Home bound, Oh my!

I am home. Or am I?

I have finally returned to the United States with no immediate plans to leave. What a novel feeling it is. Now.. for the culture shock. Notes from my first week, in no particular order:

American drivers are overly fond of their car horns. Yes, so are drivers of many countries. But living in the UK, there honking the car horn is specifically frowned upon, I underestimated how accustomed I have become to the relative quiet. Oi. My poor ears.

– I have options after 7pm on Sundays! What a joy it is to come back to the overly commercialized country of USA. Sometimes having businesses open late and on every day is a huge convenience. Especially when I’m in a limbo stage of no permanent home right now.

– Sticker shock. Oh, how affordable and reasonable cost of living in the US of A is! Truly. If there’s anything I appreciate about the goods market here, it is that there is a general level of quality assurance in the products, which, frankly, is worth paying for. So I looked forward to what I believe are more reasonable prices, especially compared to the UK.. until the sales taxes. Sheesh. Include them in the price label, is that too much to ask for?

– Supermarkets. I got lost. I admit it. On my first trip, running errands for my mother. I was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of products in the aisles and the choices!

Stay tuned. I am only one week in…

Finding where it hurts!

In the souks of Fes:

Vendor: 60 dirham!
Me: This dirty little thing? It’s even got a crack in it! 5 dirham!
Vendor: Tsk tsk. OK. 50 dirham!
Me: 10, final price!
Vendor: No. 15.
Me: Two for 20.
Vendor: Keep looking.

I finally found my haggling groove back.. it’s only taken almost two weeks. I admit I’ve gotten a kick out of hearing the following:

– “You are killing me!” (younger man with better mastery of colloquial English there!)
– “Please. You are hurting my family.”
– “You are my first sale. Insha-llah! 10 more dirham”
– “You are a tough woman” (got that right, mister!)

ps: 5 Moroccan dirham at time of haggling was about US $0.61. Heh. I really wasn’t that interested in it. I wanted to find that bottom line. Looks like I found it.

I do have a weak spot though. Men old enough to be my grandfather… my traditional roots show. In my upbringing, they should be taken cared of by their families, not dragging out their wares day in and day out. I am well aware some of them do so by choice, whether it’s the life they know and want to keep or for the company they have around them, but that particular demographic is my Achilles heel.

Middle-aged and young vendors? Bring. It. On.

Brussels: Museum of Musical Instruments

I had just checked into my hotel in Brussels, at the tail end of my summer abroad. The last time I was in Brussels was over five years ago, on a day tour with my aunt. I remember the peeing statue, mussels, rain, and chocolate.

The owner of the hotel didn’t even wait for any questions to highly recommend I stop by the Museum of Musical Instruments.

I ended up spending the entire afternoon there until closing time. Given the relatively narrow streets, from the ground level, I wouldn’t have noticed the museum building. It was embedded in a row of old buildings, the dark glass walls making me think it was a corporate building.

It was just an year old when I went. And what an amazing place. A lot of exhibits were crammed into a relatively small space. The halls were dimly lit, giving a sense of endlessness. The lights were well placed to literally put a spotlight on the instruments. I did not encounter any other visitors.. and as I entered each segment of a hallways, the music correlated to the instruments features started playing. Talk about fantastic interior design and integration of modern technology into exhibitions.

Perhaps my having learnt to play musical instruments made me nerdy enough to enjoy the museum. I certainly spent a long time in the string section, seeing all the historical evolutions of the modern string instruments. Yet, I don’t believe one has to have musical background to appreciate the museum. What appealed to me when I heard about it besides a sincere rave report from a local was the fact that it was different. And the excellent design was a bonus.

Tales of the Wanderlust Daughter: Italy

My mother came to visit me while I was in DC for business. It was some nice mother-daughter bonding time we had. It has been a while since we’ve had time like this together. And I found myself sharing more and more of my carefully edited travel stories with her, finally realising that a part of her lives vicariously through me.

I haven’t forgotten my audience. My mother, as many a loving parent goes, worries about us, about our well being. She doesn’t care about that big promotion and whether or not we got it. She worries if we are eating well, staying healthy, and being safe. As I regaled my tales, many forgotten moments came back to me, moments that I knew my mother would appreciate to know what there are many parents like herself looking out for lone wanderers such as myself as if I was their own child.

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I was studying abroad, in Italy. I had just arrived a couple of days earlier. Despite having taken a semester of Italian for fun, I had forgotten all my vocabulary, leading communication between my homestay hostess and me to be a comical exchange of gestures and broken French. After a few days in school, I was eager to venture out and practice my renewed Italian vocabulary. As I left, I told my hostess I went to walk, a passeggiata, and will be back in time for dinner. I was gone almost two hours, still making it back with plenty of time before dinner would be served. I walked into a flurry, a barrage, of Italian. My hostess had worked up a worry over me, thinking I was going for a short stroll. Not a long hike. Knowing I barely spoke the language, she began to think I got hurt, run over, or kidnapped. Passeggiata is a stroll, a short one. not a long trek around the entire town.

I didn’t realise it then, but did as I recounted that incident to my mother, ten years after it happened, that my Italian hostess hen pecked me. I didn’t realise it then. She wasn’t my mother so I saw it as a very affectionate protective hostess trying to look after a clueless American girl whose curiosity seemed to land her in odd places.