Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thai food, and it's a small country after all

Today we went and did our big shopping day, first stopping at PriceSmart (the equivalent of Costco or Sam's Club in the U.S., but with not nearly as good a selection of stuff). I was out of my mind thrilled to find Morningstar Farms "sausage" patties in the freezer section. A box of 24 at PriceSmart is about the same as two boxes of 6 at Auto Mercado. I even did a happy dance in the aisle, to which my son started yelling, "No dancing, Mommy!" He's such a party pooper. No singing, either, unless he's the one doing the singing and dancing. I guess he thinks his parents are too old for such foolishness; where he gets these notions, I have no idea. On the way out, we saw our friends D&M, whom we don't get to see much of these days, as D has a new job and their daughter C is in preschool, leaving M to be at the house when she comes home, and thus not able to bring little E to playgroup. Unfortunately. Because we all like them very much. Especially our son, who simply adores C. For a while, he was saying things like, "She's not my friend, she's my girlfriend." Oh. A three-year-old has a girlfriend? Anyway, as soon as he saw her his face lit up like a Christmas tree. I think it's nice, actually, that they are such good friends at a young age; I know I didn't really make any close friends until I was in first or second grade. When we move out to Grecia, we'll be a little closer to them, and hopefully we'll all get to see a bit more of each other.

After PriceSmart, we went to try a new restaurant in Escazu called Lemon Grass. Or Lemongrass, I'm not really sure if it's one word or two. It was pretty busy for a rainy Saturday afternoon, so we had high hopes. And, in fact, another couple and their kids who used to come to our little cafe in Ciudad Colon were there eating, and they asked us to join them. We got the "Thai room," which is basically a built-up bench seat surrounding a table. I didn't like it so much, because unlike a tatami room at a Japanese restaurant, this was hard to get in and out of, and my feet dangled. Anyway. The menus only had a few vegetarian things on it, and of course esposo the chef had to grill the waiter on whether or not the curry had shrimp paste (it did), what didn't have fish sauce or shrimp paste in it, did the food have MSG, etc. Basically, it turned out we could get the steamed spring rolls, Thai fried rice (no eggs), and Pad Thai vegetarian without fish sauce/shrimp paste. Rather limited for vegetarians. So, we had all of the above. I have to say, the rice was very good, and the Pad Thai was excellent. The spring rolls not so much. I think they would be better fried or just without being steamed (with the rice paper wrappers softened in hot water only). The steaming made the wrappers mushy and kinda gross. I also had a nice pot of Chinese gunpowder tea (delish), and later a lemongrass iced tea (way too sweet for my tastes). (If you go and don't want to get stomach cancer, ask for the food to be made without MSG, as the chef puts it in everything. It's called "ajinomoto" in Costa Rican Spanish, FYI. But "glutamato monosodico" on a label. And Costa Ricans put it in everything.) It took us forever and a day to actually get our check, which came to $30 for basically two people (our son shared with us), including a couple of beers and a fruit punch. We thought the prices were pretty high, as did our dining companions, who were charged $14 for two plates of rice and grilled chicken for their kids (young kids, maybe 2 and 4 years old). Lunch for the four of them came to $60. Ouch. She also had the vegetarian Pad Thai, and he had a basil chicken dish. We all did like the food, though, so at least we weren't being pinched for crappy food. In fact, esposo and I both agreed it was the best Pad Thai we've had in this country by far, Tin Jo included. (Well, actually, esposo thinks his Pad Thai is better, but I liked Lemon Grass's better.)

Pad Thai

Thai fried rice -- it looks more boring than it tasted!

An $8 kid's plate of chicken and plain white rice.

Overall, I'd say it's worth checking out, if you don't mind the high prices and, if you're a vegetarian, the lack of selection. We will probably go back, though not too often, on account of both the high prices and the fact that there are only a couple of things on the menu we can eat. And really, is it so difficult to make vegetarian Thai food? When we lived in beautiful Santa Cruz, California, there were at least four Thai restaurants (that I can think of, probably there were more) just in the close vicinity of our house. All of them had an extensive selection of vegetarian choices. Granted, there are probably a lot more vegetarians in Santa Cruz than there are in Costa Rica, but there are still plenty of us here as well. It seems like most restaurants just throw us a bone, and don't really make any effort. Which is too bad for them, because really, we vegetarians generally enjoy going out to eat and patronizing restaurants that have food we like. On the Lemon Grass menu, for example, there are a whole five things listed under "Vegetarian," and one of those has shrimp paste, another has oyster sauce, which actually leaves only three edible things on the menu. When we had our cafe, we had quite a small army of loyal customers who came because we had lots of great vegetarian and vegan food and it was pretty easy on your wallet. Vegetarians are always looking for restaurants that show we're not an afterthought. Lemon Grass certainly gives you the impression that we're not really worth their time. And don't even get me started on Bangkok in Sabana. Bleh. I hate that place. If you are a vegetarian, you can basically order nothing from their "vegetarian" menu, because it all has shrimp paste. And even when one bothers asking, one still gets food with shrimp paste, and when one tells one's waiter that one can't eat one's food, one's waiter refuses to take it off the bill, even though it was one's waiter's fault in the first place. So you can see why I hate Bangkok and will never eat their again, and tell everyone I know not to eat there, either, and what absolutely terrible service we had.

You have to be really careful with vegetarian food here, because to many Costa Ricans, that still means you can eat chicken, fish, anything but beef.

Next week, we'll go to Lubnan in San Jose, which, while meaty, is an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans, and the prices are also quite good. You can get a vegetarian feast for around $12. I'll take pics and write about that later.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We are moving. Again.

This is good, though, lest you think I am complaining. Esposo took the job as head chef at a fancy new resort, so we will be moving closer to his work, probably to the city of Grecia. I'm excited for him. I think it's a really good move. Though, this means I won't get to see him nearly as much (chef's hours are ridiculous, in case you've never known one), at least during high season, and I won't have as much time to myself, either (since I'll be with a three-year-old most of the day). Anyway, we'll see how it all plays out. Right now the difficulty is finding a good house to rent. And, I'm planning a trip to the States in December; esposo will probably be working, though.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spreading more disinformation about Costa Rica

Sometimes I think I will delete that "news bar" (see lower right on this page) because of the absolute nonsense I read in it. For example, the Ireland On-line website made quite a big deal about Mel Gibson purchasing a property in Guanacaste, as he is apparently "ignoring kidnap warnings." Because, you see, the U.S. State Department apparently put out a warning that "...all American visitors there are 'potential targets for criminals and kidnappers' and should never travel alone."

Funny thing is, I looked up the State Department's travel site, and there are NO travel warnings currently issued for Costa Rica. Which makes sense, because, although we certainly have our share of crime, most of it is petty thievery or breaking-and-entering. Kidnappings are usually politically motivated here; I've never heard of some random person, some "Hollywood star," or even some wealthy bazillionaire being kidnapped for money. Not in this country. Now, if you actually take the time to read the consular information sheet for Costa Rica, as I did but apparently as the writer for Ireland On-line did not, you will see that it in fact states Americans are "potential targets for criminals, primarily thieves looking for cash, jewelry, credit cards, electronic items and passports. U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world. Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards." Notice there is no mention of kidnapping here, either. Or "bandit territory," which Ireland On-line put in quotation marks, leading the reader to believe that they took this information from the U.S. State Department's website as well.

To think that people will read this and say, "Gee, that sounds scary, I'm certainly not going to Guanacaste!" is pathetic, really. Guanacaste is known as Costa Rica's "Gold Coast," and that's for a good reason. Upscale development has been happening there for years. It is a beautiful area, with wonderful, helpful people. Not like the Central Valley, which I personally am sick to death of. And, personally, I'd feel a lot safer in the boonies of Guanacaste than I do any day of the week on the streets of San Jose or even Escazu. Our friends spent a week there for their honeymoon. They had planned only to make it their "home base," but once they got there, decided to stay at the same hotel the whole week.

Why can't so-called journalists get their freaking facts straight? As someone I truly can't stand says, "Gimme a break."

P.S. I have, it seems, come across the article from which this nonsense originated. The U.K.'s own "Daily Star," known worldwide as a paragon of fine journalistic traditions, first published this bullcrap, which was then plagiarized by Ireland On-line. I think the fact that the word "news" is in quotes on the button below the article says it all (i.e., More 'News' Here -- ha ha, "news," that's a good one!).

P.P.S. Apparently, I was too hasty in pointing the finger squarely at "news" source The Daily Star. The internet, it seems, has made it easy to plagiarize the work of others while giving no one credit, nor taking any precautions for the accuracy of the information given (i.e., fact checking). Journalism 101, people. Try a Google search for "bandit territory" and "Costa Rica" and see that you'll basically get a whole bunch of pages repeating exactly the same thing, word for word. Pathetic.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shiny, happy people

Costa Rica is ranked #3 out of 178 countries on the Happy Planet Index. For those of you in the U.S., you are ranked #150. Canada doesn't fare all that much better, at #111. The U.K. is only minimally better at #108. According to the Happy Planet Index, "It is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live long and happy lives. By addressing the relative success or failure of countries in supporting good lives for their citizens, whilst respecting the environmental resource limits upon which our lives depend, the HPI has much to teach us. Analysing its results could help us to move towards a world where we can all live good lives without costing the earth." Hear, here.

Just in case you were wondering, Colombia is ranked #2, and #1 is Vanuatu (which is strange, considering it had the bad sense to host "Survivor"). In the Europe-only index, Iceland is #1.

You can calculate your own happiness, too. I scored 61.3, above average, but could be better. Apparently, people in São Tomé and Principe, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are about as happy as I am. Who knew? The personal happiness survey also indicated such things as I have a small ecological footprint compared to the average respondent: "No doubt you take environmental issues very seriously - avoiding motorised transportation, minimising meat in your diet and conserving and recycling where possible." True. I am also "optimistic about the future and probably also about [myself]," "healthy, active and full of strong feelings of worth, autonomy and purpose," and particularly telling: "unsatisfied with, or perhaps indifferent to, the community within which you live." And as a bonus? "You are very satisfied with your job / course - it is very interesting, rarely stressful, and leaves you plenty of time to do the things you want to do, such as participating in community activities." Hooray!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

Yes, I'm a little late in posting this, but it's been one of those difficult weeks! Independence Day was actually September 15. Many people don't know that the whole of Central America has the same independence day. This is because Guatemala was, at the time, the capital of the Central American province, and word had to get out to the rest of the states by horseback that they had declared independence from Spain. In fact, the bearer of good news didn't actually arrive in Costa Rica until mid-October. But we still celebrate the date of independence as September 15. On the evening before, most cities and towns have a parade of torches, which is where kids and adults alike either make or buy paper lanterns in all shapes and sizes, put a candle inside, and walk around town in a big procession. Some of the lanterns are very elaborate houses, churches, oxcarts, you name it. It was a lot of fun! Especially since we live like two blocks from downtown. Next year we're going to make our own lanterns, though. Here are a few pics from the parade.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

On giant walls and illegal immigration

I usually don't write on the subject. But as I was up in the middle of the night, trying not to sneeze, eyes burning, ears and throat itching (and for the love of GOD, why is there no freaking OTC allergy medicine in this blessed country!?!), I got to thinking about why building a giant wall to separate the U.S. from Mexico is a bad idea, IMHO.

1. Latinos are resourceful. They will find a way around, or through it. Especially when they are desperate. I mean, look, they're not risking their lives coming to the U.S., full of people who hate them, because they just woke up one morning, and thought, What the hell? Let's go to the U.S.! They're doing it because they're desperate. Their families are living below any sense of what we'd consider poverty; they have no food to feed their children. What wouldn't you do for your children? I'd do just about anything for mine, including stealing myself into a foreign country illegally if I thought it would make his life better.

To illustrate this point, I would like to turn your attention now to the pedestrian bridge that was built here over the Escazu highway from CIMA Hospital to the other side of the highway. It was built in order to help people crossing the highway not get killed in traffic, which has happened more times than you might imagine. Every heart you see painted on the highway? That's someone who's died, right there in that spot. But I digress... Anyway, the MOPT put up a big ol' fence in the median so that people would be forced to actually use the pedestrian bridge instead of running across the highway. What did they do, but cut a big hole in the fence (and we are talking about industrial-grade chain link fencing -- you'd need serious bolt cutters to get through it) so that they could sneak through it and run across the highway like fools. Stupid, lazy, I think. This is what people do to walls just because they're acting like spoiled children. Imagine what they would do if they were desperate people trying to save themselves and their families.

2. A giant wall separating Mexico from the U.S. could have a devastating effect on the wildlife. The Center for Biological Diversity had this to say: "Jaguars, Mexican Gray Wolves, Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, and other endangered species need to cross their borderland habitat often, and this wall will crush their ability to survive. ... More border walls further damage already-stressed wildlife and places, such as the Cactus Pygmy Owl and Sonoran Pronghorn in Arizona; Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard and Peninsular Ranges Bighorn Sheep in California; Jaguar and Mexican Gray Wolves in New Mexico; and the Rio Grande River, Ocelot, and Big Bend National Park in Texas. Walls harm wildlife by blocking critical migration corridors and destroying valuable habitat." That pretty much sums it up.

Here is an idea: Instead of taking the four to eight billion dollars it is estimated this stupid wall idea would cost, why not take that money and invest it in helping the Mexican people in greatest need get out of poverty? Build schools, train teachers, create good jobs (and I'm not talking about that colossally bad idea that was NAFTA), institute social programs that work. Why not? Because then American people will scream about how "We have enough problems of our own, why not use the money here?" And they have a point. So I propose an additional idea (neither of which is new, obviously): Take some of that 450+ billion dollars spent on "war" with Iraq that is killing our young servicemen and women and Iraqi civilians every day and doing a whole lot of nothing for national security, and instead put that money to ending poverty at home. For instance, with the money the U.S. government has spent on Iraq so far we could have built over 4 million low-income housing units. We could have hired almost 8 million more teachers. So let's face it, another 4-8 measly billion dollars sent south of the border is a drop in the bucket. Why not make lives better instead of pushing people away? Engender some goodwill for a change. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don't you think people would prefer to stay home if they could have a good quality of life there? Thinking of my own family again, I certainly would.

We do, as Americans, in fact have a hand in poor Mexicans fleeing their country, via that "wonderful" idea known as NAFTA. Increased poverty, environmental degradation and workers' rights abuses are just a few of the effects NAFTA had on the Mexican people. We traded them self-sufficient rural communities for low-paying industrial jobs, destroying entire villages and polluting land and water, and now we wonder why they want to leave? And the sad part is, really, the only people to benefit from NAFTA were the big corporations, such as the one my mom worked for in the 80s.

An inspector at General Motors in Ohio, my mother was one of the few people whose job didn't get sent to Mexico. Back in the day, people were proud to work for GM and many a worker would stay with GM their entire careers. They were good jobs that paid well and provided good benefits. I often wished my mom would quit and move us to California, but she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to do as well there and we'd be in trouble, since it was just me and her. I hated her decision then, but now I see her point. Everyone at the plant drove American-made cars, except my mom, who had a British-made MGB. She received many a threat for driving that car to work. The point I'm trying to make is that people took pride in their jobs and it showed. American cars were good cars, and people knew it. Then NAFTA came along. I'm going to guess that at least half of the people with whom my mom worked lost their jobs, but that is probably on the low side. Entire plants shut down as operations were moved to Mexico. And why not? Big corporations like GM were paying skilled and "unskilled" workers upwards of $10-15 and even more an hour; they could pay the Mexican people a minuscule fraction of that. My mom kept her job as an inspector, but now she was seeing entire lots of cabling and connections for wiring harnesses (you know, the electronics that run your car) that were not making the grade. She'd reject them, but of course supervisors had to make their quotas, and so much of what she'd rejected got passed on to the consumer anyway. In the end, she was suffering health problems related to stress, and finally retired. That's just one story, which I'm sure was replicated at not just automobile manufacturers across the Midwest, but all other types of plants throughout the U.S. Remember when you could actually find clothes made in the U.S.? I do. So if you think the Mexican people got something good out of us shipping good jobs south, think again. They got to work for crappy wages under crappy conditions. They didn't have to take the jobs, you say. No, but they were lured in by promises of good-paying jobs that would be easier than farming, etc. and by the time they realized these promises meant nothing, it was too late.

So what say we reject the wall, and ask our senators and members of Congress to put that money where it will actually do some good?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Republican candidates give Latinos the middle finger

With the notable exception of John McCain, whom I've always respected even though I haven't always agreed with him, every one of the Republican candidates declined to participate in Univision's Spanish-language translated debate. Basically, it seems, because they don't want Latinos to know what they really think about immigration. I guess they think Latinos are so stupid that they have no clue about Republican proposals to build giant walls and further restrict illegal immigration in other ways. Bah. And so, even leaning toward Democrat as I do, this is why I respect John McCain (and why I think if he wins the Republican nomination, Hillary [or whomever wins the Democratic ticket, but let's face it, it's looking like it will be Hillary] is going to have a tough road ahead of her). While he's come out in favor of tougher immigration reforms, he's also willing to speak to Latinos about why he has done so. Too bad we don't get Univision here, because I'd have liked to have seen that debate.

And, can I just say, I hate the word "Hispanic" when it refers to native Spanish-speakers in the U.S.? My husband is Latino, my son is also Latino. Why? They are from Latin America, as the vast majority of native Spanish speakers in the U.S. are. A rather small percentage, I would guess, though I'd have to look up the numbers, is Hispanic, or of Spanish (as in Spain, Iberian Peninsula) origin. "Hispanic" and "Latino" are really not interchangeable, and I wish reporters would at least make an attempt to use the words properly in context. Costa Ricans call themselves Latinos, never Hispanic.

P.S. And then I do a search on to see what other people have written about this story, and find a mind-numbingly vast array of racist hate speech disguised as intellectual critique, such as the following:

Mr. Obama, who is seeking strong support from both black and Hispanic voters, recalled a telegram the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent to Cesar Chavez when the two men were each involved in protest strikes. The telegram read, "Our separate struggles are one."

Did Dr. King send the telegram in Spanish?

I ask you, was that snide little racist comment necessary?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why I love YouTube

Every now and then you come across something like this while looking for other videos, such as Britney's supposedly horrible performance at the MTV VMAs (well, damnit, I want to know what all the fuss is about!). Extra points if you can guess who the drag queen photographer is.

Monday, September 10, 2007

An easy way to help gorillas and rangers in the DNC

You may have seen my prior posts on what's going on in the DNC's Virunga National Park; if not, check out the rangers' blog. Basically, these guys -- the rangers and the gorillas -- are in desperate need of help. WildlifeDirect is one of the NGOs supporting the efforts to help the rangers help the gorillas, and you can donate to the via the Gorilla Protection blog. Another very easy way to help is by going to the Search Kindly page and voting for WildlifeDirect to receive next month's check.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Oh, and I lied

Well, not lied, exactly, but I did write something that wasn't true, because I assumed (yeah, yeah, I know what they say!) something that was later found to be incorrect. What was it? That Kreativity carries toys not made in China. Not true. They opened a new store in Lindora de Santa Ana, and son and I went over there while esposo was in the bank getting his new cards (side note: why does that take so freakin' long?). I had always loved this store, because they have great educational toys for kids, wooden toys, toys that kids can learn from, not just that entertain them, you know? So I went over to see what's new, and this time, armed with concerns about lead paint and toys made in China, I checked every single toy that looked like something I might buy (or have bought) our son in the past. Guess what. ALL OF THEM WERE MADE IN CHINA. I mean, every single one. All of them. How can that be? Even Imaginarium toys? Even Melissa and Doug? Damnit. I'm sorry if I led anyone astray on that point. Now I know why the toys at La Tortuga Sabia are so expensive. They're not (at least I think not) made in China, but in Germany, where I'm sure standards are a lot higher. I did, before, recommend Toy Box, but I can't say that for sure they aren't like Kreativity. I need to check them out further. Sorry. Again.

Allergies have got me DOWN

way down. I feel miserable these days. Every morning I wake up with my eyes burning, my ears and throat itching, and I'm sneezing my head off for a good part of the morning. Then I fall asleep in the afternoon. It was getting so bad that I finally got some allergy medication, which I had avoided because it makes me feel almost as bad as the allergies myself. So, esposo went to the pharmacy (yes, he went in for me this time, maybe he felt bad about the whole other incident!). I asked him to find something like Tylenol Allergy and Sinus, because I knew it wouldn't knock me out. Of course, Costa Rica being Costa Rica, they didn't have it, and the pharmacist said that Tylenol hasn't shipped any into the country in a year. I should have stocked up when I last saw it... Anyway, he picked up some dang expensive Allegra-D ($1.25 per pill -- whew!), and I took one before bed. Sure enough, the thing knocked me out, then I woke up around 1 a.m. feeling itchy all over and could not get back to sleep the rest of the night. Sigh. I tried Claratin before, and it made me feel even worse. No sneezing today, though, at least. I don't know what to do. I think I am allergic to my house. I read on one of the forums I belong to that one can become more prone to allergies if one moves frequently. Great. We move on average once a year, so that would definitely fit this situation. I hope I am not allergic to my animals, because the cats are all indoor cats and my two little dogs can't really go outside, though the other 7 of them do stay outdoors most of the time. Anyway, I love my animals so getting rid of them because I have allergies isn't even an option. I don't know what other options I have, though. I have never really been allergic to anything like this before. I am allergic to bee stings, but that's totally different. That's more like, be careful around bees, or you'll be injecting yourself with an epi-pen. This is like, all day every day misery. Help.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jane, you can't be serious

Don't you just hate it when someone writes about something they really don't know much about, and come off sounding like an expert on the subject? I bet I do it all the time. And I read this article, which showed up in the news bar below right, leading me to believe Jane may participate in said activity herself every now and then. Let's clear up a few misconceptions in the article, shall we?

On clothing: Jane says, "For instance, sighting a man wearing a tie is rare no matter what the venue..." and further says, "Women with plunging necklines apparently don't go out in public. Revealing clothing is just not appropriate in this country's buttoned-up work place." (I guess she's never met me!) Where is she getting this information? Did she go directly from her hotel to some company, and back to her hotel? Because believe you me, I see plenty of men wearing ties, and plenty of women wearing sexy tops that show off their boobies. Plenty. Even in my small town of BFE. And particularly in San Jose, the country's largest city.

On dining: "One major faux pas to avoid should you become the guest at a Costa Rican home: Taking along someone who is not invited. If you do ask a counterpart to join you without first checking with your host, don't be surprised if that extra person is turned away at the door." This is simply not true. Costa Ricans often bring a friend to dinner without asking you, and if you bring a friend/family member with you to dinner at their house, it is almost expected. Costa Ricans are far, far too polite to turn anyone away. I mean, has she seen that happen? I've lived here for seven years and I've never heard of such a thing happening, let alone seen it. Correct me if I'm wrong.

More: "Expect to dine early and expect to leave shortly after eating..." Oh yeah, the old "dine-and-dash" is alive and well in Costa Rica! Any dinner I've ever been to has run late, and you almost always stay around for an hour at the minimum to have drinks and relax. Dinner here can be an event lasting four to five hours. When I've hosted a dinner, people show up late (and often with friends!), enjoy themselves, and quite often stay late. That's quite the norm.

Maybe Jane is having business dinners with the top execs at Intel or something. She's certainly not having dinner with people I know, who do, in fact, include female lawyers as she's cited in her article. Sigh. Anyway.

I saw an episode of Food Network's Unwrapped once where they said Costa Ricans eat coconut on their pizza. No. Costa Ricans do not. I've eaten pizza all over this country and I have never seen coconut on a single pizza or pizza menu, for that matter. Where do they get this stuff?

Two new babies

For those of you out there sick of hearing about my quilting adventures, good news! I've decided to move my quilty stuff over to this here place, so it's going to be mostly Costa Rica from here on out, unless my quilting has something to do with Costa Rica specifically (like the cool Hawaiian Quilt Show), and of course, I'll still continue to blog on worldly events that I think are interesting/thought-provoking/worthy of being blogged about.

Also, esposo has started his own blog! You can find that one here.

I feel like a proud momma today.