Archive | May, 2011

sent with love.

31 May

there is a running joke in the team goodtimes family about hannah’s ability (or inability) to wrap packages for the mail.  to put it bluntly, upon arrival most of her packages look like a carefully-crafted letter bombs. awkward for everyone really.

since sending things to each other is almost a pre-requisite of being in our trio, hannah’s handicap (i use that in the most pc way possible, of course) has yielded many hilarious moments over the last 5 years.

however, i regret to tell you that i have never had the foresight to photo-document these incidents. this being the case, i sadly have no contrast for the package i happily received this past friday from hannah.

it looks like an adult sent it.

i hope you will take my word for it when i say that, in comparison to her previous works of ‘art’, this looks like an adult wrapped it and not a sugar-crazed toddler. even better than her wrapping job was the fact that it was chock-full of useful things for life here – like gator-gear (duh) and bug spray!

candy (my coworkers love!), itch-stick (i love!) and jello (for jello shots - everyone loves!)

to take blog notes?

attacked the ants, but they've only multiplied. bastards.

happy 1st wedding anniversary hannah + pete! thanks for the picture!

thanks hannah!

so thanks dear friend for abstaining from your typical mail bombing ways to make certain your love-filled package would clear indian customs!

while she was sleeping.

29 May

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i have never been able to fall asleep easily.  when i was a little kid i would sit up at night rehashing the day and worrying about possible tornadoes, roaming serial killers and tiny murderous clowns on miniature motorbikes needless to say i spent many nights wishing sleep would find me.

and yet while i laid awake night after night, my sister would hop into bed and be out like a light.

finally one night enough was enough: wee al decided she wanted to find out how the heck her little sister was falling asleep so fast.

so i waited until my parents disappeared (to wherever parents disappear to when their young children are deemed asleep…) quietly slipped out of my bed and tip-toed across the gold shag carpet into my sister’s room. i inched closer to the edge of her bed and just watched, trying to discern her secret…

finally, i saw it: she was oh-so-subtly wiggling!

back and forth, to and fro the little minx was quietly shaking herself to sleep. brilliant, i thought! so i rushed back into my room, climbed up on my white metal bed and began shaking myself to sleep. shake shake shake….shake shake shake…shake. shake…

yah, it didn’t work.

now i was tired and angry. i had been cheated and i knew that my little sister had to pay for it.  so once again i quietly snuck back across the hall, peaked up over her bed and steadily began poking her. after a few minutes, upon realizing my prodding was yielding no reaction, i held her nose shut. (we have mouths for a reason people.)

but still nothing happened! the girl was so deeply asleep that even the most barbaric  of practices couldn’t wake her. so, i waved my white flag and shamefully crawled back to my room for another night of sleeplessness.

and gosh darn it, to this day i still have not found the secret to easy slumber while my sister continues forwad with no issues.  now, in my “more logical” adult-dom, i have decided that maybe her sleep secret goes a little deeper than just subtle shaking…

no one would argue that my sister is consistently giving, caring and kind, so, i truly believe that at the end of each day she just has less to worry about than i do.  she’s beyond good to everyone in her life and loves those around her to the fullest and it’s because of this that i know she finds peaceful sleep a cinch.

and really – despite my continued annoyance at laying awake night after night – who could ask for more than a sibling who reminds you to be better everyday.

so, dear sister, on this special day i wish you another 25 years of finding quick slumber. happy birthday!

welcome to your mid-twenties!

sorry canada, i quit.

27 May

campbells soup.  old el paso taco kit.  cap’n morgan margarita mix. betty crocker cupcakes. bounty paper towels. people magazines.  cream cheese. imported wine.  wii-fit. walls (i mean walls) of western books and dvds. one overarching thought:

“holy f*&k, i’ve hit the motherload.”

last night i had the pleasure of taking up the us-of-a embassy workers on their kind invitation to attend a birthday party. my excitement over this was seriously unprecedented – i feel almost embarrassed about how enthusiastic i was when mrs a emailed me on wednesday with the formal invite. i was all: “oh thank you so much!”,”it’s so appreciated!”, “what can i bring!” etc. and so on. in the words of the eagles: desperado.

anyway, mrs a and mrs b had their super-sweet driver come and pick me up at about 6.30 – i was actually thrilled to learn that their apartment is really close to gariahat – the market you should all be familiar with by now from this and this. their place is optimally located for me.

they live in an extremely fancy community with several layers of gates and guards – they even have one who sits in a room attached to their apartment. i actually laughed out loud when i saw that guy…mostly because my situation is so hilariously in contrast. (i have a deadbolt, a lock n’ key and a 5″5 caretaker.)

the apartment itself was just huge. i kept opening doors and finding maids quarters, galley kitchens, giant pantries, bathrooms upon bathrooms upon bathrooms.  i knew that it would  be intense, but…wow.  the embassy provides them with everything – including new cherrywood colonial furniture. what – obviously a necessity guys.

mrs b took me on a tour, showing off their home office, the ‘american food panty’ chock-full of western food, the heavenly wine rack and of course the curtains they had commissioned because the other ones were too ugly. and while she said they only cost $200 bucks, that’s a fortune here. actually it’s equal to the largest size loan that my mfi gives out:  it could literally be someones income for a year in india.

but i guess they’re not living in the same india i am.

and don’t get me wrong,  i’m ok with this.  they are wonderful, down-to-earth, warm, inclusive and giving people – despite the fact that they don’t seem super interested in getting too involved in local life. (i guess they have to stay pretty american-ized to do their jobs well) and frankly, i get enough ‘india’ in every other part of my world – my completely bengali office and neighborhood will suffice for now thanks. bring on the imported beer and nachos!

thankfully the americans have already invited me out again next friday and have thrown about 540 opportunities for me to further get involved with them. photography club! walking club! group trips! it’s gonna be like a suped-up version of summer camp.

so canada, bearing in mind the above i now have to ask: what have you done for me lately?

i quit.

punching ants and other pointless activities.

25 May

well i officially have an ant problem.  these red little buggers seem to be following me everywhere – they’re in my apartment, in my purse and on my desk at work.

in the words of derek zoolander: “what is this? a school for ants?”

and they’re not normal ants either.  they carry stuff. they play mind games. and i’m pretty sure they’re building some kind of ant-super-ship to take me out in the night. (they’re just a little too busy looking for my comfort…)

anyway, here’s a summary of the situation at home:

living room

kitchen part 1

kitchen part 2

well i’ve finally had enough.  i’ve asked them nicely (“please sirs, take your parade somewhere else!”) and i’ve tried punching them with my index finger – but nothing seems to work.  they’re either incredibly smart, or really stupid.

my guess is that it’s the latter, because now i’m about to unleash a world of hurt on them in the form of bug spray.

ants 23 al 3948534598239

listen to the music.

24 May

the scene outside my apartment last night:

(sorry i know the above is a bit fuzzy but you get the idea.  the video is so much better – check facebook. and if you’re not on facebook i repeat: what is wrong with you?)

indian mariachi band + flowered car + neon light up sign + band of random merry followers = goodtimes.

ma’am. ma’am? MA’AM! MA’AM!!!!!!

23 May

if you watch the tv show ‘family guy’, you know exactly how i feel when i am in the market.  remember the episode where stewie griffin, for about 5 minutes, says to his mom lois: “mom. mommy. mommy. ma. ma. ma. mum. mum. mummy. mummy. mom. mom. MOM. MOM (ad infinitum for about 4.5 more minutes)” and lois eventually turns to him and goes: “WHAT!?”

yeah, well when im getting constantly harassed with “ma’am” stewie-style at the market, i feel like turning to them and doing just that.

so despite this highly annoying reality, today after work i invited myself out to gariahat – the market near-ish to my house – with a few female colleagues. they’re nice girls, although i’m 75% sure sure they talk crap in front of me and say i’m a stupid white girl and my clothes are weird. (or as one of them says: “those canadian clothes”)

regardless, the girls have been seriously intrigued that i have been getting shirts at gariahat for just Rps 100 when apparently the best price they know is Rps 120-130.  so they wanted to go hunting around for my awesome cheap shirt-seller man. (and i’ll tell you up front that there really is no secret, i just look for the sign that says Rps 100. duh, girls.)

as we headed on our way, about 10 minutes from work my gap sandals broke apart:

fail.

so i walked back to my house with no shoes,  and if you read saturday’s post , you know that was a feat of bravery. the girls surprisingly waited while i walked back with my tail between my legs.

shoe catastrophe aside, we eventually made it down to gariahat via the city  bus – an experience in itself.  tons of people, no doors, jolting stop and highly acceptable levels of pushing.

and after all of this drama – inviting myself out, breaking my shoes and being the newbie on the bus – we couldn’t find the guy who has been selling me the cheap shirts! i went up and down the street secretly praying to the elephant gods – or whoever – that the guy would show up and make me a hero.

sadly, not. and now i’m preeeeeetty sure they think i was lying.

so whatever, bitches be frontin’, but i’m over it. if i can get through high school, i can get through this.  i actually think they’re generally nice girls, but just highly suspicious of me. and fair enough – i guess we can all agree that i can be a little weird.

so here is the bounty i’ve been getting from my mysterious shirt-seller man:

what do you think?

it has become really important to quickly adopt indian dress because of the heat.  my “canadian clothes” really aren’t cutting it here – so i’ve been trying to buy up things when i can. and even though i have to deal with the constant attention when i’m out shopping  (ma’am. ma’am? MA’AM! MA’AM!!!!!) – i know i always have an out thanks to lois griffin:

WHAT!

hauling ass.

21 May

well it’s been a crazy week: i’ve been here there and everywhere. i’ve met with the americans. i hung out with our clients in their homes. i got told i was beautiful. i got told my nail-biting habit was dirty (it is). i rode a motorcycle for the first time.  i saw my first dog roadkill.

and while all this excitement has gone on, there has been one consistent theme to this week: hauling ass.

indians generally don’t move very fast.  they kind of like to linger when they walk, don’t much care if you’re trying to pass them and certainly aren’t worried about getting anywhere on time.  it’s stellar, really.

but there are some situations when it’s in your best interest to pick up your pretty little feet and move the hell outta the way. here’s a few from my weeks adventures:

1. when standing at the side of 4 lanes of traffic with 103495 people, 345 autorickshaws and 5049 motos, cross carefully taking one step at a time with your hand out. then find the opening. then HAUL ASS!

2. it’s sunny one minute and the next the sky is darker than you’ve ever seen it. the wind picks up and the droplets start to spit out of the clouds.  with garbage, dog pee, human pee and food covering the streets – the last thing you want is to get caught in the downpour and end up in pee/garbage soup. so HAUL ASS!

3.  you desperately need a ride to the market but it’s rush hour and all of india (yes, all) is looking for one too.  the line up for autorickshaws is huge – but – up in the distance you see one empty seat in fast approaching car.  out of the corner of your eye you see the guy beside you make his move towards the auto….duh – HAUL ASS!

so – while certain people and processes move slower than molasses here, i can confirm that without the tried and true principle of ass-hauling, i’d probably be screwed.

on a totally unrelated yet equally as awesome note:

birthday wishes from india.

thank goodness for americans.

19 May

it’s been a wild 24 hours but despite all the craziness of the last day, i have learned one key thing: thank goodness for americans.

here’s the rundown:

1. i got invited to a dinner with usa embassy workers here in kolkata: win.

2. i bravely planned to take the metro to dinner: win.

3. taxi driver didn’t know (or understand) the metro stop location, i yell, he drops me off on side of road at rush hour: lose.

4. new taxi driver thinks it would be fun to screw the white girl out of money, takes convoluted route to metro stop: lose.

5. metro is awesome, i find ticket, train and stop easy peasy lemon squeasy: win.

6. i find restaurant (italian place predictably filled with westerners.)  as soon as i leave metro station, despite rush hour traffic and near-death road crossing escapade: win.

metro ticket to prove bravery, and pizza to prove...hunger?

7. embassy workers are nice, inviting, unpretentious and incredibly welcoming: win.

8. trouble finding cab upon leaving restaurant, and when cab eventually located, driver drops me off in confusing spot in the market: lose.

9. panic, get lost and cry: lose.

10. get found, thank jesus and decide to keep crying: win.

11. get home, find out sienna’s born, cry again: win.

12. get no sleep because of #11’s excitement factor: lose.

13. try to find western union in morning, head to 2 banks, fill out 5 forms, get told after 2 hours you can’t send money from kolkata using western union: lose.

14. get home from work and find cable is out because of giant storm that prompted colleague to exclaim “i think we will have a twister-thing!”, fear for life: lose.

15. get an email from 2 new american embassy worker friends inviting me to birthday party next week that involves “libations, snacks, red velvet cupcakes with frosting and dancing at a club”, realize those are all my favorite things: win.

16. write this list, conclude win/lose ratio is preeeetty much even and decide to eat sour cream and onion chips: you decide.

spent.

things your mom and i have learned.

18 May

a note from al: i’ve had this post ready to go since may 11th – the original bean due date – and  i’m excited to say that i can now officially post it!

sweet one, you just have no idea how long we’ve all been waiting for you! it has been months – years even.  and some of us, i won’t say which ones, have been waiting a lifetime.

so after all this anticipation i’m sure you can see why today is just the best day.

while i can’t be there in person to welcome you, this doesn’t mean i don’t love you.  cause man, do i love you.

in my lingering absence i have spent hour after hour during these last few weeks thinking about how i could celebrate your arrival home – while i’m 12,000 kilometers away from home.

and then it hit me.

i’d be the robin to your batman! the watson to your holmes! i’d give you all the best things your mom and i have learned together from 27 1/2 + 28 1/2 years on this earth.

lesson 1: never ride alone.

steph + al horsing around

life is better with more than one: your troubles are easier and your joys are greater. (also…your pinot grigio is always colder. but this is a convo 19 years hence. 18 1/2 if you’re lucky.) build strong and enduring friendships – cause partner – the ride will get bumpy and you’ll want someone there who loves you to guide you home. giddy up.

lesson 2:  just go with the flow.

steph + al getting creative.

sometimes things don’t always work out how you planned. from bad haircuts (me) to broken noses (your mom) , you just gotta work with what you’re given.  embrace the unexpected early on babe, and you’ll always ride fast and high.

lesson 3: do your own thing, chicken wing.

steph + al looking smokin'

from this day forward people will tell you who to be – mostly with your best interests at heart of course! but if your mom and i have learned anything, it’s this: make your decisions for you and no one else. you may end up dressed to the nines in a room full of threes, but at least you will have worn what you wanted.

lesson 4: think not always of thyself but of others.

steph + al caring, sharing and daring.

it pains me to report that you will have bad days – very bad days. but always remember that  out in the mists there is someone having a worse day than you.  be compassionate, be kind and be sympathetic to those around you.  nothing feels as good as spreading the love.

lesson 5: love the ones you’re with.

wait...three? we're missing two.

while family comes in different shapes and forms, it is without a doubt the most important thing in life. embrace these (sometimes crazy) people – cause while family members can be the hardest to love – they will always love you the hardest.

so you see baby dearest, while i simply can’t be there shower you and your amazing parents with love,  i hope that for now you will accept these perfectly proven pearls via your ma and i as sort of a ‘hey! you’re here and i love you!’ thing. cause, let me say it again, man i love you.

welcome home,  sweet sienna. xo

do you want some of this?

16 May

so i’m kind of weird about food.

not only am i the only person i know who is deathly allergic to fish, but i don’t really eat much (or any) meat. the reason? it’s totally gross when meat looks like the animal it used to be.  i.e chicken legs. chicken wings.

shut up, it’s logical.

anyway, these food ‘quirks’ are exacerbated here in india. fish is used for a ton of dishes and as for the meat, well, let’s just say that one minute the chicken is in front of your meandering around and then the next it’s in a bag for your convenient transportation home.  squawk.

so i think it goes without saying that i’ve gone almost completely veg here.

but despite the few things i can’t waiver on – like witnessing bird murder – i have to give myself props:   i have been unquestionably brave since i got here.

i haven’t hesitated to try anything – even chicken that basically looks like it hit the chopping block about 10 seconds ago. (mind you, i won’t be trying it again, but that’s not the point now is it…)

lunch is the time that i get to experience the most new food. i eat with my colleagues and they are never shy about offering me a nibble. actually, if i’m being honest here, they usually put it on my plate without asking.

and this propensity for sharing was a wonderful surprise because while i worked at engineers without borders last year, i came to love having different forks in my lunch. of course  it freaked me out at first (hello, strangers eating your food?) but i soon learned to look forward to it.

in the last few weeks i’ve tried the most amazing dishes courtesy of my colleagues. saucy-rice-spice-veg, mango chutney, fried chip-like roti, cold spicy pasta, fried soya beans and pod vegetables in delicious yellow sauce. and no, i cannot pronounce or write the names of these dishes. i’m still working on ‘how are you’, give me a break.

i'm having a love affair with lentils and spice.

anyway, this is all to say that despite my initial (quite serious) doubts, indian food and i are getting along.

and the best part is that while i miss my old colleagues from ewb – i am carrying a little part of them with me in the form of a big/messy/loud communal lunch.

so what are you waiting for? go stick a fork in it.

friday the 13th in two minutes or less.

13 May

a note from al: for you kittens who saw/received this post with the amazing original title, well…then you know that it’s been a very long week. i didn’t even know the day. and i apparently can’t spell worth shit. proceed.

it’s friday, and while i have to work tomorrow (lame), i wanted to give you a rundown of my almost end of the week.

1. i’ve been waiting ever-so-anxiously (as have about 10294 other people) for word that a certain special someone is in labour.  darn it baby bean – i have my indian champagne already purchased. reveal thyself!

2. i’m once again engaged in a battle of wits with the lizard formally known as juan carlo.  at lunch jc, as we will simply call him, was hiding in my bedroom. when i got home from work your favorite king of the creep popped up in my living room.  now let’s play spot the creeper!

where is juan carlo?

did you find him? this little freakshow is getting creepier each day.

what a creeper.

3. finally, i’m spending my friday night watching stellar reruns of fear factor (indians apparently get their jollies from early 2000s tv shows. its perfection.) and practicing for my 2nd hindi class tomorrow night.  i just can’t get my tongue to move right around the vowels. totally feel free to make your own jokes at my expense here.

look ma, i'm writing in hindi.

well that’s me. so…what’s going on with you?

flights, fights and applying the things you learned as a toddler.

12 May

i’d categorize myself as a fairly laid back person. ok, am i a control freak about clean sheets, vacuuming and sanitized toilets – maybe. (but really, if you’re not a freak about those things, what’s wrong with you.)

basically, i want you to know i’m just a normal, run-of-the-mill rational person.  now stick with me to the end, loyal follower, cause this is a great story.

see...im so laid back.

so my original airline ticket here was booked for march 27th with a gloriously cost-effective expedia-like company in india called make my trip.  it all seemed so easy in my naïve youth of 2 months ago: book ticket, get on flight, move to kolkata, make india love me.

but then, the indians struck their first blow and denied me entry into their spicy country. depressed, i had to cancel my flight on march 26th.

luckily, the make my trip people kindly told me that i would get a refund from the airline carrier within  6 – 8 weeks.  ok, fine.

please insert your choice of catchy intermission music here.

the weeks flew by and soon it was may 4th and, looking at my credit card, i noticed that no refund had arrived from make my trip.  i inquired – perfectly politely – with their customer service department and was promptly told over the phone that i would not be receiving my refund. their reason? i didn’t show up for my flight.

um…what?

as i am sure you can understand, being accused of sleepwalking and/or memory loss doesn’t sit well with me. to make matters worse, the customer service guy  said he couldn’t answer my questions – he’d have to call me back within 48 hours. well, a week and several angry emails later, i still had not heard what the effing eff was going on.

so i made some increasingly angry calls to make my trip. but  each effort yielded the same answer: i didn’t show up for my flight, and now i would have to pay for it.

as husband can attest, at this point i was getting ready to march to make my trip’s offices with a pitchfork and torch screaming “kill the beast! kill the beast!”

but after poo-pooing my disney-derived logic, i did the only thing i could think of: i went straight to the top.

yesterday, thanks to some creative email snooping, i sent a very calmly worded email to make my trip’s ceo – deep kalra – with the subject line “make my trip organizational values”.   i did so because, after a little angry clicking around their website, i had discovered that they list customer centricity, integrity, accountability and respect for people as the cornerstone of their corporate culture.

well, the poor man! someone needed to save him from career suicide – because clearly the company  which he was so fearlessly leading was destined for failure.

my email to mr. kalra was incredibly rational. i simply explained that – as a professional courtesy – i thought he might want to know his company was suffering from a massive strategic cultural misalignment, let’s call it.

and, being a genuinely concerned customer, i said i would keep him copied on all my future emails to his customer service department. for his benefit, of course.

and wouldn’t you know it – within 30 minutes of hitting send this morning on my daily email to make my trip’s customer service department, i received a response from mr. ceo’s office. i guess he got my note.

amazingly, it’s now just 7 hours later and i have received 2 emails from senior staff members at make my trip and a phone call confirming they made a mistake regarding my mysterious out-of-body flight tardiness. they’re sorry, and will i please forgive them if they refund my cash within 72 hours?

i win.

what i am trying to illustrate here using my charming indian example is that the values you learn at 3 years old are really the only ones you’ll ever need. even in the most trying situations.

wait your turn (be patient), listen to what your superiors tell you (be respectful), say please and thank you (be kind) and – when all else fails – throw a strategic and well-executed temper tantrum.

forever in blue jeans.

11 May

you know who I love? neil diamond. that’s right, neil flipping diamond.   let that settle in for a minute.

guitar hero!

there is something just so deliciously indulgent about neil.  he’s a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll and the man wrote – albeit accidentally – some of the best drinking music ever.

if that doesn’t satisfy you as to neil’s deserved status, let me tell you that mr. diamond had one of the most  expensive divorces in history. it came in at something like US $ 150 million – or in other words – a buttload of cash.

i guess the man just really didn’t want to be married anymore. which sets the stage for my, somewhat ironic, point.

i am eternally devoted to mr. diamond because his song ‘forever in blue jeans’ has greatly inspired my approach to being  in a relationship. he says:

money talks, but it don’t sing and dance and it don’t walk.

as long as i can have you here with me, i’d much rather be, forever in blue jeans.

husband and i have spent many a car-ride singing this wonderful tune to each other.  awkwardly off key with finger-pointing dance moves out in full force, we grin like complete idiots.

but while it’s fun to sing neil’s wise words to each other, it’s proving harder to live by them.

working here in india is a dream, no doubt. but in achieving said dream we have made the decision to become a one-income household, with a needy dog and a 120 year old house to support.  we have a lot on our plate, and there have already been times when we’ve both thrown our hands up in the air and said ‘this sucks!’.

but, when these days come and we’re feeling blue,  we are learning how to pull ourselves out of the funk with the power of positive thinking.  cause neil is right – money’s useful, but we’re lucky to be spending forever (in blue jeans) with each other.

i ticked  an item off my bucket list in 2008 when my charming husband made the tactically stunning move of buying me 2 tickets to a neil diamond concert  for my birthday.

what’s more impressive is that he even attended with me – and sang along to every word.

@ neil diamond in ottawa. just me, husband and his goatee.

pardon the interruption.

10 May

today i woke up feeling a little digestively challenged. all i will say is that i made some unfortunate vegetable choices last night and now i am off sick from work. of course, feel free to insert your own creative imagery here.

so as i sit quietly in my air conditioned mecca, i thought now would be the right opportunity to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with some goodtimes.  team goodtimes, to be exact.

i’ve mentioned lidia and hannah a few times now since starting this confounded blog, and since i promised to share my stories of friendship and friendship fail-dom, i thought team goodtimes was the perfect place to start.

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i met lidia and hannah in 2006 when i shipped myself off to (the developing country known as) france for my last six months of university. hannah was  loud, obnoxious, incredibly american and lived across the hall from me in our dorm.  lidia, on the other hand, was quiet(er) but had a wonderfuly quirky sense of humor.

i immediately adored lidia – but as for  hannah – not so much.

listen, i’m the first to admit that i can be a judgemental bitch. but hannah was really outgoing you guys, and that freaked me out. as enthusiastic as hannah was (is), i was (am) equally as stubborn when i decide something is not for me.

yet despite weeks of suffering through my prickly demeanour, hannah broke me down with her obvious sense of loyalty, compassion and kindness. sure, she was over-the-top about everything, but that meant the girl knew how to have fun. and i liked it.

so with our mutual love for lidia in tow, team goodtimes was born.

i asked hannah last night how the name team goodtimes came about because i guess the french wine had eroded my memory. this is what she said: “al you gave us the name. you said we should be called team goodtimes because…we always have goodtimes.”

and while obvious, i guess it gets the point across.  we’re fun girls.

sometimes it's exhausting being so fun.

friendship is tricky and sometimes (many times) i don’t always get it right.  but, what’s beautiful about this is that my many failures have brought me to the point where i know a good thing when i see it. and folks – team goodtimes is just that.

over 5 years has gone by since our first days together – and while we are all on different continents – my dear team goodtimes girls still find time each day in their busy schedules to warm my heart.

i guess that’s just part of our deal. and i love them for it.

visiting the queen.

8 May

you know, queen victoria was a fascinating lady. she fiercely led the british empire for like 60 years or something, bolstered most of europe’s monarchies with her progeny and – perhaps more uniquely – was a diva trendsetter.

(why do we all wear white wedding dresses? well good old vicky did it first. what a minx.)

no but in all seriousness, the more i learn about queen victoria, the more i find her supremely interesting.  and while i may not agree with her politics, the least i can do while in kolkata is visit her monument.

before you look at the pretty pictures, the one other thing you should know about vicksters is that she didn’t do anything small scale. even after her death, magically enough.

and now, queen victoria’s modest monument:

the first stone to victoria’s gigantic memorial was laid in 1906 by her son, edward VII five years after her death.  the building wasn’t completed however until 1921 under the reign of her grandson, george V. now if that ain’t familial devotion, i’m out.

imperialism is a tough case to crack.  while i genuinely enjoy visiting these memorials, monuments, statues and whatevers – i truly have a difficult time wrapping my head around their purpose and the politics of the time. i mean, while i was snapping away today i couldn’t help but wonder: “it’s gorgeous, but what the hell were these people thinking?”

well…after 20 years of hard labour and zillions of dollars, my insightful conclusion is that they just really really really wanted us to remember victoria.

but – no point in worrying about their questionable logic now!

what i do plan on investing future brain power into however is expanding my knowledge about victoria’s family: her sons, her grandsons, her great-grandsons and her great-great-granddaughter, or elizabeth II as we know her best.

and as a true closet history nut i can’t wait to dive in. because if nothing else, vicky and her descendents know how to keep things interesting.

family matters.

7 May

ok kittens, we’re taking a step back from the usual barrage of sarcasm and self-deprecation to do some real-live thinking about real-live topics.

but first, may i present you with a ridiculous picture for your enjoyment:

sister and sister's consort being themselves.

so family is a big deal here, a way bigger deal than at home.  sure, we all know the odd fam who is questionably close, stays mostly within themselves and truly enjoy each other’s company 24/7, but i feel comfortable publically stating that this is the exception and not the rule.

maybe i’m cynical. so sue me.

we're pretty decent. could we be better?

but in kolkata it’s a completely different story.  i’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last month and my conclusion is that while at home we promote a sense of individualism (spread your wings! live your life! follow the yellow brick road!) within our family units, here that just doesn’t really happen.

people feel a collective sense of duty to their parents, siblings and extended family that, while it may arguably be an obligation, is quite touching.

life in india seems to be centered around family meals, vacations and outings and i genuinely think that the people here love it. sure it’s all they may know, but that’s not the point is it.

family really matters in their lives.

i want you to know that i’m not saying all this because my family is le shit – because they’re not. (well most of them aren’t anyway. annnnd the ones who are will never read this so moving on…) but i do know that as canadians, north americans, ‘westerners’ or whatever – we don’t value family the way they do here.  and i’ve decided that i think it’s a little sad.

so, while i have always tried to create strong bonds with my entire crazy fam-jamily, i am challenging myself to be better.  and like me, i know you all can be better too.

remember: family matters.

well it’s pushing sunday here, so i wanted to be the first to wish my maximus – along with all the wonderful  new and soon-to-be-new mothers in my life – a very happy mother’s day.

happy mother's day, maximus.

the language of failure.

5 May

i may be a lot of things (awkward, slightly chubby, loud, flaky etc.), but i am definitely not an ignorant person.  ok while lack of ignorance is generally the rule, i have just realized a less-than-exceptional exception.

so as we have established, i didn’t really do much in the way of preparation for this year.  what little i did do  included spending no more than 5 seconds thinking about language issues.  literally, this was my thought process:

second 1: “wow, india is far away. shit.”

second 2 – 3: “[looking at google images] that’s really weird writing on those signs. what language is that?”

second 4 – 5: “bah who gives a care. weren’t they a british colony for like…ever? everyone will speak english anyway. ooh look, a cookie!”

so you see, kind readers, this ingenious line of thinking (which is true, sadly, and not simply for your amusement) has brought me here, to a country that i have only just come to realize is filled with 18 official languages. none of which are english. thanks, imperialism.

ugh – i’m ignorant.

anyway, this unfortunateness brings me to today, as i waited ever-so-patiently  in line at the ramakrishna cultural school for the language class admissions officer to comb over my visa. about 15 minutes later, after watching him look at every page of my passport, he announced the following: “well, your visa looks valid.”

“no shit, sherlock. i’m standing in front of you”, i was thinking. “i’m through immigration and past the guys with the big guns! so sign me up for beginner hindi or feel my wrath!”

while my internal voice was going b-a-n-a-n-a-s, on the outside i was simply nodding my head and smiling sweetly in the passive aggressive way only canadians know best. it was super effective, as always.

60 minutes later and several more angry stares in, mr. investigative immigration officer slash admissions man finally announced that hindi classes were on tuesday and saturdays 6.30 – 8. oh joy! oh bliss! but my elation was short-lived, as he then said i couldn’t sign up today – i’d have to come back saturday.

i don’t think i’ve actually stomped off anywhere since i was like 2 1/2. 

you guys – seriously – i’ve been containing myself so well since i got here with their weird (lack of) processes and blatant disregard of timing. unfortunately today i lost my patience. but, while amusing, i guess that’s not really the point of this tale.

having realized my sheer language ignorance, i am now almost frantically desperate to learn hindi – evidenced by the above tirade.  i need to have the freedom of india’s main language so i can talk to taxi drivers, pizza delivery men, market ladies, clients in the field, colleagues and most importantly – my caretaker tapas. 

tapas, his wife (name as yet to be discovered) and baby (who i am calling habib, because the name sounds something like this) have been so amazing to me.  he has facilitated my toilet-fixing escapade, the gas-getting and he even brought me the six glorious beers of last friday. she has made me tea, invited me into their 1-room apartment and has fed me many a delicious snack. 

and little habib? well he has entertained me with his incredible propensity to slap people across the face and then giggle uncontrollably. 

baby habib and tapas's wife. who actually isn't angry at me - although she looks it here...

 

unlike my clear language ignorance, the land lady said tapas knew right after i moved in that  he’d have to learn english to take care of me.  and he’s doing just that, impressively enough. (although i’m not sure who is teaching him because he keeps calling my maid the “washer lady”.  which amuses me, so i don’t correct him.)

really, this long-winded post is to tell you that while i am trying to avoid being the i-word here as much as possible, it happens.  and when it does, i am finding inspiration to change from wonderful people like tapas and his family.

now let’s see what happens on saturday.

sometimes ya just gotta.

3 May

from the moment i opened my peepers yesterday morning i was feeling really…pissy.

i wish that i had some brilliant reason why i was in such a cantankerous state, but i dont.  my maid coming for the first time didn’t cheer me up. birthday cake at the office, coupled with a very kicky tradition of hand-feeding the birthday boy/girl and then smearing cake on their face wedding-style, couldn’t spur a long-lasting smile. even ‘friends’ didn’t fully do the trick. gasp.

so you see nothing was working.

after some pensive staring-off-into-the-distance, i decided that maybe my lack of independence was getting to me. as you know, i have been coddled like a newborn since i got here – and while god that’s fun and all – there comes a time where ya gotta learn to walk on your own.

with this in mind, yesterday i made the ballsy decision to head back to spencer’s grocery store – where i previously earned my title as a bone-fide market pirate with mr. s but this time i decided to go at the journey alone: insert indiana jones theme song here.

spencer’s is about a 20 minute journey during rush hour across town, and i’m very pleased to report that i navigated my way home through the intricate network of streets, the millions of people and the disorienting honking to arrive alive with 6 bags of delicious groceries. and…i did it all in the dark.

later in the evening as i was making dinner, the pride of my accomplishment settled  in.  then,  i started to feel an urge that i know for a fact is directly connected to pure joy.

i just gotta dance. that’s right: dance!

music is paramount in our house in canada and since i’ve been here i haven’t really had the chance to listen to much –  other than as i fall asleep. so between meals of just carbs, little or no exercise and my new independence – i was feeling ready to expel some celebratory energy.

and dance i did – and i don’t care who knows it ya hear!? busted it out, alone, in my apartment listening to my ipod like i was the runner-up (at least) on a dance competition exclusively for awesome people.

so the point of all this ridiculousness,  (you mean other than more embarrassment for moi?) is to tell you that part of this year is about just getting to know myself better. what i need. what i don’t. and how best to fix my own problems.

and yesterday, all i really needed to remedy my bad mood was a glimmer of independence, followed by a good old-fashioned pants off dance off.

you’re all i need to get by.

1 May

wise and wonderful followers, i am working on several stunning posts based on your fantastic feedback and inquisitive lines of questioning – but for now – please accept the following.

when i left canada, i was really um…unprepared…for what was to come here in tropical india.  i know – you’re quietly giggling to yourself thinking “al, you? unprepared? this is no surprise.”  – but let me finish will ya?

this time the unpreparedness was intentional. i figured that i’d try to just go with the flow as much as possible – bring only the things i knew i couldn’t live without (neutrogena face cream, vitamins, allergy medication) and just let the rest figure itself out. or not.

exhibit: unprepared in amsterdam. fail.

so it seems to be going ok.  i mean do i wish i had brought a satchel bag deal instead of a pair of 4-inch heels – yes. but sometimes you simply can’t employ logic when shoes are involved.

here is a list of the unexpected and unplanned things which are truly getting me by here in  india:

  1. marvin gaye, bach and fats waller: stolen from my darling uncle’s music collection, these greats are helping me fall asleep on the nights when i know jc is stalking my brains.
  2. undershirts: they help me keep to the conservative code if a shirt is just slightly too low cut, while also curbing the charming waterfalls of sweat.
  3. face astringent: it is so dirty here – and not dirty with 2 t’s. filthy, mucky, dusty. evil dirt particles end up almost everywhere so a quick method for dirt removal is key.
  4. 100% apple juice: i am not a juice drinker but with ridiculous level of dehydration here apple juice is ensuring i don’t pass out. man i’d be an ugly fainter.
  5. old navy flip flops: i wear mine everywhere – including the shower and the house – to avoid stepping on any rogue cockroaches or jc/jc’s evil compatriots.

so my conclusion is that preparedness ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  

and don’t worry, in the interest of sample size and your continued amusement, i will test this theory out further.  i am about to release my first indian travel destination to you, so we’ll see if a similar approach has me coming out on top. or not.

and now i’m off to the store  for some more apple juice…