Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

This was another find passed along by either Big Diamond or Little Diamond, via my Mom, and oh, what a find. Audrey Niffenegger wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife, a highly unusual book which hit the best seller list like a hurricane. This book, Her Fearful Symmetry, solidifies the perception that this author has real talent, thinks way outside the box, and creates characters and situations that, while unlikely, are likable and who become real enough for us to identify with them.

The title is based on a poem by William Blake, a poem I have always liked:

The Tiger

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies 5
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 10
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp 15
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee? 20

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

While this tale is a great yarn, it helps to know this poem, there are a lot of literary references in the novel and the title is just one of them.

As the story begins, there is a death, a will, and a set of mirror-image twins who inherit a flat in London overlooking a famous cemetery. The flat is in a building and has an upstairs neighbor, a man succumbing to obsessive-compulsive disease, and a downstairs neighbor, an aging bachelor, all a little eccentric in the nicest, English sort of way. The twins, Valentina and Julia, are twenty years old, and waif-like, still dressing alike, doing almost everything together.

There is also a ghost. No, wait! Two ghosts, and a kitten ghost. No, wait! I forgot! Lots of ghosts!

What I love about Audrey Niffenegger is that she takes what we perceive as reality and gives it a twist, and once you buy the twist, you are off on a wild ride. This book is a wild ride, with unforgettable characters and some unexpected kinks and thrills, as well as more than a couple shudders and chills.

February 12, 2011 Posted by | Aging, Books, Character, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Experiment, Family Issues, Fiction, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Relationships | 2 Comments

Sleepy Saturday Sunrise

(Yaaaaaaaaaawwwwnnnnnnnnnn)

Ummmm. . . . morning . . . . 🙂 . . . Kuwait . . .

It is cool this morning, clear skies, another glorious Saturday in Kuwait.

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, sunrise series, Travel | 4 Comments

Does Malawi Law Ban Farting?

Don’t you just love the internet?

I knew the photo I was looking for to illustrate my post on going to church today, and it took me about three pages of internet search to find it. When I found it, I also found an article that totally made me laugh. It is so hilarious.

Malawi row over whether new law bans farting
By BBC News
Fri 04 Feb. 2011, 13:30 CAT

Two of Malawi’s most senior judicial officials are arguing over whether a new bill includes a provision that outlaws breaking wind in public.

Justice Minister George Chaponda says the new bill would criminalise flatulence to promote “public decency”.

“Just go to the toilet when you feel like farting,” he told local radio.

However, he was directly contradicted by Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga, who says the reference to “fouling the air” means pollution.

“How any reasonable or sensible person can construe the provision to criminalising farting in public is beyond me,” he said, adding that the prohibition contained in the new law has been in place since 1929.

The Local Courts Bill, to be introduced next week reads: “Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the public to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.”

Chaponda, a trained lawyer, insists that this includes farting.

“Would you be happy to see people farting anyhow?” he asked on the popular “Straight Talk” programme on Malawi’s Capital Radio.

He said that local chiefs would deal with any offenders.

When asked whether it could be enforced, he said it would be similar to laws banning urinating in public.

This is the article from which I stole the photo of a man

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Africa | 5 Comments

A New Job Offer?

This is a new one, from my Intlxpatr e-mail, from my unknown friend Hayley Ashcroft:

How are you? I just returned from my oversea trip back to Scotland.I hope your not surprised that I contacted you in this manner.Never mind,it is quite necessary to introduce myself ,I am Miss Ascroft Aisha Abdullah,I work with Marathon Oil Ltd UK as assistant senior supervisor.

It might interest you to know that I have Asian blood, my dad came from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and my mom from Surabaya in Indonesia ,my both parents lived in UK,unfortunately I lost my dad when I was still in college, and that was the reason why I had no opportunity of knowing my father’s relatives but it is ok. It is my heart desire to take vacation leave from our company and visit Asia for the first time .It is no longer a news that Asia is developing so fast and catching up with developed countries with a lot of tourist attraction centers,it gives me so much joy because I want to witness it and be part of it.

I do not mean to inconvenience you ,I do not want to employ a tourist guide when you are there.I will appreciate it if you can spare your time to welcome and accompany me,never mind I will take care of the expenses. Could you please tell me little about yourself and let me know the nearest airport to you?

I await for your reply

My Regards
Ascroft

Pardon my cynicism, but nothin baby, it ain’t free. You want to pay all the expenses? LLLLOOOLLLL!

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Scams | 2 Comments

EEEEWwWwwwwwwwwww

“Just get on 30 and head North,” my friend told me, and then proceeded to give me further directions. It’s really easy.”

My hands started sweating as soon as she mentioned 30, and I couldn’t even hear the rest of her instructions. I wasn’t ready. Even though I had driven in Qatar for three years, when I arrived in Kuwait, it was a whole new level of driving madness. My first trips were Saturday mornings to Fehaheel, when everyone else was sleeping. Slowly, slowly I built up my courage, and maybe a month or so later, I got on 30. Later, 40 and within a year, there wasn’t anyplace I couldn’t go.

Starting over, it isn’t taking me so long, but after being gone a year and a half, the aggressiveness of the driving in Kuwait is still a bit daunting. This morning, Friday morning, I did get on 30 and drove into Salwa to go to church.

EEEEEEWWWwwwwwwwwww!

How can you live like this???

The stink! The STINK!!

How long has it been? Hasn’t it been almost a year since the sewage plant stopped functioning? Where is the fix?? It must be murder on the beaches, and it is surely hell to have to get up to that STINK every morning.

What is the forecast for fixing this problem?

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Community, Customer Service, Environment, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions | 4 Comments

Good Morning Kuwait, Thursday, 10 February 2011

Another glorious day in Kuwait:

Night before last, on my way home, we saw the most amazing sight. Many of you never go downtown at night, and if you do not, you are missing something you may never see again in such splendor in your lifetime – the lights for the celebration of 50 / 20 / 5. You know me – I love the lights, but this year, there are so many!

The most amazing, unbelievably breathtaking, is the clock tower at the Amiri Palace just off the big roundabout by the Grand Mosque downtown. I don’t know how they do it, I have never seen this effect before, but they are imposing mosaic tile patterns on the clock tower, and the images are intricate – and sharp. It has to be some kind of laser light, it is SO sharp, so beautiful, and it changes like every 30 seconds. We drove around the circle three times, we were so taken with it. Take some time out of your busy life to give yourself a treat, absolutely for free, and take your family downtown to see these lights. They will take your breath away.

This next one is blurry, but that’s what you get when it is raining and you are driving trying to get a shot, any shot, LOL. I just want you to see an example of one of the many patterns which shift on the tower. It is awesome to behold:

My voice is still mostly gone, too much talking, too much laughing. I keep telling my friends God wants me to be quiet and listen, but I can’t resist participating, and we have so much to catch up on . . . Time is flying past, I grab at moments, but I hear the whooooosh as the hours fly by . . . I feel so blessed to have time again with these women who have meant so much to me. We never know where our conversations will take us. As we stood outside, making farewells, I had this huge impression of strength and power in our connections, of being surrounded by angels. Each woman is so modest and each gives so much to the community, thinking it is too little.

Just when I think I cannot fit one more thing in, I discover one of my sweet young blogging women is in town, and though years separate us, she is the kind of friend that once you get talking, you pick right up where you left off as if there has been no year or two in between, my favorite kind of friend. I want to know what she is thinking, our conversations are always so thought-provoking for me. We can’t figure out exactly when, yet, but we know it’s got to happen. It’s just an amazing coincidence that we are both in town at the same time.

February 9, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, sunrise series, Weather | 2 Comments

Good Night, Kuwait

It’s been a great day in Kuwait.

I needed to go into Fehaheel this morning. Why Fehaheel? I know Fehaheel, and Fehaheel is so much more manageable, to me, than driving downtown to find what I need, and I always have a list. Feheheel is more concentrated, and, if you can find what you need, the prices are often better.

All my secret parking spots are already taken, and it is not even ten o’clock. People! What is going on here?

After circling several times, I found a spot and headed to a shop where there is my kind of guy. He lit up when he saw my camera, and not only did he have the card reader I needed – for less than I would pay in the US – he also had a card with DOUBLE the amount of space on it. Well, I don’t even use all the space on the cards I use, but I appreciated his enthusiasm, and that he keeps up with all the latest advances in photo technology.

So I asked him where he changes his money, and he gave me directions, AND he told me not to take less than 27.700 – 27.750 per dollar, that it holds fairly steady.

As you might have figured out by now, I am a western woman, so the first price I get is often not the same price my Kuwait or Indian friends might get. Armored with the quote my photo-nerd friend gave me, I fought the good fight, when the money-changer would look at me and say 27.500, I knew better! I would just laugh and tell him I am going next door. Finally, when I said that, one guy said OK, OK, 27.900, and I didn’t blink an eye, just changed my money, WOOO HOOOO. I know, I know, it is a primitive response, the hunter-gatherer still present in my lizard-ego, but I love not getting taken.

I found all kinds of wonderful things to take back today, including a Kuwait flag that I can fly on Liberation Day, and when Kuwait friends come to visit. 🙂 I had one when I lived here before, but it was windy, and it blew away!

And here is a final photo for today – today’s sun going down into an Ethel tree. (When I was a kid, there was a gas called Ethel; I think it was special, but I never hear anyone talk about ethel anymore. I can’t imagine Ethel-the-gas and Ethel-the-tree are related.)

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Beauty, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Shopping, Sunsets | 10 Comments

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Until I sat down to write these reviews (so I can pass these along to friends in Kuwait who I know will read and discuss them 🙂 ) I didn’t realize that the books had so much in common. They both take place in the WWII time frame, and both are told from the point of view of children coming of age in this time. Both are love stories, romantic, parental, community – they have many of the same elements. They both have bullies, and children who steal. They both have wise adult conspirators, mentors and guides.

In The Book Thief, right off you get a chill. One of the main characters in a personification of Death, a tired, weary, cynical Death, but a Death who is fascinated by his humans. When the opening pages are written by Death, you get a feeling that this can’t be good.

And, in the beginning, it is not good. Liesel is on her way . . . somewhere, we don’t know where, on a long train ride, during which her brother dies. They are forced off the train, and her brother is buried in some small village where they are unknown; the grave will probably never be visited. Shortly after, they re-board another train, and when they arrive, Liesel is turned over to a government foster family agency, and she is placed with a rough, uneducated couple in a small village on the outskirts of Germany.

Not far from Dachau.

So many similar elements . . . people at the mercy of their government, and the madness of the politicians and mass hysteria. Bullies, but not just in the schoolyards, here there is also a nationally encouraged group of bullies, the Nazis, and people in every village are encouraged to join the party. The kids join Hitler Youth and practice to become good Nazis.

Except inside each one of us resides a spirit of humanity, and if you let that spirit dominate, you can come into conflict with the party, even if you appear to comply most of the time. Liesel’s foster parents turn out to be a very humane sort. They feel compassion for the Jews marched through their village on the way to the camps, and attempt to give them a little bread, for although they have little to share, they can see that these Jews are starving.

And then, a stranger arrives on the doorstep, the son of a man who saved Liesel’s Papa’s life in the first world war. He is Jewish. He needs a place to be hidden. Liesel’s foster parents take him in and hide him in the basement.

Only after I read the book and read the afterword did I discover this is a book written for young adults, and that makes me laugh, because I am not a young adult, and I enjoyed the book so much. I love books about the triumph of the human spirit, the triumph of good over evil, and the triumph of hope and life over hopelessness. Even Death has a heart, in this book.

I know that there will be one copy of this book in Kuwait; I am leaving it with a friend I know will read it, and I know she will pass it along, because this is a book worth discussing. I hope you are friends with my friend, and that you will get a chance to read it, too!

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Books, Character, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Leadership, Living Conditions, Relationships, Values | 4 Comments

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This book had everything going for it, and still I had a hard time getting into it. The book was given by Little Diamond to my Mom – Little Diamond often passes along the very best, thought-provoking books, and in our family we pass the best along, so I knew it would be good. I love the title. The book is set in a part of Seattle now called – euphemistically – The International District, but as I was growing up, and among older Seattle-ites, it is called Chinatown, even though that is not politically correct, or geographically correct. Chinatown was never Chinatown, it was a group of distinct populations – Chinese, Japanese, later Vietnamese, Korean, even later Ethiopian, Sudanese, Somali, Pakistan . . . you could call it immigrant-ville, I suppose, if you were really, really politically incorrect. My Chinese friends still call it Chinatown.

Last, but not least, Jamie Ford started this book as a short story at a camp run by Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite authors, especially to recommend to young people. Orson Scott Card knows how to capture the painful contradictions of being teens and young adults, the conflicts with parents, the loves, requited and un, and most of all, he understands how the young see things clearly as unfair; it’s only later when we start seeing shades of grey.

In spite of all those positives, I hated his voice. I hated the smug little Chinese boy he started as, a scholarship student, first generation born in the US, mocking his parents, fighting off bullies. . . Here is what I hated the most. He had a girlfriend, and he didn’t understand chivalry, like walking her home. He protected her, but he was a pretty self-absorbed little boy.

I kept reading because he had some interesting friends. I liked his friend the jazz player, and I liked the gruff lunchroom lady, and I liked his friend Keiko. I understood his parents pushing him to excel, and their not understanding the struggles this caused Henry; I liked his parents. Because the book jumps around in time, I also liked his wife, and felt annoyed that Henry was all caught up in this old romance when he had a perfectly good wife, but I kept reading.

I am so glad I did. About a third into the book, we begin to see Henry transform into the man he will become. He gets help, he gets mentoring from unexpected people, and he becomes more likable.

The book also deals with a terrible time in US history, a time when we turned on our own citizens and sent our citizens of Japanese descent to concentration camps right here in the USA. The Japanese were a class act; most of them were hurt and outraged, but compliant. Many men volunteered to fight in the war in spite of this slap in the face, this accusation of potential treason. It is a shameful time in our own history, and particularly so for Henry, who loves a Japanese girl, Keiko.

By the end, I loved this book. I hope you will, too.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Books, Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Relationships, Seattle | 4 Comments

Another Gorgeous Day in Kuwait

Oh my friends, I am having such a good time. I have been getting together with my friends, one on one, and we have talked so much – or maybe it is the particulate content of the Kuwait air – that I have lost my voice, LOL.

Last night, I slept the entire night. I was able to get up early and have breakfast with my poor hard-working AdventureMan before he rushed off to another day of high level decision-making and problem solving. Me? Another play day in the great land of Kuwait. 🙂

Here is what life looks like at seven in the morning:

It is another great day in Kuwait.

When I checked Weather Underground for the Kuwait weather forecast, I found an ad for Wataniya’s Give Kuwait.com where people are submitting their own videos to celebrate Kuwait’s upcoming celebration, a four day holiday, February 24 – 28, celebrating 50 years of Independence, 20 years since liberation and 5 years under the rule of the current Amir. There are some really fun videos, some with old photos (you know how I love the historical photos!)

February 7, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Holiday, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, sunrise series, Weather | 2 Comments