Saturday, February 28, 2009

HEA

People who read romance novels know that the title of today’s post means “happily ever after.” This is, I believe, what we all strive for and dream of when we agree to fall in love. That no matter what evil befalls us, our handsome knight will be there to love us without judgment, rescue us when we’re not busy rescuing them, and above all to make our happiness their number one priority.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ve read more than one romance novel in my time. People (and by people I mean my husband, family, and friends) tend to deride me when they see me nose deep into a novel they know to be a romance. “Why do you bother reading that trash? She gets the guy in the end!” I know, but maybe that’s the point.

I don’t read nearly as many romance novels now as I used to. This is due in part to the fact that they aren’t as widely available overseas as they were when I lived in North America. For that reason, I tend to stock up when I go home every summer and pack a year’s worth of love and happy endings into a few short weeks.

Back in January, I turned to romance novels to battle a war on two fronts: I sought to defeat not only my writer’s block but also my malaise and depression. Much as I would have done back home with full access to Amazon.com and my local bookstore, I turned to not new stories but ones I knew practically by heart. I pulled out all of my favourite romance novels and proceeded to read them one by one.

I escaped into worlds where everyone was guaranteed a “happily ever after” and where the handsome knight always arrived in time to save his one true love. No obstacle is ever insurmountable in romance novels and even if there is a “great misunderstanding” it will always be resolved so that the heroine can be with her hero.

My husband says that romance novels have skewed my views on reality; that the real world has little to nothing to do with my books. Men, he assures me, never know the exact right thing to say and good doesn’t always triumph over evil. This is one time where I don’t care what he believes or what people think when they see me smiling as I read words I know may make me cry for the heroine but will ultimately reaffirm my faith in love.

Romance novels make me happy. Is that a crime? I don’t think that remaining steadfastly na├»ve and blind about the nature of love can be a bad thing. Love will always triumph if two souls are meant to be together. Everyone deserves their own “happily ever after.” And even though the news may want us to believe otherwise, somewhere out there two people are falling in love right now.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Burning Time

My motto in life is “hope for the best, expect the worst.” Maybe that’s why I’m secretly a really morbid person. I always wonder and plan for the worst possible outcome so that I will always be prepared for any more optimistic possibilities that may arise.

Last year when we lived in Kenya, the possibility of being evacuated wasn’t necessary but it was addressed by the Organization. Based on the knowledge that we could each only take one small bag with us, Hubby and I discussed what we would bring with us. What he didn’t know was that I had been planning for this possibility since I was a child.

You see, I’ve always wondered, “What would you grab if the house were on fire?” Only now that has turned into, “What would you grab if the embassy called and told you Saigon was falling?”

In my scenario, I always have enough time to grab one small suitcase in which I could throw all our most essential belongings, and had to assume Hubby was counting on me to get his things too. My first stop was always multiple pairs of underwear for both of us, a comfy every day bra for me, one extra pair of pants each, two shirts each, one sweater, and some socks. When combined with whatever we were wearing, I assumed we would be set for clothes at least for the short term.

Next up is my computer and cell phone along with their cords. Bear and Fuzz would be tossed in next since Hubby and I couldn’t be expected to survive a sleepover at a hotel let alone an uncertain future destination without them.

Unfortunately, I would now have to spend precious minutes breaking into our safe to grab all of our essential documents and cash. This is where it gets tricky – what else is really essential? Ipods and books are good to kill time but the latter could get heavy. I would have to make due with only one book I thought other people might enjoy so I could trade it for further reading material later.

Tir na Log, a carving from ancient Irish petrified wood we received as a wedding gift, would be wrapped in sweaters and tossed in the bag next. While wickedly heavy, this object d’art holds a lot of meaning for both Hubby and me. My camera (so I can be an “i-reporter” during this fire/evacuation) and the first photo of Hubby and I as a couple back from 1995 would also be essential for my long-term sanity.

I realize that at this point I have moved beyond necessities and moved to sentiment. But I think that mental stability in a crisis situation is important. When I asked Hubby what he wanted me to bring his answer was, “Bear, my ipod, and our DVD copy of Eurotrip because no one will find us in Bratislava!” He even managed to forget clothes and our passports. LOL

Now that I have clothes, stuffed animals, electronics, and an overly weighty wood sculpture packed I think I would be ready to run for the helicopter. Sure I would be sad to leave many things behind but I would have a good base with me with which we could start a new life.

Since I’ve told you what I’m running away from home with, what about you. What would you grab if the house were on fire?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carved in Stone

We all know that times change and with them the beliefs people hold about what is right and wrong. One of the greatest ironies of my Nile Cruise was seeing the visible evidence of how people once visited these tombs and temples and how their views on keeping these sites pristine for future generations may have been slightly different from those we hold today.

Museums and art galleries all over the world ask their patrons to either not take photos, or when that isn’t required, to at least not use a flash so that pieces that were painted hundreds of years ago will still be in good condition a hundred years from now despite the harsh florescent bulbs of the 21st century. As I learned the hard way, in Egypt this means that people must put their cameras away when viewing some of the better preserved hieroglyphics and tombs.

During my time on the Nile, I learned that this wasn’t always the case. Site after site, I saw people who had carved their names into the millennia old stone so that they could remain a part of history along with the Egyptian Gods these edifices sought to honor. The thought of destroying something so timeless and awe-inspiring simply boggled my mind.

Time and again, I was shown proof that these attempts to become part of history were not only the ideas of crazy foreigners who had fallen in love with the dessert. Some of the carvings were oddly professional looking – proof that someone had created a business out of carving people’s names into the walls of tombs meant to revere the likes of Ramses and Amun the Sun God. (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?)

Seeing the desecration of these ancient sites got me to wondering how people will judge us in 200 years when they see how we have treated their oceans and lands. Will they condemn us as having no respect for that which has remained here untouched and pure for millennia? Or will they see our names in the indelible deeds we have wrought and think only of what beauty we must have seen before we changed it forever?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Willpower Please

Hubby left yesterday for a quick business trip the UK. Since our entire relationship started off long-distance, the time apart sucks but we know that the best part is when he comes home. By then, we’ll each have forgotten whatever it was that had been annoying us about the other and will only remember that we love and miss each other. Plus the hugs are great! (The gifts don’t hurt either!)

Although this new job was supposed to put an end to business trips, this is Hubby’s third so far this year. This trip in particular is going to be tough since I am at that dangerous point during Phase One of South Beach where I have stayed away from any food that might possibly bring me happiness for almost two weeks but my grumpiness factor is so high I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason Hubby was going to England.

You see, I have a tiny little problem: I have zero willpower. Actually that might even be overstating matters. What would you call a person who smells their friend’s French fries because it is the closest they can get to carbs, and cries when chocolate commercials air on television? Oh yeah: pathetic. *sigh*

For the last two weeks, Hubby and I have been gourmet geniuses in our attempts to avoid the “boredom” problem I usually go through on South Beach. (Hubby is skinny and doesn’t need to be on a diet [Hubby edit: Yes, he does, but only for a few kg]. But since he’s so awesome he is keeping to the diet at least at home. How’s that for supportive?) During our first week, we found and adjusted great recipes for both shrimp and calamari that we have already decided to include in our regular repertoire because they turned out so well.

Since I committed to losing a significant amount of weight, I am determined that I won’t cheat while Hubby is away. I have planned certain low-carb friendly takeaway meals, and Hubby and I made gazpacho before he left that should last for at least one more meal.

The problem is that my Hubby-free time has typically been when I totally pig out and enjoy all the foods he doesn’t like. Right now, I wish I was doing Weight Watchers instead so that I could max out my points on yummy foods instead of having to continue to deny myself.

When all is said and done, I have push through the pain and show Hubby (and the world) that willpower is simply a matter of mind over matter. Sure, everyone else on the planet already knows that but this will be a test of that concept for me. I can do it! (I think…)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Speechless

The biggest problem with going on a Nile Cruise (with or without one’s parents) is that you are essentially visiting a museum for 5 days. Don’t get me wrong: Egypt has some of the coolest “old stuff” in the world, and seeing Karnak and Philae was an incredible experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. That said, around day 3.5 you realize that virtually all the temples have very similar hieroglyphics and you keep seeing the same tourists at every ancient temple, tomb, and obelisk.

I took well over 600 photos during those few days so obviously I wasn’t having too bad of a time. That said, when we finished up our day of touring in Aswan, I was well and truly ready to head back to a city where the oldest things were the pyramids of Giza and those were a 30LE taxi ride away! (You have to put these things into perspective when you live in the middle of the world’s largest museum, also known as Egypt.)

On the fifth and final morning of our cruise, my parents and I still had one last tour to complete – the three-hour drive (each way) to Abu Simbel. Since the famous site is located only a short distance from the Sudanese border, we had to drive down as part of a convoy of about 10-15 cars and buses.

With an armed guard in our car, we set off on a three-hour race. The entire point of being a driver in this convoy appeared to be to pass the cars in front of you at the highest rate of speed you could achieve. We made it in less than 2.5 hours. Go us!

Keep in mind that by the time we arrived in Abu Simbel, I didn’t care that we had an incredibly knowledgeable and personable guide. I was sick of seeing things that counted their age in millennia and just wanted to get home to my comfy bed and centuries old neighborhood. As we walked past the beautiful Lake Nasr, this was the first thing I saw:

Then this:

With my mouth literally hanging agape, my first reaction was, and I quote, “Holy crap!” Aren’t I eloquent?

The giant statues towered above me and were suddenly the most impressive things I had seen in all of Egypt. Built by Ramses II in the 13th century BC, the temple is a brilliant work of art, craftsmanship, and engineering. We’ve already discussed how you can’t take photos inside the temples, so you’ll have to bear with me as I describe one of the most amazing “effects” at Abu Simbel.

At the very back of the temple is a relief carving of three gods and Ramses himself (how’s that for hubris and ego). The god to the far left is the god of the underworld. Now for the cool part: the temple was constructed and positioned in such a way that twice a year light fills the entry way and three of the four “gods” are illuminated. The one that isn’t? Mr. Underworld himself, Ptah. The days, for those of you who are interested are Ramses’s birthday and the date of his coronation. Take that, engineering majors of the 21st century!

Right next door to Ramses’s temple is the one he built for his wife Nefertari. (These are the photos at the top of today’s post.) Although still incredibly impressive, Nefertari’s tomb suffers from “sloppy seconds” syndrome. Much like having to go on stage after Robin Williams has “warmed” up the audience, Nefertari’s tomb is smaller and less impressive than her husband’s when seen in succession.

Abu Simbel is not always included in people’s regular itinerary when they visit Egypt. We had to arrange for a separate tour that was more than worth the money. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, I must insist that you spend the extra day (and it will take an entire day) to visit this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Obeying the Rules

One of the highlights of living abroad is having family and friends stop by for a visit. Last month, my parents finally made the long flight to see Egypt. I would like to say they came to see us but I think we all know better. Hubby and I provided a lovely free hotel and home base for their exhaustive tours of the region.

I shouldn’t complain too much, however, since I was lucky enough to be able to participate in many of these tours. The highlight of their visit was definitely our Nile cruise. The cruise took us from Luxor and the Valley of the Kings all the way to Aswan and points in between.

The second morning of our cruise we headed into the Valley of the Kings. Sadly, the photo at the top of today’s post is pretty much the only photos I have of the Valley of Kings. Instead, I have littered today’s blog with photos from the Valley of the Queens and Hatchupset’s Temple, both of which we saw later that day.

I’ve never been very good at following the rules. If everyone goes left – I have to go right. If the sign on the wall of the tomb says, “no photos allowed” then I have to try to be that much more discreet and only take photos when no one is watching. After all, I’m a local and the tourist rules don’t apply to me.

It turns out that my judgment may have been a wee bit off on the photo issue. My bad!

As soon as I took my camera out of its cute pink case, my father started hissing, “Typ0! Put that away! Didn’t you see the sign?” (The fact that he called me Typ0 instead of using my real name was odd but I simply assumed that the desert sun was finally getting to him.) I rolled my eyes and explained that I had taken photos of hieroglyphics before. The signs were there to scare off people without cajones.

My problem has always been that I don’t see logic and limitations when they are screaming my name at the top of their lungs. Besides, I told myself, “It’s only against the rules if you get caught.”

With my camera held discreetly low and the flash off, I wandered down the corridor of the first tomb and clicked away, paying as little attention as possible to my father who was busy shaking his head and trying to pretend he wasn’t with me. I started to get greedy about 20 feet into the tunnel and took two photos of the same thing when I heard a man clear this throat next time.

“Busted!” I grinned. “I’ll put it away. Promise!” I proceeded to do that very thing until I noticed that the man was glaring at me in a rather unfriendly manner. “I swear, I’m putting it away and won’t take anymore!”

I could hear my father muttering, “I told you so!” under his breath in an agitated, embarrassed, and yet worried for his only daughter kind of way.

The man showed me his official looking badge and demanded that I give him my camera. Hell to the no! Not my adorable pink camera with matching leather case! No! I was horrified and unable to hear anything outside of the voices in my head telling me to run, reminding me how much the camera cost, and worst of all that my father had been right! As I watched my camera disappear into The Man’s galabeya, I kept pleading with him, “I’ll delete the photos. It’s not a problem. I’m so sorry! Just please give me back my camera!”

I swear that The Man smirked as he walked away because by then my father’s rather loud, “I told you so’s” were drowning out even the guides. My mother, on the other hand, assured me that she had taken great photos without getting caught and would be happy to share her pics with me when we got home. Yay her.

After about ten minutes of fretting, The Man walked by again and I decided to go local on him and demand my camera back. “I’ll delete the photos, just give me the camera. Now!” Evidently, he noticed the tremor in my voice because he simply said that he would return it to me after I exited the tomb.

“Fine then, I’ll leave now!” I was less than half way through seeing this tunnel but I didn’t care. “Just give me back my camera!”

The Man shrugged and walked back toward the bright opening behind us while he mostly ignored all of the things I was telling about how I lived in Egypt. “There is a 2000LE fine. We will go find your guide now.”

“You’re going to tell on me?!” I thought incredulously. “It’s not bad enough my parents are in a shame spiral of doom from which they may never emerge because my transgression was witnessed by so many people, but now you want to tell our guide? That’s low!” Instead, all I said was, “Oh.”

At the top of the tunnel, The Man turned instead to the ticket taker and handed him the camera. Ticket Man was far smarter than I initially suspected. He turned my camera on and was whizzing through my photos (which were fantastic, thank you) before I could even plead my case to this fresh set of ears. He mumbled something about the photos being 50LE each in the shop and handed me the camera.

Shaking, I began deleting the photos one by one. When Ticket Man demanded the camera back to make sure that I had done my penance, I realized that he was going to check and took the camera back with a scowl to remove the one or two I had hoped to get away with.

Locals reading this are likely shaking their heads that I was stupid enough to get caught and that I didn’t just offer the man some baksheesh (bribe) to get the camera and photos back on the spot. About two hours after all of this happened, I was saying the same thing. But when the blood is pumping so loudly and all you can hear is the sound of your heart beating a mile a minute, your husband yelling from continents away, your father seething disapproval… Well, things as logical as bribes don’t occur to you quickly enough.

In the end, my father was right, I was wrong, I could have bribed my way out of the whole thing and still had photos, but instead all I have is this sad tale of my descent into delinquency. I hate I told you so’s. *pout*

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Last Train

Before I stop blogging about our trip to Japan, I thought I would share a few of the more amusing photos and anecdotes from our Asian adventure. No list of tales from Japan would be complete without this observation: Hubby is 6’4” and Japan is not designed in anyway, shape, or form for people who are his height.

To illustrate this point, allow me to skip past the tales of his brushing his head on the hanging poster on the subway, or having only 1.5 inches of space between him and a low hung sign in the train station, and move straight to our last day in Tokyo when we discovered that Hubby was too tall for the shower. Luckily, my sweetie is going bald because there was no way his hair was getting washed that day since he was about a foot taller than the showerhead.

It only took a few days to realize that the Japanese people are, by and large, a very healthy and active kind of people. There were no benches conveniently situated to give the weary walker a break after a bazillion miles of walking. Nor were the locals intimated by the 90 feet of stairs that we had to climb to see every temple or shrine that Hubby insisted we visit.

Sure, the bicycles from yesterday’s post should have been a hint, but I’m not very good at hints. Nor, as it would turn out, am I a very good sport when it comes to miles and miles of walking day after day. In fact the blisters (which are only now starting to heal) were so bad at one point that I could barely make it to the washroom let alone all the way to wherever it was Hubby had scheduled for the day.

Never let it be said that Hubby and I are above mocking complete strangers. One of our favourite pastimes when we travel (and when we’re home for that matter) is finding misspellings and odd misinterpretations on signs. This could be anything from an innocent, “lack deep-frying” on an advertisement for fried food, to a warning asking us to “please wait long time if you order” on a specialty menu item.

Sometimes, however, the signs you see in front of innocent looking bookstores simply defy explanation. The oncoming generation has spoken. Or something.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hello Typ0

One of the many reasons I love to travel is that you always meet interesting people and see amazing things when you leave your immediate comfort zone and get out into the world. Occasionally, you wish you could continue to live like an adventuring tourist a little longer or bring some of those instant friends home with you. Then there are ones that stay with you – no matter how much you try to get rid of them.

Take Hello Kitty for example. Not to be judgmental but there is an awful lot of Hello Kitty in Japan. Despite this seeming nation-wide obsession I wasn’t able to find a single Hello Kitty factory (although we did spot a Battling Seizure Robot). I have never really understood the worldwide facination with the large faced white cat and yet in the midst of hunting for pantie vending machines in downtown Tokyo, I was drawn - as if by evil cartoon cat magic – to the Hello Kitty store.

I should have known something was wrong the moment I ignored the Baskin and Robbins (aka 31 flavors of joy) to pose in front of the giant feline. Before we knew what was happening, we had been sucked inside the cat’s lair and were perusing the shelves with only the smallest trace of irony. When Hubby picked up the tiny Hello Kitty fork and made it dance we laughed… and then added it to our basket.

By the time we left, I had a pillow, fork, and huge sheet of stickers (which were not later stuck to my phone or computer) for a cartoon character I didn’t even like. And heaven knows that my 12-year-old self likes a lot of cartoon characters.

But wait – it only gets weirder from here.

Our next stop was an Irish bar just down the road. Hubby and I made something of a study of Japanese bars during our holiday and felt it would be remiss if we didn’t head upstairs and enjoy a couple of pints. Midway through our first pint, a pair of Canadian businessmen sat down next to us and very kindly didn’t smoke any cigars.

Around pint number three, when a pleasant buzz had settled over us, the gentleman next to me noticed that I was Canadian and that we had a Hello Kitty bag which we were desperately trying to hide as if it were filled with illicit drugs. “Do you know the name of Hello Kitty’s boyfriend?” he inquired between sips of his draft beer.

My first thought was, “Hello Kitty has a boyfriend?” Followed by, “Why does this 50-something man know that Kitty has a sweetheart?” Luckily for him, the good manners my mother instilled in me overrode my cider induced buzz and I merely said, “No. No, I don’t.”

“His name is Daniel,” he informed me in an oddly solemn voice.

We continued to talk to our new Canadian friends while we finished off our pints and managed to steer the conversation away from giant-headed white cats. Or so we thought. When we finally got up to leave, Canada Man asked me again, “What is the name of Hello Kitty’s boyfriend?”

By now, I was amused enough to play along, “I will never forget that his name is Daniel.” I then promised to blog about our encounter. Luckily, I never promised not to mock him in said blog.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Claustrophobia

The other day Christine of Strange Pilgram invited me to join an odd meme. I was supposed to post the sixth photo from my sixth folder and then talk about it. Since we all know that I rarely if ever play by the rules, I decide to post a photo from my sixth day in Japan. Day six was our final day in Osaka and we were both very eager to board the Shinkansen the next morning for Tokyo.

To say that there are a lot of people in Japan is like saying that cab drivers in Cairo are merely crazy. Everywhere we went, regardless of the time of day, we were in the middle of a sea of people. This particular photo was taken as we crossed the street near one of the many ped malls near our hotel.

Some of you may be thinking that existing within a crowd should be old hat by now – after all, I have lived in both Delhi and Cairo which are not exactly plagued by a dearth of people. What made Japan unique, however, was how eerily orderly everyone appeared to be. Allow me to explain.

In Cairo, jaywalking is a sport in which drivers try to hit you as you walk leisurely in front of them in the middle of rush hour. I consider it a badge of honor that I no longer need a screen to cover me during these harrowing trips to the other side of Kasr el Aini. In Japan, things work a little differently. Despite the fact that there was no traffic coming in either direction, fifty people stood on either side of the street waiting for the light to change. Hubby and I looked at each other and agreed that we had arrived during an invasion of the Pod People.

Considering that over 127 million people live in Japan, the place simply reeks of law and order. There was no littering, jaywalking, or anything else I would consider part of a normal part of living in Cairo. The friendly people didn’t even want baksheesh for helping us!

We have long been taught that following the crowd will lead to our downfall but I think this is one time when the crowd may be right. Lawfulness and order are the new chaos and anarchy. And I like it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just a Tip

One of our biggest fears prior to arriving in Japan was that our trip would end up costing us a bloody fortune. According to everything we had read and heard from other travelers, visiting Japan was an expensive endeavor. Just a handful of days after our arrival in Osaka, we declared the rumors to be completely overstated. Sure, our hotels were a little pricey thanks to the unfavorable exchange rate, but that most vital part of tourism expenditures – food – was quite reasonable thanks to the fact that we saved 15% on every meal.

A few months ago, I read the book “Waiter Rant.” In this book (as in his blog) The Waiter asserts that leaving a 15% tip is the bare minimum a person should leave as a gratuity after dining out.Further, should a person feel they received exceptional service, 20% to 30% would not be unreasonable. In recent months, I have read countless blogs (whose links I can no longer find and all of which were written by people in the food industry) supporting this theory.

I remember being told at some point in my life that 10% was suitable for lunch and 15% for dinner. Moreover, I was told, a tip was a way of thanking someone for good service. If you received poor service, you tipped accordingly. If, however, your waitperson was extraordinary, then this too should be suitably recognized.

When did the rules change? When did waiters stop earning minimum wage and start living only off the generosity – and tips – of their customers? This, of course, is the reasoning we are now given for having to tip so outrageously: if you stiff me on my tip, I can’t pay my rent.

Look, I’m not a harsh person – in fact I’m no longer allowed to leave or calculate the tip at restaurants because I always over-tip – I usually leave at least 20% at my regular haunts. (In part so they don’t think I’m cheap and start spitting in my food but that’s hardly the point here.) But I’m also not going to sign up to be taken advantage of. And a thirty percent tip is a wee bit steep even for fantastic service.

In Japan, I was served amazing food, by great wait staff, at fantastic restaurants. Despite this hat trick of eatery glory, I didn’t leave a single tip. Why? Because tipping simply isn’t “done’ in Japan. (Or so said the guide books and friends we consulted prior to our trip.) Imagine going out for an inexpensive, $10 meal of conveyor belt sushi and not having to leave the required 15% tip. Ok, that example doesn’t seem terribly dire – in fact it comes off as rather cheap. Imagine instead that the delicious meal of various fried, cured, and grilled pork products cost only $100 rather than $115. Now multiply all of those small savings across two meals a day for two weeks. That type of savings will buy some deserving and adorable blogger a pink ipod nano with matching leather case!

I don’t mind leaving a fair tip or even a generous one when it is deserved. However, I resent being told that if I’m not giving a 25% tip to my waitress at lunch then I’m a bad human being. I’m a bad human being because I can’t keep plants alive and take out my frustrations on defenseless pillows – not because I think waiters should be paid a fair living wage.

So what’s your take on the laws of tipping?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When The Rich Lie

I alluded to the things rich people lie about in yesterday’s post. Those of you who, like me, spend more hours than are probably reasonable reading EW.com, Pink is the New Blog, and D-Listed know what I’m talking about. The rich and famous don’t pay for anything – that’s why they’re rich. Instead they wear expensive brands and eat in fancy restaurants and tell the world about how great the “it” thing of the moment is.

Don’t get me wrong -- if Gwen Stefani wants to clothe me in Lamb out of the goodness of her heart, I am more than willing to testify to her personal brilliance and the overall perfection of her clothes. This is how companies sell things to gullible and non-rich people like us. Because deep down, our 12-year-old selves long to be accepted and are willing to buy whatever the cool thing of the moment may be.

Sadly, this means suspicious people like me start to doubt famous people. How can we believe that things are as good as they say they are when Mr. Famous is essentially being paid (through free goods or services) to do so? (An extreme example of this phenomenon is Spencer from “The Hills,” but then who believes him about anything??)

Such was my jaded view prior to my trip to Kobe, Japan. Rich people told us that Kobe beef was all that and a case of chips. They bragged that there was no tastier or more tender cut of beef to be found anywhere on the planet than Kobe beef. They scoffed at the astronomical price tag and said that this massaged and beer bellied cow was better than its less expensive, sober cousins.

This is going to be painful for me to say. *deep breath* The rich people are right!

Hubby and I went to a teppanyaki restaurant in Kobe that received a good write-up in one of our guidebooks. Now, most teppanyaki places are full of showy chefs that create onion volcanoes, throw shrimp into your pocket, and generally put on a floorshow that makes the food taste better. In Kobe, the star of the show isn’t the chef or the fancy food tricks he learned at chef school. In Kobe, the star of the show is the Kobe beef.

Hubby and I each selected a cut of meat (two different “regular” Kobe cuts as opposed to the “super” Kobe which was $40USD more expensive) and settled in for our culinary outing. First, we were introduced to our dinner and asked to inspect the perfect marbling on each cut. No piece of meat went unused as the chef proceeded to tantalize our taste buds and even the fat was finely diced and used to help flavour the fried rice.

To say that the meat was merely tender would be a disservice to the meal we enjoyed that evening. We ate our meal with chopsticks since knives weren’t needed to cut through the lusciously delicate meat.

The couple next to us did order the “super” Kobe, so we asked what the extra $40 tasted like. The girl looked at us and replied sheepishly, “It’s even more tender, if you can imagine.” No, we couldn’t imagine that, but we didn’t care because we were still in a beef induced coma from which we had yet to awake.

The moral of today’s blog isn’t that you can trust rich people to sometimes tell the truth. Nor is it that you shouldn’t be a jaded blogger who doesn’t believe what people tell her. No, today’s lesson is that when faced with the choice between turkey or Kobe beef for Christmas dinner – always vote for the pampered, drunk cow!

The Sky is Falling

I bet you thought my promises of blogging were just that – empty promises. Well, I’m here to tell you I’ve turned over a new leaf. And to prove it to you, I thought I’d spend a few days sharing some of my more amusing tales from the last two months. But before I can tell you today’s story, I need to remind you about one thing in particular: I am Canadian. I grew up wearing a kilt that barely covered my important parts and sporting thick tights while waiting for the bus in -15°C weather. I know from winter.

Now on with our story!

My husband and I have lived abroad for four years, and for each of those years we have we have spent our Christmases on an island. True, in the past they’ve been tropical, beach-themed islands but technically Japan still fit our M.O. I was somewhat wary of heading off to Japan since we have very few winter clothes of which to speak. “It’s not like it’s going to snow!” my husband insisted, rolling his green eyes.

On Christmas morning, Hubby and I awoke in Osaka and giggled together at the proof of Santa’s visit during the night. After rummaging like children through our stockings,
we packed up and took the train to Kobe where I was determined to see cows being massaged.

During our initial hours of sightseeing, I found plenty of plastic cows and “massage” places but not cows being massaged. Rich people on television swore that the overpriced beef here was the best in the entire world but I could find no evidence of any farms. “Have rich people lied to me again?” I whimpered pathetically, trying to keep warm under my fall jacket and light cotton sweater.

After consulting several guidebooks, Hubby patted my head and assured me that I could have fun in Kobe without seeing cows drinking beer. His faith was rewarded during our walk through Chinatown where we nibbled on pork and posed with zodiac symbols.

Still determined to see where they “grew the cows” we headed further up into the hills to Kinano-Kobe. Despite being chilled the bone, Hubby and I rode one of the local cable cars to its peak so that we could enjoy the vistas. I honestly don’t know what happened but one moment we were laughing at the tourists and the next I looked up at the sky and turned to Hubby with the most perplexed look on my face.

“Are we near Mount Fuji?” I asked. Having lived with my complete lack of geographic common sense for all these years, Hubby kept the eye rolling to a minimum while he waited for me to explain myself. “I think there’s ash falling from the sky.” I held my gloved hand out and let the floating particles land softly against the black wool.

Hubby gave me a withering look worthy of any seasoned parent or teacher. “Sweetie, that’s not ash. That’s snow.”

My brain tried to make sense of what was now so obvious. Snow? But I would recognize snow – I’m Canadian! It had only been four years since my last snow – I wasn’t some sort of southerner who had never played for hours in the fluffy white goodness of winter. I know snow! At least I used to.

Hubby and I grabbed our camera and, like the children we were, began trying to photograph individual flakes before they melted. We danced as the snow pooled at our feet and mocked ourselves for the joy this simple thing brought us. Snow in December is a miracle no matter what your age or location and we were determined to embrace the gift nature had given us.

What we didn’t yet realize is that despite the late hour on our watches, Japan still had a few tricks up its Christmas sleeves.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fighting Through

Waiting for my Writer’s Block (or WB, as he likes to be called) to return to the cave from which it was spawned has been a rather lengthy waiting game. Thankfully, I didn’t listen to WB when he told me to hold my breath while I waited. Instead, I listened to my wonderful bloggy friends who encouraged me to hop back on the keyboard and get to blogging again.

Day after day,I kept staring at the blank page on my computer, willing my fingers to magically begin the dance that would fill it with words. That too was a futile dream as the only magic my Mac bore witness to in the last two months was the Harry Potter DVD I watched during my Nile cruise.

Writer’s Block, I have learned, is an evil and mad genius whose sole goal in life is to mock me. To taunt me until I break and swear off writing forever. Never mind the hints of gold I would occasionally mine while I was out and about each day – WB made sure that by the time I returned home, my momentary spots of genius had turned into fool’s gold not fit for the pages of Mad Magazine, let alone my blog.

Then, yesterday morning, I made up my mind – if WB wasn’t going to leave of his own volition, I was going to be a poor hostess and kick out this uninvited guest! Words would flow from my brain to my fingers if it killed me. I swore that the two months worth of great stories that wanted to be told would have their chance to shine. I would stop feeding Writer’s Block with my hesitancy and indecision. I would starve the bugger out with my creativity and determination. And if all else failed – I would sick one of my stuffed animals on him.

I’m ready to write! I’m ready to scream my words to the blogosphere and see what comes back.

In the immortal words of Elton John, “The bi!ch is back!”