The King in Exile, The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma by Sudha Shah I just finished reading this excellent book about the last king of Burma (Myanmar). It is well researched and full of details about the times and about the family up until modern day. The last King of Burma, King Thibaw, was deposed by the British in 1885, and exiled to Ratnagiri on the west coast of India. He, his two wives and four daughters lived in a small palace basically as prisoners. He was not allowed to leave his house without permission. He was given a small allowance to live on and pretty much ignored. His sad life ended in 1916. Three years later his queen (his second wife died before him) and daughters were allowed to return to Burma but only to the capital of Rangoon, not to their former home in Mandalay. Two of the daughters remained in India and two went back to Burma with their mother. The saga continues through their children and grandchildren. It was not a happy life and a constant struggle to meet their debts. Although it is non-fiction and historical, it is not dull. The author does a good job to hold your interest.
Other books about Burma: The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh This book is historical fiction about the same time period as The King in Exile. It goes into the fate of the king but also tells the story of colonialism in the area covering Burma, India and Malaya. I read it a while ago and remember I did skim over parts of it but I also remember it really captured the deposed king’s despair. If you like historical fiction sagas that have it all, you would probably love this one.
The Golden Land by Elizabeth Shick This is pure fiction about a Burmese American woman who goes back to Burma in search of her roots, her childhood, her family. She has memories of spending time in Burma twenty five years earlier and a boy who influenced her. She returns looking for her sister but also for him. It has suspense, intrigue, love, history, politics. It is a good read. Interestingly enough it is the first book written by a serial expat who lived in Burma for six years.
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig This one came highly recommended to me. I have not read it yet. It tells the story of a family and their eldest daughter who wins the first Miss Burma beauty pageant. The beauty pageant was held from 1947 to 1962 when the government banned it. (Interesting fact, one of King Thibaw’s grandsons started the beauty pageant. I learned about that in The King in Exile). This book is about an ethnic Karen woman who struggles with her new fame, civil war and unstable politics of the time.
Golden Earth: Travels in Burma byLewis Norman Shortly after World War II, Lewis Norman travels throughout Burma documenting all he sees. It was a very unstable time in Burma with insurgents running around killing people. He writes about the politics but also about the people and the beauty of the land. He went there specifically because he was afraid it was a county that would be closed to outsiders at some point soon. He was right.
The Lady from Burma by Allison Montclair This is a murder mystery I came across by accident. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with Burma but looks like a real nail biter.
And if you are interested…. Aung San of Burma: A Biographical Portrait by His Daughter by Aung San Suu Kyi Aung San was the man who made Burmese independence from the British possible. He is a revered hero in Burma. This is non-fiction.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s opposition leader and Nobel Prize winner has written several books about her plight and that of Burmas itself.
You can now travel to Burma as a tourist and many tour groups have trips going there. They mostly go to Rangoon (Yangon), Mandalay, Inlye Lake, and Pagan (Bagan). I was born in Burma to a expat parents and my family lived there off and on until the coup of 1962.
As of July 2023, the US State Department travel advisory page states: Do not travel to Burma due to civil unrest and armed conflict. Reconsider travel to Burma due to limited and/or inadequate healthcare resources. Exercise increased caution due to wrongful detentions and areas with land mines and unexploded ordnance.
1963…..When I was seven years old, my father was sent to work in Mexico City. We were to travel by train from Rye, New York. My main travel concern at that point was my pet turtle, Tootsie. I put Tootsie in a peanut butter jar and poked holes in the top. It was summer and as we reached the border at Laredo, Texas, it must have been at least 100 degrees. The air conditioning went out just as we crossed over into Mexico and everybody was told to get off the train for customs inspection. Tootsie was in my mother’s carry-on bag under some other things and sat on top of a table in the middle of the cavernous customs house. The uniformed official walked up and down and around this table eyeing the luggage. He briefly looked as if he was going to inspect the carry-on. We all held our breath. However, at age seven I managed to successfully smuggle a live turtle across the border undetected by customs. When we reached Mexico City, I spent the entire day looking over my shoulder expecting to be nabbed for my illegal import. They never caught up with me and Tootsie lived a full turtle life.
Not too long after we got there, my father was off on a business trip and my mother and I were alone in the house with the maids. All of a sudden they became very upset and came to my mother’s room to tell her something. We did not speak Spanish yet and could not understand what they were saying. They kept saying Kennedy! Kennedy! , and then pretended to shoot a gun. We gathered that the president had been shot but we could not determine if he was dead or not. Later in the day, another expat wife was kind enough to phone my mother and fill her in that our president, John F. Kennedy, was dead.
In Mexico City, I had a choice of going to the American School that was very large and, well, American, and Greengates, the British school, which was much smaller. One of my brothers and I chose the British school, while my eldest brother went to the American School. Unfortunately because I was behind in certain areas due to the fact that I was coming from a different system, they put me in the first grade again. It was my third first grade. Before we were asked to leave Burma, I had just started first grade there. In New York, I went to public school and completed first grade. Now I was there again, feeling awful. I studied and studied and worried and studied; then halfway through the year they put me in second grade. I was so obsessed with doing well, I ended second grade at the top of my class and even received an award. I didn’t want to be the dumb foreign kid – not fitting in again. I was top of my class until the fourth grade and for a year, I woke up every morning with a stomach ache. My mother took me to all kinds of doctors but nobody knew why I had a stomach ache. Finally, they realized it was nerves and said I had the beginning of an ulcer and that I should learn to relax. I was nine years old.
Even though I was diagnosed with “nerves”, I really did like Greengates. We had to wear a uniform which was good because I never had to decide what to wear or worry about competing with anybody in that department – not that I was much interested in clothes anyway. When I was in the second grade, Prince Philip came to visit our school and speak to us at assembly. A friend of mine and I went to watch him play polo and afterward, we went up to him, shook his hand and introduced ourselves. We were very excited, giggly seven year olds, curtsying as best we could in our jeans.
After spending six months in an outer suburb in temporary housing, we moved closer to town in the neighborhood known as Las Lomas. “Lomas” translates as “hills”. Across the street from us was a “barranca” which is like a huge ditch but I guess the correct word is “ravine”. We lived in a big, fairly modern, two-story house that had four bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms, two living rooms, a large veranda and an interior garden as well as dining room, breakfast room, kitchen, laundry room, and servants’ quarters. This was a fairly upscale area and we had some neighbors who had estates and some were famous. Across the way was where the owner of a big Mexican brewery lived and we could see swans swimming in his little lake. The famous comedian Cantinflas lived up the street from us and I even saw him a couple of times, whizzing by in his car.
We shared a walled-in compound with our landlady who lived in an identical house. Dona Isabel, the landlady, always kept dogs – mainly for security reasons and she had a weakness for collies. Because the only thing that separated us was a hedge, the dogs spent most of their time at our house because we gave them lots of attention while she basically ignored them. The dogs were always barking their heads off if anybody approached the gates, though, so she didn’t mind if we enjoyed them as pets. My father never allowed us to have actual pets when we lived in the city. Since he had grown up on a farm, he was adamant that animals belonged outside. Except for my turtle, of course.
Our next-door neighbors, were a Mexican family with eight children. We had a chain-link fence between us covered with ivy but there was one section we could see through and we would hang out and talk through the fence. They invited me on family outings with them. The whole family were nuts for playing dominoes so I would go over to their house and play dominoes for hours.
Every summer we ran out of water. July was the dry season and we would go for a week or two where nothing came out of the water tap. We had a big tank under our stairway outside that would also run dry. This usually happened when we had people visiting from the U.S. My mother loved it because it showed them that our life wasn’t as glamorous as everyone assumed it was. Fortunately, there was a water station not too far from our house, so we could go down there with buckets and haul water to fill up the tank.
Josefina, our cook, stayed with us the entire time we lived in Mexico. She taught me how to cook quesadillas and cajeta (known now in the U.S. as dulce de leche) and she always had a fresh stack of tortillas in the refrigerator that she would heat over a gas burner and smear with butter for a snack. We would watch TV together at night when my parents were out. After she had been with us for a few years, she told my mother she had a son who was living in her village and wanted to know if he could come and visit her. My mother was taken aback. In Asia (and in Africa too) the children of the household help often lived with them on the compound. Josefina’s son Jaime came to live with us when he was seven or eight.
My mother was never very good at learning languages and she always struggled to communicate in Spanish. At one point we had an older maid, Inez, who was fresh from her village and had never lived in the city before. She laughed at my mother’s Spanish. We soon found that she could not read. So my mother sent her to school to learn to read. After a few weeks of that, she went to my mother and apologized for laughing at her. Now she knew how hard it was to learn something new.
On the weekends, if the weather was good, we would go out to the Reforma Club in the suburbs, past Satellite City. It had an Olympic size swimming pool and many clay tennis courts, squash courts and a playing field and lawn-bowling greens (very British). It also had a nice restaurant and ballroom for parties. I had learned to swim in Burma and I loved to swim and dive. I could spend the whole day in the water.
I loved going over to my best friend’s house because it was always full of chocolate and sweets. Her parents were Polish immigrants to the U.S. but she had been born in Connecticut. She was more American than the Americans. She had every board game and the very latest Barbie dolls with all the accessories. She had an Easy-bake oven that we could make real cakes in, a Creepy Crawler kit that had molds for making plastic creatures, and every Beatles album, fad and gadget. Whenever her father had to travel to the U.S., he would bring home the latest consumer items. The things they had crammed into their closets always fascinated me.
Thoughts on the TCK version of home…
Years later, I ran into her when her parents had been posted to Paris. I was in boarding school in Switzerland at the time and in love with Europe. She hated living in Paris and wanted to be back in New York. She ended up back in the States, finishing high school, living with a friend’s family. I never understood how she could give up Paris for some suburban U.S. high school. I guess having all that stuff in Mexico prepared her for better assimilation into American society. While all the American gadgets and “conveniences” were cool, they were never anything I longed for. I always found plenty to interest me in whatever culture I landed in.
One survival skill I learned as an expat child was the ability to feel like everyplace I lived was home. Even hotel rooms often were referred to as “home”. It didn’t really matter. My family talked about how, no matter where we were, or what the circumstances, everyplace was “home” as long as we were together and had a pack of cards. A good card game could get us through anything. Some of my fondest memories are of blackouts during torrential rainstorms playing cards by candlelight.
To this day, Mexico is one of my favorite places. I liked living there. I learned the language quickly and worked at getting to know people. I spent time with the maids watching their soap operas on TV. Even now, a suggested practice for leaning Spanish is to watch those ever-present “Telenovelas”.
There was a large expat community in Mexico City including business people, diplomats, scientists, scholars, retirees and all kinds of people. Many activities centered on the American School. They had Little League baseball, Girl Scouts, and big celebrations on major U.S. holidays such as 4th of July picnics. I don’t remember participating in any of those things.
The British school was small and didn’t have much in the way of facilities but we were all very resourceful and pretty adventurous and came from 27 different nationalities. We usually travelled in packs and spoke a mixture of Spanish and English. Many kids spoke a third language at home. When we spoke to each other we would use the words that first popped into our head or that were the most appropriate for their meaning, it didn’t matter which language they were. My closest friends were Italian, Mexican, Ghanaian, British and American.
Travels and Tourism in Mexico
I saw the sights of Mexico City and environs a million times or so it seemed. All our American friends and family came and visited us there. I enjoyed going to the pyramids at Teotihuacán. It was amazing to see how much that place changed over the years. When we first started going, the only pyramid uncovered was the Sun and a few smaller ones surrounding it. Then they uncovered the Moon and a few more, smaller pyramids. They discovered several galleries – the butterfly building with butterflies painted on its walls – a winding pathway with creatures’ heads sticking out from the walls – a prison cell where sacrifice victims were kept until it was their “time”. In the span of a few years, an entire city emerged before our eyes.
Every time I went there, I learned something new about the people and saw things from a different angle or height. I climbed the Sun Pyramid a couple of times but after they uncovered the Moon Pyramid, I stuck to climbing that one. Not only was it about half the size of the Sun Pyramid, but the Sun Pyramid gave me the creeps because when I was on top of it, I would always imagine the priests ripping the hearts out of young virgins as the sun came up over the horizon to ensure another sunrise.
We traveled extensively around Mexico. We picnicked at the base camp of Popocatepetl and waved goodbye to the people on their way up to the top. Popo was one of the snow-capped volcanoes that you could sometimes see from Mexico City and still erupted from time to time. There was another mountain nearby called Ixtaccihuatl, which means White Lady.
There was an Aztec legend about these volcanoes that had many variations. The gist of the story was that Popo and Ixta fell in love, but she was a princess and he was a commoner. Her father said the only way they could get married was if he went to war and came back victorious. Off he went. One of his enemies reported back to Ixta that Popo had died in battle and she died of sorrow. When Popo returned victorious to find her dead, he carried her into the mountains and laid her to rest where he watches over her to this day.
Taxco was a small tourist city built on the side of a mountain. Besides having a few interesting churches, it was mainly known for its silver and had shop after shop of silver jewelry. We would go there for a weekend and walk the steep, narrow streets. The hotel we stayed in had a back patio where cockfights took place after dark. The cocks screamed in anger and pain as they killed each other or maybe it was just the crowd I heard screaming. I thought the whole thing was disgusting. My brother, Tom, loved it. He would spend hours on the patio, cheering the victorious rooster.
On Sunday afternoons we would drive over the mountains to Cuernavaca which was at a lower altitude and thus, often hot and sunny. We would stop at the Benedictine Monastery to see what they had for sale and then head for Las Mañanitas. Las Mañanitas was a quintessential Mexican hotel and restaurant. At the back there was a lawn with chairs and tables set up where people had drinks and appetizers while looking at the menus presented on chalkboards. Peacocks and parrots wandered freely around the yard. There was a small fountain at one side.
The only food I remember having was a fancy chopped beef thing that was the closest I could get to a hamburger. But I remember going with a friend of ours one time who actually ordered and ate eels. I sat there shocked and amazed while watching him devour shiny eels with their eyes staring out at me. We always had a small glass of crème de cacao with a layer of cream on top for dessert. It was their trademark. I remember we used to practice balancing the cream on top of the liqueur at home. Not an easy task.
One year we took a trip to Veracruz and Fortin de las Flores. We stopped on the beach at Veracruz for a lunch of fresh fish and I went for a swim. I was happily swimming away enjoying myself when some guy way out in the water started to swim in yelling “tiburón! tiburón!”. I knew to immediately get out of the water! Sharks are no fun.
In Fortin we stayed at a hotel that filled the swimming pool every morning with fresh gardenias. They really perfumed the swimming area but they were obstacles that got in the way of my vigorous swimming. On the way back to Mexico City, we stopped in a resort that had the biggest swimming pool I had ever seen. Hacienda Vista Hermosa had first opened to the public in 1947 and was reconstructed from an old hacienda that had been destroyed during the revolution. The pool had fountains and arches.
My brother, Tom, decided to go to college in Tucson, Arizona. After we dropped him off there we took a trip down the west coast of Mexico stopping in Mazatlan and Guymas. At that time Mazatlan was just a big fishing village. Now it is a popular tourist resort. There was nothing there but a large, pristine beach. In Guymas we stopped at a restaurant and in the bathroom the floor was covered wall to wall with crickets. From then on we had a cricket in the car with us and listened to him all the way back home.
One winter we were invited out to a hacienda in the Mexican countryside. We had a tour of the farm and afterwards we were invited to have lunch with the family (the mid-day meal is always the largest in Mexico). The owner’s son was a friend of my father’s and that made my father the guest of honor so he sat to the right of the head of the household, Don Alvaro. I think my father’s friend was the only one who spoke English and I have no idea who all the people were at the table but there were a lot of them.
The main thing I remember eating that day was ‘cabrito’ for the first time. Cabrito is baby goat meat and it is delicious. I think we must have had soup first and then they brought out the main course. A woman came out and placed a plate in front of my father. Because he was the guest of honor he received the goat’s head – skull with eyes and brains in it. I just sat there and watched, wondering what he would do.
He sat in silence for a few minutes looking at the thing and then he turned to Don Alvaro and said “I thank you very much for this honor but I am sure that you would appreciate this delicacy more than I” and handed over the plate. Of course Don Alvaro was thrilled and devoured the whole thing with gusto. I was amazed, but that’s the kind of guy my dad was. Always able to cope with any situation with grace and style.
One of the down sides to living in Mexico City was the frequent earthquakes. It seemed like the temblores usually came at night or in the morning. I would wake up suddenly to see the ceiling light swaying. People came to visit and did not know what to do. Usually people would sit in bed trying to decide if they should get up and stand in the doorway or get under something, but by the time they had decided, the earthquake was over.
We had one big earthquake when we were in Mexico. I was sitting at the breakfast table and the room started to shake. My father immediately got up and ran out into the yard. My mother was climbing the stairs and didn’t feel a thing. I sat mesmerized by the water in my glass swaying back and forth. Like monsoons, blizzards and other natural extremes, one does become blasé about such things when they are ever present. I think it is probably the only way one can live in a place where they happen so often they are normal, not unusual.
Mexico City was originally built on top of a lake. Many of the older buildings frequently sank into the soft soil. One such building was the Palacio de las Bellas Artes. It was a fabulous Art Deco building that sank about 13 feet. It housed famous murals and had a big theater. It was the home of the Mexican Ballet Folklorico, which celebrated the diverse Mexican culture through dance. If we got there early we could see the Tiffany glass curtain that portrayed the two volcanoes Popo and Ixta. The whole time I lived in Mexico I took ballet lessons and every year the Russian Bolshoi Ballet would come to town and perform at the Bellas Artes Theater. I was lucky enough to go more than once. When I lived in Moscow many years later, it was a very special experience to go to the actual Bolshoi Theater.
While we were living in Mexico, the National Museum of Anthropology opened. It was a huge deal. My mother took me, my friends’ mothers took me, my school took me, and visiting houseguests took me. I have to admit it was a very cool museum. I saw the real Aztec calendar and learned all kinds of things about the history of the area. It was a large museum and required many visits to see it all.
(This is an excerpt from my book, Expat Alien My Global Adventures)
My brother is currently in Ireland and posting photos. It made me think back on my trip to Ireland in 2019, just pre-pandemic. Ireland is a beautiful country full of friendly people and enchanting castles. Here is a re-cap of my trip.
Dublin – highlights:
Tour of the Castle National Art Gallery National Archeological Museum – very cool Trinity College – must see Chester Beatty Library
There is plenty to see in Dublin, several churches, and parks, and some shopping. Pubs and tourist attractions. Guinness does a tour. We did a lot of walking around town. We found a great Italian pizza place and a nice pub, and other good restaurants in our neighborhood. Our hotel was very centrally located.
I think most first time travelers to Ireland take the southern route through Waterford, Cork, Killarney, Limerick. There is a lot to see in Ireland and I picked a northern route because there were certain things I wanted to see. I saw everything I set out to see. Next time, I would like to go to Northern Ireland, to Londonderry. But this is what we saw on this trip.
We picked up our car at the airport in order to avoid Dublin traffic. We were heading north to County Monaghan. Our first stop was Brú na Bóinne. This is a Neolithic period World Heritage Site comprised of Knowth, New Grange, and Dowth. We spent three hours touring Knowth and New Grange.
The Knowth site has one large mound and 18 smaller ones. We were shown a film of the interior and were able to look down the passageway but could not enter it. However we could climb on top of it and see a spectacular view of the surrounding farmlands.
Highlight of the trip:New Grange consisted of one large main mound. Everybody who visited had to join a tour with a guide. At New Grange we were led into the mound for a demonstration of how the Winter Solstice lights up the cave-like structure. I’m sure the real thing is much more impressive but it was very cool. I am not a fan of small tight spaces and almost didn’t go in but luckily we weren’t in there very long so I didn’t have time to panic.
Both places were built 5,000 years ago, before the Pyramids of Egypt or Stonehenge in England. It is an incredible display of engineering, not to mention beautiful and kind of eerie.
Our next destination was Ballybay. This was the place my family listed as their home when they boarded the ship for America back in the early 1800’s. Since I had spoken with a genealogist in Dublin, I knew they had probably not come from the town itself but the general area, I was really more interested in the countryside. The area was lovely with farms and rolling hills. We drove through the middle to town, took a couple of pictures and kept going north.
We spent the night in Monaghan which is almost to the border with Northern Ireland. We were there in October and I was a bit surprised to see our hotel all decked out with Halloween decorations.
Monaghan – Westenra Arms Hotel The Diamond, Monaghan Town, Monaghan, Ireland. Phone: 047 74400
There was a small interesting museum in Monaghan and an impressive church. Monaghan County Museum, 1-2 Hill Street, Monaghan, Ireland – 11 am to 5 pm
After spending the night in Monaghan, we headed west. The road took us into Northern Ireland several times along the way. We could tell because the road signs looked different, otherwise there was no indication.
Monaghan to Westport (3 hrs)
We stopped at Turlough – Castlebar on our way. National Museum of Country Life – 10 am to 5 pm Traditional Folklife collections
Across the street from the museum was the Turlough Round Tower from the 9th century – one of the most complete and best-preserved round towers in Ireland. Round towers were built as places of refuge for the occupants of important Churches or Abbeys against the Vikings. It was one of my favorite things.
Westport – We stayed the night at the Westport Coast Hotel right on waterfront.
Next morning we headed out – Westport to Clifden – 1.5 hours
Our first stop was Kylemore Abby. Originally built by a wealthy doctor from London for his wife, this has been home to the Benedictine nuns for 100 years.
The nuns ran a girl’s boarding school out of the Abbey from 1923 to 2010. They currently offer Residential and Day Retreats. The grounds included a Gothic Chapel and Victorian Gardens. The whole setting was very impressive.
Our next stop was just to the southwest of the Abbey at Connemara National Park. Much of the park was part of the Kylemore Abbey estate up until 1980 when it opened to the public. It was a mountainous area with almost 5,000 acres of land. On the way up one of the paths we saw some of the Connemara ponies. It was a good area for hiking.
On the way to Clifden, right on the coast in County Gallway, we opted for a small detour along the Sky Road Loop, a very narrow strip of road that follows the winding coast. The views were spectacular.
We stayed at the Ardagh Hotel that promised to provide us with a top rated seafood dinner. It did not disappoint with oysters and lobster. I opted for the lamb which was also very good.
After spending the night in Clifden, we stopped to buy a couple of sweaters and headed for Ballyvaughan. On the way we took a very narrow, small dead-end road along Lough Corrib. We parked at the end of the road and had a picnic. Sheep were grazing below us, it was drizzling, and the lake was beautiful and eerie.
Clifden to Ballyvaughan – 2 hours
Ballyvaughan – Hazelwood Lodge +353 (0)65 707 7092 Bed and Breakfast
We stayed at Hazelwood Lodge in Ballyvaughan, a comfortable bed and breakfast with a lovely couple who ran it. They were happy to share lots of information about the area. Ballyvaughan itself was not much but it was located in easy driving distance to many things. We planned to stay for four days and take trips from there. Our first outing was to the Cliffs of Mohr (obviously a must-see).
We were lucky it was a beautiful sunny day and not too crowded. From there we drove to Kilfenora to see the Burren Center. We learned about the geology of the limestone covered area, the fossils of sea creatures to be found, and the wild flowers that grow in abundance. At the Burren Center they show a film and there is a small exhibit. Next to the center was the Kilfenora Cathedral dating back to 1200 AD. It is known for its ornate and interesting crosses. Another thing we learned about Kilfenora was the television show Father Ted was filmed there in the 1990’s.
Out in the Burren National Park we took in the desolate landscape with tufts of green pushing through the cracks in the rocks. We stopped at Poulnabrone portal tomb that dates back to neolithic times, between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. It sits in the middle of a large field of rock.
The following day we continued our day trips from Ballyvaughan and headed down a small narrow dead end road onto private property in search of Gleninagh Castle. It was one of the best preserved tower castles we saw. The tower was built in the late 1500’s by the O’Loughlin family and they lived there off and on until about 1840. Next to the tower is a small well which provided them with fresh water. We saw many of these towers up and down the coast, some of them just rubble.
We headed south down the coast road to Loop Head Lighthouse right at the tip of Loop Head peninsula. The first lighthouse on this spot was built in 1640 and there has been one there ever since. In 1971 it went electric and became automated in 1991. Now the house acts as an Inn where people can stay in holiday apartments. The view from up top is spectacular.
On another day we took a boat from Doolin to Inisheer Island, the closest of the three Aran Islands. It was a pretty smooth ride and took about forty minutes. On the island we wandered around the ruins, the farmland, the town, the coast. It was beautiful in a kind of eerie way. I saw more farm animals than people. The islands were known for the Aran Sweater which is usually off-white in color with a cable design and pure wool. We decided the sheep must live on the other side of the island because we didn’t see any.
The boat ride back was another story. It was a rough ride and many were sick or at least looked green. The waves came up well above the windows and we would go up in the air and slam down hard onto the water. I was even a bit uncomfortable and I have never been seasick.
The boat took a different route back because we were to see the Cliffs of Mohr from the sea as well as the cave where Harry Potter was filmed looking for horcruxes. It was definitely impressive but difficult to really enjoy in the moment.
Before we left the west coast we stopped at Corcomroe Abbey built originally in 1182. Monks kept it up until the mid 1500’s when the English Reformation came about and closed Catholic monasteries. It was a beautiful place.
Ballyvaughan to Dublin – 2.5 hours
Dublin – Drury Court Hotel Address: Drury Court Hotel, 28-30 Stephen Street Lower, Dublin 2 Phone: +353 (1) 475-1988 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our last stops in Dublin included Christ Church Cathedral (Dublin’s oldest building), and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Of course we spent some time walking through the Temple Bar area, and we ended our visit at the Hairy Lemon pub eating the most delicious bread pudding I have ever had.
I’m hoping to start traveling again. This year I’m booked for San Francisco and Washington DC. Maybe a couple of road trips. And next spring I’m going on a Polar Cruise. Hopefully we won’t be mixed up in a world war by then. Having lived in Russia for many years and the last one under Putin, I actually really feel for the Russians. As well as the Ukrainians. It seems like most of the Russians I know have some kind of Ukrainian connection. Does that feed into Putin’s narrative? I didn’t mean to. Ugh.
I digress. Back to traveling. I decided the best plan would be to apply for the TSA Pre-check. It costs $85 and is good for five years. It gives you a special shorter line at airport security checkpoints in the USA. You get your documents checked and then when you hit the scanners you don’t have to take your shoes off (why are we still doing that?). You can leave your electronics in your carry-on. And your liquids can stay in your bag. It’s amazing what a difference that can make. I have had random Pre-check before and I appreciated it.
To apply for TSA Pre-check, I had to fill out a form and answer some questions online. Then I was told to go for an interview. I set one up at the airport nearest me. I was instructed to go early because the interview station was beyond the security checkpoint. Since I didn’t have a plane ticket I had to get a Gate Pass from the Special Services Counter.
Once I found a parking space and figured out how to get from there to the main terminal, I had a Gate Pass and was through security in no time. I wouldn’t call what I had an interview. I had to confirm my address and a couple of other things. Then I got finger printed and photographed. I think the main point of the exercise was to hand over my credit card.
There you have it. Now just to wait until they send me my special number.
There is also something called Global Entry that will expedite your trip through passport control on arriving into the USA. You can scan your passport and breeze on through past all the tired people standing in line. It costs $100 and also lasts for five years. Plus it includes the TSA Pre-check so it might be worth it if you travel a lot overseas. Since I probably won’t be doing that more than once or twice a year, I figured it wasn’t worth the trouble. It looked more complicated. But it probably isn’t, I think the process is basically the same. I made my decision and I’m sticking by it. I’m usually not in a big rush to get home, anyway.
This is an interesting website belonging to TSA that provides the number of people that go through security on any given day compared to other years. May 1, 2020 (pandemic) – 170,254; May 1, 2022 – 2,263,646. Wow, big difference.
Just one other point of interest. If you have a credit card that gives you mileage, it might reimburse you for the Pre-check fee. Check with your credit card company. My Delta Amex will reimburse me. Yay!
I had a bit of an hiatus. I got hacked and then I got frustrated so I’m back on WordPress having resurrected the remnants. In the meantime my domain expired so now I’m using expatalien.blog. Such is life. I started a new blog over at postcardbuzz.com featuring my large postcard collection.
My last trip was in January to Egypt. What a fabulous place that is. I recommend it if you haven’t been. Here are a few tidbits.
One comment. The Sphinx was smaller than I had imagined. But otherwise my expectations were met.
Fifty years ago my father visited Egypt and went to Giza and rode a camel. My son went with me on this trip and my father told him he should ride a camel. We tried to re-create the scene.
Cairo had really bad smog. A city of over 20 million people. Big noisy smoggy dirty. But not as dirty as I expected. Actually, pretty clean. No open sewers, no piles of trash, no stench. Quite nice, really. In the evening I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages. He has lived in Cairo for 40 years and loves it. I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous. If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it. I think I need to go back sometime…
That morning on our way to Giza, we stopped in a parking lot across from the Pyramids to rendez-vous with a physician. He diligently swabbed all of us and went off to do our Covid tests. This was required for us to re-enter the USA. Later that afternoon I received an email with my official document, photo and all, proclaiming I did not have Covid. That was a relief. On the way out of Egypt, the airlines did check to see I had the document but on returning to the homeland, nobody even mentioned it. All they looked at was my passport.
When I was 15, my family moved to Bogota, Colombia. That first summer my parents and I took a trip to the coast by car. My father was a beach fanatic and somebody in his office told him he would find the most beautiful pristine beaches imaginable at the coastal village of Tolu. Since he had to go to Cartagena on business anyway, he decided to make a trip of it and stop in Tolu and the resort town of Santa Marta as well. The trip was almost entirely through the Andes Mountains with hair-raising drop offs on the side of the road. We stopped for a couple of days in Medellín, a city that was later known for its drug cartel. At the time, it was a small city nestled in the mountains with a lot of old churches. My mother had a thing about Catholic churches. If there was a church anywhere nearby, we had to go see it. It wasn’t a religious thing; it was a tourist thing. She wanted to see the architecture, the windows, and the statues. It used to really embarrass me to have to go into all these churches where people were praying just so we could snoop around. That was my teenaged view of it anyway.
San Ignacio, Medillin
The morning we left Medellín, we stopped in a small corner restaurant for breakfast. All we wanted was some orange juice, coffee and rolls. I spoke Spanish fluently with no accent. My father spoke Spanish fluently but with an accent. We went up to the counter and I asked for three orange juices – jugo de naranja. Blank stares answered my simple request. I could not make them understand what I was saying. I had to resort to pointing and acting in order to get three orange juices. We decided that they saw so few foreigners they just assumed we did not speak Spanish and could not process the fact that we did.
On the way down from the mountains, we had to follow a riverbed where much of the road had been washed away by flooding. There were cliffs going up on either side, with the river in the middle, and the road was to one side of the river. Where the road was washed out, there was no place else to go but in the river or hug the cliff. Fortunately there was almost no traffic and we were able to manage it, although we all had white knuckles by the time we passed through the mountains.
As we got to the coastal flatlands we started looking out for the road to Tolu. We were all very excited. The road turned out to be a narrow rutted lane with overgrown vegetation on either side. We said, no problem, this was good, it meant it was unspoiled by the overuse of tourists. The village of Tolu was small. There was a small square in the middle of town but the main road was just past the center and ran along the ocean on the beach. Yes, the beach had become a road with buses barreling down it at high speeds. There were no swimmers or sunbathers – they would have died from the exhaust fumes first and a car accident second. Since it was late in the day, we realized we had to stay the night, so we found a small hotel on the beach that looked passable. We were shown to a “suite” that had two rooms and five beds and a huge bathroom that only had cold water and a millions cockroaches. My father got up several times during the night to spray his mattress for bugs. We left early the next morning. When we got back to Bogota my father told the person who had recommended Tolu all about our experience. Of course, the person had never actually been there. So much for pristine beaches.
From Tolu we drove to Cartagena, the old Spanish outpost. There was a fort on the hill that had tunnels going down to the water. Niches were cut into the tunnel for soldiers to stand with their rifles and shoot people as they ran down the dark and claustrophobic tunnels. It all made me very uncomfortable. Cartagena was often visited by pirates as well as by Spanish ships. Under the water was a heavy chain strung across part of the bay to keep the boats from entering. Those who didn’t know about the fence, sank. Cartagena itself was a beautiful colonial town.
Our next stop was Barranquilla, another big port and more of a vibrant busy bustling city, and our final stop was Santa Marta, a small resort town. Luckily we flew home from Santa Marta so we didn’t have to repeat the treacherous drive.
Bogota was 8,600 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. Lush and cool, it rained almost every day for a short while. It is nestled right against the mountains and above the city at 10,341 feet is the mountain Monserrate where a small church was built in the 17th century. Now there is a funicular that takes people up there and the view is amazing. One of the biggest tourist attractions is the Gold Museum. Its mission statement states: The mission of the Gold Museum of the Banco de la República is to preserve, research, catalogue and exhibit its archaeological collections in goldwork, ceramics, lithics and other materials as the cultural heritage of present and future generations of Colombian citizens, to strengthen the cultural identity of Colombians through enjoyment, learning and inspiration. It is definitely worth a visit.
Musica Raft, Gold Museum
On the weekends sometimes, we would drive down to the hot country and stay at fincas. They could be working farms or just small “summer” houses where people went to relax and get out of the city. We stayed in one that had bungalows around the compound and a big house at the center. We all gathered in the big house for meals and ate at long tables. The landscape was tropical and kind of rugged. There wasn’t much to do but eat, sleep and take walks. On the way home, we would stop in a small village and buy rolls made from cassava flour that were filled with cheese.
Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, meant constantly adapting and adjusting to new places and new people. After a while I became a chameleon, able to blend in to any background. I learned to hone my power of observation and I would spend the first few weeks in a new environment reserved and quiet, watching everybody else. Then once I built confidence, I would break out like a phoenix, and my new persona would emerge, reinvented for my current surroundings. One of the hardest things about growing up the way I did was saying goodbye. Constantly having to leave friends behind or see them leave did take a toll and as I grew older I became more discriminating about who I opened up to and became close to. In spite of that, I looked forward to new places. It was an adventure, a challenge.
My uniform that year was a ruana (a wool cape) and a hat that was very common among the people who lived in the mountains (a man’s stiff felt hat). I also had a swell pair of suede lace-up boots and I wore rings on every finger. I had long hair and long sharp nails and when I first arrived at school people thought I was some kind of witch. I loved it there. The people were either Colombian or, for the most part, expat kids who had grown up overseas. Everybody was mellow and easy going.
I went to the American school in Bogota. During study hall, we would go to the recreation room and have really superior games of table tennis. At lunch, we would walk to the other end of the football field to eat our sandwiches. I ate peanut butter and jelly on toast every single day for a year. Some people would bring chessboards and we would gather around and watch them play.
My best friend lived near a small shopping center and park area called El Lago where a lot of the “street people” hung out. These were the Colombian hippies and the American drifters who gathered to generally laze around and look for action. People would play frisbee and talk and eat and gather information on parties. We would go there and hang out and try to be “cool”.
One day it was raining (as usual) and I was standing under an archway listening to a Jesus freak proselytize and a guy appeared who had long black hair, a beret, lavender tie-dye shirt, lavender pants, and belt, with bells on his black leather boots. He walked right up to the Jesus freak, took off his hat and in a large swooping movement bowed to him and said “And I am the Devil”. This infuriated the Jesus freak and set him off on a long tirade, which was completely ignored. The “Devil” came up to me and asked me for a light and introduced himself as Giovanni. He was a wonderful character who loved to talk non-stop and tell stories of his escapades under the influence of magical mushrooms.
A few weeks later, Giovanni arrived dressed in a three-piece suit. I almost didn’t recognize him and when questioned he told me his grandmother had died. He had started his day with a large magical mushroom omelet and then set off for his grandmother’s funeral. He went to the church all dressed up, greeted all his relatives and joined the procession to pass by and view the open casket. As he reached the casket, the mushrooms must have kicked in, because he swore to us that his grandmother moved, at which point he had apparently created a scene and was asked to leave.
Giovanni had dreams of moving to Miami to be a hairdresser or a model. When he suddenly disappeared, I wondered if he had actually made it to Miami. A few months later, I ran into his sidekick, Fernando. I had to drag it out of him but he finally told me that Giovanni had been down in the Amazon playing “witch doctor”. He was expected back soon so I told Fernando to pass a message to him to come by because I wanted to see him.
He showed up one afternoon dressed again in the three-piece suit and all his beautiful long hair cut off. I asked him who had died this time and he was furious. Fernando apparently was supposed to have rescued all of Giovanni’s clothes from his mother’s house but didn’t get there in time, and his mother had thrown out all his lavender tie-dyes. It was obvious that at his age, he was expected to get a serious job and be respectable. It was the last time I saw him and I like to believe he really did become a real doctor but for all I know, he is still in the jungle playing witch doctor.
People from the States or England or Venezuela would drift in and out of El Lago. One fellow from England wore only green and we called him Limey. There was an African guy who had lived there for a long time with a Colombian woman. He was famous all around town and known just as “Blackie”.
I want to say those were more innocent times, but maybe I was just lucky and never got into anything I couldn’t handle. I cried all the way to Miami when we moved. I wasn’t ready to leave; a year just wasn’t long enough. Now not only was I moving to a new place with new people but I would have to adjust to a whole new continent and culture plus I was going back to boarding school.
Sometimes people think TCKs are whiney. We grew up in exotic places and had all kinds of interesting experiences. And most people think children are very adaptable and resilient. So the combination of new adventures and the ability to constantly adapt to them must be fabulous, no? Sometimes I think it seems that children are super adaptable because they are better at playing make believe than grown ups are. Sometimes I think that is why it is so hard for TCKs to grow up. They get too good at playing make believe.
Within months I was at a new school reinventing myself once again.
I met Fran Yarbro when I was 17 and she was 15. We were both on the varsity volleyball team at The American School in Switzerland. We spent two hours together every afternoon at practice. She was a natural athlete and good at volleyball as well as all the other sports she played and an excellent skier. She was beautiful. But she was tough. Nobody messed with Fran.
From high school she went on to get a Masters degree from the International School of Business in Arizona. She lived most of her life in the mountains, mainly in Colorado. She was also a mountain climber. When she was 33, she was climbing Annapurna and met Sergei Arsentiev. Sergei was famous in Russia for being one of the best climbers ever. He had climbed all the major mountains in Russia as well as Everest. In 1992 they climbed Mt Elbrus in the Caucasus and Fran skied down. They were married that same year and soon moved to Colorado together.
Fran had a dream. She wanted to summit Everest without oxygen. On May 22, 1998, Fran became the 8th woman to summit the north face of Everest, she was the first American woman to summit the north face of Everest, and she was the first American woman without oxygen to summit the north face of Everest. Fran was 40 years old and she had realized her dream.
My brother gave me an electric crockpot and my son was begging for some lamb so this turned out to be a great marriage. If you don’t have a crockpot, simmering on the stove would probably work just as well.
Once I got into the recipe I discovered I didn’t have any coriander so I threw in some cinnamon instead. Of course, I must have just gone brain dead because obviously coriander is cilantro and I always have cilantro. In spite of it all, it turned out to be a tasty dish.
1 lb lamb shoulder chops, trimmed and cut into smallish chunks
Mix together and toss with the meat:
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp coriander (cilantro)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (I would put a little more)
¼ tsp salt (don’t really need it if you are using the full strength chicken broth)
Several turn of the pepper mill
1 large onion, chopped (I used a red one)
28-oz diced tomatoes
¾ cup chicken broth (I used half a cube in boiling water)
4 cloves minced garlic
1 can cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
Mash about ¾ cup of the beans
6 oz fresh spinach, chopped
Put the spiced up meat into the crockpot, top with chopped onion.
Heat tomatoes, chicken broth and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Pour the tomato mixture over the meat.
Cover and cook 3 hours on high or 5 hours on low, until meat is tender.
Mix in the mashed chickpeas, whole chickpeas, and spinach
Cook an additional 5-10 minutes until headed and spinach has wilted.
Serve over rice.
Leftover note. We had this the next day as a sauce for gnocchi and it was really pretty good.
I recently took a quick trip to Florida to see old friends. It started out with a cab ride at 7:30 in the morning. Way too early in my opinion. My driver was from Somalia. He spent some time complaining about the state of the world and over use of guns. When he was growing up in Somalia nobody had guns. Now they all have the light Russian guns. Rat a tat tat tat tat….
He had won the visa lottery. He asked if I knew what that was. Yes, I knew. I worked with a guy in Moscow who won it and I knew several people who entered every year. It was a program set up in 1990 and is officially call the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Every year the Attorney General looks at the immigrants over the previous five years and makes countries eligible or ineligible based on how many people from that particular country have immigrated to the USA.
The aim is to diversify the immigrant population. Every year there are about 50,000 people who get their visas this way. If they are from a qualifying country, they must have a high school diploma, two years work experience and two years job training. In 2008 13.5 million people applied for the 50,000 slots worldwide. People are randomly selected, hence the “lottery”. My cab driver hit the jackpot in 2006. Last year he bought a house. He is living the dream.
One downside of applying for the Diversity Visa is you have shown intent to immigrate and it is unlikely you will ever get a non-immigrant visa. However, it doesn’t seem to stop people.
I arrived in Florida to perfect weather. We didn’t go to Orlando for the usual attractions. I have never been to any of them. We went out on the lakes and were impressed with the natural beauty of the area. We took advantage of the fine dining and over the top cocktails. And we laughed till we cried.
As we cabbed and Ubered around the city we met a Russian and several Venezuelan drivers. All now proud to be American.
Happy International Women’s Day! For some reason this day reminded me of a torte I have made several times and associate with Women’s Day. Probably because it is so delicious.
Turkey is the top producer of Hazelnuts but they are also grown commercially in Europe, Iran, and the Caucasus. The hazelnut-chocolate spread, Nutella, accounts for about 25% of all hazelnut production.
½ lb shelled hazelnuts
8 eggs, separated
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup breadcrumbs
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup whipped cream
1 cup tart jelly
Grind the unblanched hazelnuts very fine. Put 2 tablespoons of the ground nuts aside for the outside of the cake.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar till very light. Add the breadcrumbs, lemon rind, lemon juice, vanilla and ground nuts. Fold in the egg whites whipped very stiff but not dry.
Bake in 2 layers, 30 minutes at 325 degree F. Cool in the pans.
Take out and put together with whipped cream and a little jelly spread between the layers. Whip the rest o f the jelly with a fork and spread it over the top and sides of the cake. Powder with unused 2 tablespoons of ground nuts. Decorate the top of the cake with a swirl of whipped cream. Chill before serving.