Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Days in Jordan

WE are HERE!

Its amazing to describe the first feelings when you land in a new country. The sights, the heat, the smells all swirl together to create unique memories that are unforgettable. I had no idea what Jordan looked like when we landed because it was dark, and the temperature at night was similar to paris. Therefore, my first experiences in Jordan were the airplane, the airport, the taxi, and the hotel.

Waking up: I think someone should contact the guinness book of world records. I believe, and don't quote me on this one, but I may have possibly discovered the worlds largest alarm clock. Being jetlagged and completely buried in deep sleep, I was suddenly jolted awake by some loudspeaker outside of the hotel. Evidently the mosques do some early, EARLY prayers before sunrise (upon researching online, its called the Fajr, one of 5 daily prayers performed). It was a real wake up call that I had moved to a new country....LITERALLY.

First thing I said to myself was WHO WAKES UP AT THIS UNGODLY HOUR... and then upon figuring out what it was I realised that as a matter of fact, it was indeed a godly hour after all.

The sun here is bright. The skyline dusty. The streets packed with 1990's asian import cars. I almost feel like I'm in Korea given the fact that I am surrounded by KIAs everywhere. The buildings are all cracked, crumbly, and the color of honeycomb yellow. The odd palm tree is planted here and there, but there is a general sparsity of vegetation. There is a clear move from the old to the new, as new construction cranes stand over the city like mechanical giants. We are in the downtown area, which is the oldest part of town. Not known as the most scenic area of the city, but definitely known to have the most local flavor. This is where the real Jordanians are.

A walk downtown gave us our first experiences of Jordan. My advice for travelling to a country for the first time is to reset what you know and how you percieve things. For example, not even 5 minutes into my first trek through the city, that ever so familiar jingle from the ice cream man sounded from a distance. I was curious to see what a Jordanian ice cream truck looked like so I got my camera ready. Here is what it looks like:

SO I was very dissapointed to find that my ice cream truck was actually not selling ice cream, but rather propane gas. Reset my friend, reset.

As we got deeper into downtown, it was actually quite different to what we thought we would encounter. We expected a barrage of people spotting Elodies blonde hair and my asian face and braced to be mobbed by merchants trying to sell us junk at 3 times the price. In fact, people completely ignored us and only when we engaged them to buy something or to take a picture, did they ask us where we were from and what we thought of Jordan. Here is a picture of our first friends in Jordan:

I tell you, I love going to the market in foreign countries and taking a picture of the meat. Korea, China, Vietnam, and Greece know how to use all the parts of an animal. Japanese and Americans are a bunch of wimps and wrap everything in plastic. This example took ofal to new heights. Here is a picture of all the best parts of a lamb being strung on a meat hook by the spine(?) with the liver and intestines and who knows what else hanging off it in one WHOLE connected piece. Thats pretty incredible! Its like peeling an apple in one take!

This looked so delicious that I asked them to cook a bit of it into a sandwich for us which they delightfully obliged to. Here is a picture of Elodie eating a sandwich of roasted lamb kidneys and arabic salad wrapped into a pita bread. Look at that smile on her face! The french I tell you, they'll eat anything from WWII cuisine.

Actually, this is just a hoax. Elodie is actually eating a falafel sandwich that we picked up next to the mosque. Elodie does not eat kidney sandwiches. She doesn't even eat French Cheese! Eating middle eastern cuisine is completely rock and roll out here! Its ten times more flavourful than what we get in the US and Europe and costs 1/10th of the price. Elodie and I were treated to a delicious falafel, tomato and cucumber sandwich for 75 cents each from the snack stand behind her.

Well, we ended our day and treated ourselves to one of the top restaurants in Amman. Evidently, everytime you ask for the best restaurant, they always recommend a lebanese restaurant (?). So we basically ate an incredibly huge meal of chargoal grilled meats with heaping quanitities of eggplants, hummous, stuffed grape leaves, and lebanese bread. The main course at the top restuarants here are around 10 USD a plate. Insane!

Well, we are still living out of a hotel and looking for a place to live. We are going to be stopping by the red sea for some scuba diving and relaxation on the sand before Elodie begins her work. For those family and friends who care, we are all safe and happy and things so far are looking good for us here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

My vote is for Joel the plumber

Hi folks,

I had a hilarious conversation with a plumber who came to fix a roof in the leak. I realise that this blog is about the trip to Jordan, and I am still telling stories in France, but it was too good to pass up sharing this one.

So if any of you have lived in an apartment in Paris or have been to our apartment, the building is rather old. Leak insurance is a MUST in this town. It is to protect you from a) leaking roofs, and b) asshole neighbors who seem rather blasé to the fact that they are giving you a shower in your living room.

So our neighbors, the lovely parisiens that they are, don't seem to be apologetic at ALL for leaking water into our apartment 5 times in the past 2 years. They are now on autopilot. Whenever I knock on their door, they immediately say 'its not my fault' without even knowing what I am there for. I just tell them I would like to borrow some shampoo for the shower they gave me.

Well, it finally stopped leaking after a year and its time to repair the water stained ceiling. The plumber who fixed their leaks came over to inspect the place. I think secretly he hates their guts. It didn't help that this time he went there and their baby vomited all over him. I think he was ok though... he's a plumber so he's used to being covered in gross stuff.

At the end of his inspection, we offered him coffee and cake, just like they used to do in the sixties I hear. To our horror, he was so pleased with this that he started to share with us... Adventures in Plumbing!

He has a rather warped sense of humour, which to my guess is something you have to have in this profession to get by. This is the best of my recollection and translation of his stories from French...

'I'm warning you, think TWICE before going out and eating in a restaurant. I have YET to see a restaurant in Paris without cockroaches. I've been to the Champs Elysees and finest restaurants of Paris and I've seen cockroaches in all of them. The chefs don't really care about cleanliness either. One time, I went to a restaurant and had to unblock some toilet pipes. I went into the floor, dug up the old pipes and put on my gloves to reach in and unblock the pipes (meaning he reached into the toilet pipes). When I finished, I took my gloves off and put my tools away. Somehow, one of my gloves dissapeared. Evidently, the chef mistook it for his glove and started grabbing steaks and throwing them on the grill! To my surprise, the guy didn't give a damn and just served the plates to the customer! One of my other customers told me he can't even remember the count for how many times he pissed in the salad dressing! When my wife tells me she wants to eat in a restaurant, I tell her Noooo Way. I'll only eat at Mcdonalds. Now THAT is the cleanest restaurant I've ever seen in Paris. Everything is wrapped up and the employees dont touch a thing. I'll only take my wife there, and I will never touch a beef steak at a restaurant again.'

So there you have it folks. The gross underbelly of France exposed. Kitchen confidential meets parisien plumber in todays ajaanib.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hitting a wall with Teach Yourself Arabic

I tried hard. I really did. I bought the book and CD set 'Teach Yourself Arabic' and gave it a hard go.

Result: Utter, undisputable, failure.

I think this goes back to my theory that university textbooks are a better bet for self study if you can purchase the accompanying CD sets with it. The off the shelf bookstore versions are densely packed and seem to want to cover a lot of material with as little explanation as possible.

I took the Teach Yourself Arabic set on a 10 hour drive from Paris to Switzerland for a ski trip over the winter break. I studied the text before the trip, brought the CD's to play and repeat in the car, and found that the text in the book in no ways matches the audio practices on the book.

At one time, it started doing verbal exercises for letters and words not even in the chapter. At the end of chapter 1, the very posh british voice says, 'Did you spot the Sun and Moon Letters?... I sure bet you did. Good Job (!).' WTF??? What the hell is a Sun and Moon letter and where is this explained in the book? CURSE YOU TEACH YOURSELF ARABIC COURSE!

My friend Dan Belwood came along for the trip. I guess he has a better gift than I do for audio guides in arabic. Having nothing better to do, I just replayed the CDs of chapters1-30 three times over the trip and by the end he figured out how to count to 1000 and ask for directions to the gold market.

I ended up returning my €60 set (it sells in the US for about 25% of the price here), and bought myself the Assimil Arabic set (now i have to learn Arabic, through a book written in French). Now I can improve my French and learn arabic at the same time. Double win!

Nothing helps encourage my studying than the cake and tea set at my favorite Parisien café called Le Loir dans le Thiere. I went through my new Assimil book and managed to write out and memorize the letters of the arabic alphabet by writing them a dozen or so times on a piece of paper. Success!

If your teaching yourself to write in arabic, I liked this youtube post here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The wierdest things in my home

Hello all,

Its amazing the amount of CRAP you find in your house, and the herculean effort required to clean it out. I, being the sneaky partner in this marriage, took advantage of Elodie's business trip to Vienna to clean out the house. She can no longer block me from throwing away the decorative chopsticks with year of the rabbit. No more screaming at me to save the decorative crystal ashtray, even though neither of us smoke. And who knows? Maybe one day we will need that half cracked african mask hiding under a pile of magasizine for the past three years.

This time, I wanted to highlight the wierd stuff we have collected over the years:


Yes, I picked this up in Fujisawa, just north of Tokyo. Its your favorite beer mug, made of your favorite snack! How about washing down a cold beer with a tasty treat of dried squid all wrapped in one? Right next to it, I have a Belgian Westvleteren, voted the number one beer in the world many times over (Its made by monks and they only make a few hundred thousand cases a year). I'm just about to drink it now.... Oh wait, never mind. The bottom of my beer mug is a dodgy green color. Maybe not.

Hungarian fertility nuts

Somehow, this ended up somewhere on our bookshelf. Elodie is surrounded by Hungarians at work and when we got married someone gave us this as a custom. It basically a mini-me stuffed into half of a walnut shell. A bit haunting up this close isn't it?

Decorative Japanese Ear Picks

Let me tell you folks, Japanese make ear picking somewhat of an art form. I have about half a dozen decorative multicolored ear picks, for those oh so often occasions when you feel like stabbing at your ear in public for wax balls. If your going to do it, why not in style?

Well its back to work for me from here. Basically, I am only halfway through my house emptying, but as I throw away all of my junk I send evil text messages like 'Mwuhaahaa, I am throwing away your 2004 Global Economic Forum paperweight' to my wife.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Prepping for Jordan

Here we go again.

This is the fourth time for me to move to a new continent, and now the 8th country for me to live in.

I have my usual routine when I do a major move to a new place. It kind of goes along like this:

1) Look it up on a map.

Being a dumb, uninformed american with very little appreciation of geography I have now had to look up where I am flying to on a map THREE times in my life. My sister bought me a ticket to Kuala Lumpur when I was 20 (it sounded like Lumpia, the filipino egg-roll to me), I got a job offer in Saipan when I was 22 (I thought it was near Taiwan), and now Amman (which was somewhere east of Africa and south of Russia in my mind). Yes I said it. After 10 years of living abroad, 8 countries, and 4 languages, I can comfortably say that I will be pretty ignorant about the parts of the world where I have no connection to it. For all those snooty Europeans who think they know a thing or two about world cultures, you are ignorant too (They do know more about geography but I think its because they follow international soccer teams and past conquests of colonialized civilisations). Ask any French who didn't go to vietnam on a tourist package and they will have little, if any knowledge of their former colony. The only ones who seem to have a connection to every continent in the world seem to be the australians and new zealanders, since they manage to sleep on someone's couch in every part of the world during their twenties.

2) Purchase a do-it-yourself language kit.

I went to extra-curricular classes to learn Korean, and once I got the hang of learning languages I developed my own habits and taught myself Japanese and French (I did take a few classes, but they never seemed to work). I find that the language books you find in book stores are pretty worthless, and the best ones can be found at universities. Most books just cover level 1, and then when you master that one, you are stuck trying to find a level 2 book by a different author and having to re-learn past lessons.

I recently read Timothy Ferriss' book the four hour work week (, and found that he had a similar rapid approach to learning languages. He speaks 6 languages and basically tries to prove to the world that he is super awesome and buffed.

Its built on a few concepts about how we as human beings use language.

a) We only use about 800-1000 of the same words 80% percent of the time in daily language. So getting conversational in a language is about mastering those sets of words.

b) In computer programming, you can achieve a lot of functionality with just the basics logic compenents of 'IF, AND, OR, WHEN, Where.' The first thing to do is to master these and you can suprisingly handle a lot of conversations.

c) Learn the fifty essential verbs and then some that are fun. Eat, sleep, drink, and meet come to mind. Action words like puke, pee, and explode are always handy and fun to know.

d) Make flashcards in sets of 30 and memorize them 5 at a time. Only move onto the next 5 when you have mastered the previous set. When you are finished with the whole set, review the set in totallity. Set aside the ones you no longer remember and repeate the exercise with this subset. I based this technique off the fact that short term memory remembers things in sets of 5-10, and then the trick to setting them to long term memory is to go back and recall the same flash cards later on.

I have met tons of people who have studied years of a language and cannot speak a simple phrase due to nervousness and lack of practicing in real scenarios. This is totally avoidable and has an easy solution. Pure and simple, I suggest drinking copious amounts of alcohol and partying with the locals. I can remember having late night karaoke parties in Tokyo and having my homestay family remark 'wow, your Japanese got so much better!' Now, the problem I face in Jordan is that alcohol is prohibited in most social scenarios so I am going to have to figure out a workaround in this situation.

A lot of folks don't have time to sit and study. Same here. The great thing with this system is that I can stand in line at the bank, be stuck in a subway, listen to a language CD in my car. So basically, I don't eat into my productive times when I work, I study when I would otherwise be unproductive. I would rather learn 15 new words than stare at the dandruff on the person in front of me in line at the post office. I learned most of my french when I took a two hour commute to work in Scotland for 3 months for example.

Age does matter, and I have to say I am a lot lazier than I used to be and the words don't stick to memory like they once did. I am 32 now, so lets see how well my system stands up to father time.

3) Pack up the essentials

I have no clue whether I can get the more peculiar items like Vietnamese Fish sauce and Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce in Amman. I have set up boxes of can't live without's and planning to send them ahead. For those of you who are curious, here is my list:

Soy Sauce
Sesame oil
nori seaweed for sushi
Gochu garu (Korean chili powder)
Gochu jang (Korean chili paste)
Teoenjang (Soybean paste)
Dashi (Japanese broth powder)
Sesame seeds
rice vinegar
fish sauce
oyster sauce
Thai curry
Shitake mushrooms

Well, that's a pretty big first post. I spent my weekend writing it out and can't promise to have such an extensive write up the next time. I generally write in bursts, and not daily or hourly posts. The experiences are new and fresh but after a while, I start to get local and write less about my surprises. At the end, it becomes a lot of rants. So, sit back and lets enjoy the year in Jordan!