Saturday, 14 September 2013

Taxi Spanish

My daydream in the cab was broken by the driver asking me, "Are you German?".  I quickly tossed up what would end this conversation sooner, me being German or something else.  

I went with, "Spanish".  

Silence reigned again and I went back to my daydreaming.  

Then, out of the blue, I hear,

"Ta ta di que so."

"Sorry?" I Say

"Ta ta de que so.  Si.  Cheescake."

"Cheesecake?  Oh, tarta de queso.  Yes, that's cheescake."  I sink back into wondering why he can say cheesecake, of all things, but my thoughts are interrupted again with,

"Piscina pubico."

"Publica, yes. With an L."

"Ah publica.  yes."

He then pointed to the left, "Comisaria de policia."

The collection of schoolboy words in Spanish is a little baffling, I must say.  

I lean over to see he has a pile of flash cards next to him, some in Spanish, some in Italian and a glimpse of "klein nudeln" reveals the enthusiasm for German earlier. 

Other useful words are listed like "stamp collection" and "spread germs" 

He then asks, "How do you say IFC in Spanish?"

I said that there were two ways, the long way and the short way.  The long way was requested:

"Centro Internacional Financiero"

He wrote this on his newspaper as we sped down the highway at full throttle.  

The Spanish list

After asking him a number of words I've been wanting to learn in Cantonese (traffic jam, I'm late, up to you and birthday cake (to go with cheesecake)), we had sadly arrived.

He shouted Ciao! out the window and was gone.  

Monday, 26 August 2013

Casual Fridays

If the average 40 year old Japanese banker wears khaki trousers, a button down shirt and boring shoes on a Saturday when going for lunch with his wife, then why does he wear a Nike cap, Nike Airs, white shorts and a Lycra t-shirt on "casual Fridays" at the bank?

This is the question I asked myself ten minutes ago when I got a call from T at Le Banque in Tokyo.  Turns out the electricity hasn't quite come back since last year's earthquake - don't ask -  and so they're saving-on-a/c.

Due to it being, well, the middle of summer, the CEO sensibly suggested that employees might "dress casually and not wear a suit or tie" to avoid total meltdown.  

Clearly, this was interpreted as "dress for Sports Day" or alternatively, "please all go home, dig around in the rag basket, hassle your 10 year old son for his hand-me-downs and throw it all on.  In the dark."

I suppose it was that or the French alternative which would have been to shut down the entire Japanese division.  That would be a far-better-way-to-save-on-a/c. Non?

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Me and my kite

So, I took up kite surfing this year.  As someone who can't get down a slope and can't do anything on wheels, I would say this is an achievement.  I started in Boracay this February where I gained celebrity status (in my mind) by being one of the few beginners to get up and go within 3 days.

So, needless to say, when we arrived at the kitesurfing school in Paros this summer, I felt more than confident that I'd be "up and going" in no time.  They gave me a form with a list of all the techniques one should have at my level which I ticked off glibly.  Yes-of-course-I-can-waterstart-and-kite-in-both-directions.

Satisfied that I had clearly mastered the art, they threw me my equipment, assigned me Giacomo, an Italian, and off I sauntered into the howling wind and water.

Two exhausted hours later, I still couldn't get my feet into the board straps, let alone begin to try and fly my kite.

T. Not me

I floated in the middle of the bay, the wind whipping past my helmet, my knees tucked under my chin while Giacomo zoomed around me on his jet ski shouting unhelpful advice like "tuck in your knees!", "steady the board!", "straighten your front leg!"  

All his instructions blended together in my cold head until he finally took pity on me, flung my limp carcass onto the back of the jet ski and bounced me back to the beach.

Madly enough I tried again the next day, but this time with a Venezuelan who had much more helpful advice like, 

"fall on your arse, not on your face (you'll look prettier that way)"
 "shag, don't s**t" - read stand tall and don't hang your bum in the water

He also enthusiastically shouted "Ole" every time I swirled my kite in the wind.

Much better.  

For those of you mad enough to want to try kitesurfing, check out this link first.  
If you're too far from paradise, you can kitesurf in Hong Kong.  It's pretty grim but better than watching YouTube all day.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Working out like a French woman

As someone who would rather sit among a pile of pillows eating ice-cream than exercise ANY DAY, I've naturally struggled with the modern phenomenon of "regular exercise".  I generally get into some sort of fad or other and then tire of it about 12 months later, disappointed by the results - exercise most definitely does not make you thin - and bored with the routine.

So, moving onto another fad, I signed up for a personal trainer in December.  I decided that perhaps if I had someone come-to-my-door and wake-me-up in the morning, then maybe I'd actually manage to stick to it.  And I have.

Part of the this was motivated by my trainer who suggested the notion that one "might want to workout like a Frenchwoman".  This, she implied, means never missing a class...ever....  

She told me (and I'm not sure how I feel about this) that many women work hard, play hard, drink hard, eat hard and exercise like maniacs, but that they don't keep it up.  French women on the other hand, work light, play light, drink light, eat light and always exercise (lightly) and keep it up.  

I don't know if any of this is particularly true (a good friend of mine, for example, does all of the above but then eats the entire cheese plate after she's had more than 3 glasses of wine), but in any case, I decided I would try the "always exercise, but lightly" idea.  

So now, twice or three times a week, you'll find me in the park lightly doing crunches, TRX squats, burpies, sprints, lunges and other death defying deeds...lightly.  

Monday, 27 May 2013


I was recently told about a conference call with half the universe on it, in a huge multinational, across four different time zones.  And in the middle of this call, everyone could suddenly hear the soothing tinkle tinkle of water, and the echo of what could only be the four walls of a bathroom.  It took everyone on the line about 5 seconds to register what it was and for the presenter to irritably say,

"Can we all go on mute, please?!"

And then I remembered a similar call where we were also talking across three million time zones, with twenty zillion heavyweights on the call and we could suddenly hear a dog barking and someone scream at the top of their lungs,


Again, a restrained request for the mute button to be used was made.

If you think about it, entire careers can be derailed because of not pressing the mute button. Even worse than not remembering to press the mute button is accidentally unmuting yourself with your cheek while squeezing it against the keypad. 


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Lawn games

Last week at my brother's house in Canada, as I was stacking chicken skewers for our afternoon lunch in the sunshine, I let my mind wander to thinking about the bucolic bliss of living in the country and how I could just see myself making my own jam and maybe having a Lab or two who would fetch tennis balls from the end of the garden.

Daydreaming of gardens 
Thanks Pinterest Paola Gembetti

In the middle of this daydream of nature's bounty and the serenity of lawns, I looked up to find myself staring at the neighbour's fat black cat triumphantly standing in the garden with a large fluffy tail protruding from his jaws.

The tail was enormous, and the cat was looking understandably chuffed about his acquisition.  I watched, waiting to see if he would swallow the rest of the squirrel and spit out the tail.   He didn't.  Instead, he dropped the shivering wreck of a squirrel onto the lawn and proceeded to bat it around from side to side.  He then picked it up and flung it into the air, the squirrel's eyes out on stalks as it came down with a thud back onto the grass, where it lay winded on its back trying to catch its breath.  The cat, now preempting the end of the party, decides to give it one last chance and goes back to flicking the poor little thing from side to side.  

Finally, the squirrel having decided that he'd humoured the cat for long enough, rolls over limply, after which the cat puts him into this mouth and dives into the bushes and wasn't seen again for the rest of the afternoon.

Tea, anyone?

Thursday, 16 May 2013


I am finally back and writing again!  Time sort of took a hold of itself what with trips to New York, visits from family and me generally being unfocused and a little all over the place.  But fear not, things are now back on track.

Yesterday I had my first experience at Matilda Hospital.  After years of hearing people (well, women) saying  "Oh yes, I delivered at Matilda" and seeing the silent nods of appreciation and approval around the room, I finally get it.  

Sort of.  

So it's true that the building is majestically balanced on the Peak and is designed not unlike the Mount Nelson  hotel in Cape Town, with art deco tiles and sky-high ceilings.  

But as the cab wound me up and up and up to the Peak, it got mistier and mistier, and what had been a sunny day at the office (which is on the sunny side of the island) had now become something not dissimilar to a foggy afternoon somewhere you'd rather not be alone at night.  

Through the mist

Austrian Psyche Ward, anyone?

This then got thinking about a) all those weird movies that Michael Fassbender has been (I digress) and b) all the hospitals I've been to.  

There's the Barcelona Teknon which looks like an Investment Bank (and where I fainted upon seeing my father all wired up and had to be resuscitated by all the various strangers waiting for their loved ones to be wheeled out) but then there's of course the New York hospitals which take the cake for dirty green walls, smelly cushioned blue waiting room seats and broken light bulbs.

I suppose in the end, you're not supposed to be checking in for life, but rather just for lunch.  

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Road block

Last night I looked out the window at 2am and there was a "road block" on our quiet little street.  4 policemen, 2 police vans and lots of flashing red and blue lights were positioned along the road.  And no one, no one drove down the road.  

At one point I thought it was a movie set, but no, it was simply a non event.  

But then I thought that this was just Hong Kong being typically Hong Kong and thinking, "well-we-wouldn't-want-to-create-any-traffic-with-a-road-block-so-let's-do-it-on-a-small-residential-street."  Also, "how-about-we-do-it-on-a-Tuesday-night-so-we-don't-ruin-anyone's-Saturday-night-when-they're-all-happy-and-drunk?"

Wouldn't surprise me.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Kung Hei Fat Choi

The year of the Snake.  The sssneakiest, sssliest creature.  Oh sorry, intuitive, refined and collected.

My whole perception of gifting money has changed since living in Hong Kong.  Here we/they give money for Chinese New Year, money for weddings, money for birthdays and money for funerals.  Basically everything.  

The amounts change depending on the occasion - Chinese New Year you're more or less free to give as much as you want, but no less than the year before and you only have to do this if you're married. For birthdays the money has to have as many 8's in it as possible and for funerals it needs to be in a white envelope (as opposed to red) and an odd number.

So, as a married woman, this week (the week after Chinese New Year) was my big week.  The thing is, you don't want to offend anyone.  Especially those that really matter, namely the doorman, the super and the maid.  Those three have the power to make your life an absolute misery.  You know that if you give them anything less than they think fair, you'll be subjected to doors being "accidentally" closed on your face, leaking air conditioners that "we're too busy to fix" and surprise sick days.  

There are also the singles who have been single long enough to make Chinese New Year a seriously high revenue period.  Take our group secretary.  She's single and essentially works for about 300 of us. Her total annual income is probably more than the CEO's. 

That said, regardless of who you're giving your red packet to, you know they say people are happier when they give than when they take.  

It's so true.  

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Bulk shopping abroad

I was in Bangkok this week with one of my Hong Kong clients and she decides over breakfast that we should pop by the supermarket to buy a few bits and pieces for the people back home.

Upon hearing this, I think to myself that I'll buy my usual modest box of nibbles for the team.  Small digression - I generally end up faring rather badly when I bring food back for my colleagues as the only person who actually eats everything is yours truly.  I'm still working off the kilo I put on from the box of assorted Lindts I brought back from my last trip.  So I try and keep these gifts small and as unappealing to my tastebuds as possible.

Anyway, off we go to the supermarket where I choose two boxes of Thai Spice Pretzel Sticks (I am less likely to single handedly devour a box of salty sticks than a box of, say, dried mangoes) and head to the checkout where I am joined by my client who has bought about 2 kg of food!  

She explains that the instant-noodles-are-so-much-better-than-in-Hong-Kong and that her maid always-drinks-coffee (she says this as she waves 4 bags of coffee in the air) and that you-can't-get-these-corn-flavored-Pockys-anywhere-so-they're-a-must (again waving a family pack of 10 corn Pocky boxes).  

What ever happened to the idea of bringing back "a little something" from one's travels?

With that, she shepherds me back into the dry foods aisles, fills up my basket, sighs with satisfaction and off we leave - my client pleased that she's stocked up on much loved favorites and me having suffered a complete paradigm shift in food gifts. 

Just a little something I picked up in Thailand 
- 20 boxes of Pockys (10 corn, 10 chocolate banana)
- 10 packs of instant noodles
-1 box of Thai Spice Pretz

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Oh and then...

After Sri Lanka, we hopped over to the Maldives which you can imagine was simply dreadful...  

Of course, the thing about the Maldives is that you imagine that you'll get terribly bored sitting in a hut on stilts, sun bathing, eating and snorkeling   But instead, we just sunk into a haze of relaxation.  

The place we stayed in was Italian and probably served the best pasta and gelato east of Rome.  So not only were we sun drenched but we were also blissfully full of ravioli, prosciutto and sun dried tomatoes. 

Postprandial recovery spot

Local fauna

Sunning, sleeping and dreaming base

Welcome 2013

Where we stayed: Gangehi Resort  - heavily Italian in every possible way.. except the decor

Sri Lanka in pictures

Sri Lanka, with its reckless drivers, flower-filled air and smiley people was this year's Christmas destination.   There are two ways to see Sri Lanka: clockwise or anticlock wise.  We went clock wise.  There's also really only one way to get around, and that's with a driver.  After seeing two motorbike accidents and a van suspended over a broken wall, I could see why. 

Sigiriya - paranoia at new heights

Like much of Asia, there is no shortage of Buddhist temples, palaces or ostentatious water features.  But Sigiriya fortress balanced on top of a rock takes the cake.  Think: son kills father (who happens to be the king), takes the thrown and then hides out on top of a rock waiting for his brother to come to seek revenge.  You couldn't make this up if you tried.  

Beautiful Tamil tea pickers.  Note the arse in the background is the only man and sitting chatting on his mobile phone while the ladies pick, gather and carry

We then haired it down to the Tea Country where we planted ourselves for Christmas, drank lots of strong tea and lay awake at night with our eyes out on stalks.  

There's the fish market and then there are the fish stalls on the beach.  Tuna was running

Galle followed in the South.  Unfortunately it's as heavy on the colonial architecture as it is on the little tourist shops and mediocre food, so we kept our stay on the shorter and sweeter side.  

For those of you mad enough to trust my travel advice, stay at Ulagalla for luxury in the cultural triangle, Madulkelle Tea Lodge for cabins in the midst, The Dutch House for the most romantic hotel of your life in Galle and Colombo Courtyard for the overnight stay in Colombo.
Devour the rotis, curry and mangoes but the food isn't the highlight. 
Our best meals were in two Indian restaurants in Colombo: Chutneys and the Mango Tree