Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sampling and Samples

Day 001 – July 23, 2011

Landing in and starting to live in a foreign country where one does not know the language or culture can be a rather stressful affair.

(If you would like to read more profound declarations by the author, please sample “The sun rises in the east” and “China is a large country located in Asia”)

Thankfully, my wife’s work has a program in her office where a co-worker is designated as the Work Sponsor to help the new arrival and family become acclimated to the area and to ensure a smooth (or, at the least, “relatively smooth”) transition to the new locale. Our Work Sponsors were the O’Ryans, Marcus and Elizabeth, and they took time out of their free Saturday to help us go shopping so that we could stock up our new house and to show us the ropes about how one shops in Lima.

However, before that grand shopping adventure could commence, lunch was on the menu.

Being an atypical American, I wanted to sample some food of a local flavor. Being a typical American, I didn’t want to stray too far from my edible comfort zone. Luckily, near the market we were going to visit was a happy compromise…Peruvian hamburgers courtesy of Bembos.

Sign for Bembos

Gimme a B...gimme an E...

(ASIDE: For those in the States who think that this Peruvian chain sounds like the slang name for a ditzy and attractive woman, that name is already taken by a Mexican bakery conglomerate.)

Bembos appears like any other fast-food hamburger establishment (brightly lit, menus above eye level, counters, staff wearing loud colors), but the selections are of a local flavor. The Mexican hamburger comes with tortilla chips between the buns. The Bembos Huachana contains eggs, potatoes, mayonnaise, huacho sausage, hamburger and lettuce.

Yes, an egg. Poached, I believe.

I went with the Bembos Criolla which has fried sliced ​​potatoes, Creole sauce, lettuce and mayonnaise.

It was not my choice of burger that introduced me to a new taste sensation. Instead, it was a tiny packet of sauce that I took for my papas fritas (French fries) suggested to me by the O’Ryans.

This type of sauce is called aji and it is a tangy, spicy, orange-colored sauce. It is more flavorful than ketchup and more robust than mustard, yet less spicy that jalapeno. This is exactly the type of new food flavor that I was looking for in this whole Peruvian adventure – and thankfully, it would not be the last.

My other new find is Inca Kola…but my reaction to it can wait for another post.

With lunch done, it was time to shop and our place to go was a local shopping market. Again, just like the thought I had when entering the terminal at Jorge Chavez International Airport, I wasn’t quite sure what I expected when I entered this suburban Lima grocery store, but it was similar to any Kroger’s, Ralph’s, Shopper’s Food Warehouse, or [insert your local supermarket here] to be found in the States.

Bright, clean aisles filled with a wide variety of foodstuffs, cleaning products, and produce greeted us and the O’Ryans and us began our quest for all the things we would need for the house.

Despite the similarities, I would like to point out one difference between this local shopping establishment and any up north in the Lower 48 (I can’t speak for Hawaii and Alaska). Back home, at Costco for example, people would give out samples (and anything with cheese on it was my favorite) but they would be standing behind a small counter. Here, the women (and they are all young women) would be standing in the aisles holding trays of their promoted products. They would come up to you and ask if you would like to sample their wares. Even when we were checking out, the Scotch-Brite woman kept asking us to feel her sponge. A further difference to mentally take note of is that these women are wearing an outfit that has the logo and color scheme of their advertised samples, which sort of made them look like tiny NASCAR drivers.

We sent the kids at staggered intervals to the Splenda woman because my wife loves her coffee sweetener and free always tastes better.

END NOTE: To finish off our dining experience for our first full day in Peru, we had dinner at Pizza Hut. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Not in Hot Water

Day 001 – July 23, 2011

As promised at the end of this post (previously on Sin Polaris), here is the story of our first shower in Lima, Peru.

NOTE: The following story is rated “G” for all audience members

When preparing to get our three children ready for their morning wash, I inspected the showers and using the little Spanish I do have at my command, I grabbed the knob labelled “C” and turned it clockwise.

For you see, dear reader, I was using my smarts and I knew that “C” stood for caliente, which is Spanish for “hot”. A few minutes later, I was not feeling as smart as the water that issued forth from the shower nozzle was still as cold as a polar bear’s nose.

‘Twas only then that I noticed that the other knob in the shower in my boys’ bathroom was labelled “H”. Sigh!

Yes, even though I was in a Spanish-speaking country, the faucet knobs were still labelled using the English “H” for “hot” and “C” for “cold”. A quick counter-clockswise turn of the “C” handle and a similarly quick clockwise turn of the “H” knob…

…still provided absolutely no hot water even after five minutes of wishing really hard to the Agua Fairy.

Liquid of an Arctic origin was likewise only issuing forth from my daughter’s showerhead and all seemed destined for a frigid showery morning until we quickly discovered that the shower in the master bathroom provided water that registered above 20 degrees (and in honor of our host country, I am using the metric temperature scale named for Anders Celsius…for a conversion, go here).

One shower…five people…this promised to be a long stay in Peru if this matter was not resolved soon. Sigh redux!


Since we are on the subjects of bathrooms and because I am an American living abroad, please let me be the 3,336,126th person to joke about the type of water closet hardware found in most parts of the world, but not in the USA…the bidet.

Bidet One

It's a planter...

Bidet Shot Two

...or a stylish magazine rack...

Really stereotypical joke about bidet

...or perhaps a refreshing fountain.

Trust me folks, the jokes don’t get any better.

Push the Button

Day 001 – July 23, 2011

I can only surmise that our house was once owned by an evil genius (from SPECTRE or KAOS perhaps?) because it appears that our Lima abode is equipped with a self-destruct mechanism.

Outside our kitchen and next to our phone is a large red button that has the word “PARADA” written above it as seen in the helpful attached image below…

Parada Button

This is not in our owner's manual

As I have mentioned before (see Disclaimer No. 2), my Spanish is horrible, but my lovely wife (and backed up by Google Translate) told me that parada means “stop”.

However, my next question is, “What am I stopping?” Does pushing this button stop the gas? the electricity? the phone? the water? a horde of stampeding capybaras?

I am curious beyond despair to push this button and find out what happens…except, of course, that my fear of the unknown trumps my curiosity and so the button remains untouched.

This is the same feeling I have when I think about attempting to communicate in Spanish with anyone else in the city. I realize I am in a place and a neighborhood that does not see many tourists. This means I cannot expect English to be spoken around here. When I vacationed in certain parts of Mexico that catered to tourists, I knew I could always expect some local vendor to speak English. It was a lifeline and I was happy for it. This is not the case here and I will have to deal with it.

My largest fear of speaking a language that I can barely command is the two-fold dread of…
a) sounding and looking like an idiot as I use the wrong verb tense or stammer as I search for the correct word and;
b) causing an international (or even semi-local) incident because I used a completely inappropriate and incorrect word.

I can see the button in front of me and I can take one of two paths. I can either…
y) not press the button and always be curious or;
z) press the button and deal with the consequences.

My gut tells me to parada, but then again, in the words of Ms. Frizzle, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”

I’ll deal with the capybaras as they come.



I have pushed the metaphorical button.

So far, there has only been one humorous incident of a misplaced word (and of course I shall share it).

I was at a store buying clothes for our children and I needed socks. I approached a clerk and asked, in my halting Spanish, “Tienes calzones?” The clerk looked at me a little askew and then took me over to the undergarments section, because I had used the word for “underwear”, when I meant to say calcetines.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t looking for a comb. For those of you who know your Spanish, you know that there is only an accented syllable difference the word for “comb” and the word for…er, how to put this…the “male member” (ahem).

The real button outside of our kitchen remains untouched. I am conquering my fears one at a time.

Raving About Dishes

Day 001 – July 23, 2011

I wish I could tell you that our first night in Lima was a restful one, but that would be a lie. If you’ve read the About section in this yonder blog, you already know that I will only lie about two things: my name and the fact that the monkey does not make across the gap.

The glorious reason why the wife and I did not sleep well on our inaugural noche is because one of our neighbors (I was never sure which one because sound waves echo and bounce around like pachinko balls with all the brick and concrete that make up the houses around here) was holding a dance party / rave / sound system demonstration that lasted until (I kid thee not) 6:00am.

Let me now read to you from page 16 of the Housing Handbook given to us by my wife’s employer…

Lima is a noisy place…Noise abatement laws vary slightly depending on the part of the city, but all are extremely weak. At night, there are established quiet hours after which there is supposed to be no noise, but fines are reportedly so light that organizers are happy to pay them in order to continue the party.

If this is what every weekend (or Heaven forbid…every night) holds for us, this is going to be a long (and tiring) ### years.

Now perhaps you are wondering, like I was at about 3:36am, why couldn’t I simply shut the windows and drown out some if not all of the trilling melodies assaulting our eardrums. The simple reason was that I couldn’t because in our new dwelling, the windows cannot close. Through an amazing architectural and design decision made by someone, all of the windows are either…

…simple vertical slats that do not, when placed in the closed position, form a complete seal, or;
…hinged planes of glass that also, when “closed”, do not form a complete seal.

Here…look for yourself (and marvel at my ability to post an image into a blog…tremble, darn it!).

The windows of our house

Windows that do not close

These panes of glass are, to me, malfunctioning windows [insert your own Bill Gates / Microsoft joke here]. These “holes in the wall covered by glass” would never work in the climes of Northern Virginia (from whence the family and I came) because it gets cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and these types of ventanas would let all the good temperature out and the wrong climate in. However, here in Peru, where the mercury rarely dips below 60 or travels north of 80, the concept of insulation is not known to the Peruvian home-builder (and here I invoke Disclaimer No. 1).


When the music finally stopped and we are able to grab a few hours of sleep, we awoke on Saturday and tackled our first decision of the day…what to have for breakfast. Now, if this was some foodie-and-travel blog, I would tell you what we had, how to prepare it, and even post some FAB photos of it complete with creative lighting and maybe even a well-placed fork.

This is not that type of blog so I am moving on to the post-meal activity and my first shocking discovery about the life that awaits me in Peru. After the meal, I begin my task of clearing the table and carting the dirty dishes and silverware to the sink to begin the process of lightly dusting them water and placing them in the dishwasher.

I said…”placing them in the dishwasher”…but THERE IS NO DISHWASHER!

Yes, the dishes would have to be done the old-fashioned way. It has been a long time since I have washed dishes by hand. In fact, the time frame I’m speaking of is “never”. I have always had a dishwasher in the kitchen, even in the run-down building posing as an apartment I rented when I was a senior in college, so I had no idea how to do this.

This is where television saves the day. I thought back to all the times I saw Barbara Billingsley, Ann B. Davis, Marla Gibbs, or some housewife in a commercial wash dishes. I imagined how they filled up one side of the sink with hot soapy water and the other with cold. A dish would go into the hot suds and have all of the foodstuffs sponged off followed by a dunking in the cold H2O to rinse off all the soap. Once the rhythm is established, it becomes sort of a Zen-like state…

…which quickly is broken when it dawns on me, as the flotsam and jetsam of our breakfast piles up in the sink, that THERE IS NO GARBAGE DISPOSAL (my second shocking discovery)! What the Sam-Dickens am I going to do with the pile of garbage that is slowly accumulating in the sink? It seems quite inefficient to haul the garbage can over to the sink every time I do the dishes but I stand perplexed and paralyzed by my dilemma until my wife steps in with a solution from her past. Her family had a maid when she was growing up and she saw that the maid would place a small plastic bag by the faucet and she would drop all the detritus from the meal into that bag, like so…

Mini-Garbage for the sink

Still Life With Plastic Bag, Sink, and Pineapple

Learn something new every day, I do.

With that situation resolved, it was time to go from washing the dishes to washing ourselves with a refreshing shower, but that’s a story I can dish out later.

The Circle of Death

Day 000 – July 22, 2011

After leaving the airport, we drive to our house through the heart of Lima. While my watch reads 22:30, my body clock, courtesy of the travel and stress, has reached its limit. While one of my wife’s co-workers is chatting about this street or that building or this tidbit of life in Lima, my mind is fuzzy.

However, upon hearing the word “death”, the circuit breakers in my brain spark to life and ask the woman riding shotgun to repeat what she said.

We were in a roundabout and she said that while the official name of this parcel of road is “Ovalo Monitor“, the unofficial name is “The Circle of Death”.

With a circle of asphalt spanning four lanes and entry and exit points at the cardinal directions, the cars fly through this roundabout fast and furious…and there are no traffic signals so it becomes a free-for-all when the roads are full.

As we drive through Ovalo Monitor late on a Friday night, the traffic is light and this seems more like a “Circle of Mild-Grade Fever” than its more morbid moniker.

Once our mini-van arrives in a month or two, I know I will be forced into this roundabout soon to drive around Lima on various errands and we’ll see if the nickname lives up to the hype. Until then, I am content to let someone else do the driving because there is a house I have never viewed, a bed I have never seen, and a fuzzy future I can dimly view all waiting for me.



A seasoned world traveller I met at a lunch last week told me that every major city has its version of the “Circle of Death” and that Lima’s version in the Monterrico neighborhood is nothing out of the ordinary.

I have it on my “List of Things to Research” to find out who is the Monitor this roundabout is named for.

For the time being, I have only been driven through Ovalo Monitor in taxi cabs by drivers who either have nerves of ice water or an extrasensory perception of what all the other drivers on this road because for all the chaos and confusion of cars speeding by and weaving through each other, I still have yet to see an accident.

May the saints smile on me when I take the plunge in our own car on this oval as I am not so much worried about hitting someone, but I know it will take all my willpower to drive that road and NOT say, “Look kids, Big Ben…Parliament!

Scenes From an Airport

Day 000 – July 22, 2011

At 9:09pm local time (or 2109 for those, like me, who enjoy their time using the 24-hour clock), our plane touched the tarmac at Jorge Chavez International Airport and we were now semiofficially in the country in Peru.

It was oddly comforting to know that even though the family and I were in foreign country, some customs appear to be universal for as soon as the plane parked at the jetway, the “Wejusts” appeared.

The “Wejusts” are the name I give to the people who, as soon as the plane stops, whip out their cellular phones, call up their buddies, and say “We just arrived…” or “We just landed…” or “We just got here…”.

We de-planed and walked down the jetway and I entered…almost every other airport terminal for a major city I have been to in life. I’m really not sure what I was expected (llamas? alpacas? chickens? Please see Disclaimer No. 1), but I really should not have been surprised by this modern terminal that serves a city of almost 9 million people.

I did have my first taste of what living in Spanish-speaking country would mean for me for when I walked around the terminal to find the baggage area, a large majority of the billboards were in Spanish. This did not affect me that much as I have lived in Southern California for a large part of my youth and am used to this experience. However, I could feel the tranlsation-engine in my brain begin to clear out the cobwebs and prime its engine. It would soon be getting a large workout.

Coming out of the jetway, our family was greeted by two co-workers of my wife who were to greet us, meet us, and drive us to our house. The gentleman was holding up a sign that had our last name on it, but it was misspelled as an “A” was in place of the “E”.

More on this in a later posting, but that vowel switching would be the least of our problems concerning our last name.

Digression: The funniest “waiting” sign I ever saw was when I came off of a plane in Boise, Idaho (which probably was the type of terminal I was expecting when de-planing in Lima). As I came through the jetway’s door and into the terminal, I saw a cardboard cutout of a chauffeur with white gloves and driver’s cap. He was holding a sign that simply said….


It still makes me chuckle.

Back in Lima, we stopped at the baggage carousel and did the “wait-and-pray”, but it was not needed as yet another of my wife’s airline-elite-status perks kicked in and all of our eleven bags were given “Priority” stickers and were some of the first ones off the plane. We had all our bags in under fifteen minutes.

After a wait in line, we presented our passports to the kind-looking and smiling immigration agent. All our papers were in order, our books were stamped, and we were given a quiet “Bienvenidos” by the agent.

We were now officially in Peru.

The Joys of Travel

Day 000 – July 22, 2011

As opposed to my cynical answer to the title of my previous post, there were actually some joys to the 9+ hour trip from Reagan National Airport to Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chavez.

This was a revelation to me because I despise flying. From the hopping around to take off my shoes at the scanner (the Richard Reid Memorial Dance), to the cattle-call of passengers to the gate when the flight is called, to the stagnant recycled air in the cabin, to the turbulence, and to the waiting and praying as you stand at the luggage carousel hoping that beige bag is yours, I hate flying.

Add to all that the fact that I am not sure why Bernoulli’s Principle works and so I often think that my flight will be the one where Nature decides, “Yeah, I think today I’ll cancel the laws of that principle just to screw with people” and you can see why flying fills me with dread.

However, with that all said, there were some high points to today’s flight. In no particular order…

One) We did not have to pay extra for the extra suitcase we brought on the flight with us. That was a nice bonus and it shows why it helps to have a spouse who is a member of the airline’s elite club so we can enjoy perks like that.

Two) The plane had video screens with movies-on-demand and video games to entertain our three children. We had come loaded for bear on the flight with two DVD players, over half a dozen new movies, and a spare battery to get us through the flight. So you can sense that our relief was palpable when we saw the screens. Our boys watched the first Transformers movie while our seven-year-old watched reruns of Disney Channel shows. My middle child shows an above-normal interest in the video casino and especially for craps – mainly because I think he liked to say the name without getting into trouble.

I watched the movie Paul. The constant references to Steven Spielberg were cute (how many noticed the movie theater in the town was showing Duel?), but not enough to make a movie. Just my $0.02.

Three) Walking outside the airport in Lima and basking in the 65-degree night. Considered we came from a place where the mercury was over 100 degrees (and Dulles Airport even recorded a high temp of 105 for July 22), it was absolute sheer bliss to walk into a cooler clime. (Yes, technically, this third item was not a joy of travel itself, but sometimes the destination can be joy itself)

Bienvenidos a Peru. Let the adventure begin.

The Joys of Moving

Day 000 – July 22, 2011

The short reply to my choice of title is that there are no joys of moving. Moving can only be described as one of four settings: “Hell”, “quasi-Hell”, “Purgatory”, and “southern Utah” (Mental Note: Share that story for another post).

Your mileage may differ, but my recent moving experiences have all been complicated by “The Last Five Percent”. The last few weeks have seen this phenomenon come to bite me in the tuchus yet again. Here’s how it works…

When we first received the schedule from our moving company for when they would come to pack all our belongings for our sojourn to Peru, we found out we would have to sort our stuff into four piles:

1) Items to be stored in a warehouse in the States. These are items that we would not need for the next ### years we are in Lima. This was known as Storage.
2) Items that we would like in Lima, but did not need for 2-3 months. This was known as the Boat Shipment (BoSh).
3) Items that we would like in Lima and would need in 2-3 weeks. This was known as the Air Shipment (AiSh)
4) Items that we would like in Lima and that we would need upon arrival. This was known as Luggage.

During sorting, we quickly saw the rise of a fifth pile: CWNLN, which is not a very handy acronym for Crap We No Longer Needed, so we shortened our word for it and simply called it “Trash”.

After piles were made, yard sales were had, donations were given to charity, and boxes were readied, Day One (of three) of the Pack-Out arrived and 70% of our belongings went into either the Storage pile or the Trash pile.

(Aside: It was astounding to me to see just HOW MUCH stuff one can accumulate and how much of it, when push comes to shove, can be so casually tossed out.)

Days Two and Three saw the packing and carting away of the AiSh and BoSh piles which constituted 20% of our belongings.

The day before our flight left was spent packing away our Luggage pile into ten suitcases and five carry-on pieces of luggage. That accounted for 5% of the stuff we owned.

For those of you who have been playing along with a calculator realize that I have only accounted for 95% of the stuff in our house. As my wife and I surveyed our home, there was a variety of items strewn about the rooms, closets, drawers, nooks, and crannies of our abode that we had forgotten to pack in Storage, BoSh, AiSh, but these were items that could not be thrown away.

Since we were renting out our house, we couldn’t leave the items there so we had 24 hours to remove that Last Five Percent. Not the way I wanted to spend my last days in the States.

In the end, it was done through a variety of means including having my wife’s sister come and take all the cleaning supplies away, storing items with my wife’s parents, giving items away to neighbors, and decided (reluctantly) that some items just needed to be thrown out. All in all, and like I said, dealing with the stress of the Last Five Percent was a pain in the nalgitas (Spanish for tuchus).

We also reserved a small corner of our unfinished basement for a few items that fit none of the above categories in the paragraph above and we told our tenants about it. Hope they understand, but I simply could not part with my framed Seurat poster from the Art Institute of Chicago which I had forgotten was in the garage.

With our life in (not-so-) tiny little boxes, we boarded a plane to Newark and then to Lima.

Why The Title

Day xxx – Introduction (Part 3)

As you have no doubt noticed, the title of this here blog is “Sin Polaris”.

Why that title?

Sin Polaris means “without the Pole Star” and in the literal sense this is true for me because as I now live south of the Equator (in Lima, Peru), I can no longer see the North Star that I have known for the forty-two years I have been around. Early mariners of the Northern Hemisphere always knew where north was during their nighttime voyages, so they knew how to find the other cardinal directions, and thus home. Once a ship sailed south of the Equator, those on board could no longer see Polaris and were capable of being lost.

In a metaphorical sense, I am like those navigators of old as I have travelled and lost my pole star.

The family and I have moved to Lima (nickname: The City of Kings) in late July to help my wife pursue a fabulous opporunity for her career and to give our three children the amazing chance to experince a new culture.

As for me, I left my job of seven years and my career of sixteen to help make this dream true. For the first time since 1992, I am without a job.

I am unemployed. I’m in a country I have never been before. I don’t speak the language. I’m the primary care-giver for our kids.

I am wondering what the next few years will bring.

I am looking for a purpose. I am looking for a new pole star to guide me.

I am sin Polaris.

Disclaimer No. 2

Day xxx – Introduction (Part 2)

This is the second of two disclaimers (the first of which can be found here).

While discussing and writing life in Peru, I will, at times, use the local language, which happens to be Spanish, in my writings.

You should be aware that my Spanish is not great, it’s not good, and it’s not even mediocre. It’s miserable so please take any translation I make with a grain of salt. I will write about the attempts I make to engage people using my horrible Spanish and I will make note of items I have read in the local newspapers. Please forgive me if my translation is not on the mark as my command of the language (and my ability to use Google Translate) is limited.