Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Sultan of Swing

Here is a brand new Dylan video taken today.
As of last Friday morning, Dylan seems to have a bit of a cold. Nothing serious, but there are some side effects like a nasty cough that might warrant additional examination (not to mention someone at his childcare having chickenpox, which - if Dylan catches - would leave us away from work for a long while). Today it was my turn to stay home with Dylan, as you can see in the video (through Dylan still wearing his pyjamas), so for entertainment we walked to the nearby park where I put Dylan on the swing. Which is what the video is all about - demonstrating Dylan the swinger:

After I finished with the video I swung myself in the grownup's swing next to the one Dylan was on, and he seemed to have really enjoyed this cooperative swinging.
Anyway, if you watched the video you would have seen how empty the playground's area was at the time. Well, a few minutes later this convoy of large four wheel drives - the type of cars you see driving American consular people in films like Clear and Present Danger - arrived, and off them disembarked a few kids followed by their mothers. The kids were there for cricket practice, but it does look funny and begs a few questions.
First there's the obvious one - what does it say about our society when we feel we need a fortified tank to drive our kids around? But I find the second question even sillier - why do we need to drive our kids to their sports session? Can't they just walk and consider it a part of their training? The kids, after all, are all from the nearby area anyway.
I know I'm old fashioned, but I clearly remember that even as a child, when I needed to get somewhere I would just get there myself. Things seem to have changed, though: While we visited Israel, for example, they had this TV ads saying "kids under 9 should never cross the road alone". Well, I went to school on my own as of the age of 7, and that used to involve crossing roads; and I remember that before going on my own I was a bit of a laughing stock for needing my mother to pick me up when everyone else walked themselves.
Times have changed. Obviously not for the better.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Money, Get Back

You learn a lot about people when traveling. For example, when visiting different places you can tell a lot about the locals through their attitude to money.
Take the way payment is received and change is given back at your run of the mill shop. In Israel it's so casual they may just lay the money somewhere for the other party to pick; in Australia they'll be less casual but they're still pretty casual; in the USA they make sure they stick all the money inside the palm of your hand; and in Singapore money is taken and handed over while being held by both arms.
People's attitudes towards making money are just as indicative. Take, for example, the normal notions about what women should do with their careers once babies enter the picture. In Australia, most women will take their time coming back to work: only 50% or so will go back to work within a year of giving birth, and for the vast majority of those work actually means part time work. In Israel, on the other hand, the concept of part time work doesn't really exist; friends of ours were surprised to hear Jo is now working part time. Another example came through my mother, who asked us when are we going to "advance" into taking our baby Dylan to childcare full time as opposed to just twice a week; we, on the other hand, actually consider it beneficial for the baby to go to childcare and expose himself to the world, but also consider it just as beneficial to be with the baby as much as we can. If anything, finance allowing, we aspire to both work just four days a week so that we can each spend a day with Dylan during the week. Currently, we're not there for various reasons, including finding only two days at childcare to begin with; but we definitely do not consider it progress to go back to work full time so that we can afford having someone else look after Dylan for us.
Let me tell you what my opinion of money is. A guy I'm working with has advised me to create a profile in LinkedIn, a website that's like Facebook for professionals. I did, out of curiosity, and found myself surrounded by people whose profiles talk about how they are going to make money - lots of it. I, on the other hand, don't care for much money.
You see, we cannot all be millionaires. This world has limited resources, and the amount of money each of us has just represents the amount of resources behind us. Since someone has to do the dirty work we cannot all have all the resources, at least not under a capitalist system.
My opinion is therefore simple albeit unique: As long as I have enough to satisfy the lifestyle I'm used to, I don't see much reason to aspire for more given that I know this would come at an expense of something more important. Like, say, having time to spend with my child.
At least when it comes to money, I'm a pretty ambition-less person.

Talking about different attitudes to money brings me to the world's most burning issue of the hour, the crisis of the financial markets. At the moment it seems like a potential solution may be at hand: the American tax payer will fork out 700 billion dollars to save the economy. And I am here to say that I have a problem with that.
700 billion is a number so large we cannot even imagine it; it's just too large a number for people to be able to come to grips with it and relate to it, and anyone that tells you otherwise is a liar. We can write the number down, compare it to other numbers, but we cannot fathom it or imagine it the way we can imagine, say, the number 42. There is a reason why we're unable imagine this number: evolution had no reason to equip our brain with the capacity to handle such numbers, the same way it didn't equip us with the instinct to digest just how large our universe is.
Note I am not saying this money should not be spent this way. I do not consider myself enough of a financial expert to know whether spending this sum of money will save the day, nor do I have the skills to know whether this spending is worthwhile cost/benefit wise. Mind you, I doubt those that do refer to themselves as financial experts truly have the skills to make some rational judgment on these questions; they can start by answering, for example, why 700 billion as opposed to 600 or 800. My own gut instinct tells me this whole affair reeks of greed, but then again I do not think decisions of this caliber dealing with unfathomable numbers should be made based on instinct.
What I am complaining about is the ease with which these 700 billion dollars have been found. Don't we have other problems to worry about that could have been solved with such a large amount of money? Isn't there like global warming or something, a truly existential problem, that could have been knocked down through such an investment? Aren't there already enough poor people in this world, mainly in Africa and Asia, that could have benefited from a nice investment of 700 billion dollars much more than the CEOs of some bank that got into trouble it shouldn't have got itself into in the first place?
I find it amazing how, for the right people, all the money in the world can be found when required. Shows you exactly who is holding the power in this world of ours. Shows you who is running the world today.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Highlights

By now I have received several consoling feedbacks from people reading my blog where regret is expressed for what the feedbackers consider, based upon the contents of my blog thus far, a rather unsuccessful overseas trip. I would therefore like to correct the impression: sure, there were many bad turns in our trip, but overall we've all greatly enjoyed it!
The main reason why I didn't bother covering the positives thus far has been my plan to create a detailed travel journal like document in Flickr and use the blog to discuss the main motifs only. However, as processing the photos takes a while and as there is an obvious need to correct people's false impressions, I thought I should dedicate a post to recount the positive highlights of our trip.
So here goes - here are the things I've enjoyed the most in our trip, specified in chronological order:

1. Being crammed up in a van:
Jo's parents lent us one of their pickup vans, which was never meant to carry people, yet it carried myself (the driver), Jo (the navigator), Georgia in her booster seat, Dylan in his baby seat, and Jane stuck in the middle of the back seat between the babies without being able to move a millimeter and with the handbrake serving as her footrest. Together we went to nice places and not that nice places, but the highlight was the drive itself.
My favorites were Georgia's made up stories involving Princess Georgia and Prince Dylan as well as lots of magic poo, and us getting lost through some very scenic English countryside scenery. Things went wrong when I programmed Jo parents' address into Jane's Garmin GPS and put the wrong suburb but the right street (mainly due to confusion resulting from Jo parents' place being somewhat out of three different suburbs). Then things went a little bit wronger when the GPS kept telling us to "turn now" but in fact meant we should turn in 400 meters, unlike our Tomtom GPS that says "turn now" only 50 meters in advance. Between this and that, we ended up at this quiet street in the middle of nowhere (more middle of nowhere than Jo parents' place is, if one can imagine that). It was picturesque, it was scenic, but it wasn't where we wanted to be. So we just burst out laughing and listened to more of Georgia's magic poo stories while Jane was still crammed to death in the back seat.

2. Bath:
We wanted to go to Bath to witness its Royal Crescent, hailed as one of architecture's better achievements and supported by our recent rising interest in architecture. Indeed, this famous 18th century street is quite marvellous: No 1 Royal Crescent is yet another overpriced British museum that shows how the houses looked like at their original time. It's overpriced, it doesn't allow photo taking, but it was good: in each room there was a person all too eager to tell you the room's story in person. Turns out there weren't any toilets there, and it's not because the people back then didn't have the need; as it was, people were fine dining Jane Austen style, but then moved to the back of the room behind a curtain to have themselves a good dump. I guess the food wasn't the main thing supplying the aroma at the time.
Anyway, turns out that Bath is much more than this Crescent. It is a fascinating place, full of history and atmosphere but not too full of tourist traps and consume-consume-consume shops. Even the food there was good, quite an achievement anywhere in England. Bath is exactly the way I imagine good English towns to be. Highly recommended!

3. Cambridge:
To be fair, we've had less than an hour to see the bits of Cambridge we wanted to see, and most of that time was spent chasing down Isaac Newton. His Trinity College, one of many that are worth a look, was quite fascinating and easily demonstrated where the inspiration for Hogwarts came from. To summarize, we've seen enough to know we want to come back to Cambridge, if only in order to go on a river punt (hope the weather would be good, because I'm not risking my camera and peripherals falling to the water; not to mention my dear old self).

4. Druze restaurant:
My Israeli friends took us on a pilgrimage tour of a Druze town. I say "pilgrimage" mostly because we ended up going the wrong way so many times that day that we felt like pilgrims, the highlight being us getting things totally lost in the one way alleyways of the Druze town while people came pouring to the street to perform some sort of a religious ritual.
The true delight, though (other than reacquainting with my friends and their fascinating kids) was eating at a Druze restaurant. The food was quite unique: for example, as an experiment we've ordered this dish that is made of rice, lamb and yogurt. Now, normally, I can't stand lamb meat and with the exception of Indian food I hate it when yogurt is mixed with proper food, but the combination offered by that particular dish was something else. It wasn't just unique, it was tasty!

5. Jerusalem:
Jerusalem is one of the places I hate the most, but I still had fun going there with my friends. We even left Dylan back with my mother, which meant it was the second time ever we went out to have ourselves some fun without Dylan on board.
Together with my friends we had ourselves a tour of the old city, including the markets (where Palestinians who thought we were Americans shared their rather uncomplimentary views of the USA with us), the Wailing Wall, and the Church of the Holly Spatula (or whatever's it's called; you know, the place where Jesus was supposedly crucified). Highlights included Uri bargaining for a can of Coke and Haim taking a photo of me with a Kippa on my head in front of the Wailing Wall. The photo is way too wide-angly but it seemed to have made Haim's day. The day itself was hot and stinky but still worth it.
The tour ended with lunch that featured good humus, shishlik, kebab, and Haim and I arguing over pickles. Just the way any good tour should end.

6. Masada:
Masada is a fortress lying on top of a mountain located just in front of Israel's Dead Sea, famous for what took place there during the Jewish revolt against the Romans during early AD years. It's not like I truly enjoyed going to the place; what I did write down as an achievement is us being able to take Dylan to the top of the mountain and come back to talk about it on a 37 degree day.
Now, I can say more about the place's history and comment about what contemporary Israeli folklore regards as the heroism of the people fortifying themselves in Masada at the time, but I won't. Instead, I'll refer you to watch Life of Brian once again, because it truly is the best historical depiction of what went on in peoples' heads at the time in that particular area of the world. Pay close attention to the scene discussing what good the Romans did to the people of Israel (or is it the people of Judea?).

7. Singapore:
There are plenty of things I've enjoyed in Singapore, too many to count. For a start, they have free wireless all over the state, and then they have shopping malls dedicated to IT and electronic gadgets! Entire shopping malls! Pity these shopping malls don't specialize in the pricing department: Singapore is cheaper than Australia, but not cheap enough to justify warranty less gadget purchases. Not that I need anything in particular.
Our hotel was smashingly good, the people were friendly as, and we've even enjoyed walking around the place and doing plain touring (yes, there is such to be done in Singapore; it's not only shopping malls, you know). My personal highlight was eating at the food court of the Funan IT shopping mall: It doesn't sound like we should have expected much there, but for $3.80 each we got two excellent servings of chicken rice (a tasty local dish), for $2.60 more we got to bits of this Indian inspired bread (another local dish), and for $2 more an Ice Kachang dessert (a tower of ice with sugary stuff poured over it, supplemented by stuff like red beans and soy jelly). It was great, original, authentic, good - and it cost us less than $10 once converted to Aussie currency.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

99 Luftballons

Here's a video that's made of three separate clips we took while in England.
The first two videos were taken in Jo parents' living room on our second day in England, which happened to be the day in which they organized a party for Georgia. Dylan was heavily jet lagged and therefore rather too active.
The second video was taken a few days later at a pub in York (the original one, not the New one). We got to York with Jo's parents who wanted to go to the York Castle Museum, only that they wouldn't let baby strollers in there because of so called fire regulations. Don't ask me why this was the case; the place boasts being wheel chair friendly, so why wouldn't they allow baby strollers? In England they seem to be so in love with following stupid regulations to the letter while totally disregarding any sense of reason that they managed to get on my nurves many a time and almost get me arrested (but more on that later).
The only way we could carry Dylan was using some weird and uncomfortable contraption to hang Dylan on our backs with. Dylan was way too big for it and it didn't feel comfortable in the least, so we just gave up and went to have lunch in this pub. Jo's parents, however, still went to the museum; I don't know if they had a good time there or not, but I know they would have enjoyed the pub lunch with us.
In retrospect, this York experience symbolized the family experience we have been indulged with during our overseas excursion.
For now, enjoy the video.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Selfish Gene

For a couple of weeks now my mind has been greatly occupied with thoughts on the various factors that turned our vacation in Israel to be such a shitty affair. Ideas kept on coming, but the problem was how to write them down on a blog that is accessible to everyone without offending key people. By now my opinion is that I am better off conducting my transparent analysis for everyone to read, and if someone is offended then they are most welcome to have a constructive discussion. Mind you, I doubt the people that might be offended will read this post to begin with. Then again, you never know; so for now, here goes.

When conspiring to transpire your much anticipated and carefully planned holiday to a holiday from hell, I think it is fair to say many factors exert their influence, some controllable and some not. Our Israeli portion of our Eurotrip holiday definitely qualifies for that much un-coveted “holiday from hell” title, and therefore looking at the various factors involved in making it this way is important (at least to me, the joint number one victim) and also somewhat interesting.
Of the factors that are out mere mortals' control, I think two can be pointed at as the worst things about Israel. First there is the heat, the relentless heat: at the time of the year we chose to go to Israel, due to a collection of restrictions, Israel is just way too hot (especially when coming in from a Melbourne winter). And unlike Melbourne, the heat doesn't let go at night, so you get no relief. The only relief is through air conditioning, which - at least at my parents' place - comes in rather noisy forms. You add the air conditioner noise to the TV that seems to be eternally on and set to a rather def defying levels and you get relentless noise, too.
The second uncontrollable factor about Israel, or at least the Tel Aviv area, is that it is overpopulated. Oddly enough it didn't bother me at the time I called Israel home, but coming from the generally empty Australia and the very well spread Melbourne you can't avoid the feeling that everything is right on top of everything else. There is no feeling of spaciousness to be had. Add the heat on top and everything looks dirty and washed out. Cars are generally dirty even though I'm sure they're washed ten times more often than my car in Australia; cars tend to sport many a bump and a scratch; cars are parked just about everywhere, leaving no space for life forms (and they all seem to have these noisy alarms that go on a spree whenever they're turned on or off); and drivers tend to drive suicidally because they're always under siege. Cars are therefore expensive to rent and hard to park, so getting one is not a trivial affair, which meant we were pretty limited with what we could do with our time in Israel and relied on others for transport.
I don't even mention Israel's security situation, which didn't play a factor at all during our visit. I just think that simple things like the weather and the density of the population, which we tend to take for granted, have an enormous effect on the general atmosphere of the population. It's not just Israel that's affected by such factors; England, for example, is just as affected by its own weather. It's just that when coming to Israel from Australia I couldn't avoid the feeling that Israel is just not good enough. Call me clairvoyant, but there were some pretty good reasons for me to want to leave the place when I did.

The uncontrollable factors were one thing; I feel as if it was the controllable factors that drove us nuts in Israel, for the very simple reason that they went wrong despite them being controllable.
The first controllable factor to hurt us was my brother's decision to visit Israel and stay with my parents at the same time we were going to be there. It wasn't like our visit came as a surprise or anything: we booked our flights some nine months ahead and made my brother fully aware of the space limitations. Yet he chose to come a few days ahead of us and take over one of the two guest rooms that happened to have a new and silent air conditioner installed.
My parents thought this was just fine and that Dylan and us could share the other guest room. We didn't like the idea; not in the least. My parents thought we're mad, but we have a different apprehension about Dylan's behavior, and our apprehension takes into account the very noticeable fact that Dylan's behavior is triggered by small cues. When it's feeding time, you give him the feeding cues and he'll eat; and when it's bed time, you give him the bed time cues and he'll sleep. Trouble is, us being in the same room with Dylan is not a part of his established bed time cues, nor did we have any intention of making them such. Of all the things we don't want Dylan to get used to, sharing our presence when he goes to sleep stars very high up the list.
So my family thought we're being crazy, but we opted to let Dylan sleep in the room while we slept on the living room's floor. Funny thing is, they still thought we're crazy after we tried to have an afternoon sleep with Dylan in the same room, only to hear Dylan giving us speeches for two hours instead of going to sleep despite being extremely tired; no matter what we told them and what they saw and heard, they were still unable to connect the dots.
The trouble with sleeping on the living room floor is the lack of privacy. The living room is where the main TV is, and the TV is my father's bloodline, so we couldn't go to sleep whenever we just felt like. After we would go to sleep we would get wake up calls from everyone that passed around, whether it was my brother coming back from a night out or someone going to the toilet or my father waking up for work. I'll put it this way: between these interruptions, the heat and the noise, we didn't sleep very well in Israel. We were tired and grumpy all the time.

The next problem was to do with the cot arrangement for Dylan. The one my parents have initially arranged was a joke: a small metallic contraption that was way too small for Dylan, who likes to turn in his sleep and instead kept waking up hitting the edges. It wasn't just small: it was like an ancient archaeological dig thing that defied probably all known baby safety regulations. I wouldn't put a dog in that contraption, yet my parents who should really know what babies need thought that was good enough for Dylan.
On the first night we didn't have much of a choice. Dylan cried a lot and quickly enough discovered that he could dismantle his own cot, so effective sleep wasn't really on the agenda. He did sleep, eventually, but only out of exhaustion.
We were thinking of alternatives, and a friend told me where we could get portable cots for $130: a cost that by the standards of our trip, with $8500 air fares, seemed quite negligible if the benefit was a good night's sleep. However, the family told us to hold on and "think outside the box"; those that know me, especially those that know me from work, know that there is nothing that drives me mental better than the meaningless use of meaningless slogans. If you want to do something, do it; don't talk palavras.
After the first night my sister, who generally took the role of the guardian angel in this trip, has arranged for her son's old cot to be delivered in pieces to my parents place. The bits were delivered by my brother and all was considered over and done with.
Not so. No one knew how to assemble the pieces and no instructions were provided. Everyone thought a solution has been found and no one bothered to do anything to help us, leaving Dylan to sleep yet another night in that twisted contraption and me feeling like I'm either going to kill someone or break the TV so that someone would pay some attention to our woes.
On our third day we insisted on getting the portable cot before doing anything else. My parents then arranged for a DIY type of a guy to come over and build the cot, at last. One problem remained, though: Dylan's room was boiling hot. After all, my brother was the one sleeping in the room with the air conditioner.
So my sister came to the rescue, again, with her portable air conditioner. We set it up for two nights, but it was louder than a jet landing two meters away. Dylan slept well with it, but out of care for his hearing we decided to call the air conditioner quits and let him boil instead. No, call us selfish: we decided not to use it because we couldn't fall asleep in the living room with the noise it made.
This, and the interruption full sleep on the living room floor, meant that we just had to get away. We booked three days at a Dead Sea hotel, rented a car, and ran away. I came back from those three days with a diarrhea that took me out of action for the rest of our Israeli stay and saw me visiting a hospital's emergency room.

At the end of our Israeli trip we didn't do half the things we wanted to do. The main purpose of our journey was to spend time together with the family and do stuff together; we hardly did.
Between my father's car being too small and too unsafe and between my father's kamikaze driving (typical Israeli, I admit, but not my cup of tea anymore) we didn't go anywhere with the car. We stayed together but hardly talked to one another or did anything together (why should we want to talk when the TV can be turned on loudly?). True, the main focus was on Dylan, but I wanted more: I don't know how many times I'm going to see my parents, and the fact that we have wasted our time in Israel makes me feel like I've missed out on my only proper chance to do something with my parents. After this experience we will definitely not stay in Israel for as long again. In more than one respect, this was a case of Game Over.
Plus, with my stomach being the way it was, I didn't even get one bite of shawarma.

In my opinion, this holiday we have been looking up to for so long has been ruined for us through some very specific actions. The result is that whenever I think about it I just get sad and annoyed.

I would like to finish off with a closing comment. When titling my posts, I generally take care not to abuse titles. That is, if I was to allow myself to use the names of my favorite songs in post titles I would quickly find myself using the same titles again and again. My point is this: a post such as this, that uses the title of the book consider my most important read and one of my best reads ever, is therefore not to be trifled with.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Gee but it's great to be back home

That's it: Game over.
Shortly after 6:00AM this morning we've landed back in Melbourne, safe and sound, and since then the prevailing thought in my head is the disbelief that a month of travel can just disappear so quickly. It's that feeling I get whenever I come back home after traveling, that "what the hell am I doing here" feeling; as in, this world is so big and it's just waiting to be explored, why do I of all people need to go back to the office on Monday morning?
And then there's missing the family and friends, whose memory is still too fresh in my head to be able to just move on.
Still, on the plus side, I don't think there can be much doubt about the best place we got to during our travels being Melbourne. Our next door neighbor decided that he was too bored with himself and mowed the lawn for us, even snipping the edges (something I stopped doing a good few years ago out of sheer laziness) and brushed things up to a level I never bother at. And yet our house, once entered, seems way too small and way too crowded. The damage a little bit of traveling can make to one's head... I just don't get people who avoid going places, they just limit themselves [says the man who only travels to fancy destinations].
So there's no place like home, but home is not all it's made out to be.

Anyway, given my inability to properly blog while on the road, I suspect the next few weeks will be devoted to travel related impressions: security Nazism in the UK, the trouble with our Israeli tour, Singapore's quirkiness, jet lagged babies, and just as much more as my memory can facilitate. The travel stories themselves will be told on Flickr, together with the photos I will start uploading shortly and gradually.

Friday, 19 September 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

So we're our final leg of our cross world journey: Singapore.
Let me start by getting rid of the dirt first. Singapore is not a democracy; by my book, it's more like a dictatorship, or - to quote a guy from Abu Dhabi's answer about his homeland - "a simple democracy". This, however, doesn't seem to bother the people living in this prosperous if rather boiling land where the main national resource is shopping malls (and rather prestigious ones at that) and the main occupation seems to be shopping (despite the general lack of cheapness that comes with prestige).
I'll say it out straight: I like Singapore. It's so friendly and efficient while at it you can't help it: Out suitcases were already waiting for us, removed from the conveyor belt, by the time we got to them. A short examination revealed that one of them got damaged, so the Singapore Airlines lady waiting near the suitcases took us to her company's Lost & Found where we were given proper cash compensation to buy a new case within less than 5 minutes. I challenge all other airlines to come up with something close to that, especially when Singapore handled only half of our suitcases' journey.
Then we were handled similarly at the taxi rank and enjoyed VIP treatment from the taxi driver. And when we reached our hotel, a flock of people jumped at us to take care of our stuff and of us so we can get into our room and rest as soon as possible. Sure, you can get similar treatment in other places, but in the US people only do it expecting a tip; they smile at you because they want your money. Here, on the other hand, they smile because they genuinely mean it. Sure, they want the money just the same, but they go about it indirectly enough to make it feel ten times better.
Our hotel (Swissotel Stamford) is a five star one, similar in ranking to the Isrotel hotel we've been at in the Dead Sea while in Israel. So I've expected similar treatment and conditions, yet while the Singapore hotel was significantly cheaper to book it is providing us with much roomier conditions and way better service. Of notable mention is the breakfast: they make a fuss in Israel about hotels' morning offerings, but with all due respect no Kosher meal can be genuinely tasty (and if it does taste good it always leaves me wondering just how good it could have been if the world was free of stupid demagogy). Our Swissotel is not limited by such bullshit, so it offers meat in addition to milky stuff (and in addition to oriental stuff). Breakfast was a delight, all the more because we weren't surrounded by rather rude and pushy Israelis.
After Israel, Singapore feels like we're actually on holiday again.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Ten Traveller's Tales

Our fun holiday in Israel continuous. By now I'm in my fourth day where everything I put in my mouth goes straight out the other way in liquid form. The result is that I'm incapable of doing anything worthwhile; not that Israel presents one with much opportunity to exercise their right to do anything worthwhile.
Still, the travel experience is incomplete without some special delights, and it is with such a spirit of adventure that yesterday I went to a hospital emergency room for the first time in my life. The main problem was the fear of dehydration: although I was drinking quite a lot, it didn't seem like my body was able to retain these liquids. A book I found at my parents' place (mainly because I couldn't find anything over the internet, as my parents' place seems to be the only place in the universe that is not connected) talked about preparing a DIY rehydration solution: take a liter of drinking water, add half a teaspoon of salt and four teaspoons of sugar (preferably glucose), and sip slowly over an hour. I tried it, but as I was still rushing to the toilets we went to the hospital on Saturday morning – the perfect way to pass one's weekend.
The hospital was actually one of the few things in Israel that impressed me. Although clearly understaffed and overstretched, as per all good public hospitals and as all countries where the rich get away with it, the service was not too bad time wise and quite professional.
After an initial diagnostic by a nurse I was immediately connected to an infusion, which dripped slowly into my right arm for a duration of an hour and a half while I was waiting for the results of some blood tests. The infusion was funny: it didn't feel like anything was happening, but after a short while I felt so lively and energetic that I wanted to run a marathon or something.
Eventually even the doctors came along. Can't blame them; I was surrounded by people, some of which seemed to be on their way out of this world, so I couldn't be too picky. I told the trainee doctor my story and the conclusion was immediate and decisive: Until proven otherwise, I probably suffer from what is known as Traveller's Diarrhea. That is, thorough some ill prepared food, probably, a strand of some vicious bacteria my body is not used to because it doesn't exist in my fine area of normal dwelling – fair Melbourne – has invaded my body. More likely than not, given the lack of any other problematic symptoms such as fever, we are talking about an unfamiliar strand of E-Coli (readers of Dawkins and his likes will know that differences between two samples of Coli can be quite significant, much more than what we would normally label as different species if we were talking about, say, mammals; I also seem to remember reading there's more Coli in us than there is actually us, in the sense that there are more Coli cells than our own cells in our bodies; in The Fly, for example, Jeff Goldblum should have turned into a Coli much before he turned into a fly).
Practicality wise, there is not much I can do. I'm allowed to eat anything, but it's recommended to stick to rice if I don't want my stomach to feel like it's a barrel of explosives; within a few days my body should acquaint itself with the new Coli kid on the block and the show will go on. Catch is, I'm also due to fly in a few days, so there's a lot at stake, even when ignoring the fate of the remainder of our Israeli holiday. That is, it was pretty shitty even before it became literally shitty. I have said it before and I will say it again (promise), I do not see myself rushing back to visit Israel.
As I was discharged from the hospital while paying just a tad bit less than my travellers' insurance excess fees (not that I mind given the need to get all the Hebrew medical paperwork translated and certified to English, which is bound to be a costly pain), I was given a rehydration tip: instead of preparing home made solutions, just buy some Sprite, shake the gas away, and sip. So much for the science behind sports drinks like Gatorade and their likes.
So far, the only thing that really works for me is simply not eating, because anything I eat goes right out. We got back to my parents' place after the hospital and I had some rice; afterwards, I had four straight toilet sessions. Any sense vitality that might have been gained by the hospital infusion was lost down the drain.

Friday, 12 September 2008

The Aroma Diet

I seem to have stumbled upon an ingenious new diet scheme, and I thought I'd share it with my loyal readers.
Being that we're in Israel now, we went to have a couple of days off in the Dead Sea are ("off" as in off the crazy mansion that is my parents' place, more about which in a post that will follow when time allows). Being that there aren't that many places to eat around the Dead Sea, with such elegant choices as McDonald's and Burger King, both boasting being the lowest burger serving place on earth but both contenders for the most expensive junk food on earth (and probably in the galaxy entire).
Given the luck of choice we went to eat at a place called Aroma, a sandwich place whose main attraction is free wi-fi. Their main business is serving sandwiches, and they seem to have a special knack at it because since eating there a day and a half ago I can't seem to be eating much else and I keep on running to the toilet. Or rather, my recent diet has been pills of Imodium.
While this is a very effective way for me to lose weight, I sort of feel there should be better ways to achieve that goal instead. For now, I will settle with advising the world to avoid eating at this Aroma place. Matter of fact, avoid eating at any crap sandwiches places whose main specialty is to boast an appearance, but an appearance alone, of being sophisticated.
Consider yourself warned.

Monday, 8 September 2008

The Trouble with Scotland

“The trouble with Scotland”, said the evil English king from the film Braveheart, “is that it's full of Scots”. Well, judging by my initial experiences shortly before and after arriving for a visit to the land of Israel, that evil Long Shanks king should be paraphrased: the trouble with Israel, you see, is that it is full of Israelis. Full enough to remind me why I was so keen to leave Israel for good; full enough to serve as a great advertisement to the Great South Land from which I now come.
Such brave statements on the quality of the modern day Israelite deserve some explanation. Allow me to start at the Frankfurt terminal where we were feeding Dylan with a [glass] bottle of milk while waiting for our flight to Israel to start boarding. Next to us were sitting three Israelis who seemed to me to be in their early forties, professionals on their way back to Israel from some European work. One of them looked at Dylan for a second, and then told his friends that his one year and two months old baby boy has dispensed with the bottles a long time ago; his boy, he said with much pride and obvious contempt to our slightly younger Dylan, is a “cannibal”.
Fast forward a few hours and we were shopping at a supermarket located in a shopping mall not far from where my parents leave in central Israel. We were waiting second in line for the cashier to check us out of a major shopping expedition that contained one yoghurt tub and one box of rice milk (thanks, EK, for the tip). So far so good; I think I can safely assume we've all been through similar scenarios many a time. Enter the Israeli factor.
The woman ahead of me in the queue was accompanied by her two sons, who were continuously sent to fetch more and more products while the supervising mother was dealing with the cashier. I started off with my two items being half a conveyor belt away from her closest item, but quickly enough my items found themselves overshadowed and then covered by her items. While watching this intriguing show, we got a knock on our backs by a young woman: “Can you remember I was here behind you in the queue?” Before managing to even comprehend what we were being asked to do that woman vanished away to start her shopping. Yes, she did not have even one shopping item at her possession at that point in time.
Not that we cared to look after her interests. Not like we were able to look after her interests, for only a few second after the first young woman walked away thinking her space in the queue was safe and secure, another young woman came along accompanied by her son to queue up behind me. That little family was obviously lacking a father figure, because that woman was pushing up at my back as if her life depended on it as she piled her stuff very close to mine on the conveyor. So close, in fact, that her stuff overshadowed and then covered mine.
All the while I kept on finding my elbows getting dirty by half empty sample tabs of yoghurt that were left behind by fellow shoppers at all sorts of strategic locations next to the cashier. Strategic enough to catch you unaware with every turn you make to set yourself loose from the clutches of the women queuing up on each of your sides as you queue to pay for your shopping at the supermarket.

Obviously, when making such bold statements regarding Israelis' respect for their fellow human beings based on these few examples I am making some gross generalizations. It is extremely unfair to judge a nation based on a few samples; just like all other people, there are nice and respectful Israelis just as there are those I would very like much to keep my distance from. The trouble is, though, that Israel seems to have a higher ration of the nasty to the nice than most other places I have been to. Significantly more than the place I now call home.
It is exactly experiences such as the above, a mundane visit to the supermarket that turned sour, that mean I will be doing my best to minimize my number of visits to the land of Israel and to keep those visits nice and brief. After all, why should I pay to suffer?

To finish this post off on a positive note, I will say that all is not lost and that there are some bright and shiny examples on offer in Israel. The example I shall give are two of our friends' children, aged eight and four, who seem to have the exact qualities I would very much like to aspire to find in my own child: That wild childish spirit that can be annoying but is unavoidable, but also some straight decency. Simple stuff, like saying “please” and meaning it when asking for something; basic stuff that can make all the difference.
I am not asking my child to be a doctor or an astronaut and I don't care if he won't be the next Einstein. However, what I would very much like is to be able to raise my own child to be a decent and respectful member of civilization, and those two kids I'm talking about here show that while the task may be hard it is achievable.