Thursday, April 28, 2011

For Better or For Worse...For Richer or For Baby

The topic in my Russian conversation group last night was "Marriage, For Better or Worse?"

One of the questions in the topic was "What do you think are the top 3 reasons people get married?"

My devushkas answer with their list:

1. Money
2. To have baby and his name on birth certificate so you can get child support
3. to not be alone (please see above, as they believe baby also solves this problem)

4. (Alternate answer, also accepted) To increase status
5. (Alternate answer #2 also accepted) To make your friends jealous

One of my particularly soviet-ish girls elaborated on points #3 and #2. She goes on to say,

"If you have baby you are not alone or lonely and then you will not kill yourself. Better, if man marries you and you have baby, then you have baby and you have money and then those people really don't kill yourself"

We have a lot to work on with her English, sure, but obviously, language acquisition is the last of her worries.

Love is simply not a factor in marriage for these women. Nobody's list included love as a reason to get married. I don't know whether to be sad for them, applaud their honesty, or respect their practicality.

Before leaving I had the pleasure of teaching the girls the American colloquialism, “Shot-gun wedding”. One girl was excited to announce that she has a shot-gun wedding, and all of the girls were very excited to use the phrase. Maybe they are excited to use the phrase, or maybe they are excited at the idea of someone forcing their groom into a wedding if they get pregnant. This was not determined.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Qatar Airlines is to 5 Star Airlines like Chili's is to 5 Star Dining: The Disillusionment Story

I was so excited to fly on Qatar Airlines on my recent trip from Moscow to Thailand. This was my first experience on a 5-star airline, and I was looking forward to a yoga session in my chair, lobster served on an airline tray, neck massages in my chair, on-deman live Vince Vaughn entetainment (don't you judge me).

I should have known as soon as I saw a flight attendant wearing a scrunchie and a bun (two of the worst hair don'ts of our time, save, you are a ballerina or were recently thawed from a block of ice and displaced from your era of 1992). Scrunchies may be able to predict impending doom. This is my opinion, not scientific fact. If you ever walk into a party and see a girl wearing a scrunchie, just leave, it isn't worth your time or the hangover from the alcohol you will have to drink to salvage a good time.

There was no bottle of water awaiting me on at my in-flight cabana. In fact, imagine my surprise, when my in-flight cabana is actually just a polyester-I-have-say-in-one-of-these-on-every-flight-I've-ever-taken normal airline seat.  No cabana boy either?

This was NOT my seat

The seats weren't even as spacious as Finn-Air, my favorite airline, who does not have a 5-star rating.

I ordered a vegetarian meal, as I always do on airlines, despite not being a vegetarian. The meals are usually better and fresher. They messed this up, they did not have any vegetarian meals left, and would I mind having a meat meal and just eating around the meat? If I were a real vegetarian this would have upset me, however, since I am not I OK'd the meat meal and thought it may actually be good since it is being served on a 5-star airline who boasts about their cuisine on their website. I got a tray full of pureed slop, as did everyone around me. My Grandmother used to often enjoy telling the story of a time she was royally angry at my Grandfather and tricked him into eating dog food. This meal was reminiscent of the mental image her story always conjured up for me. Poor Grandpa.

My meal came with a ho-ho. I had Xanax for dessert instead.

I woke up a few hours later to a microwaved burrito on my tray. The expiration date was 4 years from now. No real food should be good that long. This burrito wasn't even GOOD now. Bleh.

I made it to Thailand sore, hungry, and dehydrated.

On my return flight, my husband and I were separated by an very...fragrant man who stole my headphones while I was in in the restroom. The food was no better and I spend 10 of the hours being kicked in the back of my seat by a Russian boy whose father gave me the apologetic "He is kid, what do you want" shrug when I asked the kid to stop kicking me. The flight attendant did not answer my urgent button pushings.

I will not say QATAR airlines is a bad airline. They are OKAY. That is it, they are just okay. I would have enjoyed flying with them perhaps if my expectations weren't so high based on their website and advertisements. Don't advertise you are 5-star when you are not.

I mean afterall, their beverage cart did provide Vodka, at no additional charge.

Has anyone else been less than dazzled by QATAR? Have any other airlines impressed you?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thai-One-On: The Food in Thailand

This will be the first of several Thailand posts. I first need to admit that I actually saw very little of actual Thailand. We stayed at the JW Marriott Resort, in Phuket, about 45 minutes north of Patong (a main town in Phuket). We only ventured out of the resort two or three times in town. The first night, which is a total blur (pictures and stories to come on that), a day for the water festival and to attend a cooking class I had booked, and then we went to Phuket Town to experience the night market. The JW Marriott in Phuket is an amazing self-contained resort with access to a private beach, 7 restaurants, daily activities, 4 pools, gorgeous spacious rooms, and amazing views. This was quite the change from our usual "roughing it" vacations.

I was very excited about Thai Food, as I love Thai Food in North America. I was a little concerned, after my disappointment in the Greek Food in Greece. Every meal I had became my new favorite and I became a hog who could only fantasize about my next rendezvous with a new Thai Dish. Total food whore, I am one. I may have come home with a new tattoo stating "PadThai4Life".

Thai Iced Tea- My day couldn't start or end without a nice icey class of this tea. I would throw a mental toddler-like fit if it looked like this wasn't happening. I am very disappointed in my behavior, but one glass of this and you will understand. I ended up having the kitchen staff at the resort sell me an industrial size bag of the tea leaves to take home (which was only about $10!). Basically it is a strong mixture of black tea, star anise, tamarind, sweetened with sugar, and topped with evaporated milk. I am now armed with the big bag of tea and a recipe. Now I only need to find a tea strainer, a pitcher, and condensed milk. Should be no problem right? Ha. I live in Moscow, land of never finding anything you need when you need it. My love will persevere.

Vodka Red Bull Bucket- I do not believe this drink originates in Thailand, but I need to issue a warning that it is served up quickly and cheaply in Patong. You are given two options while walking down the street, Red Bull/Vodka bucket or Ping-Pong show. This is a dirty trick on their part, because you can't tell me that they don't realize that after enough of these buckets you will end up at a Ping Pong Show. Or you may end up like this:

You need to be warned about both.

BBQ Pork Ramen- This was not the Ramen of my college days. I was a college-level-hangover that day and would have been opened to the hungover eating of the hard dry brick of ramen, but luckily for me, that wasn't an option, and I was served of this bowl of delicious-ness. It was a meaty broth, with curly ramen noodles, all sorts of strange mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, and topped with BBQ pork. I could eat this daily.

Phuket Town Night Market

On the word of Happy Hour waitress at the hotel, we cabbed over to the Phuket Town Night Market on Sunday night (about 30-40 minutes from out hotel). There wasn't too much I was interested in buying, which was a big disappointment  on my behalf, there also wasn't much I was interested in eating, because I am not Anthony Zimmerman and I do not risk eating balls. Ever. There was a lot of food and culture buzzing around, however, and I was very interested to see that.

I think this is the food interpretation of Ursula from Disney's The Little Mermaid. I can't be sure though, because I didn't really know the Thai people really were so into the Little Mermaid.

No idea what sort of eggs they are or why you would eat so many of them. I didn't plan for a Thai-Hospital trip though, and learned my lesson in Panama about ruining my life with street food, so I abstained.

Nothing overtly gross here, but really, what natural food have you ever seen these colors?

This adorable little pusher couldn't tell me what food that is on the stick either. I didn't see him eat one.

I used to see these Horse-Shoe crabs wash up on the beach in Florida. Never knew they were edible. Still not convinced of this.

These next couple pictures, the same rules apply as for swimming, do not look at them if you have eaten within the past hour or are currently eating. Or really do whatever you want, I assume you are an adult.

These are pictures of things I used to call Terminix about when I lived in Florida. Here at the market, it was toough to get a picture because the tray kept emptying. I was getting elbowed out of the way while taking these pictures, because people were concerned they'd miss their portion or crickets and larva. Add this to the list, right under balls, of things I am worried I will accidently eat.

We did our first cooking school while we were in Budapest and enjoyed it so much that I booked one for our Thailand trip. Based on TripAdvisor reviews, we picked Pum's. Absolutely great experience. Everyone at the school was so friendly, the cooking was fun and the eating was better. The school also let us come early for our 6pm class and leave our stuff locked up so we could walk around Patong unencumbered. We only did the Mini-Me class which allowed us each to choose 2 dishes to cook and go home with a cookbook. Because we had a group of 4, we were able to have a private class, which was a big improvement over our Budapest class which was infiltrated by American sneaker-wearing tourists who told us that night before they said "oh fuck it, we are going to Burger King".

Fresh ingredients used at the school.

I am a total mess. Why am I slouching like this? Who knows. Buzzed cooking at its finest. This is a big step up from the mess I was searching for an hour for the spa I had told our friends we would meet them at for our 4pm appointments.

 Ignore my hair in these pictures; I will explain later what the deal is with the white powder. 

Beach Shack Food

Down the beach from our hotel was a beach shack that offered plastic table sea-side dining and 1 hour massages for under $15USD. The food was fantastic, despite me never once getting what I actually ordered. This seemed to be a problem only I was having, so I am not sure where the breakdown was, but I liked everything I had, and for $3 a dish, who could complain?

I ordered Green Curry and this seemed to be a Sweet and Sour Prawn dish, that I can't wait to try and replicate in my kitchen.

 I ordered Pad Thai and ended up with a vegetable soup with strange mushrooms. I think this shack cook knows me better than I know myself, because I loved this soup.

Resort Food

I didn't take a lot of resort food pictures, due to being too hungry or too many Pina Coladas in by the time we ate to take many. But I do have this. One resort dinner, my husband ordered shrimp and soup and then liked to spend the rest of the night saying he was still hungry because after all he "only had a shrimp for dinner". Does this look like any shrimp you have ever seen?

Shrimp Before

Shrimp After

I enjoyed ending every beach day with a fresh Pina Colada by the pool, overlooking the beach. Life couldn't get better than this. Well maybe if I had bothered to ever blow dry my hair or put makeup on. But you know, other than that.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Do Not Disturb

I will be entirely too intoxicated in Thailand to post this week but will be back next week with the pictures and stories to prove it. As an appetizer I'll tell you I was followed around for at least an hour last night by a small Thai woman insisting I was her dead sister. Because obviously I look super Thai (what!?).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You Are Invited...To a Wax and Cheese Party

Recruiting is exhausting.

I have never actively recruited friends before. Friendships are something that have been accumulated over the years. They have have been the results of sleeping on the same blue mats in kindergarten with her, being in the same brownie troupe, carpooling to school, a shared love of vagina-angst music, sharing a dorm room with five girls and one bathroom, selling jeans with him at GAP, being on the outside together, being on the inside together, serving chicken wings with them,  sitting in the cubicle next to hers, planning a farewell party with her, or working with her boyfriend.

I have accumulated friends, like souvenirs, from all stages of my life. The mundane day to day results in friendships that sneak up on you and evolve until you realize (I have, maybe you too) that you don't recognize yourself unless you are first bounced off her. Your friend. With that collaboration not only are parties more fun, but your ideas are smarter, stories funnier, outfits look better, music is more intense, and the vodka is stronger. This is an elaborate way to say something I have said before: I miss my friends and it hasn't been so easy starting from scratch friendship-wise now that I live overseas.

Once I got over the initial shell shock of moving to Moscow, I stuck my head out of the sand (or Moscow Metro tunnel, as it were), looked around, and began actively pursuing friendships. This has been harder than dating. It is much easier to meet men (maybe I am naive here because I have been married for nearly 5 years) because it is acceptable to ask the question, "are you single" and get an answer and move on from there. Dating takes a definitive path. Friendships, not so much. There is a lot more guess work, and there is no friendship equivalent question to "are you single?", "do you have enough friends, and are you interested in one more?" just doesn't roll off the tip of the tongue as nicely. Maybe I am saying it wrong. One thing that does make finding friends in Moscow easier is, if I meet a girl around my age and she speaks English, we already have something HUGE in common. There is not a whole lot of English going on in Moscow. My ears twitch a little when I hear a feminine English-speaking voice, and I pounce like a rabid dog, careful not to muss up my hair or smudge my eyeliner.

This approach has been successful for me, so far, in meeting people. Now the friendship comes into play. There are a lot of steps between meeting and being friends, that I did not realize. Play dates need to be established, and some of these playdates may be outside my comfort-zone.

I was recently invited to a new acquaintance's house where the invitation stated she would be serving Macaroni and Cheese, and the Waxing Lady, Mona would be available for appointments. I just had to let her know two things, did I want my Macaroni and Cheese with or without meat, and what areas I wanted with or without hair. Wax and Cheese Party, if you will (say it, it sounds fun, yeah?). I RSVP'd with an inquiry about if we were only talking about facial waxing or if this Mona also did bikini area. I recently got my eyebrows done, and I do not have a need to wax any other area, but did want to attend for a chance at girl-friend-making, so this was a logical question, of which I was nervous about asking due to my lack of experience in the Wax and Cheese realm. I did not get an immediate response which added to my nervousness. Did I offend this poor girl who was only on a quest for her and her friends to have perfectly arched eyebrows? I had a lengthy discussion about this with myself. I tried looking up wax party rules and etiquette. Google is (not)surprisingly lacking in this area.

In Florida I have never been invited to a party like this. Food and drinks at a girlfriend's house after work? Sure. Going together for a spa day? Maybe once or twice. But never the twain shall meet. Unless you are trying to make new friends, in which case, 'yes I would love to, thanks for inviting me' is the phrase that pays.

I got a response. Yes, bikini wax is approved and common, I've attached the price list for you.


After work, 2 metros, one wrong turn, and a 45 minute walk (carrying a bottle of wine in my purse the entire time), I made it to the scene of the Wax and Cheese Party. I was happily greeted by several girls I had met previously and a few new faces. Aside from  schlepping a bottle of wine, while lost, across town, this was off to a great start. Within minutes I had a glass of wine in my hand, and we were all fast on the road to friendship, discussing the types of topics I thought were only discussed on tampon commercials. I am typically more into modesty when the topics of periods and birth control arise, but I am already partying on the outskirts of my comfort zone, and these girls already know the state of all my body hair so let the good times roll. This is not a phrase I ever saw myself typing. But I guess I also never saw myself living in Moscow, stalking English speakers at Happy Hours and in malls.

Mona-the-wax-genie arrives with her crock pot of wax and sets up in the guest bedroom. The order of waxing is determined to go from top to bottom. So the first few girls go in, and come back out with less eyebrows. Next up is the first bikini waxer (not I), and a symphony of screams. I am getting nervous here. This sounds like the soundtrack to a rape in the guest bedroom and we are just happily chatting, eating spiced nuts, and drinking wine? Someone help my possible-new-friend! I just stay on the couch, hiding behind my wine glass (after two glasses I can fit behind the stem, I swear this), not sure if my possible-new-friend is a melo dramatic type or not.

I was next up. I barely had enough time to make eye contact with the first girl as I was ushered into the room. If I had, I would have noticed her strange gait and the wild look in her eyes.

I repeat to Mona what I wanted done. She is a monotone woman from India, who speaks perfect English. Mona instructs me to undress, waist down, and lay on the bed. She grabs me by the knees to yank me towards her closer and as an attempt to strip away my modesty. Not bad. She begins with the wax application. Wait a minute, is applying the wax supposed to hurt too? No that doesn't seem right. She tells me to calm down the crock-pot is unplugged and the wax is an okay temperature. Ouch. I am a silent victim. As she slathers, smoothes, rips, and powders, I am somewhere else. Um, this wax is still really hot. Oh, I am being a baby? That seems reasonable. Ok, I won't scream like my predecessor. I understand that will make this hurt worse.

She tells the last area of hair who is the boss, gives me a wet towel to wash up and leaves to wash her glove-less hands.

She returns with an ointment, tells me to slather it on and to stop trying to be modest.

I don't even  inspect her work as I hike up my tights and shimmy down my dress. I notice a metal application stick laying on the bed. So a non-disposable METAL stick was why the wax felt so hot? Great.

I limp proudly to the living room and act like nothing happened. This will be our little secret.

When the party is over, The Screamer, walked with me back to the metro. A few minutes into the walk she broke the silence with a "What the FUCK was that?". A relief immediately washed over me.

This is when friendships happen.