Friday, October 24, 2008

Moving to Athens according to Alice

I remembered today a quote that used to come to my mind when I was first settling down in Athens. During my first year, I was finding the city and the people bewilderingly impossible.

It was all so loud and crazy and frustrating. I can feel my irritation with it all when I read back over posts from my first year. What was Athens? What the hell were the Greeks all about?
And it would remind me of a quote from Alice in Wonderland, a quote that is actually the most fitting summation of moving to Athens one could ever hope to find, so perfect that it amazes me that my exact feelings of settling down in Athens could be so succinctly captured in a few lines from a child's story book:

'But I don’t want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.

'Oh, you can’t help that,' said the Cat. 'We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.'

'How do you know I’m mad?' said Alice.

'You must be,' said the Cat. 'or you wouldn’t have come here.'

Monday, October 20, 2008

Coolness From 12 Years Ago

Sometimes you forget how good a particular song or video is. I was clicking around randomly on youtube while I worked and the first click onto Estelle's American Boy led, via a series of clicks, to Dil Cheez by Bally Sagoo, the very first Asian music video that we watched in drop-jawed astonishment rather than toe-curling embarrassment.

A short history lesson - Asian music before Bally Sagoo was a pretty awful affair for everyone outside of the culture, and sometimes even for those of us inside the culture. Sure, we'd dance around the room to the music videos on the Indian music channels, but we'd rather die that let any of our English school friends catch us listening to those songs or watching those technicolour, costume changing, hip thrusting videos.

Then along came Dil Cheez by Bally Sagoo. I remember watching Top of the Pops with my sisters in eager anticipation to see where it would chart, and breathing a sigh of relief when it clocked a not too shabby Number 12. Friends wanted to know what the lyrics were, and I enjoyed a brief period of coolness when I'd casually drop the tape into the cassette player and press play in the company of various Lisas and Rachels.

That of course was only when my older sister would let me have the tape, which was not very often. Ergo, I was still uncool most of the time.

Click here and here for more.

You Know You've Adjusted to Life in Athens When...

1. You envy your friend who lives in a flat with a five metre by 3 metre scrap of land in front of it because she has a garden.

2. A few hundred square feet of grass and trees packed inside streets upon streets of concrete counts as an urban green space. You forget that when you first arrived you lamented the loss of greenery like Hyde Park, Central Park or the countryside.

3. You call that scrap of land a green space, even though most of the year it consists of dead grass and dirt.

4. A 90 square metre flat sounds huge to you. "Enough to start a family!". Your mind has deleted the concept of the spacious type of housing you may have lived in.

5. You start saying "close the phone" and "close the light".

6. You read about foreign incidents of road rage caused by someone parking someone else in, look at the photo, and can't understand what all the fuss was about.

7. You lose your balance and fall over if you come across a footpath that's not one foot wide, cracked, planted with orange trees and parked upon all at the same time.

8. You snigger at people who walk their dogs.

9. You go to the laiki and are wary of produce that's marked out as not being Greek.

10. When you leave Greece and meet your friends for a coffee, you are surprised when they begin to make their excuses and leave after an hour. You had cleared three hours of your schedule for the meeting!

11. It doesn't shock you any more to see heavily pregnant women chain smoking and drinking.

12. You get so used to life in Athens that you venture out alone late at night on the weekends in London and end up scared sh*tless that you'll get stabbed, mugged, punched, groped or vomitted upon.

13. You get so used to life in Athens that you try to make small talk with people on the tube in London and get looked at like you're crazy.

14. You can answer questions on University Challenge that the anally retentive toffs from Eton and Cambridge can't, like what is a dodekahedron and what is paraskavedekatriaphobia, and your family turns and looks at you like you're a genius.

Feel free to add your own.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Go Green

Living in a country that has such a deep relationship with the sea makes you more aware of how your actions impact on the environment. At least it has for me. I began to recycle and be more aware of what sort of packaging I chose when shopping (paper bags instead of plastic for vegetables, let's say) after seeing summer beaches strewn with plastic bags and bottles. This sort of mess, when you bring it up with your parea, is almost always blamed on our messy mediterranean neighbours.

Oh really! I didn't know Lebanon was so fond of Greek brands of bottled water, or that the Turks had a predisposition to shopping at Champion Μαρινόπουλος. The mind boggles at the dedication it takes to travel all the way to Greece to buy Loutraki bottled water in Champion Μαρινόπουλος bags and go all the way back to your home country to throw the waste in the sea. Tsk tsk, messy mediterranean neighbours! Hmmmm....

Anyway, recently I started thinking about the chemicals in our day to day lives which we have accepted so seamlessly we don't even stop to think about them. For example, earlier this year I gave up chemical deodorants and antiperspirants when a very young colleague got diagnosed with breast cancer. After some experimenting with various high end and low end alternatives, the absolute best solution I found was baking soda. Just dust a little on your armpits after a shower and you'll stay fresh for up to two whole days. That's a tip that I got from someone who left a comment on this blog.

I turned this experiment into an article and while researching, I stumbled into another nasty chemical - paraben. Parabens are chemical preservatives that are used in 99% of all cosmetic products. No joke. Take a random sample of toiletries from your bathroom and I guarantee most if not all contain some form of paraben (usually prefixed by propyl, methyl, ethyl). In a study on breast cancer tumours, most were found to contain parabens.

Nobody can prove or disprove if they're cancer causing, but why take the chance? Not only is this crap getting absorbed into your skin, we wash it down the drain each time we shower, and the little sea creatures shouldn't have to eat paraben flavoured plankton just because we think We're Worth It!

Korres, the Greek cosmetics company, makes a point of not using parabens in their products, as does the Queens and Kings range of shower gels and lotions. I mention these two primarily because I know they are easily found in Greece, otherwise there are lots of brands that have started making chemical free toiletries.

So the new ways of doing things are not always the smartest or the healthiest, even if they are better advertised and more flashily packed. I went to Champion supermarket the other day (Champion, put the cheque in the mail for all this free advertising) to see if they had started stocking the My Planet range of cleaning products, but I found something even better.

I was specifically after washing powder because we were running out and the washing machine along with the kitchen sink is where we find ourselves pouring the most chemicals into the sea and harming our little sea friends.

Amongst all the usual names like Skip and Ariel, and Champion's own green range L'Arbre Vert, I spotted a green and white box with a picture of a baby on the front. This is Arkadi green olive soap flake washing powder, hands down the most natural washing powder you will ever find. It has only four ingredients: Saponified olive oil, fatty acids, water and sea salt. That's all. Not only that, it was EUR 2.65 for a kilo making it the cheapest choice too.

I have tested it out and can say that it works exactly as well as anything else I've tried. The only difference is you sprinkle it over the clothes in the washing machine drum instead of putting it where the powder would usually go, as sitting in the soap drawer it just turns to a green goo. I usually also add a tablespoon of baking soda to the wash because it softens the water and makes for cleaner clothes.

So there really is no excuse. Save some pennies and some sea life! Buy Arkadi washing powder!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Life on a Distant Planet

You may have all heard about the Hubble space telescope breaking down. Well it seems they've managed to fix it so well that it's now peering into the life on a planet some 100 million light years away from us.
No, seriously! Just click here to watch and listen to the fascinating people of this planet. Now, I know they sound like a bunch of foaming-at-the-mouth lunatics who are totally out of touch with reality, but can you really blame them?

I mean, if they're 100 million light years away imagine how long any news from our world would take to reach them! And even if it managed to reach them, you never know, they might have some kind of information barrier in the form of hundreds of news channels that work hard all day at telling you absolutely nothing... just a thought.

Still, I sure am glad these people don't have any sort of power to, say, decide who the world's next most powerful man will be. Oh shucks, then we'd really be in trouble, wouldn't we! *cough, cough*

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First loves

On the weekend me and Mr Zeus were talking about our first childhood crushes. His was his nursery school teacher and then a succession of teachers, girls next door and school mates. His first crush laid down an interesting quirk - he finds women whose teeth turn slightly inwards insanely sexy, because his first teacher's teeth were like that.

I struggled to recall anyone. When I was in kindergarten a little boy did want to marry me. He even asked my mother's permission and when she said he was too young, he said he would play music and I would dance and that's how we'd make a living.

I knew he liked me but I wasn't interested back. I remember one afternoon saying I was going to hit him, and the poor little thing, he let me. "I'm warning you," I said, "I'm really strong." Still he let me hit him, so I gave him a few of my hardest punches on his back. But he was a chubby little thing and if he felt the pain he didn't show it. "Okay, my turn." he said, swinging around, to which I replied that wasn't part of the deal and took my five year old self scuttling away.

The one crush I can distinctly remember was when I was about eight years old. At the time I didn't know what it was, so I couldn't identify it as a crush. It was with a cousin of mine, a cool, motorcycle riding cousin. Here's the interesting, slightly creepy part. He was a lot older than me. I can only say it was a crush now because I remember being eight and him getting married in his early 20s, and I remember feeling jealous of the bride, but I was too young and sheltered to identify the feeling that was making me jealous.

So I guess without even knowing it my taste for an older, motorcycle riding man was laid down decades before I ever met Mr Zeus. Interesting!

Since Mr Zeus however, the only men who ever express any interest in me are the Creepy Older Men. They are exclusively the one and only brand of men who ever flirt with me when I'm out without Mr Zeus. And they don't even skip a beat when I mention that I'm married.

It's kinda sad. I'm not saying I want to be flirted with by Calvin Klein models (um well, maybe I am saying that) I am simply at a loss to explain why no man around my age group has ever approached me. Purely out of scientific curiosity, I would like to know why that is.

At a wedding I was recently at, dressed traditionally of course, the couple apparently received a flurry of enquiries from single males about who I was. It was completely the sari's doing, making me appear like a new flavour of icecream to try. Anyway the point is, despite all this supposed interest, no one came near me. Furthermore, the groom being a much older man and thus the majority of guests too belonging to that age group, the chances are that all these enquiries came from haggy old men with a pocket full of Viagra.

3 Benefits of Only Haggy, Creepy Older Men being interested in you:

1. Should things get sticky, you can outrun them very easily.

2. Thanks to their poor eyesight and cataracts, you appear to them in a permanent soft focus glow.

3. You can flatter yourself that they walked into trees/traffic/furniture admiring your beauty, not because they can't see where they're going.

Monday, October 13, 2008


After more than two years here, these are some things about life in Greece that make me feel joyful:

1. The way there is a different type of sunset for each season. This weekend I saw a blazing red autumn sunset, throwing up shades of pale purple, gold and blue.

2. Not freezing in terror whenever someone on the street tries to talk to me and being able to navigate around the city all on my own at all hours of the day and night.

3. Not shaving years off my life every time I visit the post office.

4. I may complain about Greece's lack of multiculturalism, but over here I am unique in a nice way. I am the first Asian most Greeks I meet have had a chance to interact with. It makes me feel like I'm getting the chance to give something back in my life here.

5. Apples that taste and smell like apples, pears that taste and smell like pears, grapes that taste and smell like grapes. Not the fruit of a British supermarket that all tastes and smells generic.

6. The big, blue sky.

7. How I feel safe no matter where I go in Athens or at what time.

8. Taxi drivers who know about Home Country politics and want to know my point of view.

9. Snacking on little paper bags of pumpkin and sunflower seeds instead of fried potato chips.

10. Having enough Greek to learn recipes from Mr Zeus's ancient grandmother, and being the only person who she will teach those recipes to, claiming amnesia when anyone else asks her.

What prompted this post? I found some old emails I had written when I was 21 and was astounded by how much I wanted to leave the UK even then, and how completely unhappy and angry I was. I was so full of rage, rage against this, rage against that, rage because my favourite hairproduct had been discontinued.

I was 21, and I can't recall at all what my skin was like, what my body was like or what my eyes were like. I was lost somewhere at the bottom of a well of unhappiness. Where did I get the time and energy to write such rambling, page upon page emails about really stupid things, like how my hair never looked right, or whether it was really morally awful that a man had kissed me on my cheek at a nightclub and should I tell my friends about it.

I read these emails and thought it was such a shame that I was so miserable back then, tied down like Gulliver by hundres of tiny, tiny little issues, all combining to stop me being true to myself and living my life. No wonder I was so unhappy.

I strongly believe life in the UK was eating my away from the inside. My God, I am so glad I left. I am so glad for the life I have in Greece and I am so glad for Greece giving me a little piece of herself to call my own. I am so glad that this is the first time and place in my life where I am being myself, and I believe that's largely down to the sense of acceptance I have felt over here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The UK Banking Crisis Explained!



ThE government is to invest £500bn of your money in British banks so they can lend it back to you with interest.

'I got confused'

The historic move is being hailed as a lifeline for the financial system as long as nobody asks too many questions.

Julian Cook, chief economist at Corbett and Barker, said: "The government will give your money to the banks so the banks can start lending you that money, probably at around 7% APR. "Thanks to all the interest you're paying on your own money, the banks will make billions of pounds again and normality will be restored.

"After a few years of this the government will cash in the bank shares it bought with your money and use the profits to build a huge f*cking dome somewhere."He added: "In case you hadn't already worked it out - the entire global financial system is predicated on the assumption that you're an idiot."

Chancellor Alistair Darling said the decision had been taken in tandem with the banking industry, adding: "They used a lot of dirty words I'd never heard before and one of them had an angry looking dog."

Meanwhile, Emma Bradford, a sales manager from Bath, said: "Why doesn't the government just give my money to me so I can buy stuff from businesses who will then make a profit and put it in a bank?"

But Mr Darling insisted: "Shut up."



CHANCELLOR Alistair Darling was said to be nervous and excited last night after being told he would have to run 17 banks at the same time.

Mr Darling, who has no previous experience of running a bank, has opened a new Word file on his computer and has already typed some headings in block capitals.

The chancellor said: "Barclays - now that's quite a big one isn't it? Right, so that'll probably need all of Monday.

"Nationwide I can do Tuesday mornings. I'll split Wednesday between Lloyds and Abbey. HBOS is f*cked so that'll need all day Thursday, and I can do the rest on Friday. Should be finished by half-four."

He added: "Worst comes to worst, I can always take RBS home with me and fiddle about with it in the garage."

City analyst Julian Cook said: "I believe British banking is about to enter an exciting new era of dreadful speeches, lost CDs and changing its mind every 20 minutes." Meanwhile, as the FTSE 100 continued to fall despite the £500bn pound cash injection, stockbrokers finally admitted they have not been completely honest with us.

Martin Bishop, a senior trader at Madeley-Finnegan, said: "Yeah, okay, basically what happened was last Christmas we all got shitfaced and ended up throwing £800 trillion into a volcano. "It was all Fred Goodwin's idea. He's mental."

Image and Text:


What happened ? You can't just leave like this! You know I have issues about being abandoned without any warning!

Come back, or at least explain why you stopped blogging. I used to enjoy your blog.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Rearranging Marriage

I received news this morning that a good friend of mine in the Home Country got married. One day she was engaged, the next day she met the guy and that evening they were married. All within the space of three days.

As someone who grew up in that culture, this should not surprise me. Indeed, it didn't for a very long time. My own personal theory had been that if I didn't find someone by 25 I'd let my parents arrange my marriage. This was way before I knew what love was. Since I found love, I can't imagine anything worse than an arranged marriage. I can't imagine marrying someone I don't know who is just in it out of a sense of duty, who doesn't love me or know me.

Love is an overrated concept in my culture, almost embarrassing, somewhere dropped into the same box of other embarrassing things like sex and mini skirt wearing. It's a silly luxury that most people think will ruin your life. They say in my part of the world that a bride cries on her wedding day not because she is getting married and has to leave her home, but because she is mourning the secret love that can now never come to anything.

My culture is littered with love stories that come to nothing. Every single one of our folk legends circles around female protagonists who fell in love, earned the scorn of society and thus perished in some way or, more cruelly, had to live on after her lover was killed. They serve almost as a warning to future generations: loving of your own free will comes to nothing. Best listen to your parents. My type of relationship, where you chose your partner, is called a Love Marriage and is considered selfish and ridiculous.

I know for sure that me and my older sister who chose our own husbands are gossiped endlessly about back home. I know this because back in the day we did it too, despite our own parents choosing each other. That's how strong the mindset is.

I'm not saying arranged marriages are a terrible system. In my life at this moment I am surrounded by miserable couples who chose each other of their own free will. It's just that I feel like a life lived without love is such a waste, such a pity.

But then it's easy to walk down one path when you don't even know that the other one exists. Had I never discovered what it felt like to love someone enough to fight everything to be together, most probably I too would be walking down the other path. I had no idea I had such a great capacity to love another person, it took me totally by surprise. But it also meant that I was left astonished by how narrowly I escaped a life lived without such love. I had no expectations - I was happy to save my love for any children I might have.

This is the culture I grew up. This was how it was. We didn't question. And now I can't imagine anything more terrible.

I know what most girls in the Home Country are like, I was one of them. We carry around a lot of guilt and fear of intimacy. When I reflect on how many problems me and Mr Zeus had because of my mental restrictions, that too despite the fact that we loved each other and he worked so hard to help me, it makes me wonder and feel incredibly sad: how do you make love when there was no love that brought you together, not even lust, because us good Home Country girls aren't supposed to feel that either?

But then again I guess it comes down to not knowing any better.

I hope it all works out for my friend. The problem is that if it doesn't, as is often the case nowadays, you aren't paying the price for your mistake. You are paying the price for someone else's mistake.

I wanted so much for my girlfriends back home to fall in love and get married, like I did. But what are the chances when a society is so heavily stacked against you. It was only after falling in love that I realised I was surrounded by art, music, poetry, paintings, all dedicated to love, a thousand times more than all the other themes put together. I began to wonder if the meaning of life is love itself.

To not love and be loved back. What an incredible pity, be that an arranged marriage in Asia, a marriage of convenience in London or a shotgun marriage in Greece.

Who Said Slavery is Dead?

This morning I read this article in the Guardian, one of many such articles the Guardian has published.

In my teens Dubai was one of the must-see places I wanted to go in my life, but the more I heard the more uncomfortable I got. All this fantastic shopping, all these fabulous buildings, expats showered in money. It doesn't just spring out of the ground.

There is an army of slaves in the background, unheard, unseen, treated like animals, I mean really, treated like animals. Actually no. People in Dubai probably treat their dogs better. I really can't say more than the article does.

I'd urge you to read it and boycott Dubai as a holiday destination. Seriously, somewhere with that amount of money has no excuse to keep their hardest workers so badly paid and taken care of. It's racism, plain and simple.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Thought of the Day



a mythical male creature who is successful (read: pursuing his passion and can pay his electric bills/rent), funny, chivalrous, masculine (read: not chauvinistic), adventurous, artistic (read: not suicidal).

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Night To Remember

Here's how I spent last night, a night so horrible I had to capture it in a blog post.

I haven't slept properly most of this week but the last two nights have been particularly bad because of mosquitoes. They have bitten into every available part of me, from the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands to my armpits. What sort of pervert mosquito looks at your armpit and thinks "Mmmm... yummy!"?

Last night went down something like this. The lack of hot weather has destoryed my appetite. Yesterday we went to a home exhibition and looked around a great big building filled with mostly really ugly, kitschy furniture, the kind they ooh and aah over in the Home Country and the kind that I would be proudly showing off right now if I had remained and married there. Really, the 13 year old me would run appreciative hands over that hideous, curly legged, white lacquered and gold finished furniture and think it was most fantastic.

Anyway, after that Mr Zeus and me went out to dinner and I forced a very generous helping of moussaka into myself on account of not eating lately and starting to lose weight. When we got home I further expanded my stomach with grapes. All I want to eat these days are grapes. Grapes, grapes, grapes.

By the time I hit the couch for some pre-bed TV, I was feeling quite ill. Even turning over made me feel like I'd be sick.

Getting into bed started off an awful night. It was uncomfortably humid, and I usually like humid weather. Someone in the neighbourhood very kindly left their TV on full blast all night. All. night. Tuned in to some music channel. I detest sleeping with the TV on, I've hated it since I was a child and here I could do nothing because if I closed the window we'd suffocate but leaving it open meant that the entire night Amy Winehouse drifted in and out of my dreams accompanied by the hum of mosquitoes.

On top of that my dearly beloved fell asleep on my hair so that in the middle of the night when I tried to turn over I actually felt the hairs being ripped out of my scalp. This in fact is what woke me up in the first place and allowed me to experience the aural vomit that is the tinny sound of a TV on someone's balcony, mosquitoes and unusually high decible snoring eminating from the person next to you.

The mosquitoes were having a party at my expense, attacking any part of myself that I left exposed. "You won't win!" I thought, "I'm not getting out of bed! No matter how awake I am! I'm staying right here!" But finally I gave up and exchanged my blanket for a bedsheet in order to not die of overheating while trying to keep the mosquitoes off.

The TV played on, making me angrier and angrier. The mosquitoes buzzed cruelly in my ear. I slapped myself many times trying to get rid of them, finally hitting myself so hard in the face that it triggered a migraine.

At about 6 am Mr Zeus managed to kill off the last mosquito and I got in some sleep. When I got up at 7.30, guess what! The TV had been switched off.

Well, thanksaf*ckinglot.

Bets are on that I get fired this week. I am having the most unproductive week of my job to date and my work so far has been returned riddled with mistakes. I have two deadlines today. My solitary functioning braincell doesn't quite know what to do first.

All the emails I get from work are getting "Yes!" "Sure!" "Will do!" replies from me, while I sit here staring blankly at the screen. I'm not sure how to make Yes! Sure! Will do! happen today.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Summer Love

So that's it then. Summer is over. I thought me and summer were doing really well. Laughing, singing, swimming, basically enjoying ourselves. I confessed my undying love for summer even though I knew summer couldn't stay around forever (only at the equater is summer not quite so commitment phobic).

But I didn't expect to be abandoned like this. Summer just got up and left in the middle of the night, leaving me, the jilted lover, to wake up one morning to find my darling summer gone. Just gone, just like that. I didn't even get a clue or an adjustment period. Summer never hinted that it was thinking of leaving me.

And like a forsaken lover, I mope around the house. I have no appetite, I've even started to lose weight. I feel listless and sad. I'm sleeping badly. What can I do? I was made for the summer and even though I accept it has to leave at some point, this is the first Greek summer I've seen which simply evaporated into thin air like this.

This wet weather has given rise to a new round of mosquitoes which add to my poor sleeping. Our nights are punctuated with the sound of me and Mr Zeus slapping ourselves about the face and limbs, trying to make a few mosquito martyrs. And these 21st Century mosquitoes are smart: the second you switch the light on to try and find them they take flight, making it impossible to deliver a death blow.

My cooking skills have also toppled off the edge of a cliff since the sun vanished. I was trying to make some celebratory food on Tuesday and alternated between burning things beyond rescue or making them all wrong in the first place.

Eight months to go till June 2009 and the return of summer.