Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Full Moon" on a Caribbean Island

November 15, 2010 It was a perfect day on the island of Grand Turk. Paul & I were relaxing on padded lounge chairs in the shade of a coconut palm tree looking at white sand and crystal blue water. Paradise! While I sat there half asleep, to my left I thought I saw a naked man’s bottom standing next to me. OMG! I jolted from my reverie and swatted Paul sitting at my right. At first he was upset that I had disturbed his rest, until he looked up. I said, “Can you believe this?” The man continued putting on clothes and soon was fully dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks and dress shoes. Just as he was finishing, up walked his wife in a black bikini.
I kiddingly said to Paul, “Are you ready for Act 2?” Well, the joke was on me! The man dried her off with a towel; and when she lowered her top in full view of both of us, she replaced it with a dry ---- BIKINI TOP! Then the man made a tent of a towel around her as she took off her bottoms – only to replace them with another pair of bikini bottoms!!! The two of them sat back down on their chairs in the shade – she in the “dry” bikini, he in business clothes and both of them went to sleep. OK, I get it. We’re not in Kansas, Dorothy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our first encounter with the Chinese - Getting the Visa!

September 30, 2010 As usual, we had a whole list of things we wanted to see and do while visiting our sister and brother-in-law in Chicago. But the most important thing was getting a Visa to enter China on our trip next spring. It turns out that there are only three places in the USA where you can personally pick up a Visa – L.A., D.C. and Chicago. If you don’t go to one of these places, you have to pay extra to have a middle-man type company process your application. Sounds simple. We found the Chinese Embassy website and then the fun started. We are leaving the USA on Jan. 2 and won’t be in China until April 23. We won’t be in Chicago again this year, though. So we wanted to apply 8 months in advance. There are three types of Visas – valid for 3 months, 6 months and 1 year. We wanted the year. Good news - all of them cost the same. Bad news – 3 month Visas are for single entry; 6 month are for 2-3 entries; and one year is for multiple entries. We were hoping that since we will be there for 4 days, that that would count as multiple entries. The problem was that Hong Kong (2 of those days) doesn’t count as a Chinese city and doesn’t require a Visa.
Well, we arrived at the Embassy address and, guess what? They’ve moved! Thank goodness, they were only a couple blocks down the street. When we arrived at 11:00AM, there was a large room full of people, a take-a-number machine and lots of folding chairs in rows. We were number 078 and they were calling 048. Uh, oh. Thirty people to be processed ahead of us and they were closing for lunch at noon. We visited with some American business men who had been through this before, and they were less than encouraging. We found out the application forms on the web were not current and we needed to fill out new ones located on a counter in the room. We quickly wrote in all the information.
At noon, there were only 5 numbers ahead of us. Amazingly, they did not stop and our number was called. We walked up with big smiles, our passports, immunization records, the filled in applications and passport photos. The woman behind the window was surly, to say the least. We had two questions – which didn’t help the situation. May we apply for the year Visa, even if we are only going to be in China for two days? “You want year Visa?” Yes. “You apply year Visa.” Yes, but will they allow that? It says you need multiple entries? “You apply year Visa.” OK, we’ll mark that box. (Does that mean we can get it?!) Next question: Today is Thursday. We would like to pick up the Visa on Monday. It says expedited processing takes 3-4 days. Will the Visa be ready on Monday? (“A string of words we didn’t understand, ending with “Monday”.) I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I rephrase my question trying to speak very clearly and smile a lot. Can we come on Monday to pick up the Visa? (“Another string of garbled words ending with “Monday”.) Then we’re coming back on Monday, OK? No answer, but she writes Monday on our claim check. We hand her all of our paperwork, passports and photos. She grabs her scissors and with a flash of deft origami cuts that even Edward Scissorhands would envy, she snips our photos to the proper size and staples them to the applications. We leave the Embassy. Who knows what just happened? We didn’t pay any money and all we have is a claim check.
On Monday, we arrived in the afternoon; just to give them more time to process our applications. We saw the same huge crowd; but with our claim check, we were pointed to a different line and in 5 minutes we were greeted by a smiling Chinese woman who spoke beautifully in English. She took our claim check and retrieved our passports from her file. Of course she was smiling . . . “That’ll be $320.00, please.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ring the Bell

February 25, 2010 Yesterday we entered a new world. We had looked forward to this day for over 20 years – ever since we met our friends, César and Yolanda, in the USA. We arrived early in the morning for the first time in Ecuador. The heat and humidity were already apparent as we viewed the lush green strip of land along the Guayas River from the cruise ship deck. Outside the port entrance, we met César Jr. who escorted us on a 2 hour sight-seeing tour of Guayaquil. We loved the new Malecón area of the city with its beautiful parks, recreation and shopping areas in spite of the fact that for a short time we walked in a tropical shower. César Jr. explained that people get used to the heat - only the first 20 years are the worst!
At 12:30PM we drove to César and Yolanda’s home. We were greeted by a servant who opened the gate surrounding their home, and soon Yolanda stood in the doorway to welcome us. The one story and well kept exterior belied the elegant interior of the home. The rooms were filled with beautiful paintings, lovely furnishings and a crystal chandelier. Our host, César, sat behind a leather bar in the corner and greeted us warmly. And then to our surprise, he picked up a 5 inch brass bell sitting near him and rang it loudly. What was he doing? Is this what Ecuadorians do to welcome visitors to their home, like ringing in the New Year? The question was soon answered as two servants appeared – one with a tray of hors d’oeuvres, the other with champagne that was quickly poured. Next was, of course, pre-lunch cocktail time – with vodka tonics served after another ringing of the bell.
We left the intimate bar area and walked to the lovely dining room already set with fresh flowers, beautiful china and crystal. We sat down and the bell was rung, sparkling wine was poured to accompany the shrimp cocktail served in martini glasses; the bell was rung, plates were removed; wonderful fish soup with Chilean sea bass was presented; the bell was rung, Argentine red wine was poured; and an array of sliced pork, avocados, corn, tomatoes, heart of palm, asparagus, dill pickles, yellow rice with peas & carrots all artistically presented were served. The bell was rung, plates were removed; slices of pecan pie were served followed by coffee and cognac.
With sadness we left our amazing and generous friends. We will miss them. . . and their magic bell!