Category Archives: as soon as possible

Holy Cow, Macao………..

I still have so much writing to do about our time in India and it’s time to get moving – so here we go….

You might remember that right before we left India, we made a jaunt over to China – you can read about the Great Wall here and Olympic Park/Panda Bears here and Bicycles here.We also stopped in Hong Kong. Sadly, we picked to go to Hong Kong mainly because there is a DisneyWorld there. However, when we arrived in Hong Kong and checked into our hotel, I was looking through the hotel’s information and saw that Cirque Du Soleil was performing in Macao (which is also apparently spelled Macau). Bonus!

Hubby: I am pretty tired. It’s good to sit down.
Me: Look, Cirque Du Soleil is in Macao.
Hubby: Is that the Macao that is across the ocean?
Me: How far is that from here?
Hubby: No idea – but I am sure we are about to find out.
Me: The kids l.o.v.e. Cirque Du Soleil, we should totally go.
Hubby: Or we could relax and order room service.
Me: Hmmmm.
Hubby: I will go the the conceirge and see what we need to do
Me: Only if you really want to dear. 😉

We found out that yes, Macao, is not exactly around the corner from Hong Kong – but is a lot closer to Hong Kong than it is to the U.S. 😎

So, my dear sweet husband went down to the front desk and found out that there were tickets still available for that night’s show. They were not exactly free – but they were available. What we needed to do was rent a car to take us to the ferry station, then take the ferry over to Macao, then take a bus to the Venetian Hotel, and then watch the show. And then rinse and repeat backwards. It turns out that renting a car and riding the ferry – not so much free either. But the bus ride to the Venetian. Totally free. See we are saving money dear!

The whole adventure was going to take us about 5 hours and we needed to leave about 5 minutes ago.

Off we go. One crazy thing about China is that even though Beijing and Macao and Hong Kong are all in China, you still have to go through Customs and Immigration each time you leave one and enter another. So, in one day, we went through Immigration 4 times. Yikes. And we were pretty much always in a hurry. Adding Macao and the Cirque Du Soleil in at the last minute was a tad stressful – but it made for a great night.

We rushed down to the lobby to meet the driver and then stopped by 7-11 for a slurpee – ahhhhh – and headed off to the ferry.

We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. Thankfully Hong Kongers (yes, that is the technical term) speak English and we could at least understand where they were telling us to go. We got to the ferry counter and there was a big sign for helicopter rides to Macao. Now, I have my husband’s attention. That sounded cool. He asked about tickets and when he found out it would be about $2,000 USD, he bought ferry tickets.

The ferry was pretty neat. And we got to see a bit of Hong Kong. If you’ve never been, just imagine tall building after taller building after even taller building. New York has nothing on Hong Kong.

At the ferry station, there were all these fun tugboats. Not sure why I love me some tug boats, but I do. I don’t necessarily want to ride on them – but I love taking pictures of them.

Once we got into Macao and on the bus, we started breathing a little easier. We had a good chance of being on time.

For those of you not familiar with Macao, it is simply Las Vegas incarnate. Flashy splashy hotel with big honkin’ casino right beside flashy splashy hotel with big honkin’ casino. Endless roads of hotels and casinos, all lit up real sparkly. Part of Macao is over this bridge. And I learned an important lesson about photography – fast moving bus + city with tons of lights + children asking a gagillion questions + amateur photographer taking flash pictures through window = stinky pictures. So sorry! I’d like to pretend that I was trying some new fangled photography and was getting all artistic with a simple bridge – but, alas, blurry is blurry.

Here is my best Macao picture. Yeah, don’t worry those National Geographic photographers won’t be in danger of losing their jobs anytime soon.

This is the Venetian – where the magic of Cirque Du Soleil takes place.

And here is what the Venetian looks like if you actually know how to use your camera – Thanks Wiki!

It turned out that we got to the hotel about 45 minutes before the show was scheduled to start. And it turns out that we did not get my brother a Hard Rock Cafe hat in Beijing – long story that did not end well – and that we passed a Hard Rock Cafe hotel in Macao that was literally a block away from the Venetian. So, number one hubby literally ran over to the Hard Rock Cafe and got my brother a Macao Hard Rock hat while the kids and I nestled into the Blue Frog Bar and Grill. Where we enjoyed some yummy American food – chicken nuggets and french fries and potato skins with sour cream. That equalled instant smiles…

 

What I did not realize about the Blue Frog and Grill was that they have a running contest – if you drink 100 shots of alcohol, you get your name posted in big arse letters on a big arse billboard in the bar. My kids wanted to figure out how they could get their names on that board. Well, let’s see….

Then on to the show. The name of the show is ZAIA which apparently translates into “life” and the show is about a girl who imagines a world beyond earth. You don’t really need to know any of that – what you do need to know is that it’s awesome with tons of acrobatics and lively music and surprises behind every curtain.

You aren’t allowed to take pictures during the show – so you get to see the posters. Apparently, I am also not so great at taking pictures while standing still in a well lit lobby with no children asking questions. Note to self – photography lessons.

We told the kids before we even left Hong Kong that we would most likely have to leave the show early because we had to catch the ferry back in order to take advantage of the hotel room we had already paid for in Hong Kong. So, as time got close to leave, we gave them the requisite 5-minute warning. Then we said, “time to go.” You can imagine that they quickly got up and departed the theater in a safe and orderly manner so as not to disturb the other audience members.

Yeah, not exactly – so hubby laid down the parent law – not kidding, I said now. Then they departed in a somewhat quiet and orderly manner while only mildly disturbing a few fellow audience members.

We made it back on the bus and back to the ferry and back to the driver all in one piece. And then back to our hotel.


Whew. It actually was possible to get there in back. I thought so. 😎 However, if you plan to visit Macao while in Hong Kong, might I suggest a little advance planning?

Some days are tougher than others……….

I often start these posts by saying how hard it is to really explain life here – but it really, really is. No really – it really is. It sounds exotic and privileged and fascinating and it is absolutely all of those things. But life here can be difficult to manage. I miss the conveniences and the independence. Never mind family and friends because that is another blog post entirely.

This week Flower has been pretty sick. She just got over chicken pox and jumped right into some unknown something or other that nobody can really seem to pinpoint. When your kids are sick in a third world country and you cannot exactly define what is going on, the adventure becomes a tad less appealing. I want to be clear that I have never felt she was in any danger (that is for the grandparents who read this blog) but it has been frustrating. Flower just really doesn’t get sick – so to see her really unable to get out of bed just stinks. And to have everyone just sort of shrug their shoulders with a “oh, this is normal, come back in a few days” attitude is just not what I am looking for in medical care.

Flower had her appendix out when she was 7. She was very close to it rupturing. In the emergency room, the doctor practically stood on her stomach. She had no reaction at all. He was walking out of the room, convinced that she was going to be just fine because there was absolutely no way that a child with appendicitis would not react to that kind of pressure, when the CT scan came back. We were in the operating room 10 minutes later – it appeared she did in fact have a very infected appendix.

She just doesn’t get knocked out. So to hear the doctor(s) say – she looks listless, but she just isn’t that sick – augh. I want to jump through my mommy skin and send them back to medical school. Isn’t the first thing they learn to trust the mother’s instinct? If it isn’t, it should be. Something is going on with her.

And of course, if we were home, I wouldn’t be so worried because the chances of getting Dengue Fever, Malaria, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Encephalitis, and all those other scary things are just a wee bit less.

Then if you add having staff working for you it gets so flippin complicated.

My cook knows just what is wrong with her. He has not even been to culinary school, much less medical school but he knows just what is wrong.

Francis: She has a fever?
Me: Yes
Francis: This will take a week – maybe 5 days
Me: Okay
Francis: But don’t worry ma’am – last night I prayed for her
Me: thank you, that was very thoughtful of you
Francis: Jesus will take care of it.
Me: I believe that
Francis: Jesus will make her better

Now, I want to be clear that I am very glad Jesus is on it. And I didn’t realize that Francis had such tight connections. But I am not leaving it to prayer – I have been doing that myself too – but we can also take some a.c.t.i.o.n.

One of the really nice things in India is that I do have the cell phone number of our doctor. So, I called her directly and made an appointment (yes that is crazy). She was able to make an appointment for us in half an hour (also insane). That means we need to leave right away.

However, our driver had gone out to get mosquito nets for our beds because Bear is getting eaten alive when he sleeps (and, yep, we have taken many precautions so that mosquitoes don’t enter our house – but they are persistent little buggers). He went to the market near us and felt that the nets were too expensive – so he decided to drive to a market that was quite a distance from our house to save us about 200 rupees (that would be $4). Nope, he did not ask first – just decided that would be the thing to do. So now he cannot get back quickly to get our daughter to her doctor appointment and the doctor is leaving shortly. Yes, I am frustrated. While I really appreciate the fact that he was trying to save us money – getting our daughter to the doctor is a m.u.c.h. bigger priority. M_U_C_H  B_I_G_G_E_R.

We ultimately figured it out. Hubby took Flower in another car with another driver and I met them at the doctor’s office. On my way, I got to hear all about the cost savings and the available colors of mosquito nets and all about traffic and how this vendor did this and that vendor did this and holy four dollars, batman. I was polite – but really – not caring so much about the whole story. Just. want. to. get. to. the. doctor. yesterday.

The doctor looked her over and really felt we needed to wait a couple of days to do any testing. See how Flower does. Keep her in a cool room. No school. Lots of liquids. You know the drill.

So Hubby took Flower home and I went to buy Gatorade. This involved 3 phone calls. You just cannot assume anything – in the U.S., I could tell you 18 places that sell Gatorade within walking distance of my house. Here – you better check first. So, I found out where I believed the Gatorade would  be. Went there. And they had it – yeah! And they also had the Starbucks coffee drinks that Hubby loves.

I thought I would get him a few. So I asked if they had the “coffee-flavored” coffee drinks.

Me: Do you have the “coffee-flavored” coffee drinks?
Him: Yes, how many do you want?
Me: I see Mocha, Vanilla, and Caramel – but not Coffee – do you have that?
Him: Yes, how many do you want?
Me: I want the “coffee” flavor – you have Vanilla, Mocha, and Caramel – see right here on the label (picture me pointing to the label) – I want the one that says “coffee” – I can see why it is confusing because they all say “coffee” but there are different flavors.
Him: How many
Me: I looked at all of the boxes here – I don’t see “Coffee”. Do you have “coffee”.
Him: Yes, how many do you want?

Just a note here – Indians don’t seem to make 15 varieties of the same product – so I want to be fair that it is not their fault that Starbucks has complicated the simpleness of a coffee drink. But even in this land of “oh sure, they all speak English” sometimes it is very, very difficult to get your point across. Finally, after he took all the boxes off the shelf (and yep, he watched me do the exact same thing just moments before) and realized there wasn’t actually a coffee drink called “coffee”.

He disappeared around the corner and – wahlah – and after (quite) a few minutes – came back with 8 “coffee-flavored” coffee drinks. I am not sure when the understanding of what I was trying to say kicked in but hubby is glad it did. At least the guy did not promise me the drinks “tomorrow” or compliment me on being the “first customer of the day”.

Hubby also asked me to pick up a pizza. I was weary of this because the pizza joint he wanted pizza from is a more of a “by the slice” kind of place. But I thought I would give it a shot.

I went up to the window and there was a whole cheese pizza sitting in the display case. I think I actually let out a sigh – this is not going to be as complicated as I thought. Yahoo for me.

Me: I would like a pizza
Her: That will be 75 rupees (that is $1.50)
Me: Really, for a whole pizza?
Her: Oh, you want the whole pizza?
Me: Yes
Her: That is eight slices (with a completely confused look on her face)
Me: Yes it is – that’s what I would like
Her: But that is eight slices
Me: Got it – I would like a whole pizza puhleassssseeee – in fact this one in the window will do nicely
Her: No, we’ll make you a fresh one – it will take 3 minutes.
(Just another note – if you are thinking, “that is amazing – they can make a pizza in 3 minutes” – my dear friend, I have a lovely bridge I would like you to consider buying – you are my first customer of the day and I will give you my very best price – tomorrow.)
Me: Honestly, this one is good
Her: You don’t want a fresh one?
Me: Nope – pretty sure this one that is already done is just great
Her: We’ll add cheese to it
Me: It has cheese on it – can I really please just take this one – as it is – now?
Her: Do you want it in one big box or each slice in its own box

Here is where I faltered. I was thinking about all the trash that eight slice boxes would be. So, I opted for the big box. But that changes what they normally do – it threw them for a little bit of a loop. The guy working there climbed up a ladder and went into a very small ceiling compartment. He did bring down a box. A very, very dirty box. It was dusty and greasy – I’ll spare you the details – but let’s just say you probably wouldn’t spit your gum out in it much less use it for a pizza that you actually planned to eat – and feed to your already sick child.

Me: Yeah, that box is kind of dirty
Her: You don’t want this box
Me: I am thinking hell no not exactly – is there another one up there?
Her: Okay – we’ll get another one

And they did get another box. It was better. But I am not kidding when I say they spent 5 minutes trying to put it together. It was apparently a broken box – still better than a dirty box – but broken nonetheless. So they performed box surgery and taped it 18 different ways. All of which came loose before I got all the way to the car.

The bottom line in this is that it took me 15 minutes to get the pizza that was already cooked and ready to go. Of course, it was worse because I really just wanted to get the Gatorade to Flower. But sometimes it is difficult to accomplish simple things here. And it is hard to understand why it is so complicated.

I finally got home and now Bear’s mosquito net is up over his bed. My first thought was – great, now we live in a Tarzan movie.

We ended the day by taking Flower to another doctor just to make sure we should not be concerned about anything scary. He had a completely different impression of what was wrong than doctor number 1. And no, I did not pick up a pizza on the way home.

It was a long day of  complications. So, most of the time I am jumping right in and enjoying our experiences here, some days are tougher than others.

How to succeed in life without really trying……..

I am finally understanding how things work here – well at least a little bit – I still have a ton of questions – but luckily I am not afraid to embarrass myself in the name of learning.

Case in point…

Yesterday I hosted a luncheon. It was a lot of fun and I have pictures so watch for that. But first things first. In order to get ready for it, I had the people who work for us come early. They worked their butts off and made everything wonderful. As you might of read, we had tables delivered so everyone could have a place to sit. The guys who delivered the tables made a mess of the driveway.

Yes, that would be the driveway my guests had to walk down to get to my front door. So it needed to be swept. Sooner than later.

Here is what I learned yesterday. There are very clear delineations as to what exactly everyone will and will not do. Kahn, our driver, drives and keeps the car clean. Laxmi, our cook, cooks and keeps the kitchen clean. Ravi, our house cleaner, cleans and keeps our house clean. The guards, well, apparently they will only guard. And the tent wallas will deliver tables and set them up, but they do not clean up any mess they make.

It really is simple. Kindergartner-level stuff, really.

Well, unless you add an ex-pat to the mix, who doesn’t understand “the way things work” and frankly doesn’t really care. Somewhere along the line I missed the memo.

Kahn, Laxmi, and Ravi have spoiled me. They work together very well as a team. Ravi has made sauce (I want him to learn to cook so his next job will be better) and even Kahn was in the kitchen yesterday cutting up vegetables. Maybe it’s not normal in India – hopefully it is more normal than I have been led to believe – I very much like that it is normal in my house. I like that they like working together and don’t hesitate to pitch in whenever needed.

Ravi was really busy and time was winding down for guests to arrive. I noticed he had not had a chance to sweep yet. So, I asked Laxmi to ask the guard to sweep the driveway. Kahn was by the gate so he could watch the gate for the 3 and a half minutes it would take him.

Did you feel that pull and jerk? Yes, that was the world – it stopped spinning for a minute – I messed with the alignment of the universe. I hope you didn’t spill your coffee – or worse – your wine. Even if it’s Gallo, there’s no need for spillage.

Laxmi tells me that he won’t do it. It is not his job.

Okay a few things…

My American friends are thinking – why didn’t you just do it yourself? The answer to that is – it is well over 100 degrees here and humid as hell and I had already showered. And there are some advantages to living here – I have people – they can do it. Two months ago, I would have agreed with you. Today, I am finally accepting that I can let them do the stuff I don’t like to do and not feel guilty about it.

The guard is not overtaxed with his workload. It’s a long day and a very boring job. He has to open a gate every now and then. From that he has perfected the arm movement he needs to know to sweep. Just longer strokes. Just closer to the ground.

Our driveway is not long. It would have taken him just a couple minutes.

I did not know this was a faux pas.

When Kahn heard the guard said no, Kahn took the broom and swept the driveway. I do know that drivers outrank guards here. How do I know that? Because whenever Kahn is outside with the guard, Kahn gets to sit in the guard booth with the fan and cooler of ice cold water.

As a result, Kahn, Laxmi, and Ravi got a bonus for the outstanding/hard work they did yesterday.

The guard lost his job.

Global Adjustments and At a Glance………

I mentioned the other day that I went to a presentation given by Ranjini Manian the CEO and founder of Global Adjustments.

It was very interesting on a number of levels. First of all, I won a prize! Yeah for me. It was this wash cloth. This washcloth was made by handicapped people and it is adorable. They may be handicapped but they sure are talented.

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I also won a cd that has the Indian National Anthem on it. Yeah for me again. 😎 Here is a link to it if you want to hear it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZi3fwP09zw. This one is by AR Rahman – that’s right movie buffs – THE AR Rahman of Slumdog Million. Jai Ho indeed. It is a beautiful song.

And just because I am bi-partisan like that, here is a link to the U.S. National Anthem by Whitney Houston. And yes, I LOVE this song.

Now, back to the meeting. Global Adjustments is a group that helps expats get more comfortable in their new surroundings. As such, the presentation was focused on helping us survive our transitions. Now, this is a monumental task because there were probably 125 people at the meeting – about 10 were Americans, one was an Indian who left and has returned to live in India, and then there were people from everywhere else. So forget about a level playing field – there isn’t a lot of common ground – except for the fact that we were all willing to take on the adventure of moving far from home in hopes of growing as global citizens.

So there are some universal truths. You do not have to agree/like with them – but just knowing that they exist will help with your transition.

Here goes……..

Language

English by any other name is not necessarily the English you know. Communicating can be frustrating here. Many people hire staff who claim to speak English then get extremely frustrated when they have a hard time talking with them in English. As you know, this has NEVER happened to ME personally, but some poor other frustrated souls. 😉 So, what Ranjini recommended is to use fewer words. My hubby actually recommends this too. He is wicked smart like that.

The ever polite English woman might ask her cook for a cup of tea in this way …

It would be so lovely if you could possibly make me a little cup of tea, if you wouldn’t mind, please. Thank you so much.

Apparently, “a cup of tea, please” is much less muddled and easier to understand. Translation – less frustrating and it means you get that bloody cup of tea much faster.

Namaste

This is the word you use to greet someone in India. It means much more than just hello or nice to meet/see you. It literally means “I bow to the divine in you”. Now that is some kick arse kind of lovely – don’t you think? It is accompanied by holding your palms together at your chest and bending a little towards the person you are greeting.

Time

Time does not exactly stand still here – but it is a relative term. I have learned an important word – lugbug (I am not sure how to spell it – but that is how you I say it.) Lugbug means “about”. That is how time is measured here – about. It is not precise.

Ranjini gave the example of ASAP. To A-type Americans this means yesterday or at least right now. As SOON as possible. To Indians this means as soon as “p.a.u.s.i.b.l.e.” – whenever you get it done – pauses are possible.  See there is a big difference.

Dress

Indians dress much more conservatively than most Westerners. Knees and shoulders covered. Yes, even when it is 110+ degrees outside. Not everyone visiting/living here follows those guidelines – but really it is respectful to do so. It will save you stares and maybe even some jeers.

Ranjini also mentioned that if possible take an Indian woman with you shopping for clothes. Apparently, Indians can be critical of each others dress (women being critical must be universal hee hee) and there are some fabric/styles that are more acceptable than others. I don’t really follow this one too closely. I have never been too overly aware of what other people think about the way I dress – I am a pretty boring dresser – solids with solids – so I wear what I like. If I get laughed at, it won’t be the first time. But this good to know if you are at all self -conscious or if you are going to a business meeting or traditional Indian event. There I would seek out some guidance.

Yes/No/Silence

Apparently, most Indians consider it rude to say no to a request. So, many times, they will agree to do something that is simply not possible. Enter frustrated expat full of expectations that yes actually means yes. There’s that damn language barrier again. So, if you get silence or a not exactly a resounding yes response – it is important to ask follow-up questions. How are you going to do this? When are you going to do this? Are you absolutely sure you can do this?

Ranjini also suggested that it might be helpful to give people an “out” when you ask them something. Tell them that you want an honest answer and it is okay to say that it might be hard to accomplish or even that it cannot be done. Explain that it is better to be upfront with expectations than to disappoint you later.

This is not just in an office my friends, remember this for electricians, carpenters, cooks, drivers, EVERYBODY!

Heirarchy

It is important to remember that this is a hierarchical society – whether you agree with it or not. Bigger cities are getting away from this somewhat – but not entirely. Your driver will likely outrank your cook – who will outrank your housekeeper. You outrank them all. 😎

Family

Indians are hugely attached and involved with their families. It is important to remember how significant their families and extended families are to them. Respect those bonds.

Domestic Help

I had several questions about this and sadly there was not enough time to open up a real discussion on this issue. But Ranjini said that most expats need to let go of the guilt of having staff. It is part of life here and in many ways it is (almost) a necessity. I still cannot bring myself to say it is required – but believe me it is extremely helpful and my life would stink without any help. So, I count my blessings on this one.