Thursday, July 24, 2014


My current henna artwork. Mine for two weeks!
Something that's become a favorite tradition of mine in Singapore is "getting henna done." Henna is a plant-based dye that is used to draw intricate designs on skin. The dye actually permeates below the surface layer of the skin, so the design stays on your skin for nearly two weeks. (For reference, if you were to draw on your skin with a pen, the ink stain would sit on the top-most layer of your skin, so it would wear/wash off within about a day. A henna tattoo goes into a layer below that, and a needle-and-ink tattoo places ink into your skin yet another layer down, so that is what makes it more permanent, although even that form of skin tattooing still fades over time).

You can watch this video to see the quick, talented artist at work.

L to R: Me, Nesh, Meera, Janice, Vaynii
In any case, henna art is a way that women of any culture (but predominantly Muslim and Hindu cultures) celebrate holidays, weddings, birthdays and life in general. This is typically a tradition enjoyed by women together, and I feel lucky to have found a "henna buddy" here in Singapore, my past student Vaynii. About a year and a half ago, Vaynii invited me to her birthday party, where I had henna done for the first time (and also wore a traditional Punjabi suit, as the theme was "Bollywood" and I was encouraged to go shopping in Little India with another past student, Zena, to get myself something fun and new to wear!). I found the process of getting the henna painted on absolutely mesmerizing, and the process of letting it dry absolutely painstaking ("Is it dry yet? Can I wash it off and see the design?" "NO! LET IT DRY!").
Nesh admonishing me to LET IT DRY.

After the paste is COMPLETELY dry (it sets in about 10-20 minutes, and is dry to the point that it falls off within 2-3 hours), the design is light at first, and then darkens over the next 12 hours into a beautiful adornment.

Selamat Hari Raya!

Vaynii surprised me on Sunday with an invitation to a festival for the Muslim holiday Hari Raya. We went to a festival market where there were all manner of beautiful clothes, carpets, household decorations, shoes, jewelry, odd assortments of computer gadgets and more for sale in tents lining the streets. And interspersed among the sales tables were henna artists. I had this design painted on for $5. It is five dollars well spent for days of joy and a reminder to celebrate every minute of this wonderful life experience I've been blessed to have in Singapore!
"Henna buddies!"

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jet lag: A sketch.

**Note: This is an abnormally long post. If you don't want to read a long post on the details of jet lag, then you might want to skip this one. If you're interested on learning more about jet lag, read on!

If you’ve been keeping up with my recent blast of blog posts, you know I’ve arrived safe and sound in Singapore. I thought I’d take this post to detail something else that I’m frequently questioned about: Jet lag. It deserves its own post. And since I’m currently severely jet lagged, I thought now would be a very opportune time at which to write.

Is jet lag one or two words? 


So here’s my founding theory as to WHY jet lag is unpreventable. We are humans. We were designed as a social animal, an animal that might wander a fair distance from one’s cave, perhaps cross large spans of land or sea at some point over many years of one’s life; at the heart, a creature that was designed to travel and pursue the horizon – but by foot.

Then we went and got fancy and made cars. Okay, so far, so good. We’re getting there faster than on foot, but we’re still getting a chance to take in the change as we go.

Trains, same deal, albeit far more exciting than cars (I have a Sheldon Cooper-esque love for trains). And chronologically, I know trains occurred before cars, but I’m going in order of relative speed and travel-maximizing potential. In any case, you can still take in your changing surroundings.

Ocean liners? Boats? Again, same deal. Time to observe change. Time to see and feel the differences in the nuances of the world around you.

Then we went and got really full of ourselves. Let’s fly. Flying sounds great. Imagine the distance we can travel! And so, the sheer desire to outstrip our previous accomplishments being both the beauty and the drive of humanity, we did.

And then we harnessed that power to go from one side of the earth… to the other.

In a DAY.

Poor Homo sapiens was not built for this. Our brains and our bodies were meant to observe change, take in progressing daylight differences, gradually move meals earlier and later and so forth.

Then we go and rocket ourselves at 38,000 feet up across a planet.

And you think that drinking “lots of water the day before!” is going to FIX the shock that that action is going to have on your body and your mind? I think not.

(I mean, drink lots of water, anyway, because it’s good for you. But not too much, because hydrotoxicity is a real thing.)

If you make a trip like this, you will be jet lagged. Here are my tips on how to handle it, combined with what to expect, because I can’t make two lists right now and I think just smooshing them together is a good way to go.

  1. Expect jet lag. This sounds obvious, but it’s not. I think that half of the emotional trauma comes from not knowing WHAT IS HAPPENING to you. Here’s a hint: It’s jet lag. Jet lag is like the El Niño of bodily issues. If you've taken a long trip by plane and your body is acting weird, it’s probably jet lag.
  2. Expect jet lag to make you feel and act differently. Forwarned is forarmed, as they say. (Forarmed? I think that’s right). Right now, I’d like you to imagine an average human standing in front of you. Now, give the human a hangover. Stop laughing – visualize it! Now, imbue the human with the raging hormones one might expect to find in a 14-year-old. Got it? Good. Now, make the human a toddler. Make the toddler tired. Make the toddler hungry. Give the toddler a mild flu. Now add a dash of severe attention deficit disorder. Congratulations! You just visualized jet lag! Understanding that jet lag WILL AFFECT YOU is key, I think. It helps you to “get a grip” when you need to. It helps you to be mindful and take care of yourself. Don’t baby yourself, but also be aware that you’re not going to land on the other side of the planet, bounce out of the plane, and set about frolicking around the country. Well, you may for like 10 minutes, and then you’ll self-destruct, Mission Impossible style. I recommend that whatever the time is where you’ve landed, try your hardest to do what others are doing at that time. If it’s the middle of the night, get to bed. If it’s broad daylight, go out and eat a meal. Try to meld yourself into the destination time as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean you can’t nap. Naps are good. Naps are crucial (set an alarm – more on that later) – but do try not to sleep for 5 hours straight in the middle of the day. It’s not going to help.
  3. Expect jet lag to make you act differently physically: Expect mild flu-like symptoms. Aches, nausea, headaches, chills and sweats. Expect your appetite to be completely messed up. You’ll go from one extreme to the other: You’ll get yourself a plate of food and you’ll be ravenously pounding it like a junkyard dog snarfling meat up off a hubcap, and then WHAM! You hit a brick wall. Your stomach decides it’s had quite enough, thankyouverymuchplease, and now the mere THOUGHT of your food will make you feel nauseous. Eat small and eat often, is my advice. And you know the old adage “Feed a cold, starve a fever?” I would add: “And give jet lag whatever the hell it wants.” Salad for breakfast? Great! Bacon for lunch? You can diet later!
  4. Expect jet lag to make you act differently emotionally: Remember my joke about hormones? Raging hormones, which put your emotions out of whack, is a good analogy to jet lag. Little things will make you cry. Or super annoyed. Or obnoxiously happy. Expect a roller coaster. Expecting it can help you to control it, so you don’t break down and cry when you unpack and discover your picture frame broke.
  5. Expect jet lag to make you act differently mentally: Simple things will confound you. When I say simple, I mean like ziplock bags. You thought I was going to say ATMs or something? Go back and read #2. Put that person in front of an ATM. See what I’m talking about? Avoid sharp objects and open flames when you’re jet lagged. But seriously, realize that you’re going to be forgetful. Make lists – even if you’re not a “list person”. Realize you’re going to blank out on words. Be patient with yourself. The guy at the front desk was sending something up to my room and asked me what floor I was on. I had to think, not because I had forgotten the floor, but because I could see the number 19 in my head, but I could not remember the word for it. So I took a deep breath, relaxed my mind, and there it was, after a brief search. I was unpacking and searching madly for my chapstick (chapstick addicts will understand). I tore open one bag: All that was in there was my hand cream, my chapstick, my pen, note pad and phone charger. Where is my chapstick?!?! I tore apart two more bags, and checked the first another time before I found it. You know, right there. In the first bag I checked.
  6. Understand that jet lag is not permanent. It will all be over soon. After 24 hours, you’ll notice that the majority of your symptoms have gotten a great deal more manageable. Expect not to feel completely normal, though, until you’ve gone one day for each hour time difference you’re experiencing. Also expect that the more hours you go, the more severe your symptoms will be. If you’re going from Buffalo to California, to start with, the symptoms are going to abate in 3 days. They’re also not going to be as drastic. If you’re going from Buffalo to Singapore, expect maximum symptoms (especially if you go in one fell swoop – this is another reason why I love my stopover reprieve in San Francisco) and expect not to feel 100% until Day 12.
  7. Understand that you’re bigger than jet lag and jet lag does not have to control you. It doesn’t have to win. Eventually, it’ll be over, and until it is, you can function in society. You can work your job. You can go out with friends. You may have a few moments that you’ll have to be honest with yourself (and others) and say, “Hey – sorry about that – I’m really jet lagged”, but you CAN do it. And I say again, expecting it is huge in controlling the symptoms. If you’re going to work on Day 2, make lists, prepare way ahead, and get good food and more sleep than you normally would. Don’t ask too much of yourself, but keep yourself going, at the same time.

Oh, and set alarms. Lots of alarms. Do not put a snooze button within reach of yourself.

“Oh, I NEVER use the snooze button! I always spring out of bed with all the vim and vigor of a cheerleader on homecoming game day!”

Go back and read #2 again, will ya? Would you trust THAT person with a snooze button?
I didn’t think so.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find my chapstick.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The finish line...

I made it to Singapore! And that's all I have to say until I get some sleep! Good nightzzzzzzzzzzz...

Making the Trek: Leg 3

I am afraid I've failed you all as a blogger inasmuch as this post will not be accompanied by any other photos than this obligatory wing shot that I took right before shutting down my phone, owing to the fact that I needed to shut my phone down to turn off Verizon and start up Star Hub upon my return to Singapore, and the fact that I left my digital camera at home. But this will be a brief post, anyway.

After 11 hours and change, I've made it from San Francisco to South Korea. Singapore Airlines is my saving grace for these long hauls. I really can't sleep on planes aside from the occasional cat-nap, and I can't read in anything that moves (I was that kid who could get carsick before leaving the driveway). So I pass my time by watching movies. And Singapore Airlines is the airline for that. There are over 200 movies to choose from, which helps to pass the time, and as an added bonus, they feed you very regularly (2 hot meals on this flight and lots of snacks in between)! On this flight I watched Saving Mr. Banks, Brave, Juno, Monuments Men, and The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. Not a bad way to pass time! Meals included hot herb chicken with vegetables and mashed potatoes, a cold salad, buttered roll, cheese, crackers, beverages of our choosing and ice cream for dessert. That was just ONE meal!

We do a 1-hour stopover in Seoul, South Korea, which is just enough time for the mandatory de-plane, security screening, freshen up a bit, and then to grab a chai tea from the Starbucks right next to the gate while I check my email and update my loyal readers.

In about 5 minutes I'll reboard the plane for the remaining 6 hour trip... what movies shall I watch this time?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Making the trek: Leg 2.5 (intermission)

Every now and then my flights time out where I have a little time to kill in San Francisco. This morning, still running three hours early as I'm still on Buffalo time, I got up and walked four blocks down Clay Street to the Ferry Building. There I enjoyed an awesome breakfast from the various farmer market stalls: bold organic coffee with fresh cream, goat cheese and jam on warm challah, a farm fresh egg and pancetta bacon. Do you see what I mean about San Francisco and food?

Then I took the F-line to Fisherman's Wharf, where I walked through a veritable ghost town, as nothing was open. Even the sea lions were on holiday, having gone down to sunnier shores for breeding. Nonetheless, it was lovely taking in sights, sea air, and just walking, as I know I'll be on a plane for twenty hours later on.

I ended my stroll by passing through Fisherman's Grotto and shamelessly sampling chowder. Satisfied that I had eaten my way through the Bay City, I took the F-line back to the Ferry Building, stopped in to see Alfieri, my favorite merchant who sells chocolate covered salted cashews that are worth the flight alone, and back to my room to pack, nap, and catch a shuttle to SFO!

Oh- and one last stop at Amoure Café in the airport for some falafel and Jerusalem salad. NOW I've eaten my way through San Francisco!

Stay tuned for a post on Leg 3: San Francisco to South Korea for a 1 - hour layover, then on to my final destination: the Lion City!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Making the trek: Leg 2

Well, it's all part of travel, isn't it? Flights get delayed. We were ready to take off and the captain announced there was something wrong with one of the plane's tires and "planes need tires." So there was a delay. Then a rerouted flight plan to avoid some nasty weather. Long and the short of it, my 7:00 arrival turned into 8:30. By the time I got my bags,  got my shuttle and got to my hotel (trying the new boutique Club Quarters) it was 9:30pm.

My original plan had been to catch the F-line to Fisherman's Wharf and have chicken parm at Cioppino's... but remember, it feels like midnight now to my Buffalonian brain, so the Elephant & Castle pub adjoined to the hotel lobby looked pretty swell. Here's hoping for some decent pub grub!

I'll have to get my fill of San Francisco during a morning stroll for breakfast tomorrow before I begin Leg 3!

Stay tuned!

Making the trek: Leg 1

When I tell people that I work in Singapore, I often get questions about the travel itself. What is it like? How long does it take? How do I keep from losing my mind? I thought I'd write a multi-part series of posts chronicling the travel process, and I'm going to try to keep it as "in real time" as logistics and increasing jetlag allow.

Let's address the first three questions:

1.) Arduous, but adventurous, too.
2.) From Buffalo to Singapore, or Singapore to Buffalo, about 30 hours total, give or take. But I always break it up.
3.) Food.

Today I started my day off right - with a breakfast out at Cracker Barrel with my mom and dad. They saw me off at the airport, and then I started on Leg 1. To keep my airfare falling within my allotted travel budget, I opt to take flights that have a few stopovers. This may not save time, but it does save money, and to be honest, I prefer to get off the plane and eat stretch my legs often, anyway. Domestically, I usually fly jetBlue Airlines or Southwest. Internationally, for these trips, at least, I fly Singapore Air. You'll see why when I get to those posts.

This morning I've just flown from Buffalo to Boston. I've gotten to know different airports by their food. I have a theory on traveling and food. All other days of my life, I try to save money. When I'm traveling and hungry, all bets are off. Here's the thing: You can eat fast food in the food court, but it is probably not going to be very good, and it's probably going to be pricey, anyway. Why not go to a nice sit-down restaurant and have a really decent meal? You're probably not going to look back at the end of the day and say, "Wow, I'm glad I saved $20 and ate that McWhatever for lunch." But you MIGHT look back and say, "Wow, that lobster roll was delicious!"

And if you're gonna be in Bahston, you really should be eating lahbstah.

So when I'm in Boston, I make the most out of my 2 hour layover and go to Boston Beerworks in the airport and get myself a lobster roll. You can't beat it. It's $17 well spent. And I always feel better about getting on a flight - especially a domestic flight where the food can be slim pickings - with a full, happy tummy.

Next leg: Boston to San Francisco! Oh, there's food to be had there, too!

How many visits?