Tuesday, September 22, 2009

5 Skin-Nourishing Teas

We all want a perfect complexion. However, sometimes when we are under pressure, or PMSing, stress builds up and manifests in the form of depressing, and sometimes painful, zits.

Here’s a tip that will help you achieve that dewier glow – it’s cheap, healthy, and simple. It’s tea. Tea has been used since like the beginning of time in every culture as medicine and for general well-being.

A few general reasons to give these herbal teas a go:

- They keep you hydrated, unlike black teas and coffee, which are diuretics

- They contain loads of antioxidants, which basically help your body to detox

- They are caffeine-free, which keeps the central nervous system mellow- Less staining on your teeth than black tea and coffee. Tip: Try replacing your cappucino with herbal tea, and you’ll see your teeth brighten up within a month.

The Teas

While there are many benefits to these teas, I’m only focusing their skin-clearing properties:

1. Calendula (Marigold) Tea comes from dried marigold flowers and is commonly used in skincare products. It’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. It helps repair skin and can even be applied directly to the skin as a masque by mixing with a bit of cornmeal to make a paste. Plus, it looks cheery with its golden yellow buds.

2. Berries with Rosehips and Hibiscus Tea is an antioxidant central blend. You can go for the more traditional berries (blueberries, raspberries, etc…) but you’ll get more of a nutritional punch out of goji and acai berries. Rosehips are the bud at the base of a rose and are packed with vitamin C – excellent for both our skin and immune system. Another great addition to this blend is hibiscus, also high in vitamin C. The tea comes out as a magnificent garnet red color that makes you feel all special just to look at it.




3. Nettle Tea is a recent discovery for me. I started drinking nettle tea to help with my allergies. I was drinking loads of the stuff and found that my skin looked clearer. It turns out that nettle is also used to calm skin irritations, like acne and eczema.

4. Rooibos Tea is a South African tradition. This caramel colored tea is stiff competition for the berry tea in terms of antioxidants – it’s full of them. Rooibos (also known as Red) tea also contains alpha hydroxy acid, which is used in tons of skincare products for its ability to improve the appearance of the skin.

5. Chamomile Tea is an ancient Egyptian healing herb. It can be added to any of the elixirs mentioned above to take the edge off tangier herbs, like hibiscus, rosehips, and marigold. Mix a bit of chamomile with nettle – I found it addicting. Well-known for it’s calming effects, chamomile is also anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. It can be applied as a masque using the same method as for the marigold masque. It also makes a great after dinner drink, as it aids digestion.

Tea Bags vs Loose Leaf

I’m not a Tea Snob. I mean, I’ll use a tea bag if I have to. But given the choice, I would absolutely go with loose leaf. Generally, the average tea bag is filled with the scraps or dustings of the larger tea leaves. You will get way more nutritional benefit out of loose leaf and it will take much better.

Recommendation: Get a teapot with a strainer. Bodum makes stylish teapots starting at 16 GPB or a fab single cup and strainer for 9. All you do is throw the herbs into the strainer and add the hot water ­– it really couldn’t be easier. I love the clear glass pots/cups to watch transformation and the color of the brew.

How to prepare the teas

Use about 1 tablespoon of herbs per cup. Once you’ve made your teas a few times, you’ll know how strong you like your elixirs.

Add boiling water to teapot/cup and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon of manuka honey per cup. I recommend manuka honey because of the additional healing properties. I also like the smoother taste. Note: do not add manuka honey to boiling hot water, as the heat will burn away the medicinal properties. Wait until the tea cools to add your honey, or add a bit of room temperature after to the cup and mix.

Drink at least 2-3 cups per day.

Where to get the teas

Most of these are available at Neal’s Yard from 1-3 quid per 50g (which should last about a month). Whittard’s sells tons of loose teas as well as lovely herbal blends for 3.50 per bag that you can mix with other herbs (try their Acai & Goji Berry Tea). You can also try health food stores, Whole Foods type shops, and online.

There are hundred of herbs out there that can help ease your ailments. These are just a few to get you going on building your own herbal medicine chest. Hope you enjoy the path to clearer, more hydrated skin.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

TOMS Shoes

A New Business Model: One for One

Imagine what your day would be like without shoes.

Three years ago while American traveler and entrepreneur, Blake Mycoskie, was on vacation in Argentina, he visited a village filled with children walking barefoot. Treading over broken glass and dirt these children were exposed to a litany of infections and discomforts.

Immediately compelled to solve this problem, Blake started a for-profit company, TOMS Shoes, where the mission statement is: For every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of shoes to a child in need. One for One.

“When Blake told people of his idea to start a business basically giving away shoes, people laughed and said that was ridiculous,” says a TOMS employee.

His aim is to create a business that sustains the ability to give, unlike a charity, which depends solely on donations. Because the story behind the shoes is so powerful, it serves as a word-of-mouth marketing tool. Not paying for advertising is what enables the “One for One” business model to work.

TOMS is thriving despite the current global financial crisis. “Sales were three times higher this past month [March 2009] than they were during the same month last year [March 2008]. I don’t think any other shoe company can say the same,” said Mycoskie at a CGI U conference hosted by ex-President, Bill Clinton.

TOMS has given away 150,000 pairs of shoes to date and there are at least a billion more to go.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cocoa Island

“Are you free March fourth to eleventh?”

“Uh…lemme check with my secretary.” [Of course I was free. I was unemployed, trying to take a new career path in a new country at the age of 31].

“You’re in luck. Looks like I’m free. Why?”

“Because we are going to the Maldives. Surprise!”

‘Surprise’ was both accurate and an understatement. The Maldives are a place I wanted to visit but never thought I actually would… kind of like Mars. This was the first I had heard of this trip that Dominic had stealthy booked as a belated honeymoon and much needed break. We were leaving in a week, and all I had to do was pack.

I’m a light packer, but of course I end up over packing, something I suspect many self-proclaimed light-packers do. In my defense, I wasn’t sure what kind of activities to expect on Cocoa Island. I scoured the internet to get an idea of where we were going. I found a few dated and scant reviews all saying the same thing–a romantic Robinson Crusoe paradise island–which sounds lovely and all, but it doesn’t help me figure out how many pairs of jeans to bring.

Departure Day
It’s 2pm on a Wednesday, and we depart Heathrow on the Emirates A380–a new and enormous aircraft that carries like a million people on long haul flights. Dominic is uneasy about flying in economy for eight hours, as he has become used to flying Upper Class on business trips. As we shuffle through the tarmac, I hold his hand assuring him that we’ll get through this economy flight together. When we get to our seats we are delighted with the proletarian section of the plane. They are spacious and clean. The food listed on the menu is appetizing. And there is enough entertainment to make us forget we are even on a plane. We chat and giggle and hold hands for hours. I order a red wine and he a virgin Bloody Mary, which is sadly just tomato juice with a lime squeeze. Dominic is disappointed, and I can empathize. A lengthy discussion ensues and we agree that the only kind of Bloody Mary is the kind that is flavorful, spicy, and a self-contained meal. There is something about traveling that makes you talk about things you normally don’t talk about, like Bloody Mary preferences, and those conversations are my among favorite. Three movies later, we arrive in Dubai at 9pm. As we fly over the city, I see a long string of orange lights dotted along the coastline. The Dubai Airport* is a strange and interesting place full of all sorts, from elderly Arabian sheiks to young Midwestern backpackers. After a two-hour layover and the worst, most expensive Halal Whopper I’ve had to date, we depart for Male (pronounced Maa-lee, not male like a man), the capital city of the Republic of Maldives.

Four hours later it’s 9am, and we are safely stepping off the plane in Male. The Uggs I’ve been wearing for the last three months in London are stifling in the 30 C heat, and I love it. A representative from the resort with dark brown skin and a calm, bright smile greets us at the gate. He ushers us to a table outside asking us to wait a few minutes before we board the speedboat to Cocoa Island. While Dominic uses the restroom I yank off my Uggs and rummage through my bag for my cherished flip-flops. As I place them on my feet, I feel like Cinderella in her glass slippers.

Island Arrival

Everything feels safe and organized on the speedboat. I am in a state of wonderment as we whiz away from the docks. It’s warm, wide open, and full of every shade of blue, which is so very different than London. I’m hopping from seat to seat snapping photos that I know will not capture my excitement of being in this new place. Dominic and two other passengers sit in composed appreciation. After 40 minutes of gliding along in the speedboat thinking how good life is, we arrive at Cocoa Island, and it’s clear that jeans are entirely unnecessary. We are welcomed to the island with fresh coconut juice (in the actual coconut) and a cool aromatic towel. We’ve only seen about an inch of the island and are delirious with laughter and awe. Our kind hostess, Widi, receives us as if we are old friends and thoroughly briefs us on the Como Shambhala amenities. I like Widi–a lovely woman in her thirties with pretty feet and bizarre tattooed eyebrows that I got used to by the end of our conversation. She’s from Bali. She lives on a neighboring island with her husband because there is not enough room on Cocoa. They go to Male maybe once a month for supplies. She has worked on Cocoa Island for four years, and while she loves it here, she misses Bali all the time. She doesn’t go back as often as she would like because the thought of all the hustle and bustle of non-island life is too intimidating. I understand where she is coming from. I’ve only been here ten minutes and am already petrified of going back to London.

It’s 11am and our room won’t be ready for another two hours. Widi suggests we have breakfast while we wait. We are seated at a table in the sand with a view of what I can only describe as paradise. Those legendary turquoise waters are truly turquoise. The sand is something between sugar and flour in both color and consistency. The temperature is ideal. The roofs are indeed made of palm fronds and the flourishing foliage looks like a Garden of Eden. The island is so teeny you could hold it in your hand. I have never been anywhere like it. The only communication Dominic and I have amidst our delirium of happiness is a constant beaming smile. The strains of life in London melt away as we play with the sand underneath our feet. We idle over a scrumptious island breakfast then make our way over to a pair of lounge chairs nestled in between the infinity pool and the glistening ocean. We stretch out, take a deep breath of clean air, and immediately conk out.

The room is a self-contained cottage cradled into a dohini–a traditional Maldivian fishing boat that looks like a bloated canoe. The structure rests on stilts over the water. Rosewood and white is the color palette; the decor exudes that of a modern Zen Indonesian bungalow. It is luxurious but not lavish. All the amenities of a Four Seasons are available but not thrown in your face. The bathroom is almost as big as the living space. Through the sliding glass doors is a private deck–complete with cushy lounge chairs, a table for two, and a swim ladder jutting directly into the endless ocean. The flat screen TV inside seems superfluous. It is a generous offering, which is what we came for. We slip into our bathing suits and park ourselves on the deck chairs covered in velvety white terry cloth pads and let the tanning begin. After five minutes I am roasting, and the electric blue sea is calling my name. I plonk right into the room temperature water. It is so calm and clear that it feels like I’m in a swimming pool with coral and marine life. I swim straight out to the natural boundary where the color of water dramatically changes from cerulean to sapphire. I feel at home and safe in this water. I return to my post on the lounge chair and lose consciousness until the evening, as does Dominic, waking up only to take intermittent dips in our private ocean. My book lays untouched on my lounge chair, as it does for most of the trip.

We freshen up and get dressed for dinner. There is only one restaurant and one bar on the island; there’s no need, or space, for more than that. We walk over the wooden deck from the chain of villas perched above the water to the mainland. The Ufaa Restaurant sprawls out underneath an alang-alang** pavilion and the open sky. Dominic and I once again laugh at the ridiculous perfection of the place. We order an island cocktail and start to look over the menu. Starters are an average of $30USD, entrees $50USD, and dessert $20USD–ouch! It was difficult to accept that each dinner was going to cost about $200USD, but if this was the only hiccup in the trip, we couldn’t complain. We order a bottle of Australian Sav Blanc with our food. It’s so warm outside that our wine glasses start to sweat after just a few minutes, but a weightless breeze wisps about keeping us refreshed. It feels like we are dining in an outdoor planetarium. We stroll back to our suite relaxed and happy.

Snorkeling and Yoga
The next day we wander over to the Dive Center to pick up our complimentary snorkel gear. On the way, I find what feels like a hidden treasure–a hammock hanging from a mangrove tree. I adore hammocks and would sleep in one every night if I could. I slunk into it like it’s made for me, and I just swing for a while. I could stay here all day, but it’s not exactly entertaining watching someone swing in a hammock, and Dominic is ready to snorkel. At the Dive Center we are warned of two creatures: stingrays, who lurk just under the top layer of sand, and triggerfish, who will attack with their chunky teeth if provoked. Dominic is concerned by the unassuming presence of the stingrays, but the dive master assures us there has never been a ‘reported’ stingray attack on Cocoa. We manage to avoid any stingray landmines or trigger fish attacks. The reef is very shallow and there are lots of colorful fishes to see, like angelfish, pufferfish, and wrasses. We also see triggerfish, baby sharks, and even manta rays. The Maldives are a chain of islands 400 nautical miles west of Sri Lanka and make up the largest reef formation in the world making it a prime location for underwater sightseeing.

Everyday from 5-6pm there is a complimentary yoga class. I decided to go today, and Dominic was interested as well. The class is held in a beautiful open-air yoga studio at the edge of the island with the still sea on one side and a sandy courtyard on the other. Our instructor is Indian. The mats are already set up facing the ocean. There are about ten people in the class today. Doing yoga in setting like this is a dream. After savasana, final resting pose, our instructor brings each of us a small cup of the most delicious and robust herbal tea along with a cool scented towel. Dominic and I compliment his tea, and he tells us it’s simply ginger, lemon, and honey, but it tastes like there is more to it than just that. We walk in literal yogic bliss through the trees into the sunset. Back in our room we get ready for dinner. We sleep well that night and look forward to another idyllic day on Cocoa.

The Castle
The island is at full occupancy, as it is most of the year with only 30 villas total, and in order to accommodate our stay we have to change rooms three times, which is a lot considering we are only here for five nights. Our flexibility behooves us because the two other rooms are free upgrades. After seeing a standard room, I can’t comprehend how it could get any better.

But it does.

It’s our third day and time for our first room switch. We pack our stuff before we leave for breakfast. Much like our first day on the island, we idle over our morning feast, pass out on a lounge chair by the ocean, and are politely woken up to be told that our new room is ready. The gentleman from the hotel points to a huge villa at the end of the island, “That is your new room.” I look confused. He smiles and tells us not to waste any time, as the room is, “very special”. It finally dawns on me that the entire villa is ours for the next 24 hours!

As we walk through the grand entrance, it feels like the enchanted castle in this island fairy tale. It is an enormous villa that could sleep a family of eight comfortably. With a full kitchen, three massive bathrooms, and a dining room, it is far more space than we need, but nobody heard us complaining. We are two people living in a mansion–absurd for everyday but fabulous for a night. I’m so overwhelmed that I drink a glass of white wine from the non-mini-mini-bar to chill the F out and celebrate our temporary celebrity status. Dominic and I do a little dance of joy on all three tiers of our ocean deck surrounded by gradients of blue and a small island off in the distance. The view is one of the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen. We even have our own private hammock–and that’s when I knew. I knew I had found heaven on earth. I sat down at one of the tables outside to write. I was so happy all I wanted to do was write about this ludicrously deliciously perfect magical place.

Later that day, after a whole hour of snorkeling, we are starving and we decide to indulge in lunch, something we had agreed we’d try not to do since we were eating $200 dinners every night. But with our new P.Diddy status we decided to splurge. Even though the resort is at full occupancy, most of the time it feels like we are the only couple here, with the exception of breakfast and dinnertime. There is only one other couple at the restaurant. The loudest sounds are the gentle lapping of the ocean and the faint rustling of the trees. The waiter arrives with our drink order. It’s so quiet that we can hear the ice cubes rearranging themselves as the fizzing Coke is poured into the clear glasses with a bright circular slice of lime floating at the top. We are mesmerized as the waiter does something so simple with such grace.

After lunch we explore the island a bit. First we visit the hydrotherapy pool, which is encased in a stunning wooden pavilion with lush green plants woven throughout. Our skin soaks up the soothing minerals in the water and is massaged by the therapeutic jets. Then we enjoy some of that lively ginger tea on one of the chaise lounges next to the pool. We just sit for a while because we can; we have no place to be except our rock star crash pad. A spa is adjacent to the pool, so I freshen up with all the yummy bath gels and lotions and fluffy warm towels. I feel new and improved as I emerge from the spa. We wander between the mangrove and blossoming frangipani trees on the sandy pathway covered with hibiscus flowers that change from yellow to red when they fall to the ground in the evening. There are black crows that circle the island overseeing their land while the water hens, herons and gannet keep watch of shore. Wooden swings and hammocks hang on trees, and huts with lounge chairs are scattered all over the island–each one feeling like you’ve Christopher Columbused a secret chill-out zone. You could spend one satisfying day alone just drinking in the view from any given point on the island, which is exactly what Eric Klemm thought in 1976 when he first came here.

History Lesson
Eric Klemm is a German photographer who frequently came to the Maldives for photoshoots back in the seventies. People mainly went to the North Male Atoll, and he decided to venture to the South Male Atoll instead. It was love at first sight, and when he returned to Europe he could not forget his new found romance. By May 1980, Klemm had figured out how to lease the island, and he moved here (Maldivian islands by law are not available for sale but can be leased). He named it Cocoa Island, and I wish I knew exactly why, although I think it has something to do with the palm trees, as that was the first thing he saw on the island from afar. His original plans to build a personal island hideaway were shattered when the Maldivian Minister of Investment informed him that as a foreign investor he must use the island as a tourist resort. This stressed Eric out because he had no plans, or finances, to build a hotel. Well, when things are important enough mighty doors open, and things worked out for him. Within a year he and his team built a small resort to accommodate eight visitors. He lived on Cocoa for 15 years. He now lives in Vancouver with his wife (whom he met on the island) and two children. He is still a photographer.

The Maldives recently gained their independence from the British in 1965, and it was only in 1972 that the first tourist resort opened. Much of Maldivian history is embedded in myth and folklore, but archaeological evidence indicates that people first inhabited the islands 5,000 years ago. It is an Islamic republic (there is a small mosque on Cocoa). The local language is Dhivehi, but English is widely spoken. Tourism and fishing are the country’s major sources of revenue. About 1,200 islands comprise the Maldives; of the 200 inhabited islands, 80 are tourist resorts.

Life on Cocoa
By our fourth day on the island we are familiar with our fellow holidaymakers. Although nobody speaks to each other, everyone is aware of one another’s presence. At the very most, polite smiles are exchanged; generally people keep to themselves. The majority are couples, mostly European–Germans, Italians, French, English, Spanish–and a few Asians. I’m pretty sure I was the only American, as I had the loudest laugh of anyone there. We could gauge the people who had just arrived by their pale skin and hurried walk. The sun is so strong here that it would turn an albino a shade darker in a few hours. And after just one day on the island you tend walk everywhere in slow motion, as there is no rush to get anywhere.

After breakfast we move to our third and final room. I really don’t want to leave our P.Diddy suite at all. I get over it (only because I have to), and I am grateful that we stayed in such a place for the night. Our new room is on the opposite end of the island. The one room villa turns out to be an impeccable blend of the standard room and the mansion. The bed is mounted on a platform of Japanese tatami mats with a beautiful rustic tapestry hung on the wall behind it. The bathroom is just as stunning as the others, complete with an outdoor shower. The long deck extends out to the most spectacular stretch on the island where the water is a richer turquoise and the sand more white and powdery than anywhere else. There are no neighbors–just us at the edge of the earth again. We stay here all afternoon snorkeling, swimming, sunning, and snacking. We request a bottle of wine be brought to our room in the evening so we can enjoy the sunset on our deck. We lose track of time and by 9:45pm we get a courteous call regarding our dinner plans for the evening. It was nice being looked after without feeling pressured. We decide on room service. The food comes quickly and they do everything short of bring the restaurant to us. All the accoutrement is exactly as it is in the restaurant, and the service charge is just $5USD.

The service and staff on the island is flawless. They always call you Mr. and Mrs. Such and Such without a fleck of attitude. Someone always knows of your whereabouts on the island and the duration of your stay. They personify the chilled island vibe with their gentle voices, soft smiles, and relaxed gate. They are respectful of their duties and guests. Rooms are meticulously cleaned twice a day.

We were so pleased with the room service that we order breakfast in the room the next morning, which is our last morning on Cocoa. Fortunately we have the entire day to hang out since we don’t leave for Male until 11pm. We walk around the island for a couple hours scuffling our feet along the sand and the water. We stop at the pool to take a non-salt water swim and lay in the shade. It is particularly hot today. I’ve reached my Pocahontas look-a-like stage, and Dominic is swimming with a long sleeve shirt on, so shade was good for both of us. We are like lions slowing moving around from one shady spot to another just sleeping and watching the lay of the land. I peacefully drift off for an afternoon nap with the warm breeze drying my wet skin. Later Dominic wakes me up and says that he’s ordered us drinks. Afternoon cocktails! Our first round of delicious ginger mojitos goes down quickly. We order another round; it’s our last day here after all. Dominic writes some lyrics, and I sit with my pen in hand but end up just people watching. I watch the staff set up for dinner. They set each placemat, glass, and fork on the tables with consideration. They devotedly water each plant that seems to grow without any help. They quietly joke around with each other without losing focus on their task at hand. The even seem to sweep the floor in tune with the sound of the ocean. I watch a family who I can tell has just arrived that day because they meet the skin color/walk criteria. They have a baby (the only one I’ve seen so far). It looks like Mommy is on the way with a second. I think they are English, and they seem like a nice family. My reverie was broken when a hotel manger hands the phone to Dominic. We called the spa earlier to book two massages for that day. There was only one slot available, and I insisted Dominic take it. Sure enough they dutifully located us at the bar to let us know that a space had opened up for me.

At 5pm we are both seated in an outdoor lounge waiting for our massages. We fill out a brief questionnaire that helps them identify our ayurvedic doshas (body types). Each treatment is given in a small private glass hut at the water’s edge with soothing yoga-like music and the sound of the ocean. The room permeates the Como Shambhala signature scent–a blend of eucalyptus, geranium, lavender and peppermint, used for all their revitalizing in-room toiletries and those special moist towels they offer. Dominic and I both like a serious deep tissue massage, and this was more of a gentle prod. But the setting could not be beat. We head back to our room to freshen up for our final dinner on Cocoa Island. I’m addicted to the outdoor shower. The air is still and warm. A full moon beams through the infinite midnight blue sky filled with stars. I inhale the blend of eucalyptus and lavender in the soap with the lightly salted air swirling in the steam. The water feels like it’s falling from the sky onto my head, down my body, and onto the wooden deck under my feet.

Luckily our last night fell on Seafood Barbeque Night, where all sorts of fresh catches are grilled and served with a delectable salad bar. Several of the staff come to our table to wish us a safe journey back to London and they hoped we enjoyed our stay. We rave about what a wonderful time we’ve had, and they seem genuinely satisfied and proud of their island.
Parting Thoughts
At 11pm we leave on the speedboat that brought us here six days ago. The ride feels much longer this time. Maybe it’s because it’s nighttime. Maybe it’s because I’m not ready to leave. Our flight to Dubai doesn’t depart until 2am. We aren’t looking forward to our two-leg flight home mostly because it’s the in the middle of the night. There is a direct Emirates flight from London to Male, which we would definitely take next time.

Truth be told, within the first 20 minutes of being on Cocoa I was ready to fill out a job application and stay forever. But by the end of our stay, I would have to think twice about it. There is something about living on Cocoa that seems lonely, transient, and perhaps too quiet for long-term living. My travel itineraries typically include raucous market stalls, vibrant music, cold showers, chicken buses, and a backpack. This wasn’t that kind of trip, yet on this small island I explored myself and my new surroundings, which are reasons why I travel. Maybe that’s why we must visit places like Cocoa Island–to reconcile the stillness we’ve lost in our hectic and overly complicated lives. And to take that peace we feel while on the island and release it back into the world.

Before I left I was disappointed that I didn’t get my nails done and a new bathing suit and a haircut for my exotic island getaway. As soon as I arrived here, all those extravagances were diminished by the grandeur of this place. The sun provided a radiance that no bathing suit or manicure could compete with. And the salt from the ocean gave my hair a wild sexy texture even the best haircut couldn't emulate. But most of all, I felt happy, which is the best beauty treatment I know of. I needed nothing else in the world except to let go of everything and just be here.

And I realized that this is why there are so many couples here. They are people who just want to be together in peace, and I found it rather touching. Couples come here to rejuvenate, recharge, and reconnect. They have come here to press the reset button on their lives and, perhaps, their relationship. I can’t imagine a more appropriate place to do just that. Next time we come to Cocoa Island, and there will be a next time, I know all I need are my bathing suit, a few gauzy dresses, and sunscreen–everything else is provided, including happiness.

* Note: you cannot smuggle small bottles of wine from the plane into Dubai. They take it away from you at security. I’m shameless, I know.

** A type of Indonesian thatched roofing.

All photographs and video by Dominic Goldman.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I do/will: Part 1

Part 1 (of 3): Deportation

Right from the beginning
I knew Dominic could potentially leave. He was consistently being offered jobs in countries all over the world. This was great…for him. I kept things as light and breezy as I could, but we fell in love hard and fast. Before I knew it we were both moving to London.


About eight months into the relationship an interesting job offer crossed his path. The job was in London, and he said wouldn’t pursue it unless I was keen to move. He explained the opportunity, and I agreed that it had great prospects. I wasn’t exactly tied to anything in San Francisco, I love to travel, and I love him. Why not move to London for a bit? I figured I would have time to let the idea settle anyway.

A month later he got the job and we were booking flights.

The truth is that I just wanted to be with him. It’s mushy and pathetic, I know. But if I didn’t go I would have always wondered what-if. So I packed up my beloved apartment in the Mission and shipped my worldly possessions with Dominic’s to London. It was both heartbreaking and thrilling.

Dominic and I got to San Francisco International Airport with two first-class, one-way tickets on Virgin in our hands. I was looking forward to the complimentary champagne, but he was eager land to safely to retrieve his two cats and dog that were flying with us to London.

Coupled with the fact that that Dominic hates flying, nervous was an understatement. All things considered, we had a fantastic flight. I’ve decided first-class is the only way to fly–three-course meals, non-stop beverage service, and spacious seats facing each other. As we reclined our seats turned into beds and the nice airline lady came by with the occasional Evian spritzer. Ok, there was no Evian spritzer, but you get the idea.

About 20 minutes before landing, we discussed our plan to meet once we passed through our respective passport gates. We suddenly remembered an email from his company’s Human Resources department suggesting that we say we are traveling independently so it wouldn’t seem like I, a college graduate and young professional, am trying to illegally stay in the UK with my British boyfriend. As if! I knew that I was allowed to be in the country as a visitor for six months without any hassles. We would figure out longer term plans once we were there for a few months.

Between the two of us we had been to over 20 different countries, so the last thing we thought to do was concoct a story for my entry to the European country most visited by Americans. We foolishly followed the HR lady’s advice to lie, which was stupid even without retrospect.

First off, I am the worst liar.

Secondly, I know that lying isn’t usually the best strategy–particularly when you haven’t done anything wrong, and especially when it involves government officials.

I collect my three oversized suitcases from the baggage claim. There is not a single person in line at the international passport checkpoint. Was I the only non-British citizen on that plane? I sail right up to passport checkstand, and:

Are you here on business or pleasure?

Pleasure? [Trying to maintain eye contact]

Right. How long are you staying?

A few months? [Face starts heating up]

Hmmm….ok. Are you traveling alone?

Umm…yes? [Sweating]

Do you have a return ticket?

Return ticket? [Heart palpitations]

See what I mean? Worst liar ever.

I knew I was in trouble, but I’m not sure what for at that point. The guard directs me to that row of seats by the string passport counters–you know, where the shady people sit and you wonder if they’ve been stopped for carrying a bomb? For 45 minutes I watch normal people breezing into England without breaking a sweat.

Meanwhile, Dominic has been anxiously waiting for me at the other end. Neither of us had a mobile phone yet so there was no way of communicating. I kept telling myself everything would be fine. Nearly an hour had gone by since we parted ways. Dominic lost patience, and raced down the hallway to the passport control area when he realized I had been stopped. Our worried eyes met. My passport guard recognizes the eye contact between us. He starts asking Dominic questions. The story now becomes even more tangled because Dominic admits we are travelling together, and now we are fundamentally screwed.

I am taken away to the official search area where my bags are thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly searched. Every scrap of paper, every toiletry, and every bra is questioned. My personal and business documents are scrutinized. Even my vitamins undergo a drug scan. It was eerily invasive.

I’m taken into a small, clinical room with fluorescent lights and metal chairs. I’m jet-lagged, cold, hungry, and feel like a criminal. I don’t have any of my stuff because I am a bad person who isn’t allowed any possessions Even more unsettling was that I had no way of getting in touch with Dominic.

Two hours go by and I have no idea what is going on. I literally just sit in the icy, metal fold-up chair thinking about how much I hate fluorescent lighting and staring at the other suspects. They smelled weird, didn’t speak English, and looked guilty of more than taking bad advice from HR. Maybe they thought the same of me.

A new officer has been assigned to my case. I guess the other one was taking a long lunch or something. We go into one of the rooms where I’ve been watching lawyers and their terrorist clients coming and going for the last two hours. I will have to undergo a lengthy official questioning session.

The interrogation takes about an hour. He writes down every word I say.

At the end of the questioning, he says needs to review this with his superior. He informs me of the two possible outcomes: 1. I am granted entry to the UK as a tourist for six months, or, 2. I will have to go back to the US. He ushered me out of the room back to my cold metal chair with tears in my eyes.

What did he mean go back? I’ve moved out of my apartment, my stuff is on some vessel in the middle of the Atlantic as we speak, and my boyfriend is here. Going back in not part of the plan.

It’s not like I had capsules of drugs shoved up my you-know-what for godssake! I told a little fib under pressure, and it’s gotten sorely out of hand. Surely this will all be cleared up, and I can be on my merry way.

Two more hours go by. I felt gaunt and pale. I thought, on the upside maybe I’ve lost a couple pounds on the Deportation Diet. I had been crying for hours and trying to distract myself with a Spanish version of Lonely Planet, London from like 1996 that I found laying on one of the chairs.

As if sitting under fluorescent lighting for five hours wasn’t punishment enough, the officer returned with the verdict: I was going back to the good ole U S of A. Further more, I would not be able to return without an official visa.

Reason: Because I lied.

However, they don’t think I will flee the country or pose any real threat, so they are giving me five days in the UK to sort stuff out.

My heart sank through my body. I felt like a thousand bees had stung me. I asked if he was serious. And he was. Quite. I didn’t say anything at all. I just kinda stared thinking how messed up this was.

An hour and a half passes, and all I’ve done is stare at the small rectangular window in the door waiting to see Dominic’s face. I am shivering with fatigue and emotion. It doesn’t feel real. I truly think that any moment now a mist of Evian will wake me up from this nightmare.

Sadly no Evian appears, but I am finally released from the room and accompanied by my prosecuting passport person through the dim airport to meet Dominic in the pick up area.

I called my Mom the first chance I got and told her the story. My poor Mother’s head was probably flooded with scenes from Brokedown Palace. Oh, what we put our parents through.

The next five days were melancholy and jet-lagged, but we were grateful for every minute together. We held on to each other tightly every waking and sleeping moment; we didn’t want to part. We talked to lawyers in the UK and in US trying to figure a way out of this idiotic mess. In the end, there was no way out. I had to go back, and we would have to sort it out from there.

What the hell was I going to do, and what did this all mean?

Hold on a second…did I just get deported?


London Snowing

Today 5.4 million people took the day off work (down from 6 million yesterday). Hundreds of schools and universities remained closed for a second day. And UK transport systems are still in turmoil. All because of the freezing easterly wind that crept over from the North Sea on Sunday night while we were all sleeping.

Varying reports say it's the heaviest snow to hit Britain in the last 10/ 13/ 18 years. Either way, it's the worst weather Britain has seen in a long time, and it's clearly reflected by the havoc it's wreaking on the country.

Yesterday in the UK all buses were canceled because of hazardous driving conditions. Trains were delayed or canceled due to icy tracks. And Heathrow, the largest international airport, completely shut down two of their runways.

Temperatures are expected to range between 0 and 5 C this week in London. It's not likely there will be more snow, which is good because Britain is practically in a national state of emergency because of it. Which I find slightly strange. I mean isn't London supposed to be like the center of the world or something? You would think they could handle anything. Instead, businesses are losing money because people can't get to work and kids are building snowmen in lieu of going to school. And it's only been snowing for one, little day. What's wrong with this picture I ask you. Britains are asking the same question.

Maybe it's like in LA when it starts sprinkling rain and Storm Watch comes on the news announcing the torrential downpours meanwhile everyone has forgotten how to drive. Seems like it's simply a matter of not being prepared for unexpected weather conditions, which has happened to me on a number of occasions, so who am I to talk. But still.

On the upside, I'm wondering if Senor Global Warming will repay us with and extra long, hot summer for his sneak attack snow storm. I think that would be fair.

Yesterday most of the businesses on Marylebone High Street (the main drag of our neighborhood) were closed except for grocery stores, a couple cafes, and of course, Starbucks.

Anyone who has ever talked to me for more than five seconds is well aware that I am not a fan of the cold, but I'll have to say it was quite delightful mushing about in the snow yesterday. Delicate snowflakes fell on my face and a few even made it in my mouth. They tasted crisp and sweet. I was tempted to throw a snowball but found no desire to do that snow angel thing. Never understood how that was supposed to be fun.

I'm glad I braved the weather yesterday and took some photos because today skies were blue and the sun even came out to say hello.

Anyhow, it seems like the worst is over and the chaos will melt away with the snow, and we'll all go back to sipping our tea and crumpets over here.

Our backyard as we've never seen it before:

Our neighborood as we've never seen it before:

The Interview

I’m in an Office Space waiting room with people who look clumsily dressed in business attire. I can immediately tell this is the kind of place where people say things like, looks like you’ve got a case of the Mondays, any day of the week.

This is an interview for a door-to-door salesman job disguised as a Marketing Manager position. I have no other interviews lined up, so this is why I am here. I want to leave as soon as I walk in.

Sandy, the receptionist, cheerily greets me, and I fill out a form with questions like, What are you passionate about? What is your leadership potential? How would you handle rejection?

I hand back the completed form along with two copies of my resume. I sit down in a chair facing Sandy's desk, and I wait. It’s 80-degrees outside and a bone chilling 42 in here.

A dude rolls through the door wearing oversized dress pants with an unmatching shirt and tie and clutching a crumpled resume. The receptionist hands him the form and asks if he has a pen to fill them out. He shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head, Naaah, he responds, as if the question was absurd. Sandy lends him a pen and he goes to his seat. I wonder what the hell I’m doing here.

You know how my name is Sandy?

Then a long pause. I look up wondering who she is talking to. The room is full of people, but she is looking right at me, so I reciprocate her eye contact.

Well, Jamie started calling me Sandy Beaches, and I was like oh my god, how embarrassing!
Then he starting calling me Sandy McBeaches.
And now everyone’s like, heeeeeeeeey McBeaches.
(giggling ensues)

In my head, my eyes widen and I say, Why, oh why, are you telling me this?

In real life I nod my head and say, Oh, with a forced smile.

I go back to sizing up everyone in the waiting room. Most people there seemed lost and loser-ish. So unsure of how they got to this waiting room. A guy in his late twenties who never grew out of his frat boy stage is trying really hard to be all salesman-y. I leer at him, but he is too busy tap dancing to notice.

I’m up for my interview with Sara. She is young, slightly stylish, and talks REALLY, REALLY loud. She is extremely intense. I know she likes me and will call me back for a second interview. I know this because I had just been observing the competition for the last 30 minutes.

An hour later she calls me for a second interview. It’s the following day from 9:00 in the morning to 5:30 in the evening. But of course and eight and a half hour interview is perfectly normal, I thought. I am told the day will consist of shadowing a current associate followed by various interviews. It sounds lame and I don’t want to go, but I accept only because I feel like I should- one of the worst reasons to do anything.

I wake up the next morning in a bad mood knowing I have to waste my day. I say I’ll give it until noon, at which point I will grant myself permission to leave if necessary. I'm big on options.

I arrive to a group of average to unattractive, badly dressed people standing in a room set at the same 42-degree temperature as yesterday. There is a mix of current associates and second interviewees, and it appears that affirmative action is back in fashion.

An exceedingly normal looking white man in his late 30's dressed in a polyester beige suit is leading the meeting. If I had to say Jew or Gentile, it would be Gentile all the way. I could tell he was the kind of guy who got off on seeing his name at the top of an org chart knowing all the little people were obligated to fetch him a latte and tell him how smart he is. I could tell this because he actually had an org chart projecting on to a white wall. He is the Leader, Messiah, The Don and sports a kitschy floral tie to show that he can get jiggy with it if need be.

He starts off by congratulating Esther for the highest sales of the week. Because she rocked it and was a kick-ass team player, she is given a gift certificate to Chili's. You heard me right, Chili's, as in The Restaurant Chili's. He shoots her a finger gun and an wink to lock in the congratulations. Everyone claps and woo-hoos knowing Awesome Blossoms at Friday's happy hour are on Ester this week.

Are you there God, it's me, Margaret....I want to leave immediately.

After tossing around all sorts of sales jargon and a team pep talk, he puts on his Life Coach hat. We all shuffle into the next room to watch a video of creepy looking man asking a woman to put some large rocks into a bucket that is filled with pebbles. The lady can’t fit the large rocks into the bucket with the pebbles. It was a long-winded way of illustrating a valid point- that you can’t focus on the big stuff in life if you let all the small stuff get in the way. This video was twenty minutes long, and small icicles start to form on my face from the arctic AC.

I’m thinking this is a really weird job interview.

We are herded back into the other room. And he starts regurgitating Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He draws the quadrants on the dry erase board and everything. Thanks to his presentation I’ve learned that we shouldn’t waste time in from of the boob tube and playing video games because those activities fall into Quadrant 3- the Quadrant of Deception.

He proceeds to tell us that God is his number one priority. And how work allowed him to donate $65,000 to GOD last year and his wife to stay home with the kids. Because he donated this money to GOD, GOD wants him to be rich so that he can continue doing good in the world. He compared himself to the likes of Bono and Bill Gates. Furthermore, if we kick-ass at work, we could one day be as lucky, successful, and philanthropic as

Personally, I thought he was freakish (and I don’t think being Canadian even had anything to do with it). I could picture him getting ready for bed that night telling his wife how he used words like kick-ass to relate to his young subordinates and how he thought the cool flower tie went over really well. What was even more insane was how people were nodding in agreement, taking notes, and even laughing at his lame at jokes. It seemed like they meant it, too.

It's not so much that I disagreed with what he was saying. I think that video games should be categorized in the Quadrant of Deception, but in my world, normal people just don't bible thump in the work place. I was scared and wanted to bolt out of there. Instead, I took the moral high ground and stayed just until this guy was done preaching. After all, I think he meant well.

It’s only 10am and he is done talking. It was time for my exit, and I did thank God for that.

As I searched for the way out, I was promptly approached by Rachel to go into the field to watch her pitch prospective clients all day. I was frank with Rachel:

I don’t think this is the right fit for me, so I am going to go. Thanks.

She gets all ruffled up.

Oh really. Well, let’s go talk to Jamie (the Gentile-life coach-no TV watching guy) so you can tell him why you aren’t interested.

I had never met Jamie, nor did I think it was entirely appropriate to explain that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with his little organization. While wrangling my way out of talking to him I backed up toward the front door. I literally ran down the hallway, out the building, and scurried across the street to my car. I felt enormous relief as I drove home.

I can’t say exactly why I was so scared. From an outsider’s perspective, I could be lumped into this group of lost souls. And maybe I hated being there because it magnified how lost I felt. Maybe I hated how all the people who worked there seem so cracked out with giddiness because they were happy to be there even if they didn’t like their job. Could it be that in some strange way I envied their contentment with the status quo?

Naaah. I think I just hated it because if felt like a friggin' cult.


Dub Reggae Night at the Elbo Room in San Francisco was tough to get to considering it was only a ten minute walk from my apartment. Sunday nights weren't typically reserved for going out, but the promise of a dull work week ahead prompted me to get in one last weekend outing.

What is dub reggae?

Dub is a version of existing music that is electronically rearranged. Think cutting and pasting elements of a song to create another version of it.

Dub is a sculpture of sounds using echo and reverb effects and scientifically layered beats set to a trance-inducing tempo. While strips of the original lyrics fade in and out, tracks are mostly instrumental. Dub is reggae on hallucinogenics.

It all started in Kingston, Jamaica, in the Sixties. Two people are credited with pioneering the genre–Osbourne Ruddock, better known as King Tubby, and Lee "Scratch" Perry, who is over 70 years old, still performing, and I had the pleasure of seeing in concert in 2007.

Here's one story of how dub came to life:

Reggae is meat-and-potatoes to Jamaican culture. The country has endured a history of impoverishment, Rhude Boy gangs, and overall political/social/economic instability*. Dancehalls were where people could listen to reggae on a sound system and dance. They were more than the local watering hole–they were an oasis from the turbulence at home and on the streets . They were also the social and illegal affairs networking hub of towns. If there was no music in the evenings, the consequences were proven to be grim, even catastrophic at times, resulting in riots. There simply had to be music, which made the sound system operators and repairmen gods.

A little problem. A sound system error occurred one hot night in Jamaica. It is said to have opened the floodgates to a new genre of music: Dub. A packed club with a broken soundboard forced the MC that night to improvise. As he tinkered with various records, sound levels, and timing, the fragments of sounds caught the ear of Lee "Scratch" Perry, and the rest is history.**

Back in San Francisco, opening MCs started around 8pm at the Elbo Room, but the place wasn't in full swing until 10pm when the best sets came on. I liked getting there early to see how the crowd evolved, but it also meant pacing the amount of Red Stripes I sipped while listening to the early grooves of the night. But sometimes soberness made the whole vibe of the place even more intoxicating.

You can dance to dub. Or you can sway to the roll of the snare drum. Or you can just bob you head to the bone-chilling tinge of the high hat. Anything goes, which is another beautiful aspect of dub. You can move to your own intimate interpretation of the hypnotic beats.

All sorts come to Dub Night in SF. Your yupsters, your Rastafarians dressed to the nines in robes and turbans, and your token hippies smoking weed in the corner making it a truly Rastafarian atmosphere.

In a way Dub Night was like being at a hostel. Everyone is there for a specific reason, but everyone is also having their own experience. Since Dub is a niche genre of music, everyone knows they have at least one thing in common with everyone else in that room. And that thing, the music, is all anyone cares about in that moment. It's a peaceful and satisfying existence for a few hours.

*Watch the film The Harder They Come starring Jimmy Cliff for an accepted depiction of the times.

**This could be a tall tale, so don't quote me.