Monday, October 19, 2009

Beauty is Gori

Pakistani journalist Talha Zaheer takes a look at racial attitudes in the Indian subcontinent. This article points out a lot of the things I wrote about earlier on the blog here. Check out Zaheer' post at Dawn News:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fashion Design Schools in Lahore

I recently wrote a piece about where to study fashion design in Lahore. Check out the article if you're interested in learning more, and be sure to add a comment if you know of any other good fashion design schools in the city.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

6 Months Later - The Pakistan Post Delivers!

Packages from Lahore Have Arrived!

After 6 months of waiting, last week I was lamenting our half-empty book case and wondering if our packages sent via Pakistan Post would ever arrive or if they had been lost somewhere in the sea. We sent 6 packages in April and May 2009, and until today only two of them have been received. We got the first two packages in June, so we were expecting the remaining four to follow shortly. When they didn't come by September, we started to think they had been lost or not sent at all. Last week I said a quick prayer for our packages, as I believed there was no earthly way they were going to make it. Just today we received the news that all four of our remaining packages have arrived! I'm feeling a mix of excitement, since the packages actually made it, and dread, since once our packages arrived via the Pakistan Post completely waterlogged as if they'd fallen off the ship. In any case, praise the Lord for getting our packages to this side of the globe!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Taste of Pakistan

I must admit that before I left Pakistan I stowed some spice packets away in my luggage. The other night I was craving a taste of Pakistan, so I tested out my own version of chicken jalfrezi. It was delicious! Basically I just cut down on the oil, left out the green chillies, and used only 2 tbsp of the spice packet.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Pakistani Diet: Tips for Healthier Eating

When it comes to life expectancy, Pakistan comes in at number 136 out of 191 countries in the world. The average life span in Pakistan is 64.9 years according to the CIA World Factbook 2009 Estimates. There are numerous reasons for this, including poverty, infant mortality, lack of clean drinking water, poor sanitation, not having access to medical care, etc., but dying younger is not limited to only the poor.

I have met many middle class and upper class Pakistanis who suffer from health problems such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure as early as in their 20s. A nurse friend of mine living in Pakistan was convinced that the Pakistani diet factors into the low life expectancy, and I could see why!

If you are accustomed to eating a typical “Desi Diet,” here are some tips to help you eat and live a healthier, longer life.

Tip for Healthier Eating #1 – Say No to Ghee and Use Less Oil

You may love your sweets, treats and meats swimming in ghee (animal fat), but the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to stop cooking with ghee altogether. My husband and I always found it shocking, and a bit sickening, how much cooking oil is on sale at the supermarket. Do your regular cooking with olive oil, and cut down the amount of oil that you use significantly. A few tablespoons of oil are enough for most dish. Olive oil is more expensive, but the health benefits are worth it.

Continue reading more tips here

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Travel from Lahore to Amritsar - Crossing the Indo-Pak Border

The Wagha/Attari border is the only place you can officially cross from Pakistan into India, and travelers usually make the trip between the Punjab’s two major cities: Lahore in Pakistan and Amritsar in India.

In order to cross the border from into India from Pakistan, you need to have valid visas for both countries. If you are planning to return to Pakistan, make sure that you have another entry left on your visa before you leave the country, unless you are planning to apply for a new Pakistan visa in New Delhi.

There are often buses that go straight from Lahore to New Delhi, and sometimes there is a train service operating across the border, but these services are vulnerable to the state of government relations between the neighboring countries. Not only that, services that join the two countries directly are seen as symbols of friendship and cooperation, and these services are accompanied by heavy police escorts due to the fact that not everyone thinks friendship and cooperation are the best policies to pursue. It’s safer and faster to stick with local transportation on each side of the border rather than to use a special service that operates between the two countries.

Back to the Blog!

Hello everyone! It's been a while but now I'm back to the blog. Working at camp this summer was certainly busy, and I didn't have much time to write. My husband Duarte and I are now residing in Fall River, MA. We are both going back to school to pursue our teaching licenses: for me in English and for him in Physics. Our long term plan is to re-enter the world of international teaching once we both have our licenses. For now, being on a student budget again, we won't get to do much traveling. I still plan on taking photos and doing some writing about our past travels, but the blog will probably be focused more on life here in the US for the time being. I do have a backlog of travel articles and reviews to write about places in Pakistan and India, so keep checking the blog for stuff on the subcontinent.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Photos from Camp Brookwoods & Deer Run

From Camp Brookwoods & Deer Run

We are entering into our fourth week here at Camp Brookwoods and Deer Run in Alton, NH. Check out the photos and see the horses! We have 8 horses at camp this year.

Monday, June 29, 2009

To the Land of Red, White and Blue

It's been a while since I've blogged, but we are back in the US and currently working at Camp Brookwoods and Deer Run in Alton, NH. We had a few days with each of our families before we were off into the world of camp, and at my parents' house they threw us a patriotic coming home party complete with red, white and blue balloons, delicious catered food, a variety of wines and a cake! It was so good to see some friends and family after being gone for two years, although we did have to rush a bit to get unpacked, packed and ready for the summer at camp. Here's a pic of our welcome home cake!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Amused by Clueless Travelers

Well we are back in the US, thankfully without having to run through airports to catch our connecting flights like we usually have to. On two of our flights though, we had some interesting neighbors.

From Lahore to Abu Dhabi on Etihad, we sat next to an old Pakistani man who didn´t speak any English and was deaf. It seemed it was his first flight, as he had no idea how to buckle the seat belt and seemed totally intrigued by the food. When he got to the butter packet, he opened it and started eating it with a spoon!

From London to Boston on American Airlines we had a South Indian couple across the aisle from us. I have no idea how they made it to London. They were trying to put their buckles on backwards, and the man was standing up and trying to talk on the phone as the plane was getting ready to take off. The stewardesses could not communicate with them at all, so I tried talking to them in Hindi. Turns out they only spoke Tamil, but they could at least understand more Hindi than English. Either that or my hand motions were enough! Thankfully the man had the same model of phone as I do, so I was able to turn it off before getting him and wife properly buckled in. The stewardesses gave us drinks on the house for the translation help!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fees to Deposit Money in the Bank!?

So I opened a dollar account recently at Askari Bank in Lahore. The minimum initial deposit was $500, so I changed some rupees into dollars and deposited it. Today when I went to check on the account balance, it was only $497! I was confused and asked the guy, "Where did the $3 go since I deposited $500?"

"There is a cash handling fee," he replied.

I was thinking (but didn't say), "What? A fee for handling cash? Isn't that what a bank does?"

I read the account opening forms thoroughly, and I don't remember it saying anything about a cash handling fee for foreign currency accounts.

If I'm going to lose money every time I make a deposit, then why should I keep an account there? Maybe this 'cash handling fee' is normal in Pakistan, but if I put in dollars into a dollar account, I don't understand why there should be any fee. Banks here don't do currency exchange, you have to go to Western Union or other money changers to do that, and there you lose a bit of value when you exchange currency. If you open a dollar account at Askari Bank, you will lose some money when you exchange your money into dollars, and then you'll lose more money when you pay the cash handling fee.

If the 'cash handling fee' is normal for foreign currency accounts, the bank employees should at least tell you before you open the account.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sunday Brunch at GunsSmoke in Lahore

A few weeks ago we went to the Sunday brunch at GunSmoke. "Brunch" is a relative term in Pakistan, as I believe it actually starts at 1:00pm and goes until 4:00pm at this particular restaurant. The brunch menu includes steak, eggs, salad bar, soup, juice, coffee or tea, bread and a side of potatoes. None of us could finish our plates! I can't remember the exact price, but it was less than 400 rupees ($5) per person. The brunch deal is only offered on Sunday afternoons.

Goodbye Party at Ali Institute

Today my students threw me a goodbye party at the Ali Institute. There was tons of delicious home-cooked food, and everyone was dressed to the nines. We endured the heat for a few minutes and got some great photos outside. I'll be posting them soon!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our BEEPIN' Neighbors!

So I know a lot of my blog posts about Pakistan are negative, but hey it's the negative things I need to vent about. Blogging is such a great way to get out all of that pent up angst and frustration!

One of the things that drives me crazy is people I call "beepers." Beepers are too lazy to get out of their cars themselves and ring a doorbell or open a gate. They drive up a house and immediately start beeping. "Beep beep beep beeeeeeep!" Two seconds later (not near enough time for anyone to actually get out of the house and open the gate), "BEEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEP!"

These beepers have no concept of disturbing the peace. At least once every day I am woken up by a beeper. At four in the morning, when even most Pakistanis are sleeping, they seem to beep longer and louder than they do during the day. What a nice alarm clock. "Beep beep beeeep! Beep be beep beep beeeeeeeep!"

They beep in the morning. They beep in the evening. They beep when I am enjoying my dinner .They beep when I am sleeping. They beep when I'm talking on the phone. They beep so loud I can barely hear myself think. This is not a nice little 'honk honk,' but a laying on of the horn as if the driver is constantly in an aggravated state.

If you are a Pakistani who gets out of the car to open to your own door, I respect you. Thank you for being considerate and thinking about the sanity and peace of others. Even if you give a missed call to someone, but stay in your car, this is still much appreciated. Beeping is not necessary for doors to open and shut. My gate seems to open just fine without a password of "Beep beep beep beeeep!"

If you are a beeper, you may not think your beeping bothers anyone, but I'm sure you have woken someone up at some point with your incessant honking. If you ever move to a country where disturbing the peace is a crime, you will be faced with steep fines and a lot of angry neighbors. Beeping on the road at dangerous drivers is fine; but beeping in quiet residential neighborhoods is just plain rude.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fried Chicken Cheese Balls: Wholesome Snacks?

There is a huge billboard towering over the road on the way from Lahore Cantonment to Defence. The bright red and yellow billboard shows the new Mon Salwa Chicken Cheese Balls that are meant to be deep friend before eaten eaten. At the bottom of the billboard it reads "Wholesome Snacks!" Hello? Does the person who made this advertisement have any idea what the 'wholesome' means? If Fried Chicken Cheese Balls are considered a healthy snack, it's no wonder why so many people in Pakistan have high blood pressure and heart disease before the age of 40.

I saw another funny billboard for the new Media institute opening in Defence:

Excited Career Opportunities!

Of course it should have read "Exciting Career Opportunities!" By using 'excited,' it makes it seem as if the career opportunities are excited about something. In this way, the 'opportunities' are personified and have their own personality.

Why do people spend so much money on advertising and paste it all over town without getting it checked over?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Three-Year Love Affair with Lahore

This month I wrote a 'letter to Lahore' for the Pakistani e-zine The Green Kaleidoscope. It's a reflection of my last three and a half years here.

Check it out:

My Three-Year Love Affair with Lahore

Friday, May 08, 2009

Bible Plagiarizer Confronted

"Look, you didn't write these poems. This one is a famous limerick. It was written well before you were born. Did you write it in a past life? And this one, this one is from the Bible! It's almost two thousand years old. Don't even try to tell me you wrote this."

"But miss, I wrote those other poems."

"I don't care if you wrote some of the poems, although I don't believe you did because I didn't see you write them in the class. Look, here underlined in red, 'any instance of plagiarism will result in a zero.' Zero. That's what you are getting."

"Miss, miss, can I resubmit? I will email it to you."

"No. I told you clearly that you must write the poems yourself, and that if you did not, you'd get a zero. If you email me I will not read it."

You think by now the girl would have some dignity and either confess or give up. She stayed around for 20 minutes begging me to let her re-do the assignment. Two former plagiarizers who had changed their way were also there to witness the scene. They had learned their lessons and handed in excellent work. One of them even earned 97% on her assignment.

I was adamant with the newest plagiarizer.

"Look, would you take verses from your Holy Qur'an, and put your name on them? Would you say that you had written them? This is exactly what you've done. You can not steal other people's work and lie and say that it is yours. This is not acceptable."

Finally, she gave up. The sad thing is that she'll surely try it again with other teachers.

Car Air Filters in Pakistan - Change Every 2 Months!

Yesterday we learned something that would have been useful to know when we bought our first car in Pakistan. In the US, car air filters are usually changed once a year. I thought I was doing well to make sure our car had its air filter, fuel filter, and spark plugs checked and changed annually. Well, I forgot to take into account the amount of dust in Pakistan! Our landlord's son showed us our car's air filter, and it was totally clogged up, cracked and dry after 11 months. I remarked that it must be time for a new one, as we had changed it a year ago. He replied, "A year? Here in Pakistan we change them every two months!"


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Plagiarizing God?

My B.Ed students handed in their poetry portfolios yesterday. Despite the warning on their assignment sheets, I've still got one blatant plagiarizer.

"All items submitted must be 100% original and written by you. Your instructor will search the Internet if the items do not match your writing style or level. Any instance of plagiarism will result in a zero for this assignment and a warning from the department."

Now, we did all the writing in the class, and this girl used to sit blankly without writing much in her notebook. I must admit that her English level is quite low, particularly writing skills, and she should have had to pass some prerequisite in order to take my course: Teaching Creative Writing.

I suggested she withdraw from the class and take it later once her English skills were stronger, but she stayed on.

When she handed in her poetry portfolio, it was by far the most decorated project. Any teacher knows that at the university level, this is a red flag! Unfortunately for her, this was not an art collage, but it was supposed to represent a semester of poetry writing. I don't believe she wrote any of the poems in her portfolio. She included the famous limerick attributed to an anonymous author:

"There was a young lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger."

She then went on to plagiarize the apostle Paul by using the famous
love passage from 1 Corinthians 13, as quoted from this website.

You'd think if someone was going to steal another person's work and
put her name on it,that she'd at least avoid plagiarizing the
Holy Spirit!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Murder Here, a Stoning There...

One of the most fascinating things to do in Pakistan is to read the local newspapers. The stories that you find in tiny blurbs deep within the paper would make for shocking headlines in North America or Europe, but here they don't even make waves. Some of the most shocking stories don't even have their own headlines! Here's a snapshot from the Pakistan newspaper "The News"; keep in mind that these 'run of the mill' stories did not even show up on the front page.

March 21, 2009

A thirty-year-old woman, named Lubna, was killed by her brother after she allegedly had an extra marital affair. In Bahawalpur, a man stoned his sixteen-year-old daughter and her 'paramour' to death with bricks after finding them in a 'compromising position.' A 'compromising position' could be as innocent as holding hands or sitting together on a park bench. Girls have been killed by their own families for less.

Continue reading this article here:

Shocking Non Events of Local Pakistani News

Will I End up Being a 'Really Smart Sucker?'

I've gotten myself into a bit of a funk after doing some research into grad schools. With so many interests and a love of teaching, study and research, I found myself dallying between applying for several different types of programs: MA in Journalism, MFA in Creative Writing, MA in Middle Eastern Studies, or the big time consuming one, a PhD in Anthropology. At the same time I'm trying to figure out the most cost-effective and time-effective way to get my teacher certification in Secondary English.

I was getting exciting looking into grad school and thinking about getting back to studies, and then I started reading about the problem of PhD overproduction.

Wanted: Really Smart Suckers

This opened up a whole can of worms and has consumed the better part of my Sunday. I've been reading about the problem of PhD over-production and about how tenure-track professor positions are decreasing by the year. I feel a bit stuck now, wondering if 8-10 years on a PhD (plus the thousands of dollars in loans and living on a shoe-string, delaying having children) is really all it's cracked up to be if the job competition is so fierce. One blogger, a PhD herself, said she didn't feel it was ethically right to encourage students to pursue PhD's, knowing that it was such a high risk path.

Check out the article and let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lahore Restaurant Review: Malee's Cafe

My husband and I were certainly divided over this one. I gave it a 3 out of 10, while he gave it a 7. I wouldn't go back; he wants to go back and try to expensive gelato.

Read the Review of Malee's Cafe here

Have you been to Malee's Cafe? What were your thoughts?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pakistan: Land of Lipton

One thing that has disappointed me in Pakistan is the tea. Pakistanis drink tons of tea (called chai in the local languages), but there is not the exciting variety that you find south of the border in India. In fact, almost everywhere you go you find Lipton tea! There are no special varieties of Paksitani tea like you have Assam tea and Darjeeling tea in India. When we go to Delhi, I always make sure to pick up something more interesting flavors.

It's too bad Pakistanis import their tea. How much do they import? See this interesting article to find out how many dollards worth of tea are imported to Pakistan yearly.

How Much Tea Does Pakistan Drink?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One Thing After Another

For those who do read the blog normally, I feel I owe an explanation for why I haven't been blogging much lately. For a few weeks, I was really struggling to get my hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) under control. I realized that a lot of the food I was eating was sending my blood sugar levels into extreme up and down spikes, and so I spent a lot of time doing research about what kinds of food I can eat to keep the levels steady during the day and avoid the headaches and fatigue that accompany a hypoglycemic crash.

Now I know I need to focus on eating protein rich foods and complex carbohydrates in 6 - 7 smaller meals during the day. I need to avoid foods that turn into sugar in my bloodstream quickly like sweets, white rice, pasta, processed foods, juices and soft drinks (cold drinks). I also need to avoid fats and caffeine as much as possible. This type of diet does not go well at all with the local culture in Pakistan, and I feel a bit like I'm always the party-pooper when I have to refuse the oily (yet tasty) foods on offer and literally have to hold my hand over my glass to prevent being poured endless servings of Coca Cola. Many Pakistani friends are telling me the solution to "being weak" is to eat more! It's been quite frustrating to have to be so negative all the time, but it's just unhealthy (and even dangerous) for me to eat huge heaping plates of spicy, oily food followed by "mitai" (traditional Pakistani sweets that are VERY sweet, I can barely stomach them anyway).

There are some Pakistani foods I can still enjoy, such as a small helping of chicken handi with a whole wheat roti, but the amount that I eat is about 1/5 of what a typical Pakistani would eat the same meal, so it's still hard for me to be understood. I can also enjoy BBQ meats such as chicken malai boti (one of my favorites) or chicken tikka.

As soon as I got my diet under control and started feeling healthier, I came down with a killer cold that caused me to stay up all night coughing and blowing my nose. I eventually lost my voice and had to teach Monday's lecture in a whisper. My students were amazingly accomodating and listened closely to my barely there voice.

Yesterday I was starting to get my voice back and only wake up a few times during the night, but this morning I woke up to a case of mild food poisoning! Needless to say I have spent most of today in bed as well. Thank God we have had electricity for the last two days, becuase last week when my nose was all stuffy it was torture to not be able to breathe in the hot, sticky air. Then they were turning off the power every other hour. I felt I was going to suffocate just in the thick, hot air. Blah.

To top it off the maid has been 'sick' as well, and also had an extra day off for attending a wedding. Our kitchen is atrocious and I have no energy to wash the mountain of dishes that have accumalated.

Hopefully when I recover from the food poisoning I will not get sick with anything else or be forced to eat Pakistani sweet dishes until I swoon and pass out on the floor!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

National Poetry Month on Associated Content

In honor of National Poetry Month, Associated Content has been challenging its writers to do daily "challenges" of different types of poetry. So far, all of my challenge entries have been inspired by Pakistan, so I thought I'd share them here:

Bustling Bazaars of Lahore: A List Poem

Buttery Cinquain: Summer in Lahore

View from Fairy Meadows: A Haiku Trio

The poetry challenges have been fun, and before this I didn't know how to write cinquains! I like poetry that has syllable patterns, but I'm not too good with rhyme and meter. Hence I didn't do the ghazal or the quatrain. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Boxes on the Way

Now all of our boxes of books are on the way to the U.S., despite the fact that I didn't leave Duarte with enough money to pay when I dropped him off at the post office. Sending packages is no small affair, as you may have read in my previous posts, so although I made sure to bring the detailed inventories, the passport copies, the customs forms, the tape, the plastic wrap, the scissors, and the permanent markers, I failed to leave him enough money to pay for all the packages! He was 15 rupees short (19 cents), couldn't pay the package man who sewed up and readied the packages, and had to walk about half an hour in 109 degree heat since he didn't have money for a rickshaw.

Thankfully, the post office man and the package wala trusted that we'd bring the money to pay them later. How cool is that? I was so thankful that they were gracious with Duarte. I was on the other side of town when I found out about my money mishap, so I told Duarte to duck into the nearest McDonald's (air conditioned at all times) and wait for me. He really deserved the Big Mac he got after spending three hours at the post office to send our packages! After the Big Mac, we sped back to the post office to pay the missing 15 rupees and the money for sewing up all the packages (600 rupees- $7.40). It may not seem like a lot in dollars, but 600 rupees is quite a lot. Consider that my maid makes 2500 rupees per month for working 15 hours/week at my house.

Let's hope our books and clothes make it to the US. We just heard today that Sergio (the formerly stranded Italian traveler)'s van has been delayed in Africa. Maybe the captain is trying to avoid Somali pirates.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Financial Times Says What about Defence?

I just read an article on the Financial Times about Defence Housing Authority in Lahore. I live in Defence Phase IV, and I have been living in Defence for about 3 years. I've also lived in Phase III. Some of these points may be the official policy, but they are not enforced.

"In addition to physical security, local administrators take great care in applying municipal bylaws. Rules, such as forcing residents to equip power generators with sound-proof canopies or forcing parties to turn loud music off by a cut-off time of midnight, are applied rigorously. In fact, on one recent evening, Defence’s guards appeared 10 minutes after midnight to force an end to an event at the home of a prominent politician, who was shocked when told that his electricity would be turned off if he did not comply. In Pakistan, where influential individuals routinely break the law, such incidents are rare. “In DHA, rules are enforced strictly,” says Shafqat Mahmood, a respected political commentator who lives in the area. 'Unlike other places in Pakistan, the biggest attraction of this neighbourhood is that you can’t break the law.'"

Financial Times article

I wish generators in my neighborhood had sound-proof canopies. I've been kept up by loud wedding parties several times, and they did not stop at midnight. My husband and I discussed the idea of "disturbance of the peace" with some friends who live in Lahore, and they said that there are rules about this, but they are not enforced. That said, Defence is quieter than other areas of Lahore, but the supposed rules about noise are not "vigorously enforced."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

I Think I'm Turning Japanese...

This week I went to the post office in Defence, Lahore to mail a box of books back to the US. I insisted on the 'sab se saste' (cheapest) rate, and the postman told me that he could give me a cheap rate but he had no idea when the package would arrive. I told him I had more time than money, so then I started a one hour process to get my package sewn up in little white bag, bound with melted wax and labeled. When I went to label the package, the packagewala asked me, "Where it going? Japan?"

I was a bit confused as to why my package would go to Japan. Do I look Japanese? Anyway, I told him it was going to the US and explained that I was a teacher here in Pakistan. Then I had to jaunt off to find a photocopier that was open in the morning (it was already 11:30am) to get a copy of my passport. Just in case I send a bomb in the box, they'll know who did it. Photocopiers were all closed so I went all the way home, scanned a copy, printed it and went all the way back to the post office. It cost me 2835 rupees ($35) to send a 12.8 kg box. Not too bad. Let's hope it makes it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sleep Evades Me

At least once a week I find myself on the verge of tears because I just can't get what I want: sleep.

I live in an extremely quite neighborhood, by Pakistani standards, but any little thing can wake me up. Some nights I move from room to room trying to escape on noise or the other, only to be awakened by something else in the next location. I'll move from the bedroom to the guestroom because my husband is just moving a little bit and waking me up. Once I get to the guestroom, the power will go out and the neighbor's generator will turn on. I'll try the couch, but it's not comfortable enough to fall asleep, so finally I'll move back to the bedroom and sleep on the floor. Then I'll be prematurely awakened at 5:00am because of call to prayer blaring over ancient loudspeakers from the nearby mosque. No matter what time I end up falling asleep, my body clock wakes me up around 7:00am.

If I don't get enough sleep at night, I try to take a nap during the day. My whole day evades me too, because I feel too tired to focus on anything and not tired enough to crash. When I try to take a nap, more often than not I'm unsuccessful. I can't get my body and my mind to rest at the time. A beggar will come and pound on the door. The maid will uncharacteristically come an hour early without any warning. My husband will merely walk from one side of the house to the other. The landlord's family will come to bring snacks or discuss something. The neighbor's door will continually slam shut as servants go in and out while arguing with each other. The internet man will come to collect the money for the monthly bill. A gutter cleaner will drive by on his bicycle loudly proclaiming his services, or the 'security man' will bike past blowing on his high pitched whistle. The sound of the whistle is supposed to let me know that everything is safe. I would much rather have silence when things are safe and whistles when I actually need to get woken up.

Today's culprit was the call to prayer at 5:00am. I'm hoping I can find an hour of peace to catch up on sleep during the afternoon...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beware of Knock Off Deodorant

Many hygiene and beauty products from around the world are available in Pakistan's supermarkets, but at the same time many imitation versions masquerade as the real thing. I was told one time that this industry is a specialty of the northern city of Peshawar.

The packing will many times look exactly like the original, except for a minor spelling mistake or two. Check all of your hygiene products to see if the spelling and labels are up to international standards. There are two products that have plagued me during my time in Pakistan, fake hair products and knock off deodorant. At least two out of three 'name brand' hair products that I have bought have been vastly ineffective. As I've used the same products with success in the U.S. and elsewhere, I know how the product should look, feel, smell, and work. There is no way to know if a product is real until you buy it and try it.

Many deodorant products in Pakistan serve only as body spray/deodorant and not as anti-perspirent. Make sure you read labels carefully. Even if the label looks good, the product might not work. When I run out of deodorant, I always end up going to at least five stores looking for a legitimate product. It can be quite embarrassing when you use a fake product that doesn't work, especially in 120-degree heat!

Places that have real products in Lahore include: Europe - Defence Market, HKB - Y Block DHA, Pot Purri - Y Block DHA, Pace - Y Block DHA. Be warned that while some products on their shelves are real, some are fake. It's easier to fake liquid roll-ons than solid stick deoderant, so if you want to be safe buy a solid stick brand.

Grocery Shortages Due to Long March

I usually do my shopping on Sundays, but with my husband's sickness last week we didn't run out of groceries until Tuesday. When I went to the stores, I had to spend more time than usual looking for particular products. Finally, at the last option (after going to three other places), I asked one of the workers what was up. He let me know that the stores were dealing with shortages, as trucks had been delayed due to the Long March protest. The government had blocked main roads in and out of major cities, and the highway between Lahore and Islambad proved a "no go" zone for many. I was assured that after one or two days, the stock should be returned to normal. Thankfully, there were no shortages of staple items such as wheat, flour, sugar, fruits and vegetables.

In other news, I found out that the allergy medication I usually take, Zyrtec, will no longer be available in Pakistan. He sold me the last 9 pills that he had. Here, people usually buy medication in small amounts, often cutting up the original packets to sell smaller numbers.I was bummed because a month's supply of it over here costs me 120 rupees ($1.5), where the same amount can cost upwards of $75/month in the U.S. The pharmacist owner was quite helpful and gave me a different, locally available brand to try.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mood in Lahore Exuberant as Pakistani Government Backs Down

After another frenzy of high level meetings, Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani announced that the government would re-instate the judges deposed by President Musharraf, including former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry. In response, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif called off the culmination of the "Long March" on Islamabad which was set to take place today. Since the judges were kicked out of office, lawyers across the country have been demanidng their reinstatement.

Pakistanis are celebrating, as they believe that this decision is a watershed that will lead to greater freedom and more transparency in the government. Many are hoping that once Iftikhar Chaudry takes his post on March 21st, he will immediately open up the cases against President Asif Zardari (known as Mr. 10% for allegedly funneling state money into his own bank accounts) and former president Pervaiz Musharraf.

Today the mood was celebratory, as children flew kites in for the annual Basant spring festival. Everyone is excited that the people of Pakistan were able to force the government to comply with their demands for justice.

What will happen next? I suspect that this decision may be a big step towards the departure of President Zardari, and that the political drama will continue.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Calm is Broken as Lahore Erupts into Riots

Some time after midnight, police erected barricades across the city to block roads and prevent the lawyer's "Long March" from leaving Lahore. Today, thousands of protesters gathered outside Nawaz Sharif's house in Model Town. Sharif, then defied house arrest (which the government claims he is not under anyway) and started off in a convoy of vehicles towards Central Lahore.

Police are fruitlessly trying to hold back the throngs of supporters by throwing rocks and using tear gas. They are severely outnumbered and there seems to be no law and order. The convoy has so far made its way through Model Town, along Ferozepur Road to Kalma Chowk and to Muslim Town. They plan to arrive in Islamabad tomorrow in order to stage a sit in. Protesters have turned to rioters as they retaliate against police attempts to hold them back. Both sides can be seen throwing rocks. A barricade of city buses was set up to block passage of Kalma Chowk, and rioters smashed out windows of buses and tried to push them over. Sharif's convoy eventually made it through the block and continued on Ferozepur Road.

There are also riots at the Lahore High Court, and surely there will be more continuing throughout the day. I must admit that although I champion the security of Lahore, today is not a good day to go outside the house. The protesters are mostly men, and although their agression is being directed towards the police, you wouldn't want to get caught up in the fray. The only women seen at the scene of the riots have been journalists, whereas during yesterday's peaceful demonstration in Lahore more women were present.

Read more here:

Riots Paralyze Lahore an Protesters March Onward

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lahore Calm After Lawyer's Long March

After a day of protests in central Lahore, the city remained calm. News broadcasts showed the bruises of journalists and lawyers who had been beaten by police, but at least 100,000 people were able to gather for a march of protest.

Driving along Mall Road around 9:00pm there was little to let the passerby know about the current political crisis. Some banners were strung up in support of President Zardari, and others featured Imran Khan and his "Insaf" (Justice) party message. "Free the judiciary! Free the nation!" was written in Urdu. The streets of central and Old Lahore were busy as usual, and the only sign of the clash of ideologies occuring were a few riot police hanging out near the Press Club.

We went out and enjoyed steamed chicken and biryani at Tabaq near Lakhshmi Chowk. The only unnerving event was going to and from the car while being stared at by men on motorbikes. I'll admit I was a little more tense than usual, hoping that we wouldn't run across some foreigner-hating fanatic at an intersection. Our drive through Old Lahore and central Lahore was without incident, and there were many other families out enjoying a meal together or shopping.

Too Much Free Time

I've got a list of people to call, things to do, and friends I want to hang out with that's about a mile long. How Pakistani men have time, money and energy to continually prank call people until they've driven them mad is beyond me.

Imagine, your phone is ringing so you pick it up and say a greeting.

You: Hello?

Mystery caller: Salaam alaikum. (Traditional Muslim greeting)

You: Alaikum salaam. (Muslim greeting response)

Mystery caller: Aap kaun bol rahe hai? (Who is this talking?)

(You're thinking, hello, you called ME buddy. Why should I say who I am?)

You: Aap kaun hai? (who are you?)

Mystery caller: Aap kaun hai? (who are you?)

You realized that the caller has dialed a wrong number, likely on purpose to try and get a female recipient, and that now for the next two weeks your mobile will be ringing off the hook as he tries to get in touch with you.

Seriously, these guys calls at 6am, midnight, all day and anytime that you're busy and don't want to get up and answer the phone. On my phone, I can only screen 10 numbers at a time. It's a nice feature, because once I screen a number that phone doesn't ring when the number calls me. Unfortunately, 10 numbers is just not enough!

I need to learn how to say "Get a life!" in Punjabi.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Special Treatment for Me, the Ghori!

Usually I arrive at the bank at 9:00am on the dot so I can avoid waiting in line. Well, today I got a late start and when I got there at 9:30am there were already some men waiting in the queue. It wasn't that many, just three men in each line, so I took my place and waited. While I was waiting, one of the ladies from the bank came out and greeted me. She asked what I was at the bank for, and I told her I was just paying my utility bill. She promptly told me that she'd take care of it, and that I could have a seat. She then went in the office and gave my bill and cash to the man, asking him to do my work before the three men I had been standing behind.

In Pakistan, as a foreign woman you will find many perks such as this type of service at the bank. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it's nice to not have to stand in line and to get my work done more quickly. On the other hand, I find it embarrassing that my work should be considered more important than what others are doing simply because of who I am. I don't mind standing in line, and I think that if the men are civilly standing in line and waiting their turns they also deserve my respect. In many places in Pakistan, there's no concept of a line and everyone is just pushing and shoving to get to the front. When people do stand in line, I appreciate their restraint.

Pakistan is certainly a male-dominated society, but then sometimes you'll see Pakistani men showing a lot of respect and concern for the women around them. Many times I've been ushered to the front of the line or to the best seat because I'm a lady. I've heard the bank manager ask the men to step aside for the ladies (myself and local ladies) so that we didn't have to wait in the line with men for too long. Part of me wants to stay in the line, but then am I disrespecting their efforts to show me respect? It's a tough call!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Traveling Goldfish Salesman

Enough about gunmen and grenades. One of the things I love about Pakistan is the ingenuity of the people. I still need to take some time and do a photo shoot of all the things they manage to transport by bicycle or donkey cart, because if you don't live in the subcontinent it will just blow your mind. The other day while driving to a friend's house, I saw this guy, the Bicycle Fish Salesman! I couldn't get the best photo because there was just a ton of stuff going on in this scene, but look at the way he's made his bicycle into a traveling goldfish store! You can't see it in this photo, but on the back there's even a large fish bowl with two 8" fish in it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sophisticated Attack by Gunmen in Lahore

Usually when Pakistan makes headlines, I write home to friends and family and I'm able to tell them something like, "Don't worry, that attack happened somewhere really far away." "It was near the Afghan border, and I'm not planning on going there so don't worry." "Karachi is a 24-hour drive from Lahore."

When things happen in Lahore, I can usually comfort people with, "Oh that was on the other side of the city. People don't protest in my area."

Well today I don't have any excuses, as the sophisticated attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team happened just a mile from where I work. Twelve highly organized gunmen came at the cricket team from four different directions as they moved towards Qaddafi Stadium. The stadium is in central Lahore, and one of the entrances is on Ferozepur Road. It's a place I've gone several times for different events, and the stadium's location near the Daewoo bus station makes it somewhere that we often find ourselves driving past. Qaddafi stadium is smack in the middle of busy areas of Lahore; it is not located in some out of the way place. At least five policemen were killed in the attack and several players were injured. Two players from Sri Lanka are in the hospital, and the rest were evacuated by military helicopter from Qaddafi Stadium.

Continue reading here:

Gunmen Attack Sri Lanka Cricket Team in Lahore

Friday, February 27, 2009

Utility Prices on the Up and Up

Yikes! I just got my gas and water bills and was shocked at how much prices have gone up in the last year. In the 2007-2008 academic year, our gas bill was always around 300 rupees a month. At the time, that was equal to $5. Our water bill was about the same price.

We don't use gas heaters so our usage of gas and water doesn't really change much through the seasons. The gas bill for February 2009 is 1175 rupees ($14) and the water bill is 650 rupees ($8). In local currency, the water bill has doubled and the gas bill has almost quadrupled. Electricity prices have also been raised significantly in the past year. Our weekly food budget has just about doubled with the price of foodstuffs going up and the rupee losing value.

If you're reading from the US, you may think these prices are low. The cost of living in Pakistan is low compared to many other countries, but the pay scales are a lot lower as well.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Women's Book Club Starting in Lahore

For any ladies in Lahore, I've just heard about a book club starting up on Saturdays.

The book club will be run by an American friend of mine living in Cantonment. She loves to read and is looking forward to meeting some other ladies in Lahore who like to read.

The group will meet Saturdays in the afternoon or early evening, depending on when members are available. If you're interested to practice your English and meet some new friends, contact

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Maid's New Trick

My maid pretends to be ignorant of many things, but she's quite smart when it comes to shirking her duties! Today I wondered how she got done with her work so fast. I was busy with work so I just let her go and didn't check to see if she'd done everything she was supposed to. Just a few minutes later, I went outside to check on the clothes, and I realized that the majority of the clothes hanging on the line were completely dry. She left them up so that she didn't have to wash that many clothes, due to lack of space of course. In doing so, she successfully avoiding all the ironing and putting away the clothes. She must really dislike washing clothes, because one of her other favorite tricks is to leave soaking wet clothes on the line so that they don't dry for two or three days. Because they take so long to dry, she claims she can't wash the other clothes because there's no space. Leaving dry clothes to fill the space is a new technique.

Here's a pic of our maid, although her eyes are closed cause she was staring into the sun and a bit confused about how the camera worked. It makes her look blind in the picture, which my husband sometimes thinks is true when he sees how she washes dishes and cleans, but she's not. I couldn't get a bigger picture because she was a bit embarrassed to have it taken. It's too bad, because even though she drives me crazy she does have a friendly smile!

Why do I have so many posts about the maid? Most Pakistani ladies spend hours complaining about their domestic help. I guess I need to vent somehow!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wonder What Bride Price He Paid...

As if the news couldn't get any stranger, local paper Dawn reports that a New Zealand man by the name of Mark Taylor was recently arrested in South Waziristan.

What was Mr. Taylor doing in Waziristan? His story is that he had four wives, and that they all died, so he was on his way to Wana to marry a tribal woman. At least, this is what he shared with the local police at Tank station.

Quite honestly, that story strikes me as a bit odd, but it would be ever stranger if he made up a story like that as a cover. It's not like foreigners marry tribal women on the Afghan border every day, and I've never met another foreigner who converted to Islam and had four wives to prove it. This way of living used to be quite popular in the days of the British Raj, but foreign men and their harems were based mainly in cities in the Punjab, not remote areas like Waziristan. With the rise of evangelical Christian missions in the subcontinent and the end of the Mughal reign, these culturally assimilated men became hard to find. Besides that, for a foreigner, traveling or living in Waziristan nowadays stops just short of suicidal.

Continue reading article here:

New Zealand Man Arrested in South Waziristan is Suspected of Links to Al-Qaeda

Simplicity of Village Life

When we went to the village last week, I was able to get this photo of a baby in a hammock. She and her mother and brother were just hanging out in the buffalo yard, and at first glance I didn't even see her hiding under the charpoy (rope bed). Notice her dark eyes. Mothers often put eye makeup on little girls to make their eyes stand out. Local people also believe that the hair on the baby's head will grow back thicker and longer the more times it is shaved off, so when chidren are young they often shave their heads. This is done in many places in the world, although my husband assures me that scientifically it doesn't pan out. Anyway, what a cute little girl in her hidden hammock!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Customs at Karachi Port - A 5 Day Process!

Although it's created a new chapter in the Sergio drama, I'm glad we found out just how difficult it is to send anything out of the Karachi Port in Pakistan. Similar to picking something up at the Lahore airport and getting customs clearance, in Karachi you also need to hire an agent to guide your belongings through customs. For a large container, the process takes about 5 working days. Depending on your trust in the agent, you may or may not need to be present during this tedious process. To load Sergio's 1980 Fiat Van onto the boat, hire an agent, and pay customs duties, it is estimated to be about 90,000 rupees (900 euros, $1,136). Since Sergio was due to fly back to Italy on Thursday, now he needs to change his flight date and hang out in Karachi until the van is through customs and securely loaded on the boat. Talk about a nightmare!

When the Fiat van broke down in the first place, we encouraged him to fly back to Italy and buy a new vehicle. So far, shipping the Fiat to India, repairing it with Toyota Landcruiser parts, getting it sent to Karachi, and the process in the port have cost about twice the value of the van! Lesson learned here? If a car is worth so much to you, and you depend on it for your livelihood, don't ship it all over the world! Visas, customs and shipping in developing countries are processes best avoided if you want to remain sane.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Guest Free

Well after 24 days, our house is guest free! Sergio has made his way south to Karachi, with the help of our landlord's son, to put his van on a boat and send it back to Italy. With the worsening security situation in Balochistan and the fact that the visa for Iran may or may not ever be granted, he realized the best thing was to get back to Italy as soon as possible and give up on his crazy solo overland journey. His van was loaded on a Bedford truck (an all night affair just to get it loaded) and shipped down to Karachi from Lahore. To ship the van, it costa bout 46,000 rupees ($581). Now, we are praying that Sergio's van gets through the port and clears customs. Not until that van is somewhere in the open sea and Sergio is on a plane to Italy will be really be able to relax! Anything could happen dealing with the bureaucracy at the port.

After three weeks of not sleeping properly due to this drama, we're ready for a break. It seems we've been running on empty since before I went to Bangkok. May there be a miracle at the port so that van can get sea borne, Sergio can get air borne, and we can all rest in peace!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The City Folk Go to the Village

Today was a holiday, Kashmir Day, so we went with our landlord's family to visit a village near Sheikhupura. It was great to walk in the fields, breathe cleaner air, and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We even learned how to pull beets from the ground!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What NOT to Drive in Pakistan

Pakistan is not a country you just decide to drive to for a weekend jaunt unless you're Taleban fighters retreating from Afghanistan. You need visas, a good map, and you certainly need to know current safety information. Driving in Pakistan is treacherous in cities and rural areas, although for different reasons. In cities, a low vehicle will scrape bottom on the badly engineered speed bumps, and a big vehicle in impossible to park outside of spacious suburbs. Aside from the motorway, roads are better suited for 4WDs or large buses. Nobody in Pakistan drives camper vans, so you'll stick out like a sore thumb....or an obvious target. The worst part is, if you decide to sell your vehicle and head home, nobody will buy this type of car here in Pakistan. Customs duties will be three times as much as the car is worth, and besides, where will anyone drive it? How will they get replacement parts?

The only place you have a chance of selling it is where you can sell it ilegally without customs duties, such as in the Northern Areas or to some tribesmen who are a law unto themselves. If you meet them, they'd be more likely to relieve you of your vehicle, and possibly your life, without giving you any money.

Please, if you are considering driving across Pakistan, now is not the time. Quetta and its environs are not safe for independent travelers. Even well-traveled Pakistanis are avoiding going there nowadays. If you do need to drive through Pakistan, choose a less conspicuous and more practical vehicle.

Guess What This Boy Was Doing...

Any guesses why a pink-shirted boy with an electric rotary saw was doing at our house? It certainly wasn't a fashion shoot, although you might wonder with the choice of clothing and shades.

Well, first he plugged the saw into the socket in the typical Pakistani fashion as shown above. You must picture that this extension cord is sitting on wet ground that he maid has just hosed down. Then he proceeded to cut the giant metal tool box off of Sergio, the stranded Italian's, camper van so that the van could be loaded into a Bedford carrier truck. Sergio's van broken down three weeks ago on the way over the border from Attari to Lahore, and he's been stuck since trying to figure out how to get back. The truck was fixed, but when he started to really think about driving from Quetta to Iran and talking to the local authorities about it he realized it would be akin to a suicide wish. Balochi separatists and Tabelban back from Afghanistan are ruling the roads these days, and just two days ago an American UN worker was kidnapped in Quetta. A very white Italian man in a camper van coming down the road is like saying, "Here I am! Kidnap me for some ransom!" It's much safer to go by public transport in Balochistan these days than by private transport where you're alone and more vulnerable. Anyway, there goes the tool box. Now, they're trying to load his van on a Bedford carrier that will drive it to the port in Karachi. Bedfords are slow moving, so it will take about three days to reach there.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

2 Days in Bangkok for $100


There are lots of places you can stay in Bangkok for 280 baht ($8) or less. Check out Asha Guesthouse ($8 for a private double, meaning just $4 per person per night) or Sukhumvit On Nut Guesthouse (205 baht for a bed in a 4-bed dorm). Use sites like to find the best option for you. If you're traveling with a friend, you can get even cheaper deals by sharing a room. Set your budget around 280 baht per night for 2 nights to stay in the $100 overall budget.


You can easily eat in Bangkok for 300 baht ($8.50) per day or less. Choose a hotel or guesthouse near a shopping mall and eat fresh, authentic Thai food for just 35 baht ($1) per meal. Both lodging options given above area near shopping malls. Small bottles of water from the 7-11 are only 7 baht (20 cents), so avoid paying double the price in tourist areas or restaurants.

Continue reading how to get the most for your money here

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First ESL Workbook & Teacher's Book Almost Finished!

Today I'm about to finish the first book/workbook/teacher's resource kit in an ESL series for the Ali Institute. The course is called Everyday English 1, and it's an 80-hour course for advanced beginners. I've got some minor editing to do, but the student workbook is 101 pages, the teacher's lesson plan book is 170 pages, and there's also 149 pages of photocopiable materials for quizzes, games, activities, and visual aids. Now I've got to figure out how to organize it all and get it published! Then I'm on to work on the English Language Teaching (ELT) post-graduate certificate program (3 months) and Everday English 2 (intermediate level English).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Family Outing to Old Lahore

Yesterday we went with Sergio (the stranded Italian traveler) and our landlord's family to Old Lahore. Despite dark clouds threatening to dampen our day, the rain held off and we had a great time. We checked out the Red Fort (Lal Qila - tickets for Pakistanis 10 rupees, Foreigners 200 rupees), Badshahi Masjid, Makro, and ate at Kashmir Continental on Jail Road. Our landlord insisted that we should pay the Pakistani ticket price at the fort, because we are "just like Pakistanis" but the ticket collectors thought otherwise. If you are going with a Pakistani host, let them know that no matter how long you've been living in Pakistani you don't stand much of a chance of getting in without a Foreigner ticket. We've tried it, twice. We ended up getting the Foreigner Tickets and going in.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Loadshedding - An Integral Part of My Daily Life

Before I moved to Pakistan, I'd never heard the word 'loadshedding' before. I actually remember the moment when I learned the word. I was starting a new adult ESL class and we were statements with the verb "like" in negative and positive. One student, Kamran, made the sentence, "I don't like loadshedding," and I had to clarify what it was. At that time, in 2006, the power cuts were only a few hours a day. Several people who have been following this blog are planning to move to Pakistan, so here's a little snapshot of the daily loadshedding as of January 2009.

The power cuts are generally on the hour and go out for 60 minutes. Each neighborhood has a different schedule that changes after a few weeks. The schedule always seem to get out of whack when it rains for some reason. For the last week, the loadshedding schedule in Phase IV Defence has been as follows during the day:

6am - 7am Electricity
7am - 8am Electricity
8am - 9am Loadshedding
9am - 10am Electricity
10am - 11am Loadshedding
11am - 12pm Electricity
12pm - 1pm Loadshedding
1pm - 2pm Electricity
2pm - 3pm Loadshedding
3pm - 4pm Electricity
4pm - 5pm Loadshedding
5pm - 6pm Electricity
6pm - 7pm Loadshedding

Then a real treat, from 7pm to 1am (5 whole hours) there is electricity! Between 1am and 6am I'm not sure what the schedule is as I'm usually sleeping. I go to sleep around 9 or 10, so having such a long stretch of electricity so late at night doesn't do much good for me on weekdays. In a few weeks the schedule will change and we'll adjust our schedules all over again!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lahore College MA TESOL Gold Medal Award 2009

During my time in Lahore, I’ve been able to be part of the MA TESOL program at Lahore College. I taught a few courses as visiting faculty and served as a research advisor for three students on their final thesis projects. After a long series of delays, the students defended their theses early this month. My group had finished their papers for the due date in September of 2008, but many of the other students did not complete their papers until over a year later. By the time the defense came around, the three students I worked with were all worried that they’d forgotten what they’d research or concluded. Despite having had such a long time lapse from the completion of the papers to the defense, they did fine before the panel.

Today I found out that one of my advisees, Sannia Hussain, got top marks on the thesis and the got the highest average GPA of the entire class. While most of the students in the program were fresh BA or B.Ed graduates, Sannia came back to do her masters after her children had grown up and were on their way to college themselves. After working on the thesis together, we’ve become good friends and I’m very proud of her for this accomplishment. Congratulations to Sannia and the entire graduating class of MA TESOL!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

4 hours and 1200 rupees later

Well yesterday I finally did get my bag out of customs. For anyone else crazy enough, or patient enough, to deal with picking up cargo in Lahore, I'll have an article about how to do it up in a few weeks. The short version is that I left my house at 9:30 and returned at 1:30 with my bag and less 1200 rupees for the delivery order, storage and handling fees, customs clearance, and customs paperwork fees. I arrived at the airport at 10:00. The customs officers arrived at 10:45, although the office opens at 9:00am.

In other news, we still haven't been able to apply for the authorization code for Sergio's visa, as he doesn't have any internet banking or credit cards and American accounts can't be used due to the sanctions on Iran. We've been trying for three days just to pay the fee to get the code. For anyone thinking of traveling to Iran, start the visa process early! Give yourself at least one month to get the code and visa, and make sure you have access to a non-American credit card or debit card.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Did I Believe ANYTHING in Pakistan Would be Easy?

I had a bit too much baggage when I left Bangkok, so I decided to take advantage of shipping 10 kg via ThaiPac Cargo on Thai Airways. When I got the final price for the baggage, it was totally not worth it, but by then I was on my way to my flight and had no other options. Anyway, today I got a call that my bag had arrived safely and I could come pick it up. I naively thought this would be a straightforward process. Well, after at least an hour at the airport and an hour in traveling there and back, I still don't have my bag. I spent the afternoon getting calls on my mobile from some random guy telling me to meet him because he supposedly had my bag, being misdirected all over the cargo complex (a huge area), and having men harass me telling me I needed to hire them as agents. By the time I paid for my delivery order (yes you have to pay 400 rupees just to pick up your baggage, even though you've already paid $60 for it to be shipped) and found the customs clearance, there wasn't enough time to complete the process. I was told the paperwork for customs take at least two hours, most likely more, and that I would need to come back tomorrow. Joy!

I'm bit concerned as other customers were telling me it's impossible to clear customs without agent. I have no idea what they could charge me for my half-used toiletries and dirty clothes, but I'm sure they'll find a way to get some money out of me and certainly a LOT of time. There goes my day tomorrow...Remind me NEVER to ship anything by cargo to Pakistan, or any developing nation, ever again in my life. This is ridiculous!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Asha Guest House: A Great Budget Option in Bangkok

Asha Guest House may be a bit removed from Bangkok's main attractions, but it really is a gem when it comes to comfortable, clean, budget accommodation.


Located in a suburb in the north of the city, Asha Guest House is a 15-minute walk (or 40 baht taxi ride) from the Saphan Kwai BTS (Skytrain station). The Saphan Kwai station is right next to a Big C mall and food court where you can get cheap food and buy anything you forgot at home. If you take a taxi to Asha Guest House from the airport, it should be about 350 - 400 ($10 - $11.50) baht, including the tolls. From Saphan Kwai station, you can get anywhere you need to in the city. The Skytrain is cheap, efficient, and comfortable. For just 40 baht ($1.15), you can go all the way to the other end of city by train. Asha Guest House's location is great because it's quiet and there's not so many other tourists around. Staying here you get to see a normal Thai neighborhood, and you won't come across any touts or scammers.

Continue reading review here

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sergio: The Stranded Traveler

Well it's two days later and it looks like our surprise house guest may be in Lahore for a while. Our household has been a mix of communication between Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, some French words and English, and we haven't been able to find the part for Sergio's Fiat RV. Our landlord had the idea to purchase a whole new front suspension system from a Japanese vehicle and put it in place of the current suspension system in the RV. This would take less time than getting brake discs custom made, but would it even work? Sounds a bit risky when he's got two continents to cover.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Surprise House Guest

Duarte returned from India yesterday with a surprise guest, an Italian overlander trying to drive from Calcutta back to Italy. All seemed well when I heard Duarte had caught a ride from the Wagha border to Lahore, until an hour later he called to say they'd broken down. Now, the car they were in was no normal car, but a massive Fiat RV with a full bed and stove set up inside! After I rescued them and got them some lunch, they spent the rest of the day driving around Lahore trying to find a match for the broken brake disc on the Fiat. Since nobody drives Fiats in Pakistan, and nobody drives RVs, the parts guys were not optimistic. Our new Italian friend, Sergio, may need to have a piece custom made or order it from Italy.

On top of that, he's trying to cross the border into Iran and doesn't yet have his visa authorization code. To get a visa to Iran, you need to first apply for an authorization code via private company, like Persian Voyages, and then wait a few weeks to get the code. When you apply, you tell them where you want to pick up the visa and then you can get it stamped in your passport at that location. If you don't have a code, it seems it can take quite a long time to get it from an Iranian embassy or consulate.

Traveling is always an adventure, especially in this part of the world!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back in Lahore, Bangkok Photos Up

Now that I'm back in Lahore I only have internet when there's electricity (12 hours a day), but it's faster than the connections I had in Bangkok. So here's links to some of the albums of Bangkok photos:

From Grand Palace

From Mall Madness

From Buddhist Temples (Wats) in Bangkok

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Care for Some Hot Chili Squid Chips?

I always think it's interesting to see what flavors of chips Lay's has in different countries. In Pakistan and India, many of the chips are red hot chili flavored like local snacks. Here in Thailand, many of the snacks are fish or seaweed flavored. People eat seaweed as a snack, or they might munch on dried fish. Lay's has followed suit with these two flavors shown in the picture: Hot Chili Squid and Garlic Soft Shell Crab. The other day I tried the Nori Seaweed flavored Lay's and they were quite tasty!

Bangkok Grand Palace Trumps Taj

People say the Taj Mahal is the most magnificent building in the world, but they must not have seen the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand. The Taj costs about $20 to get into, while this giant complex of buildings costs only $10 (350 baht) for foreigners to enter.

Quite honestly, I was a bit bored after staring at the Taj waiting for the sun to come up for over an hour. At the Grand Palace, there are so many buildings and little details in the decor and architecture. It could keep you busy for hours. Not to mention there are numerous museums housed inside the palace complex.

I was a bit wary to pay the 350 baht to get in, but after reading about the extensive reconstruction efforts that take place every 50 years, and seeing all the exquisite stone work and mosaics, I didn't regret paying the admission fee!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

My Day with May Kaidee

From Thai Cooking with May Kaidee

Today I learned how to make 10 Thai dishes at the May Kaidee cooking school. It was lots of fun and I really learned a lot. One of the dishes we made was green papaya salad. See more photos by clicking on the link below the picture.

From Thai Cooking with May Kaidee

Some Like it HOT!

From Tourist Boat Views in Bangkok, Thailand

Thais certainly like their red hot chili peppers! When I hopped off the Tourist Boat yesterday I found myself wandering around in a huge fruit and vegetable market next to Pak Klong Tarad, the city's largest fresh flower market. Both are located near Memorial Bridge. You can get flowers for as little as 10 to 15 baht, so if you're in Bangkok be sure to buy some for someone special. : )

From Tourist Boat Views in Bangkok, Thailand

Street Food

From Chinatown, Bangkok

Everywhere in Bangkok it smells of fresh food being cooked. You can hear the sound of stir frying and noodles sloshing in hot pans as you walk down the street. Since arriving here in Thailand, I've seen street food within walking distance of every neighborhood. It seems that many Thais prefer to bring food home than to cook, and many times it's much cheaper to do this than to prepare it yourself. Near the guest house I'm staying at, every morning I see vendors setting up their shops and start cooking up tasty treats. They have sausages, meats, seafood, noodle dishes, rice, soups, and all sorts of fresh vegetables ready to cook. Most have one or two stools and small metal or plastic tables, but the majority of buyers take the food in plastic bags with them and bring them home or to their offices.

The top is a picture of seafood ready to buy for cooking, and the bottom is a picture of "take away" food in plastic bags. Both of these photos were taken in Chinatown, but you'll see similar scenes all over the city.

From Chinatown, Bangkok

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Day on the Tourist Boat

Today I took the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat for 120 baht ($3.40). For that price, I was able to hop on and off the boat traveling back and forth between about a dozen piers for the whole day. The cool river breezes were a great way to get out of the midday heat, and there were so many things to see I only managed to do about half of the main sights! If you're in Bangkok, this is a great way to see the city, especially because the Skytrain (BTS) and the Underground (MRT) don't have stops along the river.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Lost in an 8 Floor Mall - MBK

I think I visited the largest mall I've ever set foot in today, MBK near National Stadium in Bangkok. I entered on the 3rd floor and neglected to take a map with me to navigate the mall. Yes, in this mall, you actually need a map or tour guide to get yourself around! I'm sure after a few times you'd get the hang of it, but at first it just seemed to go up, down and forward forever. I was totally overwhelmed.

Despite being a bit lost, I was able to find a lot of things I was looking for. I trekked back to my guest house with three large bags filled to the max. In Pakistan, it can be very expensive to buy Western clothes. Aside from the cost, most styles available in women's clothing are only suitable for teenagers or going out to a club. In Bangkok, you can find everything for a fraction of the cost it would be in the United States. While looking for suits, I realized that many Thai school girls wear skirts, blouses and sometimes jackets to class. There were entire stores filled with every size and style of black, gray, navy and brown skirts. Short, medium, long, A-line, pleated, pencil, mini, whatever in any size that a Thai girl may be. I had to go for the medium sizes, but by buying a few items at the uniform shops, I was able to get those things cheaper than getting them made to order at a regular tailor.

Phew! I'm exhausted and I only did the 3rd floor, the food court and the ground floor. I didn't even get to the other five floors. Can you believe there are several other big malls and shopping centers just a stone's throw from MBK?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Discovering Bangkok

I think I'm starting to really relax for the first time since I arrived back on the subcontinent in July 2008. I forgot what it's like to walk around outside without beggars following me everywhere, people pushing and shoving in line, and having absolutely no personal space. To the credit of the Pakistanis, there was a bit of drama yesterday at the airport when the courteous line-standers gathered together to make the notorious queue jumpers (line jumpers) get at the back of the line where they belonged. This was the first time I saw Pakistanis, most families, come together to put rude and impatient people in their place. I must admit I joined in with the courteous line-standers and asked a few people myself what line they were standing in. It just takes one person to say something, because everyone is bothered when they're standing patiently in line for hours and impatient people just push and shove and go in front of everyone else like they're someone important. If they think they're that important, they should fly first class. Anyway, back to Bangkok.

Today I met up with another Associated Content producer and teacher, Fabletoo, and she helped me navigate Chatuchuk weekend market. It was incredible! There was just so many things to buy in so many colors and sizes. Shopkeepers weren't pushy and nobody was noisily hawking his wares. Sellers offered discounts from the marked prices before we even asked for a deal. It was a very pleasant and relaxing experience! I did not feel uncomfortable or pressured at all while shopping. In Pakistan and India, I'm always tense because people stand two inches away from trying to "assist" me. This makes me feel SO uncomfortable that I generally make a beeline for the exit and don't buy anything. Thais certainly give more personal space while shopping.

Chatuchuk Market is something you must see if you visit Thailand. It's just overwhelming how much stuff is for sale, and the quality and presentation of everything just makes you want to buy more and more! Aside from all the clothing, accessories, and household wares, there a pervading aroma of street food being cooked up all around. Those of you who know me, know that I'm not much of a shopper, but I was so excited to see so many cool things I just didn't know what to do with myself!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Arrival in the Land of Smiles

I think I'm in culture shock! When I left the Bangkok airport, I did not have to fight through crowds of taxi walas and rickshaw walas. I actually got helpful information from a cheerful man selling bus tickets, even though the bus I needed was not available through his company. Then I stood at a shuttle bus stop, with about 50 Thais, and nobody even talked to me! It was crazy, compared to being in Pakistan. I was in for another shock when I was in a taxi and the driver had the meter working before I asked him (or begged him) to use it. He even offered to use his own phone to get directions to my guest house. The highway from the airport felt like a superhighway, and I saw brightly lit skyscrapers as I drove towards where I was staying. Can you believe, there's an automatic washing machine that I can use for free!

You may not get excited about that, but I haven't used a washing machine to do my normal washing since June of 2007. I'll have to use it just for fun.