Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I signed on probably a good 7 years after I got out of the Marines but they took me right back with the same rank that I left the Marines with.
I was issued a seabag full of new Army uniforms and a CD full of information on Army indoctrination, how to wear the uniform, rank structure etc. I thought that was pretty funny that they just kind of leave it up to you to figure out. Fortunately most of my drill weekends I wore my civilian clothes and on the occasional administration drill weekend I would have to wear my camouflage uniform but that was the extent of it. I ended up missing a dress uniform inspection, good thing as I never did figure out how to put on all of odds and ends, guess I should have paid more attention to the CD.
All in all the National Guard was a big let down for me coming from the Marines. I was used to discipline and order and the Guard just lacked all of that. I had pay problems that never got resolved. There was other administrative problems that never got worked out month after month.
One funny thing was lunch during the admin drill weekends. Sometimes there was a woman who was contracted out to provide us meals, obviously the lowest bidder. Nothing horrible but just not very tasty or imaginative but it was times better than when we would get the frozen school lunch packets. They kept a freezer full of these things and just pulled them out and passed them around. They were A) Horrible B) Tasteless and C) Frozen!
Most guys drove from all parts of Virginia and from Maryland, I even think there was someone coming from Pennsylvania. Well you don't join the Guard to get rich, but gas was costing a fortune back then, you've driven for hours, now your choice is staying at a local hotel for $80+ a night or sleeping on a cot provided by the unit. Most guys opted for the cots.
I left the unit after returning from Iraq as I was going overseas again and it was just to difficult to maintain my status with the unit, that and I was tired of the same old routine.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
In The Hot Zone - One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars by Kevin Sites
You may or may not be familiar with the author's Yahoo blog of the same name 'In The Hot Zone'.
I enjoyed reading his blog as he really gives a deeper insight to the conflicts going on around the world.
He has great stories to share and gives you both sides of the story.
I especially enjoyed his story about surfing here in Sri Lanka.
All in all I'd say worth reading.
On the 24th of December, I was in the fourth platoon on a hill where the ridge line went straight to the enemy positions. We were so close we could see them walking in their trenches.
When the sun started to set, it began to snow. Just before midnight, I heard Christmas music from the other side. I thought, as an 18-year-old, that the music was brought up somehow by the American Army. I felt sad and nearly cried.
Then the music stopped and a voice said, “This is the Chinese communist army and we invite you to surrender.”
The speaker told us how we would get a hot meal and read letters from prisoners of war. Meanwhile, a voice from the foxhole next to me said, “Pass the word, get the artillery.”
So I told the soldier in the next foxhole the same thing. It did not take long.
Soon the shells were flying over our heads toward where the sound was coming from.
When morning came and the fog lifted down in the valley, near the bottom of the hill was a ring of bodies around a speaker stand. Christmas Day, 1951.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
This is going to be a hard revue. I have never seen the movie and being
one to be influenced by the critics I just took it for granted that it
was a bad movie and book and I wouldn't like either. So I found the
book at our small library and decided I would go ahead and read it.
It didn't take me long to feel like I was right there with the author in
many of the same situations he was in. Twentynine Palms, California in
the 80's, check, Camp Hansen, Okinawa in the 80's, check, The Kinville
bar district outside of Camp Hansen in the 80's (Just being honest, also
last place I ever drank alcohol), check, knuckleheaded Marines, check
and double check.
Some of the situations he describes I have personally known Marines that
experienced the same. Coming home from Okinawa to an empty house or
some other Marine living in your house? Yes, I knew Marines that
through that. I remember a Marine telling me that his wife worked at a
certain bar in Twentynine Palms and that she was the bartender. Another
Marine kind of pulled me to the side and asked me if his wife's name was
such and such and worked at this certain bar which I said yes. He told
me that his wife had been sleeping around and that someone else lives in
his house. I was naive and thought it must be someone else. Well he
shipped back not long after that and it couldn't have been 48 hours
after we saw him that he called a friend in Okinawa crying and said that
his house was empty and his wife had moved in with another man.
Drunken nights and fights in Kinville? I may not have experienced the
fights but certainly seen one or two spill out of a bar.
Some other things that the author has seen in Okinawa, sadly I must
admit I have stumbled upon them myself.
But back to the book. Did I find it vulgar, absolutely, but believe me,
nothing less than I experienced in the Marines. Did I find it over
exaggerated in some parts, of course. I'm sure the author took a
certain liberty to enhance his strengths and weaknesses. Did I find it
poorly edited? Yes, many Marines will take fault with some of the dialog.
So whats my call? Good read or not? I am going to take the unusual and
first time stance of no call. I won't say yes or no.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Mary Mary by James Patterson
Alex Cross Series
I know what your saying, 'Doc, another Patterson book, really?'. Yes, I
know, how cliche. I was a bit hesitant to start reading it, but darn
it,. it is easy to read Patterson novels.
I liked this one. Much more inline with Alex Cross, but a little bit
soft. I didn't think he was as edgy.
All in all if your a Patterson fan I'd say it's a good read, albeit a
couple of years old.
Monday, June 21, 2010
I was looking for a wireless keyboard with a built in mouse. There aren't many on the market so I just searched around until I found one that I thought would fit my needs (Ahem, price).
Searching on eBay I found a bunch of listings for the same wireless keyboard with built in mouse. Most from the same seller. This should have sent alarm bells going off in my head. I tried searching for user reviews of the keyboard but couldn't find any.
All in all I thought the price was reasonable, $29 including shipping (If it seems to good to be true).
The keyboard arrived and I am first greeted by poorly written instructions, that being Chinese English and didn't even explain what the additional keys on top were for.
It said that you had to change some dip switch settings on the keyboard and receiver which I thought was odd but I did it anyway.
I plugged it in, crossed my fingers and booted up my computer. I saw that the receiver did light up indicating that the operating system had detected it as a keyboard, that was good and that's about as far as it got.
I tried multiple dip switch configurations, swapped out batteries and have tried everything I know but I can't get the darn thing to work.
Now that I have the product model number I have been able to do some research and see that it is problematic across the board. I also see that a computer liquidator had been selling these keyboards last year for $4.99! Not including shipping but even with shipping it was less that 1/3 of the price I paid, but even the web site I found that was selling them at that price people said to stay away.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The many noises of Colombo, I realized I can pretty much just sum then up into beeps, honks and blasts.
Beep beep beep: That would be a dehumidifier announcing that it's full again. Three times a day it will do that. The water reservoir filled with nearly 3 liters of water which is incredible. I'll motivate myself to get up and empty it and try not to spill any of the water on the floor.
Beep beep beep: That would be the trishaw slowing down and trying to get my attention "Taxi?", I wave and shake my head they continue on.
HONK HONK HONK: Yes, caps for shouting. That would be the buses in Colombo driving recklessly but at least announcing it along the way. These horns are so loud I just want to grit my teeth.
BLAAAAAAAST: That would be the air horn of the trains passing 5 stories below us. It could be just a short blast of the horn, but more often than not when we least expect it the engineer will just go crazy and hold that horn for what seems like minutes. All the while we just want to rush out and throw something at the train. Worse yet is when two trains pass each other and in some unwritten code of the rails both engineers lay on the horns as they pass each other. It is nerve wracking.
(Picture: The cursed passing trains)
Friday, June 18, 2010
All week we have watched the Sri Lankan navy patrol boats in front of the apartment do their maneuvers and the build up of arms display, tanks and such at the Galle Face Green and something we never experienced living here high speed fly buys of the Sri Lankan Air Force.
The government made today a bank holiday which pretty much is an excuse for any business to close. Couple this with closing the main street through Colombo thus making bus disrupting buses and you make for one quiet city this morning. Hardly anyone was at work.
Come the time for the big display my coworkers and I went out on the roof to watch the show.
First came the Russian built Hind helicopters, then the Navy boats of all sizes followed by turbo-prop plane fly overs (They had some really old planes) and eventually the jets did an afterburner fly over, quite loud.
Funny thing about the Navy is that they have a big troop carrier that has been used as a dinner cruise ship since the end of the war. I'm not kidding. They painted 'Visit Sri Lanka 2011' in big letters across the side, string lights on it and does sunset dinner cruises complete with the Navy band.
Well being that it's still pretty much the largest ship in the Sri Lankan Navy's inventory it did its part in the show, I thought it was funny that here it was being escorted by all of these gun boats and 'Visit Sri Lanka 2011' is painted across the side.
Story about the parade:
Story about the dinner cruise ship:
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Letters from Steven: Stories from the First Solo Walk Around the World
by Steven NewmanHardback
I really enjoyed this book which was letters that the author had written and sent to a newspaper column in the Cappers Weekly which catered towards rural America. The book is by all means not a travel guide, but stories from his life on the road, people he met, things he did during his walk around the world, what an incredible feat.
the good tight. More like the scene from "Aliens" tight (No, not that
scene!). I woke up in the middle of the night for what turned out to be
an all night marathon of running to the bathroom and on top of that I
was nauseous. I emailed my coworker to tell him I wasn't coming in. I
spent the entire day today in bed moaning and groaning, the only thing
I could drink was water. I tried an electrolyte drink but that made me
sick. It wasn't until 5PM today that I was able to get out of bed and
into the living room.
Stomach still feels yucky but I think I will be able to eat some toast
Monday, June 14, 2010
bar from on top of my blog. It was pretty easy with my last template
but was having some problems with the code with this one, but I finally won!
If you have a Blogger.com blog and would like to do the same follow
her, not the word she used. You see Chris often has our housekeeper run
errands for us, such as go shopping for groceries or pay the phone
bill. What we didn't know if that the guards had been holding her up at
the guard station when she would return from shopping and go through the
grocery bags. But she would not have said something if not for the fact
she was going home and they inspect her bags when she is leaving and
they found an empty peanut bar jar. See she has asked if we would save
any empty plastic jars and let her have them, of course no problem.
They held her for one hour and questioned her over an empty peanut
butter jar! Unbelievable!
We have a large standing chest in our foyer that we put things we give
her, clothes and the like, and if she is taking them Chris writes her a
note that says we are giving it to her as a gift. She didn't think that
she would have to write one for a peanut butter jar.
I have left somethings for the apartment housekeepers by placing it by
the trash chute and I know they take it, and then I wondered, well how
did they get that past the guards without a note?
So Chris went down to the guard station with our housekeeper, the guards
hardly speak any English so they just spoke to our housekeeper and told
her it was apartment management policy. Chris called the apartment
management and gave them a piece of her mind.
Our housekeeper had mentioned she had been given grief for paying our
bills, which makes absolutely no sense at all! She's not stealing from
us, she's paying the bill! You'd have to be here to understand why it's
convenient to have her pay our bills, anything can happen.
There is another reason that I know the guards give her grief but I
won't mention it here, although there probably is a bit of jealousy
being that she probably makes as much money as they do and works fewer
hours and speaks better English.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
tow being watched over by a nanny. Back in the States the wealthier
families can afford a nanny, everyone else a babysitter at best, more
often than not a home care babysitter watching over several children.
Here you can have a full time nanny watch over your kids, clean the
house and run errands for very little money, probably around $200 per
When we attend church we can look through the window as see a small
group of nannies waiting outside close to one of the exit doors waiting
for the children to come out. At the grocery store the couple looks at
the food while the nanny walks behind cradling a baby. At the fancy
hotels you see the couple relaxing pool side while the nanny watches the
Today we went to the Hilton Hotel for its famous Sunday brunch. I made
reservations and was told that we would have to sit out in the overflow
section in the lobby, was hoping for a window seat by the lake to watch
the black swans and koi swim by. When we arrived the hostess said she
can sit us inside the main dining area and we ended up getting the best
seat in the house for two people. A family came to sit next to us,
obviously well to do Sri Lankan family with 3 children and a young
nanny. We were both curious if they were going to pay the almost $25
for her to eat the brunch buffet. As you can imagine, no. The parents
got a plate to feed the toddler and she had to feed the kid. I don't
know. I couldn't do that. If I had someone that lived with us day in
day out like that they would be part of the family. I couldn't take
them to brunch to watch everyone at a table scarf down on delicious food
while she watched. Just strange.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
I wrote about how our older cat Cricket has taken to random crying fits at night, although really this is not entirely true as we can be in the living room and she is right alongside us and she'll start crying.
But in particular she has this peculiar habit of getting under a table, against the wall, facing our bedroom and crying. I can only imagine that she thinks the table is affording her some sort of protection I don't know. We have nicknamed the place, well her "Crying Place".
Chris wakes up very early and she feeds Cricket. Well I think her kitty clock is just a little out of synch and she thinks whenever she awakes it's feeding time.
She has been good for the past couple of nights, but just when I least expect it.
I spent some time looking at free Blogger templates but decided to go with Blogger.com's own template designer and I was really glad the transition didn't break any of my old widgets.
I need to play around with it a little bit more, rearrange things etc.
Now I need to start posting some fresh material.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
I know I bought it in 2004 before I went to Baghdad.
I would get a few comments while in Baghdad because there was my umbrella sticking out of my backpack, I must have been an optimist! It probably rained 3 times the entire time I was there and never hard enough for me to use my umbrella.
And then came 8 months in Virginia, it stayed in my backpack, got some use.
Then came a year in Saudi Arabia, kept it with me just as a joke. I think it may have sprinkled once while I was there.
Then two years in Uruguay and it saw some use there, always with my backpack.
Bring it to Sri Lanka and it barely lasted 8 months. The first time I took it out a big wind gust bent it up and broke one of the rods. Then today, big windy rainy day and my poor umbrella took a beating as soon as I opened it, this time for good.
So as we arrived at the apartment I unceremoniously opened the trash chute door and bid thee farewell. It's time for a new umbrella.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Great guitar riffs and awesome singing by lead-man (And now deceased) Brad Bjorkman.
Put on your headphones and crank it up!
Thursday, June 3, 2010
The first day of the 11th edition of the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Weekend has been as chaotic as it has been revealing. From early morning chaos over accreditations and access to venues, by evening it had turned into excitement as the stars starting pouring in for the three-day event.
The centre of the chaos — the Cinnamon Grand hotel has become the ideal ringside location if you want to catch a glimpse of your favourite star and Bollywood crazy Sri Lankans weren’t letting go of any chance. By afternoon, the sprawling lobby of the five-star hotel was packed with eager fans, cameras ready to click and craning their necks to see if any star had arrived yet.
Even the slightest of familiar faces got a cheer from the crowd. However, the most popular star, at least according to an impromptu poll, is Shah Rukh Khan, who will not be making it to the event.
“He is so good-looking,” gushed a volunteer to me. “I wish he would have come.” The Bachchans seem to have been forgotten.
Even if one Khan is missing, there are others to make up for it. The other big Khan, Salman, is a prominent face at this year’s IIFA and it seems when you are a Bollywood star in Colombo, you get treatment meant for heads of states and VIPs.
On our way to a village where Salman was to participate in an initiative for Habitat for Humanity, we spotted a huge motorcade, complete with gun-toting commandos, three black-tinted cars and several police jeeps speeding through the streets of Colombo.
Traffic police cleared the way for the motorcade asking other vehicles to stop. We assumed it was the President who was passing by, but turns out it was Salman Khan. Being a star does have some very good perks.
Colombo has become a virtual spotting ground for celebrities you hardly see in Mumbai. “3 Idiots” comedian Omi Vaidya (aka Chatur) was spotted ambling in the lobby, accompanied by his wife and manager. He is here to host the curtain raiser for the television event and talked to Reuters about his plans post “3 Idiots”. Watch a video of the interview.
The International Indian Film Academy (IIFA, basically Bollywood's Academy Award ceremony)) has arrived in Colombo to much fan fare, literally.
When i walked to work this morning I saw a small crowd of people in front of our apartments. The fanciest hotel in Colombo is across the street and that is where many of the Indian film stars are staying so people were hoping to catch a glimpse of them.
This afternoon as I was walking home I saw that all of the traffic on one side of the road was stopped and then noticed there was no traffic on the other, which meant one thing. As if on queue I heard the horns and sirens and here comes the motorcycle police, which is unusual, followed by a stream of the hotel courtesy cars (Small Nissan or Toyota's, nothing fancy). The stars were going to the hotel. Then came a stream of the paramilitary soldiers riding tandem on dirt bikes with submachineguns at the ready followed by open top Range Rovers with more soldiers and several large black BMW's. Important Bollywood star or somebody from the Ministry or combination of the two I guess.
Now here is the funny thing. For the past several weeks there has been a frenzy of activity to spruce up the city. Roads have been repaved, potholes filled, trees planted, railings painted and on and on. Not like this could have been done any other time the city needed it. Now more than ever with so many people in very bad situations because of the flooding it saddens me that city is doing so little for them. I see in the paper all of these photo opp's with such and such company donating so many lunch packets (Rice and curry) to flood victims worth hardly anything, basically a meal per family for one day. But bring Bollywood stars to town and the money flows.
Some of the stars are boycotting the ceremony in protest of the war crimes, and I'm not even going there.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The hotel has two sides, the Regency side and the Classic side. The Regency side has been refurbished and is more upscale, you can figure out what the Classic side is. We picked a Deluxe Oceanic Suite with a sea side view. It was a very large room with a big jacuzzi tub, king sized bed and two separate balconies. We were also given access to the Executive lounge which was a perk for working for the company. They never did explain what the card entitled us to which meant we lost out on afternoon tea and free happy hour drinks (Although we don't drink it would have been nice to grab some hors d'ouevers.
Our main objective was to leave the laptops at home and lounge around the big salt water pool and get away from the city. Now the funny thing about all of this is that we can literally see our apartment building from the hotel!
We were curious to see the hotels 20,000 square foot spa. I had never seen anything like this. There was a room for just about every spa treatment you can think of. I had never seen a sensory deprivation chamber and after seeing one don't think I want to try it and at $65 an hour don't think I would anyway. The gym had a trainer and the men's locker room was equipped with sauna, steam shower and jacuzzi tubs. I made use of the jacuzzi for my back.
In the morning I decided to see what the VIP card entitled me to so I went to the Executive lounge and asked about breakfast, I showed him my card and he said that they offered a continental breakfast for free, which I thought was fine. I went back and grabbed Chris and we made our plates and had some fresh juices. The waiter asked if I wanted some eggs with bacon or sausage or both, I thought why not. I ordered some scrambled eggs and he came back with a very fancy plate of eggs and bacon. I was pretty much stuffed after this. There was only one other couple in the lounge. Next time I'll make more use of this place.
Here are a few photos I took of our stay and a video of the room:
Yours truly in the pool
Tall building in the background is our apartment and Chris checking out the room service menu
The beach is not very user friendly here. It was cloudy Sunday but I got sunburned (Again) Saturday
Lest I forget the second part of my journey with my son took us to Nuwara Eliya, also known as Little England. It was a very long drive through the tea plantations. We learned that there are low range, mid range and high range grades. I thought certainly with all of the driving we were in high range tea territory, but it was only mid range, it was probably two more hours before we reached high range tea plantations.
Whats with the Little England title? Apparently back in the colonial days Nuwara Eliya was the place that the British elite went to get away from the Sri Lankan heat, you see Nuwara Eliya is cold! I heard that it was cold, didn't realize how much so until we got there. The weather reminded the Brits of back home. Along with the weather there are golf courses (Probably the only on Sri Lanka) and European themed architecture throughout the city.
There isn't much to do in the city. There is a open market that sells Columbia, North Face and other name brand jackets for as little as $10. I bought a nice fleece jacket for about $3 and another jacket for my son for around $27.
The city was once known for it's horse racing track but it was shut down by the government.
Now when we entered the city we saw people riding horses which most likely meant that you can ride them as well so I called our driver and asked him to take us to the horse track.
As we pulled up to the horse track we were followed on both sides by men on horses or by foot, think of a paparazzi scene, I'm not kidding, I knew were in for fun when we parked. As soon as we got out it started "SIR SIR RIDE MY HORSE" "MASTER MASTER RIDE MY HORSE"this went on and on and on. They wanted 1000 Rupees to ride the saddest looking horses and ponies you have ever seen for a half hour. I told them no way, I would give them 1000 Rupees for two of the best horses (sic) for a half hour. The best I was offered was to ride a pony for 750 Rupees for a half hour, I wasn't going for that. Then things started getting edgy, somebody grabbed my arms by behind and was trying to pull me towards a horse, somebody else had one of my sons feet and was trying to put it in a stir up. I put my arm in the air and signaled for our driver and told my son we were leaving. We got in the car and the mob scene continued. We pulled out and drove back to the hotel only to see that there was a group on horseback chasing us down the road! Picture that, like something out of a bad movie. Eventually they stopped and turned around. I was really surprised that they would rather not get any business than bargain down, but it didn't matter. The horses were in such poor condition we didn't want really want to ride them.
One good thing about our stay was our hotel which although a little aged did offer some nice amenities, turn down service with chocolates, breakfast with egg and crepes chef, stocked bathroom with a hair dryer (That's rare here), free WiFi, satellite TV, mini-fridge, all for less than $70.
Photo: St. Andrew JetWing Hotel http://www.jetwinghotels.com/jetwingstandrews/
The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones by Anthony Bourdain
Collection of short stories
You either love him or hate him or something in between. I have never read any of the authors books before but am a big fan of his "No Reservations" series (I'll post links to his Sri Lanka visit).
He has a unique style of writing, his language is rated "R".
Overall I'd say a good read for foodies, epicurean's and travelers alike.