Bangles and Babies

Bangles and babies go together, right? What newborn doesn’t want to “Walk Like an Egyptian” or doesn’t dream of an eternal flame burning? Okay, maybe I’ve got the wrong type of bangle there (but really, who doesn’t love singing along to some fantastic 80s ballads?), nevertheless, bangles and babies collided in my world last week.

I’ve been to a lot of baby showers for friends and family over the years (and blogged about several of them), usually grumbling because for a married woman with no kids, baby showers are filled with landmine questions.  In general, baby showers are my least favorite kind of shower (rainy season rain showers in Malaysia may rank as my top choice) because they are open season on personal questions about why I don’t have kids, regardless of how well I know the asker. Apparently, if you are co-guests at a baby shower, you can ask anything that pops into your head!


My less-than-stellar past baby shower experiences were eclipsed last week through when the consular section in Kuala Lumpur hosted a party for one of our officers who is having her baby in late January. Malaysia’s eclectic mix of cultures took center stage Friday night, when our American-style shower was combined with an Indian bangle ceremony.


One of our local staff members who is Indian-Malaysian offered to give the party an Indian-twist, which she did in spades! She brought in sarees for any of the ladies who wanted to really get into the theme of the party (I chose a deep purple one with a beaded paisley pattern long the edge), jewelry to match, all the accouterments for the ceremony itself, and of course, a beautiful saree and flowers for the mother-to-be. Of course, the baby shower was not about me (thank goodness!), but I did love that I got to dress up in an absolutely gorgeous saree and spend the night contemplating a tour in India. (I’m actually not super keen on a post in India, but I am dying to see the Taj Mahal at some point. I don’t need two years of India, but I could definitely use two weeks!)

While most American bridal showers consist of a few games (ick!), gift opening and lots of cake, Friday’s event was unique in the way that the focus was on the soon-to-be-mother. Each person who attended the shower was invited up to individually greet/bless the mother through a small ritual consisting of sprinkling rose water over her, putting sandalwood paste on her cheeks and placing glass bangles on each of her arms. These few brief moments were special, as it gave each guest a chance to say a few words one-on-one, even in a room full of chatting women. It was a bit of calm in a room filled with music, conversations and laughter.

Living abroad can be difficult, especially when it means missing out on important events in the lives of family and friends at home (yes, even baby showers!), but it is nights like Friday that help fill those gaps. Never in Idaho would I have gathered with friends from Yemen, Malaysia, Venezuela and the US, donned a magnificently hued saree and attended an Indian bangle ceremony in celebration of a friend’s impending motherhood.

Sand dances, gold crocodiles and foreign types with hookah pipes-Bangles and babies are where it is at!

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Seriously, Malaysia Takes Ingrown Toenails Seriously

I’ll put it out there from the start- I tend to minimize all illness/injuries. I’m pretty sure most anything can be walked off and there is no need to miss a day of school or work unless bodily fluids are running or you are in the hospital. In the last year though, I’ve started to think maybe my medical philosophy has steered me wrong. It was due to these stringent “rules” that I wrote a literature paper and worked for three days, all while blind in my left eye. Just when I was thinking it was time to rethink my “suck it up and stick it out” thought process, Malaysia has reiterated that overly cautious and slightly wimpy is not the way to go.

How did this rethinking of my thinking come about? An ingrown toenail.

That’s right. I would like to officially retake my stand on illness and injury. Pull it together and do what you need to do.

You see, I have had problems with an ingrown toenail on my left big toe since March. It all started when we went to Tioman Island to do our SCUBA certification. I stubbed my toe hard on something and it broke the nail down fairly low. As it grew in, it grew *in.* Since March, I’ve just dug it out occasionally as it pushed into the skin. It hurt a little, but was never something I couldn’t fix with a pair of nail clippers and a few winces of pain. (Keep in mind, this was the same SCUBA trip that took place a week before my sudden left-eye blindness. Maybe SCUBA is the death of me in a way I never imagined!) Lately though, the home remedy was no longer sufficient. Last Friday night, after a fun farewell dinner for one of our local staff who has worked at Embassy KL longer that I have been alive (seriously), I sat down to do a little self-surgery. As I took the clippers to the edge of skin, basically the skin folded back on its own, leaving a strangely gaping hole and no nail to dig out. (Gross, I know. Sorry if you are eating breakfast as you read this. But if you are eating breakfast, thank s for starting your day with In Search of the End of the Sidewalk !) Thad took one quick look at it and announced we would be going to the walk-in clinic first thing Saturday morning to have it cut out by a professional.

Since the toe was red and pretty painful by this point, I relented and off to the nice, shiny private hospital in KL we went. I assumed that the clinic would be able to cut it out and then send me on my way, but boy was I wrong. This is where the drama of a single ingrown toenail begins.

Saturday we went to the clinic. They wouldn’t cut my toe, instead made me an appointment with an orthopedic doctor for Tuesday and gave me a bag full of prescription drugs- anti-inflammatories, pain medication and antibiotics. They sent me home to wait for my mid-week appointment.

Tuesday rolls around and off I headed to the doctor. I took an hour off work, figuring my 11AM appointment would have me back at my desk by 1PM. Boy was I wrong!

My first meeting of the day started with the doctor giving me two options: do nothing or cut into the nailbed, forever changing the shape of the nail. When Thad asked if there was a middle-of-the-road option, we were told no. So, we opted for the second, as doing nothing was not going to be useful. The doctor then told us he could do it December 18! What? I thought it was going to happen today; that’s why we had the appointment. The doctor got all kinds of surly and told us that is not the way it works and that he had to be at the airport in two hours to catch his flight to India, so there was nothing more he could do.

After asking a few questions, which he interpreted as arguing, he finally referred us to another orthopedic doctor in the same building. (Those of you who know me know that I am not an arguer- especially in that kind of situation! I am not sure why he interpreted it as such, but needless to say I was less than impressed with his entire bedside manner.)

Doctor #2 on Tuesday was a much better fit. He actually examined my foot (something the first doctor did with a mere glance) and said he could remove the toenail and let it grow back in on its own, suggesting the more radical option be saved and used only if the toenail didn’t return correctly. He also said he could do the surgery today. (He kept calling it a surgery. I kept calling it a procedure. Little did I know how correct he was!)

We scheduled for 2PM in the day clinic for the procedure (I was still sticking with that term) and showed up a bit early to check in. Upon giving my name and passport and removing every piece of jewelry I was wearing, I was escorted to a curtained off area where I was handed a dressing gown, a pair of disposable underwear (?!?!) and a hairnet.

Suddenly, this all got a whole lot more serious. Why do I need all of this for a toenail?

I changed and Thad tied up the forty-seven ties on the back of my gown, not even trying to contain his giggles at the ridiculous disposable granny panties and hairnet I was rocking. Then, they made me lay in the bed and off I was wheeled to, yes, SURGERY!

I was actually taken to a surgery room where I was transferred onto a surgical bed and hooked up to a variety of machines. Covered with a blanket which had a magical layer of warm air being blown into it and with the huge ceiling lights all aimed at my foot, it was time for the doctor to make his grand entrance.

Again, we are talking about an ingrown toenail here!

Not being able to contain myself by the time, I blurted out, “Doctor, this is all a little dramatic for a toenail, don’t you think? In America, we would have cut it out in a walk-in clinic.”

He laughed a bit and then went to work, numbing most of my foot with four injections that made not very nice words tumble out of my mouth in a murmur or two of pain. He told me he was giving me the American dose of numbing injections rather than the Asian. Did he just call me fat??

All the while, as he numbed and cut and clipped (not painlessly, I might add) he wanted to talk about the visa waiver program! Are you serious? I should count this as work hours! So, while I had a minor (VERY minor) operation on my big toe, I did a bit of simultaneous consular section outreach.

The numbing and cutting and clipping took about half an hour and then I was wheeled back to where Thad was waiting. The nurse suggested I rest for another half an hour, but I said I was probably all right to go. There is nothing lying there would do for me, so she handed me my sack lunch (Yes, I am serious. I got a sandwich, two orange juices and a water. Sadly, no cookies.) and off we headed to pay my bill, get my new drugs and head home.

All in all, my ingrown toenail is going to set me back about $800 and a day and a half of work. (Luckily, we have very good insurance, but I am still not sure how to register the claim. I think I am going to look up the medical terms for ingrown toenail and make it sound super fancy, otherwise, it is ridiculous!)

And this, my friends, is why I am reverting to my previous beliefs about medical issues. If you aren’t seeping bodily fluids and you are not prone on a hospital bed, you are fine. Who would have guessed a single ingrown toenail would become so much drama and ridiculousness? Not I, I proclaim as I lay on my couch, trying to type with the computer on my lap and my foot propped up above my heart level. I guess they take their toe problems seriously in Malaysia!

Lesson learned.


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Thailand Instead of Turkey

Since we are going to Idaho for Christmas this year and will be surrounded by snow (maybe?!), live Christmas trees, sparkly wrapped packages, peppermint hot chocolate and all of the excitement of the holidays at home, we opted for the non-traditional Thanksgiving celebration.  Last year we had Foreign Service friends from Chengdu and Kuala Lumpur over for a giant turkey (two, actually!), every possible side dish you can imagine and several hours of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Spaces” video on loop (thanks, Tom!), but this year we traded all of that for Friendsgiving in Thailand:  fruity drinks with umbrellas in them rather than turkey, lunch delivered to our beach chairs instead of dinner at a dining room table and snorkeling with the sharks (just one!) instead of pop music on repeat.

I have no complaints about either one.

With friends in town for the month of November, we thought wrapping up their visit with a trip north was the perfect way to celebrate. What’s not to be thankful for with white sandy beaches, clear blue water, inexpensive massages and beautiful pink sunsets?  (Plus, it was one more stamp in their passports, after a whirlwind three countries in four weeks!) Shannon and Joe had already hiked the rain forest in Borneo, wandered miles of pavement in Singapore, visited Batu Caves and all the sites Kuala Lumpur has to offer, dressed up in formal wear for the marine ball and checked out the street art in Penang. There’s no better way to end a first-trip to Southeast Asia than with a bit of tropical paradise.

Possibly the most amazing thing about our Thanksgiving weekend was that we spent three days either on the beach or on boats (or a combination of the two!) and I got absolutely no sunburn! Granted, I did get a weird set of hives, possibly from the hotel shampoo, but that is entirely out of my control. Between one day lounging on the hotel beach, one day snorkeling off a dive boat three hours from shore and spending one day at Hong Island, I barely had a pink tinge to my skin. It’s amazing what a little bit of sunscreen can do for a white girl! (Tan? No way. That is asking too much for this pasty skin.)

On our Air Asia flight Wednesday afternoon, Thad and I were trying to count how any times we’ve been to Thailand and I think we came up with this being our sixth trip there, but even with multiple visits to Bangkok, Phuket and Krabi over the years, last weekend did offer up a new experience- fish pedicures. That’s right- a tank full of tiny fish that eat away the dead skin around your toes and feet. Thad partook of this strange experience when we were in Cambodia with friends a few years ago, but I think I did a little night market shopping while he let his feet be nibbled upon. The idea of purposefully letting something, even a little something, bite me held no appeal.  But, it when Joe wanted to give it a shot (not his first go at the strange experience) I decided now was the time for me to join the club. Everyone’s doing it, right?

How did it go? I don’t think there is any need for words. Watch the video. That is all.

I may not have busted out the turkey platter, gravy boats and autumn table cloth that I obsessed over getting last year, but Thanksgiving 2015 was fantastic and I got the best of both worlds this year: Thanksgiving with best friends on a beach and then a white (??) Christmas with family in Idaho. Happy holidays all around!

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