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.