Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Archive for December 2009

Surabaya

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I finally made it to Indonesia! Although, I am never flying Silk Air again. When I got to the Surabaya Airport and received the Visa on Arrival, I saw that they did not need a full length visa page in my passport at all. The visa was not even attached when they handed me back my passport. What a crock of sh*t! Oh well, it’s over with so there’s no point in dwelling.

I was welcomed by my Auntie Jeanie, who was holding up a sign with my English name on it upon arriving. We loaded up her SUV and immediately drove to one of her in-laws or relatives’ new home for a “house blessing” party. The spread on the table in the middle of the dining room was incredible. So many different and colorful dishes that I had never seen before. I especially loved the spiced fish steamed in banana leaves. I think it was called ikan pepes.

My auntie and her daughter, Annie, both speak Bahasa Indonesian, as they have lived in this country for most of their lives. Auntie and I communicated over the last two days via broken Mandarin, Cantonese, and some English. Annie speaks fluent English and is the 29-year old mother of these three adorably well-behaved boys, all between the ages of 20-months and 5 years. She ‘s kind of that hip young mom that most women want to be but have a hard time becoming. All I know is, when (or if) I have a couple of kids, I would not mind having her figure, nor her even-keeled temper…

Yesterday, Annie took me to a mosque with Chinese-style architecture, the Masjid Cheng Ho. We drove around Surabaya and stopped to eat some great food throughout the day. One of her cousins owns this “yellow rice” shop that serves the most flavorful dishes. So good.

One of my grand uncle’s drivers is taking my mom, my grandma, my auntie, and I to another city in the north where my grand uncle has a vacation home. We’ll be spending the next few days up there before coming back after the new year. I originally wanted to go all out and party in Bali for the 31st, but after all that’s happened, my priorities have changed a bit. I am just looking forward to seeing more of Indonesia with my family, as I know I can party on an island any time. I’m actually headed for Bali on the 2nd and will be spending a little over a week there and in Lombok before heading to Hong Kong until the end of January.

What an amazing two months it’s been…

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December 30, 2009 at 12:58 am

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Fingers Crossed

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So, this is it. I’m heading to the US Embassy in the next hour to ask them to add pages to my passport. If all goes well and the task is completed within a few hours, I’ll be on the afternoon flight to Surabaya.

While I hadn’t planned this stop in Singapore, the last few days haven’t been disappointing. I went out to dinner with DH and Stella again the night after Christmas; this time Luke McNeal (another Service Sourcer) and his wife joined us for Mexican food before we went and caught James Cameron’s new 3-D fantasy adventure, Avatar. Like most of James Cameron’s films, I thought this one was half an hour longer than it needed to be. But, it was entertaining, and the range of imagination displayed made the length of the film tolerable.

Yesterday, I took a bus down to Little India and caught a glimpse of a special ceremony at one of the Hindu temples. I could listen to the men playing their instruments for days…

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December 27, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Christmas Night on Clarke Quay

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After enjoying a pizza dinner with DH and Stella at Bella Pizza, we went and grabbed drinks at Harry’s where a man with the voice of Barry Manilow was crooning Christmas songs…good times. 🙂

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December 26, 2009 at 3:42 am

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It’s a Small Small World

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Not all is lost.

About an hour ago, I asked the hotel receptionist to have someone bring a laptop up to my room so I could check my email and notify my family members my new phone number in Singapore. I got into my inbox, and sitting there was an email from one of my former Service Source managers, David Hwang. Apparently, he and his wife Stella were starting to plan their Vietnam trip and wanted to see what I had to say about the country on my blog. He saw that I was stuck in Singapore for the next few days and wrote me. What are the chances?

I’m meeting my friend Eric later this afternoon and then might catch DH and Stella for dinner tonight. Maybe I won’t have to spend Christmas alone this year after all. (Nate, if you’re still feeling a little homesick for the fam, get your butt over here to Singapore and join me!)

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December 25, 2009 at 3:16 am

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Penalized on a Technicality?

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I haven’t cried this much since I watched the senior citizen version of Ryan Gosling lie down next to sweet wrinkly Rachel McAdams and pass in The Notebook.

Ok, I’m not sad anymore. Not frustrated. Just infuriated. Did you know that in order for a non-Indonesian to be able to step off the plane in Indonesia, that individual must have a full empty page in their passport in order for Immigration to grant a VOA (Visa on Arrival)? I did not.

Thinking Singapore was only going to be a 3 hour layover, it has now become a 4 day nightmare. Well, I’m just being dramatic. I’m sure it’s going to be completely fine (maybe even fun if I get ahold of my friend Eric from LA or my former manager DH and his lovely wife Stella…the newest Service Source office being here).

When I landed at the Changi Airport in Singapore several hours ago, I picked up my stuff from Baggage Claims and went straight for the Departures Hall to check it back in for my next flight scheduled to leave for Surabaya around 4:30. When I stepped up to the counter and handed over my passport to the young woman, she flipped through it, a look of concern crossed her face, and she said, “One moment please.” I waited a few minutes until she rushed back and said to me, “I’m sorry, but you cannot travel to Surabaya today.” Wait – what? Why? “If we allow you to fly to Indonesia today, they will just send you back. You don’t have any empty pages left in your passport. And for you to get the Visa in your passport, they are very strict in requiring an entire page to be empty.” You have got to be kidding me. What am I supposed to do? “Let’s call the Embassy to see if they are open. You can go and try to pick up a new passport or get an emergency one extended for this purpose.” How far is the Embassy? My flight is in two hours, and it’s Christmas Eve – are they even open? “Oh yes. They are probably closed half day today. They are also closed for US holiday tomorrow. And they are closed Saturday and Sunday. That means you can go on Monday.” What about my flight today? Do I get a refund? “I’m not sure, you’ll have to find out what to do about your ticket, go to the ticketing counter and they will tell you.” I swear, when you just want some answers that are actually going to benefit you…

I ended up having to push the flight to this coming Monday, meaning I am staying in Singapore for the holiday. When all I wanted was just to hug my mom on Christmas Eve – the thing that’s stopping me is a stupid passport technicality. Ugh. Unbelievable. I wasn’t even ashamed bawling like a big baby at the airport. I walked to the payphone right after changing the flight and called my dad who sounded half-asleep, poor guy. “Dad. It’s me. I’m in Singapore…..wahhh.” What’s wrong? Where are you? “I’m at the airport. Wahhh. They won’t let me leave. Wahhhh. I have to stay until Monday. Tell Uncle Daniel to call Grand Uncle to tell Mom not to come to the airport tonight. WAHHHHHH!” Ok, don’t cry, don’t worry. Wan’t me to ask Uncle Raymond who his relatives in Singapore are and then I can give you their contact information? OK, call me back in 10 minutes.” So, I hung up, cried some more just because it felt good to, and called him back. “Turns out, they are all on holiday in Shanghai. That’s okay. Singapore is supposed to be very fun. Calm down, just find a nice hotel, no matter the cost, and just stay there and try to enjoy yourself and don’t worry. (My Dad, who is usually very stern, was so so supportive and comforting. I had half expected him to lecture me for not knowing about the passport rule, but was so glad when he didn’t. Instead he did nothing but try to make me feel better.) So get a new SIM card and once you do, call me and give me the number.” OK, I’ll call you soon. Thanks, Dad.

I have to admit, I don’t know what I went ballistic over. I think it was the fact that I had so looked forward to being with family, especially my mom, for the holidays. It hasn’t felt like the holidays for me this year at all. Ever since I got sick, I have been pretty emotional. I was watching little Cindy Lou Who sing Where Are You, Christmas? in How the Grinch Stole Christmas last night in my hotel room, and I actually cried. It’s strange how my family is split up this Christmas. My Dad in California (hopefully celebrating with my Aunt Kitty and their mom), my Mom with her mom in Surabaya, Wendy in Brooklyn with her fellow residents, and me in Singapore (on a technicality)…

Being away always makes me appreciate my family a little more when we are together. I’m not sure what the next few days will look like, but if I can’t wish you happy holidays over the phone, online, or in person – Merry Christmas. I hope you are with the ones you love and care about.

Love,
Winnie

P.S. Dave, I used to think you had some of the worse luck possible. I think you may have passed on your torch. Thanks, buddy. 😉

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December 24, 2009 at 8:34 am

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If it’s not Dengue, what is it?

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First of all, Mom, Dad, Wendy, and Uncle Daniel – thank you for calling me every few hours the last couple of days to make sure I was alive in my hotel room (and for sending me all that info on symptoms, treatments, ways to aleviate the fever/pain, questions to ask the doctor). Being away, it felt reassuring to know that you knew what was going on and you were only a phone call away. Maureen Miller (Nate’s mom), thank you so much for your email. Your efforts to find contact information and health services in HCMC was much appreciated, I appreciate the time you took to send me that note.

Now, I’ll go on to describe what happened on Monday, the day after I posted about going to the hospital…

I was standing in line inside of a large busy grocery store when I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. At first, I thought I was going to vomit. When nothing came up, I noticed that the sounds of the store were intensifying in my ears. Clink! Clank! Ca-ching! – all became these deafening noises coming in and then slowly drowning out. My head started throbbing with pain, and I could feel my pulse race. When I blinked, all I could see were splotches of white light, everywhere. I was going blind. Shit.

I left the fruit and water I was going to buy on the counter and slowly made my way towards the exit, wanting to get away from the pushy crowds. I knew that if this white out was to last for a while, and I was amongst a bunch of foreign strangers, I would just feel claustrophobic, and the situation would be worse. When I got outside, I had to keep my eyes closed because the sun was so bright and every time I opened them, I just got blinded. I stood there for another 20 seconds waiting and blinking until my vision was back to normal and I wasn’t feeling so sick. That was probably the scariest feeling I’ve ever felt. Not knowing what is happening to you and not being able to control any of these symptoms.

When I got back to the hotel, I tried calling the doctor who consulted me on Sunday, but of course, the number on his card was no longer valid. I tried to have my hotel receptionist call the number just to make sure I wasn’t dialing it incorrectly, but she also got the same message. Another white out came again at that point – this time while I was speaking with the receptionist, who seemed terrified to see me gripping the counter with my eyes glued shut, head in my hands, waiting for it to all go away. As soon as I could see a little, I walked to the computer in the lobby and emailed the doctor, copying my sister so she was aware. A second later, the email bounced back. The address on his business card was incorrect, as well. Damnit. I just hopped in a taxi out front and asked them to take me to the hospital.

When I got there, the tears came. I told them what happened and how scared I was when I couldn’t see, so they put me in a room, laid me down, and said Dr. Susi would see me in a few minutes. When he came in, he listened, nodded, and said they’d go ahead and run the Dengue test a day earlier. The results came back negative. He really didn’t have much to comment about the blind spells, tried to reassure me that I wouldn’t fall into a coma in my hotel room, gave me his personal phone number and his correct email address, and said to come back in the morning for a final evaluation.

When I asked what this febrile viral illness could be, he said it could be a form of menengitis or encephalitis. But because it could be so many other things, it wouldn’t be realistic to test me for everything. He just reassured me that I wouldn’t need to have a spinal tap, it wasn’t parasitic, and any long term damage shouldn’t be a concern for now. I understand that not everyone can be diagnosed and one may not find the answers to all the questions one has, but it just doesn’t sit well with me that no one can figure out what exactly happened here. My sister is convinced it’s Dengue, and having read about it, I wouldn’t be surprised. Regardless of the outcome, I guess it’s always more comforting when you know.

It’s now Day 6, and the only symptom I am feeling is a minor headache. It still hurts a little to open my eyes wide or look up, but I think that should go away in a day or two. Dr. Susi provided a medical report to clear me for travel to Indonesia, so I’m flying out tomorrow to meet my mom and grandmother in Surabaya. They’re staying with our extended family whom will be showing us their home and taking us to Bali on the 26th. I have yet to make any plans for NYE, but right now, the important thing is to get and remain healthy. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to being with my mom. I feel better already just thinking about it.

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December 23, 2009 at 5:07 am

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Mosquito-borne Illness? Check

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Having had an ongoing fever, chills, sweats, a splitting headache, pain beneath my eyes for the last 72 hours, a friend of mine convinced me that I should go to see a doctor. I went to one of the international hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City this afternoon, and it turns out, I may have Dengue Fever. The doctor gave me a cocktail of drugs for the pain, stuck oxygen tubes up my nose (apparently, the oxygen levels in my body were too low), and took some blood. He said it looked like a case of Dengue due to results of the influenza test coming back negative and the fact that my bloodwork shows a viral disease. Funny thing is, I’ve been joking about the chances of getting Malaria this entire time, with all the mosquito bites I’ve acquired…

The doctor sent me back to my hotel armed with Paracetamol Codeine and told me to come back on Tuesday morning for more bloodwork to be done to confirm.

In case you’re curious about Dengue Fever, check out the wiki page for details on the virus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dengue_fever

Originally, I thought the fever was a symptom of an oncoming flu or the result of altitude sickness from being up in the highlands north of Sapa last week. I thought it could be due to insufficient sleep I’ve been getting the last few weeks, the bitter cold that I was unprepared for during the overnight homestay in the Ta Van Village, or just my immune system telling me that it was exhausted from moving from one city to another. Eating out every day for two months can’t be all that healthy for you either. Needless to say, I’m going to take it easy here for the next few days.

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December 20, 2009 at 8:21 am

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