Monday, November 29, 2010

Multicultural gym

I decided to try the zumba class at the gym here in Oslo today. The gym here has new classes every month and zumba has been packed for the last 3 months. So yesterday I tried to sign up (yup, you've got to sign up online for each class here) and luckily was number 2 in the wait list. Today those 2 people cancelled and when I got to the gym I got the pass...

Now, I must admit I had no clue what the class was about. I'm usually lazy about running, so I like group classes mainly for trying something different and not yet monotonous. And for that same reason I sign up for classes I have no clue about: at least they are unexpected!

Early on I realize this is dancing mixed with aerobics. Hum... tricky. Being Brazilian everyone expects me to be great at dancing... but my German genetics don't allow it (I feel like a broomstick trying to move around). Add to it some shyness and group exposure is a bad result. Well, at least no one at the gym class knows I don't speak Norwegian, let alone that I'm from another continent.

We start with some latin music... then, to my surprise comes samba! (And the general lack of coordination makes me feel better.)
Then some salsa... ok...
Some other songs... And, when I'm almost relaxing, comes funk from Rio de Janeiro.

Now, I need to pause to explain that the funk in Rio (called funk carioca) is a style in its own, the lyrics are always very graphic and describe men dominating women and sex. As most pop songs in Brazil, lyrics are usually not paid attention to, which makes them worse. Then there is a coreography, which is as explicit as you can get in public. Funk carioca is very heavy on ass shaking and back and forth motions to be more exact.

As the song tchutchuca (for videos you can always do your own search :P ) picks up in the gym class I blush. I mean, in Brazil I always refused to dance these songs... they are a bit over the top for me. And here in Norway, where no one has a clue about the lyrics the girls start to roll their waist, shake their butts and dance as if... Well, could I argue that not knowing the lyrics makes it ok? Then at least I could use the comparative advantage of knowing the choreography beforehand... Ah... stupidity is bliss.

And with export products like this it is no wonder that Brazilians abroad have to put up with ideas that our country is all about soccer (football), naked women, and carnival...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back to the freezer

After being in Paris for a whole 10 days it is time to go back to Oslo (aka the freezer). Sad to be leaving Paris? Definitely. Sorry to be going to Oslo? Not really. The 10 days here in Paris were great to spend time with A.. We did a lot of sight seeing and partying (I'm still recovering from Friday...), spent time together, etc like the good ol' days in Raleigh. But it is also easy to see that my life is not here.

- First, I've never been good at working from home. There is always something more interesting to do, be it cooking, dishes, cleaning or even just plain procrastinating. I also don't like to work by myself and enjoy the sounds of people chatting, occasional hellos and just not feeling like I am the only one who's stuck in a place with work (I wrote my PhD thesis at coffee shops where I knew all the owners and got special deals). So working from a 40m2 apartment the entire week was crazy (and not very productive).

- It is evident that A.'s life is here: his work, his friends, his gossip, he knows the quirks and the ways things work. And it is hard to catch up! Whenever we go out I hang out with A. (primarily) or anyone that cares to "network" with me (it is crazy how these MBA's calculate how much time they are spending on each person and have to rationalize it as networking). Most of A.'s class (around 75%) are single males... which means they are on a hunt, especially for younger French girls from the rest of the university. The married ones usually don't go out and I cannot really relate much to the housewives who's main topic of conversation is shopping and kids. Having no one to talk to is tough! But, hey, I've been sitting on the same chair by myself the whole day and NEED to spend some of my daily word quota!

- This means that not only was I working from home, but as soon as A. got back I would flood him with questions, conversation, chatting and talking which he doesn't like. I understand that when you are mentally tired and have been around people the entire day you might not want to chat. As the week went on A. became more and more intolerant to random questions... "Why do you think the bar is so empty?" "Is there going to be food at the Japanese week event?" "Where is X from?" Not that I really cared about the answers, and a plain "Don't know." would have done the trick. I admit I was trying to keep his attention and was not doing a good job. But to blow up after 2 innocent questions is a bit much to take. I understand he does not have all info but he's the best and only source of information I have so sometimes I ask just to see if there is any info out there, not that I really need it.

So while in Paris I get to have A. close by, I think it is high time to get back to where my life is. Oslo is where I am motivated to work in a team, where I have a schedule, where I get things done, and where I have some friends. But on the other hand I'm just hoping this year apart will fly by so that we can just get back to having both lives in the same place...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Indians and visas: the nightmare (Part II)

Someone from the Moroccan embassy called this morning... I picked up, explained I was A.'s wife and said A. wasn't home. The guy did not tell me anything, just asked me to tell A. to call them asap. I was surprised to get a call so early (merely 2 days after applying) and thought that maybe there was some document missing in the application.

When A. got home for lunch he headed straight to the phone... 20 attempts later (no one was picking up) the same guy he talked to at the consulate picked up. And the result of A.'s Moroccan visa application was an unapologetic, without reason, resounding denial! This had never happened to A. before as he quickly pointed out to the guy. The guy went on to say that they did not make the decisions about visas, they had sent his application by mail to Morocco and had only received the result. (By mail in 2 days????????). On the reason for the denial, no clue either.

So that leaves us with useless air tickets to and from Morocco worth €450 (unchangeable). The 2 friends that are coming to the US to travel with us have been told by email (no response yet). But, overall, the worse is the feeling of being stranded and powerless. Why deny a tourist visa for 2 weeks?? Why can't we have more clearcut visa rules around? Are visas like lotteries in which at some point in time your unlucky number is drawn and you are denied the right to travel? Damn!

I'm pissed and sad... And I offered to go get the passport back from the consulate (since A. has class) so I guess all there is for me to do is sit on the trains for 5 hours...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Life lessons

When I was small I always dreamed about traveling far and wide.
As I grew older I tried to go after this dream as well as I could.
And I managed to go far... quite far and wide.
But I never thought that "far" had a limit.
Probably it doesn't... there is always one more place you have not seen yet.
But time goes by...
As I get older I begin understanding why people actually end up settling down.
"Where" is still a big question (too big for now)
But I find myself missing places, and specially friends made and left behind more and more
So I'm wondering whether settling down is actually about accepting the place you are at
Instead of not going around anymore.

The best of developing countries

Any developing country has them, but they are almost impossible to find in more developed parts of the world:

Can you see how many things this little store sells? And inside the store there was everything you might need from hairbrushes, to cooking pots, to soap, to rain jackets, to needles and thread, to plastic toys, to fake Christmas trees, to... anything! Usually in the USA you can find all this at a Wal Mart type place, which is huge and usually requires a car to get to. The beauty of developing country stores is that there is one in almost every neighborhood. So if you run out of something essential, you just head down the street and get it.

Yesterday, after the whole visa episode, we were walking around Paris (in an immigrant neighborhood) and guess what!! We found the store above! Having no car and still getting used to the long time it takes to get by train to almost anywhere, this was too good to pass. We went in and in 10 minutes found all we needed for the house: clothes hangers, toothpicks, comb, tupperware, grater, winter caps, a thermos, nail cutter, and even cotton balls. All for a very good price too!

I guess developed places also have the advantage of immigrant communities, so maybe it is just a matter of knowing where to look... A. wasn't too excited about carrying the backpack full of stuff for the rest of the afternoon though ;o)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Indians and visas: the nightmare

Anyone that has traveled with an Indian friend, boyfriend, family member, or is an Indiam him(her)self knows that Indians need visas to go almost anywhere in the world. This means that whenever A. and I want to travel abroad he needs to get one. Sometimes it is easier (like getting a Brazilian visa by mail in the USA), sometimes it is expected (like the hassle everyone goes through to get an American visa), sometimes it just happens to not be so hard (like when there is a Mexican consulate in Raleigh that is always empty and doesn't even require appointments) and sometimes, like today, it drives A. crazy.

Some friends of ours from the USA suggested an end of the year trip and we ended up settling on Morocco. At the time we got the tickets I mentioned to A. that he needed a visa and he said he's get it (without having checked what it entailed). As the trip is less than a month away now A. and I started searching for information on how to apply for a visa. The website did not help (all in French, and even after translation it did not provide much info) and upon calling them I was told that for Indians the visa application was sent to Morocco for approval, which could take up to 6 weeks!! Needless to say we headed to the consulate the very next day (today) to apply for the visa. The Moroccan consulate turns out to be about 2.5 hours by train from A.'s apartment... which means that he missed a day of classes. I went with him for the moral support, hoping to catch up on the work later in the week. Arriving at the consulate was interesting... an old house, with lots of papers pasted on the walls (in French and mostly in Arabic), many people sitting around in confusion and lot's of offices filled with desks covered in papers (and with oil paintings of old men on the walls). A. went in.

The guy takes all the papers and hands him a "new" visa application form to be filled out saying that the application A. had downloaded from their website was an old one. Then A. returns with the new form and the guys goes through all papers and passport and starts asking questions:
"So, your name is A.?" (No, duh, his name is Mustafa!)
"Are you from India?" (Hum... had he just gotten the wrong cover for his Canadian passport??)
"So you are married to a German woman?" (Yes, I'm both Brazilian and German... but I like the stress on woman he put in the sentence).
"You and your wife live together?"
"Does she work?"
"Why do you want to go to Morocco?" (Because it happens to be nice and warm when it is chilly here)
"Why Morocco?" (By now A. was questioning that himself...)

So he kept A.'s passport and said that the visa might be done in a week. There is no proof A. ever applied for a visa or that they have his passport (which happens to be his only ID in France), except for a handwritten note with a name and a phone number he should call in one week. And then 2.5 hours to get there and 2.5 hours back...

As I mentioned above, I have dual citizenship (my grandparents on my father's side were German and the nationality was passed down to me). Having a developing and a developed country passport has turned out to be super useful to travel around. No need for visas, even work authorization in Norway, etc.

But visas also reflect a country's foreign policy. Brazil's visa requirements are based on the rule of reciprocity: if a given country requires an entry visa for a Brazilian citizen then Brazil requires an entry visa for citizens of that country. This is why Americans need a visa to go to Brazil but Europeans do not. On the other hand, only citizens of Buthan, Nepal and Maldives do not need a visa to visit India...

If you are interested in checking out how many countries you can visit without needing a visa, check out the Henley Index. The score each country gets is the number of countries that it's citizens do not need a visa to visit.

Any horror stories to share?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Paris as a tourist

On Saturday we went around Paris. We woke up early (a great feat!!), took the train and arrived in Paris right on time to have lunch at Saravana Bhavan. This place is a South Indian institution, with delicious dosas, thalis, idlis, and anything else you might be craving for. A. had found out they have a restaurant in Paris and was eager to try it out!

A. super excited with his thali, puris and papads.

After a huge meal we walked around the neighborhood and stocked up on Indian groceries and veggies. Nice to find a place carrying them here! If only A.'s school wasn't 1:30 from this place by train I'm sure he'd be here every day!

From there we headed to the Eiffel Tower and A.'s new student-on-a-budget mentality kicked in and he did not want to go up. "Are you nuts? Pay to go up the tower? I've seen it from down here and this is fine for me". I finally convinced him that it was ok to pay €4,50 to climb the stairs, so up we went. It was definitely worth it, as the view is quite amazing.

Windy pic.

Back down we walked around a bit and then decided to go to the Latin Quarter for some Latin food. Well, it seems like many tourists make this mistake... but the Latin Quarter has nothing to do with Latin culture other than the universities located there that used to teach in Latin!! So, as cheap tourists we ended up searching Paris guide books at a bookstore for a good place to eat. Off we went for St. Paul. And, on the way, was Notre Dame cathedral:

Notre Dame at night.

Not bad, not bad. The place we headed to was actually closed, but it was in a very cute Israeli part of town, where we found a great place selling fallafel. It was an amazing meal, that was topped off with some pistachio gelatto we got next door. We headed back home and crashed. What a good Saturday!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And next?

A. is doing his MBA in Paris. But his university has the option of doing a dual degree. This means that he would do one year in Paris (ending in April 2011) and then the second year could be undertaken in any of the schools his university has agreements with. The choices are vast... from London to Singapore and China, Mexico, Brazil, etc, etc (nope, no options in Norway). And A. is excited about going elsewhere (hopefully a developing country) and increasing his network (it's all about networking in an MBA) and getting some more international experience.

So as the end of his first semester approaches, A. has to start applying for a place to do his dual degree. Each day a different option seems to pick our fancy... it has varied from Mexico to London, he suggests Brazil, I counter with India. But lately Brazil seems to be the option of choice. And that's when an interesting interaction occurs:
A. has been learning Portuguese with me and then had a month of classes in Rio de Janeiro in May. So he wants to put this knowledge to work by doing an MBA in Brazil. I am not as excited about this as he is. Not that I don't love my country, but I've always believed that a third country would be easier for us to live in. In Brazil I will have no problems with language, culture, and all the quirks that come from living in a different culture than your own. However, for A. everything will be new: new language (including classes in Portuguese), new classmates (differently from his school in Paris in which only 10% of the student are French, in Brazil 99.9% will be Brazilians), new culture, new everything. Yes, he's been there and has an idea of what to expect but that's quite different from living there for a longer while. And then there are all the not-so-nice comments we make about countries other than our own, but that can be hurtful for the people of that country. I mean, we all know the problems of our countries, but we don't like them thrown in our face. So I am worried about moving to Brazil and A. is worried that I'm worried about moving there. I think he's a little overoptimistic about the whole thing, not that he would not do well professionally, but I think that personally the difficulties will be a tad greater than he's considering.

Then there is the job issue. Yes, I'm flexible where I work, but changing jobs every year is not  a good strategy. There is the job seeking, applying, interviews, and besides, in my field, let's just say that there are not jobs in every corner. To find work at a university in Brazil is mainly a matter of luck: post docs are badly paid and scarce and faculty positions are even scarcer. (The latter point has to do with public servants keeping their job until they retire without a chance of being fired and there not being so many universities in my field.) So I told A. I would like to consider Brazil if we could stay more than a year there, to which he said he's fine, since he hopes to work in Brazil for a while after the MBA.

Yes, I guess the best is to stop wondering and be patient...

So this is where we stand right now. Making decisions in a couple in which both have careers, both are hard headed and both have an idea about what they want to do is hard!!!!!!!!!
Any experiences in how to reconcile such decisions?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Southern France

Just a quick update...

I arrived back in Oslo from Italy on Sunday. I taught class (the last class of the semester!!!) and packed my entire Oslo stuff on Monday.  And went to work on Tuesday. After work I managed to skip by the doctor (finally got one... but she doesn't speak English...) and then took the train to the airport. At 9:50pm I arrived at A.'s apartment... exhausted but happy to be there.

On a related note... I'm realizing how A. is changing. Not on weekends when we travel together, but mostly on a daily routine way... For example, last night we were in bed, almost asleep talking a little about nothing much and he just jumped out without saying a word! I stayed in bed asking what it was... to no avail... he didn't even answer. I fell asleep wondering if I had said something wrong, if he was mad or if something else was bothering him (yes, female over-analysis). This morning when we got up I asked him what was the jumping out of bed for. His reply: "oh, nothing, I was just hungry and went to find something to eat!". This is definitely a changed A., in Raleigh he would have asked me to help him fix something, but now he's clearly independent (as he likes to stress).

A.'s class and exam schedule is taking up a whole lot of his time, which is understandable (almost anyone that has gone through grad school knows how it is) but I think it is especially harder after a long break of 9 years in which A. was working. This means that he's usually in a rush during the week nowadays and sometimes works in the evenings too. Which is also funny as when I was doing my PhD he insisted that working at night was merely mismanaging your day time. :P

Today (the next day after all this traveling) I took the train in the afternoon to Clermont Ferrand, in Southern France, where I will be for the next 2 days. Then I go back to Paris for 10 looooooooooooong days!! Yay!! I'm looking forward to having so much time with A.!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Winter musings

It snowed! A considerable amount! And life went on as usual, without more than a smile of people walking through the dense flakes hoping they could keep falling so the skiing season would start soon. This is not good... where I come from it never snows. Where I moved from (Raleigh, USA), any snow was enough to shut down the whole city. And where I live now snow is nothing more than the sign that even more snow is to come. Cars have already had their winter tires one for a few weeks, streets are salted and coats are out of the closet. Nothing new...

Well, except for the Brazilian over here... I have kept on my challenge to keep biking as long as possible. I thought the experience of biking in the snow I accumulated from living in the mountains in Southwest Virginia would be enough. But today was different. When biking back from my office to the train station I noticed my gears were not shifting properly... didn't give it a second thought. Then when I was about to start a downhill I pulled my brakes and... they were frozen!! They did not move (and this had never happened to me before), so my feet were the brakes on the slippery refreezing-snow-turning-into-ice. I finally made it to the station and quickly locked my bike and walked/wadded to the overpass (in my knee long black coat I felt like a true penguin). Up the stairs, down the stairs... and then, when I was almost at the platform... thump!

Yup, that was me... suddenly sitting on my butt.

Tomorrow will be worse with all the water refrozen into ice... Let's just hope I safely make it down the hill from my apartment to the train station ;o)

PS- I know... it is not even Winter yet. But it snowed 15cm (5") last night and now it is -8oC (20oF) out there so I refuse to call this anything else.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Long weekend

Ah... it is times like the last 4 days that make the whole long distance time worthwhile. A. did not have class on Thursday and Friday so I had bought tickets for us to go to Italy. Well, I still had to find an excuse not to go to work on those days, since there was no break for me. Opportunity arose in an email exchange with my boss on Wednesday morning, when I "casually" said I'd work from home the next 2 days. He didn't ask anything else, and therefore "working from home" was the best I could come up with. That was good enough for me, so on that evening I took the flight to Milan and met A. at 11pm when he arrived on his flight from Paris. Not bad!
A. in front of the Duomo in Milan.

We took the bus to the city, found our hotel and crashed. Next day we slept until noon (actually, A. slept until noon and I tried to do some emailing for work... to keep the bosses content) and then wandered around the city. We saw the Duomo (cathedral) and then the Castello Sforzesco, which was from where the Sforzesco family ruled the region. They are both quite impressive. At night we decided to try some real Italian food (aka pizza) and ended up being quite disappointed when the cook walked by... he was Chinese!!

Pizza in hand and ready to board the train!

The next day we did some lazying around the hotel and then went off to the train station. A. was impressed at how I understood the Italian ticket vendor ranting off in Italian about the time of the trains, the tickets, etc. It definitely pays off to know some other Latin languages ;o) We took the train to Venice and arrived mid afternoon.
First view right off the train in Venice.

And Venice is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! I thought so the first time I went several years back, but going back now only made me like it more. A. had not been there and also loved it. It is like a huge city-sized maze formed by over 100 islands with canals cutting through them and bridges to cross at strategic points. We loved just walking randomly in any direction and then, when completely lost, following the next group of tourists, checking our map or just walking some more until a landmark popped out of nowhere. It is a magical place, full of history, past wealth and amazing architecture, and all decently preserved too!!

Me! Roaming around Venice.

We had a great 4 days. And like so many times we meet these days there seems to be no nagging, no annoying each other, just really enjoying time together. And yes, all this comes at the price of being apart during the week, but most probably we would not be traveling as much if we lived together. How many weekends did we just pass on the couch, postponing the cleaning and doing some cooking? Too many! It is just so easy to stick to routine... But now that we have to put in the effort of travel to see each other we are doing more, both in terms of showing the other around the place we live but also enjoying discovering all the quirks Europe has to offer! And may there be many more to come!

Venice by night.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Endurance and sunrises

My eyes sting with tears, my face burns, I can hardly feel my nose.... My legs seem as hard as rock, but they must continue pedaling as fast as they can in order to minimize the torture...

Seems like a horror movie scene or... just my 5 minute bike ride from office to the train station (or reverse in the morning). With temperatures around -5oC (in the lower 20s) in the morning and afternoons this week and highs around zero (when I'm in the office) biking has been a challenge. I've insisted on biking since I see the trade off as being a choice between longer exposure and less wind (walk) or shorter exposure and more wind (biking) and the latter has won so far. Let's see how long it lasts!

The other day I brought my down jacket to work and my boss teased me asking me: "Why did you already bring my -20oC (-5oF) jacket out?" Well... let's just say that I'm not used to this range in temperature. But I do hope the jacket continues to keep me warm when it gets colder!! For now it has been the best thing I brought with me (purchased in the US especially for this Nordic climate as soon as I knew I was moving here!!).

On a related topic, I see the sunrise every morning! In Brazil this would probably mean that you are partying all the time. Well, here it is not so. I get up at 7am now and there is barely any light. At 8:15am when the train pulls into the station is about the time the sun shows its first rays. Getting ready for the dark winter months...
But people say that everything becomes brighter when it snows (snow reflects light). So let's see if they are right tomorrow, since the forecast says it is going to snow tonight!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Moving again and again...

And the next chapter of the "at home in Oslo" novela (soap opera)...

Yes, I am unpacked and living in a lovely apartment in Oslo. But the story is more complicated. When I first answered an ad for a room in a shared apartment in Oslo in mid August, the apartment was being renovated (let's call this Apt2) and the roommates and the new tenant would move in mid October. That seemed doable, as I "only" needed to find a place to stay for an extra month before I could have my very own, very nice, apartment room in a nice neighborhood in Oslo. So, after coming back from Indonesia, I was hoping to move in to the new place. No such luck. The apartment was still under renovation but my roommates had negotiated with the new owners of the current apartment (let's call this Apt1) to let us extend our stay for an extra month. This should have taken care of the delays in the renovations. Well...

The workers that were doing the renovation in Apt2 were fired by my roommate (yes, she bought the place and we will live in her apartment) during the last 2 weeks due to not doing their work. New workers came in and... new deadline to have the apartment ready is mid February!!!! The new workers said that the old ones were crazy to have promised something that was clearly impossible considering the current state of Apt2. She told me this yesterday and asked if I'd be willing to move into another apartment (Apt3) until Apt2 is ready.

The only alternative I could think of is to find another place for myself which would mean only 1 move. My main doubt was: how much trouble are good roommates worth?? I really like the roommates I have now... But later at night, when talking to A. on the phone he brought me back to senses. Considering the traveling I'm doing in November and the move-out deadline of Dec 1st for Apt1 means I would have 10 days to go through ads, find time to see apartments, go through lease signing etc, and move! Impossible.

So it was an easy answer, mostly because I don't have alternatives and will be traveling most of November anyway... I agreed. My roommate said she will look for places and hopes that it would not be too hard to find something. Since she's Norwegian and has had experience dealing with real estate I really hope she's right. Otherwise I am homeless starting Dec 1st. But even in the best case scenario this means that I am moving twice in the next 4 months!! Just the thought of packing and unpacking again and again are exhausting! Guess the bright side is that my stuff won't even have time to gather dust!!

UPDATE: My roommate informed the next day that she already found a place for us!! Yay! It's good to live with well connected people!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cross cultural cleaning

Today was my turn to clean the apartment I live in. I have 2 other roommates and each person cleans the apartment one week, in rotation. I like the system since this means that I don't have to think about cleaning for 2 whole weeks!

So I asked my roommate to show me the tools and cleaning materials. Pretty usual stuff, including this mop:

But what really surprised me (as in: Wow, they really do have some great ideas put to practice here!) was the cloth that goes under the mop:
It has a towel texture on one side, and velcro on the other side, which makes the cloth stick to the mop. I thought it was a great idea! No more worries about soggy cloths getting off the mop, or uncleanable mop tops! Just throw it in the laundry when you are done and voilá, you've got a new cloth.

But my excitement only lasted for about 2 minutes. As soon as the cloth was wet it didn't stick any more! So then it became harder to clean the floor than with the traditional mop or the traditional squeegee-and-cloth combo. I ended up cleaning the kitchen floor by crawling around with the small velcro-cloth in my hand. There must be some way to make it work though, otherwise there would be no need for this ad:
Which I thought was hilarious!!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Is Oslo expensive!!!

Since arriving in Norway the quality of life here has really surprised me (even compared to the US). Public services are great and no complaints so far (well, except for some bureaucracy in the system, but as A. reminded me, it's nothing compared to India or Brazil. I just have a low tolerance for lines and forms). But one thing that is really scary here is the price of almost anything!

To get an idea:
Cup of coffee at 7 Eleven (cheapest you can find): NOK 20 = USD 3.50 = EUR 2,50
Bus ticket: NOK 26 = USD 4.60 = EUR 3,20 (And this if you buy the ticket before you board the bus/ tram! Otherwise it is NOK 40!!!)
Cheapest sandwich you can find (i.e. at university cafeteria): NOK 50 = USD 10 = EUR 6,50
Sandwich at a bakery (take out, just sandwich, no drinks etc): NOK 120 = USD 21 = EUR 15
This had already made me decide to cook at home most of the time!

Then I had a work dinner this week at a fancy restaurant... And I really learned how painful this can be (I wasn't paying, but just the thought of it was painful).
Main dish: NOK 395 = USD 70 = EUR 77,50
Dessert: NOK 150 = USD26 = EUR 18,50
Beer (500ml=1pint): NOK 80 = USD 14 = EUR 10
This was definitely not the most expensive place in town and the food wasn't all that great either!

On my first trip to Paris to visit A. I went grocery shopping there and quickly realized that importing anything to Oslo is a good deal. This means that my bag always comes back filled with cheese (10% of the Norwegian price for the exact same cheese!!) and wine (based on the price of the beer above you can have an idea on the cost of any alcohol...). But the moment of realization came when I saw the exact same H&M ad as in Oslo, with the same model wearing the same sweater but less than half price!!!

This is what is called the "Norway cost". Everything is expensive here, which means that people also get paid well. But coming from abroad these prices are very very scary! (As A. likes to point out: Imagine how many thalis you could eat in India for this price!!) The good side is that wherever in the world I go from here, things will be cheap!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Life is good

You know those days when you feel like life is just plain good for no specific reason? Well, that's me today. :)

For no particular reason besides the fact that I have a flexible job. I had a meeting this morning in Oslo and therefore decided to work from home for the rest of the day. This means I'm sitting at my kitchen table, smelling the banana cake in the oven, listening to (a that works abroad!!), holding a cup of hot chai and watching the gray drizzly weather outside while writing this post. Not bad!

The only issue is that I've never been good at working from home... There is always something more interesting to do (note banana cake in oven) and therefore I get little done. Not that it is bad at the time I'm doing other stuff,  but it just means that stuff gets accumulated for other days (like just realizing that I have a proposal due and a class to teach on Friday...).

Ah, let's get back to the happy chatting, chai, and articles to review... ;o)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wedding time! 3

Ok, it's been a while since I posted part 2 and a while longer since I got married... but sometimes it is hard to write down something that conveys so many feelings, influenced so many people and is still a memory in the making. I mean, in the sense that we play around with memories until we finally settle on trying to remember each moment as it was and as we interpret it. I also chose to post more pics, as I think they make a much better job at describing the action than I do. Anyway, before I start forgetting, here it is!

Also, part I is here and part II is here in case you want to read those first!

At 3:30am, when I was finally asleep my MIL knocked on the door to wake me up saying I needed to be up at 4am. This is very common in A's family, where hitting the snooze button is adamant and MIL wanted to make sure I would be up in 1/2 hour. For me this meant I was up 1/2 hour early, as I don't really get back to sleeping easily (especially when you are getting married in a few hours!!). So, shower and then started putting on my third saree with A's cousin's help. Putting on sarees does become a lot easier with time! At the final arrangements A's sister finally arrived and helped us get ready. While I and the girls were getting ready in a room, A, his parents and other men were having the string ceremony. Here you can see a pic:

A's string ceremony.

After all the rushing around the previous day and despite the more elaborate hairdo (all following tradition) I was actually ready before the rest of the people outside. This was quite funny as Peripa now kept telling us to have patience while the girls made sure to voice that they were tired of staying inside the room and that the guys should hurry up!

Musicians getting ready.

My mom and brother, all dressed up and ready for the wedding!

Finally, I came out of the room and sat next to A under the mandap. The ceremony is complex and at many times I didn't quite know what was going on, many times people had to tell me what to do, what was going on or where to go. I won't go into the details though... After some chanting we went outside, to pay homage to the ancestors and ask for their blessings. First we exchanged some more flower garlands...

A putting on another garland under Peripa's watch, he's enjoying it! (see the dawn breaking outside??)

Then the ancestor's blessing ceremony. I really liked this part, and as Hindus believe that crows represent our ancestors. When I saw a crow hopping around about 2 meters from us  I almost cried, thinking of my dad who could not be there.

Ancestor blessings.

And then we walked back inside, holding each other by the pinkie!!

Holding "hands" :)

Then we took a break... for me to put on the 4th saree. This is the VERY traditional 9 yards saree (the other ones are 6 yards, which means this one has almost 3 meters extra!), very simple, marroon with some gold embroidery. It is also wrapped differently and no inner skirt is used.

Me in the 9 yards saree and A explaining what was coming next.

The auspicious time for the actual wedding (6:30am) was here! So A. tied the mangalsutra, placed the wedding ring (yes, an Indian tradition), toe rings, walk around the fire, and then some games (like rolling coconuts around). By 9am we were done! Time for breakfast and then we (and A's entire entourage) went to the temple for Darshan. It was relatively quickly (3.5 hours in line) but by then exhaustion was kicking in big time! As we arrived back at the wedding hall and everyone started packing and taking stuff out of the room we quickly got our stuff ready and just sat around... we could barely move.

On the ride down to Tirupathi my head started aching and by the time we checked into the hotel I could almost not move. I collapsed on the bed (yay!! first time since arriving in India A and I were allowed to have our very own room!) and slept for the next 18 hours!! Just woke up once in a while, ate a bit, drank some water and would collapse again. In total I was sleeping/lying in bed for almost 2 days!! Definitely a bad case of exhaustion combined with a very strong flu was the cause. The funny part was A.'s grandma and her sister trying to reassure my mom that it was ok and normal to be so tired after the first wedding night because the physical exertion is considerable! A.'s main comment is that he was getting all the fame and didn't even lift a finger!

We finally made it back to Hyderabad (I slept most of the train ride as well) and 2 days later A. and I traveled to Delhi with my mom and brother. The Indian wedding was over!! A. says I pulled it off very nicely and that all his family was impressed. I was very glad they liked me and also must say that such the whole story experience is definitely once-in-a-lifetime experience!