Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Buy One Get One Free...Sort Of

Last week, I made a mistake. One of those mistakes where even in the split-second that the decision is made, you know it won't turn out the way you envisioned it.

Do we all remember the crockpot I got off Asian E-Bay? The one who came to my stove's aid in its hour of need during its convalescence? To refresh your memory, read here. So needless to say, my dear crockpot and I have a long, happy history together.

Until recently.

It often happens that when our househelper buys chicken, she puts it all in one plastic bag and sticks it in the freezer, creating one big chicken ice cube. When I set out to make some BBQ chicken for dinner, this is exactly what I found. So here was my train of thought...

Too big to fit in crockpot.
Must break apart chicken.
Smash it apart. Yes, that sounds fun.
Use the floor? Use the countertop? No...
Wouldn't it be convenient when the chicken breaks apart for it to already be in the crockpot?
Yes, most definitely convenient.

So I lift the chicken brick about a foot above the crockpot (glass mind you) and let it fly. It was during the chicken's air time that I realized that this was not going to turn out well in the end.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

A few days later, my friend found the exact same crockpot on Asian E-bay. A few days after that, a huge box arrived at my door. Way too big just to be a crockpot. Upon opening the box, I found that the shipper had included a pressure cooker as well. (Oversights like that are pretty common on our side of the world.) I have no clue how to use a pressure cooker but I find it pretty ironic that my blunder was rewarded with a most useful cooking gadget that I'm sure I need and will grow to love.

Once I figure out what it does. Does anyone have a clue?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Higher Level Math

Today, in my tutoring session, I learned the words for "add," "subtract," and "multiply." (Not sure why "divide" was left out...maybe the other three math functions have a teenage girl clique and "divide" is the Ugly One who gets left out?)

So I'm supposed to read (yes, read. I am learning to read! Illiteracy, your days are numbered!) from my text book the following:

6x7 is how much?
6x7 is...

I rattle off the Asian-ese with no problem, but then come to a screeching hault. I thought this was supposed to be language study, not flashback to third grade multiplication tables? Oh multiplication kickball (true elementary school game--North Oaks Elementary really did rock the house), where are you when I need you? Mrs. Osborne, faithful third grade teacher, let me hear your sage mathmatical wisdom whisper in my ear...

Meanwhile, my tutor begins to prompt me. I decide to bust out my cell phone calculator to help this exercise along.

Forty two. 6x7 is forty two.

My tutor is impressed when I come up with the next answer so quickly. (He didn't know about the cell phone.)

I guess it should be promising when a crazy tonal language that once sounded like a fastfood menu gone crazy now proves to be more manageable than simple multiplication facts. Then again, maybe I should be making multiplication flashcards instead of vocabulary flashcards...

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ice Cream Soup

Last weekened we hosted a "stay-cation" of sorts at our house with the other American friends that live here in our city. We decided to spring the big bucks and buy import food treats--including "real" ice cream Dreyers for around $8 a pint! After the madness of nearly 30 adults and kiddos in our house, we were richly compenstated by all the goodies left behind. A lot of goodies. Literally, I drew blood from my finger trying to get the drawers in my freezer shut yesterday. (OK so I've got a little freezer with weird drawers but you get the idea!)

Kevin, being the protecter husband that he is, has assigned himself the arduous task of cleaning out the freezer in order to avoid such future injury to his precious wife. Translation: eat yummy ice cream every night. Being the domestic diva (well sort of kind of at least) of this casa, it's very rare to find ol' Kev Kev in the kitchen. But on one particular night this week, I was detained and Kevin had no choice but to prepare his ice cream himself.

It's not uncommon for ice cream to come out of the freezer as hard as a rock, and seeing that I still haven't purchased forks & spoons of my own (still waiting to get a hold of the ones I left in America--ahem--Beth Wilson), I make sure to soften the ice cream a bit as not to bend my borrowed spoons. Kevin has seen me do this before so he thought he would follow suit. But unfortunately, the fact that I use the defrost function and only for 10 seconds or so, escaped his recollection. I'm sure you can all guess what happened to dear Kev's delicious (and might I add expensive?!?!) evening treat. You guessed it...warm, melty, sticky, gooey ice cream soup.

A funny thing that comes with learning a second language is that your language ability is usually limited to your spheres of life. This means that Kevin knows very few kitchen words. Another funny thing about learning a second language is when that word you want to say sounds remarkably similar to some other word you didn't mean to say, something inevitably hilarious comes out of your mouth.

Case in point: After Kevin concocted his ice cream soup, he confessed his culinary blunder to me and says, "Well, I don't even know how to work that carrot anyways!"

Disclaimer: This story really is so much funnier if you speak Asian-ese. So for those of you blog readers who do, hope you enjoyed yet another newbie language blunder! For those of you who don't, consider picking it up. It provides endless hours of entertainment!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A "Weighty" Decision

Seeing that my marathon days have now come to a conclusion (there's not much pleasure in long, long runs when there's a gray sky and lots of curious onlookers outside), I've had to stir up some creative juices and broaden my athletic horizons. A few friends in the states had previously spoken highly of this 12 disc work-out program called P90X. Having always associated exercise videos with Richard Simmons doing the pony in neon spandex, I wasn't quick to jump on that bandwagon. But I finally bit the bullet and tried it out, only to find out that these things are hard. Really hard.

I needed to purchase some free weights to go along with my little endeavor so one Sunday I rode my bike to a nearby market where I was told I could find them. After wandering around several shops for some comparative shopping, I started developing that dull headache that I often get on shopping expeditions. For one, I was speaking my new language. Second of all, this purchase required higher level math. This weight cost this many local dollars per pound but this one cost this many local dollars per kilogram. Converting kilograms to pounds, local dollars to real dollars in an effort not to spend too much, all the while trying to understand the sales ladies (and defer their questions why I wanted to buy men's weights) and articulate myself became quite a challenge. I finally made a selection, bargained down the price a bit, and happily left the market with my purchase all boxed up.

Well, to be more specific, a helpful sales guy carried my purchase out of the store for me. Perhaps if I had been the one to carry my box, I would have forecasted the challenge that lie before me: getting a 60 pound box home with only my bike to assist me. The trek home went something like this:

Walk my bike 20 feet or so until the weight on the back somehow sent the back tires air born.

Recover box. Painstakingly place it in my basket.

Venture another 50 feet or so. Become unwarrantably confident.

Spy a cart full of peaches for sale. Only 2 local dollars a pound (roughly thirty cents). I can't pass up an offer like that!

Depart from the peach cart with an extra four pound of peaches, bringing my total weight load to 64 pounds.

My unwarranted confidence gets the better of my as I decide to attempt to ride my bike. My box of weights, my peaches, and myself end up on the ground. Right in front of a bus stop and quite a few chuckling onlookers.

Repeat process of re-loading box into basket but this time with the assistance of a concerned bus patron who decides to offer me the helpful comment: "It's too heavy." Thank you, sir, I know.

My confidence in check, I cautiously walk the rest of the way home.

Making it up the bike ramp of my apartment building and into the elevator was also a challenge but I'll leave that to your imagination.

The moral of the story: if one ever wants to make a purchase exceeding a certain weight limit, it is best to take a cab.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thankful Day

I think living overseas, if you let it, can make you a more thankful person. The things I once took for granted or even considered my "rights" in America are not so easily come by here. We ex-pats can either become bitter & cynical or thankful for the realization that any good thing we have really is a blessing. So here is my thankful list for today:

1) the sky is blue!!
2) there is water in my pipes!!
3) I got to take a shower this morning!!

The list could go on but it's study time now...

Happy Thankful Day to you!

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Woes of Illiteracy

Today, in the ultimate manifestation of irony, there is plenty of water outside but none in my home. Interpretation of my sage prose: it's raining outside but the water is turned off in our entire apartment complex.

It's days like this that I wish I could read because apparently there was a sign on our door informing us of this small inconvenience. Unfortunately, however, the sign gave no indication of when exactly the water will come back. I'm thinking about starting a "pool" among the neighbors (thank you, amazing pun!). You know, we can all make bets about when we'll have water again, winner takes all! That could definitely be a good way to meet the neighbors and get some language practice...

It's really not that big of a deal since we don't drink the tap water. It's just a matter of not being able to bath, brush our teeth or do the dishes. And who really needs to do those things anyway? We thought back to our Viva Europa adventure and figured if we could live out of a tent & backpacks for three weeks, then a few days of creative general hygiene won't be so bad.

Well, my dirty little self is off to do some more studying...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tour Guide Barbie

Remember that part in Toy Story where Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, and Slinky Dog cruise around Al's Toy Barn looking for Buzz with Tour Guide Barbie at the wheel? Well, that was me a few weeks ago. Except we weren't in a toy store, we were in one of the world's biggest cities. And I wasn't giving tours to cowboys and piggy banks but to some American friends that came in town. And I'm not made of plastic nor are my feet sporting the perma-high heel wedge. But all of these things are beside the point...

My tutor Anita (who also happens to be one of my best friends here) and I took a three-hour train from our city to the Big City where our friends were flying in from the states. Their flight didn't come in until nearly ten (which in reality ended up being nearly eleven) so we had some time to kill. I took her to my current Big City favorite spots--TGI Fridays and the import grocery store!

Now this place is certainly no HEB or Kroger but it makes my familiar-food-loving-rice-overloaded heart (or stomach rather) go pitter-patter (or perhaps "Feed me, feed me!!" if we're going with the stomach theme) at the sight of all the familiar and yummy food. I walked Anita up and down every aisle and gave her commentary on everything I could think of:

"This is Honey Bunches of Oats, my favorite cereal in America but I only buy it here on special occasions."

"This is Chef Boyardee, a staple for busy moms with kids to feed."

"This is Kraft Mac & Cheese. Somehow a package of orange powder magically turns into cheese when large quantities of butter & milk are added."

"This is turkey deli meat, my all-time favorite. This one especially only gets purchased on special occasions because it's nearly 10 USD for a meager box."

"This is Spam, I'm not sure what it is or why people eat it."

With a suitcase full of my must-haves (this is how we grocery shop around here--with empty suitcases!) and a Dr. Pepper for Anita, we headed to Friday's for lunch.

After picking up our friends at the airport, we spent the night at the luxurious Holiday Inn (note: I am not using luxurious sarcastically! After some of the hotel beds I've slept on here (otherwise known as plywood!), I'd come back to this hotel anyday!)

The next day was a busy one. The Great Wall of...ummm...Asia, a famous city square, and a five-story tourist shopping place. But since this was my third time to visit all of these places, I was more excited about visiting Subway for dinner!

Once we were back home, we spent the next week showing our friends around the city and meeting people. After a tiring ten days, our friends went back to the Big City to fly back over the big ocean.

So if anyone else is in the mood for a 24 plane ride, I'll pick you up at the airport and show you the town: TGI Fridays, import grocery stores, and Subway Sandwiches! If you're lucky, I'll even take you to that big, boring wall.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Becky Goes to Camp

When I was little, I loved, loved, loved this ridiculously stupid movie called "Ernest Goes to Camp." In fact, Kevin once pulled it up on YouTube and made me guess what movies it was just by listening to the intro music. I guess in about five seconds. So this blog post "Becky Goes To Camp" is in memory of my childhood friend, Ernest P. Worrell.

We survived our week of English camp last month! Truly, it was not as demanding as I thought it was going to be. The kids spent the morning & afternoon in class and, with as many foreign teachers as we have, each one of us only had to teach for an hour and a half. We taught vocabulary, sentence structures, songs, and games.

Of course, class was by far NOT the highlight for the kids. What they loved most was lunch time. We had Western food on the menu everyday. I still think its funny that kids here get a kick out of using a fork!

After lunch, we went outside to play for an hour or so. Playing tag outside in late July is a sure formula for a lot of sweaty people. It's funny how my vocabulary is greatly built by my experiences. The word of the week: sweat and any variation of said word.

I made friend with a few little girls in the group. During my class period, I had made the kids a word search to make learning vocabulary a little more fun. They thought it was so great so for the rest of the week, everyday they would bring me a word search that they had made. Only it wasn't in English! They were very impressed when Becky Lao Shi (that's my classroom alias Teacher Becky) could actually complete the puzzle, seeing that I can't read. I may be illiterate but I can still put together two matching "pictures!"

Our new semester starts the week after next so we again will welcome one-day weekends back into our lives for a while. But it's worth it!

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Conversation I Bet You've Never Had

So here is a recent conversation of mine at the grocery store:

Me: to random shopper Excuse me. I'm very embarrassed. I can't read. Can you tell me if this toothpaste is green tea flavored?

Random shopper guy: No, it's not.

Me: Thank you. I despise green tea toothpaste.

And off I frolicked to enjoy my non-green tea toothpaste.

(Seriously, it's gross. Kevin bought it one time on accident and it now resides in the inner-bowels of our medicine cabinet for emergency use only!)

Monday, August 24, 2009

"My Dog Ate My Homework" and other such excuses

My dog ate my homework.

My car broke down.

I've got to wash my hair tonight.

My grandmother died.

A typhoon destroyed the underwater internet cable, so my internet moved at the speed of a geriatric turtle.

I can add that last one to my list of excuses for why I haven't blogged in so long. But fear not, I'm back on the horse once more...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Best of Malaysia

We just got back from a week in Malaysia. It is one of the most interesting places I have ever been, mainly because of the Muslim culture. On the ceilings of our hotels were arrows pointing the direction to Mecca. All the restaurants posted what dishes were hallal or not. Malaysians themselves don't wear the full burka but the city was full of Arab tourists who did. One of our cab drivers told us that since September 11, it has been difficult for Saudis or other Middle Easterners to get visas to vacation in Europe, so they now come to Malaysia instead. As he put it, "Now you drive down the road and see black, black, black." I even saw a woman in full burka riding a jet ski. She had a neon orange life jacket strapped on over the burka. All very interesting.

My other favorite thing about Malaysia is the food. We ate fantastic Indian food, Middle Eastern food, Italian food, and Western food. We got to eat at Chili's (!!!) and sip Chai Lattes at Starbucks. My friend Beth says that it's impossible not to be happy when you eat at Chili's. It's just a happy place. I couldn't agree more. I'm now convinced that chain restaurants are the best things ever. They all look the same, have the same menus, same food, even the same decorations on the walls. It's like I'm taken back in time to the Chili's on George Bush in College Station where Sally would always order chips & salsa and I'd add way too much salt. Or the Chili's on Burnet Road in Austin where my daddy always orders peppercorn hamburgers. Or the Chili's in Kingwood where we all ate after my marathon. All the same! It's a great feeling when you miss home.

Another favorite thing about Malaysia is that my new best friend got to go with me. Yes, of course Kevin the Permanent Best Friend came. I'm talking about my new best friend. For Christmas, my parents decided to be entirely too generous and buy us a Canon Rebel camera. It's my new best friend. It makes vacations so much more fun. So here are my best & favorite shots from our trip:

This is a cannon ball tree. The name needs no explanation I think! The cannon balls look like coconuts but they're not. To tell the truth, I really have no clue what they are.

This is Kevin doing his Jesus impersonation. It really looks like he's walking on the water, doesn't it?

Can you even believe that I took this picture? That super-zoom lens was certainly a good purchase! If you look at the monkey on the right, you can see a little baby attached to her chest. There were monkeys EVERYWHERE. We saw them almost everyday. All the green & animals of the tropical jungles was quite a welcome relief compared to the concrete jungle we call home.

One morning, we went to a Butterfly Farm. I'm not really sure why they call it a "farm." It's not like the butterflies pick up their hoes every morning and dig potatoes.

The timing of our vacation was perfect because next week we're doing a kid's day camp at our school. So now we're tan and rested up to wrangle these rather rambunctious little friends. I'm not exactly sure how brown thighs will help out with that but I'm sure it can't hurt...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Snakes, snails and puppy dog tails
That's what little boys are made of

Sugar, spice, and everything nice
That's what little girls are made of

Is it a boy?

It is a girl?

What do you think?

The answer:

None of the above.

It's an appendix.

Which, after this harrowing weekend, Kevin no longer has.

Let me first preface this story by saying that we are SO thankful for Father's provision. The medical care was much better than I expected, and with the help of a lot of friends, we never once felt at a disadvantage with the language. So feel free to read on without a nagging feeling in your stomach that fears for Kev's life.

It all started on Friday morning when Kev was complaining of a little bit of stomach pain. We assumed it was the same ol' thing that happens rather frequently when you live overseas, especially in light of the fact that Kevin had eaten spicy local food the night before. After lunch, he went to bed, hoping he could sleep it off.

Within a few hours, things were certainly not slept off! The pain was worse, the groans were louder, and I had no idea what to do for my guy. I certainly didn't want to fall into the category of hypochondriac where every headache is a brain tumor and every stomach cramp is appendicitis. But you just can't be too careful with these things...

After consulting some American doctors and everyone's hero WebMD, our other American friends in our city & I decided it best to take Kev to the ER. Without a car of my own, this of course proved to be a bit of a challenge for several reasons:

1) how exactly do you say hospital?
2) how do I explain to the cab driver that he needs to go back inside my apartment complex to pick up my husband who can't even walk?
3) what do I do if there are no cabs?

All of these proved to be a challenge when a cab driver did in fact reject me after I told him I needed to go to the hospital. On cab #2, words of some manner came out of my mouth, and he indeed went to pick up Kevin and delivered us to the hospital. Perhaps I accidentally said something along the lines of "Please drive like a crazy maniac" because he certainly did.

As you can imagine, hospitals here are not like back home. You have to pay for every test before it's done, and your friends/family members play the role of hospital nurse/orderly/lab technician. We nabbed a hospital bed in the hallway and rolled poor Kev all over the place as they did various tests on him. Our favorite was the ultrasound, where Kevin had lucidity enough to ask the tech in our new language if he was pregnant. Her response: "Oh humor."

While Kevin was having his blood drawn, I had to step out of the room for a bit to collect my emotions and to keep from passing out. I figured an emotional breakdown or a collapsed wife wouldn't really contribute to the situation. So there I am, trying not to cry, when what do I see? A man (a really dirty man mind you) making his way through the ER with a wheelbarrow full of rocks. Big rocks. Really dusty rocks. Never in America...

They finally diagnosed the problem, and Kev was whisked away to surgery around 10 PM. By 11:30 PM we were in the recovery room. On Saturday afternoon, we were moved to a private room (which was really more like a deluxe sweet, complete with leather couches, a private bathroom, and a mini-kitchen) and we got to go home on Monday afternoon.

Overall, we were visited by 13 local friends, 5 Americans, and 3 kiddos. We received 24 juice boxes of milk, 15 oranges, one bouquet of flowers, one box containing 12 cans of gruel (the literal translation), one loaf of bread, two pastries, and four cucumbers. If the gifts alone don’t convince you of what an interesting experience this was, then perhaps next time you need your appendix out, you should head to our side of the world!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name

...is still as sweet. A dumpling by any other name is still just a dumpling.

Forgive my lack of enthusiasm over dumplings but I'm just not a big fan. The ginger-y/pork-y/weird-unidentifiable-green-vegetable-y taste just doesn't do a lot for me. Kevin likes them though.

But despite their unappetizing appeal (to me at least), they sure are fun to make! Gigi taught me how to make them recently. These people are so amazing at working with dough. Her's were a thousand times better looking than mine. Here's looked like dumplings; mine looked like a squashed version of a turkey. Even after you rolled everything up and cooked it in the boiling water, you could still tell which ugly ones were the products of my Western hands.

The best part is that she let me eat just one and then laughed when I excused myself to have a salad for lunch instead. Why exactly did I move to this country when I really don't care for the food? Well, there is a reason and I hope you know what it is!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Don't you think I need one of these?

I think I do. Let's try to convince Kevin, ok?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My New Friend

I made a new friend today. Well, sort of...

Here's the deal: after my morning runs, I like to stretch at the make-shift playground that's right in front of my apartment building. Now mind you, as it is in most places around this country, I am far from alone. My company usually includes grandmothers who can kick their toes to their nose drill-team style and other such folk who are in the mood for a morning workout.

When I show up, I can create quite a stir among the crowd. They like to talk to me, (talk about me is more accurate) and comment on how great my language is.

(A short aside...They don't really mean it. They really and truly say it to everyone. You can open your mouth for .5 seconds, say hello in local language, and they'll go on for a while about how great your language is. Anyone of you could do it too. Promise. So seriously, I'm not bragging in the slightest.)

There are some regulars out on my playground. It's hard for me to remember their names all the time because...well...they're just so foreign. But I remember their faces! I saw one such friend this morning and remembered her immediately. She is a quiet, mousy sort of woman. She's around 30 years old and not married (which I've been told labels you as strange in this culture).

I wanted to be super sweet to her today, so I try to strike up a conversation involving the ever-titilating topic of the weather. She gives me a cursory response and then flips herself upsidedown on the monkey bars, immediately sending me on a nostalgia trip to good ol' North Oaks Elementary School recess. Trying desperately to resist my childish desires to tug at her ponytail or tease her for wearing a bra, I press on in my small talk. Our topic this time: Father's Day.

This topic whips her into more of a verbal frenzy, which would seem like a good thing but I guess after my third or fourth blank stare, she decides that something must be done to help my listening comprehension. So she positions herself about six inches from my face and starts addressing me in a rather loud voice.

After enduring a bit of this, I politely excuse myself to go home for a shower (humid weather + morning runs = necessary shower). Once I enter my building, I decide I need to take some risks in making friends. I mean, how am I going to meet people and build real friendships if all I talk about is the weather and holidays? So I march myself back up to her and ask her if she wants to come over for lunch sometime. I think I embarrassed her but she ended up saying yes.

When Gigi came over later, I told her what I did and she affirmed that I most likely embarrassed the chick. Oops. I also confessed to Gigi that I've forgotten my friend's name, but now Gigi is conspiring how to subtly re-discover her name and write it down for me.

Our lunch is later this week, so we'll see how it goes...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Second Birthday

Today is my second birthday, my re-birthday if you will. Eleven years ago today I became a Christian. I remember eleven years ago hearing about Jesus' life & purpose in a new way. It was more than smiley bumper stickers saying "Jesus loves you!" It was more than being a good person or going to church. It was more than walking old ladies across the street, feeding the poor, or even participating in Bible studies. Instead, it was real-life--my real-life--colliding with another real life lived thousands of years ago.

Living life for my own pleasure, convenience, and advancement is an offense to God who created me. My sin of not only ignoring him but of falling short of his every standard for my life caused a rift in my relationship with him. But the good news! O the good news! Jesus lived a perfect life on my behalf and died the death that I deserved, taking my punishment. His resurrection proved him more powerful than death and more powerful than the sin & selfishness in my own life. What was there for me to do but to abandon the feeble control I thought I had over my life and to turn to this Jesus who demonstrated his love for me in such a way?

Now of course eleven years ago, I didn't understand everything there was to understand (I still don't today for that matter!) But my fifteen year old heart recognized how it craved to know and be known by my Father in Heaven. I chose to follow him that day and haven't regretted it for a moment since.

Happy Re-Birthday to me! Praise God who gives new life!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rachel continued...

Now I know it's probably unfair to find such humor in the locals' English. I mean, to count how many ridiculous things must come out of my mouth everyday is just innumerable. But since Kevin's little language partner's "soft grass" antics were such a hit last week, I feel obliged to share her most recent musings.

"Your ears are too small for your head."

And my personal favorite...

"The grass on your arm has grown."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Soft grass

Kevin has recently made friends with a family. Once a week, he goes to their house for dinner. After dinner, he studies English with their 8 year-old daughter, whose English name is Rachel. In return, Rachel studies our new language with Kevin. It's somewhat of an imbalance because kids here have been studying English ever since they sit foot in a classroom (which starts really young here). Us...we're going on five months!

Rachel will read a sentence in English, then Kevin will read in our new language. Needless to say, it takes Kev a little longer to get through his. This leaves Rachel a little bit bored, so she has to find something to do to occupy herself. her favorite past time of late? Petting Kevin's arm hair.

This was last week's arm-hair stroking discussion:

Rachel: There's a fly in your arm.
Kevin: (pause in translating) Really?
Rachel: I think the fly thinks your arm is grass. Soft grass. (Pensive pause from Rachel, who then looks at her own arm) I have no grass.

Who ever thought that body hair would ever provide such entertainment?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

99.9% Sure

It's getting hot these days. Summer is here. Temperatures are rising. Women are busting out their sun umbrellas to keep their skin for becoming "black." The grandmothers are no longer asking me after my morning runs if I'm cold because I wore shorts.

Summer heat means one thing: it's air conditioner time. It's pretty impressive I think that we made it until June to turn on the AC. You can't do that in Texas for sure.

So on the day of AC's maiden voyage, I coincidentally had a stomach ache. I told Gigi about it and this was her prompt diagnosis:

1) You're pregnant.

2) You must have gotten sick from the air conditioner.

I'm 99.9% that neither of those were the cause of my stomach ache.

And I'm 99.9% sure that that is not Ben Franklin.

(Come on. Someone...anyone...please tell me you caught "The Office" allusion. Beth? Lee? Jenn? Anyone? Don't leave me hanging!)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Friend for hire

When I was in college, one of my good friends & roommates used to joke with each other that the only reason we were friends was because we were being paid by the other's mother. When you're too socially awkward to make friends on your own, your mama's got to step in and make some friends for you. It was only a joke back then...

Welcome the day where I am really and truly too awkward to make friends on my own. I now actually pay someone to be my friend. Her technical title is "househelper" but I like to call her my "Friend for Hire." Her blog name will be Gigi I think. You'll be hearing a lot about Gigi in the days to come because she's now pretty much my best friend. She's a local gal who comes over to help my keep my house in order, cook authentic local food for us for lunch, help us handle the myriad of issues (usually involving something breaking in my house) that pop up during daily life here, and reproduce the impossible to find/expensive to purchase foreign foods I so desperately miss. So far, she's wowed us with her salsa, made the most amazing snickerdoodle cookies, and put my dough skills to shame with her pizza dough. Pretty soon she'll be tossing her dough up in the air like a real Italian, singing "When the Moon Hits Your Eye."

But the best part of having Gigi around is the language practice. Truth be told, this was the number one reason we hired her. It's nice to have someone around to correct my bad grammar and to mercifully listen to the endless supply of ridiculous sentences I come up with. Plus, we laugh together, go shopping together, and just do life together.

Here are my favorite Gigi moments so far:

Today my tutor and I learned the sentence structure for "Although...I still." My sentence went something like this: Although he is attractive, I still don't want to marry him. Kevin is the best husband. Gigi looks at Kevin and with a serious face says something to him that we don't understand. After a quick dictionary consult, we figured out what she said: Aren't you moved? Ha! My homework is now an emotionally touching endeavor!

Yesterday, we were making English muffins in the kitchen and listening to her favorite local radio station. It must have been English hour or something because I could understand nearly all of the songs. There were a few songs I could understand but didn't recognize, a Christmas song (don't even bother to ask why they play Christmas songs in the summer...), and then the pinnacle of childhood musical nostalgia: Mariah Carey's "Dreamlover." I told Gigi that I actually knew this song and started to jam out on the chorus. She told me it sounded lovely.

Then I realized she thought I was being serious. "No! No! No!" I wanted to exclaim. "You can't sing Mariah Carey seriously! That's just wrong! You sing Mariah Carey when you're alone in the shower. You sing Mariah Carey when you're driving down deserted Texas highways with the windows rolled down. You do NOT sing Mariah Carey seriously! That's like reciting Spice Girl lyrics as if it was Shakespeare or looking at the back of a cereal box as if it were a painting at the Louvre." But seeing that I don't know how to say Spice Girls, cereal box, or the Louvre in order to explain my position to Gigi, I just stopped singing.

My new friend for hire will certainly provide some hearty Blog fodder, don't you think?!?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Foreigners on parade

Last week was a big holiday in our city, so our apartment complex threw a big party to celebrate. The festivites began with a hands-on activity of making the traditional food associated with this holiday.

It involved folding two big bamboo leaves just so, filling them with sticky rice & sweet dates, and then somehow turning this whole mess into a lovely little leaf package tied up with string. (Cue Julie Andrews singing "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things"). Seems like a difficult task? It was. But thankfully we all had the assistance of an overly-eager set of grandmothers. They're always so willing to tell us foreigners what we should and shouldn't be doing!

I finally made one that seemed somewhat correct and even met the approval of the grandmothers!

Did I mention that no one else besides the foreigners was asked to attempt to do this? Everyone else simply watched us. Am I starting to feel like a sideshow? Starting to? Oh wait. No. Felt that way for a long time.

The celebration continued with some singing performances. That's pretty normal around here. Then they had a contest involving marbles and chopsticks. The goal was to use chopsticks to move the marbles from one plate to another. On your next rainy day, you should try it. It's not easy! Our American friend Rachel had a ligitimate victory against an adult. I, on the other hand, barely eeked out a win against a little boy.

Again, let me take a moment to mention that it was only the foreigners who competed. I think next in line for the agenda of entertainment was the trapeze artists or the bearded lady...

Then it was time for some impromptu correographed dancing put on by a few Asain folks and...you guessed it...the foreigners! Now I know that "impromptu correographer" dancing is an extremem oxymoron. It's not, however, when half the group knows the dance and the other half (namely, the foreigners) have no clue. So we (husbands included) did a little dance show that greatly resembled Jazzercise for the delight of the crown.

After about two hours of these little shananigans, I was ready to go home. But that's when the opera singing began. And went on...and on...and on. If you've never heard our local opera singing, just imagine high pitched voices and even higher pitched guitar-ish instruments. I know it's culturally beautiful but I have never been more reminded of the subjectivity of beauty until forced to listen to this for so long.

The show must go on! And it did. More opera until something magical happened. A group of important looking people showed up, made a quick tour of our shindig, and then promptly left. Then the party immediately ended.

I was later told that the secret to concluding the party was a group of people from the local government office. When you've got two foreign families living in your apartment complex and present at your holiday celebration, this apparently earns some bragging rights. Our friendly local leaders were supposed to show up when the rest of us did but were a little late (two hours late that is). So the show couldn't stop until they arrived. So it was opera song after opera song until they came, saw our lovely smiling white faces, then left.

Foreigners on parade!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Our cultural day

Sunday is our day off. I mean the entire day. We meet for worship on Friday afternoon so Sunday really is wide open. Sometimes we don't leave the house all day long. But sometimes we get daring for a little adventure. This past Sunday was one of those days.

We mounted our trusty new steeds (read: amazingly amazing bikes...pictures to come!) and rode out to this fancy park in town. It was supposed to cost nearly $8 (almost equivalent to my beloved Honey Bunches of Oats that I can buy at the import store!) but we have this nifty season pass thing that lets us into the city parks for free. That means I get to buy myself a box of cereal, right? I mean I was saving money, wasn't I? I digress...

The park was acutally quite enjoyable. This past Thursday was a holiday, so the government rigged a plan to give everyone a three-day weekend by giving them Thursday & Friday off. Yes, you counted right. A three-day weekend would mean going back to work on Sunday, which is exactly what everyone did. A little strange in my book but it made for a pleasantly vacant park (or at least as vacant as one might expect in one of the most densly populated countries in the world!)

We meandered around for a while. Kevin got a creative bug and wished he has his journal. I got a creative bug and played with my fancy camera. Very few people bothered us, with the exception of one guy who asked us to pose in a picture with his friend. What do they even do with the random pictures they take of us foreigners?

So that was our day. Thrilling life we lead, isn't it?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Back by popular demand...

Yes, that's right! It's time for another rousing edition of...


Becky: My friend Rachel went back to America because her grandmother is...
Correct answer: sick
My answer: refridgerator

Kevin: Excuse me, I need to go to the...
Correct answer: restroom
Kevin's answer: radio

Becky: It's Monday so my ... is slow.
Correct answer: brain
My answer: bird

So hopefully all of your "birds" are not "refridgerator" but in perfect working condition so you can properly make your way to the "radio."

Until next time...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I'm back...

My most sincere apologies for once again leaving the blog world in a lurch. First it was a depressing week and, following the advice of the age-old sage Thumper Rabbit's mother "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," I did just that: didn't say anything. Then it was a busy week. It's not that I didn't have anything to say, it's just that I didn't have time to say it. Then two weeks turned into three which turned into four and so on...you get the idea.

Then the emails came. The thoughtful provocations and not-so subtle suggestions to pick up the blog once more. In fact, one friend interpreted my lack of posting as (and I quote) "Oh my gosh, we're having so much fun every minute of every day here, that I have absolutely NOOOO time to post anything, even though I have tons of amazing stories that make you laugh so hard you pee in your pants, and even though our internet works whenever you need it!" You said it, Ash. You said it.

So here I am, attempting to be back on track. I can't make any promises but at least this is a start, right?

More news to come later...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A weekend of extremes

This past weekend was a perfect example of the highs and lows of living overseas...

There is a little friend in my class. His name is Barrow (yes, like a wheelbarrow...is that even a name? Has anyone ever known anyone named Barrow? Who gave him that name? Maybe it was Christopher-turned Chris-turned Aady...) Instead of mimicking my every phrase like sweet Jacob does, he picked up just one of my phrases and used it as the answer to any and all of my questions.

Me: Barrow, what color is your shirt?
Wheelbarrow: Good job.
Me: Barrow, is your shirt green?
Wheelbarrow: Good job.

Well, I suppose there are worse phrases he could learn from me! These are the moments I love living in this country.

After class, we went home for lunch and a quick nap before heading back to school for our afternoon classes. Right in the middle of my nap, my Asian teaching partner showed up at my house, unannounced. So there I was, in my stripped PJ pants, welcoming her into my furniture-less home. These are the moments I don't so much love living in this country.

Kevin and I ended up going out to dinner with my teaching partner after our afternoon classes ended. We went to a western restaurant in town (not KFC or Pizza Hut!) and I had the best minestrone soup of all time. The best part about the dinner was the Asian man singing karaoke songs by the Backstreet Boys or Mariah Carey in English. These are the moments I love living in this country.

Our dinner companion had borrowed her father's car for the evening. This was our first non-taxi ride since we've lived here. Admitidly so, our friend was not very confident behind the wheel, which is not really a good thing when navigating traffic here is more like a game of Frogger. Plus seatbelts are not an option here. On the way to and from dinner on the highway, the spedometer never went about 40 kmp (which I'm told equates to around 30 mph). These are the moments that I fear for my life living in this country.

Attached to the restaurant where we had dinner is an import store. Now when I say store, you should read closet. It is tiny, tiny, tiny but has so many western delights (for not so tiny prices). I came home with a bag of real Rold Gold pretzels and a bottle of balsamic vinegar. They also had an entire shelf filled with almond Honey Bunches of Oats (my favorite cereal in the whole, wide world). These are the moments I love living in this country.

Until I checked the price tag of my dearly beloved breakfast...nearly $10 a box! These are the moments I don't so much love living in this country.

That night (or her morning rather), Sister Sarah was having a knitting party in Louisville. She had invited three of the all-time coolest people in the world to her home. I mean, four of my favorite people in one place--what can get any better than that? Since I couldn't be there (for obvious reasons), I thought it would be fun to Skype so I could see them all. Thanks to my new discovery of call2.com, I was able to call them on my cell phone. These are the moments I love living in this country.

However, sadly enough, it was at that very moment that our computer went nuts and our internet decided to cut off. These are the moments I don't so much love living in this country.

Well, the adventures continued on Sunday but this seems like enough examples for one night. Let's just say that life is never boring in this neck of the woods!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Our first package!

Aren't parents wonderful? All your random mail that still gets sent to their house, those things you ordered from target.com but arrived the exact day you got on a plane to move across the globe, your important tax documents (yes, Uncle Sam's reach extends even across the Pacific)...parents just pack it up in a big box and ship it over here!

But the best part of all! Mom sent me Crystal Light peach tea. It's like southern comfort right here in Asia. (This one's for you, MND crew! A nice, cool class of Cristal.)

If you've noticed, all of our recent posts featuring us sitting are taken on our bed. Why? you might wonder. Well, it's because we don't have any other furniture besides our bed. We're trying to coordinate one big Ikea shopping trip in the capital city. Everything has to be in stock before I go, so until that happens, our home will remain a cave. A cave with a cozy bedroom.

It's in these instances that I wish my parents would just go ahead and pack up some living room furniture in a big box and ship it over. Whaddya think, mama?

Friday, March 13, 2009

What exactly is going on here?

In our new language, the words for "study" and "go to sleep" sound surprisingly the same. I think ol' Kevin here is experiencing the similarity personally.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Stove Saga

All it really is is a glorified hot plate: two burners and some buttons. If you're willing to get your hands dirty, you can even lift the entire unit out of the countertop. Who knew that such a seemingly simple decive could spiral such a saga?

My first hunch was that maybe I just didn't know how to work it. I can't read the buttons so my feeble attempts to operate it resembled the hunt & peck method akin to eighth grade keyboarding class. No matter what combination of buttons I pushed, I got the same result: incessant high pitched beeping, no heat, and extreme frustration.

I asked two of my local (and literate mind you!) friends if they could diffuse this dubious device. Despite their best efforts, no immediate solution was reached. So we called the landlord to seek his expert advice. Unfortunately, he was out of town on vacation and could not be reached.

Two weeks later, we finally heard back from the landlord, who had this brilliant piece of technical advice to offer: unplug it, wait 24 hours, plug it back in. Seriously? That strangely seems to resemble what you do if your PC is acting up, not your stovetop. My other American friends thought that sounded like a pretty reasonable idea, so, even though I was convinced they've all lived in this country way too long to believe such a ridiculous idea, I tried it anyways. No luck.

So the landlord himself came to my house to investigate. He took away my stove and brought it back later that afternoon looking like this:

Yes, there is certainly cardboard on top of one of the burners wrapped in packaging tape. The landlord told me, "You can't use this today. You can use it tomorrow." (And I actually understood him!) Apparently, the 24 hour recovery time is common for Asian appliances. To prove his point, he took my new crockpot (courtesy of Asian e-bay) and put it on top of the recovering burner.

My local friend that had been helping me with this (since January!) called me to ask if it was working. I turned on the other burner (not the bandaged one with the crockpot on top) to check. And guess what!?!? More beeping...no heat...more frustration.

Another call to the landlord elicited this final piece of electrical advice: I have the wrong kind of pots.

Now if that isn't the stupidest thing I've ever heard! You're telling me that my stove is SO smart that it can detect what kind of pot is on it before it decides to heat up or not?

Yes. That is exactly what they said.

This news sent me into a downward sprial of culinary depression that lasted at least another two weeks. Our diet, now vastly improved with the addition of the crockpot, still consisted of far too many pb&j sandwiches. My microwave vegetable steamer was going into overhaul with the absence of a stove to boil water.

That is until one fateful day...

Another national friend verified this hypothesis about the wrong kind of pots. Still skeptical, I borrowed a different kind of pot from an America friend. Ten minutes later, I sent her a text at 9 PM that said: "You'll never believe what I just did! Boiled a pot of water!"

So at 9:05 that very night, with her kids in bed and my studying put to rest (where we both should have been!), we went out to buy me some pots. We were the only folks in the deserted store (which is truly a rare phenomenon around here) and perused the pot selection until our heart's content...well, really until they kicked us out of the store by turning off all the lights.

Here is why I'm thankful for this adventure:

* the words for "pot" and "stove" are forever etched in my mind. Nothing like experiential learning to make it stick!
* I now own four pots that work on my stove.
* I can fry an egg for my husband.
* I was thoroughly humbled by my disbelief of the rationale behind my broken stove.

So the next time someone tells you you might need new pots, I'd take their word for it!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Jacob have I loved

We just had our third week of English classes with the kiddos this past Saturday. They are truly a riot! I work with kids ranging from ages 3-9 who are in the lowest level English classes. Kevin works with the older, higher level kids. We are at the school on Saturdays from 8-12 in the morning and then in the afternoon from 3-5. It is a full day, but these little kids make it such fun.

I just wanted to take a moment to highlight some of my favorite little companions:

Jacob- He is my favorite little boy! He's about five years old and is the quietest little guy. He shows up to class early and just appears at my side, grabbing for my hand. He knows very little English so he just repeats everything I say to him:

Hello Jacob. How are you today?
Hello Jacob. How are you today?
Now you say, "I'm doing well."
Now you say, "I'm doing well."

It's somewhat reminiscent of the repeating game I'm sure we all used to drive our parents crazy with when we were younger, but the annoyance factor dissipates quickly when he looks up at me with those big brown eyes!

Paul- This is the most precocious Asian kid I've ever met! He is the son of one of our national teachers, so his English is quite advanced. He is afraid of elevators so everyday after class, we run down 8 flights of stairs together to wait for his dad at the bottom floor. This past Saturday, he decided to wear his hat with the ends turned up instead of covering his ears. When we asked him why he was doing this, he said he was Captain Hook.

See you later Captain Hook! we said.
Goodbye Smee! he said.

Now the other great thing about being an English teacher here is that you get to assign English names to the students. Every Saturday, I'm surrounded by some of my favorite people from home: Sarah, Beth (who cries during every class), Mark (who pronounces his name with a defiant "Mark-uh" at the end), and Chris (who was originally named Christopher but decided it was too long, so we changed it to Chris but then I guess he decided he didn't like that either so he changed it to Andy but decided to spell it Aady). I tried to name a Shannon but the mom didn't much care for it and chose Alice instead (sorry Shan!)

So those are my little friends who hang out with me on Saturdays!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pesky Pronouns

OK so I'm sure some of you might be getting sick of all the stories of my language bloopers. But sometimes those are just the most entertaining things that happen. I do promise I'm writing some new material in my head currently (that's where all good blogs begin!) But until then, here's another language blooper!

So I get back from my morning run and am stretching on the brightly colored playground equipment in front of my apartment. This is where the old ladies come to stretch in the morning as well. Usually they chastise me for not wearing enough clothes (and I can actually understand them!). But today my stretching companion was an old woman who was doing drill-team kicks all over the place (quite impressive I must say). She had a chihuahua with her that was wearing a yellow & red sweater.

This was the extent of information exchanged between the two of us:

-The dog's name is Coco.
-My friend lives in a building that way.
-She thinks I have pretty eyes & that my language sounds good.
-I do not own a large dog.

To wrap up our delightful(and probably the most substantial conversation I think I've ever had), it was only proper for me to extend the standard pleasantries:

You are pleased to meet you.

Oops. That's not what I meant to say. Those pesky pronouns strike again!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Saved by the decimal

Kevin & I have decided to become locavores. Here's a definition for you (thanks wikipedia!):

A locavore is one who supports the collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies - one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place.

What it means to be a locavore in a place like this is that, though we're for the most part thankful the Sam Walton has made his mark even here, we shun ol' Wally World's produce section for the friendly (and usually bored) individuals that sell fruits & veggies out of tiny shops or even out of the back of carts pulled by bicycles or motorcycles. There are at least a dozen vendors located about a five minute walk from our house, which makes it great for last minute meal planning.

Here is a case in point of why I love being a locavore:

I now own a crockpot (thanks to our local e-bay!). I wanted to make vegetable soup, so I went down to our local veggie shop and loaded up on soup fixings. Once weighed, the lady told me the price of my veggies: 86. What? That's over $10! I know I bought a lot of stuff but still...

Sigh. I had only intended to pay her with a 10 bill but handed her a 100 bill instead. As I'm wondering if I'm being taken advantage of because of my white face, I realize that the change she's counting into my hand keeps coming...and coming...and coming.

Then that number lesson I should have paid better attention to dawns on me...she said 8.6, not 86. Oh yeah. Gotta love those decimals!

Tonight was another happy night to be a locavore. For a little over two dollars, tonight I brought home six apples, five bananas, one pineapple (peeled and everything!), one tomato, three carrots, and some oily bread that Kevin likes.

What makes it even better is that I can now identify myself with the word that won Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year award in 2007. If you don't believe me, click here.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Language Victory!

This week in class, I learned occupation words: mailman, policeman, electrician, painter, photographer, teacher, doctor, nurse...theif. Theif? That's not much of an occupation. Besides, when in the world am I going to use that word anyway?

Fast forward seven hours...my taxi driver drops me off at my house and tells me how much my toll is. I pay him, and he hands me back my change. When I counted it, I noticed he had given me too much. Though it was only a matter of cents, it was only a matter of sense for me to say something. "Really?" I ask him. He realized his mistake and as he was dolling out my correct change, I told him, "I'm not a theif!"

And you know what happened?

He laughed at me.

But not the kind of laugh I usually get. The kind that says: This crazy foreigner! Are those sounds coming out of her mouth supposed to be words?

No, in my heart of hearts, I'd like to believe it wasn't that kind of mocking laugh but that he actually laughed with me and not at me.

Did I make a joke? Did someone actually understand my joke? Did that someone even laugh at my joke?

I think I did!

And that is a good thing. A very good thing indeed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Do we live in a war zone?

There was a big holiday here a few weeks ago. This was our newbie response to it. In actuality, I took this video way too early in the evening. As the night progressed, things only got louder & louder. It was like Fourth of July on steroids...major steroids.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wanted: two thinking caps, one size fits all

This week marked the first full week of language study. Here is the routine we're working into:

8 AM prep for study
9-11 AM meet with our tutors
11 AM review tutor session; look up mystery words in dictionary
12 PM eat lunch (yes, still pb&j for the most part!)
1-5 PM study some more! (unless of course there are errands to run...a happy excuse!)

Studying is our full-time job! I still hit the 3 o'clock wall, only Diet Coke is not as easy to locate as it once was in my old office.

Here are some interesting observations about our dear, sweet tutors:

My tutor wears a wig. Not because she needs to but because it's stylish. On the first day of class, she showed up with long, curly-ish hair. The second day, it was a short bob. Being the observant husband that he is, Kevin asked if she had cut her hair. Before she had a chance to answer, Kevin's tutor blurts out, "It's fake!" Sure enough.

The weather decided to warm up the week before last. Now it is cold again. I was discussing this with my tutor and taught her the word "fickle," as in Fickle February. When she came back the next day, we both commented again about the dropping temperatures. "Yes," she said. "It is Frickle February." Not fickle, but frickle. That was worth a laugh!

Kevin's tutor is in a band. The band is called Purple Frogs (in the local language of course). On their first day of class, Kev's tutor says to him, "May I ask you a personal question?" Hoping that maybe he could delve into deeper topics right at the beginning of their relationship, Kevin quickly obliged. The personal question: are you a smoker? So much for bonding over deep issues!

But we love our tutors. They are patient and helpful. Moments like these give us some much needed laughter when the rest of the time feels like our brains are melting and oozing out of our ears.

Off to bed for me! Tomorrow starts another day and another week of tackling this language!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Two Stages of Dirty

Sad to say, I've never been much of a housekeeper. I'm not a wonder woman like Beth Wilson who insists on vaccuuming her hardwood floors at midnight when she's 8 1/2 months prego. No, no, that's not me.

But there is a certain level of dirtiness that even I know absolutely requires intervention. That intervention is exactly what happened in my kitchen this past weekend. I spent four hours scrubbing every nook and cranny of that place, from the tile walls, countertops, doorframes, and cabinets. I killed a a few trees with all the papertowels I went through and used an entire bottle of cleaning solution. In fact, there were moments when my head was buried deep inside of a cabinet with just the fumes for company. Now that the skin on my right hand is peeling off, I wonder "Is this the price for cleanliness?"

Even with a few missing brain cells from the chemicals, I was able to make some observations about the life cycle of dirty:

First of all, there is abundadirt. Abundadirt is the kind of dirt that inspires thoughts like, "Has this ever been cleaned in its entire existence?" For example, I discover that the top of my door (yes, there is a door into my kitchen. Not a common decorating feature in America but hey...this is not an American kitchen!) is an unfortunate brown-ish gray color. Maybe the makers just wanted to save some varnish and didn't apply up here, I think (and I hope). But no. Abundadirt strikes again. The positive side of abundadirt is that there is hope for clean. All it takes is some elbow grease and some dangerously overpotent (and most likely unregulated) cleaning solutions.

My second discovery is permadirt. Permadirt is the archnemesis to the housewife. It lurks in corners seen and unseen with such soiled stubborness, such dirty doggedness. Scrub and scrub as you may, there is no victory against permadirt. Permadirt is frustrating. Permadirt is cruel. Permadirt does not relinquish its hold.

I'm pleased to report that abundadirt was much more copious during this cleaning sessions than permadirt. After the galactic battle of Becky vs Dirt, the good guy has prospered and cleanliness reigns. My kitchen makes me smile now everytime I go in there for oatmeal or pb&j.

(Just don't look underneath my cabinets...this is where Permadirt's evil lair is located...)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cultural Commentary or Calloused Complaining?

Here is a quandry of mine, fellow blog readers: when does commentary become complaining? I mean, I can look around this new place called home and see so many striking differences to what I've known for the past twenty five years. Some of them I appreciate, some of them I can only just tolerate. But is to post these thoughts & observations to complain? Is it complaining to be honest about the thoughts that run through my head as we undergo this crazy thing called cultural assimilation?

I suppose the answer is my motive. More than anything, please hear that we are both so delighted to be here.

And that's where you come in. If you ever read between the lines anything that sounds like complaining or a discontentment in being here, please say something. Whether an email or a blog comment, I need to know.

Maybe to make it easier to shed some light on my heart's status, we should have a code word. How about "papa's got a brand new bag?" That's all you gotta say!

Friday, February 13, 2009

What a kitchen needs and what has to be done to get it

Since I've been a vagabond for the past six months, I must sadly admit that my cooking skills have gotten a bit rusty. I was certainly spoiled by all of those kind souls who provided meals for us once I became kitchen-less and sold all of my cooking utensils and appliances. It's going to take some time for those culinary cogs in my mind to grind into gear again. Here is a typical conversation preceeding a meal time:

Kevin: I'm hungry. What is there to eat?
Becky: Hmmm...how about...pb&j?
Kevin: (being the sweet, sweet man that he is) Sounds great!

Well, this cannot go on forever. So I take a look around my kitchen to deduce what I need, and two obvious deficiencies stand out to me. One is a water dispenser (like the ones office folk gather around for gossip). Two is a microwave. Great! A plan! So we convince a national friend to accompany us the next day to make these oh-so vital purchases.

Our shopping trip begins around 10 AM. To set the scene: shopping for appliances here is like shopping for running shoes at Fleet Feet or Run Tex & for appliances at Target or Best Buy. Just like when you find a pair of shoes you like, you have to ask the salesman if they have them in your size. So the salesman goes to the back to check for your size. Then they return carrying a box or two (two if they're good at their job and realize that your feet swell when you run so you'll most likely need a size up). What the salesman does not do is simply give you a bothered look and say, "We don't have that." What do you mean you don't have it? It's out here on display. Isn't the very purpose of "display" to show off the products that you have to sell me? Sigh...

Now that you understand what I'm up against here...We head off to store #1 and have a look around. I find a few things I like and am very encouraged. So the conversation goes a little something like this:

Me: "How about this water dispenser?"
My friend translates...
Salesman: "Don't have it"
Me: "Well, what about this one?"
My friend translates again...
Salesman: "Nope."
Me: "Will you please ask them why they have it on display if they don't have it to sell?!?"
I think she neglected to translate that one for me...

So a bit disgruntled by these deceptive displays, we move onto store #2. Pretty much an identical scenario so we head back to store #1. Only now it's right around lunch time so that makes things interesting...

Me: "Here's a microwave I can live with. Do they have it?"
My friend translates and tells me that they don't have it but are willing to sell me the display. Finally! A break through! (I later find out that it's very rare that they'll sell you the display so this really is good fortune).


I look up and notice an employee is warming up her lunch in one of the display microwaves! How truly odd.

Conversation continues...

Me: "OK so we'll take the display microwave. But it's got a big scratch on the top. They should give us a discount or something."
My friend haggles with the salesman, who then brings over one of the most rotund Asian people I've yet seen here. He's wearing an official store vest, which obviously makes gives him the authority to offer me a discount of a whopping $1.50!


Another happy employee now has their lunch.

So now I have a microwave with a scratch on it (minus the $1.50 of course). But it doesn't end there! I think the saleslady feels a little sorry for me that my scratch is clearly worth more than a $1.50 so she disappears and comes back with a box. Inside is a plastic bowl with a snap-on lid. A free gift, my friend informs me. Well alright! Now we're talking!

Ding! Ding!

Now the entire display wall of microwaves is being utilized not by one, nor even two but an entire gaggle of salespeople.

But wait...the free gifts don't stop here! She disappears again and appears with another box. It's a microwaveable vegetable tray! It's as if the heavens have opened and living manna has fallen from the sky! If you know me well, then you know how much this gift truly touches my heart. I mean, when my husband can buy me an electric steamer for my birthday back in the States and be lavished with praise and affection, that is certainly a character-discerning moment. As long as I have my steamed veggies, I think I can live just about anywhere.


OK now this place is starting to smell more like a restaraunt than an appliance store!

Again she scampers off and comes back with a box of rice bowls. No, those have a scratch. Off she goes to get another box of rice bowls. No, those are dirty (reason for the dirt forthcoming). So she goes back to get the original box of rice bowls, which are destined to go home with me.

Then she digs through a drawer below her and pulls out two packages. One is an oven mitt. Great. I actually need that. The other is an apron. No thank you, I say. I brought an apron from America that my dear friend Erin made me. Plus I discovered another one in a drawer in my kitchen. And considering that this apron I'm now being offered looks more like a Home Depot apron that anything I'd want to wear while cooking, I find it only appropriate to kindly refuse.

The apron is shoved toward me again.
I nudge it back. Do I really need more junk? I just spend six months purging!
The apron is once again placed in my pile of free goodies.
Another reminder that it's lunch time and I'm getting hungry too. I suppose the apron will be mine. Perhaps one of these employees would like to wear it while they reheat their lunch?

So let's review my spoils: one display microwave with a scratch on the top, $1.50 worth of savings in my pocket due to said scratch, one water dispenser, one plastic bowl with snap lid (which is so happily storing pineapple in my fridge at this very moment), one microwaveable steamer tray (which is already stained from frequent use), one box of rice bowls (still scratched, still in the box), one oven mitt (which has been used as well on non-pb&j days), and one apron (I think that might have made it in the trash...why start collecting junk now?).


One more employee's lunch is finished. I see her open the other box of rice bowls that we refused and sneak one for her own use. I imagine she'll use it and stick it back in the box. So that explains why it's dirty...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We may not be in Utah but...

We saw a re-enactment of this famous "Napoleon Dynamite" scene when we walking to lunch this afternoon. There was a little boy riding a bike, pulling a few other little boys on skateboards behind him. I literally shouted to Kevin, who was a good ten feet ahead of me, "Hey man, can you pull me into town?"

Our national friends with whom we were walking wanted to know what I thought was so funny. So I proceeded to try to explain to them the movie and this particular scene. Now it's true that no one in America can quite figure out why people find "Napoleon Dynamite" funny so imagine how exceptionally difficult it was to communicate this to an Asian! About half way through the story, I realized that my humor just wasn't going to translate, so I just gave up and contented myself with a laugh that no one else but me could enjoy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

She's gone artsy!

My dear, dear parents are so generous. I think they secretly want to encourage my artistic side too. Well, they've certainly done it this time! For Christmas, they bought me a Canon Rebel. It's just so beautiful in all its sleekness and unlocked potential.

That's just the thing...unlocked potential. Up until November, I had never heard the word "aperture" (and no, I didn't read it in a Charlotte Bronte book) and for all I knew, ISO was just another acronym that secured me no points during Scrabble.

Until recently that is. I had a little tutorial session when were down south (thanks James!) and now...

She's gone artsy.

This is a flower. Don't ask me what kind of flower it is (I said I was learning photography, not botany). Don't ask me what my inspiration was for taking this picture. It's just a flower, ok?

This is my husband. He is sitting in the grass. This shot could never have been replicated in my new country for two reasons: 1) I have yet to see grass here. 2) Even if saw grass and, like in this picture, the sight of said grass coincided with the sight of my husband sitting in said grass, said grass would be promply forgotten in the fervor of trying to remove said husband from said grass for the certain abundance of dirt and other dirty things...which will remaind unsaid.

This is a sunset. No, that's not a polluted sky. It looks kind of artsy, doesn't it? Well, that's because I'm artsy now. Actually, not really at all. I switched to my telephoto lens and it all fogged up because of the humidity. I started taking pictures before I noticed the foggy lens, and this is what I got. I think it looks kind of cool though, don't you?

This is a baby I met at the airport. I love babies here. They are the cutest things ever! Except of course, this baby...

OK so this isn't an artsy picture. I used the flash...gasp! But this is most certainly a cute baby. This is Baby Mason, our friend Micah & Michelle's baby. Not artsy, just plain cute.

Believe it or not, there are certain days here in my new home where I don't really want to be here. I'd like to be in a place where I can understand what's being said around me (or about me as the case may be), a place where I can figure out how to turn on my stove, or a place where the population density is a little lower. On those days, I make myself look for reasons why I do want to be here, why it really is a joy to live overseas. I look for reasons, and I take pictures of those reasons with my trusty Rebel. So when artsy meets acclimation, I think it's a good thing.

She's gone artsy, she's acclimating...

Monday, February 09, 2009

I was tagged!

The Sal tagged me. Here goes...

[1] Grab the nearest book.
[2] Open to page 56.
[3] Find the 5th sentence.
[4] Post the text of the next 2-5 sentences and these rules.
[5] Tag 5 peeps!

Little does Sal know that most of the books within my reach are written in a language that I can't read nor speak nor figure out how to type. So we'll try for another book...

"My attention was now called off by Miss Smith desiring me to hold a skein of thread: while she was winding it, she talked to me from time to time, asking me whether I had ever been at school before, whether I could mark, stich, knit, etc.; till she dismissed me, I could not pursue my observations on Miss Scatcherd's movements." -Jane Eyre

I know most people quit reading classics when they graduate high school and are no longer under the watchful eye of Flem (the sobriquet given to our high school english teacher--don't get the wrong impression though--we really did like her). But not me. Admittedly so, I'm a nerd. Admittedly so, I love classics. Find me a modern-day author who uses words like "quiescent" or "aquiline!"

By the way, my Literary Goals for 2009 include "Tale of Two Cities" and "Jane Eyre." I'm about 20 pages from finishing the latter.

OK your turn to be tagged...

Rachel W.
Rachel C. (if you can find the internet & find time before Baby Abby comes!)
Shannon S.
Sarah P.
Robyn Y.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


So what did our tropical days entail? Well...

Kevin & I spent a day snorkeling. I think I was quite spoiled for my first snorkeling experience to take place in Hawaii. Not much can compare to that! So although the sights belowwere not as breath-taking as one could have hoped for, Kevin & I had an enjoyable day on the boat out to sea.

Though we had no sightings of Nemo or Ariel, we did spot some truly interesting Russian characters. I think the Russian vacationing mentality is simple mathmatics:

Russians + speedos = true love forever

On our snorkeling boat, these were the choices of swim attire: one bikini cut black speedo, one boy short cut speedo with blue tiger stripes, and one speedo with neon vertical stripes. Now I know vertical stripes are supposed to be slimming but seriously! I've never been so thankful for the donning wetsuits!

The gentleman daring to wear the bikini cut suit thought it a grand idea to take in some sun while the boat was traversing to its destination. So there he lay on his back with his legs spread indian-style to the sky for the whole world to see. Though trying my very best not to gape at this spectacle, I couldn't help but notice a very conspicuously placed q-tip stored in the elastic waistband of his speedo. What the use of that q-tip is, the world may never know.

We also got to spend a day at the beach. Sure, sure the ocean was actually clear, the sand was actually white, and the sky was actually pollution-free but the best part of the day was people watching. More Russians, more speedos! I'll spare you the extent of the details but I do have to share the Tarzan sighting: a leopard print speedo accompanied by a fanny pack that covered more fanny than the speedo itself!

So if you're not opposed to speedos, than this is the tropical vacation for you!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Ode to tan thighs

Tan thighs, tan thighs
A reminder of clear blue skies
And the sun that once resided there
In the sunny south far from winter's lair.

Warm rays I indeed leave behind
but I cannot extricate from my mind
Thoughts of lazy days near surf & sea,
My coat delightfully unnecessary.

Thankful tan thighs have accompanied me
Though now hidden fast beneath my jeans
It's as if my tan thighs have sworn
That this freezing girl once was warm.

So sorry to be absent from the blog world for a few weeks. Fear not--you shall now not be without our observations of this new life from the viewpoint of culture shock! We've been in the sunny south since mid-January and just returned at the beginning of this week. We had some company meetings & also took the opportunity to vacation with some of our American friends that live here with us.

You might be asking why in the world would we want to vacation with a family that we will see nearly every day. You might think this absurd. That is until you met this family and discovered what (as the matriarch of this family would put it) truly lovely & enjoyable people they are.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Taxi Cab Blues

Day 1: So have you ever waited outside of your house for an HOUR in the freezing cold for a taxi cab to pick you up and in the end having to take a bus for continued lack of cab?

Day 2: So have you ever needed a cab to take you, your husband, and two heavy bags across town but had to again wait in the cold, only to be refused service by one, then literally kicked out of another with exclamations of "Get out! I don't want your money!" and then utterly ignored by three more empty cabs before finally being rescued by the guardian angel of cab drivers?

Well, we have. So next time you enter your nice, warm garage through your nice, warm house to immediately get in your nice, warm car, just think of us!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Driving Miss Becky: Taxi Conversations 101

There are many benefits to riding in taxis:

1) You don't have to risk your life walking or riding a bike. Sidewalks don't exist here. Not because there aren't any built alongside the road but because a car at any point will go ahead and drive on it.

2) It's warm. Since I haven't yet aquired my fur-lined hood or surgeon's mask that the people here wear to keep warm, I resort to taxi heat. In fact, an American friend of ours even hailed a cab for me just to sit in while we were waiting on some other friends.

3) Language practice. I mean, who else would tolerate a crazy foreigner and her limited (and might I add very RANDOM!) vocabulary skills? A cab driver is more or less forced to sit, listen, and even participate in "conversation."

I'd like to give you a little taste of my taxi conversation from this afternoon. (I'd also like to add that this was my first solo trip. No Kevin, no other foreigner...just me and my driver!)

Me: How are you?
Cab driver: Huh?
Me: (in my head) ok...that one didn't work...onto the next question...do you like to eat apples?
Cab driver: some sort of response...I have no clue what he said...
Me: Do you like small dogs?
Cab driver: Laughs at me.
Me: Do you have any children?
Cab driver: Two children. (Finally! An answer I can understand!)
Me: How old are they?
Cab driver: Some numbers I can't understand. I hate learning numbers! I never learned numbers when I studied spanish. Somehow I don't think thay will work out well for me here...
Me: Are you tired?
Cab driver: No.
Me: Are you cold? I am cold. But I have this (point to coat) and this (point to gloves). What are these called?
Cab driver: Repeats word. Repeats word again because I have utterly mispronounced it in my feeble attempt at repetition.
Me: (as we pass a roller coaster...weird...random roller coaster on side of the highway) Do you like this?
Cab driver: Laughs. Says no...I think.

It goes on like this for a while. Actually, not for while since it really doesn't take long to exhaust my vocabulary list.

Back to the books until I can come up with some other random questions!

Monday, January 12, 2009

We're home!

This is the tale of two vagabonds who ventured across the big, blue ocean...

We woke up at 4:30 on Monday morning in order to catch our 7 AM flight. We had managed to pack our entire life into four suitcases, two backpacks, two duffle bags, and a guitar case. It was so hectic lugging all of our bags into the airport that the goodbyes with my parents were actually much easier than expected. Surprisingly, the Austin airport much more crowded than we anticipated it, but thankfully we were able to check our bags (with no extra cost!) and make it through security just in time. In fact, they were already boarding the plane when we showed up, so we didn't have to wait.

We took a four hour flight to San Francisco, and then prepared for the whopper of a flight: 12 hours across the ocean! Kevin had an aisle seat, and my seat was next to a wee infant. Recipe for misery you might think but this little guy was actually very well behaved. It turned out in my favor because I could shove all of my stuff in his foot space. He certainly wasn't using it!

We finally arrived in the capital and had a three hour layover before our flight to our city. Both our luggage and our American friends met us at there. We were greeted with cheers, hugs, and the cold! I knew it was going to be cold but the 80 degree weather in Austin before we left just didn't properly prepare me.

We went to visit our new apartment. After months of being vagabonds, we have a home. I'm overwhelmed at the provision here! Our place is bigger & nicer than our apartment in Louisville for sure. Our friends had arranged some renovations already, including a full-size oven!

The apartment does pose some decorating challenges though. Exhibit A:

What am I even supposed to do with this?!?!

We spent our first night in our new home. The next day, we went to the paint store to arrange for further renovations & painting. I do not make decorating decisions very well, especially under pressure, so this proved to be somewhat of a trial for me. But I did it, the painting is underway even at this moment. The interesting thing about our paint job is that the painters are living at our house while they work. Strange.

This past weekend, we took a three-hour train to the capital city to receive teacher training for our English classes that will begin in mid-February. While we were there, I had Subway for three meals. It's just a difficult reality when the nearest Subway is three hours away! We also did some furniture shopping at Ikea. I suppose I should be fair and say we didn't just do some shopping...we did seven hours of furniture shopping! My dear, sweet, patient husband! The good news is that we have bedroom furniture. The bad news (or maybe more good news if you like furniture shopping...and going back to the capital for more Subway!) is that we'll have to go back to finish up shopping.

For the rest of the week, we're staying at our friends Brad & Amy's apartment while they are on vacation. Speaking of vacation, we are leaving for a much warmer place on Sunday for our own vacation!

So that's what's going on for now! Thanks for reading & following us on this big adventure.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Last post from America!

So I've been informed by one of our blog readers (one of the few I'm sure!) that she was under the impression that we were still in Europe. No wonder she thought that since I'm still posting about Europe! But alas that is not the case. I'm just slow at blogging, that's all. But I suppose it's time to move on from Europe since the next big adventure starts tomorrow.

But first...here are the recent highlights of Peek life: (pictures to come)

* Becky ran a marathon on New Years Day! Hooray! I finished in 4:08 and had a lot of fun. I think I had the largest support crown there of any other runner: 10 people, 2 kids, and 1 barking weenie dog! What a fun day!

* Becky has short hair! Hooray! I donated my hair again. It wasn't quite long enough to do Locks of Love this time so I chose to give it to Pantene Pro-V's Beautiful Lengths campaign. They only require 8 inches instead of 10. It sure is short!

* Kevin is a Wii champion! Hooray! He's playing Mario Galaxy as I type, and he's pretty darn good at it. Always a kid at heart I suppose.

* Our three year wedding anniversay is coming up on Wednesday! Hooray!

But the biggest news of all is that we leave bright & early in the morning. We are leaving for the airport at 5:30 AM and will arrive on Tuesday evening. Don't even ask how many hours of travel that is. I haven't brought myself to do that math!

Well, our next post will be from the other side of the world! Until then, love to you all!