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?

video

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).

Ding!

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!

Ding!

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.

Ding!

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.
Ding!
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?).

Ding!

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

Swimwear

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.