Sunday, April 20, 2014

So, where are you from?

I met a new friend at the Ninja Turtle birthday party.  She is American, and I casually asked, "So, where are you from?"  She paused, not really sure how to answer my question.  Her answer was, "Well, Oman is my 24th move.  I have a brother in Oregon."

When you are an expat, 'Where are you from?' is never an easy answer.  But even before I moved to Oman, this was not an easy answer for me.  I was born in Puerto Rico, and lived there for six years.  Then my military father was stationed in Germany, and we lived there for six years.  I didn't even move to the States until I was 12 years old (I never ate at McDonalds or watched American cartoons until that time).  But I did go to junior high and high school in Killeen, Texas, so that is what I consider my hometown.  So when I was asked the question, my answer depended on how long I wanted to talk.  Short answer-- Texas.  

Then I got married, to a man who works for a large corporation.  I moved six times in the US, to three different states.  I am so thrilled that we actually lived in the same town in Texas for the whole time my older kids went to junior high and high school.  When they went to college and people asked them where they were from, they had an easy answer.  Although Jared stills struggles a bit with the question.  He lives in Philadelphia, and was telling people he was going home for Christmas.  Well, he meant home to his family.  It took him a bit to tell them he was not going to Texas or Chicago, but to Oman.

I have met a lot of Americans here who work for the embassy.  They move a LOT.  I get a kick out of one of Savannah's good friends.  I was driving them around one day, and this girl starts speaking fluent Mandarin!  Now she is American.  But she is not sure what a nickel is worth.  She has not spent enough time in a place that uses American money.

Now we live in Oman, with two children whose time before now had been split between Texas and Illinois.  Two years in Oman, but they will graduate from high school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  I have no idea what they will say when they go off to college and are asked, "So, where are you from?"

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cowabunga, Dude! Ninja Turtle Birthday Party

One of my favorite stores in the US is Hobby Lobby.  It is a great place to find all sorts of crafting supplies.  Then there is also Michael's and for the odd craft, Home Depot.  Well, I have a very crafty friend, Paula, who threw an amazing Ninja Turtle birthday party for her son.  Actually, I don't think this generation of Ninja Turtles say 'cowabunga' anymore, but that comes from my days as a young mom.  Anyways, I helped her some with the party, and here is how it was done-- with no Hobby Lobby!

Paula saw a nunchuck idea on Pinterest.  They were made from pipe insulation.  She didn't think she would find pipe insulation in a hot country like Oman, but we found it here!  In the Ghubra part of Muscat.  

She bought 8 6-foot lengths of rubber pipe insulation for 300 baizas each, or 78 cents!

Then we did some more exploring in Ramez Shopping Center.  Ramez is located just past Muscat, in Seeb.  Or close to it.  You take the Sultan Qaboos highway past the airport and City Center Seeb and take the Seeb exit.  You will see a McDonalds at that exit.

I call Ramez the Omani Wal-mart!  But you never know what you will find day to day.  It makes it like a treasure hunt of sorts.  And know that if you see it, you better buy it.  It may not be there next time.  I went to Ramez with Paula because I am helping with Staff Appreciation for my children's school.  I was hoping to find something for that.  I didn't, but it was still a good trip.

Big pots

Now you will always find lots and lots of teacups.  Very reasonable prices.

Home decor items

Here is the biggest selection of disposable pans in town.  Good to know if you are throwing a big party or school event.  Or need trays to make turtle backs for a Ninja turtle party.  :)

There were a few party items.  Here is all you need for a bilingual birthday party!

And a book on teaching your child English.  I have to say, I have overheard Omani families where the dad is speaking to the young children in English and they answer back.  Impressive!

 So ends our trip to Ramez.

Now is the time to make the nunchucks.  I cut the pipe insulation to size, and wrapped the end in the closest thing to duct tape.  Then Paula poked a hole all the way through, for the rope to go through.  Well, the rope wouldn't go through.  In the US, we would have bought a yarn needle to thread the rope though.  That might be available in Muscat, but we didn't know where.  So we ran to Millennium Hypermarket, to see what, if anything, we could use.

Paula spotted these zip ties, and they worked perfectly!  Since they were stiff, she threaded them though both sides of the tube, and I tied and trimmed them.

That gave us a very secure way to attach the rope.

Paula tied the fancy knots, and voila!  The finished product is even better than the original.

(Random picture.  As I was uploading nunchuck pics to my blog, I included this one.  This is my view from my lunch table the other day, at the Al Bustan Ritz-Carlton in Muscat.  Gorgeous setting!!  Although there is a good reason all those outdoor tables were empty.  105 degrees that day!)

Back to the party.  I told Paula that if she was going to all the trouble of making nunchucks and turtle backs, she needed masks too!  She cut out the strips and I cut out the eye holes.  Paula bought the fabric at Gafoor.  If you haven't heard of Gafoor, it's Muscat's answer to Jo-Ann's Fabrics.  It has fabric and lots of craft items.  Located sort of between the Turkish House restaurant and Radisson Blu.

Here is the 'sewer'.  The kids had to crawl through the sewer before they became Ninja Turtles.  They received their turtle backs, masks, and nunchucks.

These serving trays made perfect manhole covers.

The long cardboard tubes once held fabric and also came from Gafoor.  They were used as the bow staffs, another of the Ninja Turtles' weapons.  See the stack of turtle backs?

Here is Marquita, one of the fearless moms, modeling the back and nunchucks.

Cupcake decorations were printed, cut out, and glued on toothpicks.

Hats off to Paula, for pulling off such an creative and ambitious birthday party!  It was fun helping out!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Risk Management

Well, this is not a blog post about clouds...  I love living in Oman.  But no place is perfect.  I see and hear about lots of strange things (well, strange to me) that I choose not to blog about, but I couldn't not blog about this.

I was sitting by a window, talking to my good friend Jennifer, in Texas.  I saw this vehicle drive by, with two children on top of the car!! I don't believe Oman has any seat belt laws for children.  It is common to see Omani drivers with small children in their laps!  And small children sitting in the front passenger seat.  I have also seen children hanging out of the car windows, quite a number of times.  But I have never seen a child sitting ON TOP of a vehicle!!  This boy, who looked to be around ten or eleven, was sitting cross-legged on top of the car, holding on to the luggage racks.  The car went up and down the street, which has a lot of speed bumps.  I got a good look at the driver, expecting to see a young driver.  But no, the driver was a mature-looking woman, presumably the mother.  She drove up and down the street, then at some point, got over the curb and started driving in the sand!  I could see how bumpy the ride was!!  

These pictures are poor quality, I know.  I took them while I was talking, so I didn't take time to focus.  I just wanted to get the shot.

She must have intended to drive on the beach, but changed her mind and backed up.  

And drove alongside the road, in the sand.  You can see the head of a younger child coming out of the sunroof.

I think it is safe to say that you would not see this kind of driving in the US.  Ten people would have called the police and the driver would have been in serious legal trouble, if not arrested, for  'child endangerment'.  Yet here in Oman, it seems to be okay.

The main reason I am blogging about this is to show the difference in how cultures think about risk.  In America, we do everything we can to avoid risk.  To the point of banning lots of activities that might put our children in potential risk.  We want to control our environments and lives to totally eliminate the chance of danger.  As you can see, not all cultures feel that way.  

So, what is the right way to live?  Avoiding all sorts of things that might possibly cause harm, or to know that most things are out of our control and take any risk?  I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring Break 2014-- Kuala Lumpur

When you meet an expat in Oman, there are usually a few common questions.  Where is home?  How long have you been here?  How much longer will you be here?  Well, we have known for a while that our time in Oman will be much shorter than we first thought.  Joe's company has decided to send him to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!  So that is where we went for Spring Break.  We wanted to show KL to the kids, and let them see where we will live and where they will go to school.

But first, Savannah gets a new selfie of the two of us at the airport, with no Austin.  :)

A beautiful view of KL from the hotel.  We stayed at Le Meridien this time.  Not quite the Shangri La, but I really liked it.  It was more modern.  It was right across the street from the KL Sentral Train Station, which made it very handy.  We took the train to and from the airport to the hotel, which was the fastest way to go.

This blog post will be a potpourri of pictures from KL.  The most touristy thing we really did was the Batu Caves, and I already blogged about that.  This trip was more to get our apartment ready for future occupation, and to take the kids to see their new school.  But here is one thing that made Austin very happy.  Krispy Kreme!

Elevator photography

I wonder how many countries Ikea is in.  I know it is one of the main reasons to go to Dubai from Muscat!  Here we are in Ikea in KL, shopping for bedding.

The currency in Malaysia is the ringitt.  There are 3.3 ringgits in one US dollar.  So instead of multiplying like in Oman, I get to divide.  Shopping can sure turn into a mental exercise.  My friend Mike says a good expat thinks in the local currency, but that is hard to do!

All the denominations are different colors, but they all look the same and are the same size.  As opposed to Omani rials, which are all different colors and different sizes.  And then there is American money, which is all the same size and the same color.  I am full of all sorts of useless information.  :)

A misty morning in KL.

I loved this building.  Not sure what it was.  I promise I will blog more fully on all the best sights in KL.  But that will be for my next blog.  Still thinking of a name!

Sentral Train station.  If you walk through the train station, there is a huge brand new mall.  There were not very many stores open yet, but enough.  I don't really consider this trip to KL to be a vacation.  It was really more of preparation for living there.  But to Savannah, it was the perfect vacation.  We stayed in a hotel, minimal sight-seeing, and lots of shopping!!  She had a great time.  :)

These trees were very common.  Kind of like a cross between a palm tree and a fern.

One place we did visit was this Central Market, here since 1888.  Think souk, Asian-style.

This is not the only place we saw models of Malaysian Airliners for sale.

Sunny view of KL from hotel.  Sunny days were more uncommon.  It is close to the beginning of rainy season for KL. 

Do you see the name of this shoe brand??  Wanda Panda!!  I have never seen these before.  I tried to buy a pair, just because of the name.  They were very comfy, but they didn't have my size.

Take a look at this shirt tag.  See all the sizes?  This is common in Oman too.

I have been to At.Mosphere in Dubai, and there is a 360 restaurant in Muscat (which is very good), but in KL we went to the Atmosphere 360, located in the KL Tower.  It is the highest restaurant in Malaysia, not to be confused with At.Mosphere, the tallest restaurant in the world.

This Atmosphere serves lunch and tea, and has two sittings for dinner buffets.  The times are 6:30-8:30 or 9:00-11:00.   I highly, highly recommend the 6:30 sitting.  You get to see the sunset and night lights.  The food was fine, but the views were stunning!  There was also a live piano player.  It made for a very nice evening.  

Unlike the restaurant in Muscat, this restaurant actually does rotate and you get 360 degree views.

Here are Austin and Savannah at their next school.  The hallways and cafeteria are all open.  You really get a sense of the jungle.  They had to take placement tests, which is just what they wanted to do on spring break!  We spoke to the counselor and selected courses, took a tour of the school, bought school uniforms, and signed up for bus service.  Busy day.

This will be the view from the new apartment.  I will have to give up my ocean view, but this is not too shabby.

Notes on Kuala Lumpur:

It is a Muslim country, but nothing like living in Oman.  Not as high a percentage of Muslims.  You see the Muslim women with their heads covered and modestly dressed, but I did not see any wearing black!  In Oman, I will not go out in public showing my upper arms or knees, in respect to the culture here.  Not in KL.  If you are not Muslim, anything goes.  Lots of skin!

Weekends are Saturday and Sunday.  Yay!!!  Here in Oman, they are Friday and Saturday.  We go to church on Friday here.

There is currently water rationing occurring in the city.  There was a sign in the apartment elevator informing us of the days where there will be no water.  We didn't really get the whole scoop on that.

Whenever I told people I was moving to Oman, one of the very first things they asked (after asking where Oman was), was "What side of the road do they drive on?"  I always thought that was a strange question.  I thought it was only United Kingdom that drove on the 'wrong' side.  Well guess what?  Malaysians also drive on the 'wrong' side.  We will probably have a full-time driver, but I am sure I will be driving on the 'wrong' side.

I am sure there will be lots of more notes to come, as I get to learn more about KL.  But I am not moving yet.  I plan on enjoying the rest of my time in Oman to the fullest!!