December 26, 2008


I have become obsessed with curries of late, greatly aided by a neighbor, who cooks a different style of curry every week. Now that I have most of the spices necessary to making a majority of dishes (you have no idea how difficult it is to come across coriander and fenugreek), I would like to try some of these dishes.

My first experience with curry is through my father. South African of English origin, he would concoct a stew of lamb with amazing spices that would linger in the house for days. One would ladle the stew over rice, and pair it with bits and pieces of raisins, bananas, coconut, and chutneys. My grandmother was born in India of course, but I never did get to query her about her life experience before she passed.

Then my next real experience with curry was in Congo, where there was an authentic Indian restaurant overlooking a dilapidated part of the city, hinting to its former grandeur. The butter chicken there was thick, and rich, the chicken unbearably tender. It made you wonder how courageous foreign families are, to settle in Congo, so fare from everything they know and love.

My father lent me two Cooking books over Christmas. They were written some 40 – 60 years ago, and their lack of political correctness can be a bit embarrassing at times:

1-Curries of India – Harvey Day

He bought the book in India, on one of his trips there. The book was published in 1955, 8 years after it won independence from British rule. As Lois Daish explains “It was back then that I came across my first recipe for kheema in Curries of India, by Harvey Day in collaboration with Sarojini Mudnani. This little book, published in 1955, was written for English readers so Day needed to explain that curry was more than a single dish and that it didn’t have to be hot enough to take the skin off your tongue. He also went to some length to persuade the locals that curries are good for the health, contrary to the impression given by “purple-faced, curry-eating colonels who retire to rural England and vent their spleen on the natives”. He blamed the whisky. ”

The pages are blackening because it wasn’t printed on acid-free paper, so I flip the pages delicately before giving you these gems:

An English guest at my club, the Indian Gymkhana, at Osterley, was given a dish of curry compounded by the hands of experts. ‘Very tasty’ was his comment, ‘but of course, this is not the real stuff. I had some curry in Bombay in ’42 which was so hot it well nigh took the skin off my tongue. That was real curry.’

Far be it for me to disillusion anyone. It would have taken far too long and in any case his mind was made up. He had tasted the genuine article—only once mind you—but now he was an authority. He knew, and he wouldn’t be put off by base substitutes.

This book is not for the likes of them.


Generally speaking, the English don’t make good cooks. Not because the culinary art is beyond them, for when the English turn their hands to anything, there are few of any races who excel them. Except perhaps the Scots. […]

But cooking, like gardening, needs ‘green fingers’. Two people can follow the same instructions, and yet achieve different results. Boiled rice, for instance, is the easiest dish in the world to cook. When ready, the water drained away, it should be white and fluffy, each grain separate from the others. Yet one woman I know failed to produce perfectly boiled rice for 18 years, although I showed her time and again how it was done. Either it was too hard or it came out a revolting, glutinous mass. One day, however, by pure chance she succeeded, and ever since her rice has been just right.

2-Traditional Cookery of the Cape Malays – Hilda Gerber

I imagine my father bought this book in Durban (a little sticker on this inside says so). The publishers explain that they published this book with practical no change. Ms. Gerber completed it in 1949, and it was found amongst her paper after she died in January 1954. I remember having a succulent green curry with coconut milk, in a hotel in Capetown, overlooking steep cliffs, and pinguins frolicking in the rolling waves.

Cape Malays are one of the many ethnic groups found in South Africa. According to wikipedia “The Cape Malay community is an ethnic group or community in South Africa, taking its name from what is now known as the Western Cape of South Africa and the people originally from the Malay archipelago, mostly Javanese from Indonesia and Malays from Malaysia, who started this community in South Africa. The Malays were outcast by the British Government, which were then rulers of Malaysia. The community's earliest members were slaves brought by the Dutch East India Company, followed shortly thereafter by political dissidents and Muslim religious leaders who opposed the Dutch presence in what is now Indonesia.”

The book explains:

Malay housewives are conscientious cooks. Some of them turn out lighter pastries, spongier koesisters than others, some seasons more subtly, but all pay close attention to the details of their art. Malay delight in eating. Feasts are part of their religious tradition, and they honour their tradition bu demanding that food should have a flavour – rahter aromatic than hot. […] Malay (were) the most sought after by the colonist. They shared the homes of their masters-a circumstance which affected in a high degree the alimentary customs of both master and slave.


The husband is the undisputed master of a Malay house, and to please him is a part of a Malay’s religious teaching. This is to a cetain extent responsible for her conscientious application to her household duties.

She then goes on to describe, in great detail, the lifestyle of the Cape Malay regarding religious festivals (Cape Malay are muslims); family celebrations including etiquette, the naming of a child, birthdays and anniversaries, weddings, funeral feast; and betel-chewing. The recipes that follow are short and to the point.

This makes me want to travel so badly!

December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas?

I am so frigging stressed out and it’s not even Christmas yet. These are the things that I absolutely need to do in the next two weeks:

1-Get presents for my mom and dad
This year, as the last few years, our family has set a $10-15 limit to buying presents. The concept is the following: since we are fortunate, and have everything we need, and are now adults, why get each other more expensive “stuff” for Christmas? So we each get each other little fun gifts (comic books, cool pens, scarves) that are not to exceed $15 in value. Imagine having to spend hours at the mall, competing with ten giggling 15-year olds to get to the register, wondering whether your meter’s run out.

Sucks does it?

2-Socialize with the family, and friends
I love my family, I truly do. But I’m already freaking out about not spending enough time with my siblings, and getting together with old friends that come out of the woodworks (I haven’t talked to five of you in over 6 months, and all of a sudden you all want to have a drink this week? Are you serious?). What's with people wanting to get cheerful with others around the holidays?

Get me outta here!

3-Shuttling back-and-forth between my house and my parents’ house
My ‘rents live in Georgetown, I live in Columbia Heights. Total drive time between the 2 neighborhoods: 20 mins. BUT, Georgetown has no metro station, and I have no car. Which means that I can take public transportation and it will take me 2 hours for a round trip, or pay insane amounts of money to rent a zipcar. I decided to rent the car.

Le Grand Sigh.

4-No gain weight
This is hardest part of the holidays. There are cookies, cakes, pies, and chocolates everywhere! EVERYWHERE! At my work, in my kitchen, at my friend’s holiday party, at the frigging gym, at the mall, in the starbucks, underneath my roommate's pillows (that's another story that needs to be told later - basically the dog was being naughty and tried to hide the evidence).

Arrgh, how am I going to stop myself?

5-Negotiate about my Mom about Church
Let’s be honest, I’m not an enthusiastic church-goer. The only times I go to church are Christmas…and well, Christmas pretty much sums it up. One the one hand, I could use an evening of chilling out by myself. Besides, it’s from 9-11 p.m. which is ridiculously late. And I will see lots of people from high school and basically regress to my 14-year old self. Which could get ugly.

On the other hand mom wants me to go, and I would feel very guilty if I didn’t go (you know, the whole God, forgiveness, and duty things).

Anyways, happy, happy holidays everyone!

December 16, 2008

A Special Quarter for Washington D.C.

If you live in the United States, you will have no doubt noticed that every quarter has a different design, representing the U.S States and territories. These designs go through a rigorous review, and must represent something that is typical in the area.

States have made some really interesting choice, and the quarter designs are very varied:

-Delaware features a beautifully-branched Oak,
-New Jersey depicts General George Washington and members of the Colonial Army crossing the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War,
-Virginia has three ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, brought the first English settlers to Jamestown,
-North Carolina has the first successful flight attempt,
-Ohio shows an astronaut and an early plane,
-The Arkansas quarter design bears the image of rice stalks, a diamond and a mallard gracefully flying above a lake (did you know that Arkansas boasts the oldest diamond mine in North America? Why is it not being exploited?),
-The Iowa quarter design features a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher and students planting a tree.

Mayor Adrian Fenty announced the results of a new coin design for Washington, D.C. last year. The coin will be released this coming January 2009.

The Washington Post reported, in June 2008, that a total of 6,089 residents voted for the new coin:

-36 percent voted for Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and bandleader.

He was one of our own. He was born in 2129 Ward Place, NW, Washington D.C. (in Dupont Circle). At the age of seven, Ellington began taking piano lessons from Mrs. Marietta Clinkscales who lived at 1212 T Street NW (on U Street – and by the way, the place is up for rent for the Inauguration, it’s a weird coincidence).

Ellington went to Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C. This was one of two public schools for blacks, in Shaw. The school closed in 1996. He got his first job selling peanuts at Washington Senators’ baseball games where he conquered his stage fright. Early in his career, he started to play in cafés and clubs in and around Washington, D.C., and for society balls and Embassy Parties. He also had a messenger job with the U.S. Navy and State Departments.

A little later, Ellington left his successful career in Washington, D.C. to play in Harlem, and the rest is history.

A number of places in Washington D.C. are named in his honor.

-33 percent voted for Frederick Douglas
Frederick Douglass (February 14, 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American abolitionist, women's suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer.

Called "The Sage of Anacostia" and "The Lion of Anacostia", Douglass is one of the most prominent figures in African-American history and United States history. In 1872, Douglass became the very first African-American nominated as a Vice Presidential candidate in the United States, running on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States. In 1877, Douglass bought his final home in Washington D.C., on a hill above the Anacostia River.

He was born in Maryland. He was a slave and never really knew of a stable family life until he was sent to work in the home of a white family at the age of 12, and was taught to read. He managed to free himself, and the rest is history.

Seriously, this guy is amazing, it gives me shivers to read his biography.

-31 percent voted for Benjamin Banneker
Benjamin Banneker (November 9, 1731–October 9, 1806) was a free African American astronomer, mathematician, surveyor, almanac author and farmer.

In early 1791, Banneker assisted in a survey of the boundaries of the 100-square-mile District of Columbia, that Maryland and Virginia would cede to the U.S. Government, in accordance with the federal Residence Act.

There isn’t a lot of good background on him on Wikipedia, but there are a series of interesting urban legends that relate to his photographic memory and keen intelligence.

The coin will also feature the District’s motto “Justice for All” (did you know that was our motto by the way?). Some people registered their disappointment that “Taxation without Representation” did not end up on the coin.

I’m glad Ellington made it on the coin, but I wish the motto was “D.C. - A Little Ghetto but Still a Cool Non-State”.

December 12, 2008

December 11, 2008

Some people never learn

(namely me).

I'm very seriously considering buying a house, and have been doing some independent research on what I can afford. Basically, I can afford a small, run-down, two-bedroom house, in a crime-ridden neighborhood. For irony, see the post right before this one.

Anacostia, today, is primarily known for its excessive crime rates that reached a peak in the 1990's. After decades of neglect, crime has been a major problem in this area of the city. In 2005, 62 of Washington, D.C.'s 195 homocides occurred in the 7th District of the Metropolitan Police Department, which also includes the neighborhoods of Barry Farms, Naylor Gardens, and Washington Highlands. This figure is down from the 7th District's peak of 133 homicides in 1993.


I mean, the number of murders is down from 133 in 1993, to 62 in 2005. That's a positive note though, isn't it?

The blog And Now, Anacostia charmingly records the little things that make the neighborhood interesting.

This is getting seriously old

I was making tea for two neighbors in the living room yesterday evening, with my two roommates, when a series of about twelve *pop* *pop* *pops* exploded in the crisp winter air. Shocked and startled, I was slow to react and say "duck!". Everyone croutched under the kitchen table and the living room desk.

Admittedly, my reflexes are not as fine-tuned as last summer (here, and here just to name a few). We haven't heard gunshots in at least 6 months so I've lost the habit. By the time I ran upstairs to get my phone to call the cops, my roommate said "I've got it covered" and was talking to the cops about the shots.

I announced, rather proud of my street smarts, that the cops don't come quickly unless you call them many times. Much to my consternation, the cops were right around the corner, lights shining, tires screeching, and lounged out of their car on foot to pursue the culprits.

Sigh, I'm glad the poh-lice is a lot quicker at responding to incidents, but this whole shooting-thing is getting old.

Dead in Adams Morgan Shooting
Last Edited: Thursday, 11 Dec 2008, 6:07 AM EST Created: Thursday, 11 Dec 2008, 6:07 AM
Source: Double Shooting in Adams Morgan

Police are investigating a shooting in Adams Morgan that has left one man dead and one injured. The shooting happened at Champlain Street and Kalorama Road shortly after 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night.

Police say officers investigating a robbery nearby heard shots and rushed to the scene. There they found two men suffering from gunshot wounds. Both men were transported to an area hospital where one of them later died. Several hours later, shots were fired near 14th Street and Girard. Officers have not yet determined if this second incident was related to the first. The investigation is continuing at this time.

December 05, 2008

Automotive Bailout

I’m not generally interested in cars (I don’t own one, I live close to the metro and good bus routes) but am aware that American lifestyles are very much shaped by cars, and the owner who love them.

Here’s what I understand on the automotive industry of 2008, from wikipedia (warning: extreme plagiarism ahead):

What’s Going On?
The Big Three U.S. manufacturers, (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) indicate that, unless they can obtain additional funding over the short to medium term, there is a real danger of one or more companies declaring bankruptcy.

A Series of Poor Decisions
The Big Three seem to have made some bad decision in the management of their companies. Some examples include:

Poor Competitors since the 1960
In the 60s, Volkswagen and Honda started importing cheap, well-made cars. Detroit convinced Congress to impose quotas on foreign-made cars. The foreign companies responded by opening their own plants in the United States.

Low Car Standards
Japan requires autos to achieve 45 miles per gallon (mpg) of gasoline and China requires 35. The European Union requires 52 mpg by 2012. By comparison, U.S. autos are required to achieve only 25 mpg. When California raised its own standards, the auto companies sued.

Pushing the Gas Guzzlers
The Big Three have, in recent years, manufactured expensive, fuel-guzzling SUVs and large pickups, which are much more profitable than smaller, fuel-efficient cars. Manufacturers make 15% to 20% profit margin on an SUV, compared to 3% or less on a car. When gasoline prices rose above $4 per gallon in 2008, Americans stopped buying the big vehicles and Big Three sales and profitability plummeted.

Strong Union = Unusually High Wages + Benefits
The workers union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), offers both pension and healthcare benefits, which far exceed competitors. UAW workers are paid $10-20 more per hour than foreign competitors who employ American workers. Average annual wages for production workers at the Big Three were $67,480 in 2007, and $81,940 for skilled workers. In Canada, GM’s 2008 average labor costs were $69 per hour, and Toyota's at $48 per hour, with similar productivity.

Read an interesting Q&A with UAW, which repels some myths.

Pay for Redundant Employees
In 2005, the Big Three U.S. automakers paid more than 12,000 employees (who were idled as a result of their jobs being unnecessary due to technological progress or plant restructurings) their full salary and benefits in "jobs bank" programs, created to protect workers' salaries and discourage layoffs, as part of the automakers' deals with the UAW. Some of those workers were placed in retraining where they were taught bicycle repair, home wiring, poker, and silk-flower arranging. Others were enrolled in community service initiatives. Others did not work.

Large Number of Brands
GM has eight brands, while Toyota has only three. More brands require additional marketing and product development expenses, which drives higher costs relative to the competition. However, reducing the number of brands requires closing or consolidation of dealerships, which is very expensive.

Asking for Money…Uses Up a Lot of Money
On November 19, 2008, there was a U.S. Senate hearing on the automotive crisis in the presence of the heads of Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. The auto manufacturers explained that they would need financial aid of $25 billion if they were to avoid bankruptcy.

On November 19, 2008, the Big Three CEOs attended the meeting in Washington, D.C. to ask for a taxpayer bailout in private luxury jets. The cost of a private jet is $20,000 versus $500 for a commercial flight. They later all drove separately to Washington in hybrid electric vehicles after being criticized for arriving in private corporate jets

The Big Three spent almost $50 million to lobby Congress during the first nine months of 2008.

What is a Bailout?
I’ve been trying to find a good definition to the term “bailout”, but either the definition uses a number of words that also need explanation, or is too simplified. My understanding is that:

A bailout is a large sum of money the U.S. Government gives failing companies, such as banks or automotive industries, to allow them to continue their daily business (paying their employees, manufacturing cars, and renting show-rooms for example) over the short-term.

Governments or groups of investors can give bailouts. Bailouts can take the form of loans, bonds, stocks or cash. They may or may not require reimbursement.

This year alone, the U.S. Government bailed-out the following companies: Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, American International Group, and Citigroup.

Republican Senators are unwilling to provide aid, some even suggesting that bankruptcy might be the best option as it would free manufacturers from the employment deals agreed with the unions.

The Democrats, however, insist that the U.S. Government needs to take action quickly, in line with President Elect Obama's stance on the matter.

On November 24, 2008, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) wrote, "In bailing out failing companies, they are confiscating money from productive members of the economy and giving it to failing ones. By sustaining companies with obsolete or unsustainable business models, the government prevents their resources from being liquidated and made available to other companies that can put them to better, more productive use. An essential element of a healthy free market, is that both success and failure must be permitted to happen when they are earned. But instead with a bailout, the rewards are reversed – the proceeds from successful entities are given to failing ones. How this is supposed to be good for our economy is beyond me.... It won’t work. It can’t work... It is obvious to most Americans that we need to reject corporate cronyism, and allow the natural regulations and incentives of the free market to pick the winners and losers in our economy, not the whims of bureaucrats and politicians."

Michael Capuano (D-Mass) said, "My fear is you're going to take this money and continue the same stupid decisions you've made for 25 years.”

Democratic party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent a letter to the CEO's of the Big Three asking them to present by December 2, 2008, a "credible restructuring plan" involving "significant sacrifices and major changes to [the] way of doing business," to qualify for further Government assistance. The letter includes a variety of principles and requirements, including a situation assessment, forecasts under various assumptions, taxpayer protection, transparent reporting to an oversight body, dividend and executive pay restrictions, and approach to covering healthcare and pension obligations.

What do you think? Should the car companies receive a bailout, given that the car industry is such a big deal in the United States? Or should they compete like everyone else in this Free Market economy?

December 04, 2008

Bratty Bratz and Boring Barbie

Warning: this post is pretty shallow.

Today, a judge decreed that Bratz dolls were too similar to Barbie dolls, and an infringement to Mattel.

Toy giant Mattel Inc., after a four-year legal dispute with MGA Entertainment Inc., touted its win in the case Wednesday after a federal judge banned MGA from making and selling its pouty-lipped and hugely popular Bratz dolls. Source: Cnn

Really? Mattel has a copyright on dolls? Come on! This is ridiculous.

True, Bratz dolls are a lot cooler than Barbie dolls, with a hip-hop flavor, mixed in with a Paris-Hilton-Hollywood-Trash look. It beats Barbie dolls, which never really evolved since the 1950s. Bratz dolls come in all kinds of colors and hair textures. Black Barbie dolls are basically white Barbie dolls, with a little bit of brown paint mixed in the plastic flesh, and brown hair.

Bratz looks like she’s ready for a club, a music studio session, a dance-off, or a street corner. Barbie’s ready for a country club, the library or a garden party. No wonder kids and their parents prefer bratty Bratz over boring Barbie!

The dolls-objectifying-women opinion aside, I can’t believe that companies are not able to take a simple object, and improve its design, without being slapped with a major lawsuit.

Who are they gonna sue next? Grandpa carving a doll for little Suzy out of wood?

Shall we get a spot of tea?

Yo! You're in my spot b$%ch!

December 02, 2008

Build a Kit

I've just started a new job in public health preparedness. What is preparedness you ask? Is that really an English word?

Well, yes it is. And here's what it means:

pre·par·ed·ness (pr-pârd-ns), n.
The state of being prepared, especially military readiness for combat.

Anyways, I am taking an online training on the topic, and wanted to share how you, as a private citizen, can be ready for a major disaster. The Government recommends that everyone have a Disaster Kit at home, and in their car:

Build a Kit
Modified from Source: Seattle Red Cross

-As a general rule, you should store three days worth of supplies. If room and resources allow, store more.
-Replace emergency food and water supplies every six months unless otherwise noted on the packaging
-Make sure your kit is easily accessible. When a disaster hits, you don’t want to dig in the back of the attic for your supplies.
-Keep smaller versions of your disaster kit in your family vehicles and at work.
Prioritize. Don’t get overwhelmed by the need to get everything on the list. Kits don’t have to take up a lot of room and you may already have a lot of the supplies around your house. Focus on the essentials (water, food and medications) and build from there. Some people find it helpful to have a disaster calendar and add one or two items to their kit every time they go to the grocery/hardware/discount store.


Store at least one gallon of water per person per day (two quarts for drinking and two quarts for sanitation and food preparation. Children, nursing mothers and ill people will need more). Store water in plastic containers such as soft drink bottles. Avoid using anything that may decompose or break. Water should be replaced every six months.

Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Select foods that are compact and lightweight, require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water. If you must heat food, pack a can of sterno, but use outside and away from flammable objects.

-Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables.
-Emergency food bars
-Canned juices
-Staples (salt, sugar, pepper, etc.)
-Food/formula for infants
-Food for family members with special dietary requirements
-Comfort/stress foods to lift morale (chocolate)
-Remember to pack a non-electric can opener.

-(20) adhesive bandages, various sizes
-5" x 9" sterile dressing
-Conforming roller gauze bandage
-Triangular bandages
-3 x 3 sterile gauze pads
-4 x 4 sterile gauze pads
-Roll 3" cohesive bandage
-Germicidal hand wipes or waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizer
-Six (6) antiseptic wipes
-Pair large medical grade non-latex gloves
-Adhesive tape, 2" width
-Anti-bacterial ointment
-Cold pack
-Scissors (small, personal)
-CPR breathing barrier, such as a face shield
-Purchase a Red Cross First Aid kit or get trained in First Aid.

Keep enough essential medications on hand for at least three days (preferably seven days).
Keep a photocopy of your medical insurance cards or Medicare cards.
Keep a list of prescription medicines including dosage, and any allergies.
Aspirin, antacids, anti-diarrhea, etc.
Extra eyeglasses, hearing-aid batteries, wheelchair batteries, oxygen tank.
List of the style and serial numbers of medical devices such as pacemakers.
Label any equipment, such as wheelchairs, canes or walkers that you would need.
Instructions on personal assistance needs and how best to provide them.
Individuals with special needs or disabilities should plan to have enough supplies to last for up to two weeks (medication syringes, colostomy supplies, respiratory aids, catheters, padding, distilled water, etc.).

Keep some of these basic tools:

Battery operated radio and extra batteries
Flashlight and extra batteries
Cash or travelers checks
A copy of your disaster plan and emergency contact numbers.
Map of your city and state (to evacuate the area and/or to find shelters)
Utility knife
Non-electric can opener
Fire extinguisher: small canister ABC type
Pliers and wrench
Waterproof matches
Paper, pens and pencils
Needles, thread
Plastic sheeting
Aluminum foil

Toilet paper, towelettes
Soap, liquid detergent
Feminine supplies
Personal hygiene items
Plastic garbage bags, ties (for personal sanitation uses)
Plastic bucket with tight lid
Household chlorine bleach
Hand sanitizer

Include at least one complete change of clothing and a pair of sturdy shoes per person. You also want to consider packing blankets or sleeping bags, rain gear, hats and gloves, thermal underwear and sunglasses.

Keep copies of important family documents in a waterproof container.
Will, insurance policies, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds
Social security cards, passports, immigration papers, immunization records
Bank account numbers
Credit card account numbers and companies
Family records (birth, marriage, death certificates)
Medical insurance and Medicare cards

Deck of cards
Portable music device
For children, include a small toy, stuffed animal or coloring book and crayons
For more information view our disaster kit brochure, family disaster plan brochure and food and water in an emergency brochure.

Wow, I can't help but feel (a) excited by this list as it makes me think that a Zombie apocalypse is upon us, (b) wary of it too, as I also had a kit in Congo for those many times I had to stay at home during civil unrest.

Also, when looking at this list, I wonder if a sports bag is enough to contain all this equipment. A large closet would be more appropriate!

November 17, 2008

The Obama Inauguration is Getting Crazy!

Apparently, all hotel 50 miles from Washington, D.C. are completely booked for the week of the inauguration. Which is making people very imaginative and crafty (and desperate). Here's what I found on Craigslist:

Apartment to Swap for Inauguration - Calling all Palin Pals!
Are you a down on your luck oil lobbyist? Or are you a closet Nazi/skin head? Do you think global warming is God giving the world a hug? Do you hate arugula and lattes? Why subject yourself to an endless chant of 'Yes We Can.'

During inauguration week, escape to Akron, Ohio, where 40 percent of the people voted McCain/Palin! Take this once in a life time opportunity to stick your head in the sand while your world falls apart around you.

Apartment located in Highland Square, where only the most conservative gays, lesbians and artists reside.

Room for 2, 01/17, leaving 20th (Capital area)
Looking for a place to stay for 2 queer guys (friends) from Asheville. Looking for in or very near Capital area for the Inauguration; near Metro a plus. Can pay. Arriving by train. We're both easy going, professional, sane, and very excited about the future! Hotels booked for 50 miles. We'll come bearing gifts. :)

Photographer needs accommodation Jan 18-21 for inauguration (DC Area)

I'm a photojournalist coming from Honolulu, HI to cover the inauguration, just found most hotels all booked up. Does anyone have a spare bedroom or apt I could rent for a few days? I can pay around $80-$100/night and will bring the macadamia nuts and anything else you want from Hawaii. Hawaii shirt? You got it. I will just need a place to sleep and keep warm, most of my days will be out working. Internet access is big plus.

Please reply back with your location, how close it is to mass transit, restaurants, etc.


before Dec 31, 2008 in Orlando Florida for DC inauguration
I have a 2006 year timeshare week (7 days) that I am about to use or loose. It has to be taken before Dec 31, 2008 in Orlando Florida. I want to go to the presidential inauguration in January. If any one is interested in traveling to Florida before the year is out and willing to swap their DC place for about 3 days In January, around inauguration day, please let me know. Thanks

Hum, this makes me think that maybe there's a buck or two in his inauguration as well...

November 15, 2008

My sister's pretty talented

Look at what my sister made for our cousin's newborn! I mean, I almost want to get pregnant just to have her make me one of these cute wool sweaters (yikes, just kidding mom).

November 13, 2008

How to Make Indian Chai Tea

So apparently, those Chai tea sacks I buy at Giant, are not the "authentic" way to make Indian tea. Or so my neighbor says. I don't know what makes her such her expert (other than being Gujarati) but I'm a good sport, so I let her show me how to make Chai

Step 1
Get help from a neighbor for this. Bonus points if your neighbor is Indian.

Step 2
Boil water with coarse tea grains (made from dried tea leaves), a couple of cardamom pods, and masala. Masal is Hindi for "spice". You can make chicken masala of course, but I suspect the combination of spices is completely different. I think that this chai masala is a mix of ginger, anise, orange peel, cloves and peppercorn.

Step 3
Add sugar. I think that the myth is that Chai is incredibly sweet, but it doesn't have to be. I like it on the less-sweet side.

Step 4
Pour in a generous amount of milk so that the tea's color is light chocolate brown.

Step 5
Boil the tea longer enough so that the milk boils and rises up three times.

Step 6
Pour tea through a strainer into glass cups.

Step 7

November 06, 2008

Two Vignettes

I know, I know, Obama is a smart man and deserves the Presidency, and people tell me that his skin-color is irrelevant. But is it really? I remember two instances in Congo that make me value his skin-color.

She’s Never Seen Someone Like Us
In Congo two years ago, a colleague and I were walking on a large dirt road connecting patches of jungle to three- or four-hut villages. After walking for a bit, my colleague’s city demeanor, and my whiteness attracted considerable attention, and a group of men with their hunting gear (spears, machetes, shoulder bags, and flip-flops) feel in easy stride along with us, grinning, talking animatedly, and generally keeping pace. My colleague understood the local dialect a little bit, since his mother was from the area.

He started translating what they were saying:

“She’s probably scared of us. She probably thinks we are so uncivilized. Has she ever seen black skin before?”

After 5 minutes of chatter, my colleague answered in their language:

“Actually, you may not know this, but Condoleezza Rice, a black woman, is Secretary of State; and Colin Powell has a high position in the Government as well. There is a large population of black Americans there.”

I was floored that he knew my Government so intimately. I couldn’t have answered as well.

A nun who happened to be a nurse, asked me whether I had interacted with a lot of black people in my life. I laughed a little, telling her that there is a large population of minorities in America, including African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos. She was surprised, and asked me why so many Africans ended up in the United States? Did they immigrate there in a large numbers?

I answered that yes, there are quite a few recent immigrants, but really, it was largely due to slavery. Africans were brought in during the 1700 and 1800s as slave laborers.

While obliviously delivering my snapshot of U.S. history, her stern face quickly jerked back like I had slapped her with a leather glove before a duel. She was obviously shocked and dismayed by this fact, and was reacting physically to the notion.

Embarrassed and sheepish, realizing that she had idea about the existence of slavery in the United States, I fervently wished I had lied or said nothing at all. She avoided me for the rest of the day.

These are two little vignettes. They may seem inconsequential, but they have been in my mind for the last two days, and I can’t help reliving them. I am proud we elected a smart, capable, down to earth person to be president. The fact that he is black is icing on the cake.

November 04, 2008

U.S. Elections in Kenya

A friend who knows Kenya pretty well (coming from there, and having parents that still live there), gave me some interesting insight into the U.S. Election, as seen from Kenya*:
Some info you might find funny:
Obama is from the western Luo region; and that's where Kenya's current PM (Odinga) comes from.  He (Odinga) won the Presidency in the last election, but the incumbents decided to plunge the country into violence instead of letting him win. That's why Kenya has a power-sharing agreement and a new PM position.
Previous regimes in Kenya have persecuted the Luo and assasinated every politician that even had the slimmest of chances of becoming a national leader over the years. They even tried to assassinate Odinga before the last election, unsurprisingly.
Anyways, this little enclave of persecuted people now have claim to the PM position in Kenya for the first time; and now, they see themselves as being on the verge of 'claiming' the U.S. Presidency. Which is making them go cuckoo... Apparently most people in Kenya only watch CNN now because it has better Obama coverage than Al Jazeera; which used to be number one...

This election is closely followed in Kenya and abroad.  Super exciting!
*Note: This is obviously a personal account of the situation and not terribly objective.

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The deed is done

Cool poster on one of the restaurants in U Street

Alright, so I left the polling station at 9:50 a.m. which means that a) I'm really late for work, and b) it took me 1.5 hours to get through the line.

Which is crazy because D.C. has tons of polling stations. Guess they're going to have to open up another one in Columbia Heights for the next elections.

It was crowded inside especially when someone with a stroller or in a wheelchair would walk up to the front of the line. They had my name on the list (big relief) and I picked up my voting card.

It's pretty simple to vote in D.C. All you have to do is connect the arrow next to your preferred candidate. The stations were flimsy and you couldn't lean on the table-tops too much or they would collapse.

A lot of people commented on the lack of privacy - imagine a round table, intersected into 4, with short walls (like a pizza with 4 equal parts). Anyone could walk right behind me and see my ballot.

I didn't care, but I could see why some would be bothered by it. Then you place your ballot in a white folder to hide it, and take it out again to slip it into an electronic machine that counts it immediately. Again, there's not much privacy as the ballots are huge and the machine slot pretty small so you have to carefully feed the ballot into it, leaving your fellow voters ample time to peak over.

I asked a voting official if my vote for the presidential candidate would be invalidated if I didn't vote for the other positions. Much to my relief, she said no. Thank God, because I really don't know the other names. I was also suprised to see two other Presidential-Vice-Presidential teams in addition to Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin on the ballot. I have no idea who they are.

I'm inside

I'm inside the station and it's a little chaotic. I love Columbia Heights!

People are selling cheap coffee and donuts for the homeless, two blind people with white canes are trailing a seeing person, an older lady is taking her time reading about the candidates on a chair. I'm in the B (last name) line! Ok gotta go vote now.

Young Voters

I'm so close to the station, I could touch the door.

By the way, 95 percent of the people in line are between 25 and 35. Crazy.

Now, I'm touching the door. The guard on the inside is listening to a radio show where a preacher is commenting on Martin Luther King's famous speech. I'm pretty sure it's illegal since it would imply she's endorsing Obama. Oh well, this is D.C., so Obama's gonna win it regardless.

Yikes, people are fired up

So people are taking in line and this guy says he was there when the polling station opened up at 7:00 and the line was just as long. A girl countered that she moved her car this morning at 6:15 a.m. and the line *then* was just as long. Yikes.

The guy responded "I guess we got George Bush to thank for that". The girl asked how he was doing otherwise. He responded "good, except for the economy".

Wow, this election has gotten Americans talking about politics. Kind of exciting.

At least I can see the station now.


I had a late night yesterday because I went to Manassas, Virginia to watch the Obama rally.

Of course, he was electrifying, though his grandmother had passed away the night before, and the crowd was 50,000 to 100,000 people strong. There was this mass energy like I've never felt before, except for a crazy rock concert. I've honestly never seen so many people before. It felt almost a little cultish.

We triple parked, just to find a parking spot. Our car battery died, and so we had to leave the car behind and bum a ride with a friend (thanks Eric). It takes a special person to make me excited after 3 hours of driving in traffic, a ride that should have taken us 1 hour.

Anyways, having gone to bed a wee bit late (2:30 a.m.), I was not as early to the polls as I would have wished. Now, I'm standing at the corner of 14th and Irving, in a queue that is 3-blocks long at 8:30 a.m. Le sigh. But I'm so glad to vote!

October 28, 2008

The Obama-McCain Dance-Off!

Alright, OK, so you think you are intellectual and ready to vote because you've watched all three presidential and vice-presidential debates. Well I bet you didn't tune in when Obama and McCain had their Dance-Off.

Before you go to the polls on November 4, 2008, I would highly recommend you check this out to make a clear and informed decision.

October 24, 2008

My CraigsList Roomate

My friend produced a great short movie about his experiences with finding a roommate off of Craig's List. Check it out! By the way, he's the one with the knife...

October 21, 2008

Psycho Ex-Girlfriend

This is the latest email exchange between my sister and me:

From: 007's sister
To: 007 in Africa
Subject: This is unbelievably hilarious:

From: 007 in Africa
To: 007's sister
Re: This is unbelievably hilarious:

Oh. My. God. That is really frightening. I think I've actually done some of these things (like panicking when someone's cell phone battery goes dead).

Please, please, please let me not be that psycho ex-girlfriend. Let me be able to walk away with dignity when I need to.

Can I post this on my blog?

Why I'll be the Best 'Psycho' Ex-Girlfriend You've Ever Had!
Source: Best of Craig's List -->Washington D.C.-->Dupont Circle

Date: 2008-09-20, 12:46PM EDT

I know that all your ex-girlfriends are 'psychos.' I've heard all about them since hardly a day goes by that you don't make some eye-rolling reference to 'that crazy bitch' who practically ruined your life and then went off and married some successful 'douchebag' leaving you to troll local college bars in search of no-strings-attached ass while she enjoys quiet weekends at home with her new in-laws in Connecticut. That selfish, cunt.

I know that you don't think I could ever be as good of a 'psycho ex' as she was. But, I assure you. I can. I'll be such a raving lunatic nutcase - you won't even remember her when I'm through with you. Try me.

For starters - I am great in bed. Isn't that how all the 'crazy' ones start out? You'll meet me at some party through some friend of a friend of a friend who knows I have 'whacko' potential but will fail to mention this to the chain of people through whom we are introduced because...quite frankly, our friends don't really care enough about either of us to keep our best interests in mind. Alternatively, they *do* have our best interests in mind but know that our dramatic personalities and overwhelming egos are forces too powerful for even the most friendly, logical advice. Thus, they abort all attempts to keep us apart and allow us to get drunk and grope each other publicly, shaking their heads all the while because..this shit is gonna' blow up big time.

Meantime, we'll already be upstairs, half undressed where you'll be too drunk to censor yourself so you'll make overly generous blubbering commentary about how 'sexy' I am (as I knock into a table lamp with swanlike grace). You'll also rave on and on about how I have the greatest tits you've ever seen and am 'fucking amazing' on all other fronts (as if I didn't know). Compared to the four other chicks you've banged, this will be the best sex of your life. And as soon as we're done, you'll start forming a mental list of which buddies you are going to text message first about this while at the same time wondering if you could possibly spend the rest of your life with me.

In the sobering light of morning, you'll forget that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with me and instead opt for a "two-night stand" but you'll quickly realize that I am having none of that and somehow weasle my way into staying over, cooking breakfast and reading your newspaper. I will also have conveniently brought my toothbrush and some sanitary products which I quickly store in your bathroom cabinets since 'I'm going to be spending a lot of time at your place.' Your Maxim magazines will go from the top of the toilet to the bottom of the wastebasket because I find them 'offensive' and 'immature.'

Later that day, you'll log onto Facebook and find out that I'm 'in a relationship'...with you. Yay! At first, you'll think it's creepy but then (due to your inferiority complex) you'll take it as a compliment and change your relationship status too.

Within an hour, you'll receive 57 new notifications which indicate that I've commented on every photo in your album in which you appear with an unidentified female. Your relationships with these family members, college friends and co-workers will quickly disintegrate as you mistake my obsession for passion and declare your undying commitment to me and stop returning other people's calls.

Friends will caution you but you'll be too blinded by my mind-blowing felatio technique to notice anything. Besides, I've explained that they're just jealous of our love. Together, our poor self images will have us each convinced that the other is cheating. We'll fight about it all the time. Non-stop.

On our 'good days' we'll shower each other with undeserved gifts and sexual favors and the accusatory banter will be minimal - though still prevalent.

Things will be going 'pretty well' for a while until one night your phone battery dies and you fall asleep early - forcing me into an incoherent panic. Six unreturned voicemails and text messages will lead me to believe only the worst - you ARE cheating on me! To confirm my suspicions, I will immediately log into all your personal accounts - since you are so technologically oblivious you left your passwords saved on my computer - and find a message to be mad about. It will likely be a harmless flirtation from a platonic friend who lives six states away that pushes me over the edge.

Unable to reach her or you - I will scramble into my car and drive barefoot to your apartment where I will ride up on the curb knocking over an unsuspecting potted plant. The commotion outside will rouse you from your slumber and you'll stumble bleary- eyed to the window just in time to see me throw the car in reverse and plow into your beloved Huyndai Elantra.

In short order, the police will come, I will cry, you will shout, your landlord will evict you and your insurance company will drop you. On the bright side, our names will be forever emblazoned together onto a county police report.

Despite all this, it will take another several months for you to come to your senses and break-up with me. Knowing that I am a ticking bomb, you will execute this in the kindest, most reasonable way possible. You will make every effort to lift my spirits by explaning that "It's not you, it's me." and that "I deserve someone better."

All this, to no avail. The only way you can truly be rid of me is to change your phone number and move across the country where you'll make new friends and find a new insecure girlfriend to emotionally abuse for months until she finally reaches her psychological breaking point and throws a wine glass at you and storms out of a restaurant.

Everyone will be looking at you, dripping in Pinot Noir with an astonished look on your face. In your head you'll be thinking, "Ha. That was nothing. You should see my Huyndai Elantra." And, that, is why I'll be the best psycho ex-girlfriend you've ever had.

October 16, 2008

I got quoted in a news article!

Yesterday, we went to a restaurant in Virginia called Summers Grill and Sports Bar to watch the last of the presidential debates between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain.

It was kind of cool because one half of the restaurant was reserved for Republican, and the other for Democrats. Independent voters were scattered here and there but mainly over the bar on the Republican side, drinking their sorrows away.

My side was watching CNN, while the Republican side was glued to Fox News. Anyways, it was an interesting experience. But instead of retelling the tale, I will post an article, as written in Spanish, by a friend of mine.

He even quoted me!

As anticipated, at the end of the party, the fans did not agree in the winner. "McCain and Joe the Plumber are winners" , it affirms Michael Calsetta, a retired private consultant in a leather jacket in which reads “Another for Democrat McCain". [007 in Africa], a thirty year old young adult who works for the Ministry of Health, differs: "Obama has won. He was more eloquent, and specific". However, they both agree on something: it is not over. " In spite of the polls, I am not confident [he will win], because this country has a history of making blunders " , Dorothee confesses.

A day later... Here is the full article:

Un derby electoral en Arlington Ricard González

Washington.-Joe Javidara, el propietario del bar de deportes Summers Grill, decidió que su establecimiento cambiara de eje temático ayer por la noche. En lugar de ofrecer el Argentina-Chile, como habría hecho habitualmente, prefirió que la veintena de televisores de su bar sintonizaran el debate presidencial. De hecho, el espectáculo no fue tan diferente, pues tanto las rencillas entre demócratas y republicanos, como entre chilenos y argentinos son históricas.
Según los camareros del bar, Joe no se equivocó, y se llenó la caja. Ahora bien, no tanto como en el debate de los vicepresidentes, cuando el bar estuvo a rebosar.

Como en los grandes derbys, se habilitó una de las dos grandes salas para los seguidores cada equipo. Ambas salas son simétricas, pero había una importante diferencia ayer. La republicana siguió el debate por la cadena de televisión Fox News, y la demócrata por la CNN. Y es que nada fastidia tanto como seguir un derby con un locutor con comentarios sesgados a favor del equipo rival.

En teoría, en el Summers Grill debería predominar la hinchada demócrata, pues está situada en Arlington, un suburbio de Washington DC en el que los demócratas necesitan vapulear a McCain para imponerse en Virginia. No obstante, sorprendentemente, en los cristales del bar sólo hay carteles de "McCain-Palin 2008". Encima, la sala republicana parece estar más concurrida que la demócrata. Mal augurio para Obama.

Más allá de algunas camisetas y pins, no existían grandes diferencias en las apariencias de ambas hinchadas. Predominan los jóvenes entre 20 y 30 años, con atuendo informal. Sin embargo, mientras hay un silencio sepulcral entre los republicanos, en la sala hay un ambiente más festivo. Se jalea a Obama cuando hace alguna internada por la banda izquierda, y se silban los disparos de McCain.

Quizás el contraste se debe a la moral de unos y otros. O al hecho de que muchos demócratas están sentados en mesas de unas diez personas, mientras los republicanos miran el partido solos, o en parejas. Será un reflejo de los instintos individualistas, o bien colectivistas de cada grupo?

Como era de esperar, al final del partido, las hinchadas no coincidieron en el ganador. "McCain y Joe el lampista son los ganadores", afirma Michael Calsetta, un consultor privado ya jubilado enfundado en una chaqueta de cuero en la que se lee "Another Democrat for McCain". [007 in Africa], una joven de treinta años que trabaja para el Ministerio de Salud, discrepa: "Obama ha ganado. Ha sido más elocuente, y espcífico". En cambio, ambos sí coinciden en algo: aún falta mucha liga. "A pesar de las encuestas, no estoy tranquila, porque este país tiene un historial rciente de de errores garrafales", confiesa [007].

El bar se vacía rápidamente tras la contienda. Massa, una periodista china está decepcionada. No ha encontrado ningún republicano de corazón. Parece que la sala republicana estaba llena de independientes que acabarán votando Obama. Así pues, el demócrata también ganó la batalla del Summers Grill.

I mean really, how can you not know who to choose? Just look at them!


October 01, 2008

Something Artistic

I am itching to do something more artistic in my life. I am a big fan of graphic novels and wish I could draw so I could write a novel of my experiences abroad. It's a little narcissistic I know, but it would be fun nonetheless.

One of my favorite novels is Fun Home a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. In it, she recalls her childhood in a large, Victorian house, with a father that, in hindsight, was probably trying hard to deny his homosexuality. It's a really great story, with a lot of interesting and insightful references to literature. I highly recommend it.

Enjoy in a book store near you...

PS: If you're looking for good stories for your graphic novel, write me!

September 24, 2008

Barong Tagalog

My barong kind of looks like this but more feminine

I found a great website on the Barong. Here is more information on the national dress of the Philippines.

There’s really something about the Barong Tagalog that appeals to unassuming, low-key personalities with a penchant for subtle elegance. [...]

Ever wondered what makes the pina fabric so expensive? Here’s an eye-opener on how much tedious work comes with every meter of this elegant craft.

-The Spanish Red or Native Philippine Red, the kind that has leaves spanning an average of 2 meters in length, takes about one and a half years to mature. As soon as the fruit is just about ripe, the leaves are likewise ready for harvesting.
-The leaves are snapped off the plant with a sharp tug on the tip and the thorny edges are pulled off.
-During extraction, which could be as long as three days, the workers squat on a long board where the leaves are placed. The leaves are then scraped using a broken china plate. (Some suggest the use of antique porcelain to be the best). This is done by folding over a few inches of the leaf base and striking it with the heel of the hands to reveal the first set of fibres called bastos or coarse fibres. These are extracted and set aside.
-The leaf is then scraped once more with a coconut shell to bring out a finer fibre called the linawan. This, too, is extracted and set aside.
-An average pineapple leaf could produce 75% of the coarse or Bastos fibre and 25% of the finer linawan fibre.


-When the extractors come to scrape a quantity of about 1,000 leaves, the bundles of fibres are washed, usually at a nearby stream. It is scraped again gently with the use of a seashell to remove remaining unwanted impurities making the strands whiter in appearance.
-The strands are then partially sun-dried on the grass and beaten with a bamboo stick to separate the fibres.
-It is then hung on a line to dry, combed and tied upside-down to a slim bamboo pole for knotting.
-The ends are cut off with a sharp piece of bamboo and the threads are coiled around a clay pot. The pot is placed with sand to prevent tangles. The fibres are then taken to traders for weighing.
-A loom made of coco lumber with bamboo foot treadles are used to weave the fabric. The thread is coiled on cylindrical frames and the thread for weft is wound on bobbins made out of small pieces of bamboo.
-The average production of a weaver is about half a meter/day. The process is painstakingly slow and broken threads need constant knotting.
-After weaving, the off-white colored cloth with a rather smoky smell is washed with rice water or citrus juice.
-The cloth is then sent out for embroidery.

To sum up, the whole process from leaf plucking to the finished woven cloth, would take about four months of continuous work to produce only about 20 meters of the precious fabric. That’s why several attempts have been made to develop a machine that would do the work but the thread being so fine and prone to breaking made this impossible.

Much as the pina fabric is tediously woven for that elegant texture, the embroidery is done with an equally delicate and painstaking process. The old-world craft has been handed down from generation to generation and have evolved to adapt to the times. However, the innate skill remains intact and the subtle elegance is preserved.

-First, embroidery pattern is chalked on the cloth
-The cloth is stretched using a round or rectangular frame called bastador.
-With the cloth ready for embroidery, they proceed with using a variety of thread from white or colored, cotton, silk, or pina.
-After embroidery is done, they are lightly stretched between two rectangular frames and cleaned from the underside using a washcloth and detergent.
-After drying, the cloth is ironed before delivery to contractors.

Wow, it does sound like a painstaking process! There is one pararagraph that distress me to no end though:

Barong Tagalog Care Tips:
-Do not dry clean it. It contains chemicals that may make the Barong Tagalog brittle and therefore shorten its life span.
-Using washing machine for Barong Tagalog is a crime.

Hand washing is still the best way to clean the barong. When washing Barong Tagalog made of Jusi or Pina, one mixes a calculated amount of detergent with water and mixes it thoroughly until the detergent is completely dissolved in the basin. Then soak the Barong Tagalog on one whole day or do it overnight. After this step, use a soft brittle toothbrush with a tiny amount of detergent to brush off the stubborn dirt on the Barong Tagalog especially on collar, underneath the cuffs, arm holes, etc. and then rinses it with an upward and downward motion on water. However, hand-embroidered Barong Tagalog should not be scrubbed. A cardinal rule when one rinses the Barong Tagalog, one does not squeeze nor twist the fabric. Drip it dry by laying it flat so it will not create too much crease. The less sunlight for the Barong Tagalog , the better to avoid discoloration. One must iron the Barong Tagalog while it is still damp in a moderate heat to retain its original shape.

You have to be kidding right? This is wrong piece of clothing to give to someone who throw in her darks and her lights in a hot washing machine, and stuffs dry-clean only item in there as an after-thought.

I am in the Philippines

I am probably the world's worst blogger with the best adventures to talk about. My job has me pretty beat so I'm not really good about updating this blog. Though it causes me a large amount of anxiety to talk about my travels out of order (after all, I still haven't finished my blog on Timbuktu, or started the one on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), I will have to give you some information on the country I am in now.

I am in the Philippines, and came here via Detroit and Tokyo. Having just come back from a 25-hour flight from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (or CNMI in short-form) via Detroit, Hawaii and Guam, I was told by the office to turn right back around the attend an important meeting in Manila, Philippines. I'm all for frequent flying miles, but having to sit on another 20-some hours of airplane rides is plain ridiculous. And I hate turbulence.

Manila is pretty cool: it's a city full of little streets, loud beeping cars, odd-looking metal buses, bike-taxis, SUV, sea and palms lining the boulevards, dirty water trailing along the side walks, and Japanese, Italian, French, and Chinese restaurants everywhere. People crowd the parking lots and small parks that offer a little bit of space to play badmington on weekends. It's a cross between the busy-ness of Japan, and the grittiness of Bamako. A sort of dirty blade runner.

I am attending meeting attended by a number of countries from Asia and the Pacific, such as Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, but also small islands like Tuvalu, Nauru and a bunch of others you've never heard about (no offense, but my French school never taught me about the difference between American Samoa and Samoa).

Meeting organizers gave us gifts of barong tagalog (pronounced BAH-rong tah-GAH-lawg), a traditional, embroidered, transparent outer shirt. It has collars, mid-length sleeves and mid-thigh horizontal hemline with side slits. It is made from pina (pineapple fibers), jusi (raw silk) or ramie (grass fibers). Very awesome. I can't wait to wear it, no matter that it's unsuited for the dark suits and conservative suits of Washington D.C.

September 02, 2008

Getting there is half the work - Saipan

I am going to Saipan to lead a Summit on Diabetes for 120 Pacific and federal participants. While it's going to be a lot of work, I feel like the trip there and back is half the battle:

Washington DC - Houston - 3 hours, 10 minutes
Houston - Honolulu - 8 hours, 10 minutes
Honolulu - Guam - 7 hours, 40 minutes
Guam - Saipan (in the Northern Mariana Islands) - 50 minutes.

I thought I was finally getting over my fear of flights (I only pray 3 or 4 times in an 8 hours flight instead of 20 times), but I feel asleep and dreamt we were crashing into the beautiful Hawaii ocean. We were crashing at low speed and really close to the coast so I was hoping that there would be a lot of survivors, me amongst them...I also just checked my email, and a friend from Congo wrote a quick mass email to reassure us that he was not part of the flight full of people going to Bukavu that just crashed. Yikes!

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (or CNMI for short) is a small island nation in the South Pacific. It consists of 14 islands, three of which are the main inhabited ones: Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. It is a U.S. territory, and as such, benefits from a number of U.S. services, much like a State would.

You may not know it, but it was an important area during the second World War. From the U.S. Department of the Interior, here is a little bit more on its history:

The first people to come to the Marianas arrived over 3500 years ago, probably from Southeast Asia through the Philippines. The ancient people evolved into Chamorro people. The first European to arrive in these islands was the Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, who came to Guam and Rota in 1521 during his circumnavigation of the world in an attempt to find a route across the Pacific. Spain took possession of the archipelago in 1565 and ruled it for more than 300 years. The first permanent Spanish colony was established in 1668. Spain ceded Guam to the United States following the Spanish-American War, then sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany in 1899. Germany acquired these islands primarily to increase their international prestige. German economic development was based on the copra industry. Japan took control of the Northern Mariana Islands in 1914, the first year of World War I. By ratification of the League of Nations in 1920, Japan received a mandate over the islands. This mandate lasted until 1945 with 30,000 Japanese nationals residing on Saipan. The Japanese developed the island largely for sugar production and processing. World War II came to the Marianas in 1941. Major American battles occurred in the Northern Marianas in 1944, including the pivotal Marianas campaign which signaled the end of the War in the Pacific. The Emperor of Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces on August 15, 1945, ending World War II, and a U.S. military government was instituted in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Saipan’s main attractions are snorkeling, and various sites of war. When the Japanese knew the American would come to the Island and win the war for example, a lot of them jumped off the highest cliff in Saipan, now renamed “suicide cliff”. It now harbors a number of bats that hang in its carved out caves. Snorkeling is great too since they are old sunken ships and tanks surrounded by plant life and fish.

View from Manahaga Island, a small piece of land off the coast of Saipan

A sunken Japanese Ship of the coast of Manahaga Island

View of the Ship from Afar - a rusted hull pokes out from the light green water

There are island cats everwhere. A little undernourished but cute nonetheless.

A downed tank along the shore

Amazing grotto with shallow diving and plant roots hanging from its ceiling

Typical palm tree. Just to make you jealous.

Saipan is also a great lover of Betelnut. While in Saipan, I was perplexed to see tons of signs about Betelnut saying "absolutely no betelnut spitting" or "betelenuts and cell phones no allowed beyond this point". So of course, I had to find me some betelnut, from the corner store.

From my trusty old wikipedia friend, this is what I know about the betelnut:
The Areca nut is the seed of the Areca palm, a straight and graceful palm tree growing in most tropical countries. […] It is commercially available in dried, cured and fresh forms. While fresh, the husk is green and the nut inside is so soft that it can easily be cut with an average knife. In the ripe fruit the husk becomes yellow or orange and, as it dries, the fruit inside hardens to a wood-like consistency. […] Usually a few slices of the nut are wrapped in a Betel leaf along with lime and may include clove, cardamom, catechu (kattha), etc. for extra flavouring. Betel leaf has a fresh, peppery taste, but it can be bitter depending on the variety.

Areca nuts are chewed with betel leaf for their effects as a mild stimulant, causing a hot sensation in the body, heightened alertness and sweating, although the effects vary from person to person. The areca nut contains tannin, gallic acid, a fixed oil gum, a little terpineol, lignin, various saline substances and three main alkaloids, which have vasocontricting properties. Many chewers also add small pieces of tobacco leaf to the mixture, thereby adding the effect of the nicotine, which causes greater addiction than the drugs contained in the nut and the betel. The effect of chewing betel nut is relatively mild and could be compared to drinking a strong cup of coffee.
Steps to Enjoying Betelnuts:
1-Gather all the equipment
This is: a ripe betelnut, a leaf, and some lye.

2-Chew the betelnut in two to expose it's soft, pink interior

3-Use a toothpick to spread a little bit of lye on the interior (warning: lye is a corrosive substance, often used in biodiesel preparation or as an oven cleaner or drain opener)

4-Wrap the whole thing up in the leaf

5-Chew, and spit profusely. Ensure that your red saliva stains the walls and floors of major public places. As in my case, you can follow up with feeling nauseous, and almost throwing up.

August 05, 2008

This is very exciting news about the Congo...for once!

More than 100,000 rare gorillas found in Congo


An estimated 125,000 Western lowland gorillas are living in a swamp in equatorial Africa, researchers reported Tuesday, double the number of the endangered primates thought to survive worldwide.

'It's pretty astonishing,' Hugo Rainey, one of the researchers who conducted the survey for the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society, told CNN Tuesday.

The last census on the species, carried out during the 1980s, estimated that there were only 100,000 of the gorillas left worldwide. Since then, the researchers estimated, the numbers had been cut in half.

WCS survey teams conducted the research in 2006 and 2007, traveling to the remote Lac Tele Community Reserve in northern Republic of Congo, a vast area of swamp forest.

Acting on a tip from hunters who indicated the presence of gorillas, Rainey said that the researchers trekked on foot through mud for three days to the outskirts of Lac Tele, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the nearest road.

'When we went there, we found an astonishing amount of gorillas,' said Rainey, speaking from the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Though researchers did spot some gorillas, they based their estimate on the number of gorilla nests found at the site, Rainey said. Each gorilla makes a nest to sleep in at night.

'This is the highest-known density of gorillas that's ever been found,' Rainey said.

Western lowland gorillas are listed as critically endangered, the highest threat category for a species. Their populations are declining rapidly because of hunting and diseases like Ebola hemorrhagic fever, whose symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and internal and external bleeding.

While the discovery in northern Congo indicates that the gorilla population remains stable in some areas, it is likely that gorillas will remain critically endangered because the threats facing the species are so great, Rainey said.

'We know very little about Ebola and how it spreads,' he said. 'We don't even know the animal that spreads it around.'

The goal now, Rainey said, is to work with the Congolese government and donors to protect the areas in which the gorillas are known to be living.