Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The couple that ate Hong Kong

Since the last post, we've hiked for hours, walked for miles, stayed out past our bedtime, slept in late, and eaten:
  • whole clams
  • squid
  • roast pork and roast duck
  • charcuterie and cheese platters
  • crispy chicken
  • bean greens with crab
  • egg waffles
  • mango sago
  • boiled fish balls, pig skin, and turnip (while watching horse racing, of course)
  • mussels
  • hot dog
  • lots of tea and coffee
  • dinner at a 2-star Michelin restaurant, with delicious steamed glutinous dumpling with red bean paste for dessert
  • an avocado
  • Fage yogurt
  • eggs benedict, yogurt & croissant
  • chorizo omlette
  • and for breakfast on Monday: french fries, chili fries, bacon wrapped sausages, and chicken wings
I think I'm gonna explode. But at least I'd die full and happy!

Chorizo omelet at the Real Bread

Fish ball at Happy Valley Raceway

Cheese & meat at The Classified

Egg waffle

Eggs benedict and other stuff at The Real Bread

Breakfast, beers, and 'da Bears. At 4:30AM!

Squid, clams, and mustard greens with mushrooms

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's a great big universe...

...and we're all really puny.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Picture pages p.II

Hong Kong is cool.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I'm writing this from Hong Kong? We have a sweet hotel room in Causeway Bay. We've walked our legs off and stuffed our bellies full of....well, everything! The great thing about Hong Kong is that they have pretty much anything we want to eat. Chinese food? Yes (although they just call it "food" here. Heh.) French food? Yes. Pizza? Yes. There's even a Ruby Tuesdays and an Outback Steakhouse. Although I don't think I could get homesick enough to possibly want either of those! We've been here for 2.5 days, and so far we've had chili crab, spicy pork chops, sauteed green beans, hot dogs, egg custard tart, sausage roll, sushi, mochi, sweet potato fries (at an "authentic" Chicago bar, no less), dim sum, shawarma, waffles with berries, a sausage and egg skillet, banh mi, and kaya toast. And now I'm on the hunt for more Pepto Bismol. We also found a BLT Steak, a sister restaurant of one of Nick's favorite restaurants back in DC. We didn't go, but maybe we'll go back for a treat. Right now all I really want is a salad.

Mostly we've just spent a lot of time doing what we always seem to do when on leave from Kabul, which is walk. A lot. know, we can here. And we can't in Kabul. We've walked through lots of malls. Had a few drinks -- including a few courtesy of a drunk British expat in Wanchai. HK, at least the HK island side, is full of expats. Tons of them. A their kids too. I am very curious about expat kids because chances are we'll end up with one ourselves. I have to admit I kind of like the idea of raising a kid who is independent and world-wise and capable of wandering the streets of HK, or any other foreign city.

On a funny note, since the drinking age in HK is 18, the expat kids were out in force last night. It seems the cool thing to do is buy beers and wine coolers from the 7-11 (yet another little taste of home that I don't really miss!) and stand in the street in Lan Kwai Fong and drink. We tried it out. It wasn't that fun. I think this means we're getting old.

As opposed to the last two nights, this evening we've been chilling in our hotel room, recharging our batteries for our early morning excursion to a bar in Soho where we will be watching the Bears game. At 4:30AM. Nick really loves the Bears. And I must really love my husband.

So it's off to bed for us. But as we collect even more vacation photos from an incredible location, I'll leave you with some picture pages of what we got up to while on leave in November, as well as over the holidays back in Kabul.

Nick doing his best sherpa imitation in Tampa, after 32 hours of travel

Reunited with Chrissy, my college roommate, in Sarasota

Getting a little vitamin D therapy in Sarasota

With grandma in Chapel Hill

Everything with a shmear at Ess-a-Bagel in NYC

Breakfast blintz.

I said goodbye to my beloved Chucks, which had walked me through no less than 5 countries. And then promptly bought a new pair.

Our holiday corner. We did both a latke party and Christmas dinner.

The Embassy received it's very first visit from the USO tour -- we had Robin Williams, Lance Armstrong, and Lewis Black, seen here with Nick.

Christmas breakfast. Thanks again for the egg casserole recipe Mom X!

Nick and I organized dinner for 40 Embassy staffers. Cleanup is a pain when you don't have a dishwasher!

My boss and colleague. We love our jobs!

Compared to last year, New Years at the Embassy was really very boring. Although thanks to Nick and me, everyone was accessorized in the appropriate fashion.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Reflections on 2010

And....we're back. Sorry for the long lag in posting. I made a resolution to update more often in 2011. Of course, I made the same resolution last year.

In case you were wondering, no Nick and I did not just decide to say the hell with Kabul and go AWOL while on R&R last month. We had a really, really, REALLY great trip home, although the last few days were a little rough. And then our return to Kabul was very very rough. And since then I just haven't really felt much like writing. In the wise words of the Animaniacs, "If you can't say anything're probably at the Ice Capades."

The first thing that made coming back so difficult was that I really did not want to go back to eating Kabul food. Did I mention here that I had to stop eating the DFAC salads and whole fruits, ie give up 90% of my diet? I don't think I did. The story is that after our trip to Turkey -- another instance where the constant stomach issues that have plagued me since coming to Kabul mysteriously disappear within 24 hours of leaving the compound -- I decided to figure out once and for all what was making me so ill. I just couldn't take it anymore. In addition to the constant pain and discomfort, being sick was really affecting my mood. I couldn't work out in the gym because I was so gassy. I had to miss out on social events because my cramps were so bad. And it was affecting my marriage, because I didn't want to with Nick because I felt so disgusting and unclean. So one day I decided to not eat anything from the salad bar for one whole day. I did eat a couple of pears and plums though, and still got sick a few hours later. So the next day I didn't eat any vegetables or fruit....and I've been 99% fine ever since. However, this does mean that I'm missing sorely the foods that I LOVE to eat. I mean, when Nick's not around I'm essentially a rabbit. While on leave in November I made the most of every opportunity to eat fruits and vegetables. (A note to families M & X: sorry if I seemed non-commital or indecisive when you offered to take us out for pizza, BBQ, Chinese food, pasta etc to eat while Nick and I were visiting. It was just that all I really wanted was to be dropped off at the nearest salad bar!) But as we got closer to the end of leave, I started to get really down about returning to a no-veggies lifestyle. So down, in fact, that I threw a temper tantrum when we got in late to our hotel in Dubai and had to order room service for dinner and they didn't offer a spinach salad. Not a moment I'm proud of.

The second reason our return was difficult is that for me it marked one whole year in Kabul (18 months for Nick). One whole year spent spinning my wheels in a job that I don't really care for, in a location that causes me never ending cabin fever. Not exactly a date to celebrate.

The third thing that made coming back difficult was that a lot of drama went down on the compound while we were on leave. Drama that affected close friends of ours, and that has kind of cast a pall over everything. Combined with what seems to be a conscious effort by the people in charge to make sure that we have no fun at all and a general increase in the average age of the people on the compound, and life here has just kind of been a bummer.

So with all of that, the only thing I could manage to write for this blog were complaints. And I don't want to fill this blog with nothing but whinging and whining. I mean really, my life isn't terrible. There are so many people who are suffering more than I, dealing with cancer, divorce, death, unemployment. And complaining when I know how much sadness and struggle is out there makes me feel like a whiny, over-privilegded twit. So I just didn't write.

I'm still not really in the mood to write. Being stuck here over the holidays -- and missing out on the big snowstorm back east -- has me in kind of a funk. My spirits have picked up a little over past day or two, as Nick and I are now only 10 days away from our next break; we're going to Hong Kong for some sleeping, shopping, eating, hiking and movies. In that order.

But, I have decided to break my blogging hiatus with the start of 2011 in order to fill out this questionnaire again.

Reflection time (apologies in advance for the whining, and here's a toast a better 2011):

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Visited Singapore, Turkey, and Bali; wore leggings with a tunic; ran a half marathon; met Ambassador Eikenberry, Ambassador Holbrooke and General Petraeus; got bit by a leech; went through USAID's bid process; cooked a Passover Seder and a Thanksgiving dinner; got up close and personal with a monkey (watch the video); bought skinny jeans and a pleather coat; went to a Marine Ball; rode in a helicopter (3 in fact!); met Al Franken; visited Herat, Nangarhar, Kandahar, and Mazar-i-Sharif; ate durian and frog; turned 30.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Let's go through them one by one, shall we? My resolutions for 2010 were:
  • Figure out a long term career plan, even if it means going back to school--Still working on this one
  • Run at least one 5k, and sign up in time to get the T-shirt for free --Done and done, in abundance.
  • Curtail my internet addiction -- Maybe? Nick would say no
  • Maintain my current weight and fitness level throughout our tour in Afghanistan, and motivate Nick to improve his -- Yes-ish. I'm the same weight as last year, but I don't think I'm as fit. All of that trapezing over the summer of 2009 did my body good!
  • Read more -- Yes, but mostly while we're on vacation
  • Be more patient with Nick -- Yes, but I think this will be a lifetime resolution
  • Get another piercing -- No. Sister J, one of these times when I'm visiting, can't we please go get your ears pierced?
  • Limit my navel gazing -- Maybe?
  • Say thank you to my parents more often -- Another lifetime resolution
  • Help my mom organize at least one charity drive for Afghanistan -- Nope. Mom M, are you still trying to do this?
  • Write in this blog more often -- Um. No
Resolutions for 2011:
  • Figure out a long term career plan, even if it means going back to school
  • Run more local races, at least one half-marathon; try to run the 2011 Budapest Marathon
  • Trek to Everest Base Camp
  • Do at least one good deed each week
  • Try a new hairstyle and/or hair color (I'm thinking of going darker. Thoughts?)
  • Spend at least 2 hours per week reading
  • Get another piercing -- Sister J, I might take care of this in Hong Kong unless you speak up...
  • Get plans in place for a kickass 40th wedding anniversary gift/celebration for my parents
  • Help my mom organize at least one charity drive for Afghanistan -- Mom M, I'm ready when you are
  • Write in this blog more often to keep a record of our transition from Kabul to Budapest

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
OMG it was the year of the baby! Three colleagues and lots of high school and Facebook friends. And the X family is expecting another new member come spring 2011!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thank goodness.

5. What countries did you visit?
United Arab Emirates and India (if overnight layovers count), Afghanistan, Bali, Singapore, Turkey, USA

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
A definite career path. A job which allows me to apply all of my skills and brainpower, and to which I will happily devote my time and energy (the same as I wanted for this past year). The freedom to come and go, walk and run, and otherwise occupy myself as I please. Better communications with my family.

Oh yeah. And I'm still waiting for that trapeze rig on the Embassy compound.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

And that's about it, because there's not much about this year that I want to remember.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Running a half marathon. Like I said, not really a banner year for me.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not being able to forgive and let go of hurt feelings. Allowing those feelings to fester and grow (same as last year. This will be a lifelong challenge for me.) Blaming Nick during the times when I felt really low about being in Kabul. Picking fights with Nick. Not coming up with a good idea for a 60th birthday gift for my Mom. Speaking my thoughts frankly when I didn't know to whom I was speaking. Not writing in this blog often enough.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No significant injuries. I developed sciatica and maybe a problem with my periformis. But otherwise nothing requiring medical intervention. I was sick though. A lot. Lots of colds, lots of stomach issues. Luckily I resolved most of the stomach issues by not eating any of the washed vegetables or whole fruits from the DFAC. Of course, this also means that I cut out a large part of my usual diet.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Anything having to do with our vacations (except for a few activities in Turkey), especially our time at the Sarinbuana Eco Lodge in Bali, at the 5oda in Istanbul, in NC with my grandmother for her 90th birthday, in FL for Rory and Steph's wedding, and our 2 days in NYC in November. Our second consumables shipment. And I really like my new pleather coat! (Thanks for making me buy it Jen!)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Nick's. He's been so very very patient in dealing with my regular bouts of wallowing in my own self-pity. Being here is hard on him too, but he hides that very well and does his best to keep my spirits up. He's also gotten much better about picking up after himself, being proactive about doing general being an equal partner in our little family.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Pleading the fifth.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Towards our various escapes from Kabul: Singapore, Bali, Turkey, Florida, NYC

15. What did you get really excited about?
Our next post: Hungary 2011 baby! Escaping Kabul. Visiting my sis in her very first house. Meals out at the Serena. Glee nights. Our future nephew. The very very precious whole sweet potato that a friend gave me as a lovely Christmas surprise. Nick just cooked it up for me tonight (roasted with onions and EVOO, with some of the very very precious goat cheese we brought back from Turkey). The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell!

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
I dunno. Green Day's "East 12th St" has been stuck in my head ever since we saw American Idiot in NYC. Ke$ha and Lady Gaga songs are often in my head these days too.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

  • happier or sadder? Sadder. Last year I was newly reunited with Nick and life in Kabul was still new. Now I'm just worn down and so so so ready to be done.
  • thinner or fatter? About the same size, but not as fit as I'd like to be.
  • richer or poorer? Financially richer. Your tax dollars hard at work….in our pockets. Thanks for the salary everyone! ;-)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
More serious thinking about and work on my career path. More thought and concern for the needs/hopes/concerns/lives/feelings of others. More time in the company of friends and family.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Less time being sick. Less complaining. Less navel gazing. Less watching TV. Less time sitting on my couch in my apartment.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
With Nick, in Kabul, cooking and prepping the Mission Director's apartment for a Christmas dinner for 40 friends. And performing as the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Embassy's production of the radio play version of A Christmas Carol. And enjoying a nice White Elephant exchange with the aforementioned friends.

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?

22. What was your favorite TV program?
GLEE! As if there was ever any doubt. Nick and I are also really into How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, and Dexter (we're only on Season 4, so don't reveal any surprises!) And, I'm rather ashamed to say, I've also gotten into the Vampire Diaries.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I don't like to hate against people, but there are various USAID, Embassy staffers and military personnel who shall remain nameless for whom I don't really care.

24. What was the best book you read?
My memory is so bad that I can't remember most of the books I read this year. And I had to go to Amazon to remind myself of what I read because my Kindle's archive resets every time I take the Kindle out of the US. Ok, let's see. Born to Run was great. Dan Savage's The Kid was very interesting. I bought Room in 2010, although I didn't finish it before the end of the year. Can it still count?

I'm sure I read other books that I didn't buy for my Kindle (in fact I'm sure I read quite a few that I borrowed from the Eco Lodge's library while we were in Bali) but I can't for the life of me remember what they were.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I didn't discover it, but I'm really into Pink's "Raise Your Glass" right now. Also, American Idiot has been in heavy rotation on my iPod. It's nice to work out to a musical with a really good rock beat!

26. What did you want and get?
Kickass vacations. Diamond studs and gold hoop earrings. (Ugh, saying that makes me feel really materialistic)

27. What did you want and not get?
Clarity on the career front. Nick to commit to a diet and exercise regimen. And world peace?

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Nine was good, because it was the first movie I saw in a movie theater after arriving in Kabul. Avatar was also good, because it was the second movie I saw after arriving in Kabul. Prince of Persia was....well, terrible actually. But for the most part, any movie I saw in a movie theater with good picture quality and stereo sound (instead of viewing a pirated copy with poor sound and picture while sitting on my couch in Kabul) was pretty good.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I spent it packing for our home leave and flying from Kabul to Dubai. Although since we were traveling on my actual birthday, Nick threw me a surprise birthday party a few days earlier.

Oh yeah. I turned 30. Don't ask me how I feel about that.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Not being in Kabul.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Office drone in a Muslim country, where everything gets dirty and I have no access to any place to buy new clothes. But when we're on leave I've been trying to experiment a little more and move away from my standard look.

32. What kept you sane?
Friends. Family. Working out. The occasional foray into Kabul for a dinner out. Kabul kitties. Megavideo. Nick*.
*Some of these may or may not have also been the cause of some insanity.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Still stuck on Gavin Creel and Jonathan Groff (I know, I know). Benjamin Walker, Stark Sands, and other guys who aren't that well-known beyond the theater scene.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

35. Who did you miss?
Everyone. My parents. My sister. True friends. Caela Beagle.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Friends in Kabul.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
Stop waiting for life to make you happy. Get the f**k up and make it happen for yourself. There is no time but now.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
From the aforementioned "East 12th St" from American Idiot:
Somebody get me out of here/Anybody get me out of here
Somebody get me out of here/Get me the f*** right out of here.
So far away/I don't want to stay/Get me outta here right now
I just wanna be free /Is there a possibility /Get me out of here right now

This lifelike dream ain't for me