Monday, December 27, 2010

Why bicycles don't belong on the sidewalk

On my way to Ulpan this morning, I looked away for a second, and when I looked forward again, I saw two people in a half roll with a bicycle about to land on the sidewalk about 50 feet in front of me.  The biker had come up behind the pedestrian woman and must have misjudged his clearance sending her in a spin to the ground.  There's nothing she could have done to avoid it.

Two people, who were already beyond the accident when it occurred, heard the crash and turned around to come back to help.  The biker had one of those, "I'm a real dunce" smiles on his face as he tried to check on her, and pick his bike up.  As I passed (I didn't stop because there were already 3 people trying to help them at this point), she was holding her leg and arm.  It didn't look like she was going to be walking away from that one. 

Israel certainly doesn't have a monopoly on poor city planning, but it was still sad to see.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Can't you pop into an Israeli Starbucks, if you really have to go NOW?

I haven't quite been able to figure out what's going on here in Israel, on the subject of peeing.  Yes, peeing.  Dan's first week here he had to chase off a man he caught peeing on the entrance to our driveway.  Since then, I have caught parents on more than three occasions directing their young children to drop trou in the planting strips along the sidewalks to both pee and poop!  (This post didn't seem appropriate to include a photo).  Walking down the sidewalk requires a keen eye for land mines of excrement, and I'm no longer certain that they are from the neighborhood dogs and cats. 

Yet, it is a common complaint by Israeli's all summer that they can't wait for the first rains to come and wash away the smell.  So WHY do they do it?  I suppose the answer is, the ones who don't like it are different from the ones who do it. 

Well, I'm not the only one who has noticed this behavior.  Check out this article on -
How Green Is A Quick Wee In Public? 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Thai cooking class

Before it becomes a distant memory, I should wrap up a few additional thoughts about Thailand.

In Chaing Mai, we spent our last full day taking a traditional Thai cooking class.  The day began with pad thai, followed by tom yum soup and cashew chicken. 
Then we took a break to visit the local market with Yui, where we purchased some of the ingredients that are hard to find in western grocery stores - palm sugar and sticky rice (we bought kaffir lime leaves later in our trip).  Something I had never noticed before in a market (but have since) is that they bundle soup mix ingredients for sale, just like can be found in U.S. grocery stores.  However, these soup mixes are small rubber-banded bunches of lemongrass, galangal, and kafir lime leaves.

Upon our return to the classroom, we made our own spring rolls and finished off the day with mango and sticky rice.

Probably the most valuable part of the class was learning more about how to use fish sauce, soy sauce, and hoisin sauce.  Fish sauce goes with meat, soy with vegetables, and hoisin with both.  The amount used should be proportional to the quantity of the meat, but always less than you think.  As they say in Hebrew, le'at le'at, or "little by little."  Taste, add, taste, add, until it's right.   

It was a delicious learning experience!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mishra hunting

Etmol (yesterday) at Ulpan, we worked on vocabulary for interviewing.  Some logical, and helpful words, included nisa'ion (experience), miktsoa (profession), hamlatsa (recommendation), and mashkoret (salary).  But there was a whole additional list of words that reminded me of my earlier post about the interview process here in Israel - gil (age), nisui/ravak (married/single), hametsav hamishpachti (family situation), ve yeledim (children).  These really are legal topics for discussion in an interview here.  It is hard for me to imagine wanting to work in a place with people who would discriminate on the basis of characteristics which should have nothing to do with a person's ability to do a job successfully. 

I recently sent out a couple resumes here in response to online postings, as a kind of fishing expedition to see how it works.  While this technique is generally about as effective as playing the lottery for the jackpot, I have had surprising luck landing several of my previous jobs this way (in the U.S.).  However, the Israeli online job sites require monthly subscriptions, which I refuse to pay out of principle (they make plenty of money off the corporations listing the jobs), so I am receiving somewhat limited, non-targeted listings.  This is a country based on human networks, so I expect that will be the required method for success, particularly because I am not looking for a traditional/well-defined job function.  One English listserv that I subscribe to here raised a confirming point in this matter - in Israel, "everyone know's everyone from the Army."  Of course, this makes it all the more important to position myself as having a skillset that is limited in availability, making it worth taking a risk with an outsider like me.

I may start pursuing networking more aggressively in the New Year, as I hope to be done with Ulpan sometime in the spring.  I miss having challenging, meaningful work.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Out with a bang

Well, I finally awoke to some patches of blue sky today.  The rain has been off and on, but the wind is calming down.

Everyone kept telling me this is what Israeli winters are like.  Just like they told me about the dry spells during Israeli summers.  Except this summer broke records, and now this winter is as well.  Finally a news article to corroborate my story - this weather is NOT normal.  There were 100 km/hr winds, and 10 meter waves.

What is that white stuff on the corner of my patio?  It's SNOW!  Yes, it snowed in Tel Aviv last night, and I have proof.  It also rained in my apartment.  That is to say, the roof by our kitchen sprung a leak and dripped down the wall, across the light switches and power outlet, culminating in a puddle last night.  I piled old rags around the wall to contain the drip, and luckily it subsided as the rain did this morning. 

Here's a YouTube Video (taken by someone else) from the southern end of Tel Aviv looking north along the coast....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Will it ever end?

Well, I had to go out in it today. 

This morning was my first day back at Ulpan.  It was my first day wearing closed toed shoes to Ulpan.  And my first day taking a jacket.  I chose my light blue Helly Hansen windbreaker, as I had stepped out to secure patio furniture again and despite the wind, it was still fairly warm.
I took a detour by the beach to see the waves up close, but didn't go as close as I thought I might.  The wind was blowing so hard I had to brace myself against the rail to get a photo without blurring.

As I headed north I saw debris in all the nooks and crannies of buildings, sidewalks, and alleys.  I watched a large recycling bin blow off the sidewalk and into the road.  And the sidewalk around this building (pictured right) was cordoned off.  See all that stuff on the sidewalk?  Those are shards of wall tile that had blown right off the building!

Have to say, I'm glad I made soup yesterday.  The temperature has been dropping throughout today.  It's now 10 C /50 F.  And yes, I have finally turned the heat on.   

Saturday, December 11, 2010

And I thought yeterday was intense

I woke to grey skies today, and a howling wind outside. 

Then the storm showed up.  It has been blowing so hard that I can hear the patio furniture sliding around the deck above me from our office on the 5th floor.  When I went up to inspect, the sliding glass doors were flexing in the wind, some patio chairs had been flipped right over, and others were across the deck piled on top of each other.  The grill cover had blown clear off, and the plastic lid on the top of our recycle bin cracked clear away.  I went out and tucked a few things away between gusts, wondering if I might blow off the balcony in the process. 

I feel helpless watching my poor fruit trees struggle to keep their leaves.  I'm sure glad I have them all tied to the rail!

Usually our view of the Mediteranean Sea is calm and blue.  There are breakers that make the beaches calm, shallow, and crystal clear.  I'm not venturing to the beach until this storm dies down, but I can see from here how wild it is.  White caps are everywhere, and they are crashing way over the top of the breakers. 

Oh, and remember all that construction going on around us with the large swing-arm cranes?  Well, the one three blocks up the street from us is spinning in the wind like a flimsy weathervane!

Batten down the hatches guys!  It's a doozy.  Glad I have a bunker to retreat to.  ;)

Friday, December 10, 2010

A fleeting storm

They said it was coming, but I wasn't convinced.  A few minutes ago, it showed though!  Weather seems to come in extremes here, no matter what weather it is.  I heard the rain, saw the lightening, and then came thunder that put New England storms to shame!  As the chest-shaking rattle died down, the cries of the young children in nearby apartments picked up volume.  (We have a daycare nearby, as identified by the daily squeals of playtime, although I haven't actually seen it).  After four crashing rounds, and about 10 minutes of good rain, it's over.  Skies are clearing, and we may have sunshine again like we did earlier this morning.  It's a week late (could have used rain in the Carmel Forest last Friday), but I'll take it! 
Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain! (since snow is out of the question).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Coming "home" - take 2

This is the second time I've come "home" to Tel Aviv.  This time, it felt like I really was returning home.  I was looking forward to it.  It felt familiar.  I think a big part of that has to do with having our own space in a functional state now.  It's amazing how comforting it is knowing you're going home to your own bed, and having access to a few basic familiar things.

The grocery store, while still a challenge to find first-time purchase items like ricotta and lasagne noodles (yes, I made lasagne), is getting a little easier each time.   At the bulk counter, when my Hebrew was too limited to help me explain that I was looking for salted pumpkin seeds, they sent over a nice older gentleman who it turns out lived in Boston for a while, helping his brother run Rami's in Coolidge Corner and Framingham. 

I also stopped by the little shop where my sewing machine was getting fixed.  The repairman spoke English with me, and was quick and efficient.  When I left, a friendly Israeli stopped me to tell me that the plastic strip under the front of my car was dragging on the ground (thanks to the high curbs in the grocery store lot) and he even got on the ground to try to fix it for me.  It was a nice reminder of the potential value that this type of culture can provide.  The best way to describe the culture here may be through the words of an Ulpan colleague from Chicago.  He said that one of the reasons he loves coming to Israel is the connection and sense of community he gets from the people around him here.  I think this can still sometimes be found in small towns in the U.S., especially where there is relative stability and/or longevity in the population.  But it comes from a traditional European sense of family.  It seems that a communal sense of living has held on more strongly with the immigration to Israel, likely due to the recency of the process, as compared to the cultural changes that have occurred in the U.S. over the last 12+ generations of immigration there.  As someone from one of the most individualistic areas of the U.S. with family immigration having occurred between 3-12 generations ago, I still find aspects of this communal cultural behavior uncomfortable, such as the lack of appreciation for personal space.  But this time, I was pleasantly surprised by experiencing the positives, without the discomfort of the corresponding negatives. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Forest fire in Haifa

On the news last night we learned that northern Israel is experiencing one of the great dangers of long dry spells - a forest fire.  International aid is coming in from all over, including Britain, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, France, Croatia, Russia, Spain, Romania and a NYC Fire Department plane. 

While it has rained here in Thailand (right) so much this season that they are having some of their worst flooding on record, Israel had one of their hottest, dryest summers ever, with negligible rain for the past six months.  Maybe we can bring the rain clouds home with us, and help out both countries in the process.