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Friday, December 31, 2010

Massage - Not for the Modest!

I have hemmed and hawed about whether to share this level of detail, but in the spirit of saving you the trouble before booking your Ayurvedic massage… READ THIS. We are in Sri Lanka at this most fabulous beach house and in addition to having a full time cook, house manager, tuck-tuck (auto-rickshaw) at our disposal; Ayurvedic massage can be done in your room. I am a beauty addict. Massage, facials, nails, hair, lotions and potions; I am ready to fork over my green backs in a moment’s notice. I called up Priyanaka from Sri Lanka, sounds like a poem, but this experience was not so melodic.

Priyanka, who is male, arrived at 6pm. He is about 5 feet tall barefoot wearing his clinical white coat and black trousers. His backpack was large and he quickly moved to my room, stripped the bed and laid several large towels down. I was slightly nervous; however Doug and my mom were sitting in the living room just a few feet away. Standing there observing the entire transformation of my room into a make-shift spa, I didn’t know what to do. Priyanka instructed me to sit in my chair. And so the process began.

Eyes closed, I could feel the oil run down my forehead and through my scalp. Was it peppermint or lemon? Both? The cool ooze seemed to console my sunburned head, only to be abruptly interrupted by a fierce slapping on the top of my head. What a way to ruin the moment. I could bare this for a little bit but it seemed never ending. Eventually the head spanking ended and Priyanka began his vigorous head and neck massage. I have been an active yogi for about 9 years and my neck is my Achilles tendon. When I am stressed that is where I feel pain, and when I am in a yoga posture – that will be the stiff spot any given day. I enjoyed the rub down and Priyanka was able to tell that my neck has a “blockage that would cause pain” without me preempting it. Ok so he knows something.

My bliss was broken by a short clip “take off your clothes and lay on the bed.” Weird, I am an American – so slightly repressed. I quickly undressed leaving on my underwear. Priyanka worked on my back for some time, more bliss. I was about to fall asleep when he asked me to get up and kneel on the floor over a crock-pot. I popped up half naked, grabbing the towel to cover up and kneel on a folded towel. The steaming crock-pot smelled lemony. I was instructed to put my face over the pot and inhale deeply, it was lemon leaf and very good me. Suddenly a sheet was pulled over me and tightly closed just as the lid was removed from the crock-pot. The steam was stifling. So here I sit half-naked on a towel inhaling lemon leaf water with a sheet closed tightly over my head. I felt like I might become the next CSI victim. This entire experience was followed by a deep facial massage; the next day my sinuses never felt so good. Doug popped his head in the room about 45 minutes into the ordeal to make sure I was OK. There I sat in my underwear in our desk chair while Priyanka was dumping more oil on my head. He quickly closed the door, I guess that was enough to know I was not in danger.

While this entire experience was not really relaxing, I slept very well and my neck did not hurt for a full night ...the first time in five months. My hair was the real victim. It took about four washings and two trips into the ocean to rid the oil from my locks. The oil coupled with the moisture was a recipe for disaster. Doug thought I looked like Bo Derek in 10, however I knew that was really a ploy :) I felt more like Lenny Kravets and that was not a good look for the whitest gal in Sri Lanka. My advice is – massage in India or Sri Lanka is not for the modest or the girl that needs lovely locks for work the next day.

Ice-Master Doug

You know you are on vacation when you greatest concern is how to make ice, get ice or when the ice will be ready. If you have read my earlier entries, you know that we loaded up at duty free in Colombo since we would be pretty much isolated at the beach house. When we arrived, and cracked open a bottle of Zinfandel for the girls and some gin for Doug…the house staff quickly brought out a small ice bucket. That hit the spot after our grueling five hour van ride to the coast. Ice seemed not to be the issue, but as we hit the afternoon on day two…ice was nowhere to be found. Warm gin, does not hit the spot but you can manage with a cold coke mixed with rum. So here was our dilemma, tonic water was not available during the first grocery store rum but soda and limes were. Doug, a former bar tender on campus at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, concocted a mock gin or vodka and tonic. Tasted good however without ice it goes down slowly.

The best ideas come out of necessity. Doug saved the plastic water bottles, filled them half way and laid them on their side on the freezer. Phase 1 of making ice. Secondly, he cut one of the liter soda bottles, cleaned them out and used it as a freezer ice holder while we filled the trays and rotated them. The cook and housekeeper must have thought we were CRAZY. The volume of ice was flowing, enough for sodas and mixed drinks in our 90 degree weather. Our next great idea was to bring the bottles that had been half filled with water and frozen to the beach. But before coming down to the beach we filled them with rum, all that was needed was a cold coke from the Ocean Moon beach restaurant. Now I had rum and cokes at the beach and I even found Lays potato chips. Vacation had arrived!

So in addition to being my best friend, personal life coach, husband, father of my children, local chemist, make shift doctor – Doug is also the Ice-master which is essential for a Southeast Asia beach vacation.


Catch of the Day!

Our beach house in Sri Lanka is in a town called Tangalle which is the southern tip of the country; next land mass south is Antarctica. I have told the kids that this is their vacation at the end of the earth on Goyambokka beach. While we can see the ocean from our house, we have about a three minute walk down the hill to the beach. There are three little huts set up that all appear to be restaurants, however Ocean Moon Restaurant seems to be existing just for us. As we tumbled onto the beach (four adults, three kids, two boogie boards, 7 beach towels and a couple of footballs), the restaurant attendant quickly came out offering us some plastic chairs and an umbrella. Given the intensity of the sun, we were grateful.

Rolling around in the surf with a water temperature that seems to be perfect all time is a great way to work up an appetite. As a veteran mom, I never come without snacks. The kids quickly peeled through the fruit roll-ups and a bag of cashews. The adults were enjoying Lion Lager – since beer is filling we didn’t have the same drive for getting lunch. As we ordered a few more beers and some cokes, the restaurant attendant presented his menu. Three index cards laminated describing our options (I am including the restaurant spelling for your entertainment):

Prowns – grilled/ fried/ devilled with chips and salad

Kalomari – grilled/ fried/ devilled with chips and salad

Fish – grilled/ fried/ devilled with chips and salad

Ok, seems easy enough. Two orders of calamari and 1 order of prawns (a.k.a. giant shrimp), both grilled. Immediately after ordering we see someone leave the back of the shack with a pole and flippers. I am not kidding; they went to go a catch lunch! Ninety minutes later, our lunch was served. The floor of the restaurant is sand, we sat on plastic chairs but our meal was served on china with real silverware and the table completed with a small vase holding a plastic rose. The food was amazing, so much so we are on our third day of ordering the exact same thing. We have learned to order around noon for a one-thirty seating and have upped the quantity of calamari given its sumptuous taste. Bon App├ętit at the Ocean Moon!

Call of the Wild...

Open Air Living Room
We are in Sri Lanka for our Christmas holiday. It’s truly paradise. We have an open air house (closed bedrooms) but an amazing living room overlooking the beach. Check out their website at Wild peacocks strode across the front lawn just a few meters from our sofa; it was a beautiful sight. I learned that peacocks mate for life and it was very endearing to see the female hopping right behind the male. Out on the beach there are some dogs that belong to the beer hut and they roll around in the surf cooling their sandy paws. Cows graze on the hills visible from the beach. It’s really a humbling moment to know all of this has existed for centuries and we are privileged enough to experience life here for a few days.

Once the sun sets, a whole new set of sounds float through the house – we all take turns guessing the origin… birds, chipmunks, monkeys or wild dogs? The kids have come up with their own survival tactics for managing through an animal encounter. I thought I would share them with you because it’s a look inside their processing of our new surroundings:

  • Dogs- you chase them back
  • Wolves and Coyotes – make a lot of noise
  • Bears – play dead if they are already biting you; be submissive
  • Bears – you only need to be faster than the person you are with
  • Tigers – don’t fall into the pit at the zoo
  • Alligators/ crocodiles – run in a zigzag, because their eyes are on the sides of their heads and it confuses them
  • Birds – fight back
  • Sharks – you are out of luck
  • Elephants – you stop them from charging by taking away their credit card (I think that was directed at me :))

So if you are out in the country surrounded by wild animals, you now have some tips to survive.




My Kathleen Turner Moment

Movie Poster
circa 1985
On December 27th, we boarded a plane for Colombo, Sri Lanka. I have to admit; one year ago I would have never envisioned vacationing in Sri Lanka. I knew nothing about this small country and had not even confirmed my job in India. Here I am, taking an international flight from India with Doug, the kids, Mom and Aunt Karen. Fortunately Bangalore Airport is state of the art which makes surviving a delay quite pleasant. One hour and 20 minutes after takeoff we have landed in Colombo, made it through duty free – maximizing our 2 liters + 3 bottles of wine per adult. Yes, we fully enjoy our vacations. Next we made our way to the taxi pick up looking for Gamini, our driver. When I booked this vacation, I estimated about 3 hours from the airport to the beach house…seemed doable considering my commute to work is sometimes 2 hours. As the van pulled up, slightly rusted sporting a sticker labeled “Rebecci Schmitt” we all grimaced that this could be a LONG ride. We piled in 7 people, 10 bags and 12 bottle of alcohol. What can I say, we were planning to relax. The driver then informed us it would be 5 hours through central Sri Lanka as the coastline has too much traffic. A sigh of disappointment rumbled through the gang.

After about an hour and a half into the ride, the white van packed with people and luggage piled so high the rear window was opaque careened through winding roads barely big enough for one vehicle. My mom and Aunt looked slightly worried, the kids asked how long until we get there and Doug was taking pictures of rice paddies and villagers. It was humid, the air conditioner smelled moldy, the small towns seemed to run together feeling like we were making loops through central Sri Lanka, would the coastline ever emerge? Suddenly I had a flashback, didn’t Jewel of the Nile begin this way? Kathleen Turner, a New York socialite heads to Colombia to save her sister ….she too didn’t know what she was in for. Her bus ride, like mine, seemed never ending and the surroundings got more rural every second. Her lucky break was getting off the bus, sliding down a mud hill and finding a young Michael Douglas. Unlike her, I stayed on the bus. However we turned down a very narrow mud path and ended up at Moonhill – our paradise on the beach. Like the movie, we had a happy ending too but for a while I was wondering what I signed my family up for!

Al Fresco Living

For our anniversary, Doug and I decided to buy terrace furniture. One of the best features of our home is a huge terrace on the second floor in the back of the house. It’s very private and partially covered, making it the perfect place for breakfast in your pajamas or quiet dinner. The house came furnished with a small table and four chairs, the family of five didn’t fit so well. After some shopping around and seeing multiple options for high end outdoor living sets we decided to ask our driver, Javeed, where we could get well priced things. He took us to Shivajinagar, a neighborhood in Western Bangalore, where there are deals to be had on Cane furniture (otherwise known as wicker). The funny thing about India is that there will be a section of town specializing in a particular set of goods; stall after stall will be selling the same things for different prices. We headed to a busy street and popped in and out of several stores, getting smarter in our bargaining skills as we approached the next merchant. I am not a haggler and frankly, I was not feeling well – so I wanted to seal the deal and move on. Doug was enjoying the banter and we came to an agreement on a nice set: couch, two chairs, two tables, custom cushions and delivery for roughly $300 USD. I quickly accessed my database of US retail prices and figured out that this was a good deal; Pier One would sell something similar for around $900. Doug was pleased all my time at the mall was worth something to him.

Our terrace has been transformed with some new plants, candles, furniture and Christmas lights. Santa delivered the presents to the terrace this year, given we had no chimney for him to slide down. Each day it makes me happy to have a few moments with a cup of coffee before I leave my expat bubble and head out into the streets of Bangalore.

Picture to come soon!  We just got a new camera and i cannot figure out how to load the photos!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Singapore Sling

Marina Bay Sands Hotel
One of the benefits of taking a foreign assignment is the lure of fabulous weekend trips to exotic places - whether that be within India or to neighboring countries.   Well work, life, and just being plain tired, the weekend has become my respite and I savor a few extra hours in bed or simply sitting on the terrace.   In mid-November I realized I had only had 1 day off in the last 4 months and one of my favorite peeps was working in Singapore.   Could I work it out?  Could I make it for a weekend by myself?   Would Megan be up for a guest?  The answer to all of the above was a resounding YES.

December 10th I boarded my Air India flight for Singapore.   Now the morning of the flight I was having massive reservations about boarding airline with a less than perfect safety record.    I was pleasantly surprised - food, service, flight attendants in Saris - and it was on time.    The first major difference about Singapore was the orderly fashion in which the entire airport worked, complete with fast moving queues, holiday decorations and luggage that was waiting for me on the belt.    A quick taxi ride to fabulous Sushi and I knew I was on my way to prime relaxation.      Since Megan is living in Singapore, she found us the best digs in town at the Marina Bay Sands
hotel, which is three towers with a floating sky park resembling a cruise ship anchored across the top.

World's highest infinity pool

Club level hotel with a balcony, breakfast, floating in the worlds highest infinity pool (200m or 57 floors above the city streets) and sipping rose champagne in the sun - refreshed me like nothing else.    More sushi and realizing I was sunburned, we packed it up for a day of shopping on Sunday.    I can fully say I have never seen this volume of shoppers in a seemingly endless string of high end stores before.    From Louis to Gucci, wine bars or sushi, Toys R Us and Banana Republic; my senses were on overload.     Singapore exuded excess which is a stark contrast to my daily surroundings.    The boulevards were draped with stars and the intersections flocked with Christmas Trees as faint holiday tunes filled the air from neighboring stores.   I loaded my suitcases with Max Mara, Banana Republic, Toys R Us, Takashimaya, and other stocking stuffers.    Best of all it was good to have a friend who knows how it feels to be a million miles from home and establishing yourself at work.     Conversation consoles and we all need a little of that.

It's a very Berry Christmas in Singapore at Takashimaya

12 Days before Christmas!

My Mom and Aunt Karen (Dad's sister) arrived this past week hauling six 50 pound suitcases filled with necessities we cannot find easily or affordably in India.    I am not sure they had much room for clothes.   Unpacking the loot seemed to mimic the holiday classic, 12 days of Christmas but fortunate for us, it was 12 types of goodies:

1 MajicJack
2 bags of Skittles 
3 cans of Kraft Parmesan Cheese
4 pounds of pre-cooked / non-refrigerated bacon
5 boxes of Crystal Light Ice Tea
6 boxes of ready to eat hash browns - just add water
7 Brownie Lollipops
8 oz Stove Top Stuffing
9 packs of Pringles
10 Servings of Mrs Grass Chicken Soup
11 Christmas Gifts (to be disclosed post Dec 25th)
12 pounds of Gummy Bears

Other things we asked my mom to bring over included a Smokey Joe Weber Barbeque, a David Yurman Necklace (replacement for the one that was stolen....thank goodness for eBay!), a Shutterfly photo album, 12 napkin rings from Pier One and portraits of the kids taken in the summer.    Now we can have a proper terrace gathering, call our friends home in the US for free via the MajicJack (yes the infomercials are true), decorate the walls, share photos from home with new friends and eat processed food!

It was a timely Christmas treat food is both emotional and physical when it comes to comfort.   Of all the things that bring us a moment of peace and calm the regular sibling fighting; food from home is the cure.  

New Choos!  On Massive sale of course!
 For those of you that are thinking, where are the shoes!  Well the Jimmy Choo chocolate suede 5" sandals are on their way via Michigan along with the Tory Burch black marabou feather skirt.   While India might no do high fashion, I can no longer be without it.   Now that the Harper's Bazaar and InStyle subscriptions have finally been forwarded to Bangalore; I won't loose my cool.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hard Rockin' in Bangalore

It's nearly a month since the last post and I have to admit I don't know where the time goes.    Aside from having severe laryngitis and a cold that made its way through each member of my family...November and December have been pretty eventful.   Doug and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary on November 24th and that happened to be my 37th birthday as well.  Unfortunately I was sick so we settled for dominos and watching a rerun of Mad Men.     We celebrated Thanksgiving at a The Only Place restaurant, full turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and gravy.   It was actually quite nice to eat favorite foods on a favorite holiday.   

Around December 4th, we were feeling better and needed a break.  We headed to the Hard Rock Cafe-Bangalore, which is housed in a historic buidling that is super cool.    Indulging in bugers, hot wings, nachos, margaritas and milkshakes - we enjoyed every minute of the dinner.    The whole experience transported us back to America and temporarily kicked our homesick blues.    What american experience would be complete without a trip to the souvenir shop - four t-shirts and $100 later, all were happy and managed not to fight the entire ride home.