Sunday, April 8, 2012

What Have You Done With My Husband...

Well before I could say $9 for chocolate Easter eggs at Al Fair!  Spring break was upon us and yet, we had still not decided how or where we were going to spend our spring vacation.  Skiing in Italy or snorkeling in the Maldives?  As of yet, no choices had been made.
One night after agreeing that we did not want to sit around the house for 2 weeks watching Cartoon Network, Peter suggested that we go to Thailand and sit on a beach at Club Med for a week.  I am rarely struck speechless but after recovering full verbal consciousness, the next words out of my mouth were "What Have You Done With My Husband?"

Those of you who know Peter will understand my dismay.  Peter is not typically a fan of hang-around-a-beach type vacations.  When we travel, we tend to trek through jungles (Malaysia), scale hillsides for hidden springs (Jordan) or just plain climb sheer rock faces to glimpse age old frescoes (Sri Lanka).

I love to travel and I usually enjoy toting 2-litre bottles of water though whatever terrain Lonely Planet has recommend we tackle in nether regions of Asia. Unfortunately, the jungles of Chiang Mai lost their appeal when compared with the allure of a week of puttering around a pool in Phuket.

After a quick visit to Oman Air for last minute airline tickets, a tour of Club Med's website to confirm that they had space available at their newly renovated resort in Phuket (have I told you that I love last minute online deals) and 48 hours later, we were on our way way to paradise!

After spending a relaxing morning trying to catch up on some of the much needed sleep we missed the night before, flying to our destination, we ventured into the vendor filled streets of Bangkok armed with a map and a plan to find food.  Once outside, we quickly realized why the bellhop thought that we were crazy to decline a taxi to our targeted goal, a mere 10 blocks away.  With sweat running into our eyes, we quickly made our way towards the air conditioned nirvana, a large shopping mall (an oxymoron, I realize).

Once inside, the air conditioning quickly brought our temperatures back to normal and we spent the next couple of hours hunting for food while shopping for bargains.  The mall itself was curious as each floor was dedicated to a specific worldwide shopping destination.  We turned down fish & chips in Britain, pasta in Italy and sourdough in San Francisco as we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge on to a late afternoon of culinary adventures.

We reluctantly woke ourselves early the next morning and made ready for a whirlwind tour of Bangkok. When we travel to new destinations, I always arrive with a prepared itinerary in hand, stocked full of cultural experiences, local charms and typically, temples. Since we booked this trip at the last minute, I fell on the mercy of the hotel tour desk for sightseeing ideas.
With my wallet considerably lighter, we boarded a bus to a local coconut farm. Aside from the obvious push from our tour guide to shop, shop, shop the farm was relatively interesting. I especially enjoyed the coconut sugar samples and watching a tiny older Thai lady break open coconut husks like they were paper. Each of the kids had a go at this but Nick was the only one able to even break the skin of the coconut.

Next we were off to the Damnoen Saduak floating market. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of fresh mango and rambutan with coconut pancakes, fried pork, lobster balls and chicken wontons cooked fresh and collected from one of the many canal side boats that lined the pier.
Full from breakfast, we loaded ourselves into a long tail boat driven by another older Thai lady for a tour of the market. Although the market was for the most part filled with CPC (Peter's acronym for cheap plastic crap) and non-original tourist kitch, it was interesting to float amongst the many boats and imagine how these floating markets would have traditionally served the people of Bangkok.

Our last stop for the day was a river boat dinner cruise down the Chao Phraya river. Since I hadn't booked any temple visits for our short time in Bangkok, I though that this would be a relaxing way to see some of the most well known of Bangkok's holy sites, from the outside at least. After a long wait with masses of other overpaying tourists to board our boat, we settled in for a moderately tasty buffet dinner followed by one of Bangkok's famed lady boy shows. (The shows are famous, not this particular spectacle of 6' Thai "girls" in glitzy dresses that would rival anything available in an arabian dress shop.)  Robin had a hard time believing that the performers were men dressed as women and Nick was in general, pretty much disgusted with the entire cross-dressing concept.
The next morning we headed off to the airport and boarded our short flight to Phuket.  All went well up until we landed and only 1/2 of our luggage arrived. After tracking down a Bangkok Airline's attendant to help us locate our missing bags (along with 4 other families also missing bags) we were led us to discover that the bags were not in fact missing, but that they had mistakenly forgotten to be unloaded from the aircraft.
Upon arrival at the newly renovated Club Med resort on Katathani beach, on ko Phuket we were greeted with beautiful orchid lays, refreshing iced tea and lightly minted lemon water.  The cool drinks and friendly reception were a welcome launch into Club Med and all it had to offer.  Armed with schedules for the "kids clubs" and a date to meet in 20 minutes for afternoon snacks, our real holiday had begun!

The next day, we signed the kids into their kids club activities for the day (and evening!) and set off to enjoy ourselves beside the pool.  Truthfully, I was expecting the kids to enjoy kids club but be pretty happy to join us at 17:00.  When we collected the kids for our short daily kids club reprieve from 17:00 - 18:30, they were full of stories of new friends, new adventures and couldn't wait to join their new found companions for dinner that nite.  Even Ryan wanted to eat with the kids club and not with us.  Peter and I enjoyed the first of several quiet adult dinners by ourselves.

After the first day, the kids let us know in no uncertain terms, that they were not going to explore the island with us but would be returning to kids club for the duration of their holiday.  Since Nick was in the Junior Teen club, he had the ability to come and go at will from all of his activities.  Robin was also given the ability to sign herself out of club and return at her own discretion since all of her new friends also had this privilege.  Ryan it seemed was the only one who actually needed to see us at the end of the day.  After he finished his daily swim in the "big" pool, he was quick to rejoin his friends for dinner.  One morning, as Peter was bidding Nick good day he mentioned that he would see him that evening around 17:00.  Nick then informed his father that he would be golfing with his friend Ivan at 17:00 and that we would see him after the evenings entertainment.

The food at the resort was incredible!  There were several stations set up featuring delicacies from Thailand, Japan, Italy, India, USA, etc.  Each nite the resort kept with the country food themes but changed the menu so we were never short of new food choices to sample.   The kids were also encouraged to choose healthy, balanced meals with the help of color coded, sectioned food trays (think of a giant toddler plate) with corresponding cards beside a worldwide range of child friendly food options.
The bar also quickly became a central feature of our visit to Club Med.   Not only did they serve the usual alcoholic concoctions, we could also get a wide range of non-alcoholic fruit drinks and mock-tails.  Nick was especially impressed with the selection of smoothies available (read blue raspberry slushies) at his command.  Robin was only given an incorrect order once when she ordered a chocolate milkshake and ended up with a Kahlua shake.  She wasn't impressed!  Neither was I but she gave the unfortunately new bartender quite a dressing down...8 year old girls don't drink get the picture;+)

The most impressive of the activities that the kids were able to enjoy in addition to swimming, golf, archery and beach volleyball had to be their daily circus training!  This was a daily highlight and one of  the reasons the kids refused to miss kids club.  Starting on the super bouncer, a professional circus trampoline that allowed the kids vault themselves 20 feet into the air while strapped into a harness gave them the taste for front and back flips and got Nick and Robin eager to try the life-sized flying trapeze.  I was absolutely amazed by the dexterity and ease with which the kids picked this skill up!  It was truly incredible watching Robin flying through the air while hanging by her knees and seeing Nick master a catch while 30 feet above the ground with only a harness a safety net to catch him if he fell.  Even Ryan managed to learn how to flip while jumping on the super bouncer.
In between circus training, swiming in the adult only zen pool, experiencing my first ever couples spa date and enjoying the evening cabaret shows & disco with Robin, I did manage to fit in an incredible snorkeling trip to some of the surrounding islands.  Peter was also able to undertake his first scuba dive in over 15 years and Nick was able to complete his PADI Bubble Makers course.  I have travelled the world but have never seen such white sand or so many fish!  I will definitely return to Thailand and Phuket if only to experience these marvels again!  The kids are also keen to return and have conditioned that any vacation we take in the future must include a trapeze and kids club!  I have never had such a relaxing holiday in such a scenic locale!  I highly recommend Phuket as a rejuvination destination and I am a Club Med convert!  It was incredible!

A demain...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012...

Happy New Year to all of our friends, family and followers around the world!  I can't believe that another year of our posting to Oman has come and gone! 

As a New Years resolution (I know, you have all heard this before...) I am going to try something completely different.  Rather than only posting back dated news from our adventures, I am going to bring you up to date with stories from the Argument archives, while simultaneously keeping our latest and greatest up front and center.  Crazy, I know. 

To start off the year in the right direction, Peter's parents from Canada have joined us here in the Middle East for a second Christmas in Oman.  While the weather in Canada remains cold and blustery, here in Oman we have been blessed with gorgeous sunny sky's and 25 degree weather.  A terrific way to break up the monotony of snow if any of you are every feeling so inclined!!!  Yes, that was a not-so-subtle request for visitors ;+)

Now that the lull of Christmas has passed and everyone has settled back into a somewhat relaxed routine, the quandary of what to do for New Years Eve was upon us once again.  We had several options on the table, from the formal "Winter Ball" at the club to dinner and shaking our booties at a pub with a great band reminiscent of New Year's spent as a university student.  Although these would have been fun, neither option allowed us to include the kids in our celebrations so we decided to settle on the best of both worlds. 

An enjoyable BBQ to celebrate our Alberta heritage spent at home with the family was followed by the application of bug spray as around 21:00 we loaded the cars up with camp chairs, marshmallows, roasting sticks (brought from Canada as unfortunately Jet Puffs are apparently on the banned substances list here in Oman), and champagne from Peter's birthday party, to meet up with some friends and their families in the wadi behind Rosie & Mike's place down in Nappy Valley.

Complete with a camp chairs, a bon fire, chinese New Years wish lanterns and awesome company, we had a great nite visiting with friends and reminding ourselves once again how truly blessed we are to be living here in Oman.

A demain...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Sea of Prados...

[cars&trucks1_blog.JPG]Well as the cartoon clearly identifies, we have officially joined the masses. I, like so many of my comrades, (witness the Toyota advertisement that the PDO school parking lot at drop off or pick up resembles) drive a silver, standard issue Land Cruiser Prado and although I am sad to admit it, do in fact listen to Hi FM. 

My excuses for this radio heresy (Forgive me Michael Enright!) are threefold...

Firstly, there are only two English speaking radio stations gracing Oman's airways and both offer a blend of what can only be called hip hop pop crop (I know that crop isn't the correct word, but crap doesn't rhyme ;+).  Secondly, I don't own my own IPod, hint hint.  Lastly, as scintillating as the many lectures on how the teachings of the Koran fit into my life today (afternoon programming on 90.4 FM, the other English language radio offering), I find remixed 80's dance tunes less painful to listen to.

Once I got my feet dirty (literally, as everything here is covered in a fine layer of sand) and I realized that I did in fact need to take the driving plunge as an expat Mom in Muscat, we rented a small Nissan Tiida.

After a week of being proudly energy conscious in a country where the law for expats seems to be "the shorter you are, the larger your car" (the number of tiny Asian women driving Suburban's and Hummers seems to support my hypotheses) it became clear that a larger vehicle was in order.  With minivans non-existent here in Oman, the inevitability of me driving a 4wd became reality before you could say gas guzzler.

Besides needing to taxi the kids and their many friends to and from the beach, juggle the many diverse after school activities that three children can engage in along with delivering said three children to and from play dates that have been arranged between aforementioned commitments, we needed a vehicle to take us comfortably to Dubai, camping and wherever else our Omani adventures took us.

After a quick survey of the general expat population, we decided that a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado was the best vehicle choice for us.  Toyota truly owns the market share here in Oman!  My best guesstimate is that approximately 50% of vehicles on the road are some sort of Toyota (both 4wd and saloon car) and if you factor in Lexus and Dhiatsu, that market share skyrockets to around 75% of vehicles on the roadways.  

I would imagine that being a Toyota salesman in Oman is a pretty lucrative career compared with many of the other employment options that most non-professional immigrants would find themselves working.

Just a quick note about driving in Oman, although the rules of the road are the same as those in North America (we drive on the right side of the road) the enaction of the rulebook ends there.  Oman has an inordinately high rate of serious traffic accidents per capita "Oman’s road traffic death rate is 28 per 100,000 population which is far higher than the global average of 19 killed per 100,000." The single most compelling reason for this is that the average driver in Oman tends to be a young male (under 25) in a fast car with very little understanding of basic road safety.  

Drivers in Oman tend to be VERY aggressive and in my opinion reckless!  I have driven in several large North American cities but have never been frightened to drive because of the conditions on the road posed by other drivers.

Driving on a typical day, you will encounter;

 - excessive speeding, although all Omani cars are equipt with a speed alarm that sounds when the driver goes beyond the limit of 120 km/hr this doesn't seem to be a deterent
- drivers texting while driving in addition to speaking on GSM's while eating McDonalds's, drinking a coffee and reading the local edition of Muscat Daily
- illegally attempting to overtake you in either the right lane or more often than not, in the buffer zone on the side of the roadway beside the far right lane
- tailgating, sometimes closely ennough that your rear bumper collision sensors will sound
- driving drunk, although this is illegal and punishible by jail time or deportation if caught
- drivers neglecting to use any form of indicator signals, with the one exception being a driver texting in addition to speaking on his GSM's while eating McDonalds's, drinking a coffee and reading the local edition or Muscat Daily, flashing their high beams at you rapidly while attempting to overtake you at 130 km+ in a 50 km zone although there are 3 full lanes of traffic on either side of you, thus making it impossible for you to move even if you wanted to and if you by chance did change lanes to let said idiot pass, impossible for the overtaking driver to move any further forward than the spot you just vacated thus annoying the expat driver in front of you, also following traditional road etiquette and traffic safety rules.

You get the picture.  Well more for another day.

A demain...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sir Tom Jones...

Tonite we had the insane pleasure of experiencing our first rock concert, Omani style.  We clamoured into our friends Prado and headed to the Intercontinental Gardens to witness Sir Tom Jones, live in Muscat.

Now when I told my Mom that we were going to see Tom Jones in concert, she thought that I must have been outside in the sun too long.  Tom Jones, he's ancient she cried.  I know, but beggars can't be choosers and here in our little corner of the world, opportunities for entertainment are few and far between.

After arriving at the Intercon, unsure of what type concert dress would be deemed appropriate and at the same time comfortable as it was a mild 35 degrees centigrade after the sun went down, Joanna, Darryl, Peter and I headed to one of the local Arabian/Mexican restaruants for dinner.  The food was surprisingly good and the atmosphere was entertaining as we were served by several indians sporting sombrero's.

Soon, it was time to cue up for the big event.  We waited in line with a surprisingly diverse crowd and as we entered the gardens, found that the no alcohol rule apparently didn't apply to concert goers.  For sale were entire cases of beer, beer buckets, bottles of whisky, mix being sold separately and entirely optional, bottles of wine, you get the idea. 

After selecting a paltry beer bucket, we settled into our little section of a real grass field and before we could say daffodil, Sir Tom Jones appeared on stage, fully decked out in a black leather jacket, silk shirt and dark jeans.  He had apparently not checked the weather forecast and looked like he had been caught in Malaysia during the rainy season before finishing the his first set.

I have to say, first impressions, this guy totally rocks!  He has such an incredible stage presence and as he crooned his way through old favorites like My Dahlilia, Sexpot, You Can Leave Your Hat On and Pussy Cat to name only a few he put younger rockers to shame!  The concert is definitely in my top 10 events EVER and if you ever get a chance to see this man live, definitely DO!  It was worth it!

In addition to an amazing stage show, the crowd watching was just as lively and in some respects more unpredictable!  I'm not sure if I enjoyed watching the 10 year old boy, sitting on his father's shoulders with a beer bucket on his head, bare chested,  swinging his t-shirt around while singing Green Green Grass of Home at the top of his lungs, the teen dream Harry Potter look alike bouncing between his disgrunteled girlfriend and his underage buddy with the whisky bottle, the 40+ something welsh contingent standing on their two empty Heineken flats, complete with blow up daffodils or the single Omani girls dancing in their abaya's, I would be hard pressed to tell you which part of the evening was more enjoyable.

If this is what all concerts are like in Muscat, count me in!  We already have a babysitter booked for Bryan Adams.  Whoo Hoo!

A demain...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Don't Let The Bedbugs...Well You Know

Having been in Oman now for almost a month, I can say that we have comfortably reset our clocks ahead a full 12 hours.  I have swapped waking up to an alarm clock for raucous birds and the call to prayer from a nearby mosque and have grown quite partial to not worrying about making sure that the kids are wearing enough layers of clothing.  Peter has willingly swapped a 45 minute highway drive to work for a 5 minute commute and the kids have essentially retired their jackets and long pants.

As luck would have it though, just as we were getting comfortable with our new routine, Peter awoke one morning, covered in small, red, very itchy welts!  Never did I ever imagine that "Don't Let The Bedbugs Bite" could or would take on such a personal meaning.  Peter was literally covered in bug bites.  Starting at his feet and making their way up his legs and trunk, down his arms and up his neck and face, we had been infested. 

Living in Calgary and underexposed to bugs in general, especially those that make up nasty old wifes tales, I have thankfully up until now, never encountered anything like this, so after Peter left for the office, I begun my search for answers on our not quite dial-up Internet for a solution. I discovered that these nasty critters are notoriously hard to spot and even harder to get rid of, but the bite marks on Peter's body was all of the evidence that I needed to prove that we had a problem. 
I tore apart our bedding and searched every seam of our mattress, I moved furniture, pictures and scoured every inch of the bedroom in our temporary accommodation.  At one point, I did see a suspicious brown beetle-like creature that matched the images I had found on-line but could one creature really be responsible for all of this damage?
After chasing our only likely culprit down the plumbing, we tentatively headed off to bed.  Now I have to be honest and say that I was VERY glad that it was Peter that had been bitten and not me but the next morning it seemed that my luck had run out.  I woke up the next morning also covered in similar bites. 

After visiting every single furniture and bedding shop in Muscat (this was entertaining in its own right but more on this later), on the hunt for sealable mattress covers for the beds in our temporary accommadations to no avail, it was time to call in the professionals.  BEC, PDO's chosen company for everything maintenance, showed up shortly after the children went to school and sprayed down every surface in all of the bedrooms, including all of our clothing, with the hopes that this would end our bug plight. 

I also had the BEC exterminators switch our infested mattress with one from another temporary house.  Initially, the workers planned to just swap mattresses but when I explained that this was probably not an ideal solution, they reluctantly agreed to store our teeming mattress out in the hot courtyard, hoping that this would 1 - encourage the bed bugs to leave of their own accord or 2 - fry in the 40 degree heat.  I'm not sure what actually happened as after the mattress left our home, we didn't see it again.

After a long, very itchy couple of days, the extermination seemed to work.  Luckily the kids didn't sustain any bites and other than having to buy out the local pharmacy's stock Fentisil, we suffered no ill effects.  On the other hand, Rani, our new house maid had the pleasure of washing and ironing every article of clothing and bedding in our temporary flat.  I guess we have passed our first initiation and are now officially on our way to becoming locals.

A demain...