#GourdGate.

So, yesterday, I had a couple of somewhat, unusual, cultural experiences.  I’m not sure that I’m fully recovered just yet, but, since so many of you loved my experience-oversharing on SnapChat, I figured I’d share it here, for prosperities sake.

I booked myself in for a massage at ‘my’ salon.  It’s the place I go for ALL my beautifying, my mani-pedis, mendhi/henna decorations, to have my hair washed, cut and blow dried and even my threading done too – it’s an all-round kinda salon, and, not only are their prices are great, but the girls who work there are so lovely – plus? They make really good tea, turn the lights off when they know I’m stressed out or tired, and they aren’t too chatty or imposing unless you want them to be.

It’s a tranquil, quiet little haven, in the ‘upscale’ part of town.  They always fit me in to the schedule, whether I give them a couple hours notice, or a couple days, and, typically speaking, I always come out with more than what I went in for – and they always make the extra time, for my extra services.  Yesterday, for example, I went in for a full body massage, and came out with a blow-dry accompaniment.

I’ve had my fair share of massages in both the UK and the US.  You go in, strip to your knickers, lie under a blanket/sheet and enjoy the experience – but the butt and boobs are off limits.  This was my first massage in India and it was, well, it was a little different.  I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this.

I got a bum massage – and even my boobs got a good rub-down.

It came as quite the surprise!

One friend said she didn’t have it happen during her massage at a local hotel.  One friend said it’s pretty typical of massages in India (she comes here for work sometimes and has experienced it herself) and another friend said it’s pretty common, though typically they ask for permission, or at least give you a heads up.

It was, by no means unpleasant, or, in any way untoward, but it was just a little bit of a culture shock, and felt incredibly odd to be paying another human being to give my boobs a rub-down! LOL!  I guess they certainly aren’t kidding when they say ‘full body massage’! Ha!

Follow this by #GourdGate, within a matter of hours no less, and it was quite an enlightening day about Indian life and culture.

What, might you ask, was #GourdGate?

Well, rapt readers, let me tell you.

#GourdGate, was ordering, what I thought was the pumpkin in the picture below.

Little punkins.  Decorative punkins.  I only ordered one of each kind, because I wanted to make sure it was the right thing before I ordered a bunch for my Thanksgiving table décor.

What I got? Was in the picture below.  ACTUAL, you need to cook with this, pumpkin segments.

Which I promptly handed to Albert, the chef, who turned it in to pumpkin and potato soup.  Thankfully.

Now the hunt for garnish gourds continues… I think I’ve had more than my fair share of culture shock for this week, but? The silver lining? Was that I surely rocked a kick-ass hairstyle for the day…here’s to the next culturally different discovery!

On Saturdays, we sightsee!

So, Saturday’s have become our tourist days, we get up lazily, have breakfast, hop in the car – later than we tell the driver to expect us and off we go a-galavantin’.  Thus far, it’s been pretty local, but he’s encouraging us to go further afield over the coming weeks and months.

A couple weeks ago, we went to Pune Zoo – I had intended on doing a whole big post about the zoo itself.  A weekly ‘sight-seeing’ post of sorts.  However, this zoo wasn’t quite like every other zoo in the world I’ve been to, so I’m writing a half-assed, deflated, ‘meh’ post about it.  Partly to remind me of the ‘meh’ when people come to town and go ‘OMG HEY LETS GO TO THE ZOO’ and partly in case anyone new to Pune thinks it’s a Zoo, like we know Zoos to be.  It’s not terrible, it just wasn’t quite what we expected and left Lewis a little frustrated is all.

Alright – first things first, you want to go for a couple hour walk around a pretty, enclosed, mostly shaded area in Pune? Go here.  The paths are good for skate boards, scooters and bikes, it was largely cool enough for even us to go for a dander around, and it was a pretty enough walk.

HOWEVER.  If you’re expecting exotic zoo animals – you may want to re-think this place.  So.  They have elephants, but they were in a little tin hut down a hill that you can’t get to, when we visited.  I dunno if our visit was bad timing, or this is where they lived, but even with maximum zoom on my iPhone, it was too far and too dark to get a picture of them.

They have two tigers, and while it’s great for the tigers to have such a wide open enclosure to roam around in (bigger than any Western zoo we’ve been to) but it made it *incredibly* hard for us to see them – we heard one of them roar, but we didn’t get o see either of them much at all.

They have monkeys, but, again, the enclosure is huge (yay for the animals!) and they have little caves they can run around in – we got lucky and they wanted to come out and play, but, again, this doesn’t fall under the traditional ‘zoo’ definition, which is hard to explain to a three year old who wants to see elephants and tigers!

They have plenty of antelope, deer and buck to look at.  We liked looking at the crocs, the turtles and the snakes in the snake park section – there was definitely plenty around that section to look at and Lewis was fascinated.

I think my ‘meh’ came from the extra 30 minute walk around to get to the elephant enclosure with a tired kiddo desperate to see elephants and when we got there, they weren’t out to play and we had to walk back, I was peeved.  If they just continued the path a little bit beyond the elephants you wouldn’t need to turn back on yourself at all, so it was frustrating and resolved in Col carrying an exhausted Lewis back to the entrance.

I felt like the biggest attraction at the Pune Zoo? Was us white folk.  We were stopped every few feet and asked for pictures of Lewis.  People constantly wanting to touch him, and be in his space – this one is taking a lot of adjusting.  For the first few weeks we have asked him if he wanted his picture taken, but, I have gotten slowly more firm at just outright saying no thank you.

It’s different if people ask me for pictures – which they do, and I feel like a freakin’ celebrity.  I mostly say yes, but only if I get to take one too.  Lewis (as you can see from the photo above) gets stared at.  A LOT.  This class of little kids were just fascinated by us every time our paths crossed.  It was draining.  My friend said that I’m probably giving them the one white-person picture they’ll get in their lifetime, and it doesn’t really do any harm.  But Lewis just gets overwhelmed and hides when people try and insert themselves in to his space, so we are getting actively more non-compliant, and in some cases maybe even verging on rude when people ask for his picture.

The weekend after the zoo, we went to the Shaniwar Wada Fort.  Now.  If you look at Trip Advisor – the list of things to do in Pune, and, India, both typically revolve around temples, dams and forts.  Shaniwar Wada was our first fort to visit, it’s in the centre of Pune itself – this was my first trip in to the actual city of Pune, so it was novel.

Shaniwar Wada was built in 1732, it was the seat of the Peshwas of the Maratha Empire until 1818, when the Peshwas lost control to the British East India Company after the Third Anglo-Maratha War.  Following the rise of the Maratha Empire, the palace became the center of Indian politics in the 18th century.

For almost 70 years, this fort remained home to the ruling Peshwas until the Maratha Army was defeated by John Malcolm of the British East India Company. In June 1818, then king Bajirao II, abdicated his throne to John Malcolm and went into political exile at Bithoor, near Kanpur in present-day Uttar Pradesh, India. After the British took over the region, fort became of residence of British officers for a decade until 1828 when a major fire broke within the fort. What caused this fire is still unknown but the entire fort was destroyed in it. The fire burnt for seven long days and after it was extinguished, only the huge walls and gates remained, everything else was destroyed. The fort was abandoned after the fire and no one has lived here ever since.”

Shaniwar Wada translates to “Saturday Building” since it was founded on that day. Around 1,000 people once lived in the fortress (though our driver told us 15,000 – slight exaggeration!!) Today, the site hosts important public speeches and events.

I believe the most important thing for kings when they built their forts in ancient times was that the fort should remain standing for centuries, as a sign of their power and rule over the region. They designed the walls to withstand any attack and keep the royal family and people of the kingdom safe…  Now after all the kings and queens are long gone, what remains is pretty much these strong and silent walls of several forts all over our country. There is no kings rule left anymore but these forts still remind people of the king who built them.” 

As I mentioned above, the common theme among all of our sight-seeing adventures, thus far (and probably forevermore) has been the white-girl effect.  The people are curious, but friendly and respectful – for the most part.  I have found the occasional man snapping pics of Lewis and I without permission – which, I guess, is only to be expected as I drive around the streets taking pictures of the people and the locale here, it’s just a little more uncomfortable when they’re in our personal space doing it.

Typically, it’s parents throwing their kids at us for snaps that they really aren’t convinced they want in the first place – but there’s always the one smiley kid who takes to me and wants to come walking along with me! LOL!

We’re knocking tourist places off our list brave and quickly here in Pune, we’ve also added Aga Kahn palace and Mahabeleshwar to our ‘done’ list over the last couple weeknds, and I’m trying to decide where we’re going to go this weekend, maybe some caves, or another fort!

1: Sarah, from Belfast, now in Houston

Three years ago, I was interviewed by a very special and wonderful lady Marie Brice, she is someone who did a lot for me when I first arrived in Houston and who helped me realise a lot of my own inner strength. (Find my interview, here.)

She put together this interview framework that I stumbled upon a month or two ago and, with her permission, I decided to pick up the baton and interview a few of my own expat friends, to share some of their experiences and thoughts on being an expat themselves.

971447_10151437944482651_232976494_nSarah hasn’t lived in Houston very long, but you’d never know to look at her.  She is one of the fastest people I’ve seen assimilate in to a new country and culture.  She’s outgoing, has her fingers in many pies and volunteers much of her time to doing good in the community.

Where were you born? Belfast, Northern Ireland

Where are you currently? Houston, Texas

How long have you been there? I’ve been in Houston for a whole three months now….(four now that I’ve finally gotten around to posting this!)

How long do you expect to be there? Who knows but we think perhaps around 3 years

Where else have you lived? Stavanger in Norway and of course, Belfast

What you love about where you are living? Houston has a lot to offer in terms of the arts, entertainment, volunteering and careers. I’ve been impressed by the vibrancy of the city and how truly international it is. And after three years in Norway, its nice to wear flip flops rather than snow boots for a while.

What is the worst thing about where you live? Distance – Houston is a big, sprawling city so getting around takes time. What I really am missing from both Ireland and Norway are lovely walks just outside my front door.

The hardest part of living where you live? Not being able to step outside the front door and head out for a walk and I do miss my amazing friends in Norway and Ireland. Working out the time difference for skyping home is also proving a challenge but my glass is pretty much always half full so I’m happy with my lot.

What has surprised you most about where you live? The cost of healthcare – I thought I was prepared but apparently not!

Your biggest lesson learned? Bloom where you’re planted – wherever you are, you can choose to make the most of it and make yourself happy.

One reason you wouldn’t have missed living there for the world? Much like Norway, I am meeting the most amazing people. And I’ve discovered yoga – worth it for that alone so far.

The best food? Usually the last thing I ate though I’m pretty excited by the choice at my local HEB in terms of fruit and vegetables. I love to cook and Texas offers pretty much every ingredient you’ll ever need.

The best sight? Probably too soon to answer this but I’m a big fan of the Museum District in Houston and Galveston is hard to beat. I’ve never lived more than 15 minutes from the shore so a day by the beach is always welcome.

Your biggest fear for the future? Being either bored or boring! (no hope of that love!)

Funniest incident? Our relocation advisor had to explain to me that a garden tub wasn’t something that you planted shrubs in – its a bath tub. That was fairly funny. And I have some good stories from Norway but we’ll save those for another time….I suspect there are many more Houston stories to come.

What NOT to do in your location? Be complacent about the heat – I’ve visited Houston in July in the past. You really do need to be prepared for the summer.

The person who has inspired you most where you live and why?  Its really too soon for me to answer that for Houston as I’ve met so many interesting, amazing people. That said, in Norway, I was part of an amazing group of expat runners, hikers and bikers, all of whom were extraordinary in their own way and from whom I learned a lot. One of the huge bonuses of being in Houston is that many of them are now moving back into the city or reasonably close by. I’m also so grateful that I’m now only a short flight from my best friend in Michigan who is hands down the most inspirational person I know and who doesn’t laugh at me when I call her to ask how to work my washing machine!

Best piece of advice you could give to newbie expats? You can take control of this experience – decide what you want it to be about for you and then put down some little roots and get blooming. Don’t focus on what you can’t have but what you can have and choose to be happy!

Anything else you want to add? Did I mention that the margaritas are really good here?

What happens when you live abroad…

This article has been making the rounds on Facebook over the last few days, and, because I am friends with a lot of expats, it’s coming up a lot in my feed – every time I see it, I think it hits close to home for many of my readers, it certainly strikes a chord with me and I thought I’d share it with you all.

“To live in a new place is a beautiful, thrilling thing, and it can show you that you can be whoever you want — on your own terms. It can give you the gift of freedom, of new beginnings, of curiosity and excitement. But to start over, to get on that plane, doesn’t come without a price. You cannot be in two places at once, and from now on, you will always lay awake on certain nights and think of all the things you’re missing out on back home.”

Full article, here.

St. Patrick's day weekend in Houston 2012…

Well, I can’t say I’ve celebrated St. Patricks day in the last few years, but, given that I’ve not been home in almost two years now, I felt a strong calling to my ‘green roots’ this year.  I missed the stew cook-off (took place in mid-February) though, I think that may have been for the best, because God only knows what kind of stews I’d have found there, though, I’d put money on not many of them having been Irish…

My Irish gal pal Aileen was going up to the parade with her hubby Dave, his mum, niece and nephew so we decided to tag along.

The sun was splitting the trees, the temp wasn’t too high (which is, more often than not, the concern here in Houston) and the spirits were high, because today I was being brought a little closer to home, right?

Wrong!! Man, I can’t begin to tell you how un-Irish a lot of this parade was!! Aileen and I stood saying ‘That’s not Irish’ and getting mightily frustrated throughout the whole thing!

Let's get this party started!

I’d love to say that they at least had the flag side covered, but, it must have been at least a third of the way through the parade before the first vaguely Irish colours appeared – and it was the Tricolour, fashioned in to a ‘stars and stripes’ flag.

Yes!! A REAL tricolour!!!

When the first REAL tricolour appeared, we cheered, Aileen hollered her approval to the guy carrying it and he appreciated her noticing it was a REAL tricolour.

The most traditional Irish Dancing group of the day - not just cause they carried an Irish flag 😉

Some of the floats in the parade were very well done (see below)

Horse and cart - another typically Irish 'thing'!

It's a leprechaun!!

and some were, well, pretty awful…pray tell where the Irish is, in this picture, aside from the colour?

uhm??

I guess when you have people paying to enter, you can’t really regulate it? Right? *eye roll* There could DEFINITELY be ‘guidelines’ set up to make this parade a bit ‘better’, so much for everything being bigger and better in Texas!

In spite of the fact that most of the parade was about the US, Texas and not in the least Irish (though most people in the crowd was wearing green), we had a really great, afternoon and, for an hour, 5,000 miles didn’t feel QUITE as far away as it has done lately.

My friend Aileen and I at the parade!

I’m contemplating speaking up on behalf of the Irish and talk to the parade committee about increasing the Irish content in the parade next year…or, I may just quit fighting, ignore it and adopt the American version…

The McMasters at the Parade

"Meat and two veg" is the Irish way…

I’ve been tutting, sighing and doing some serious eye-rolling at any number of blogs and American’s version of ‘Irish’ over the last few days.  I even had a friend tell me that someone told her that her dinner of cabbage, corned beef and potatoes wasn’t traditionally Irish…

I was going to try and rise above it this year, and just turn a blind eye, but after the Houston St. Patrick’s day parade (being, as my hubby endearingly termed it, a ‘travesty’) I decided screw it, time to get my ‘rant’ on!

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Enciting peace

”A one-man riot is a tantrum.” (source BBC NEWS)

Coming from a country where rioting happens at least bi-annually, ok, I admit, it’s somewhat less than it used to, but it’s still a familiar sight.  I empathise with those in London (and various other UK cities) who are helplessly watching their neighbours, cities and country currently go down, quite literally, in a blaze of ‘glory’.

Joining the party (it’s a turn of phrase, I don’t actually think this is a party at all!) later than most (the 6 hour time delay to Texas is a killer for ‘breaking news’) I was, at first confused.  As far as I could see, this had come out of nowhere!  Was I wrong? Had I missed some huge political movement in the UK?

But ‘why?’ was really what I wanted to know…Is it cause of the Economy? Another policy change that left the elderly without their winter fuel payment? Was David Cameron funding his vacation with proceeds of some illegal act? Was he the latest in the slew of MP’s fiddling their expense reports? What?

What could be so heinous, that it would drive people in their droves out on the street, to ‘protest’, and, as a show of their protest…steal electrical goods?

Come now, are we so naive to think that they are stealing this stuff because they *need* it? Because times are so hard, desperation has kicked in?

Oh please!

You know that no matter how tight times get, in the UK many families are more likely to go without petrol for their car, or food in their fridge, than they are to go without Corrie, Family Fortunes and having that state of the art I-phone for them and each of their kids.

No, it’s nothing of the sort!

After a little digging, and asking some questions, I discovered that none of this insanity, not one little bit of it, is in anyway ideological.

Here’s what I’ve managed to piece together so far,

This whole thing started over an accusation of ‘police brutality’.

August 4th 2011 Mark Duggan a suspected cocaine dealer and gang member was shot and killed by a police man – sparking investigations, accusations of foul play and questions over the officer concerned.

(On another note, just an FYI, even if he didn’t shoot at the policeman, that doesn’t mean the policeman didn’t have ‘just cause’ to shoot him, but I wouldn’t know, cause I wasn’t there – and either were you.  But I’d like to have faith in ‘the system’ that police men are trained to not just go around shooting people…)

August 6th 2011 a peaceful protest (organised by friends and family members of the deceased) sparked a string of scattered incidents.  People were attacking police cars, buses, local businesses, it multiplied, snowballed, and, to date, has continued for 3 solid days, growing in geography and severity, and thus the hash-tag #londonriots was born.

This didn’t come about because of the failing economy, loss of jobs, our stance on any kind of war, domestic or foreign policy, adopting the Euro or any other referendum, off the wall proposed law (like everyone having to wear costumes on a Sunday or something ridiculous), abortion, health care, education concerns – nope.

It didn’t stem from any kind of ’cause’ (not that that’s much better, but it’s at least understandable to an extent!).

It’s nothing more than an excuse to steal things and break shit.

Parents in SUV’s parking round the corner on side streets, sending their kids down the street to the shops and telling them to grab and carry as much stuff as they can carry back to the car?

So far 563 people have been arrested and 105 charged in connection with violence in the capital.

Some 111 Met officers have suffered injuries including serious head and eye wounds, cuts and fractured bones after being attacked by rioters wielding bottles, planks, bricks and even driving cars at them. Five police dogs have also been hurt. (source BBC NEWS)

Can’t we save our forces and energies for the *real* battles? the *necessary* battles? Our enemies will lie in wait until we are at our weakest and then strike…don’t look now, but killing each other and members of our police force kinda looks like we’re getting weaker.

Our attention is most certainly not on ‘defending against enemy lines’, considering our enemies are now the 15 year old kids beating shop-front windows in with baseball bats and setting fire to people’s cars!

I fear, for London, for England, and for anywhere that looks to the UK as a leader, setting an example for other countries.  I hope they get a handle on this, and soon, I hope every face in the pictures and videos all over the web, is identified and every single thug brought to justice.

I also have to say that filling a water canon with blue dye and spraying the rioters is a crackin’ idea – whoever thought of it, gets a high five! Dye them, then they can’t deny they were involved!

My plea?

If you see a face on the web, on the news, or in the papers, and you recognise them – I don’t care if it’s your best friend, your parent, your child or your husband – pick up the phone and do the right thing.

This has got to stop!

As funny as it might be that Waterstones Ealing today put up a sign to say “We are staying open and if they steal our books they might learn something”, it’s true.  These thugs are so stupid and they think just because it’s a group of people throwing a tantrum, they’ll not get caught.

Just you wait! Your time will come!!