Travel Classics: On the Wall with Angus

Long before the internet, we were travelers. Since those tales were not recorded in a blog, I decided to start a series within this blog called “Travel Classics” with some stories from the pre-blogosphere. No doubt I could start a new blog and paraphrase Buckaroo Banzai with: “Remember; no matter where you went, there you were.”It also helps to fill in this blog with nostalgia to compensate for those weekends when we didn’t do anything more exciting than watch an entire season of Justified. However it was a great season!

In 1983, Linda and I were hired by the nascent International School of Beijing. We were half of the first overseas teachers brought in, the other half were Angus and Carol. It was, and continues to be a great friendship. Together with our other friends, John (head of the school) and Susan, we would often travel to the Ming Tombs for a picnic lunch, followed by a late afternoon on the Great Wall.

The tour buses followed the opposite itinerary, and in the late afternoon we had the Wall to ourselves. It was also the trip we would take our visitors.

Brothers John and Bill

Some we would take them up to the far un-refurbished parts of the wall.

Even if they were suffering from jetlag like my brother below. Here, being told a story by Angus:

Another Post about Eating

No, this is not an eating blog, it just looks that way. However life overseas and eating do seem to go together. It is part of the shared experience of a location. My brother’s family traveled with us in Bali. When we recall the trip, we may talk about the beaches, the rice paddies, wonderful people, or the exotic dancing, but for sure we will remember the fresh fruit drink that caused him grief for three days. If we run into people who have also lived in Malaysia, the conversation always turns to food. I was 135 pounds when we moved to Kuala Lumpur and put on 8lbs/yr during our stay. What can I say? The food was wonderful!

Today was International Day. Parents set up booths with foods representing many of the nationalities of our school.
It was appropriate to start off with mansaf, meat and rice cooked with yogurt. It is the dish of the Bedouin, the travelers of Arabia. Appropriate as we start this epicurean adventure, but also as this, our 21st year in Arabia, foreshadows our own journey from the land of the Jin in June.
Next was the falafel, a chickpea patty sandwich. A veggie dish appropriate for this time of year. According to Wikipedia, it was invented in Egypt and used as a meat substitute during Lent by the Coptic Christians. Good stuff!
The first trip Linda (Kathy, Astrid) and I took together was to Greece. We were welcomed into kitchens to see food as it was prepared. On the Isle of Corfu I helped the owner of the B&B gather in the fishing nets filled with our dinner from the bay. Warm food and warmer people. Here the Greek parents are preparing sandwiches.
Our honeymoon was in Paris. Here the French families have treats awaiting visitors.
I coached Girl’s JV basketball when we lived in Germany. When our away games took me to Vienna, I would always bring home a Sachertorte from the Sacher Hotel. Here the Austrian parents cut the first piece for Linda. They enjoyed the story!
The food in this region is incredibly good and fresh as seen at the Lebanese booth.
We will miss the food, and we will miss our friends,
as we travel to the land north of India.
However, we will no doubt have more food adventures.

Dinner on the way home

Nothing in the fridge and not in the mood for fast food, we have several choices for fine dining on the way home. One of our favorites is Jones the Grocer. Jones is a restaurant/gourmet grocery store.

We both chose the fish and chips.

We took dessert home with us.

Then across the driveway to our favorite coffee shop….

Our Eight Dollar Dinner

We typically enjoy one of Linda’s fine casseroles, or perhaps pesto salmon encrusted with fine slivers of almonds. On rarer occasions I make a spagetti with spicy Italian sausage.

However there are those days when we’ve been busy in the early evening and fast food beckons. Tonight was such a time as we had our first moving company visit to do a survey of our goods and it went longer than expected. By the time it was finished we were ready to eat.

Our building is between the American fast food staples Burger King and KFC, two very busy establishments. However in our twenty years in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and the UAE), we’ve become fond of the local fast food, the shwarma.

The skewer of meat is prepared by stacking slices of seasoned meat and fat. The meat in the picture is chicken and beef. The meat is slow roasted and the well done pieces are cut off and mixed with the veggies in the pan. Very hot work. The cooks can often be seen outside cooling off. The meat and veggies (tomatoes under the beef and fries under the chicken) are mixed with sauces and green veggies and wrapped in bread. In addition to these delicious sandwiches, we also order fattoush, a green salad mixed with toasted pieces of pita bread.

Dinner is served!

A bookshelf tells volumes

When we first arrived in Abu Dhabi seventeen years ago, there were no bookstores. There was, and still is, “All Prints,” a rambling collection of books, magazines, and stationary. A great place to find a binder, but not a best seller. The closest bookstore was McGrudy’s in Dubai along the Beach Road. A wonderful store with lots of treasures to discover. With a nearby coffee kiosk and ice store, it was a regular part of our Dubai shopping trips. Nowadays you can find many bookstores in Abu Dhabi, including our own branch of McGrudy’s.

There is little wonder that a major part of our shipments to either the US or Nepal this June will be books. Not only do we have the accumulation of 17 years of books collected here, but I still have my copy of “Borror and Delong’s Introduction to the Study of Insects” from my university days. A handy reference when I get those requests “can you identify this?”

“Yes, that’s a bed bug.”

A lot of sifting and sorting coming up: What to toss, what to read, what can’t we give up.

The books we can’t give up tell a story. When I enter the home of a new acquaintance, their bookshelf tells volumes. With us, our collection of guide books define our life experiences:  jungles, mountains, England, New Zealand and everything in-between either chronicle our journeys or our desired destinations. As our children sped into adulthood, their authors became ours, a shared family experience going through JK Rowling and George RR Martin. It was fun to see it go the other way too as they too discovered my favorites “A Canticle for Liebowiez”, Asimov and the works of Ray Bradbury. Which of those books will grace our shelves in either California or Nepal? What story will our bookshelf tell our new neighbors and colleagues?

All of this bookshelf nostalgia is being redefined. My digital bookshelf on my iPad is not shared with casual strangers who cross my threshold though I’m sure there’s an app for that. However this book rambling was inspired by the online discovery of a bookstore in Kathmandu called the Quixote’s Cove. Here’s a description from the site:

“The building, in which Quixote’s Cove is located was built in the early 1930s and has a rich history. During the 1930s and 40s, it was used as a catholic church by the Jesuits and was a central but secret convening ground for the Praja Parishad, the first pro-democracy and anti-Rana regime revolutionary party. As a secret gathering ground, the building has witnessed clandestine meetings between some of Nepal’s most prominent political leaders and poets including Ganesh Man Singh and B.P. Koirala along with Martyrs Shukra Raj Shastri and Ganga lal Shrestha. The walls still reverberate with their spirit of freedom and the words of the poet Lekhnath Paudel, who used to recite his poem there regularly, still float in the air. The bookstore shall seek to revive its past in a more public manner and become the convening ground for today’s thinkers and doers.”

No doubt, some new (or old) books from the Quixote’s Cove will grace our bookshelves in the future. Another story to tell.

Bill and Linda take a Circuitous Journey to the Grocery Store

We took a walk to the grocery store via the corniche and parks with lots of photos along the way to capture the experience.

There were lots of paths to choose from, but it was not the destination but the journey we will remember…
from the corniche side walkways,
to the park side playgrounds.
The architectural surprises are always fun to discover 
 from contemporary mosques to Escher-like towers.
In the end we did bring home the groceries.
Here is the complete slide show:

The walk to work

I have noticed that most blogs about expats life include the “walk to work” pictures. Of course that assumes you walk to work (at least when inspired) and that it is interesting.

This morning the weather was wonderful, so I was inspired to take a walk to school. I’ll let the reader judge the interest value of the pictures. Hopefully next year’s photos will be far more exotic.

Looking for the familiar in the exotic

In the last thirty years we have moved from the US, Germany, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and then got stuck in the United Arab Emirates. In fact we have been here in the UAE for so long that this is our first move since we have had internet access! 

Moving from Germany to China, we scoured Foyle’s bookstore in London and found the classic guidebook Nagel’s Encyclopedia Guide of China. We found some National Geographic back issues in California that eventually led us down the Yangtze and to the sky burial rock in Lhasa. There were no traveler’s guides to China back in 1983. 

When we left Malaysia we found lots of guide books in Hong Kong, but most memorable were the books of Paul Therox: The Consul’s File and The Great Railway Bazaar. 

Again guide books were hard to find for Saudi Arabia, but the book “Princess” had just come out. Scary stuff. Living there for four years didn’t change that impression of what we called “the magic kingdom.”

We interview in the UAE for our jobs here. At that time we picked up the book “From Rags to Riches” which chronicled the early growth of Abu Dhabi, but also foreshadowed the growth we have witnessed.


Moving to Kathmandu

We have traveled to Nepal before, not to mentioned that prior to our marriage, Linda lived there for three years. We know it is exotic, polluted, spectacular, and another challenge. Curiously, now that I have unlimited access to the resources of the internet and another pending move, I find myself not researching for the exotic, but the familiar. I know it will be exotic, but what is it like to live there? Where do I get groceries? How do I filter the water? Can I buy meat that I trust? In the past I couldn’t get those answers. Now I can.

Here are some of the great blogs that I found about expat life in Kathmandu:

27°72′N 85°37′E – The O’Sulivans abroad, two teachers from Portland, Oregon. One of the best blogs of expat life anywhere.

Everest and the Toenail – Like us, empty nesters living abroad. The post about the flight from the US, leaving the kids, hit home.

5+ months and counting….