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Blood Diamond

I consider myself to be socially conscious. I have been an active member of Amnesty International for the last 10 years or so, I try to pay attention to what’s going on in the world, and I make an effort to put my money where my mouth is. But, even I succommed to the diamond industry. Alex and I dated for about 7 years before we decided to get engaged, during that time I swore that not only would I never get married (who needs that piece of paper?) but that I would never buy a diamond engagement ring.

lucida.jpg

The whole never getting married idea changed pretty quickly when we moved to Munich and I realized that we had no legal ties to each other and if something should ever happen, we basically have no rights. That said, as soon as we decided to get engaged I suddenly developed an all-encompasing lust for the perfect solitare engagement ring. I can’t quite explain how it happened. I knew all about conflict diamonds, but something inside of me decided I wanted a ring. A diamond ring. And thus, my beautiful Tiffany Lucida solitare was bought. At the price of about 2 months wages with a hefty extra month’s worth of tax plopped on top for the privelage of buying the ring in Germany. Now, I did go through an intensive interrogation with the somewhat sullen saleslady regarding the origin of my diamond, it’s certificate of authenticity, and serial number, just to make absolutely certian that I was not participating in the horrid exploitation of so many innocent people.

Sadly, I have now come to realize that there is absolutely no way to know if your diamond is a conflict diamond or not thanks to the fantastic movie, Blood Diamond. If you haven’t had the chance to see it yet, go! I hate to admit that sometimes it takes a Hollywood version of a tradgedy to make it real, but it’s true. After leaving the theater I was embarrased to have my wedding ring on my finger. I know I tried my best to ensure that it was not part of this nightmare reality, but in the end, I don’t think that makes a speck of difference.

Amnesty International and Global Witness have started a joint campaign to fight against conflict diamonds based around the film:

“Global Witness and Amnesty International are supporting the film, Blood Diamond, as an important way to raise awareness about how diamonds can fuel conflict. We hope that as a result of the movie, people will ask more questions before buying a diamond, and that the industry will take action to make sure companies can provide consumers with adequate assurances that the diamonds they sell are conflict-free.”

I am so thankful that movies like this are becoming more and more common – and becoming widely recognized at awards events that traditionally honored, shall we say, less educational films. Last year The Constant Gardener, and now Blood Diamond. I think Hollywood is finally on the right track.

I participate in a book club here in KL and this week we discussed one of my favorite new reads: The World is Flat. During our conversation we talked about globalization (of course) and the need for “global corporations” to have some sort of moral watchdog or code of ethics. I think, I hope, that movies like this can educate the public to be more aware of what is happening in the world and how our consumer desires can literaly destroy entire countries. I’m certainly not perfect, and clearly I am also a sucker for media-hyped temptation, but what’s that G.I. Joe says? “Knowing is half the battle.”

Image 1 from: http://z001.ig.com.br/ig/55/36/142820/blig/amodiamantes/imagens/lucida_shopping.jpg
Image 2 from: http://www.popmatters.com/images/news_art/b/blood-diamond-poster.jpg

Photo Hunt: Silver

As a child of the 80’s I share a true and deep love for all things silvery and shiny. It is therefore with great pleasure that I present to you a selection of silver themed pictures from our recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnam (click on each picture for a larger version – except for the first one, sorry, it slipped through the cracks when I did my website update a few weeks ago).

My first, and best silver-related discovery was the religious offerings (I think) street of the Old Quarter, Hanoi:

tinselshop.JPG

Tinsel fluttering from every shop, shiny objects hanging out into the street, glinting and glittering in the sun. Ah, yes, shiny metal attracts raccoons, cats, and me. You know I just had to get up close and personal with the tinsel while we were there:

Of course, we also walked through tin-street – a silver wonderland:

And, Hardware Ave – a treasure trove of shiny new tools:

Lastly, we enjoyed the silvery light of the cloud covered sky on beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake:

Just call me Dr.

caduceus.gifI have a lot of respect for doctors, I really do, but I’m getting pretty good at some serious self-diagnosing over here. I know you’re never, ever supposed to self-diagonose, but frankly, I’m the only one inside my body, right? So, therefore, I would know the absolute most about how I feel compared to other times when I’ve felt this way, right? And, then of course, there’s the little problem of when the good old doctors don’t really listen. Let me tell you a short story:

I have Beta Thalessemia Minor, which is bascially a Mediteranian form of anemia which actually protects you against Malaria. The long and the short of it is that I have an iron deficiency in my blood, but that I can’t take iron suppliments because it can ultimately end up building up in my body causing iron poisoning. It doesn’t affect my daily life at all and it’s not life-threatening. I can end up extra tired some days if my iron is really low, but that’s pretty much it.

Anyway, the reason I explain all this is that the year after I graduated from university I started going to a new doctor (due to my new job with my new health plan). After my first visit I had a standard blood test and the doctor informed me that I should be taking iron suppliments for my low iron level. I explained about the Beta Thalessemia and he shared that he had never heard of it and he would have to look it up in his medical journals. Fair enough.

A month later I went back to the doctor for an unrelated incident. Waiting for me at the counter was a prescription for iron suppliments with a note berating me for not taking them already. I explained again about the Beta Thalessemia and he promised to look it up.

And, again (you knew it was coming) I went back for my (final) visit on another unrelated issue about 2 or 3 months later. And, again he told me I should be taking iron suppliments. Thankfully, that was the last time I used that doctor.

I have quite a few other stories like this, mostly about me knowing I have strep throat and the doctor denying it, and then, a few days later, me going back (sadly) triumphant with a giant white pussball in the back of my throat and a raging case of strep to “confirm” that I did, indeed, have strep throat and could therefore qualify for some antibiotics. This happens a lot to me. I know when I’m getting strep throat. And, incidentally, I also know when I’m getting an ear infection, which happend this past weekend. Thankfully I waited long enough before going to the doctor this time that I actually had a full on ear infection when I went, so I got my ear drops (what, am I dog or something?) right away.

So, there you have it: I might as well be my own doctor.

Image 1: http://www.american.edu/cas/images/caduceus.gif
Image 2: http://science.uwe.ac.uk/research/uploads/CRIB_blood_cells.jpg
Image 3: http://www.ezmedicaloffice.com/images/screen_shots/Prescription.gif
Image 3: http://www.vvh.org/healthinfo/images_healthinfo/streplg.gif

I like to pride myself on my many misadventures. As Alex often notes, I tend to do things without always thinking them through – especially when crossing the steet. I have a special way that I just saunter across the street, always walking in a diagonal path because it’s usually the shortest route to my destination (even if it’s not the safest). But aside from my lacadasical street crossing attitude (which, by the way worked especially well in the Old Quarter of Hanoi), I would have to say that I have one “stupid” incident that I’m most proud of – it involves my first car (pictured above) and my most prized possession: Chapstick.

When I was a senior in high school I was driving to school, late of course, and just at the corner of the teeny tiny road that my parents live off of, there is a Y-intersection. I wasn’t quite paying attention to the road because I was reaching for my chapstick, which had rolled off the dashboard onto the floor on the passenger side. Thankfully I was slowing down to a stop when I reached just a little too far to the right and tugged the steering wheel with my other hand – which swerved the entire car right into a large, sharp rock that jutted out from the right side of the street. I totally dented the passenger side door (did I mention that I was driving my parents car?) and had to turn back around to have my dad check out the damage before I could head back to school. All because I needed to reapply some chapstick. I must confess, I am still completely addicted to chapstick (mostly the medicated kind in the blue tube, but occassionally the original in the black tube) and I would probably make the same mistake again if that little tube was just out of reach…

What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?

Image from: http://www.beautydirect.co.nz/product_images/chapstick.jpg

Photo Hunt: Wild

canopy.jpg

One of the best things about living in Malaysia is being in the midst of the wild jungle basically everywhere you go. We can see the jungle from our balcony, monkeys are always scampering about, and we can always hear the chirping of exotic birds in the tall, graceful trees in our neighborhood. Kuala Lumpur is not so wild, but we are not far from the rainforest. We have taken several hiking trips out in the jungle, and one of my favorite places is the “wow” spot pictured above. Looking straight up, you can see the roof of the rainforest canopy, with each individual leaf spread out to catch the light. It’s truly beautiful – and wild.

The Highlights: Vietnam

Where to start? Vietnam was amazing. I know that sounds so cliche, and couldn’t I really think of something more insightful to say, but honestly it was like nowhere I have ever been. I’ve never been to China or India, but I kind of imagine Hanoi to be a south east Asian cross between China and India. I think part of the reason I have that impression is because I was expecting Hanoi to be much more like Bangkok or KL than it was. Hanoi is still very much a developing city, as Vietnam is still a developing country. I think there is often a risk to expect major cities in the same region to all be alike, but each country clearly has it’s own unique history that shapes it’s cities. And Hanoi, well, all of Vietnam, was one of those unsuspected gems.

I think I’ll begin with a brief overview of our trip (more details to follow in upcoming posts, of course, and you can see more pictures here):

Frankly, I would not really consider KL to be a tourist paradise. It is an absolutely wonderful place to live, and I could not be happier living here, but I wouldn’t quite know what to do here if I was just visiting the city. So, I kind of expected the same thing with Hanoi. Not so, my friends, not so. There is so much to see just by walking around. We spent an entire day just walking the streets of the Old Quarter because it was just so interesting – and if we had more time, we would have spent another day!

After two days in Hanoi we took a 3 day, 2 night trip to Ha Long Bay. It was unbelieveable. I had seen pictures and recently watched the episode of the Amazing Race that takes place on the Bay, but nothing really prepared me for the calmness and expansiveness of the bay. I have seen limestone islands before in Thailand and here in Malaysia, but nothing on the scale of Ha Long Bay. Our tour guide explained that there are around 1000 tiny islands in the whole region (only part of which is Ha Long Bay) and we were only going to have time (in our 3 days on the boat) to see about 400. 400. And that’s only about 2/3rds of the islands (I know, my math is a bit shaky). It was truly beautiful.

The day after we returned from Ha Long Bay, we took a wonderful biking tour of an ancient town about an hour outside of Hanoi called Duong Lam. I think both Alex and I would agree that this was the best day of our whole trip. We were in one of those situations where we were some of the first foriegners anyone in the village had ever seen. We had a tour guide from Hanoi, but even she needed a guide once we got there, so we also had a local guide (as pictured here). He was fantastic! Look how proud he is to have his picture taken! He was so excited when I showed him on the camera. He kept pointing to sights, to himself, and to my camera – and thus, another picture was taken.

From Hanoi, we flew down to Hoi An, which was my second favorite (oh, it’s so hard to classify. I’m not really sure about that) part of the trip. Hoi An was so quaint and beautiful and relaxing. It was such a change of pace from the frenetic lifestyle of Hanoi. I got a slew of clothing tailored for me, including some beautiful Ao Dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress). We spent our three days in Hoi An just wandering around the old town (a UNESCO world heritage site, but what isn’t these days?) shopping, eating and meeting up with friends (all our buddies from the Ha Long Bay boat were in Hoi An at the same time, and, of course, we ran into some colleagues from school that were also vacationing in Vietnam). It was definitely the most relaxing part of our trip.

Finally we ended up in Hue. Unfortunately I did not see one thing (aside from the hotel room) the entire 3 days we were there because I came down with the absolute worst food poisoning I have ever had in my life on the first night. For some reason I had a craving for Italian food (I know, not the right choice in Vietnam) so we went to a nearby Italian restaurant. Everything tasted pretty good, considering we were not in Europe, but the toilet roller coaster began only a few short hours later. After the first incident Alex just slept through the rest of the 14 hours of my vomiting every 15 minutes. By the next morning my back was in so much pain from the repeated lurching to the toilet and hurling that, even if I had been feeling OK, I couldn’t get out of bed. And that continued for the next 2 days. It was a blast, let me tell you. Thankfully, I’m back to full health now. What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger, right?

And from Hue we fly back to Hanoi, and back to KL. Thankfully our flight back to KL was delayed (can you guess what airline we were flying?), so even though we had somewhat of a tight connection between the Hue-Hanoi flight and our departure to KL, we had plenty of time to lounge around the airport between flights. We even got to buy some Haribo gummi colas (my favorite) in the airport.

And that was our trip. It ranks pretty high on my list of best trips ever and we will definitely be back to Vietnam. Next time: to the South!