Archives for December 2009

My husband always…

Hmmm… are you interested in the rest of the sentence? Thought so. I became a family therapist because statements like this intrigued me.

Well, if you must know… the full sentence is “my husband always tells me that he loves me.” Yes, really.

But how many people start that sentence (and yes, it can be “husband” or “wife”) and end it with something not quite so nice?

And we hear things about their spouse that are not complimentary. Sometimes it’s a one time thing, and sometimes people complain repeatedly.

Here’s the problem:

1. The listener is in no position to solve the problem

2. The speaker may be upset temporarily, but the listener may take the complaining to mean that there is real trouble in the relationship.

3. The listener may draw negative and lasting conclusions about the speaker or the spouse.

4. The listener may take the disclosure as permission to complain about his/her own spouse.

Can you see where this is going? It’s not going anywhere good.

When couples have issues with one another, they should be worked out between them. If they find it difficult, there are any number of self-help books, seminars, and yes, therapists to help them.

But please– if you’re angry with your spouse, don’t broadcast it. I can guarantee that it will come back to bite you.

Catching up

If you read parts 1,2, & 3 of the adventure and wonder why I stopped writing, it’s because I have relocated the saga to the travel blog and added pictures when relevant. Chapter 5 in written and 6 is on its way. For anyone wondering about this question… It was a fantastic trip and even with all of the unscheduled adventures, our travelers had a great time, virtually untouched by tension and so did we (although not untouched by tension.) By the time I was home for 2 weeks, I was ready to go back and do it again– that’s how much fun it was… and you only can truly understand if you come along with me next time (hint, hint).

But now here we are in the little town of Modi’in (population >70K) for Hanuka and today we are anticipating the gathering of most of the clan– some members are not feeling well and some are away. Today is also an awful day in terms of air pollution and people have been urged to stay inside.

I have a lot of art supplies, a Hanuka video (“Lights”) and a few dozen latkes. Mostly, I am hoping that the little people get to spend time with their cousins and aunts and uncles.

Across from our house as you look to the right is a hill that some believe was the ancient city of Modi’in. It has artifacts from back to the Stone Age and ruins from several eras in between. At the top of the mountain is a water tower that has a series of columns that look like torches around it. For the last couple of years, they have lit the tower at holiday times with pastel lights. This year, nine of the columns have large lights on them that are lit according to the night of Hanuka. It’s quite impressive!

I wish all of you a wonderful bright Hanuka– and as a gift to yourself, a trip to China or Vietnam/Cambodia in 2010 is a pretty good idea!

Lesson learned

In the past, when something I was ashamed or embarrassed of happened, I would pretty much feel bad. Now I say to myself: how wonderful! more material for the blog!

So today I was at the pool. After I had finished swimming as much as I wanted to, I went to the jacuzzi and just sat in the warm water. Along came a young man (probably in his mid 20s) with a book. A book and a jacuzzi? Not your best combination. But who was I to say anything? So he pulled over a chair, ostensibly so he could sit with his feet in the jacuzzi. However, sitting on the chair made his feet unable to reach the jacuzzi, so he decided to sit at the edge of the jacuzzi. Yes, with the book. The wet book.

I decided to leave the jacuzzi at that point since I was a bit concerned that whatever was wrong with him might be contagious (and it was time to leave anyway).

I showered, dressed, and then, before blow drying my hair, went to put on makeup. You see, not only is my skin naturally very red, but showering reddens it to the point that people who see me after a shower normally say “Have you been crying?” Makeup is a must. As I looked in the mirror I could see where the antibiotic my grandson had spit out in the morning was adorning my silk blouse.

I had forgotten that the makeup was almost gone and when I pushed down on the little plunger, nothing came out. I unscrewed the top, added a little water, shook, and applied some to the sponge. It was only when I did that the second time that the plunger worked a little too well. The makeup sprayed onto the front of my blouse.

Now if you don’t use makeup or if you are a man (who I hope doesn’t use makeup, but who knows these days?) you may not know that makeup does not easily come out of fabric. I immediately took my towel out, wet it, and began frantically wiping the front of my blouse. As much as I tried to get it clean, it wasn’t working. So, I decided to add some liquid hand soap to the wet towel and rub very hard. It appeared that the makeup was actually starting to come out, but while rubbing the blouse very hard, I had actually pulled off a button that closed a strategic area. I knelt on the floor and found the button, put it in my cosmetic bag and then contemplated my next move. I now had a blouse that was wet on most of the front with no button to close where a button should be. I had no safety pin. Instead, I dug back into the gym bag and got out the long wide piece of fabric (a pareo) that I put over myself on the way to and from the shower. It became a very large scarf that I put over my shoulders and tied in a large tie across my chest.

So here is the lesson I learned: You may think that it was not to judge Mr. Book-in-the-jacuzzi, but alas, that was not the real lesson, although I do understand that now. In fact, it was to understand that what an almost one year old can do to my blouse is nothing compared to what I can do to it.

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 3

Although I was of college age when the Vietnam War was taking place and people were demonstrating, some of them obsessing about every day’s battles, I was oblivious. I remained oblivious even when I got married and moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my husband was serving as a chaplain in the US Army. Sure, I knew that we had guys being shipped out to ‘Nam, but I didn’t really pay much attention to the news, being somewhat self-absorbed. So, all I knew of Hanoi was that it was where the bad guys were and there was a woman who they called, “Hanoi Hannah” broadcasting nasty, morale-breaking things to our guys

Well, the Hanoi that I have come to know and, yes, love over the last couple of years is a bustling, busy city filled with interesting sights and sounds. During our day there we went to visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. It is a tasteful building into which people enter after passing through full security and leaving their cameras checked. People file in a single line, taking off their hats, walking silently into the building , ascending the stairs to the left, turning right and then right again and filing past Ho Chi Minh who is lit dimly and appears to still be alive. We walked the length of the coffin, then turning left, across the front and then turning left once again along the other side, filing out of the room, making two rights, and then going down the stairs. Something about the silence and the dim lighting with the soldiers standing at attention made the experience feel very dignified. Although he was a formidable foe, in the way he is revered in his own country, there is a sense of honor. Always depicted in photos and statuary as being with the children, he is seen as “Uncle Ho” who loved the children.

His tastes were simple. When he gained power, he was entitled to use the magnificent palatial edifice erected by the French when they were the colonial power. Instead, he lived in three sparse rooms for a period of several years until those around him explained to him that it was not an honor to the country for their leader to be so humbly housed. Then they built him a house on stilts, characteristic of Vietnamese architecture in the countryside. It also was quite humble, with just two rooms upstairs– an office and a bedroom– and eating and reception space exposed to the elements beneath it. It was fashioned of fine wood and is very attractive, but not at all the type of home one would expect for the head of a large country. Vietnam is now, by some estimates, a country of 87 million people!

On the grounds of the complex that housed his two homes and the palace, there was a pond where carp were raised. He would clap his hands and the carp would come to the surface to eat. There were also trees that bore fruit and the people of Hanoi were permitted to come and pick fruit.

Adjacent to Ho Chi Minh’s home is the One Pillar Pagoda, an interesting structure with a similarly interesting story. Around the entire area are beautifully landscaped gardens.

After leaving the Ho Chi Minh complex, we went to the Temple of Literature. It was there in the early 11th Century that Vietnam’s first university was founded. You can read more about it here. As our group walked through the front gate, the woman who heads up our operations in Vietnam and Cambodia arrived to talk to me.

The group proceeded with the local guide and my husband. I stayed behind to talk to her and to try and work out our plans. She had to have me sign permission for her people to pick up the luggage when it arrived from Hong Kong. It was due to arrive on the same flight as we had arrived on the day before. That meant that it would likely not be ready for pick up until at least 5 p.m. and with traffic, getting it in time for our people to be able to repack — getting out their winter clothing and putting it in their small luggage– in anticipation of our weekend train trip up north was problematic. I also was worried by the fact that she told me they only had paperwork on 11 of the 14 suitcases because I had not given them my baggage stickers until after they had done the paperwork– so although they had stickers for 14 suitcases, they only had paperwork for 11! I told her that it was really important to get specifically those bags because we had packed a substantial amount of food in them including our challot for shabbat and other essential food supplies that we needed to take with us up north. She said, “If there is food in your suitcase you will not get it.” I said, “I won’t get the food?” She said, “You won’t get the suitcase; they will just not send anything.”

She left with the papers. I left with the worry. But would they find the food? If so, would they send the suitcase? and also, why was it that on that Thursday, everywhere we went we saw brides? The answers to these questions (well, to a couple of them) and some pictures of the brides in the next exciting episode.

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 2

So we were airborne. Of course the luggage could not have made the flight. We had run over, under, around, and through and the baggage simply could not have been identified and transported that fast. It was all right. There would be another flight that night? the next morning? We’d be fine.

And after about two hours, we landed in Hanoi. We walked to the waiting area where we were met by our local guide. I gave the guide all of our passports, the visa application forms with photos attached, and the visa approval form we had received from the government of Vietnam. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. We could see the office where the visas were being given, see passports opened and visas affixed, but our guide was elusive. So we waited. Did I mention we waited?

After about an hour, she finally came back and we distributed the passports into which had been pasted the visas. Then everyone went through passport control and we met on the other side.

Our guide said we had to go to the lost luggage desk. Reminding her that our luggage was not lost, but tardy, she explained that unless we filed a claim for lost luggage, the luggage would not be transferred to Hanoi. I was to gather up all of the baggage claim checks which they then pasted onto a sheet of paper. Some of my people were hesitant to give up their only proof of every having had a bag, but were reassured when they were told that I would get a copy of the baggage tag page. We were missing 14 pieces of luggage. We had found only 11 baggage claim checks. No one would own up as to having additional ones. They filled out the paperwork only identifying 11 pieces of luggage. As they handed me the paperwork, I opened my ticket holder and found that I was the hold-out. There were the three baggage claim tags. I gave them to the people behind the counter and they copied the sheet for me.

Now about two hours later than we had anticipated, it was time for dinner and everyone was hungry and tired and so we decided to go directly to the restaurant where we would eat rather than to the hotel. We called and made sure that the four Swiss travelers and the one British traveler were brought to the restaurant to meet us.

Finally on the bus, we made our acquaintance with the Hanoi traffic jam– the type that puts everything at a standstill. The major bridge across the Red River was being repaired and construction materials and dug up road surface narrowed it to one lane. But we told people about Vietnam and about Hanoi and most of them were just happy to be finally out of the airport and on our way.

We arrived at the restaurant. It is the “forest” restaurant and it is beautifully decorated with objects that represent the history and folklore of Vietnam. Set in a garden, the wooden building was adorned with cloth and metal and wood wall hangings. The wait staff was dressed in native garb of one of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minorities. It was beautiful.

What was not beautiful was the fact that our knives, cutting boards, and cooking utensils were in our baggage which was currently homeless in Hong Kong. So there we were with our Hanoi equipment (dishes, silverware, one large pot, and a wooden spatula) unable to prepare dinner.

We sent the local guide out to buy a knife. She had to take a motorcycle ride to get it and meanwhile, the chef was bristling as he wanted to kill the fish already so that he could cook them. Yes, you see when we cook in Vietnam, we need to see the fish whole and intact. So, often the fish are still alive when we meet them. These fish had something of a reprieve as we waited for the knife to appear.

In the end, we ate dinner, enjoyed getting to know each other, and although our luggage was still not with us, we all settled into our hotel that night for some much needed sleep.

Tomorrow: Hanoi as most people never imagined it and what ever happened to the luggage…

Rona and Aaron’s Excellent Adventure– Part 1

We begin our adventure at Ben Gurion Airport. Our travelers arrived so promptly that by 5 minutes after the announced gathering time having received their tickets and bags and hats and information packets, all were in line to get their boarding passes This was surely a portent of a flawless trip!

Several of the travelers asked that I show the people at the ticketing counter the letter of visa approval we had gotten from the government of Vietnam because apparently without it we could not board our flight. One woman had renewed her passport after the visa was applied for and since her passport number didn’t match the one on our approval form, there was a question as to whether she would be able to enter the country. I reassured the El Al personnel that there would not be a problem.

OK, one minor glitch… I called our office and they conveyed the new number to our representative in Hanoi.

We boarded the plane ready for our 11 hour flight to Hong Kong. Our flight to Hanoi had been scheduled for only one hour from our landing time in Hong Kong. I had asked the operations person at our office if that wasn’t much too short a time to get from one plane to another in Hong Kong. He told me that it was a code share and as such, the second flight would wait for us and the two gates would be adjacent. What he didn’t tell me was that he was leaving the company and that he wasn’t really concerned with any fallout if things didn’t go as planned. He was already gone from the company before we left for Vietnam.

As we sat down, we noticed that the TV monitors in front of our seats were registering error messages. As the doors of the plane remained open and we stayed on the ground, we began to realize that they were trying to get the system fixed before we took off. In fact, the system did get fixed and we left not more than about 25 minutes late.

Of course, we likely had lost our place in line to take off and so by the time we were in the air, we were about 40 minutes late.

Realizing this, I began to be very concerned. It was not just that there was not another Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi that night, it was the fact that at the same time as we were in transit, so were four people from Switzerland and one from England, all of whom were to arrive in Hanoi about an hour before we were due. They were being met at the airport and taken to the hotel, but if we did not make it to Hanoi that night, they would be left with nothing to eat until we arrived as they all kept kosher and there is no kosher food available in Hanoi. The only Chabad in Vietnam is in Ho Chi Minh City — Saigon.

I began fairly early in the flight speaking with some of the flight personnel. Some said, “Oh no; you’ll never make it.” Others said, “You’ll be fine.” Still another said that when we get close to Hong Kong, they will call Vietnam Airlines to see if they would wait for us.

And so passed the night.

About two hours from Hong Kong, our projected arrival was 10 minutes before the connecting flight’s takeoff. I was never told they would wait for us. I was, however, still under the impression that the gates were adjacent and if we could only get our people out of the plane first, we might have a chance. When I asked if they could just ask the other people on the flight to remain seated and to let us get off the plane first, I didn’t get an answer.

About 10 minutes before landing, long after the seat belt lights had been lit and the tray tables returned to the backs of the seats and all of the seats in an upright position, I was told to gather my people quickly and bring them up to the first class section. Amazingly, my people were incredibly responsive and in seconds they had gathered their carry-ons from their overhead compartments and joined me in the first class section. (Parenthetically: it’s definitely the way to fly).

When we landed, we got out first. Waiting for us was a lovely lady from Vietnam Airlines with a big sign with our names and she ran ahead of us, leading us to the check-in counter where we quickly received our boarding passes.

Then the fun began.

The Hong Kong Airport is more a city than an airport. It is huge. It is the third largest airport in the world after Dubai and Beijing with a terminal area of 570,000 square meters. Our gates were not adjacent.

Three Vietnam Airlines workers ran with us across aisles, down escalators, onto a train, up elevators, across more halls and aisles, through concourses, and finally to the gate. As we didn’t all fit on the same elevator, my husband and I ended up running separately from the other travelers. Apparently our person was a faster runner than theirs because when we got onto the plane, we realized that none of our people had made it yet. The plane was already 10 to 15 minutes beyond takeoff time. I didn’t want to sit down because I was worried our people would not make it onto the flight in time and the plane would take off without them. In a short time, however, the first of them showed up and after a few minutes we were missing only three. As I begin to make my way up the aisle, the last three boarded. In a few minutes, the captain apologized for the delay and we were airborne.

Freed from the earth, but not out of the woods…