Monday, April 22, 2013

Wo Hui Shuo Yi Dian Dian Zhongwen!

That means, "I can speak a little bit of Chinese!" Back when I still lived in Shanghai, I used to modestly respond in this way when curious cab drivers, students, and miscellaneous people on the street asked if I could speak their language. However, the truth of the matter was that I really could speak more than just a little bit of Chinese; actually, my Chinese was quite good! This is thanks to a decent foundation from independent study between college and joining my current job, followed by ten months of intensive Chinese training before my posting to Shanghai. Then, as a visa officer in Shanghai, I used my language abilities to interview up to 200 visa applicants each day! Hard to forget Chinese with all that talking going on daily.

Unfortunately, since moving to Botswana, my Chinese has rapidly gone downhill. There is quite a large Chinese population here, but up until recently I haven't had much opportunity to get to know any of them and scrub some of the mold off my language skills. Nowadays I really can speak only a little bit of Chinese!

Recently though I've found an opportunity to maintain my Chinese, which I am quite excited about. Scott is taking evening language classes at the Confucius Institute (a Chinese educational import that is present at universities in most countries around the world) and so I jumped at the chance to attend his Chinese language corner with the rest of the CI students a couple of weeks ago. At the language corner, his teacher and I had a nice time visiting, and she agreed to become my language partner (yay). So now she and I meet once a week or so and she puts up with me while I try to dust off the cobwebs and remember all the vocabulary I used to know. It's quite fun, and I didn't even realize how much I missed speaking Chinese... or how much I'd forgotten! I've been surprised at how much is flooding back into my brain after just a couple of sessions. It's all still in there, just needs to be revived.

She and I (petite Chinese woman and very tall blonde) get some odd looks while we are walking around UB laughing and speaking in Chinese together, but oh well!  And, after our lessons, I always get hungry for Chinese food and end up missing Shanghai just a little bit. :)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Restaurant Review: Embassy Indian Restaurant, Gaborone

This may be surprising, but there is actually very good and authentic Indian food in Gaborone, due to the relatively large Indian population here. So far I've tried two Indian restaurants in town: Chutney's and Embassy. Although each restaurant has its pluses and minuses, for the most part we prefer Embassy because of its higher cleanliness standards (compared to not-so-sanitary and sometimes funky smelling Chutney's) and less sketchy atmosphere (Embassy is located at Riverwalk, a popular and well-lit shopping center, as opposed to Chutney's, which is located in the Westgate Mall, an older shopping center that doesn't seem too safe at night, judging from the fake DVD hustlers and other shadowy hangers-about in the parking lot after dark).
All our favorite dishes.
Plenty more pages where that came from.

My addiction to Indian food flares up pretty regularly, and last night we set out to assuage one such craving with a delicious meal at Embassy. We typically order the same dishes - a yellow daal, butter garlic chicken, cumin potato masala, garlic butter naan, vegetable Manchurian (like Indian dumplings), and steamed rice... all washed down by a nice, cold Windhoek draft beer. Although the meal is pricier than many in Gaborone - about $40 for a couple - it is worth every thebe and I can't stop myself from going back at least once every couple of weeks. Yum! Since we do visit Embassy so often, I thought I am probably overdue for a restaurant review on one of our favorite restaurants. Here goes, with elephants this time:

1= I wouldn’t recommend it to other elephants.
2=The elephant in the room says this place needs improvement.
3=OK, but nothing to trumpet about. 
4= Trunk-swinging good.
5=AMAZING – trunk and tail- swinging good! 

Trunk and tail-swinging good! Embassy is one of the best restaurants in town, and you can always count on some amazing food.
OK, but nothing to trumpet about. Overall decent service, but the food can take 30-40 minutes to come out.
OK, but nothing to trumpet about.  Sitting outside is pretty nice, but on weekend evenings, Embassy's neighboring restaurant holds a lively karaoke night. If sitting through multiple, drunken renditions of Tiny Dancer isn't your idea of ambiance, sit inside.
Overall Experience
Trunk-swinging good.  Don't let the less-than-perfect score fool you - the food is delicious!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

R&R 2013: Six Weeks and Counting!

R&R 2013 is rapidly approaching!

Map of Iceland: we'll be driving around the island, spending
a night each in Reykjavik, Vik, Hofn, Myvatn, and Akuyeyri.
Our plans have changed significantly since I last posted on this topic back in January. Originally we were thinking of spending a few weeks in Eastern Europe, but from there we have made the not-so-logical jump to deciding to do a trip to London, Iceland, and Florida instead! This may seem random but there are actually good reasons for this itinerary: I have wanted to return to London since I studied abroad there in college (almost eight years ago) and now I have a friend from work who is posted at the London embassy; there is a direct and very inexpensive flight from Reykjavik to Sanford, FL near my parents' house; and of course Florida to see our families!

We are going to mostly wing it in London and Florida - not much advance planning required for these locations as we are fairly familiar with London and will spend most of our time in Florida at home with our families.

The exciting trip planning has been the Iceland portion, which we finalized this week - hotels and activities are booked! We'll fly from London to Reykjavik, rent a car there, and spend seven days driving the circumference of the entire island, with stops and overnights along the way. Highlights of the trip will include visiting the famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik; a whale watching tour in the northern city of Husavik; and a glacier boat ride at the ice lagoon in Jokulsarlon in the eastern part of the island. I can't wait!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

First World Problems
Have you ever heard of "First World Problems?" Basically FWPs make fun of the extreme gap between the petty and selfish grievances of people living in developed societies in first world countries, and the serious, life-influencing difficulties that people in third world countries deal with every day (like the water shortages and power outages that have been affecting the whole country of Botswana the past couple of months).

Google it - there are lots of websites that list various FWPs and also also a hilarious YouTube video with quotes like these:
"I'm so cold. Somebody set the A/C at 72 and I need it at 73."
"My iPhone 5 is too big for my skinny jeans pocket."
"I bought too many groceries... now I'll have to make two trips from the car."
Anyway, I was thinking about "hot yoga" as an FWP when I was sweating in my (non-air conditioned) yoga class last night (yes, I know, yoga - A/C or no - is very first world but bear with me!)

While I imagine that the concept of yoga in itself would be ridiculous to people from many third world countries (why would you want to get together in your free time to burn much-needed calories?!), "hot yoga" - not just exercising, but paying money to exercise in an intentionally uncomfortable environment- would be even more incomprehensible. I started this train of thought because my yoga class in Botswana is held in a classroom of an old school which does not have air conditioning: HOT YOGA simply by default! It must be 85 or 90 degrees in that classroom this month, and we're already in the cooler fall season.
I have never taken a hot yoga class per se (at least not intentionally) but I know it's a trendy form of exercise now back at home. How funny to think about all those people back in the U.S. paying lots of money at their trendy gyms to do yoga in the heat and humidity... and here I am getting it for just 50 pula/ $6 per lesson! Problems currently facing Botswana: rolling blackouts, contaminated drinking water, water shortages, crumbling infrastructure, and no A/C in yoga class! Which one of these is not like the other?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter in Gaborone

At least we got free sparkling wine!
Lovely restaurant, terrible service.
Our Easter Sunday this year got progressively better as the day went on. We were quite excited to try out an Easter brunch at the Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel Resort, which we hadn't yet visited but had heard good things about as the nicest hotel in town with a great view from the restaurant. Upon our arrival we were very impressed with the attractive, well-kept grounds and the hotel restaurant which was beautifully positioned overlooking the golf course. We were a bit dismayed to see that even though we arrived about 45 minutes past what was supposed to be the start time for the Easter brunch, waiters and staff were still carrying tables and chairs out to the balcony and scrambling to set up the buffet. But, hey, this is Botswana, so we decided to be patient and enjoy the view and a complimentary glass of sparkling wine while we waited.

Espresso Deli in Phakalane: a much better choice
Thirty minutes later things still weren't set up and so we asked to be shown to our table to wait, only to be given the worst table in the entire restaurant (in the back corner, between a set of swinging double doors, with no view)! The wait staff then proceeded to argue with us and refused to change our table on the grounds that it was "too inconvenient to change the seating chart" - even though there were all of five other people in the restaurant and about fifty tables open, with more being carried in every minute. After some back and forth with an extremely rude and condescending manager (Struggle struggle) we finally decided to just leave. We were really disappointed because this place was beautiful and would have a been a nice spot to hang out on weekends... but now I don't think I'll ever go back because of the truly awful service there. This happens too often in Botswana - great potential is ruined by the poor service that comes from a sense of entitlement and a nonexistent work ethic. A shame because this restaurant could have been so much more with just a little bit of effort..

A huge Easter feast!
A feisty houseguest
Fortunately, our day became progressively better as it went on. On the way home from our aborted brunch, we stopped at the Espresso Deli, another spot in Phakalane, for a quick bite. Espresso Deli is a quite nice spot that serves food a cut above your average Gaborone meal, and our morning was redeemed over cappuccinos, a tasty omelet for me, and a health bread with eggs concoction for Scott. We headed home, rested, and played with "Bella" (our kitty house guest, just for the weekend while his owner was out of town!) before Easter meal #2 1/2 at some friends' house. The meal was just lovely, with cocktails and appetizers outside followed by a huge family-style meal at a beautifully set dining room table and then amazing desserts and after dinner drinks outside again. So it ended up being a really great Easter, even though the morning got off to a rocky start! Thanks friends for the wonderful time last night. :)