Friday, December 31, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Friends

Years ago in Indonesia as we said goodbye to a friend - we reassured her that we always return and we have. We have visited her twice since that visit. We are saying goodbye to friends here in the same spirit. I have tried to have coffee or lunch with as many friends as possible. Many of them are from the university - a point that was obvious when 4 people suggested lunch on 6 December, the first day after classes ended.

At Thanksgiving Han Di reminded me that he had spent 27 Thanksgivings with our family. Shortly after we first met him we took him to his first movie in the US, ET. We had decided that Tootsie might be a bit racy for someone who commented that he liked Singing in the Rain. Early in their graduate studies Han Di, Arvind from India, and Mahmoud from Egypt regularly joined us for dinner. One year we invited them to watch election returns. They weren't sure why we suggested this: the Chinese did not have national elections, the Egyptians always knew who was going to win, and the Indians had to wait for weeks for the final results. (Obviously, this was before the 2000 election.)

After Han Di finished his masters he returned to China and married Gu Wei. One of her first meals in the US was Thanksgiving. What a dose of culture shock that must have been, testimony to Gu Wei's resilience. After their first child, Joey, was born I went to their flat each week so that Gu Wei could get out. Joey, a few months old, and I watched the Iran Contra hearings. Joey graduated this spring and found an engineering job with little trouble. I guess the hearings did not enter his subconscious. Two weeks ago we had dinner Bombay Beijing. Gu Wei asked if they had chopsticks. The waiter was puzzled at the request - Gu Wei pointed out that the restaurant's name included Beijing. For over 25 years we have hosted international students and their friendship has enriched (and continues to enrich) our lives. If a local university provides opportunities to introduce an international student to your community I strongly recommend it.

We also made friends with the parents of Brendan and Colin's classmates. Over the year we have lost contact with all of them except Rita. Since 7th grade Rita's son, Michael, and Colin were together in the band and advanced math and science classes. They both pursued Ph.D. (Michael's is in Chemistry). We have dinner with Rita several times a year. In Raleigh we tend to eat close to home; Rita who lives in North Raleigh has expanded our restaurant range. When we had dinner this week we were comparing notes on our sons' personalities. In the interest of family peace we won 't disclose the details other than to note that they are very similar - think of your stereotypes of scientists.

Tomm has been part of our life since 2002. After 9-11 I found it hard to get to the gym and months went by as I kept planning to work out "tomorrow." So I decided a personal trainer was the best solution. Doug also began working out with Tomm. Tomm's children and ours are about the same age. Doug bonded with him because they were both PK (preacher's kids). I had hoped that by working out with a trainer I would end up tall and thin - some things aren't meant to be. This week when we had lunch Tomm showed up with his Nova. He didn't want his recently acquired Toyota convertible to be exposed to the salt and mud on the road.

One Christmas he gave us Sweat Shirts that read "I would rather be at

02degrees 44’ 04” N

101degrees 41’ 39’’ E

The coordinates are for KL. (That year I was entering the cabin of an unnamed domestic airline and the pilot was hanging around talking to the flight attendants. He saw our sweat shirts and asked where that was? I was not reassured.) Would we rather be in KL? It is not easy to answer. Our friends here, in Malaysia, and in other parts of the world have added to our lives - the stories we tell, the opinions we hold, who we are. We look forward to continuing and deepening our friendships.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The best laid plans don't always work

My Malay/Muslim friends often end a conversation about the future with "Insha Allah (God willing)" - an apt phrase to recall as we have had to adjust our plans. This week one event through our planning off and another suggested that we had over planned.

Early Tuesday morning Doug awoke with severe shaking and chills. I searched google, but couldn't find a "what to do next" entry. His doctor prescribed an antibiotic and took a blood sample. If the culture was positive Doug would have to go to a hospital. The culture was positive, so Doug spent nearly four days hospitalized and receiving intravenous antibiotics. He was released on Christmas Day and instructed to follow up with his doctor to confirm that all the "bad bacteria" were gone. So our departure from Raleigh has been put off for a few days.

Lessons learned: diabetics should moisturize their feet and pay attention to even small lesions. A random lesson - a Muslim nurse's observed that she couldn't use fish oil b/c it is encase in gelatin. We asked at Whole Foods and learned that Nordic Naturals produces capsules with fish-derived gelatin. A google search found other sources.

The impact of over-planning? We have packed our boots and eaten as much inventory as possible. This morning's snow accumulation would normally lead us to bundle up and walk to the store. Since our boots were packed in a U-pod we drove six blocks to get to the store (a two block walk). The snow and the cold also has delayed our progress in packing the U-pods.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We're Still Here

Our house is unsold. Not a soul has come through in two weeks, which is just as well since we have u-haul pods in the driveway and boxes throughout the house. Here is a unverified factoid - apparently 95 percent of U-Haul franchise owners are women. Our four pods were delivered by the woman pictured below; she drove the truck, managed the fork-lift, and handled the paperwork. The biggest surprise - how roomy they are. One pod is filled with items to go to Brendan's house - for his use, to store for Colin, or to donate to All Saint's yard sale. We have four pods; we may only fill two. U-Haul will reimburse us for unused pods and unused boxes. We love U-Haul.

We are still donating furniture. The charities that pick up furniture are booked until January. We rented a U-Haul truck to deliver two mattress sets and one platform bed (with mattresses) to the Rescue Mission. Fortunately, other donors were at the donation center to help lift the mattresses out. The one volunteer responsible for the whole operation would have been very taxed - he didn't look like he had been lifting a lot of weights.

Other tasks - changing addresses (some can only be done over the phone) and selling our car. We listed the car today. I hope that we found the sweet spot between my need to drive the car and our need to sell it before we leave.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Some things can't be controlled (selling house)

We harbored the hope that potential buyers would be seduced by the sight of birds visiting the bird feeders that hang outside the back windows. But we have not seen a bird since we returned in November. On Saturday we changed the seed, but still no birds. On Sunday Doug went outside to pick up the paper just in time to see a hawk capture and fly off with a bird. Perhaps a neigborhood hawk has decimated or scared away the bird population.

Today a robin was at the window feeder. Later we received an e-mail from the realtor with two positive reports (the usual reports comment on the size of the bedrooms). Perhaps the tide is turning.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An open house - What to do with 5 hours

Today was our first open house (and probably the last while we are in residence), which was scheduled from 2 to 5. Another realtor scheduled a showing from 12:15 - 1:30. The upshot was that we had 5 hours to kill - a better option if we could decide the day and time we want to be out and about.

In the morning we completed the usual drill - vacuuming the floor, filling the bird feeders, and clearing off surfaces. Then we loaded up the car with suitcases, an ice cream maker, and miscellaneous items for Good Will, glasses for a Lions Club donation center, paint for hazardous waste, and electronic devices for recycling. We left at noon and spent about two hours delivering the car's content.

Next we went to the NC Museum of Art to see a Norman Rockwell exhibit. It included all the Saturday Evening Post covers he had illustrated. We were pulled up short by an issue that contained the memoirs of Mussolini. Decades worth of covers reflected the nation's preoccupations - the Depression, World War II, and witch hunts of the 1950's. There were articles by Whitaker Chambers and ones about the "Reds." There were stories by Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Cristie. The Rockwell material was worth the price of admission, but I especially valued being reminded of recent US cultural history. As I wrote this entry I discovered that the Saturday Evening Post exists as an on-line magazine, apparently benefiting from its association with Rockwell. The exhibited ended with a powerful section on "Murder in Mississippi." I left the museum with far greater respect for Rockwell.

When we left the museum snow was falling. Not the best day for an open house - apparently one person (couple?) dropped in.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A last visit and major packing ahead

Saturday was Brendan and Colin's last visit to the house that was their home throughout their childhoods. This year Colin and Jenny stayed at a motel to avoid the Thanksgiving chaos. They arrived Saturday morning to say goodbye and to let Colin fuel up on coffee. Colin wears a cap over his wet hair in the morning to keep it from drying in 1000 directions. Brendan, who had just gotten up, let me snap a picture with his hair going in many directions.

Both Brendan and Colin left with their car trunks and back seats filled. Something was wedge into every space. (John, a brother-in-law, had hitched a ride with Brendan, so he was wedged in too.) Only after the trunks were shut did I remember that I should have taken a picture. Neither Colin nor Brendan was willing to risk opening a trunk for a final picture.

As soon as the house was empty Stanley Steemer came and made the wine stains, ground in-food, and outside dirt disappear. (We don't wear shoes in the house, but we haven't been able impose "no shoes" on others, perhaps we will be more successful in Malaysia.) Keeping the house clean for potential buyers eats up a lot of time - mostly keeping kitchen surfaces empty.

This summer we emptied a stored box each week. Currently, we back to the same task. Now we are emptying the boxes with items from counters and other surfaces; the items had to go somewhere before the house went on the market. Our decision rule is that each item must go somewhere - in a box for the move, in box for charitable donations, or in the trash. The closer we are to moving the easier the decisions are.

Next week a U-box, same as a pod, will arrive. That should help us make major progress - since our closets are stuffed with packed boxes and one of the bedrooms has about 15 packed boxes lining one wall.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Relocation: The Day after Thanksgiving

The day after Thanksgiving needs a name other than "Black Friday." A nice term for business, but it doesn't convey the joy of simply hanging out at home. We spent the day sorting, packing, and giving away. Beginning when Brendan and Colin were preschoolers we packed boxes with memorabilia (drawings, journals, awards, and so forth). Finally after years of urging them to take their box, they made it into their respective cars.

When Doug bought boxes to pack china for Brendan and a painting for Colin, he discovered U-boxes. We will buy and pack them; U-haul will pick the boxes up and deliver them to Indianapolis. At less than US$2,000 this is a solution we can afford. Brendan's china is from Doug's family. Colin's painting is from my parents. They gave it to me when I finished my PhD. Now is the appropriate time to pass it on to the next generation and express our pleasure that Colin is almost finished.

At dinner time the family members still in Raleigh came to dinner - a combination of Wednesday night's and Thanksgiving left overs supplemented by pizza. After dinner we broke open our stash of "games." Raise the Titanic and Trivial Pursuit are Thanksgiving staples. Brendan took custody of Raise the Titanic and his cousin claimed one of the four versions of Trivial Pursuit. When Stock Market was spotted the cousins and Jenny started playing. Colin took over ownership - the agreement with Jenny was that he wouldn't complain when she buys wool. Michaela, a niece, claimed the extensive collection of jigsaw puzzles (they filled the blue Ikea box pictured on the left). Her parents weren't thrilled. Doug got her to agree to keep her room clean and post a picture on face box to prove it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Relocating: Thanksgiving memories

I consulted our guestbook to get Thanksgiving dates right. We weren't diligent - our first entry was for 1989. Beginning in 1981 various generations of O'Sullivans gathered in Raleigh to celebrate Thanksgiving. To avoid family dramas we included students and colleagues. This is our last Thanksgiving gathering in Raleigh. As the siblings move further away and the cousins establish their own families new traditions will emerge. Here are a few memories that we will recall over the next few days.

One year my 80-plus year old grandmother asked Doug to make her a scotch and water. She sent my father into the kitchen to make sure that it wasn't weak. (Which brings to mind a family story - my grandmother ordered a martini at lunch. My grandfather chided her by saying, "You weren't raised to drink martinis at lunch." My grandmother's response was, "I wasn't raised with indoor plumbing either, but I like it.")

Among our earliest guests were Han Di, Budi and Titi. On Friday Budi and Titi's son Eko will marry in Bogor, Indonesia. We will send photos and good wishes to Eko via FaceBook. (In 2005 Eko and his family took us to visit a potter in Jakarta. Later we had him make candy dishes to give to the guests at Colin's wedding.) In the mid-80s Han Di returned to China and married Gu Wei. Gu Wei brought an embroidered table cloth (pictured below), which will cover our table again this Thanksgiving. As I a recall she first confronted silverware at Thanksgiving dinner.

Another year Brendan entertained the young children by standing on his head. They filled his pockets with coins, asked him to stand on his head, and chased the coins as they fell out of his pocket. Amanda (from Malaysia) was one of the children. She drew the picture of the Thanksgiving table that is still on our refrigerator.

Our Thanksgiving dinner has the traditional turkey. We have salsa from the recipe of the Arizona State colleague, who taught us the benefits of slathering turkey with salsa. Our non-O'Sullivan guests have influenced our dinner. For those who like spicy foods we have green bean curry. For the vegetarians we include mattar paneer. When nephew was celebrating Thanksgiving in Minnesota he asked Brendan for the recipe. We try to make enough to have left overs on Friday. I make Mama Stamburg's cranberry relish, and with luck I take it out of the freezer so it is thawed by dinner time. The South Beach diet added a new dish - mock mashed potatoes, which are made with cauliflower.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Relocating: A Farewell Party

When I retired I knew that I would not miss: grading papers, organizing course schedules,attending faculty meetings, and muttering about mindless paperwork. But I miss the opportunities to drop into colleagues' offices to share news, chat, or just kill time. So I was especially appreciative when Michael and Ellen, pictured below, held a farewell party for us and to bring together faculty who have worked together for two decades or more.

At one point during the evening I was on the outskirts of a conversation about campus politics. Michael turned to me to observe that we weren't the least bit interested and glad that we weren't. Michael and I have met for coffee, and will do so again. We have enjoyed long conversations without a word about the university and our old jobs.

Pictured below are Bob, Dennis, Clifford and Tracy - relative newbies. That is, they arrived on campus over 20 years ago, but after I did.

Although this was a farewell party I plan to drop in on former colleagues in December. And we hope that they will take advantage of a place to stay in Malaysia.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Relocating: Emptying the pantry and closet

Six weeks until our targeting moving date. We are getting things done very slowly - no chance that our last days will be anything less than frantic.

Saturday's newspaper include a bag from Kroger for Food Bank donations. I had recently organized a cabinet and found excess rice, bean threads, and pasta - too much to eat in six weeks. So into the bag they went. Doug included cans of fruit and miscellaneous items from the pantry. We also rid the bathroom closet of unopened toiletries. We opted to donate to the Y's food drive, since the Y is miles closer than either Kroger or the Food Bank.

Energized I tackled my closet. Out went four suits, but I still couldn't part with my black suits (four are still in the closet). I had to admit that the Thai silk dresses that were made on our honeymoon trip to SE Asia weren't going to be worn by me or anyone I knew. Then there were the cotton blouses - I don't know the last time I wore a cotton blouse. Like the suits I probably kept as many as I gave away.

Over the years I have worked with staff members of local non-profits; they have impressed me with their dedication and practical skills. So I had to debate which thrift shop to donate to. I went to Abbeygail's, run by the Women's Center of Wake County; it is close. I hope that each piece finds a good hope and a happy wearer.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Houses in India: Haveli

Last night I started reading Losing Asia. The author gave a vivid visual description of a Chinese town. I realized although we had spent hours driving through Rajasthan's countryside and took pictures of forts, palaces, and various oddities, we had failed to take many pictures reflecting every day life. We had seen tent communities, apartment houses, and comfortable family homes. We know that people live behind or over their shops. In Jaisalmer, the smallest town we visited, we wandered through warrens of two to three storey attached homes. Yet we consistently failed to record what we were seeing.

We do have pictures of havilis.
While they are largely uninhabited they gave us a perspective on Indian life. I paid particular attention because they allowed me to visualize the Egyptian apartment depicted in Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany. Havilis were merchants' homes. These havilis are in Mandawa (our bet is that entrapreneurs have promoted the town's havilis to attract tourists).

We entered two havili. In this haveli the first courtyard is largely empty; the other had small craft stalls. (Never lose an opportunity to sell something to a tourist.) The inner court yard, depicted on the right, seems to the center of family life. We climbed up to the roof; it had small living or storage areas. We had a view of the town and other families' lives. It seemed to be the Indian equivalent of apartment dwellers who use binoculars to spy on other apartments.

When I came down from the roof I mentioned the lack of privacy - a woman who was preparing the family dinner laughed and commented that in India everyone's life is an open book.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Relocating and our cat

When we tell people that we plan to move to Malaysia the first question always is "what about health care?" (We will write about health care issues later.) In fact we have given little thought to health care and a lot of thought to what to do with our cat, Elecktra,

In 2008 while I was in Malaysia Elecktra was Doug's housemate and constant companion. She greeted him at the door when he came home and kept him entertained throughout the night. After a few months of bonding Doug felt strongly that she should come to Malaysia with us. We both spent time Googling to identify our options. The next year on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Seoul my seatmate had her cat under the seat. Occasionally she would go back to the washroom and let the cat out to stretch. A solution, perhaps.

Eventually we recognized that our plans were unrealistic. Elecktra is not an experienced traveler; I can imagine a freaked out cat during a bathroom break. A major benefit living in Malaysia is our ability travel in Asia. If we had Elecktra we would have to find cat sitters. When we are away she has the run of the house - an apartment might be less attractive. Plus, we didn't know how possible it is to renting an apartment with a pet presented challenges.

We were fortunate that my sister, Joan, offered to provide a foster home. Joan's cat was old and diabetic, so she was ready for a younger feline. We moved Elecktra just before we left in October. With the commotion of decluttering the house and our packing she was stressed and edgy. Catching her was a major challenge - she hid in every nook and cranny she could find. We felt sorry about giving her up, but she gave all the signals that moving her any distance and subjecting her to a series of homes would have been been torture to her and us.

She is generally wary of people and still is, but she has settled in her new home. When we returned to the US we visited her. After she heard our voices she came out of hiding and allowed us to scratch her head. No more cats for us for a while. We still aren't used to coming home and not seeing her us at the door or sleeping in without being pestered to wake up.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

House for Sale

We plan to use this blog not only to describe our travels but also the process of retiring and relocating abroad. The biggest step is selling our Raleigh home. Our first step was to make some important decisions: buy or rent in Malaysia (rent), buy condo in US (buy), and where in the US (Indianapolis). We decided to rent in Malaysia, because it gave us the maximum flexibility. We decided to buy in the US; multiple conversations confirmed that if we rented a storage unit we might as well sell everything now. We chose Indianapolis because it was cheaper than Raleigh (cost per square foot, taxes, and cost of living) plus Brendan lives there. Although Brendan said he did not want to be our property manager.

We were a bit slow putting the house on the market. We donated roughly 800 books to the library and a local bookstore (for a charity booksale). We thought about selling furniture on Craig's List, but we were impatient so bookcases, bureaus, and a sofa were also donated. We arranged to have the house painted and cleaned immediately after we left for Asia. As luck would have it a drought ended as soon as we left, so the power washing of the outside was delayed, delaying the house going on the market.

The house has been on the market for a month now. Very little traffic - slow market, plus internet cuts down on the curious. We are optimistic, but making the house look unlived in is a challenge. I have discovered an additional value of public libraries -they provide a place to hang out when the house is being shown.

I will try to update this blog weekly. Our plan is to leave Raleigh by the end of the year. Lots of things to do.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Malaysia to Raleigh

October 31

Somewhere over the Pacific

It was a week ago that we returned to Malaysia from our trip to India. So the flight on AirAsia was ok for the price. As an overnight flight on the bulkhead it was uncomfortable. It think it was uncomfortable due to the tiredness factor. So we arrived in the LCCT (Low cost carrier terminal) at KLIA. This is a separate no frills airport terminal. No air bridges, so airport employee stop you from walking in front of service equipment. Immigration was a breeze, but we waited for our luggage, but it arrived. Since it was before 6 am and the buses/trains were not running we went to the taxi coupon counter and purchased one (something US airports should adopt). We got to the taxi and then had to convince the driver where he had to go. Most drivers do not know where the Shah Village Hotel in PJ is. We finally convince them that it is next to the 24hr A&W drive-in. We get there in record time at 75 mph (120 kph).

The Shah Village is “home” for now. Both Liz and I have stayed there for a number of weeks over the last several years. It is close to the LRT (light rail), a mall with mobile service enter, supermarket, banks, and a Starbucks for when instant coffee wears thin. We are also close to a great Dosa restaurant (with branches on Lexington Ave in NYC and in Decatur, Georgia).

We rested/slept and then went to lunch with our friends from Sawarak. This time the food was Hakka style food.
This blog is not one for foodies. A great meal with friends and their family and then it was off to KLCC Suria Pavilion, a huge shopping mall in the basement of the Kuala Lumpur twin towers. We wandered around for a while, purchased some staples at Cold Storage (upscale market), and headed back to the hotel. We rested for the evening.

On Monday we did some touring of KL, ending up for a meal at another mall. Getting back was a problem as the free bus driver was on lunch break. On the way back I noted that RapidKL has a flexpass plan which allows unlimited riding of the public transit system for 1, 3, 7, 15 or 30 day periods. As I was to find out there are certain requirements you need to fulfill. Again we rested (we were turning in early and earlier as the trip wore on). Dinner was non-descript at a local restaurant. And I discovered the local 24hr Malaysian/Indian restaurant was closed. This meant that I was robbed of my local source for roti canni, and teah terak. I recovered with alternative teah terak, but never found a roti canni alternative.

On Tuesday, we went to the ticket stand at the local LRT. I could not buy the rapidpass as I did not have a Touch & Go card. These are a stored value card (similar to the meal passes at US universities). I asked were to get one and got “at the central office”. So we were off to KLSentral, a major station with a tourist information office. We were in luck; there was a Touch & Go office in the station. We go, are rapidly served, and discover we need to have our passports with us to apply. They are in the safe back in the hotel. So off I go, back to the hotel, pick up the passports, fill them out (Liz hates filling in forms), and head back to KLSentral to get the card. We purchase two and are told they will last 10 years if we use them once a year. This nicely matches our 10 year visa to India, and our 10 year mobile number in India. We get the appropriate amounts of money put on the cards and make our purchase of 3 day passes. We might not save any money, but the convenience factor outweighs almost anything. So we were are off and running. We visit some art galleries, see some incredible paintings we cannot afford and nibble on some good food. Meanwhile we were making good use of our ticket.

On Wednesday, we travel on a tour of neighborhoods courtesy of Christine, a sister of our friends in Sawarak. We tour PJ, travel over to Mt. Kiara, see some national monuments and then down into Chinatown.
We visit the old Central Market (dating from the 1880’s). After a quick purchase of a new tunic (silk) for Liz, we adjourn to a Nyonya restaurant on the second floor. We leave the market and wander through Chinatown. It is an active trading area and we arrive during shift change. It is quite busy and we are not in the mood to make purchases.

On Wednesday evening we head out to Short & Sweet theatre at the KLPAC. It is difficult to get to, but we manage. They plays are intriguing, 10 minutes each. When the play ends, we walk a km to the main road and catch a taxi back to town. The evening was a success, both artistically, and from a getting to know KL better

Thursday was a day of exploration and steps. We went out on the LRT to a neighborhood on the far side of town. Earlier in the week, Liz commented that our longevity in Malaysia may depend upon the health of our knees. So I started counting stairs. Typically, Kuala Lumpur has “handicapped accessible Rapid transit”, but you need to use “flyovers” to get across major streets. Typically the flyovers accommodate large trucks (5.7 meter). That translates into 84 steps to get across. We have begun to discover the bus feeder routes circulating from the LRT stations. They may relieve some of our issues. The challenge is discovering what their routes and operating schedules. Because most flats/condo are rented by the individual unit owner, it is not really possible to see available units until closer to our renting date. However, we have been looking at buildings, and there are reviews of building on the web. But from what I have seen we should have no problem finding a 2br 2b fully furnished (all kitchen appliances included) in our price range. So far we have visited Bangsar, an area near the Setiawangsa LRT station, and several neighborhoods near the Taman Jaya, and Asia Jaya LRT stations. Some additional areas have been suggested, but we do not want to live in expat dominated areas, nor do we want to purchase a car.

On Thursday night we decided to find a hawkers market style of food. We end up on Jalan Alon in downtown KL and have a wonderful fish dinner. We find Lot 10, a mall that is the home of the Actor’s theater, but don’t find the theater right off. As we were leaving we spy a note on an elevator indicating the theater is on the 8th floor. The mall is owned by the same company YTL that is developing the area around Klpac. On Thursday afternoon we travelled/walked to Bangsar. It is not easy to get to on foot from the LRT. The mall is nice, has many expat oriented stores, and a very nice art gallery (not the Timberlake gallery).

On Friday we go to United Voice in the morning. (See Liz’s commentary on United Voice). We wander around downtown KL and have lunch in the Penang hawkers market under Lot 10. We pack, wash cloths and charge our various electronic devices (a computer, a Kindle, three phones, and an iTouch). Liz has a meeting with a woman from a local woman’s advocacy group. We decide to go back to Jalan Alon for dinner (not as good and come away hungry). Back to the hotel to rotate our cloths to ensure they dry by morning, and begin to burn minutes on our pre-paid mobile plans. It becomes difficult since the carrier changes the rate plan after we have made one call. Thus a 20 minute call to the US can cost less than $1 US.

Saturday morning we get up rather late and check out. Off to KLSentral to store our bags in luggage lockers (remember those). All four bags fit into one locker at a daily cost of $7.00 US. We spy a sign for a regional art exhibit at an out of the way exhibition hall offering free roundtrip bus transit. So off we go. At the exhibition hall, I am greeted by a gallery owner from Penang, and a gallery employee from the gallery in Bangsar. There are some fantastic contemporary themed artists exhibiting in SE Asia. We see some that we love, but could not afford, and one that was so fantastic that we would have purchased it on the spot, even though it would be a stretch. We find a group of six Ecuadorian artists, see some performance art with the artist drawing on the t-shirts of the spectators, and have a great time. It is back downtown for coffee and dinner. This desert is our final food in Malaysia, one of Liz's favorites Ice Kachang.
We wander around Little India and go to a Deevali commercial festival (like the commercial exhibitors barn at a US state fair). We finally board our bus to the airport at 8PM and our stay in Asia is rapidly coming to an end.

We arrive in Inchon airport early in the morning. The showers are free but you pay for the towel and a shower kit. Refreshed, we go in search of coffee and find some at a Caribou Coffee outlet. Thus fortified, we head off to use the free wifi. There are loads of free computers to use, but they default to a Korean keyboard anytime we attempt to use Google. A little too sleepy to deal with the settings we check our mail and blog. The airport is very busy, but not loud. Nobody is shouting at you and only occasional announcement break the silence.

Okay, Oct 31 is becoming a really long day. We are heading east across the Pacific and will cross the International Date Line. We have landed at LAX. Luckily we are part of the Trusted Traveler program. We skipped the lengthy lines for immigration and once we picked up our luggage we joined the crew line. There appeared to be three very long lines wrapping around the TIB terminal, all with luggage and waiting for clearance at customs. Then we entered the Delta terminal at LAX. It was like going to a third world country. I really wonder about the enforcement of health laws. The carpets are dirty, the operation in the terminal is obviously disorganized, and after a calm Asia, everybody is yelling. Eventually we board our flight to MSP and I sleep most of the way. At MSP we switch flights to RDU. Although we arrive early, the ground crew is unable to accommodate us. Still we exit early and go down to the baggage area. What I have learned throughout our trip, is that baggage handlers work on their own schedule. You may arrive early, but your baggage will always arrive at the originally scheduled time.

We take a taxi home, and enter our real estate industry “depersonalized home”. Pictures are rearranged, furniture is rearranged, and nothing seems quite right. Nothing is missing, but it takes a bit to find it. I guess this is part of the process, although it is legally our home, it is no longer emotionally our home.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

United Voice

United Voice describes itself as a "society of persons with learning disabilities" (same as intellectual disabilities). That simple statement perfectly describes this self-advocacy organization. Its membership and board consist entirely of persons with learning disabilities. When I first visited United Voice in 2008 I met Swee Lan, a non-disabled staff member. She was hired by the board and can be fired by the Board. I fished around for the right term to describe her relation to UV staff members, neither "coach" nor "mentor" was right. She referred to her co-workers as "partners," which captures the equal voices (or united voice) that staff members and UV members have.

On Friday I went on a return visit to United Voice. It owns its own office building - what a difference from the crowded facility I visited two years ago. Downstairs it has a gift shop, workroom, and bakery. Note that the bakers have face masks, hair nets, and gloves. Our timing was perfect – they were baking chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were great. We did not stop at tasting one - we left with a boxful to eat with our coffee. We reminded ourselves of all the great food, and multiple calories, we have eaten throughout the trip resisted the urge to try the cheese tarts - plus we didn't want to eat up the profits. We had coffee at a nearby food court where the owner allows UV to set up a stall to sell its cookies and tarts.

The art gallery is the newest enterprise – the artists get 70% of the profits and UV 30%. Several of the artists have developed an international reputation. Corporate buyers have bought paintings for their holiday cards or annual calendars. The art gallery illustrates UV's business model that financially recognizes the contributions of its artists. (For example, the tee-shirt designers receive a commission for each shirt sold.)Although the art gallery has high appeal, it is the other projects - including cookies, greeting cards, weaving - that employees more members.

I recently read a research paper by Swee Lan on her study of self-advocacy in UK schools. She noted that the teachers tended to stress responsibilities, i.e., "don't do bad things," over rights. As we chatted she pointed out that self advocacy was more than pressing for rights. Rather self-advocacy involves assuring that persons with learning disabilities are present in the community - that they are visable, full participants. Recently UV was invited to go to Australia to give a presentation. The UV members told their staff partners that they (the UV members) pointed that that they perfectly capable of going without their partners and they are! What a testiment to the success of UV's empowering its members.

I have often mentioned UV to people since my first visit there. They really expand one's definition of what it means to be inclusive.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Theater in KL

October 29

This year we were in KL for the theater portion of the Short and Sweet Festival. Last year we saw one week of the two week dance portion - 10 10-minute dances each week. We expected 10 10-minute plays this time. Instead we saw 12! With no intermission, we braced ourselves for a possibility of a mind numbing two hours. On the contrary, the evening went by quickly.

I will not try to summarize 12 plays. The audience was asked to check off its favorite play. We found it hard to choose only one; at least five were worthy contenders. Here are two memorable lines:

An actress preparing for an audition - "What if they say I don't look Malaysian enough." Boyfriend -"You have an international face." [Malaysians come in several ethnic groups and multiple complexion's.]

Woman telling boyfriend what lies ahead (he has just proposed) -"You will have to give all your frequently flier miles to my mother who will spend the rest of her life stalking you."

The plays were in English, but some lines were in Bahasa Malaysian. Of course, they got the biggest laughs.

The major challenge was getting to KL Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC). Last year we went to the train station which was within sight of KLPAC. The nearest entrance involves a 20 minute walk through an area that is dark and desolate. No taxi driver would take us to KLPAC, because it was too close. We walked to another area (further away) hailed several cabs,none of the drivers knew where KLPAC was. This year we found a cab, but again the driver had no idea where KLPAC was, but he knew where the nearby KFC was. (Good thing that Doug remembers such details.) The arts have to do a better job of marketing themselves and to make themselves more accessible to public transportation.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mandawa, New Delhi

Oct 21
Mandawa, New Delhi

I cannot believe that two weeks in India is almost gone. Only two more days left.

We left Bikaner early, and wound our way to Mandawa. The roads were generally good, although they were only two lane highways. An advantage of an early start is that India does not appear to be an early country. Highways are generally lightly travelled prior to 11am. Now this does not apply to the major cities where highways are packed from morning to past nightfall. Our journey was planned to be 200+ km at about 5 hours. We have discovered that the agency’s itinerary time estimates have been about right, averaging 50 km per hour taking into account breaks for tea, meals, and refueling.

I forgot to mention that we saw the Palace on Wheels, an extravagant train, while we were in Jodhpur.
It reportedly includes a travelling wine cellar. It travels during the night and gives the clients the day to tour the town at each stop. The best analogy is a cruise ship on wheels.

We arrived in Mandawa early in the afternoon. It is a small town, less than 20k population. We took the bypass around the market area. The driver had to stop more than once to ask for directions.

We finally found the Desert Winds resort. We registered and were escorted by a bellman (yes, we cannot carry our bags here, or for that matter wheel them over the concrete walkways to our individual unit/building). The units’ color melds into the landscape. They are round, brown and have what appears to be a thatched roof. The door has a wooden slide lock. Environmental considerations end here. The A/C is turned on and the lights are turned on (but do not illuminate much because they are so dim).
We take a look at the bathroom, and it is huge, with separate rooms for the sinks, wc, shower, and tub. No individual switch for a hot water heater is available (why heat the water when you are not in the room). We leave the room, but I am unable to figure out how to turn off the A/C.

We go to get lunch at the restaurant. It is 1pm but the snack menu is what is being served. Liz and I chose the vegiburger as we are still not eating meat in Rajasthan. The slaw, cucumbers, and tomatoes look tempting but we are being cautious with raw foods. While we are in the restaurant an Indian couple and small child arrived. They appear to be similarly disarmed by the menu and demand soup, salads and other items.

We tour the property. The is a 1950’s right hand drive Chevrolet pickup truck in the middle of the courtyard, and a swimming pool with sun bathing chairs strewn about. Back in the room there are brochures for various massages, facials and the like.

At 4 the guide appears and we are off with our driver to view Mandawa. As we learn this town was a merchant town on the silk road. There were rich merchants in Mandawa who build elaborate Haveli. These are large two to three storey buildings with a public and a private courtyard. The exteriors are decorated with frescos describing the silk trade, elephants, and other scenes. Most of the haveli appear to have been abandoned by their owner ; they may have caretaker families living in them. Our guide is says “explore” and sits on a chair in the ground floor courtyard. (He is moving to Frankfurt, Germany in late January. The weather will be a shock to him.) Since we indicated we did not wish to purchase any crafts we were spared the trip to the sales room. All in all the town was interesting, and we could have spent the day exploring. We were offered the option to have our dinned in a restaurant in town (in the fort), but we declined since we had booked a reservation for dinner at the Desert Wind.

Back at the hotel we notes all the chairs were being placed in a grassy courtyard – an omen of a dinner buffet (suggesting an under-spiced selection). Tourist buses arrive with French, German, and Italians. This appears to be the first stop on their tour of Rajasthan. Video cameras are glued to their eyes as they move through the facility. Dinner starts are 8PM. The aforementioned Chevrolet Pickup truck is now the bar. A puppet stage has been set up and puppets are strewn out in front for purchase (in the dark). An Indian buffet is laid out. Bland is the name of the game here. Indian rice dishes are replaced by Italian risotto, lentil soups and dal are replaced by cream of chicken soup. Naan is replaced by Italian bread sticks. No fresh fruits are available, but we have ginger cake with kiwi sauce for desert. We leave before the puppet show.

The next morning we check out with the most expensive meal bill of the trip. Our driver tells us this will be a difficult drive back to Delhi. For most of the first two hours the roads have one paved lane winding through rich agricultural areas. We see children going to school and school buses. In some places there is no road at all. About 5 hours later we reach the main highway between Jaipur and Delhi. Throughout our driver has been wonderful, considerate, and helpful. Returning to our friend’s home in Gurgeon is refreshing.

Liz has long wanted some Indian tunics. So with Snehal’s assistance we are off to one of the many shopping malls in Gurgeon. Liz finds several tunics and Indian tights to go with them. We visit an expat grocery store and marvel at the amount of European, Asian and North American foodstuffs available for purchase.

The next morning is our last in India and we decide to do a quick exploration of Delhi. The traffic is heavy and it takes an hour or so on the expressway to reach the city. We stop at a crafts area on the edge of Delhi where groups representing various disability groups from each state in India. The area is run by the Association for the Rehabilitation Under National Trust Initiative of Marketing. We eat a lunch of Delhi style chaat…to hell with not eating raw vegetables, riata, and chutneys. It is all good. From there we spend the next several hours driving through the government sectors of the Indian capital. We end the tour with a stop at the craft stores sponsored by the respective state governments of India. The same puppets sold at the Desert Wind to eager tour groups at 2000Rs are sold here for 200Rs

Finally, we end out sojourn in India be being dropped off at Terminal 3 IGIA. The terminal is new, openeded for the CWG 2010 (Commonwealth Games). Not all the stores are yet open, but the food court has some restaurants.

Check-in at AirAsia is smooth, the various security checks go quickly, and we pass through emigration without a hitch. The flight to Kuala Lumpur leaves on time and we sleep fitfully.

Our trip to India is over. We shall return. We will again focus on one small area within India, most likely Leh and Ladkah during Eid 2011 (late August, early September 2011).

Jaisalmer and Bikaner

Oct 18
Jaisalmer, Bikaner,

We left Jodhpur early in the morning for our trip to Jaisalmer. About an hour out of Jodhpur we stopped at Osian to visit a Hindu and Jain temple. It was located within the town, but high above the market place. Upon entry we were told by the man at the bottom of the stairs that we needed to register upon our exit. Off with the shoes. This was one of those days that I envied those tourists who brought temple socks with them. We had a long climb up the stairs. There were many side rooms off on both sides of the stairway. As we neared the top we began to be confined to crowd control gates. Since some people had been killed recently in crowd crushes near temples we could understand. At the top we were directed out of the main route to the worship of the Gods. Still there was plenty to see. We descended to a lower level and began to explore a large terrace. At one small temple, we were invited in by a woman and the priest dressing the God.
Every morning in a Hindu temple the priest comes, takes the clothes off the god, washed the god, and then dresses the god with clean clothes. It was interesting to watch. There were at least 10 to 15 small temples on this level, and again a maze of crowd control gates, awning to protect the worshipers (not here on this morning) from the strong sun. There was also a pathway to follow painted on the stone terrace. We wandered some more, and descended back down into the village (after giving our particulars to the man at the gate). I think it was some sort of tourism development survey. As always our driver was there to meet us. Nothing worse than losing your charges on a 13 day tour. The market was lively with many cattle wandering about.

Then it was off into the desert again, roughly following a lonely rail line. What was really interesting was that we were held at two rail crossing for a total of ½ hour waiting for trains (in the midst of an arid landscape). One was a local passenger train, and the other a long freight. This was the line to Jaisalmer, near the Pakistani border and near many large Indian Army and Air Force bases.

As mentioned before, the monsoon was good this year, and the desert was “green”. There were many fields being tended….it appeared to be animal feed (hay). There were many sheaves of “hay” in the fields, and many large stacks of hay being stored for the following year. We say herds of sheep, goats, and yes camels along and on the roads.
I noticed many of the camels had a strange gait, until I say that they were hobbled to prevent them from wandering off.

Five hours later we arrived in Jaisalmer (mid afternoon). The hotel, the Fifu Guest House or hotel is a strange building. In some ways built like a haveli without the large interior courtyard. Some 4 stories tall, the stone building has a central interior staircase. Registration was normal with passports being passed over. The owner was seated with several guests discussing a camel safari into the desert. The owner we discover is quite the entrepreneur.

We are escorted to our room on the 2nd floor (3rd floor north American convention) to a nice room. I note that I cannot lock the door from the inside. About an hour later, a locksmith arrives to repair the door… about service. We climb the stairs to the rooftop restaurant to had tea and our favorite chili cheese toast sandwiches. Then we leave and go wandering in the town.

About 1 km from the hotel we cross a main road and enter Jaisalmer proper. We encounter a merchant who is making blankets. Signs on the wall indicate that the blankets are better than Viagra. Other signs are equally pithy, but the owner implores us not to publish them due to competitive reasons. He has an idea for one about Monica Lewinski and asks us to spell her name. We are not in a buying mood. We purchase some biscuits (cookies for our North American friends). It is then into the town bazaar proper. And there is a “German” bakery. We cannot recommend the coconut macaroons. The merchants are aggressive, but friendly. The will recognize us the following day. After about an hour of walking and in the fading sun, we return to our hotel.

The next morning, Liz has problems with the hot water in the shower (it just takes a long while to get there). We go to the rooftop for a good breakfast. What is interesting is the owner tells Liz (who had not complained publically) that hot water is not a problem. (The stone walls are thin.) We are off to our tour of yet another fort. This one is not a UNESCO site, so it is still a living village. Many vendors, a small bazaar, and many small hotels occupy the heights. We visited a small Jain temple while our guide waited outside. Upon exit we noted a sign saying only Jains could use the bathroom facilities. It seems the farther we are from New Delhi, the fewer children go to school. We took a guided tour of the bazaar and other haveli.
We purchased some tea and expressed an interest to see areas where “the professions worked”. That lead us to sections of the community were leather workers gathered, and goldsmiths and silversmiths worked. Out guide, a Brahmin, pointed out where the untouchables lived. The caste system lives on.
Later in the afternoon, we travelled out 45 km into the desert to see the sunset. We had specified to the tour company that we did not want to ride camels (they are smelly, have ticks, spit and bite). What we encountered was a mass of domestic Indian tourists. Hundreds of camels were ferrying people out on to the dunes to watch the sun set. We walked, and watched. We returned to town for a late dinner.


The next morning was a long drive to Bikaner, about 6 hours through the desert with few towns along the way. We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon. At 3pm we left for our tour of the fort.
This fort was not on a bluff above the town, and had a moat (filled with crocs when attacked). It appears each generation of the Raj family extended the palace adding new rooms. Included in one room was a fighter aircraft from WWI.

Then it was off to the Camel research center. We were greeted at the gate by two camels fully decked out with decorations and riders in beautiful uniforms.
They were expecting an official delegation (it was not us). We availed ourselves of the opportunity to have camel ice cream. I can report it is an acquired taste (somewhat salty) and very yellow (mango color). We learned of breeding techniques, camel erections, and training. We saw camels coming in from the fields and finding their paddocks. Back to the entry gate in time to see three HM Ambassador sedans roar up and the official delegation arrive. The official jumped out of the car and rushed up to see the camels. Flower petals were released over his head and everybody laughed.

It was back to the hotel and art deco era building. We ordered tea and it was served in solid silver tea pots at London prices. Dinner was interesting with few patrons. We had tea delivered at 7 in the morning followed by breakfast in the main dining room. Upon check out I paid my bill. The hotel manager did not have change and had to get it from the porter (his tips). And we were off to Mandawa next.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What I have learned about KL thus far

We have been in KL three days. This is what we have learned thus far

1. If you tell the NC State Employees Credit Union where you are going and when doesn't mean that you will be able to withdraw money when you get there! (Too detailed and bizarre to explain, but this isn't the first time this has happened to us.)

2. I went looking for a RM10 (RM ringgit the monetary unit valued at RM3.08 per US$)watch and found one for RM9!

3. You can get a Touch & Go pass for RM10 which works as an Easy Pass on KL's buses and LRT (Metro). A tourist can get a 7 day pass for RM50, 5 days for RM25, and 1 day for RM10. The pass is good for 10 years as long as we use it once a year. (Doug has an India phone number that is good for 10 years - so we are set until we are older and tottering.)

4. KL taxis use meters - or at least that is what their doors say. We haven't tested it out.

5. Apparently giving floor numbers is out at upmarket malls. The Galleries at Star Hill has floors designated by names such as "Muse," "Reflection," and "Relish."

6. Although good traditional art is easy to find in Malaysia and India tracking down contemporary art takes a bit more work. We have been impressed with what we have discovered thus far. We visited several galleries on the above mentioned muse floor. We especially taken by the painting by Penang artist Eston Tan and Bangladeshi artist Kanak Chanpa Chakma.

7. One can see a cow on the streets of KL. She was plumper than an Indian cow. We saw her Sunday near KL Convention Centre but by today (Tuesday) she was gone.

8. We always eat better when friends order the food. (This wasn't true in India where we found some great meals, especially the stuffed tomatoes at Hotel Fifu.) Still I got a pretty good cendol on my own today.

9. As Heinz stockholders we can happily report Heinz is well represented by more than ketchup in super markets.

10. You can't get baby (81 mg) aspirin or Vitamin D except in combination with another vitamin or mineral. Calcium and multi-vitamins were more expensive than US prices (so future house guests you know what you will be asked to bring.