Tag Archives: fanciness

…Baby Shower Hosting

A few weeks ago, we hosted a baby shower for our neighbors, who are having their first child. When the invitations went out, they had been told the child was a girl, but the day before, the news changed, so it was good that we’d made at least a few of the decorations gender neutral!

Welcome Baby!

It was hard to find anything baby themed here in Dhaka, because it’s not part of the culture to celebrate a baby before it actually arrives. It was hard to even find party supplies that were for adults, however, rather than kids birthdays. If you want a Ben-10 themed party, or Doremon, or Dora, you’re set. DIT 1 has everything you could ever want and more. At Lavender market, they even have balloons in odd animal shapes, but no normal ones. So, I had to make some, and use things that aren’t typically party supplies.

I made a banner from the only 3 colors of tag board/poster paper I found in all of the markets I searched. Luckily, those colors were pastel green, blue and pink. I used some of my weaving warp as the banner’s string. The banner flags also came together to make a Welcome Baby sign.

Sari window covering, banners and Neko’s toy pile (which was removed for the actual event, of course!)

A friend loaned me some old pink saris, and they made a great window covering, to block the view of our neighbor’s laundry lines, and hide the embassy’s bland beige curtains, but still let some light in.

Purple bed cover + metallic pink wrapping paper = colorful tablecloth

The flowers came from a wedding flower vendor, and are as glitzy as possible. They also had a weird gasoline smell, so I burned a candle in the dining room the day before to cover/eliminate it. I covered the table with a queen sized bed spread that I’d found at the handicrafts store (table cloths are almost all white here, and often embroidered, but not in a fun way, only in a formal holiday dinner way. There are also block printed cloths, but not in the diplomatic zone, you have to go to New Market for those). I cut out circles from metallic wrapping paper to drop on the tablecloth and match the sparkley flowers. If you really want to glam things up, the wedding shops on Elephant Road have everything crazy-glittery that you could ever want. A friend decorated the cupcakes for the party, and made them blue at the 11th hour when we’d heard of the gender change.

Blueberry-raspberry lemonade and the Ice Cream Sundae bar

Luckily, our commissary-purchased dishes and cups were blue, rather than the typical Solo-red, since we were trying to choose something that would look nice with the other colors. (Thanks Mr. A!). The punch just happened to be blue already as well, as was the punch-stand and the scarf that I used as a buffet cover.

Pin the face on the baby

We had two baby shower games, neither of which were particularly embarrassing or gross:

1. Pin the face on the baby, in which blindfolded party-goers stuck cut outs of the to-be-parents’ facial features onto a drawing of a baby. The result was somewhat Frankenstein-esque, but the game was fun.

2. Mad-libs, in which everyone filled out a card that had a mad-lib word description on it (i.e. “famous person’ name”). I read the completed story aloud, filling in the blanks with the words people had written down. I wrote the story myself, since I couldn’t find an appropriate one online.

All in all, the event went really well. I was surprised how grateful the to-be-parents were, and how smoothly it all came together. Our main room isn’t really meant for 30+ people, but we managed to squeeze in comfortably.

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…Istanbul

OMG, Istanbul was great!! Oh wait, I wanted to give a different impression first. All you FS types reading this: Turkey was hot, and there was bad traffic in Istanbul, and… and… Turkish is a hard language. Er… I’m trying to come up with reasons for you all to avoid bidding on the very few posts available in Istanbul, but it’s hard. So, I’ll go for the personal appeal, please, please, please, don’t bid on it. I want to. 🙂 If you read the rest of this, you might want to bid on it, so please don’t. The OUR “Orient Express” family has already done an excellent job of detailing the merits of Istanbul, and I’m going to have a lot of work ahead of me discouraging the rest of you from bidding on it.

But, yes, Istanbul was great. Really.

The breakfast buffet at the Armada

We arrived in the evening and took the hotel’s rather stealthily luxurious van to the back streets of Sultanahmet, the old town district of Istanbul. The Hotel Armada was both tastefully elegant, and yet a bit hip. The building was decorated with late 1800’s sensibilities (both Old West and Colonial), but the staff wore tight black t’s and pants. The food at the breakfast buffet was divine, and divinely fresh. I wanted to pack up the whole spread and air freight it home. They had fresh honey comb, fresh OJ squeezing, 5-10 different kinds of jams/bread toppings, 8 kinds of cheese, three kinds of tomatoes, etc…. Wonderful. In the lobby, there was a living sculpture of Mississippi red-eared slider turtles in a fountain. The roof deck (where breakfast was) had views of both the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Marmara. There were fresh flowers everywhere. The soaps were handmade. There were exotic birds in gilded cages. But… I have no idea what the rooms were like, because we actually rented an apartment around the corner, which was even cooler.

Our apartment was about 30 seconds from the front door of the Armada, but gave us the experience of living in Istanbul, like a local. Across from our front stoop, was a front stoop where real Istanbullus sat and watched the afternoon go by. A klatch of three busibody ladies sat in plastic chairs in front of the local “everything store.” At the same store, Mr. Adventure bought an ice cream one night, and had the wrong change, so the proprietor told him to come back the next day and pay him back. Our neighbor’s baby smiled at our baby. The street cats sidled up to us as we walked by. People waved and smiled. It was not your typical hotel experience.

Turtles in the Armada lobby

If you do rent the apartment we used (Studio 1, ground floor and basement), beware the ground floor shower. It’s er… scary. The sprayer keeps popping off the hook and there is no scald guard. However, there are two bathrooms!!! And the one downstairs has a perfectly fine shower, that doesn’t spray water all over the ceiling when it falls off the hook. That apartment had a queen bed on the main floor, along with a 24″ TV that had only 1 English channel ;( CNN, a kitchenette (stovetop, sink, toaster, coffee set up), and a eating table. The basement had 3 twin sized day beds, a tiny TV, arm chair, and TONS of pillows. There was also ample storage for all your luggage, as nearly every wall was lined with cupboards and closets. And, because this is a hotel apartment, you still get the fancy linens, the cozy bathrobes and in-room safe that you’d expect to find in a hotel. The apartment we chose was the mid-sized one, but there’s a smaller and a larger one, depending on your family. Ours was too big for us, we didn’t use the ground floor as much as we would have if Neko were older. We’d hoped to put her down there since her sleeping schedule is different than ours, but the crib they provided didn’t negotiate the stairs.

At the ceramics museum

The first night, all we did was sleep. We were recovering from the sunburn and sleeping outdoors adventures of the previous few days.

However, the next morning we were up and ready to explore! After the aforementioned glorious breakfast, we headed up the hill to Topkapi palace, hearing the sounds of a traveling musical troupe, and espying people on stilts was up ahead in a crowd, but never quite catching up with the show. We eschewed paying the entrance fee to the Palace, partly because of the enormous line, and continued on our merry way, spotting another museum on the way. The museum was advertising an all-museums pass for 70L, which allowed you to skip all the future ticket lines, and (as we found out when doing the math) saves you money as long as you visit both the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi. It also includes admission to the Harem at Topkapi.

Enjoying lunch at the kebap and rug shop. Neko flirted with the very friendly waiter.

This museum that was down the hill was the archaeological museum, and included 3 separate museums, filled with the treasures of the empire. There were ancient relics from various far-flung sites that were once part of the Ottoman Empire, Eastern Roman Empire, Caliphate, etc. There were fancy things that were once used by those various rulers. The neatest items were in the main archaeolgical museum (which was under reconstruction, and partially closed), but the neatest building was the ceramics museum. Glorious mosaics, tiles, stained glass windows… I could live there. Wouldn’t be hard.

Hagia Sophia, with teeny tiny people. Ok, those are real full-sized people, the building’s just really huge.

We took some breaks to accommodate food for Neko and for ourselves, and then walked up the hill to the Hagia Sophia. It was everything I imagined, and cooler. Mr. A had previously seen it, but it was being restored at the time, and full of scaffolding. This time, both of us got to revel in its mosaics, expansiveness, and the weirdnesses of the whole thing. Much of the original splendor is lost due to lootings, idolatry controversies and it’s conversion to use as a mosque, but the architecture itself is more than suitably awe-inspiring. That might be hidden if there were more of the earlier decorations.

Classic mosaics at Hagia Sophia (Imperial types offering gifts to Christ)

After the Hagia Sophia, we gobbled yet another ice cream snack, and then took a chilly, damp trip down into an ancient cistern. It had been hidden for hundreds of years, but rediscovered when travelers heard tales of subbasement fishing holes. And, yes, the fish in there were strange and enormous. Neko liked the way the lights glowed against the damp walls, and possibly the novelty of walking around in the dark after just being outside in the middle of a bright day.

Cistern a la spookiness

We followed that up with a trip to the Blue Mosque, complete with the requisite modesty police that drape you in ugly swathes of velcroed fabric to hide various parts of your anatomy. Unlike some other mosques, the Blue Mosque was not concerned about my hair, but about my “shoulders,” which probably meant my decolletage, really. Either way, I had pre-scarfed my hair, so I had to re-scarf myself to cover my shoulders, but the initial look was much tidier than the second. The scarf, purchased nearby, was a nice match to the mosaic walls of the Blue Mosque, however, so that’s something. Neko, tidily packed up in the Ergo was free of the modesty restrictions. This was a pretty place, but not really anything different than many of the other mosques we’ve been to. I would have liked to get closer to the pretty tilework, but it was all up on the ceiling.

Scarfing it in the Blue Mosque

We ate dinner that night at McDonald’s, because yes, we’re deprived here in Dhaka. It was the first McDonald’s we’d had abroad that was so dramatically different than USA McDonald’s. The burger was a Kofta burger, even though it was labelled as a Big Mac, and the chicken nuggets were more like a panko breading than the normal smooth coating. The fries were perfect.

“Magic” corn

We zipped from there off to a night bus tour that took us to the highest point in Istanbul to watch the sun set over Asia and Europe, and suffered from some terrible traffic on the way there. Apparently one of the bridges was closed due to some once-every-40-years maintenance schedule, and so everything was being routed over the bridge we took. That would have been ok, since we’re used to traffic, but it was accompanied by some really bad turkish traditional music on a short repeat. Normally that music would have filled in the bits between the recorded narrative, but instead we heard it hundreds of times. Mr. A said his nightmares were punctuated by its cadences.

A carpet vendor at Arasta Bazaar… the whole bazaar thing was much fancier than I’d expected. I thought it would be more like a street market. Bizarre

The next day we started with another great breakfast, and then hit up the Topkapi Palace, armed with our handy all-museum pass. While the guidebooks dissuade you from the Harem, suggesting it’s lewd, or somehow uninteresting, I think it was the best part of the whole palace, and certainly the least crowded. There’s a separate admission fee, unless you have the museum pass, so most people skip it. It’s really lovely, however. You get to see the insides of the actual home of the court, so it’s all the most decorated and cozy bits. There’s one creepy recreation of the Queen mother with some of the concubines, but other than that, it’s a great tour. I might have sprung for the audio tour if I’d known that there’d be so many things to learn about in there, but the rental place was all the way back at the palace entrance. We made do with the official signboards, which were pretty decent, actually, compared to the other sights in town.

Near our apartment, a sidewalk had these great glowing cobbles interspersed among the stones.

We sat in a grove on the palace grounds so that Neko could have her elevenses, saw the treasures of Mecca, skipped the royal treasury (because six million people were in line to get in), and wandered off back toward the center of things. The afternoon saw us use our bus tour tickets from the night before as passes for the day tour (interesting, but nothing special unless you actually take the time to HopOn HopOff at some of the sights). We followed that with a delectable dinner of contemporary Turkish cuisine at the highly recommended (by us and other) Oceans 7 in Sultanahmet, and made some purchases at the bazaar beneath the Blue Mosque.

That is paradise. We picked up some black zebra tomatoes that were the sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever had (surprisingly so), and some dark cherries. We brought them home, along with a couple weird chocolates, a box of kinder-egg knock-offs and a can of black olives. I heart Carrefour.

But, it wasn’t until the last day that we really became Istanbullus. Because on that day, we went to a mall. Yes, folks… a shopping mall. There, we saw a food court with 7 options of kebap and 3 kofta places (but no chinese or mexican…), 2 cart vendors selling “magic” corn, a kids play area… and we bought… an iPad! Yeah! A replacement for my broken computer! I’m still trying to figure things out, and epic blog posts like this one are still better on Mr. A’s computer, I think, but it’s been addictive already. We also toured the wonders of Carrefour (our second ever), and brought back salted olives, cherries and tomatoes to Dhaka. Awesomely good cherries and tomatoes. California quality.

Why am I still here? I need to go back and get me some more of that Turkish produce.

So, what did we miss? We did not visit the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian/Spice Bazaar, the Chora Museum, Miniaturk (a miniatures park), the Aquarium, the largest shopping mall in Asia, a Bosphorus boat tour (we’d been on enough boats!), a dancing show (didn’t think Neko could hack it, and didn’t have food to sustain her with a babysitter). Some of these we weren’t interested in, some we didn’t have the time to see. Essentially, we need to go back. Soon. And live there. So don’t bid on it, unless you’re not on our cycle, then you can.

——

For fans of AdventuresIn who went to college with yours truly, Peaches, Istanbul was stop 2 on my “Jesus to Muhammad” bucket list. (That’s the name of a formative course also famous for weeding people out of the Honors program when I was there.) While there, we got our fill of ancient buildings, relics, mosaics, ionic/doric/corinthian columns, and egg-and-dart motifs. Some of those we actually saw in Olympos, but we’ll group them all together for simplicity’s sake. The previous stop on the list was Rome, and that was way back in 1998, so… er… I’d better pick up the pace if I want to visit the rest of the sites before I join them in moldering away. It’s a good thing I don’t have a list for any of the other 3 courses in the series, or any of the other innumerable courses I’ve taken, though Aix-la-Chapelle and the abbey at Cluny are on the life list, and were part of the J2M+ course series.

…Clothing Swap

Over the past weekend, I hosted a clothing swap party at my house. I was a little nervous about how many people might show up, since I’d gotten RSVP’s from complete strangers and people outside the embassy, but we had a completely manageable crowd that fit into our living rooms nicely.

If you’ve never been to a clothing swap, everyone brings the stuff from their closet that doesn’t fit right, or that they’d loved the idea of but never really liked on themselves, etc. At the swap, there are designated areas for tops, bottoms, accessories, shoes, bags, dresses, etc. I tried to include an area for more local fashions at mine, but there weren’t many and they got snapped up so fast that there wasn’t any need for a special space for them.

I had a ton of clothes that don’t fit well any more. Between the Dhaka 15, the pregnancy and the wistfulness that lovely things I’d once worn would someday fit me again, I was a bit of a clothes hoarder. So, in the spirit of purging, I got rid of all of that stuff. Some of it was pretty popular, so I was happy to see it going to new homes.

Since there aren’t many shops where you can buy western clothes here, it was a good chance to get some new things for the wardrobe, and have a chance to try them on first (unlike internet shopping).

I came away with a few blouses, 2 bracelets made for people with giant wrists (yeah!), and a lovely scarf. I was happy with how it turned out. Some people brought really fancy things, I guess I have high quality friends.

…Monsoon Weddings

People sometimes wonder why I don’t make a big effort to go out and enjoy the amenities of Dhaka more often. After all, there is a Western movie theater here, only 12 km  (7.5 miles) away, inside the 12th largest mall in the world!

Well, last night we went to a wedding, only 10 kms away, a distance that many people run (for fun?) on weekends. It took us 3.5 hours to get about half way there. Yes, we sat in the car in uncomfortable, expensive clothes (saris and suits, bulky local jewelry), listening to cars honking consistently for 3 hours before deciding to give up (because the wedding had already happened), and another 30 minutes to reach a place where we could even turn around and head back home. For this exciting adventure, we had to pay our ayah 10% of her monthly salary in overtime, buy the aforementioned saris and jewelry, and deal with a bunch of annoyances due to the craziness of shopping, public shutdowns and rain.

I have taken a large amount of tylenol, and I am still suffering from a headache. bleh.

…Finding and making food

(I’m not an Amazon affiliate, and get no kickbacks from them, but the links below connect you to Amazon.)

Trying to cook familiar (or, lets face it, even edible) food when you are unfamiliar with the local produce or unable to communicate what item you want in a dauntingly large produce market can be a tough challenge for those of us serving abroad. It’s such a challenge that some foreign service folks have a blog called Hardship Homemaking that features recipes and substitutions for American foods that can be made with decidedly un-american ingredients. The title comes from the pay differential earned by those serving at posts where food is scarce or terrifically expensive. (On the other side, places, like Paris, where food is abundant, but terrifically expensive, qualify you for a COLA-cost of living adjustment-so the financial bonus for being in a hardship country isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.)

In the spirit of that blog, I wanted to share some of my favorite book resources for ‘marketing’ and ‘cooking.’

As I’ve said before, we couldn’t deal with the gastronomic trauma of having a ful time cook here in Dhaka. The food was just SOOOO oily, and so much the same every day. However, I don’t want to be completely confined to a life of frozen foods from the commissary, so I do have to get fresh produce somehow. If we plan it right, we can find many of the items ourselves, by venturing into the market. If time is short, or our luck is short, we have to send someone out to help us find what we need. Of course, I don’t know the names of all the vegetables in Bangla, and my household staff certainly doesn’t know all their names in English. So… enter the first two books:

The Field Guide to Produce, by Aliza Green. This book has great photographs of tons of vegetables and fruits. I point to them and my housekeeper/shopper can let me know if she’ll be able to find such an exotic item as romaine lettuce in the market. It also has useful information on how to prepare various veggies. When something unusual comes home because it’s in season and looks interesting, you can find it here and learn to peel it before you steam it, or to be sure to season it with salt so that it doesn’t get bitter, etc. They offer field guides to meat, herbs & spices and seafood too.

The Visual Food Lovers Guide, by QA International has even more varieties of fruits and veggies, as well as nuts, meats and other edibles. Instead of photos, however, it has drawings. I worried that might not be useful for the point and send method of shopping, but it’s worked well. It’s helped me find things like cilantro, rather than parsley. (Of course, my housekeeper brought home a KILO of cilantro, but beggars can’t be choosers!). This book also includes preparation advice, even on how to skin and fillet your particular fish, should you be so inclined.

There are some similar books to these which might suit your needs better.
Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit also includes growing and harvesting advice, but we never braved a rooftop farm, though many other families did it successfully.
Edible is more of a coffee table book, but looks lovely.
Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini seems most helpful for the “what the heck is this?” moments.

I also found that having a cookbook or two around is quite helpful to both me and my staff (I do occasionally have someone else cook, but am still gun shy). That’s why I invested in some “visual cookbooks.” Intended for novice cooks, they have photographs of recipes step by step. They’re great for people who are unfamiliar with the particular food and common techniques of cooking it, because it goes step by step.
What to Cook and How to Cook It includes a section at the back showing the different kinds of cutting that you can do with veggies (mince, chop, dice, etc.). This book is great for a limited English reader with a basic knowledge of cooking, or as a reminder trick for a recipe that you teach the first time to a non-English reader.

This is a sample page, illustrating the first three steps of a penne with tomato-olive sauce recipe. You can see that it includes pictures of the measured ingredients as well as the steps you use to make the recipe. The recipes are broad, including modern American favorites and adaptable versions of world cuisines like Pad Thai or Fajitas. I would be happy eating everything from the book, well… except the mushroom thing. I hate mushrooms!

Rachel Ray also has a visual cookbook, Look and Cook, but I thought the ingredients were a little harder to find outside the US. Fabulous pictures though!

There are also some great children’s cookbooks full of illustrations, especially for baking, but I prefer to do my own baking, and so I have no advice here.

Voila, my little library for my household staff.

…Sari Shopping

The rain has started again, though it’s probably just a preview of the rains to come. I bet we’ll have a few more weeks of relative dryness before the deluge. I went Sari (or sharee, if you want to say it with a Bangla accent) shopping this weekend, and forgot to take photos, so a thousand words will have to suffice for the photo.

There are some moderately western style stores here where expats are welcomed with high prices and a more limited selection in exchange for the freedom to sort through the racks yourself. Of course, you’re still followed closely, and they tidy up immediately after you. I thought it was just a weird cleanliness thing, but after speaking with the owner/manager of one of these shops, it is an effort to cut down on losses from theft. I can’t imagine stuffing a sari, painted trunk or metal elephant in my bag (items that I’ve touched under the close surveillance of a store employee), but apparently the expats who visit Dhaka have sticky fingers. Hard to believe that the relative strength of the dollar isn’t enough. I feel so profiled.

Anyway, while the mister watched Neko, I went with a friend to one of these expat-y shops, and found nothing. They had lots of nice things, but nothing appropriate for the event. So, off to a more traditional sari shop we went.

Traditionally, sari shops in the area act more like the personal shoppers of high end New York department stores. You, the client, sit in a chair while the vendor parades the saris before you. Of course, all the vendors are male, so watching them drape the folds of fabric off their shoulders is additionally entertaining. The vendors stand atop a long low dais that has a kind of sheet-covered mattress on it. They shake open each potential sari, chosen to fulfill the requirements you’ve outlined, and lay it on the dais. It’s got all the fun of hanging sheets out to dry in the sun added to glittery rhinestones and deep colors.

Of course, they want to sell you the nicest saris. My friend really liked one of these high end options, but balked at the $300 price tag, so we asked if we could see something in a similar color but lower price. Their first response was to show us the same sari in a different color. Not quite. Then they went immediately to the cheapest possible sari in a similar color, like something you might buy to give as a charitable donation, about $15. Is there nothing in between, we asked. And, finally, something. Not the same quality as the first, obviously, but very workable, and still elegant for the occasion.

Once you’ve decided, there’s a bit of a price negotiation, if you’re up for it. They gave us 25% off, most likely as an incentive to tell our friends to come to the same shop. Then, it gets folded up in a small flat box, and brought home, unless it needs additional sewing or cutting (as there are occasionally finishing needs on some saris).

On my own part, this was my first sari purchase, as I’d never really needed one, and they can be quite expensive when you factor in all the tailoring, petticoats, accessories, etc. I ended up with one I really love, though it doesn’t fit the “color code” of the event we’re going to. But, really, I’m not going to buy a fancy cream and gold sari that I’ll hate and never wear again (because I look awful in the color), just because someone wants their guests to look similar. I might be the one colorful thorn in the Bollywood dreams of the bride, but I don’t mind that.

Tomorrow, we’re hoping that the tailor will show up to take our measurements and make the shirt and petticoats to match the sari. I chose a beautiful raw silk in a similar hue as the sari. Most saris come with an additional yard or so of matching fabric to make the top out of, but since mine is a netted fabric, that would be quite risqué, a la Madonna in the 80s. There is, however, some trim on the blouse piece that can be transferred to the silk for the full effect.

All I need now is some bling and shoes. I’m worried, as the glitz code here is pretty high. I don’t have anything appropriate for either, and fear the cost/tiny size factors might be a problem. We’ll see. I promise pics of the event by the end of the month!

…Singapore, part 1

(I apologize for a lack of pictures, imagine a thorougly modern world city, with ample trees, sidewalks and fancy shopping, poised on the coast, and you’ve got Singapore.)

We’re back from a whirlwind immersion in modern luxury that left me in tears on the way to the airport. Why? I was that depressed about having to leave the McDonalds, the Pho, the opportunity to try clothes on before you buy them… and walkable streets, open parks and movie theaters.

Those tears were a pretty clear indication that I enjoyed the trip a lot, of course. I’d move to Singapore, if opportunity presented itself, though the sheer number of malls and shopping centers might make me fear for my bank account. I think we spent 80% of our waking hours in malls of some sort or other, even when we weren’t shopping, we were walking through them on the way to other things. The official language of Singapore is English, but it’s a cultural melting pot, and the architecture, sound and taste are pan-Asian and Western combined.

We arrived at the bleary hour just before dawn on Friday, after an altogether too short red-eye from Dhaka. The flight was 4 hours, punctuated by a meal, children who acted like banshees (not babies, but older kids who screamed like them for long long long intervals—childrearing is very different here than I am used to), and a few bouts of turbulence (it is the rainy season after all). Thankfully, our hotel had arranged for a private car to take us into town, and we checked in incredibly early and crashed on the bed until noon. The room had this great opaque shade that made daytime seem like night.

We then crawled down to the first floor to partake of the included lunch, yummy, and then ventured out into the wide world of Singapore’s tourist industry. We went first to Sentosa Island, a cross between a beach resort, a Disney-like gardening theme, and a casino. We visited an aquarium and saw a dolphin and sea lion show with local pink dolphins. They’re rather ugly because their mottled pink and grey skin looks more like they have a disease or bad case of sunburn than something natural. One of the sea lions was a total ham though, and danced to the music the whole time.

We also walked on the beach there, saw a fountain that was reminiscent of Gaudi, and ate the first of many ice creams over the weekend. I was totally wiped out by the time we got home later that night, crashed again, and woke up just late enough that the housekeeper was already opening the door to clean our room.

On Saturday, we got a tourist transit pass and made our way out to the zoo. The exhibits were almost completely open, many of the animals were on islands surrounded by a stream as way of containing them, rather than cages. They also had some free ranging orangutans. It was truly an amazing zoo, and I’ve been to many of the world’s best zoos. What made it even better was the gentle drizzle that kept the day cool, and the animals active and alert. We saw an elephant show and another sea lion show. Mr. A was chosen to be the audience participant (a big “macho man”) and was challenged to toss Frisbees from quite a distance to a sea lion on stage. He did remarkably well, even considering that they handed him a floppy rubbery disc that I wouldn’t have been able to toss to the computer screen in front of me now. Next door to the zoo is the equally awesome Night Safari zoo, made especially cool by the night mist and the solitary trails between exhibits. We made it back on the last train to our subway stop and creeped back to the hotel for another dead sleep.

Sunday was full of shopping, eating Pho and cheesy fries and picking up some of the stuff requested by people here in Dhaka (lemons, for instance, are unavailable here… weird).

Monday was more of the same, but much hotter and Tuesday we visited a movie theater to see the new X-men movie before hopping on the plane back to Dhaka. We made sure to pick up the strange Korean meat product that was described by previous visitors to the Singapore airport as “meat crack” and sat amongst a forest of orchids above a koi pond while we waited for our flight. And here we are, back in Dhaka, where the weather is surprisingly pretty and blue today, you can thank us for bringing it back with us.

…Marine Balls

with the governor of Oregon

I promised you photos of the Marine Ball and here we are, all dressed up. I apologize for the picture quality, but these are compressed images. Mr. A is wearing the tux we had done earlier this year and which he was smart enough to pack in the air freight. I, however, had to have something made here, which is pretty common in the Foreign Service, but I didn’t have much time to do it in. The typical method is to bring in a picture to have the tailor/dressmaker copy, but I didn’t have any fashion magazines or a printer for my computer. Plus all the dresses I found seemed too fussy and complicated to copy easily. I drew my dress freehand (complete with darts, zippers, and stitch-marks, thanks to my sewing experience and a year of living with a fashion design student). The fabric I found at Sopora Silk. I was worried we’d all end up with the same fabrics because everyone shops at that store for fabric, but most people opted for a solid fabric with embroidery or other embellishment custom-made at the tailor’s.

The tailor, Shaheen, is also the guy everyone goes to, and he did a reasonably good job, particularly given the short turn-around time.

The cake, always cut first with a sword and presented to the guest of honor, the eldest and the youngest Marines before dinner.

The middle-stage of the dress, when I was getting fitted, was very amusingly sized, but it was all fixed for the final product. There was only a single odd seam that bugged me. Shaheen is also a character himself, a bit like Seinfeld’s soupnazi, and is expensive for Dhaka. But, he’s really convenient, and generally successful at achieving your vision for a dress.

The ball itself was a cross between a wedding and a prom, i.e. a ceremony followed by food and dancing. The DJ played lots of hits from the 1970s and on, but I missed hearing some of the classic dance music of the Big Band and Swing eras,

The art shot. (my spiffy evening purse)

and there weren’t many slow songs either. I know I’m a bit of an outlier in preferring those dances though. The food was lovely, and they even had real sushi!The Marine Ball is a tradition at every post, slightly different from the Marine Balls at the big Marine Bases, but with elements that are universal across all the festivities.  We can expect many years of these balls in the future.

*Update*

For some other experiences of Marine Balls in the Foreign Service:

The real purpose of the Marine Ball

Marine Ball 2010

U.S. Marine Corps Ball Manila 2010

November Again

Hoorah!