Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Life cycle of a scooter

I am not sure if I expressed enough how much items cost here. When we first moved, we of course had to buy a car. We were pretty specific about our needs because of all the stuff that Beth has to carry. We had decided on the Honda CRV. Since we had driven it before and almost bought one previously. We bought a used one and you would have thought that it was brand new, just because of the sticker. Basically two sold cars in the states equal one used car in Australia.

We had driven this car for awhile and it needed the 50,000 Kilometer check. I brought it into the dealer that we bought it from to have the check up down. I went down on an early Saturday morning dropped it off and was told that it would be down in about an hour and that I would go get some brekky (breakfast). I went to one of my favorite spots, had my coffee, eggs, bloody Mary…etc. About 45 minutes later I got a call telling me that the car was ready. I walked back to the dealership and started looking over the statement of what they had done, and how much that it cost. The statement read something like: changed oil, changed oil filter, checked fluids, visually inspected tyres (tires), tyres didn’t need rotating….on and on. I looked at the price at the bottom of the sheet and saw that it was about $150. My thought was that everything is expensive here and that I should just deal with it. What I was mistaken about was that is the bill just for the parts. When I turned the page I saw the rest of the bill….total of $278.25. Most of you know that it takes awhile to get me riled up, when I saw that price tag I blew a gasket. I literally started yelling at the guy, and pointing to the sheet showing that the only thing that they really did was change the oil. No tyre rotation, no car wash, no transmission fluid change….I could go on and on. I kept pointing these things out and asked how it was possible that they could have my car for 45 minutes and charge me that much. The guy mistakenly told me that it took two technicians to do all the work. I told him that I have worked on a car or two in my life and that there was no way that he could justify this bill. He just kept saying sorry, that was what it cost. I argued with him for about 20 minutes. I called him a liar, a cheat, and a criminal. I mentioned that I liked the look of the brand new garage facility, but didn’t think that it was fair that I had to pay for the whole thing. As you can probably guess, I failed at getting the price reduced. I even went back to the salesman that I bought the car from and complained to him, his co-workers, his manager, and nothing.

Since cars cost so much Beth and I decided that we would only have one, and that I should use “alternative” transportation. The public system here is pretty good. There are trams, trains, and buses. Getting around is pretty easy. The draw back is that is takes awhile. My commute to work was taking me about an hour, which is fine but I have only so many “This American Life” pod casts to listen to, besides I could use a little more freedom. The solution to this was for me to buy a scooter. It took me a few months to get used to the idea, and I had to take the motorcycle class. I hunted around several places for my new “bike”. Again everything was a little expensive but I could certainly handle these prices over a car. After my research as to what kind of scooter I wanted, I came to the conclusion that a Honda would be best. A four stroke Honda Lead 100cc would get me where I wanted to go. It would not be fast enough to take on the highway system, but it would be an excellent commuter vehicle. Where should I buy it? Hmmm. I went to the closest Honda dealer. Unfortunately it is the same dealership that ripped me off on the oil change. I was only going to look, what can that hurt. When I test drove the Lead I fell in love with it and wanted it. I negotiated with the dealer and got them to take quite a bit off. After we came to an agreement I told him that he could have a deal that day if he took off another $278.25. I am very proud of myself for getting back at the big evil dealership.

With my new scooter the commute to work is about twenty minutes, and I have the luxury of running errands. Traffic and parking are a huge issue in Melbourne. With the scooter you can split traffic (drive between cars) and park basically wherever you want, even on the side walks. I also calculated that it is cheaper for me to drive the scooter than it is for me to take public transportation. Scooter is about $1 a day public transport is $2.80 a ride. Scooter wins hands down. Life is good.

After about 15 weeks of commuting to work, zipping off to the video store to get our daily dose of the West Wing, and volunteering to run up to the store for groceries, I am feeling really good about my purchase. Beth likes it too because the last thing that she wants is to get into the car after a day of work. On April the 10th I was on my way to work and enjoying my ride when someone turned from the other side of the road to go on a side street. I had no time to stop and hit the door of his car. I ended up sprawled out in the middle of the street, still unsure of what happened. The other driver jumped out of his car and said that he didn’t see me. That is the downside of owning this kind of transportation. We exchanged information, he made sure that I was fine, and I got the name and phone number of witnesses. No worries I am fine. The scooter has seen better days though the front end is smashed and there are scrapes all over the sides. I continued to work and progressed through the day. My neck started to feel sore, other than that I was fine. I made the appropriate phone calls to the insurance agent and got that all squared away. There is a place that can do the repair that is just a little ways away and I could get it there for the price quote. I brought it in the next day and it was looked over by the mechanic. I was told that I could drive it home if I felt comfortable doing so. I am not afraid to say that I had some apprehension….. get back up on the horse right? The assessor from the insurance company would not be able to get to the bike shop until the following Friday and asked if I could have the scooter there by that time. As they say here “no worries”. Thursday after work I was driving to the repair shop. I slowed down at a traffic light because it is a six way stop and I was not sure what the traffic was going to do. For the second time within a week I found myself flat on my back in the middle of traffic wondering what happened. This time I was rear ended by a cab driver. Since I had not been run over yet I knew that traffic was stopped. I decided to just stay there and reflect for a moment. Am I a bad driver? Am I doing something wrong in my life that this is happening? Does God hate me? It didn’t take long before I was surrounded by a bunch of people asking if I was alright. A quick check revealed no broken bones or blood; I was just more surprised than anything else. I figured that I must be doing something right since I have now been in these two accidents and no significant injuries. Once again I gathered information on the other driver and witnesses to the accident.

I have learned today that the scooter is “beyond an economical repair” in other words they totaled the thing.

I really enjoyed my scooter, but maybe I should stick to the trains, trams, and a bicycle.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Veggie Overload

My friend Amy wrote a blog about becoming "slap happy." In honor of that story, I give you this:

A couple weeks back, I decided to branch out of my cooking routine and try my hand at cabbage borscht. This was partly brought on due to my recent lack of vegetables in my diet (fear of listeria - more pregnancy junk) and fueled by the fact that Eric said he had never eaten borscht.

How could that be? In my German and Irish family, we practically grew up on the stuff. Cabbage is about the one food the two countries agree on completely. Cook it...cook it well...cook it until its done done done.

The only cabbage that the store had in stock just happened to be a purple variety. When I was cutting and chopping the purple onions, purple beets and purple cabbage it all seemed very surreal. I was busy chopping away when Eric came home from work so I greeted him with a cheery, "Go Minnesota Vikings". We had a good chuckle.

After about a half hour, everything was in the pot and boiling away. If you think beets are purple when they are in their natural state, they become an even darker shade in the water. Suddenly the water coming out of the boiling pot was coloring everything around it. My hands were stained, the rags that I used to clean the kitchen was stained and the marble counter tops were an odd hue.

Eric had run off to the store to pick up a few more West Wing episodes for us to watch when he called to say that Blockbuster was missing the ones we wanted. He wanted to know if I wanted to watch "The Color Purple" instead. That began a series of us firing back at each other with movie titles like "Purple Rain," anything with "Barney" or "The Purple Rose of Cairo".

Finally he returned home with some Russian mob movie featuring Vigo Mortenson and Naomi Watts.

At that time, we discovered that the borscht had magically grown in the pot and was enough to feed about 30 hungry Germans. We would be eating this stuff for weeks.

We sat dangerously on our very white couch eating giant bowls of very dark purple borscht while watching the mob movie. As fate would have it, there was a scene in the movie where the Ukrainian Grandma makes a giant pot of Borscht to feed the entire mob.

At this point we lost it.

I don't think either of us really liked my attempt at Borscht, and now it was a thing of mockery. Whether it just wasn't very filling or because we had a years supply of it on the stove, we both managed to down two bowls of the stuff. My ancestors would be proud.

They should really post a label on the stuff though - this is not a good pregnancy food.
Within minutes, my abdomen swelled to about double its size. The laughter didn't help the pain at all. I had to put on emergency sweatpants and let my bowling ball size belly have some space.
Eric and I have been chronicling my pregnancy through weekly photos of my belly. We toyed with the idea of doing a series of "pre-borscht" and "post-borscht" photos to add to that series.

Let that be a warning to all pregnant women out there. Skip the borscht!
Oh, and to everyone else...use GREEN cabbage.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bali Unplugged

KP comes to visit in Australia and decides that she wants to take a "side" trip to Bali. It's a bit like saying, "Since I'm visiting the US, I may as well see France." But oh-well, I'm game for it and she's the one doing the many travel hours on planes, so it's off to Bali we go.

It is lovely in Bali - opposite of dry Melbourne. Very very green. Ireland Green. Green like St. Patrick's Day green. Green like a jungle. It is hot, muggy and I am sweating with reckless abandon.
Our hotel looks like something out of a Travel and Leisure magazine and I am grateful that KP picked it out. I tend to make trips harder than they are...see too much...travel to too many places...stay in cheap hotels to cut costs. This is luxury and it's good to be along on someone else's style vacation. I always need a rest when I come home from my trips - this one I'll actually get to lay by the pool and sip drinks with umbrellas and such.

Our resort has this gorgeous open air restaurant where we enjoy breakfast every morning. The monkeys swing from the trees nearby and the sounds of the water in the canyon below us echo up as we enjoy fresh fruit, pancakes, yogurt, and tea and coffee. We are in Shangri-La.

According to KP, it's Shangri-La only if the monkeys go away. They have a mutual dislike going on. I think it's because she is blond and her head looks like a big banana to them. This causes no end to their frustration. We ended up at something called the Monkey Jungle and people were sitting with the monkeys. However, Kathy walked in and a whole tribe of vicious, teeth barring monkeys took off after her. She screamed and threw bananas at the beasts as she ran in terror through the park. All we brown haired people in the park thought it was hilarious.

Since that time, the monkeys have her number. They are on our porch at night...they run around our roof in the morning...and they chase her through the fields at our hotel. She lives in constant fear of these limber tree dwellers.

The town that we stayed in is called Ubud. It is in the mountains of Bali and absolutely beautiful. I did take a day trip to some of the beaches in the south and they were not nice. I hear the area to the north and east of us is quite gorgeous but the southern area is like a big Australian party zone and if this is the only place I ever went in Bali, I think I would hate it. There are people there tying to lure you into their shops, poverty is everywhere and you get the general feeling that things are a bit unsafe. As soon as I arrived, I wanted to leave.

Ubud is the artists area of Bali and famous for its textiles, jewelry, woodcarving and dance theaters. The people are smiley and happy and very willing to help. Yes, they still want the best price for things and everyone says that they can get you a deal, etc. etc. But generally we have found happiness in Ubud and love the people and the surroundings. We are enjoying good food, exploring the temples and palaces, purchasing beautiful sarongs and actually wearing them, and walking the rice fields and countryside.

One evening we went to one of the dances in the palace and watched the performers prance around with odd postures and flexing arms and legs. They learn these dances when they are kids and it is an honorable thing to be good and a well respected performer. Most remarkable is what they do with their eyes. I swear they are in a trance - eyes flickering at rapid pace. The dance was exotic and interesting. There was one part of the dance where there were about six women on stage...they were all dressed alike and had the same makeup and hair. There movements were coordinated and it was eerie. We called it the Balinese Robert Palmer girls.

Wanting to reach out a bit from Ubud, Kathy and I hired a driver for the day and went on a countryside tour. The natural surroundings are stunningly beautiful but it's most amazing to see how the people live. The houses are actually compounds. They have a wall and then several huts and temples within the grounds. It looks like they all live in the Minneapolis sculpture garden. There is a cooking hut, a sleeping hut, a prayer hut, etc. We saw some of those magical terraced rice fields and followed one of the many temple celebrations through the streets for a couple miles. We felt like we were in the parade. We stopped in a couple of towns and wandered about with some local guides and our driver just waited for us. Actually, he did some shopping of his own because we somehow ended up with a caged rooster in the back of our van. The thing flapped around like mad. Feathers were flying, and at one point, the rooster began to crow. Eventually KP clucked it to rest. Fearful monkey girl is actually a chicken whisperer.

It is hot hot hot here and muggy beyond belief. We intended to go on a hike at one point today, but bailed out when it was too warm and we were without any sort of food or water. It was about hour 6 into our day trip. We were overheated, sick of being in the car and ready to get back to the hotel pool. KP got the giggles and kept repeating "nacho mama" to the point where I told her to shut up. Then she started repeating the annoyingAustralian "YEEEEAHHH" and I told her to go back tosaying "nacho mama." Our van driver got into the nacho mamapart as well and suddenly we were a car of crazed people repeating "nacho mama" over and over for no known reason. Road trip madness.

Just in the nick of time, we stopped at an outdoor market where we bought some fruit I had never seen in my life. One type was bitter but had the texture of an apple. I didn't like it. The other one was fleshy and when we cracked it open it looked like a white clementine. It was slimy but tart and I liked it. I was famished and consumed about three of them before I had the fear that I may be severely allergic and not know it. One hour later there was no swollen throat.

Very strange to eat new and exotic fruit - I wonder how many others there are in the world that I haven't yet tried.
However, the lack of foods, places to use a toilet, and crazy country roads did make me want to heave. Nacho mama.

The next day we stayed in town, took a cooking class and ate our spicy creations. Our class was a fun group of people from places all around the world. However, there were two exceptionally annoying women from California in the group that everyone grew tired of as the day progressed. Why did they have to be from America?

We were taught to make ceremonial Balinese food and created about 6 different flavorful dishes with each tasting better than the next. It was a whole day of cooking and the afternoon heat was suppressed as the rain poured down around our thatched roof cooking space. Don't ask me to make any Balinese food at home. Even though I have the recipes, I don't think I could ever find the ingredients. Candle nut anyone? Fresh Palm sugar?

Bali is famous for massage and our hotel is no exception as there is a spa retreat located on the campus. Our room comes with two complimentary massages and so we booked in for each of our treatments around the same time. That way we could head into town for the evening and have dinner and see one of the dancing shows.

However, as we waited for our individual massages, it became clear to us that they were putting us in the same room. Apparently, it was a 'couples' massage. For the next two days, every time KP would ask me what my favorite part of Bali was, I would gaze at her lovingly and reply "the couple's massage". We had a total of 4 treatments at our hotel and even though we asked for separate rooms, they always put us together. By the end of the week, we were to have enjoyed couples massage, couples reflexology, couples pedicure, and couples facials.

It turns out massage was to be a big part of this holiday. It's such a luxury and in Bali, it is wonderful and VERY inexpensive. One day, after exploring the markets and having a filling curry lunch for about 3 dollars, we saw some relaxed people coming out of a nearby courtyard. There was a spa located just behind the gates and the people were happy to tell us about how great it was. They were all Europeans and began to tell us about the 90 minute treatments that we could have for 14 US dollars. We checked it out, there were appointment times available, and we signed up. The list included all sorts of treatment and I signed up for something with a soak massage and some sort of yogurt treatment

Now, as I write this, part of me can't believe I'm going to put in up on the blog. No doubt, when you are finished reading it you will think exactly what I thought - that KP and I just paid someone 14 dollars to molest us. We preferred to think of it as "Attack of the massage therapists."

For the first time, I was lead into a "private" room. That's where the "private" part ended. At our nice hotel, the massage therapists do a very American style massage where they keep all areas covered unless they are being treated. Such was not the case with the very authentic Balinese massage.

The private room was surrounded by brick and thatched walls, it contained a tub filled with local flowers, a tile floor, a fountain (which, by the way is torture to the bladder of a pregnant woman) a small shower, and a single bed in a raised area of the room. The bed was very wide and had just a plastic mat with a sheet over it. There was also a coat rack in the room. My massage therapist was a 4 foot 8 Balinese woman who pointed to the coat rack and told me to undress. She just stood there in front of me. About 2 feet in front of me. I gave her a look and then thought, "Oh well,” and proceeded to get naked. She had me get up on the bed which now felt like it was mounted in the sky. There was no sheet to cover me. As I began to wonder how this tiny woman would massage me as I lay somewhere close to the thatched rooftop, my answer became quite clear. Suddenly this woman was on top of me and straddling me as she rubbed my back and arms. Now, I must admit that the massage was pretty great, but my own insecurities took over and I was tense for the majority of the rub down. I began to think that the people leaving the place had deceived us but I quickly came to the realization that they were European and probably don't have my American Anti-Naked sentiments.

Just as I began to relax, the woman told me to flip over on my back. I wanted to die. I kept my eyes firmly shut and started my mantra of "find your happy place...find your happy place..." The woman began to rub almost all of me. As I lay there feeling more naked and more exposed than I ever have in my life, I wondered if this was some sort of glorious joke. Was I the only one having this sort of treatment? Was KP going through the same thing in her room? Was there a camera in the room and later I would come across this on youtube? If it were to be on youtube, how many stars would this get?

My thoughts were interrupted by the sudden food application. The "yogurt" treatment that I had signed on for, involved a series of edible things. I was given a coconut and papaya scrub, then salt was applied, and finally coconut milk and yogurt were applied to my body. I was tingling and itchy and I began to wonder if baby living inside me was aware that we were now becoming a dessert. At long last, I was helped to the shower where my massage therapist ladled water over me and threw more yogurt at me. At this point she paid close attention to my belly and rubbed yogurt all over it and talked to the baby in Balinese. What did she say?

When all the foods were finally rinsed off me, I stepped into the flower filled tub. Now, it looks nice to have a bath filled with flowers, but what they don't tell you is that the petals float and the stems have a tendency to go toward the bottom of the tub. 'Enough said bout that.

After 90 long minutes, I was dressed and exiting my private room. I paid for our massages and waited for KP. When she came out of the room, she didn't look at me. In fact, the next 30 minutes were spent in subdued silence. Finally, she uttered the phrase, "So...were you wondering if it that massage was going to have a happy ending?"