Monday, May 21, 2012

Kathmandu - Week 2

Kathmandu - Week 2

Maju Deval in Durbar Square
 • I went to Durbar Square which houses many, many temples and the former royal palace. The temples were just amazing and made me wish I knew more about Hinduism. Climbing to the top of the temples wasn’t bad; it is the going down the stairs that is scary. They are narrow and high. When I got to the bottom of the stairs I took a bow and everyone still up on the temple clapped for me.

• Many of the temples are covered in all kinds of erotic art. No one really knows why. The going theories are:

o Celebrating the cycles of life

o Highlighting the roles of Shiva and Parvati in creation

o To scare off the virginal goddess of lightning.

• Major drawbacks to visiting the landmarks are the peddlers. They will follow you around for hours. I couldn’t shake them no matter how many times I said no.

• There are a lot of hippies from the West here. I think I am the only person from the West not wearing Teva sandals.

• You can pick out a Westerner very, very easily. The fact that they tend to be taller and blonder really helps.

• There are LDS humanitarian missionaries here.

• There are no addresses here in Kathmandu. The city is broken up into something like neighborhoods. For example, I tried unsuccessfully to go to church on Saturday (the Nepal holy day). Here is why I didn’t make it – the address of the church is “in Maharajgunj (the neighborhood) behind the Slipper factory off the Ring Road.” I made it to behind the slipper factory, but I couldn’t find the building after that.

• I would kill for a Diet Coke Big Gulp with lots of ice.

• My stomach is not quite used to the food here. I don’t think I caught a bug, but it isn’t going well.

• Most shopping here is done on the barter system. I am terrible at bartering. Gary is much better, so I always let him go first.

Pradin, Me, Gary and Khem

• Having a driver is awesome.

• Not having a driver because of yet another strike is not awesome.

• I took a taxi all by myself. It isn’t that I have never been alone in a taxi before. For some reason I feel a great source of pride about this minor achievement.

• Gary loves my meal of fried ramen noodles with eggs.

Meg and Gary in Thamel
• My students are wonderful. They have started calling me Didi, which means sister. It is a term of affection. They also call me Jenny.

• The neighborhood with all of the good shops is called Thamel. It was great shopping. We wandered all day looking at jewelry, scarves, knives and other religious relics. I spent a lot on myself.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kathmandu - Week 1

Like Tracy Jordan’s column in Ebony, I am going to call this long, long overdue post “Musings.”

I have been in Kathmandu for a week now and it his been enlightening. Like most Americans that travel overseas, you don’t realize how good life is until you can’t go to a Target. Shopping aside, I am slowly adjusting to life on this side of the world. Of course, I am completely spoiled over here, so adjusting isn’t super difficult.

Here are little things that I have noticed on my trip:

• The McDonald’s at the Bahrain airport has a Big Mac made of chicken patties.

• They drive on the left side here and there are no traffic lights, crosswalks, or street signs. You could not pay me to drive here.

• I saw a monkey in a metropolitan area. A monkey!

• The people here, like people everywhere, are very friendly.

• The grocery store is an adventure, with items imported from India and Europe. It is very eclectic.

• The power is usually out at least 4 to 6 hours a day due to load sharing. Our apartment is set up to work on some reserve power. Gary and I are getting very good at recognizing the different beeps that indicate how much power is being turned on. Ordinarily this kind of thing would provoke a rant, but I am slowly learning to work around the outages.

• Walking on the street is a full on obstacle course. You are constantly dodging holes, uneven pavement, more holes, trenches, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, dogs, cows, and other pedestrians. I am probably missing all kinds of cool stuff going on around me because I am looking at the ground and trying not to fall.

• Most stores look like they were once storage units that someone turned into a store.

• Only one of my students has seen Star Wars. I have a lot of work to do.

• There doesn’t seem to be a Nepali word for “nerd.”

• A lot of people here wear masks on the streets because the pollution is so bad. Kathmandu is in a valley, but you can only make out the outlines of the mountains due to the smog.

• Homosexuality is illegal here in Nepal. Gary and I were a bit surprised to see men holding hands while out in public considering it is a crime. Men here hold hands as a sign of friendship.

• Kids love to stare at me and Gary. They wave, say hello, and can’t take their eyes off of us. I have told myself it is because I am so beautiful, but I think it might be my white skin and curly hair.

• Cows rule the world.

• Mike’s Breakfast is where we go everyday for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is really the only place where we have seen other Westerners. We have the same waiter everyday and he takes good care of us.

• It is considered immodest to show legs. I really miss wearing shorts. When Gary and I return to the apartment we immediately change into shorts.

• Indian TV puzzles me.

• The first two words I learned in Nepali are right and left, so I can tell people to either right of left click the mouse.

• I have taught my class the “thumbs up,” which they now use liberally. I love it

More to come…

Friday, July 23, 2010

Buellton, CA

In early February I was supposed to go to California’s Central Coast for work. I was really excited because I was going to drive up and see my parents the following week and work from their house and eat Mexican food. Plus, any time I can return to California makes me very, very happy.

Sadly, weather struck and Snowmageddon hit the East Coast in full force. I was supposed to fly out Sunday, right in the middle of the storm, but all the airports were shut down. I ended up spending most of my weekend on the phone with United (this is not an exaggeration). After all was said and done, I ended up having 7 flights booked and cancelled due to the storm. Since my class was supposed to start on Monday and with the airports shut down indefinitely, I was struggling to figure out a way to get back to the Left Coast. I was able to get on a flight from Dulles on Virgin America for Monday morning into LA (instead of SF as my original plan had been) that looked like it might actually work.

Now that I had a flight, I needed a ride to the airport. No one I knew had the means or the 4x4 to get me there. When I called my usual taxi service, they said that it was too dangerous for their drivers to be out on the road before 10 am and I was looking for a ride at 5:00 am. I ended up calling 6 different taxi and limo services before I found one that was willing to try and take me to the airport. Everything was in place; it all depended on the weather.

I was one lucky gal and caught a break in the storm. It was just long enough for my plane to take off and then, from what I have been told, the weather got much, much worse. I have to admit, I was really nervous about flying that day. I don’t want to end up on one of those planes that take off, get hit by lightning, crash to an icy runway and burst into flames. But that’s just me.

I really like Virgin America. If you pay to upgrade to their “Main Cabin Select” – which is like United’s “Economy Plus” it is a lovely ride. They have touch screens that allow you to watch all the TV and movies you want for free. You can also use the touch screen to order food and drinks anytime you want, for free, and the flight attendants bring it to you. It was awesome.

Now to complain – and those of you with kids are not going to like me. While I was sitting in the waiting area, the gate attendant called my name over the loud speaker. I was hoping that since I paid full price for my ticket, they might be giving me some kind of upgrade. No such luck. Some parents wanted to sit by their kids, and since I was a single traveler they wanted me to trade seats. I really didn’t want to do it, but I am a pushover so I said yes. It was all down hill from there. I ended losing my aisle seat to go to a middle seat for almost 6 hours. And the stupid kids were totally old enough to sit by themselves. So from now on my answer is no! It isn’t my fault you didn’t plan well enough ahead; therefore it is officially not my problem.

One I got to LA is was a lovely 70 degrees. I got into my rental car and drove around town with the windows down. I have to say it was a fantastic change of pace from snowed in Virginia. I think I even sent a loving text to Seabreeze and Shelley telling them how warm it was and how they could suck it. To make my point, a lesson in how to compare and contrast: on the left, a picture of Reston, Virginia and on the right, Marina del Rey, California taken within during the same time frame. Can you tell the difference?

I ended up taking a lovely drive up the PCH to Buellton, CA which is about an hour north of Santa Barbara. It was hard not to stare at the ocean while I was driving, but after having to swerve out of oncoming traffic a few times I learned my lesson.

Buellton is a lovely little community right in the heart of the Central Coast wine country. If you have ever seen the movie Sideways the characters actually stayed at a hotel in Buellton. It is also right next to a town called Solvang, which is done up to look like a quaint Danish village. Solvang and the surrounding vineyards are a big draw for the area. I could absolutely live there – it is just beautiful.

I was by myself for four days and then my mom drove down from Antioch to come and stay with me. It was so fun to have her around, especially because she had never been to this area before either. She was so excited to go to Solvang she could barely contain herself. Unfortunately we were there during Valentine’s Day and the entire area was packed with tourists. Who knew that a tiny re-created Danish town would be such a hot spot for lovers? I personally think it was the surrounding vineyards…but it is just a working theory.

Since I was not able to get out of DC to start my class on Monday, we had to being the following day. My client didn’t want me to cram 5 days of training into 4, so I had to stay the weekend. But wait, the coming Monday was President’s Day, so old Jen Davis got a 3 day, all expense paid weekend on California’s Central Coast. Not too shabby.

Here are some of the highlights of my trip:

Insider Information: My point of contact told me that the “Hitching Post” restaurant makes a great burger. Since they butcher (not slaughter) their own meat on site, there are often tips of great slices of meat that go unused. The Hitching Post takes these tips, grinds them and makes fantastic, savory hamburgers. The caveat is that these burgers are only available Monday through Wednesday. The Hitching Post served as a filming location in the movie Sideways. It was the restaurant where Virginia Madsen’s character worked.

Noah Wyle:  I had a big crush on him when I was in high school. He personified my ideal “cute, nerdy guy.” Well, I was sitting in a restaurant in Santa Inez when a family of four sat down at a table next to me. The guy had a really scruffy beard, but in California you don’t take that as a bad sign (right Dad?). It wasn’t until I heard him order that I thought I recognized the voice. Then the creepy staring began (by me) and I kept eavesdropping. Sure enough, it was him. According to IMDB, he owns a ranch in the Santa Inez area.

Neverland Ranch: In elementary school I was a huge Michael Jackson fan. I remember that in first grade my parents got me the Thriller LP for getting good grades (my parents rocked). I found out that Neverland Ranch was only 8 miles from where I was staying in Buellton and I wanted to see it. My mom fought me on this one because she didn’t want to go and worship a pedophile. I don’t know what kind of burnt offerings she thought I was going to make - I just figured that I was close and it would be cool to stop by. There is no sign indicating on the gate or any kind of official tribute to MJ. People have decided to write their feelings on the flagstones surrounding the gate. I can empathize with the sentiment, but they are ruining a lovely walk and stone wall. Now you kids get outta my yard…

Mission Santa Barbara: In the third grade in California you study California history (which is awesome). A large portion of that includes studying the El Camino Real and the California Mission system. There aren’t many close to where I grew up (we only had gang violence and great Chinese food in Antioch). Since I was so close, I decided to visit the “Queen of the Missions.” Naturally I took the tour, asked questions, and tried to put everything into a historical context. It is a beautiful location and a lovely mission. I actually just sat around on the grounds looking at the ocean and being very glad that it wasn’t snowing. I liked it so much I took my mom back when she arrived. For those of you who know how I feel about kids in museums (I am against them!) there were kids on the tour that were very well behaved and I even told their mother how impressed I was with their comportment. See, I reward good behavior.

The Ocean: Mom and I took a lovely drive up the coast from Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach (I would  live in Santa Barbara in a heartbeat). It was a lovely trip (aside from the inland portion that took me too close to farms) and we made it to Pismo Beach just in time to watch the sunset on the Pacific. I know that the East Coast is nice and all, but West Coast is the best.

Crab: We went to a seafood place that specialized in crab. My mom had a fear of ordering the crab because she didn’t know how to access the meat. After some cajoling, she ordered crab. Talk about a transformation, she went from nervous to devouring it in a matter of seconds. It was great to watch her have such a great time.

The Landscape: Everyone knows that I love California and I make no apologies for loving something that is so clearly awesome. Almost everywhere I traveled in the area was beautiful. It brought back so many fond memories to see the fog roll in over the hills. The cliffs on the side of the ocean still amaze me. The green hills dotted with old oaks and yellow flowers remind me home. I miss it.

Overall, I had a great time. I even got to go back up to Antioch and work from my parent’s house for a few days despite all the confusion. Snowmageddon totally worked in my favor.

Friday, July 2, 2010


The first weekend in February 2010 turned out to be a brutal one for the DC Metro Area. While it went by many names, Snowmageddon is my favorite. We were just pummeled with snow and it was worse than anything I remember seeing when I lived in the Rocky Mountains. Of course, Virginia isn’t nearly as prepared for huge blizzards like Utah, so there is a steeper learning curve.  That being said, I think this storm would have rocked even the most prepared community in the lower 48 (I know we in VA have nothing on Alaska).  The snow was not what I have been used to in the past, it was wet and heavy and shoveling it (which I used my recent knee surgery to get out of – well played Jen) was enough to give anyone a heart attack.

The biggest issue with Snowmageddon was staying on top of the shoveling. And that chore fell to Shelley since I had just had surgery and Seabreeze hurt her back (well played Seabreeze). It was her job to venture outside every few hours (even during the night) and shovel the walk and the deck. The accumulation was like nothing I have ever seen and the snow just kept coming – relentlessly so. Shelley gets the roommate of the year award for taking one for the team and keeping our walkways snow free.

It got so terrible outside that snow plows were breaking down. They just couldn’t handle the volume. The snow plows couldn’t even plow our little neighborhood parking lot. It got so bad that the entire neighborhood got together and just started shoveling (minus me of course). Since I was supposed to be leaving on a 2-week business trip that Sunday (more on that in the next post) everyone piled their snow behind my car. I have great neighbors.

We were one of the lucky few that only lost power for a few hours. Some people went for days without any electricity. I just had to spend a few hours not watching TV, which while difficult, I endured. I am a survivor!

While Snowmageddon was a pain in the ***, it was actually kind of fun. I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything as the Metro Area was completely shutdown. I literally stayed in my pajamas for 3 days, watched movies, took naps and read. If there had only been more chocolate in the house I could have died happy right then.

Overall, it was an interesting weather-related adventure and I just hope that next time snow shoveling is required, I have a cold and just can’t risk being outside.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Knee Surgery and Dad Visits

I am a clumsy person. I have always wanted to be like Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly, who with every movement exuded grace and dignity. It has only taken me 33 years to figure this out, but I am no Grace Kelly. I am more like a Weeble who wobbles and still falls down. I am a defective Weeble.

In January 2009 I was exercising in a gym. I know that this is hard to believe, but it is true. I was going to do leg curls in one of the leg curling machines when I realized that I didn’t know how to actually get onto the machine. So I decided to improvise – and that proved to be a huge mistake. I whacked my knee pretty hard on the leg curl thing. And being the idiot that I am, I didn’t want people to think I was weak so I kept working out although my knee hurt like crazy.
Now my knee continued to hurt severely for the next week and then the pain went away. I thought all was back to normal. I have prided myself on having good knees and I was glad to be able to gloat again about the awesome bending capabilities of my knees.

Well, during the summer I noticed a bit of knee pain when going up and down stairs. I naturally ignored it. It wasn’t until I couldn’t play tennis because of the pain that I decided the knee pain might be cause for concern. By October I couldn’t take it any more. After 3 doctors appointments, X-rays, and an MRI it was determined that I damaged my cartilage and I needed to get my knee scoped.

My dad decided to take an early retirement package in the fall of 2009. I scheduled my surgery for early January 2010 (which is the slow season at work). Since I was going to be out of it for about a week, my dad offered to come and take care of me since he wasn’t working. Isn’t he the cutest thing? It was especially good, because I had been laying the guilt on pretty thick so he would come visit me. I mean, I had to injure myself and have surgery to have him visit (meaning my plan worked perfectly).

My dad came to stay with me for two weeks and it was a good thing he stayed as long as he did. While the scoping procedure went off without a hitch, I ended up having a severe asthma attack a few days after the surgery. I honestly can’t think of a time when my asthma was that bad (except for when I had pneumonia). I ended up being on steroids and breathing treatments for 5 weeks. The doctor thought the attack was due to knocking me out for the surgery. Sometimes the tubes they stuff down your throat can irritate the lungs.

I was really bummed that I wasn’t feeling well during my dad’s visit. I had all these amazing, if unrealistic, plans to do with my dad. We ended up going for car rides so I could get out of the house (just like we used to do with our dog Chucky), watching Glee, Law and Order, NCIS and Bones, getting my dad a super sweet haircut by Carmen, and eating the best cake in the world from Edibles Incredible. We are people of simple pleasures.

It was great to spend so much time with my “D.” He even used his words and we had long talks about feelings and relationships. I would have to say that my dad is probably the cutest and sweetest dad around. I will fight you if you disagree.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Las Vegas and Phoenix

In December I took one of the many coveted trips to Las Vegas for a teaching assignment. In many ways Vegas is wasted on me as I don’t like: gambling, drinking, clubbing or pornography. I do love Las Vegas for the food. Vegas has lost the image of the steak and lobster dinner for $5.00 and has become a real foodie town. For that reason alone I was excited to make the trek. Plus my friend Elise was graduating with her doctorate and I wanted to go help with the festivities. To be honest, I really needed the frequent flier miles to make premier status for the coming year – so everyone won!

My company has a contract with the Flamingo hotel so I have to stay there. The Flamingo doesn’t seem so bad initially. It definitely lacks the charm of the Bellagio or one of the newer hotels, but I was hoping it would have some the old Vegas charm. It does not. I have been told, however, not to insult the Flamingo – “That’s Bugsy Siegal’s place.” Here is the deal with the Flamingo, if you don’t wear your glasses or look to closely at anything, than it isn’t awful. The second you start looking at the walls or the carpets or the furnishings you become sadly grossed out and start wearing sandals in the shower.

If you do stay at the Flamingo, ask for a “Go” room. Go rooms have been remodeled and compared to the non-Go rooms, the Go is paradise in comparison. I do like that there is a TV in the bathroom mirror so I could watch the “Today” show while showering. The bed wasn’t bad and I like having a flat screen TV in my room. The hallways do have a tendency to smell like diapers after a few days, so beware.

Whatever you do, do not eat at the Flamingo. Every meal I had made me sick for hours afterwards. I hear that Margaritaville isn’t bad there, but I wasn’t willing to risk it.

I did eat very, very well while in Las Vegas, as long as I didn’t eat at the Flamingo (I keep repeating this so the food must be bad).

My first night I went to Postrio in the Venetian. Postrio is a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. I ate at Postrio in San Francisco (which is now closed – I thought the food was good but according to it is “1980’s”) and I thought I would give it a try. I didn’t find the menu as diverse, but I did enjoy the food. Any place that serves gnocchi is fine by me.

The next night I wanted to try a buffet. I think you are legally obligated to eat at a buffet while in Vegas. I decided to try The Buffet at the Bellagio since I love that place and I figure the food would have to be delicious. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. Everything was okay it just didn’t seem to be better than any other buffet. I guess I had higher expectations from the Bellagio. Word on the street is that the Wynn stole the Bellagio’s chef away and now the Wynn has the best buffet.

Since all the famous chefs have places in Las Vegas, I decided to head over to Caesar’s Palace and eat at Bobby Flay’s, Mesa Grill. My time in Vegas was a parade of famous TV chefs. I spent days deciding if I would eat at Mesa Grill as it is a bit pricy and there were so many items on the menu I wanted to try. I liked the Mesa Gill a lot. The creamy wild mushroom grits are fantastic. I also ordered the cornmeal crusted chile relleno (I love chile rellenos) was very flavorful but a bit too spicy for me. I am such a baby when it comes to picante foods, but I don’t regret anything that I ordered. The hardest part of the Mesa Grill was trying to figure out what to eat, most menu items had some ingredient that interested me.

I ended up eating at the Paris a few times. My students told me that there was a crepe place in the Paris. I love crepes, especially Mathieu’s crepes and the sweet and savory crepes at Crepes-a-Go-Go in the SF Bay Area. Le Creperie was fine, but they didn’t have the selection I was hoping for and it was $10.00 for a sweet or savory crepe. So you order both, but you just can’t eat both. It was a nice change of pace from the heavier food I had been eating all week.

My boss, John, recommended that I try Craftsteak. Craftsteak is owned by Tom Colicchio of Top Chef fame and I have been wanting to try his food since I walked passed Craft in Chelsea, NYC. The sweet smell of steak filled the air and I wanted to be a part of it. The food was amazing. The homemade rolls had a sprinkle of sea salt on them – who knew that would make such a big difference in flavor? The warm frisee salad that initially sold me with all the blue cheese was also full of bacon. I had to force myself to stop eating the potato gratin so I could save room for my steak. My NY Strip was perfectly done and didn’t need any steak sauce to make it flavorful. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. It was also one of the most expensive. I made it out of there for just under $100.00. Worth it.

My students recommended Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris for breakfast. They have a very good eggs benedict. It was so nice, even in December, that I was able to eat my breakfast outside. Life is good sometimes.

After I finished work, I headed down to Phoenix to see my friend Elise. Elise is crazy smart and she graduated (the day before I arrived) with her PhD. I was hoping that her brother would also be in town as Elise has already planned our wedding, but no such luck.

It was great to just spend time with Elise and her mom, Julia. We didn’t do anything dramatic like bungee jumping or getting tattoos, but we did something more our style - like eating and watching movies. I am so proud of Elise and how hard she has worked to finish her dissertation and graduate. You make me look like a chump Elise.

I got to drive over the Hoover Dam which rocked. I think the Hoover Dam is just amazing and I love the art deco styling. To drive over it was, strangely enough, a dream come true.

I was one lucky girl on this trip. I missed a huge snow storm that hit DC in December. Thanks to my boss and his extra first class upgrade, I was able to catch my flight and return to DC, in first class with people that had been waiting for days to get a flight to the east coast. I even saw a girl from Gilmore Girls on my plane. Her name is Krysten Ritter. She played one of Rory’s annoying Yale friends in the last season. She seems like a nice person and was very polite and never brought up that she was an actress. I have to admit that I was totally creepy and stared at her quite a bit because I was trying to make certain that it was her. I have become "that" person.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ottawa, ON

Last November I headed back up to Ottawa for my company’s Canadian User Group. I love going to Canada because everyone there is so well mannered. It is as if the whole country took classes from Emily Post.

As with most conferences that I attend, I never really get to see much of the town. This trip was no exception. I did get out of the hotel twice, which for me was a record. This year our conference was at the Westin, which is a lovely hotel. I think that they have done an excellent job decorating the rooms and the beds were very comfortable. I also had a killer view of the Parliament building and Rideau Canal.

I did walk up to Parliament to see the sights. I like the Parliament because it is gothic and has gargoyles. I bet a lot of work gets done because the building is slightly intimidating. I walked around the grounds and looked at fountains and took pictures for people. Overall it was a lovely little excursion, although as soon as the sun when down it got bitterly cold.

A large group of my co-workers and I headed over to Giovanni’s. In my last blog on Ottawa I sang the praises of Giovanni’s and it was just as good as I had remembered. My colleagues seemed to enjoy the experience, especially the wine.

That was really all there was. It is unfortunate that I didn’t get to spend more time sightseeing, but I hope to go back again.

Next trip – Las Vegas and Phoenix