'd ever done. So, we cheered, stretched, drank a bit of water and then hopped back on the road.

Mile 42.2 was the second (and last pit stop) - down a bumpy dirt road which jarred my teeth loose and emptied out into a big park. This was about 12:30pm, so I was ready for another food break. We'd packed Clif bars and gu, but nothing beats peanut butter and bananas (which are great, but hard to carry in your pack on the road..). Myself, I was hoping for a philly cheesesteak at this point, so I was highly disappointed when all we got was....the exact same bagels and cream cheese as the first stop! Oh well, beggers (bikers?) can't be choosers. But what I was ultimately really baffled about was the pie and ice cream. Really? Pie? Can I just have some peanut butter please?

I left the second rest stop seriously displeased.

By this time, we were no longer seeing large packs of people whizzing by us, so our pace had slowed considerably. Yet, I was still feeling pretty good. We formed our own peloton and averaged about 15 mph. The next ten miles whizzed by in a blur of harvested corn fields, windy back roads and several chicken farms (who knew MD was such a hotbed for Perdu and Tyson?).

Anyway, it was at mile 52 where I bonked. Not only was my right knee killing me, my left knee had joined it. We'd asked for more ibuprofen at the rest stop, but there were OUT (I need to have a serious talk with these organizers). I made the HMF stop at another intersection, where I just panted. According to his odometer (which, by this time, we suspected of being off by a mile or two), we had about 14 miles to go. Another woman at the rest stop said it was 10. Two guys behind us (who also stopped) claimed it was also 10. I decided to go by their count.

But still, it was the longest 10 miles of my life. To his credit, my HMF stayed beside me (or within 20 feet of me) the entire time and cheered me on with promises of chocolate and massages, and how proud he was of me. Even when all I wanted to do was get off my bike and throw it at him. I distinctly remember one mile where I was shooting eye darts into the back of his helmet, or maybe I was getting ready to cry, but I was so miserable. He fell back next to me and I shot to him accusingly, "Do you love me more yet?" He laughed, and of course, said yes. "Then can I get off this bike now!?" But, deep down, I was having fun - and conquering that deep down small voice that always said, when it came to sports, "You can't."

Instead, I asked him to pull in front of me and he drafted (even though this was mile 57 or so and he was also tired). I was amazed at how much easier it was to bike when you've got a tire in front of you to focus on. I tried not to ask, but ever few minutes or so, I'd have to know how far we'd gone. Miles 52-57 were pretty much the worst, as we still had around 10 miles to go. It became a joke - how long to go? 10 miles! (Wait 10 seconds) Ok, how long now? Still 10 miles.

Really, I hope that's the closest to hell I ever come to.

When we finally pulled back in to the University grounds, there was a big finish line and lots of people cheering. I took the HMF's camera out of my pouch and snapped a shot as I reached the finish line. When I crossed the line, I went "Yesss!!" and this woman in the crowd yelled "Congratulations!"

My knees felt like bloated puppies, my arms were sunburnt in nice farmer's tan and my hands swollen - but I was barely winded. We'd done it all (with four stops) in a little less than six hours. The best part was when the HMF looked at his odometer and announced that it was actuall 3.7 miles off - something that would've been helpful to know those last ten miles!

After a quick shower in the public locker room, we shopped for cheap bike gear, mounted the bikes atop the car, and headed back to DC. I had to ride the rest of the way home with my legs straight, but it was totally worth it. We spent most of the ride talking about what kind of food we were going to eat when we got back, but I was so exhausted I couldn't think straight. I ended up falling asleep by 9:30 pm and dreamt about pancakes.

Only 301 k left to go before I can retire,
M.

P.S. And you'll be pleased to know that the HMF stated, if it was possible, he most certainly did love me more now. :)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More Pirates

Last weekend, after much anticipation, the HMF and I finally went to the Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring. Unfortunately, I don't have much good news to report. The four coconut shrimp I got as an appetizer were burnt (and I mean BURNT), the curry was middling and the french fries were COLD. About the only good thing I could say about it was the grog - aka three different types of cheap rum sloshed together in a large glass. At least by the time I'd gotten through half of that the rest of the meal it didn't seem so bad.

In an effort to salvage our maritime merriment, a few days later the HMF, some friends and I went to the Royal Mile Pub in Wheaton. Why? Because it was sea chantey night, that's why!

The first tuesday of every month brings out all the sea capn's (and landlubbers) and some group called the Pirate's Den to this local pub which has been a favorite of ours since we first discovered it two years ago (and that was due to their monthly scotch tastings...yum!). At first, I wondered how people would know the words to the songs - I soon learned that it didn't matter. The person standing in the middle of the room and everyone joined in for the chorus. The choruses- more often than not - were so simple (and normally contained the word "wanker" or "jiggly" or "whale") that after a few rounds of song (and rounds of beer) anyone could sing. Ann, Angela, HMF and I stayed for over an hour, singing and laughing and watching some guy who was the spittin' image of George Lucas harmonize his lungs out.

It more than made up for the disappointing "Pye-rats Tavern" experience on Saturday night. Let's hear it for random curiousities that lead to even more random evenings!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Seriously. Funny.

At the end of the day of crunching forecast revenue budgets, line item increases and invoice delays, I take a gander at this website, which makes me pretty much wet my pants.

Yes, my IQ has dropped since ending Gradute school. I don't care.
I iz seriously finding this site funny....

Monday, September 24, 2007

Note to Self.

Microwaves can catch on fire.

.......and they are awfully hard to clean afterwards.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Just Plain Silly

Aye-aye mateys! Ahoy!

It be International Talk Like a Pirate day. All ye landlubbers and skallywags should batton down the hatches, shine up ye peg legs and pass the grog.

(Me thinks it might be a time I put down me eyepatch and find me a hobby........Yar. Mebbe next year....)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Travels, Here and There

Last weekend, my brother and his wife came to visit. We had so much fun checking out the monuments, touring the Capital, seeing the Declaration of Independence and eating at my favorite restaurant. By far, the highlight was visiting the life-long home of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello near Charlottesville VA. We made sure to stop at a few wineries on the way home, too.

After their visit, it was tough to go back to work. However, this week I found out I'll be traveling to Indonesia in the last half of October and most of November, so that perked things up a bit. I'm thinking I'll also take off a week after it's all said and done to do some personal traveling,as well. By my calculations, I'll be working 6 days a week, so I'll need it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Summer Memories

There are few things these days that really highlight small town goodness: drive - in movie theatres, Dairy Queen marquee's, old time five and dimes where you can find anyting from thumbtacks to wedding cards - and county fairs.

In honor of the Great MN Get Together, I'm posting photos from my trip home, including the fabulous county fair. Behold, Summer! The midway, the opening dayparade, a hayride and of course, the 4-H foodstand.

Sigh. Why does Labor Day come so fast??




Monday, August 27, 2007

New Twist on an Old Dowry

My friend Mary is getting married in December. She told me recently she felt a bit guilty about going ring shopping with her fiance.

"I don't know," she fretted, "It just felt weird. I mean, not only does he marry me, but he has to buy a RING, too? What do I get him?!?"

"Mary," I said, "He gets YOU. Isn't that enough?"

I was relaying this conversation to my HMF over the weekend, when he brought up the dowry system.

"She's right," he said, "Traditionally it's the woman's family gives the man land or money to take their daughter off their hands, or to replace the work she would've done for them."

"Uh-uh," I countered, "It works the other way around, I'm sure of it. It's the MAN who has got to pay."

"How do you figure that?"

"Look, the woman brings an invaluable commodity into the marriage, allowing man to live on in perpetuity. The dowry is simply just a downpayment on the uterus. A non-refundable user fee."

"Oh? And what if they are unable to produce?"

"Too bad, sucker. You break it, you bought it."

And that was how I won my first argument with a lawyer.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

From Better to.....Awesome!

Cable!

I don't think I'm going to go to sleep tonight.....

Saturday, August 25, 2007

FINALLY

Yeah, ok, I know it's been like, four months since I moved in, but today I FINALLY got secure, reliable internet in my house.

You might just see a bit more of me on this blog now.....

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

THIS guy

Last Thursday I went to the greatest soccer / footie game of my life. Not ONLY was THIS GUY playing in DC, but I had a) a free ticket b) under the awning so it didn't downpour on us and c) United kicked his ass in front of a sold out stadium.

Then we sat in our car for two hours, trying to get home.

But it was totally worth it.

DC - UNITE!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

You Know You’ve Become a Local When….

You know at least three different zip codes of surrounding areas, off the top of your head

You no longer require a map to get to the grocery store – and you know all the nicknames for them (ie Soviet Safeway, etc).

In fact, in the face of 4th of July traffic, you find yourself using “back roads” to get across the Mall, 40 minutes before the fireworks (no small feat!)

You see a cockroach on the wall in your local pub and instead of leaving in disgust, you haggle for free drinks from the bartender.

Summer ends and you’re still here.

You know four out of five of the intersections announced on the morning traffic report.

Six lanes of traffic (one-way) no longer requires nerves of steel – you just honk and yell like everyone else.

You know what ‘inner loop’ and ‘outer loop’ refer to!

You’ve finally traded in your license and taken the old plates off your car - and got hit on by a DMV worker named Hakeem in the process.

People who stand on the left REALLY ANNOY you.

50% of the friends you had when you first moved here have left.

It doesn’t even dawn on you that you’re sweating. It’s August – of course you feel like a melty ball of wax!

You know the “El Norte” entrance.

Marion Barry starts to sound a tiny bit less ridiculous.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

(Get) Off My Chest

Two weeks ago I was sitting in a meeting with the President and CFO of my company, and some other random high ranking men in my division (all white men over a certain age), talking about an ongoing issue with one of the projects I manage.

At that point, my boss (a female) was in the country where the project is located, trying to sort things out. She had sent back a message that the project definitely needed back up, sooner rather than later, specifically from the finance and contracting office. One of the participants said something along the lines of "She's concerned this issue is going to blow up into a larger problem."

The CFO, shirt unbuttoned almost down to his navel, graying chest hair spilling about, snorted, "Well, you know XXXXX; she's emotional."

Wha?

What are you, living in 1950? Come here, let me zip that shirt right up over your lip, Chesty.

But no, here I was, surrounded by men more than twice my age, faced with obvious sexism and totally out of my league. What to say? I felt like I should've taken a stand but duuuuuude, what to say? I need my job. Instead, I bit my tongue so hard it almost fell off.

Then, tonight, I was riding my bike about - enjoying the 95 degree weather and minding my own business. I'm on a residential street and this red car packed with men, rolls up next to me. A short pug-faced guy hangs his head out the window and squeals something lewd in Spanish. I want to throw my helmut in his smug little acne scarred face, but all I do is stick out my tongue.

And then pray to god they don't turn around....

Come to think of it, I was in the grocery store a few weeks ago and this NASTY old man (with kids!) was openly watching me walk around the check out area. Like, his head did a double take, looked me up and down and leered at me. Leered! Next to the change machine! How romantic. I was like, go back to your poor wife, Gross Old Man.

Look, I'm not fooling myself. I'm no model. In fact, guys, you can do much better than me. So the argument of "you should be flattered" is a non-starter. In fact, all of this leads me to believe that these men just think women (random women) exist for them to ogle and leer and jeer and point and whistle and hoot and holler at like large pieces of jiggly meat put on this earth for their enjoyment.

I am so beyond making jokes at this point. Usually I just amuse myself by thinking up some witty comeback, dreaming of punching them in the face, or asking them how they think it would feel for their daughter's to be leered at all alone at the intersection of Dennis and Inwood.

Now, I don't want to think harshly of the fairer sex. I like men; I truly do! I've seen them do strong and nice wonderful things for women. But you know what? The worst part of it isn't feeling like some dude's nasty masturbation image, or written off for being 'emotional' (so what if I AM?).

No, the worst part isn't being able to do a damn thing about any of it.

Not My Baby OR Blogging Worlds Collide

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

HomeComing and Re-Identification

I've been accused of not keeping this blog updated very well as of late - well, there's a good reason - mostly because I still don't have internet at my apartment. Something about being too cheap to get it or some such...

Anyway, last week I had a whirlwind visit back to MN in which I....

...hung out with my sister at the Walker Art museum and saw the Picasso exhibit
...checked on the sculpture garden (yep, still there!)
,,,ate Punch pizza with my cousin Mary, her husband and her beautiful (and growing) baby girl
....took Kate to Victor's 1959 Cuban cafe for brunch and walked around Lake Calhoun
....saw my parents new lake cabin site
...visited with my aunt Muriel (and ate her cookies)
...took my cousin Ann and her babies out to pizza (hm, do I notice a trend here with cousins and pizza?)
...inspected her awesome garden
...hung out with my mom at the lake
...went fishing with my dad (and caught a bass)
...visited my uncle Neil and Aunt Nell and inspected their new garage
...had coffee with Megan's mom, as I normally do, and got caught up on their recent trip to London
...partied with Kaydi on a Tuesday night ("Don't mind my friend, she's from France." "Really? You have no accent!" "Yeah, my
mom is American...")
...and who can forget the dude who ate our nacho's and then said they were gross??
...went shopping with mom
...beat dad at Sequence
...hung out of the heat... 104 degrees!
...watched the Marshall County opening parade of the county fair...complete with manure spreader and the Marshall county
mounted posse...
...yelled at some teenage kids (get off my lawn!)
...avoided everyone I knew at the county fair (so what are you up to these days? where are you at? married? kids? why aren't
you fat like the rest of us??)
...finally got to meet Kaia and Will's baby, Evie Lu, in person. Cutest. baby. EVER!!!
...got a pedicure with my mom
...watched a storm front move across the plains, with my brother and sis-in-law
...napped in my car
...said hello and goodbye to my other cousin who is moving to germany for a year
...personally attended my college roommate at her wedding
...bought bananas
...visited with Julie and her husband Thomas, whom I haven't seen since being in their wedding last May
...fell into bed, every night, exhausted.

It was an excellent time- I will soon post pictures. It's a good thing too, because as of this weekend, I'll be officially stripped of my MN identity - I'm getting a new license and new plates for my car. Yes, that's right, I'm becoming - a Marylander (Maryland-ite? Maryland-onian?)

Sigh. It was a good run while it lasted!
M is for Maryland,
M.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I Heart My Bike But My Bike Does Not Heart Me Back

In fact, I think it's safe to say, my bike might be out to kill me.

Friday evening, after a loooooong three weeks of work and before taking off for my well-deserved vacation back to the faterland (MN, that is), I took my bike out for a one last spin.

It was a nice ride, actually. I took it (her?) down to Rock Creek Park, spun around the horse barns, stopped by my friend Mary's house and was back in a bit under an hour.

However, on the last downhill, as I sailed into the parking lot of my apartment complex, something biffed - something biffed big time. I heard metal on metal, hit the breaks and pitched sideways, sliding halfway down the hill. I was doing a fairly hard left hand turn on a steep hill, so my guess is that the metal gear ground against the pavement.

I'm used to my fair share of bruised knees, but the shiner on my left leg proved that I'd deposited most of my skin on the asphalt. The right leg now has four deep gashes, as if I was attacked by a mountain lion, or my bike in fact, bit me with razor like teeth. (In fact, my brother in law suggests that I make THIS the story, rather than the infinitely lamer "I fell off my bike" story...)

Anyway, it looks really nasty. I surprised myself by having non-stick gauze (and gauze tape!) in my apartment, but later got a hold of much snazzier 3M clear industrial bandaids the size of my hand to cover it up. It hurts to bend my skinless knee, and I'm wondering what kind of wicked scars I'm going to have on my leg. I hope it's going to be pretty awesome.

I'm now on vacation and decided that this is probably a good thing for me and my bike. It will give us a little cooling off period, time to think and may remind my bike that without me, it just sits in a closet - and perhaps it ought to treat me a bit better. That is, no biting.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Coffee Makes Me Slow Down (?)

I've written about this before - the slight pre-loneliness feel I get sometimes, especially on the weekends I'm left to my own devices. It's been six months since the last time I remember feeling this way, but it's come around again.

That's actually pretty good - once every six months or so, but still.

I went to bed last night, knowing I had absolutely nothing of consequence to do the next day (Do the dishes? Start that album from the long lost Japan photos I found under my bed while moving? Re-lace my shoes from the time the HMF I had to tie a shelf into my trunk and didn't have any rope?) Stuff that needs to get done, surely, but really, it pretty low on the totem pole.

Honestly, I think this is what community coffee shops are made for - those of us who have nothing better to do, crave a little human interaction (that is, being AROUND people, but not necessarily having to interact with them) and still haven't gotten it together enough to get internet hooked up to their apartments. Also, who didn't get up early enough to find a church.

So today, I find myself at yet another coffee shop (Mayorga Coffee Factory), avoiding the fact that I have nothing better to do, people watching and slowly getting caught up on all my favorite trashy websites (those bitches are funny, but not so Safe for Work!)

I even treated myself to a cup of iced coffee - a MEDIUM, not even a small! Ho ho, things are looking up. And, as I sip it and listen to the hippy lady and her electric guitar sing about how great it is to be single, I realize that these days are kind of nice. Strangely enough, coffee and coffee shops make me slow down. So what if I have nothing better to do? This is just fine. I think I'll just relax into this leather easy chair and take the afternoon as it comes.

Heck, later, I may even tackle a shoelace or two.

M is for Nothing Better to Do,
M.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I Heart My Bike

So, I totally heart my new bike. Earlier this week, I discovered almost a DIRECT route from my apartment building to my job on a beautiful, picturesque, nearly perfectly level, vehicle-free bike route. And it's only 4 miles from door to door.

In fact, even on the days when the front doorman tells me I can no longer take my bike out the front door (wha? because it LOOKS bad??) - even on the days when I get mercilessly caught in the middle of a power struggle and reemed out at work, it still makes me smile.

Still, at the end of the day, even though I'm tired, beaten, broken and downtrodden - thinking about getting to bike home makes me so happy. It's like I can zoom away from all my problems and let the endorphins kick in. I mean really, it's the cheapest Zoloft ever.

And I didn't even mind going in the service entrance!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Baku Photos

The outdoor roadside 'teahouse' Typical streetview in the Old Town - In the olden days, these boxes ensured the modesty of women who want to watch the street below. Now it's just a nice way to expand an otherwise cramped apartment!
Rugseller's market in the Old Town, near Maiden's Tower
This is not a parking lot - it's a crush of traffic. Note the pedestrians!
Skyline of downtown Baku from the Caspian sea boardwalk - note the construction cranes!