Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Cut Day

Spring Cut Day (also known as Look Both Ways Before You Cross the Street Day, LBWBYCTSD**) is approaching quickly, and it’s time to remind y'all how to properly take a sick day when you’re not really sick. I wrote THIS FIVE AND A HALF years ago. It doesn’t really apply anymore considering I don’t really have a direct boss… and don’t do anyone’s work but my own…and have an admin and a junior.

**As a reminder, Spring Cut Day / LBWBYCTSD takes place on the first sunny day of the year when the temperature hits 75 degrees. People are drawn outside, the streets are full of people, and there are actually people in the park. Additionally, girls are wearing all of their new spring outfits, and showing skin for the first time in 6-8 months. Drivers on the roads, are driving with their heads on a swivel, drawn to these girls like wild animals that haven't eaten in months. Thus, every year, someone gets hit by a car. Don't let it by you!! Please LBWBYCTS on the first few nice days of the year.

The Process for Calling in Sick (When 29 and Not Sick)

You must start this after lunch on the day BEFORE you want to take off. Check the weather ahead of time.

First, you need to redden your cheeks a bit. Running up the stairs is the preferred method, especially b/c a little sweat on the brow can't hurt your act. If that method isn’t possible, slap yourself around a bit, and go to the bathroom and put a damp cloth on your face.

Second, you need to work up a little cough, (sneezing is out of the question, it’s messy and not as easy to do on command). Walk around the office coughing a bit. Print something, pick it up coughing. Feel free to bend over for 4 seconds while coughing to add to the effect. Don’t say anything; just make sure a few people notice.

Next, around 4-5pm, walk over to your admin, junior, or coworker and something like “Man I feel like crap today. When do you think everyone’ll take off today? I should prob take off soon.” Your coworkers will likely tell you to go home now… stick it out if you want, either way. Notice how this varies from the previous “I have a boss” version, where you need to ask your boss if he has any more work for you today, b/c you aren’t feeling well and are trying to finish up at a reasonable hour.

Lastly, and most obviously, you need to call in sick the next morning. This piece of the puzzle is a joke, it’s easy! Use a deep, groggy voice. Set your alarm for early in the morning. Leave the message before anyone gets to the office, either with your coworkers, or your admin. Say, “Hey, its Jami, I’m still not feeling well and I’m not going to make it in right now. I could hardly sleep last night. Maybe I’ll come in this afternoon if I’m feeling better. If you need anything, call 555-1212.”

I would say the success rate of convincing everyone you're sick is close to 90%.


Much more difficult is the sick half day, in which you leave work early, just after lunch, b/c you are sick. This is necessary when you’re at work, and all of a sudden, the day gets really beautiful, and someone who’s already having a Spring Cut Day, calls or emails you to join.

Process for Mid Day Sick Cutting (When 29 and Not Sick):

1) Go to the bathroom for 20 minutes and put water on your face on the way out
2) Make your cheeks a little rosier than normal.
3) Walk by your coworkers/admin, looking down and not smiling, with your hand on your stomach.
4) Talk a little slower than normal when talking to coworkers/admin. Take pauses mid sentence.
5) When this is noticed, say “Sorry, I’m not feeling that well.”
6) Walk back to those same coworkers/admin, with bad posture (slightly bent over, hand on stomach), and say, “I think I should leave, I’m really not feeling well.”

I’d say there’s a 75% chance your coworkers/admin will agree w/you and say “go home, feel better.” Then you hit the park.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Texas - I Went Home

I spent last weekend in Austin, Texas for SXSW (South by Southwest). Here are some things I thought about:

I think if a flight is 4 hours, it better serve food and better have TV's. I think I read 250 pages of my 300 page book (Rigged) on the flight, and had to buy a new one for my flight home.

I think I was forced to take book suggestions from strangers and ended up with The Road, a really really good book that's an absurdly depressing story about a boy and father trying to survive a post apocalyptic world.

I think you know when you're reading a good book when someone on the Shuttle stops you and tells you so, and then tells you that he's got a son and it totally messed him up for a few weeks.

I think that we took 50 pictures over the weekend but I could only post 5 online because the rest were just drunken and stupid. I think that going out in a group of 5 people with fake mustaches was a great way to help me have a good time when I don't talk to strangers. I think, because of those fake mustaches, people talked to me!

I think that I'm gonna have to throw a white trash mustache party at the TP in the next few months (maybe my roommate's bday memorial day weekend). What a blast it would be.
I think it bothers me when non engaged girls are reading bridal magazines.

I think turbulence only hits airplanes when I'm in the bathroom, making my peeing experience on planes similar to my drunken peeing experiences - balance issues. I think pilots just shouldn't let me use the facilities, for the other passengers' sakes.

I think after 3 days of drinking, BBQ and live music, I need detox. I'm thinking about eating healthy, giving up alcohol, exercising, and maybe even giving up dating for 90 days (till the summer) in order to clean my slate and start over. Maybe I'll apply to grad school w/all my free time.

I think southerners have a major inferiority complex regarding the civil war. I think this is what was written on the front of the "memorial" at the Texas capital building:

"Died.
For states rights guaranteed under the constitution.
The people of the south, animated by the spirit of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the federal compact in 1861. The north resorted to coercion. The south, against overwhelming numbers and resources, fought until exhausted. During the war, there were twenty two hundred and fifty seven engagements; in eighteen hundred and eighty two of these, at least one regiment took part. Number of men enlisted: Confederate Armies, 600,000: Federal Armies, 2,855,132. Losses from all causes: Confederate, 437,000: Federal, 485,216."

I think what I really like about this is that the federal numbers are exact, but the confederate are not. I think I can't imagine a memorial in the north with wording like this!

I think it sounds like a "we lost, but we were better, and we were in the right" Though, I think if I lived in the south, I'd have a complex too.

I think Austin was amazing, and UT would have been an amazing college experience, but I don't think it's a city I'd ever consider living in... just partying in.

The natives in Texas always say "Go Big or Go Home!"
In the end, I went home.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

10,000

I hit 10,000 career hits on this site... if only I had something to actually write about.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama Update

The greatest US President in 3 generations may become the greatest stock picker in US history.

2 Weeks since Obama picked the bottom at 6,726:

Market at close on 3/18/09: 7,487

2 week return: 11.3%

The annualized geometric return is 1,623% (if you make 11.3% every 2 weeks)
The annualized arithmatic return is 294.2% (if you make 761 pts every 2 weeks)

UPDATED: (I gotta stop tracking this, Obama is amazing)

Market on 3/25/08: 7,750

3 week return: 15.2% or 1,024 pts

The annualized geometric return is 1,066% (if you make 15.2% every 3 weeks)
The annualized arithmatic return is 263.9% (if you make 1,024 pts every 3weeks)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Purim

As a child (or even as 28 year old), whenever I was sitting next to my mother and bored to hell in temple she would say to me, “Read the in English.” She would tell me it’s full of interesting stories, and I’d read about how G-d did this and that and how he’s great, but bad things happened and he tests us b/c he’s a jerk even though he controls us, etc. etc. etc.

Fast forward to Purim on Monday night. I’m sitting at a Megillah reading, bored out of my mind and decide to read the English version of the Megillah / Book of Esther. The first 7 chapters are of the story I knew before: Esther (the prostitute) is made a Queen for winning a beauty contest. Haman hates the Jews because Mordecai (Esther’s pimp) wouldn’t bow to him. Mordecai saves the King’s life. Esther saves the Jews by revealing her identity. Haman is impaled on a stake 50 cubits high. We all celebrate now... or so I thought.

Little did I know, there were 3 more chapters…

In Chapter 8, Jews are told of the plot to exterminate them, and are given the power to defend themselves, kill their enemies, exterminate their armed forces including women and children and plunder their possessions. At hearing of this news that they were allowed to fight back and what day to fight back, the Jews celebrated. During that time, many people pretend to be Jews because they had become scared of the Jews, and what they would do on the 13th of Adar.

In Chapter 9, the 13th of Adar came, and Jews struck their enemies, slaying and destroying. They wreaked their will upon their enemies. They killed 500 men, and all 10 sons of Haman. When the King and Esther heard about the 500 people who were killed, Esther asked for the Jews to be allowed to continue tomorrow what they did today, and of course, to impale all of Haman’s sons on stakes. And thus, on the 14th day of Adar, 300 more men were slain. In the rest of the kingdom, Jews apparently killed 75,000 people that day. Of course, when all of this killing was over, there were big parties. Mordecai was so happy with all this killing, he sent dispatches to all the Jews to celebrate these days of every year on the 13th and 14th of Adar.

Chapter 10 we learn of how the King promoted Mordecai and told everyone in the land about it. Apparently this was very popular among the Jews and Mordecai was revered. This sounds like Idolatry to me.

Maybe the translation in my Megillah was a little off, but when I read all of this, I was floored. I understand that we were going to be killed, but we weren’t killed, we weren’t even attacked, we actually killed all of them. I’m ok with celebrating the first 7 chapters, but I don’t understand why we celebrate the other 3. In those chapters, we commit genocide and we commit idolatry. I’m pretty sure those are 2 of the 10 commandments that we break. I don’t think the commandment is “thou shall not kill, unless they are malachite.”

Esther must have been pretty pissed off. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but isn’t it time we got over this one and let it go? Is it healthy to hold a grudge against a guy for 2,000 years after we’ve already killed him and his 10 sons? I know plenty of girls that hold grudges, and I keep telling them to get over that pain because I don’t know if any of them are happy.

Not to say we should forget Haman, but shouldn’t we give the guy a break… We did win after all. We don’t call Iran Hamania and people don’t wear three pointed hats. Haman must be in Hell laughing with Stalin about how 2,000 years from now, the Jewish people will still be yelling at the mention of his name, while Stalin may be forgotten by then. He probably watches the services from above/below and chuckles to himself about this whole thing. I can picture us Jews 1,000 years from now, totally forgetting about Hitler, but still remembering the evil Haman. We are Jews, we are supposed to be righteous and forgiving, when is it time?

Jewish holidays are comically simplified into, "They tried to kill us, they failed, lets eat/drink." In my mind, Purim is now forever different. Instead, it will be known as, "They tried to kill us, they failed, we killed them all, including their woman and children, lets celebrate our hatred of the guy who tried to do this and our neverending grudge against him, and lets eat/drink." I'm not sure I can celebrate Purim anymore.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Obama Calls The Bottom!

Though the equity markets are much smaller than the fixed income markets, everyone focuses their attention on them... Focus becomes even more specific when looking at the Dow, which is made up of only 30 companies. In any event, President Obama stated yesterday "buying stocks is a potentially good deal if you’ve got a long term perspective." I'm taking this quote as "Obama Calls The Bottom" and I'll be periodically posting where the Dow is in comparison to Obama's claim.

For reference, the Dow closed yesterday at 6,726. Return = 0%.
(Dealbreaker also read the reports of Obama's comments, and are tracking the "First Portfolio").

UPDATE 1:
After 1 week, the Dow was at 6,926 or exactly 200 pts higher.
The 1 week return is 2.97%
The annual geometric return is 458.9% (if you make 2.97% a week)
The annual arithmatic return is 254.6% (if you make 200 pts a week)

Final Update:
Obama is basically the best stock picker ever

Sunday, March 01, 2009

EgyptiaNation

On a whim, 2 weeks ago, I went to Egypt. I had not taken a real vacation in a year and a half, and my friend "Wise Guy" mentioned that she was going on a tour, alone, so about a month ago, I decided to jump on board. I took plenty of pictures, but I'll only show you the best, so as always HERE ARE THE TOP 70 (still waiting for the underwater snorkeling ones).

I had 4 major questions about the trip (I'll spend the next 10-30 minutes of your life answering these questions):
1) The wise son was wondering “Will I get along with the Wise Guy?” (very wise concern)
2) The wicked son was wondering “Do Egyptians hate me and will I need to defend myself?” (wicked thoughts about possibly wicked people)
3) The simple son was wondering “What the hell will I eat? (I have a simple pallet)
4) The one who is too young to ask was really wondering “How will I survive on Egypt Air?” (I took 6 flights)

The story of the Jewish travels to Egypt in Genesis and Exodus, and my 12 day trip to Egypt are extremely similar. The Jews were forced to leave Israel due to a famine, and came to Egypt under on their own strength, on a vacation of sorts. They didn’t plan to stay very long. I left America for the same reasons. I was starved for travel, and didn’t plan to stay in Egypt very long. After the 7 years of famine were up, the Jews didn’t leave Egypt, and thus overstayed their welcome and were made slaves. By my 12th day, I was exhausted, getting sick, and ready to go home. I had overstayed my welcome, and the Egyptians let me know by setting off a bomb 12 hours before my flight home, the first in 4 years.

The format of this posting, in order to make sure you read most of it, will go in chronological order. However, it will have interesting observations and subsections mingled in with the boring monotonous “I did this today, I did that today” banter. Hopefully, this will force you to read everything.

Day 1, EGYPT AIR:
After spending 2 hours reading horrible reviews online about Egypt Air I was pretty scared to fly. Complaints included that A) the planes were old, B) the seats didn’t recline, C) there wasn’t much leg room, D) the food was bad, E) there was no alcohol, F) there WAS smoking, G) English was a problem, H) terrible TV’s I) 10 years ago an Egypt Air pilot used the airplane to commit suicide the and J) the PLANES WERE OLD!

Some of these things turned out to be true, some didn’t, some were fixable (they allowed you to purchase alcohol before the flight from JFK in the terminal if you wanted it). I decided the best way to evaluate Egypt Air was a Pros/Cons list.

Pros:
1) They gave out little travel cases with eye covers, socks, head sets, and a toothbrush/toothpaste set.
2) There was no safety demonstration. They correctly assume we all know how to put on a seatbelt.
3) There was no real info from the Captain. “35,000 ft, we’ll be late, thanks for flying” nothing.
4) Two words: Fanta Orange.
5) No problems with checking in, security.
6) The Egypt Air Emblem is likely the coolest airline logo.
7) The air sickness bags were not generic, but artfully created.
8) Since there was no alcohol, and a limited amount of drinks, the FOOD AND DRINK CARDS WERE COMBINED! What a genius idea. This way, instead of getting a drink 10 minutes before you eat, and 10 minutes after, you actually have a drink while you are eating.
9) The brownie was great
10) “F” was incorrect. When Egypt Air joined the Star Alliance, they got rid of smoking on flights.

Cons:
1) There was a small TV every 7 rows in the aisle. The first movie played was High School Musical 3!
2) We took off at 8pm, which is already 3am in Cairo. I wanted to sleep ASAP, but the lights were on for the first 2 hours!
3) “A” was correct. You can tell how old a plane is by the upholstery and how easily the tray tables go back into the seats. Let’s just say I felt like I was in my dead aunts house and there is no way the person sitting in front of me could have possibly slept through me jamming the tray table back in.
4) “B” & “C” were correct. The seats were small and hardly reclined
5) “G” was correct. Our pilot’s English was tough to inaudible.
6) There was no alcohol.
7) Breakfast was cold, and terrible. Usually, it’s the most edible meal.
8) I likely ate ¼ of all the granola bars I brought on the trip on the flights. On the way home, I ate half of one of the 3 meals.

While I wouldn’t recommend Egypt Air, I did survive. The intra-Egypt flights (I took 4 of them) were actually much nicer. They were on newer, more spacious, planes. Unfortunately, those flights didn’t total close to the 20 hours I spent on the intercontinental flights.

Day 2:
After arriving at our hotel, the day was spent relaxing. The pyramids were visible in the distance from the top floors of our hotel, and from the golf course (which I did not get to play). As we would see in Cairo, the Pyramids continue to be a very profound piece of the skyline, 4,500 years after they were built. We went to the Hilton next door for money, haggled with the bankers to get smaller bills, and also had dinner there. While our hotel was nice, it was over an hour from the airport (wrong side of Cairo) and over 30 min from the city (was on the other side of Giza). This was quite inconvenient considering we would be at the airport 4 times, in the city 3x, and had free half days with nothing to do and a pain in the ass cab ride to get anywhere. Wise Guy had signed up for the laser light show at the pyramids. I mocked her before going…and my mocking was justified when she came back and told me it was a waste of time. One point for Idiot Boy! Idiot Boy will be making an appearance this week, due to the fact that all his smugness had to catch up with him at some point.

My greatest fear about traveling this distance is the jetlag, which kept me awake all night when I was in Israel 2 years ago (and sleeping during the day). With a guided tour, and a regimented schedule, there was not much time to let your body adjust. In NY, I’m most awake from 6pm to 10pm (I sleepwalk through work). Thus, while I went to bed at a normal time due to exhaustion, I woke up at 3am and stayed up until 5:30, watching bad TV. Luckily, this was the only night it happened.

Conversation with Hotel Vender (as I’m randomly and nonchalantly picking out postcards):
Vender – “Do you even care what cards you are picking?”
Me – “Nope, they aren’t going on my fridge.”

Fact of the Day:
Our hotel was located in 6th of October City, a city named for the day Egypt attacked Israel, the Yom Kippur War. While Egypt lost control of the Suez Canal by the end of the war, and militarily it was a stalemate (the US kept Israel from killing all of the Egyptian soldiers), Egypt has enormous national pride for the first day of the war. On this day, Egypt and Syria surprised Israel and the world (some say Israel knew but ignored), and decimated much of Israel’s Sinai military force. 23 days later, Egypt gave up and 6 years later there was peace. However the military and intelligence victory is celebrated every year (not sure how this continues to push the peace process, but we do celebrate D-day, VJ day and VE day still).

Day 3:
Technically the 3rd day of our 12 day tour, and we haven’t done anything yet. We woke up and hit the Pyramids, mornings were brisk, but days warmed up quickly due to the lack of clouds and rain. Wise Guy and I walked around the Great Pyramid, avoiding pushy merchants who want to sell you necklaces, take your picture for money, take you on a camel, and in general, annoy you. From there we went to a panorama where we took pictures of the pyramids, and took a 10 minute camel ride. Our group trekked onward to the Sphinx for 45 minutes and then to a papyrus “factory.” We went to quite a few “factories” on the trip, where they show you how they make these special objects, only in Egypt, and then, of course, we can buy them. Following that, we headed to a Cairo market, where I got my BIL a bday gift, and was aggressively attacked by sales people for 45 minutes. This was the location of the bombing and our meeting place, was across the square from the French tourists’ meeting place (they were meeting to leave before the bombing). Breakfast was before 8am and lunch wasn’t until after 2pm. Many days were like this, unfortunately, where we needed mid morning snacks because our days of touring were so long. After lunch it was on to the Egyptian Museum, which was full of really old crap that I can’t remember, most of King Tut’s Tomb, and various mummies. We paid the $20 for the 10 minutes with the mummies, and it was likely worth it. When else are you going to see mummified pharaohs? Day 3 ended with dinner at our hotel bar, watching Ramona get hit on by futbol players 20 years younger than her while they serenaded her w/karoke. And I got teased for not joining in on a New York, New York sing along.



Eating:
I was scared shit-less about what I was going to eat. We knew the obvious rule – Don’t drink the water – but we didn’t know some of the other rules. Our guide told us not to eat washed vegetables (salads) and not to eat any dairy. He said that getting sick from the dairy would be different than drinking the water, but we should just avoid it and be safe. Apparently things are pasteurized differently and can upset our stomachs. I had chocolate mousse and was fine, but I did avoid dairy, which is tough considering I have 2 bowls of cereal every morning for breakfast in NY. Additionally, I was craving cheese, and ICE CREAM the whole trip. (I started eating cheese half way through the trip, and had packaged ice cream bars which were likely made in Europe. Nestle, Movenpik, etc). I brought a huge bag of Hershey kisses and 2 boxes of granola bars with me on the trip. I’m proud to say that the granola bars were only half eaten, and even more impressively, the Hershey kisses weren’t finished either, before the trip ended.

Fact of the Day:
Cairo is polluted and dirty. The most polluted city in the world? I don’t know, but there was smog (great sunsets), and there was garbage everywhere, and there was dust/dirt everywhere (because it doesn’t rain). There was also tons of traffic (punch bugs too) to the point we altered our schedule a few times to avoid traffic patterns. Gasoline is subsidized by the government, so it is only $1.25 a gallon vs $3-4 a gallon in Europe. Bus stops were on the highways, so people mingled in the shoulders like hitchhikers and in general, it wasn’t a very pretty city. That is, until we got to the suburbs. In the areas near the airport, and I’m sure on the Delta, the urban/suburban life is much cleaner, and nicer. But, when I got back to the hotel after a day in the city, I was covered in dirt/dust.

Day 4:
Today was a travel day. Our one hour flight to Hurghada was at 1pm, so we had to leave our hotel at 10am (1 hour + drive to airport) to get there on time and we finally arrived at our hotel around 3pm. Thus, the day was a total loss. Wise Guy could only tan from 9-10am, and 3-4pm, and thus she was moody. Also, she almost needed my air sickness bag on the buses to and from the Airport. At least the plane was much newer than our intercontinental cattle car of a plane. However, considering the travel time, I would have rather driven the 6 hours, leaving at 7am and getting in at 1, than taking that flight. The place was really beautiful. Unfortunately, it was run really poorly. The food was all inclusive and awful. The drinks were terrible (wine, beer, and juices, all terrible). Wise Guy and I played some tennis (apparently she would have killed me had her racquet not been too heavy, her eyes not been so bad, the court flat (was clay) the balls better, the grip better, no wind and better lights). We had dinner in the main dining hall that night, a buffet, and Wise Guy only had bread and wine. The food was sooo bad that I asked the waiter if there would be good food tomorrow night. That night, there was a show in the auditorium. An Egyptian who walked on broken glass…and balanced on his chest on broken glass…while people stood on his back. He also bent things with his neck. It was gross and cool…. Gross and cool. Of course, the whole show was in Russian!

Adventures of Idiot Boy:
Idiot Boy had a hell of a day 4. In the morning, Idiot Boy found out that Wise Guy had been using the tap water to brush her teeth instead of bottled water. This made Wise Guy nervous all day. That evening, Idiot Boy forgot to use bottled water and used tap water. Idiot Boy felt like an Idiot.
When he left Cairo, Idiot boy left 7 post cards in his room. Lucky for Idiot Boy, those post cards weren’t written or stamped, but Idiot Boy felt like an Idiot.
Idiot Boy knew that he shouldn’t broadcast his religion when in Egypt, but when Idiot Boy was unpacking his suitcase, he realized that 2 of his tshirts had Hebrew on them. Idiot Boy felt like an Idiot.
Idiot Boy read the reviews for Egypt Air and still booked a trip that had 6 Egypt Air flights. Idiot Boy felt like an Idiot.
Idiot Boy left his black notebook on the airplane to Hurghada. An airline employee walked into the baggage claim holding it up and Idiot Boy had to yell that it was his in front of the whole plane. Idiot Boy felt like an Idiot.
In Hurghada, Idiot Boy spent a few hours on the beach. Idiot Boy left his backpack there and had to go to the Lost and Found to retrieve. Idiot Boy felt like an Idiot.
At the glass walking show, Idiot Boy left his camera on his seat. Some women in Russian yelled to him. When he said thank you, she gave him the dirtiest look like “What the hell is an Idiot Boy American doing at this Russian resort?” Idiot Boy felt like an Idiot.

Fact of the Day:
For internal Egypt flights, there is a small terminal with one gate. 15 minutes before your flight, they would call your name and put you in bus to the plane. They would allow you to take your water and the xray machines were used as you entered the terminals, not before the gates. The whole process was very simple, though security was pretty lax.

Day 5:
Our full day snorkeling somehow turned into a half day afternoon adventure. Fine by me, I slept late. The only problem was that since we were on an eastern facing shore, the coral was in the shade in the afternoon. The experience was average. For wise guy, it was terrible. Her body, which is less than half the size of mine, froze in the cold water and wouldn’t reheat in the 75 degree air. We went out twice during the afternoon, for about 45 total minutes (maybe an hour). There was no guide, no boat, and no real instruction. We also drove 45 minutes to get there, which is a little confusing considering that Hurghada was built in an area that had beautiful coral and beaches… why travel to a desolate place to snorkel when they built a town around the best place to do it? The day was disappointing, though, if Wise Guy’s underwater pictures come out well, I think we’ll feel better about it. Someone told our snorkeling tour guide that Wise Guy and I weren’t a couple. This meant I got to enjoy the afternoon listening to him hit on her. To warm up, we played tennis again, and Wise Guy would have beaten me again had it not been for the same aforementioned ailments and the new blister on her hand. Considering how lousy the dinner was the previous night, we took a look and then went to the Italian restaurant and paid for dinner.

Our Group:
Our group was small, energetic, and fun. Wise Guy and I were 10 years younger than the next, and 20 years younger than a few, and 30 years younger than 5 more. Oh, and I was one of 2 guys, out of 11. Oh, and almost all the older ladies were single. Of course, the women loved me, and it totally reminded me of 10 years ago when I was a bartender at a country club and would flirt with all the ladies as they played bridge or had lunch after golfing. This is likely why Wise Guy put up with me, all these ladies kept telling her what a great guy I was, and how chivalrous I was, and I was such a nice guy. As a whole, our group was great and I agreed with Wise Guy when she said should would rather have had a small group of all ages than a large group of younger people our generation.

Fact of the Day:
Over 1.5M Russians visit Egypt every year, compared to 1.0M Brits. Brits used to be the highest, but once Russians got money, they started chartering flights directly to the resort towns. They don’t go to the ancient ruins, just to the beach.

Day 6:
We woke up early for a 5 hour drive to Luxor, where our cruise ship awaited. On the drive, Ihab told stories about the history of Egypt, leading through Greek and Roman control all the way up to the current political situation. We only stopped once, and considering that one of our tour-mates was sick, this is a surprising feat. We got to our boat and were delighted that the food was much more edible than that in a “5 star” resort in Hurghada. Our ship was only 4 floors, with a roof deck and the dining room in the basement. The boat was decorated like the Titanic and an acoustical version of the song “My Heart Will Go On” was playing in the background when we got on the ship! We subsequently heard the song played 3x during our stay. While I took ginger pills for motion sickness a few times, I don’t think I needed them.

After lunch we headed to Karnak, a huge site full of ruins. I ditched the group because Robbie and Josh happened to be in Luxor as well, and we walked around the temple without the group. When we headed to the glass blowing / perfume “factory,” he headed to the Luxor Temple (our next stop) and so we bumped into him again there. Dinner on the boat, as was every meal for the next 5 days.

Safety:
I was shocked at the security that was provided to us in Egypt. We had an armed guard with us as we drove though Cairo, and to most places. Additionally, on the 5 hour drive from Hurghada to Luxor, we had a police/armed escort. After the WTC attacks (I hate the cliché of 9-11), our government demanded protections of its citizens traveling in Egypt. Brits, Japanese and Australians also enjoy these protections. There are checkpoints all over Egypt where tourist busses need to check in, and where other cars are slowed and viewed to see if suspicious. As a whole, I felt extremely safe (which means I didn’t notice at all or feel anything), until the bombing in Cairo on Sunday.

Fact of the Day:
Robbie told me about this authentic Egyptian dish, Koshary, which he’d gotten for $1 from a street vender. He raved and I craved. Luckily, our boat served it one night… was very good. Here’s a description. “Imagine, mixing into a single dish, pasta, rice, lentil, chick peas, onions and garlic and adding to this chili sauce. The idea sounds horrific, until one tries out an Egyptian favorite called Koshary.”

Day 7:
Unlike most cruise ships, this one didn’t move for more than a day. We woke up, still in Luxor, and headed to the West Bank (of the Nile). Our day started early, but not as early as Robbie’s who took a 6am balloon ride over the sites. I should have gone. We bumped into him that morning 3 more times at the Valley of the Kings, The Valley of the Queens, and Queen Hatshepsut tomb (pronounced kinda like Hot Shit Soup). The Valley of the Kings and Queens were full of amazing tombs. The artwork was so preserved because the tombs were dug so deep into the mountains. It is unclear whether the valley of the Queens was for girls, or gay pharaohs, considering a boy or two were buried there.

Our Guide:
Our guide, Ihab, was amazing. He could was intelligent, politically centered (he understood how the world works) and was an Egyptologist! He could walk up to any statue, having never seen it, and read the hieroglyphics, saying them phonetically. He could then translate into Egyptian / Arabic / English, and then tell you about 5 stories surrounding the specified object (dynasty, what it represents, what those gods did, etc). Two of our tour-mates had the Egypt version of the National Geographic book, Ihab’s picture is in it. He was also featured in a National Geographic magazine about King Tut. His favorite saying was “Yes you can” which was the answer to any question, before it was even posed to him. If you wanted something special for food, if you wanted to buy something, if you wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t on the tour, “Yes you can.” He also has great patience. Considering the questions he had to field, I would have likely gone bonkers. The most popular questions was “What is that?” Usually, the person asking wasn’t asking about Egyptian art, or history, but was asking about the agriculture we were driving by in our bus, or the building we happened to drive buy. Ihab, somehow, knew the answers to everything (or at least made 9 of the 11 think he did). He also told us he made much more money as a tour guide than he would as a professor. Of course, that’s the same in the US.

Fact of the Day:
They don’t really use coins in Egypt. The smallest bill is ½ of an Egyptian Pound, which is worth about 10c. Many times, venders will round to the nearest 5 pounds, and if they owe you 2 back, they’ll just give you a pack of gum or something to make up for the difference. It was very hard to get 1 pound bills.

Day 8:
While the cruise ship food was so much better than our “5 star” Hurghada resort, the food was monotonous. Lunch and dinner seemed very similar, and we were on the ship for 4 days. Most of this day was spent on the boat. We docked in Edfu, and spent the morning there, until 10 or 11. Wise Guy spent the day on the sun deck trying to tan, while I napped and tried to avoid the sun. You’ll never guess who ended up w/a better tan at the end of the trip. Wise Guy def pissed off Ra, the sun god, at some point. The boat left and arrived at Kom Umbo in the evening. We checked out that temple for an hour before heading back to the boat for dinner...and some egyptian dancing (me belly dancing below)



Venders:
The merchants in every market or at every historical site were the most aggressive people I’ve ever met in my life. They want to talk to you, they want to be friends with you, they want to cheat you, and they want your money. We learned how to say “no thank you” in Egyptian very quickly, but I don’t think it helped much at all. Their response was always “Oh, you speak Arabic. Where are you from? What is your name? Let me give you a free gift.” I tried to use my wits to come up with proper responses. My favorite response which was wholly unsuccessful, was supposed to go like this:

Me - “La Shukra (no thank you)”
Vender – “Oh, you speak Arabic?”
Me – “Yes, but obviously you don’t understand Arabic.”
Vender – “Of course I speak Arabic, I’m Egyptian.”
Me – “So you know what I said then?”
Vender – “You said ‘no thank you.’”
Me – “Right, so if you understood, why are you still talking to me?”

Instead, this is what usually happened:

Me – “La Shukra.”
Vender – “Oh, you speak Arabic.”
Me – “La Shukra.”
Vender – “Where are you from? Spain? Italy? Australia?”
Me – “La Shukra, America.”
Vender – “America! Congratulations!”
Me – “La Shukra.”
Vender – “You know why I say congratulations?”
Me – “La Shukra, Obama!”
Vender – “Obama!!! High Five, Shake My hand (takes hand), What is your name? What can I get for you? Let me give you this present for free.” (hands trinket)
Me – “La Shukra.” (Tries to hand trinket back but won’t take it back)
Vender – “Please! Take! Free Gift”
Me – “Fine, Shukra.”
Venter – “Wait, 5 Egyptian Pounds”
Me – “La Shukra.” (Gives it back finally and walks away)
Me – “Hey, Wise Guy, Where are we? “
Wise Guy – “100 feet from where we want to be or about 5 more venders from the bus, good luck”

Here is a video that might give you a small idea of what it was like, 3x a day.



Fact of the Day:
Many of the buildings look unfinished. They have beams sticking up from the rooftops, as if another floor is about to be added. However, no floor is ever added and residents live in these “unfinished” houses for years. It turns out that there is a tax advantage to living in a house that isn’t completed (or no taxes at all), and thus most dwellings look unfinished.

Day 9:
We woke up in Aswan at 4:30 am to catch a 7am flight to Abu Simbel. The site was amazing, and we were there for 2 hours. The statues of Ramses II were the biggest we’d seen yet, but I’m not sure it was worth the $300 and early wake up call. At 11am, we were on a bus back to the airport. At 11:15, our bus broke down. At 11:45, our flight was supposed to take off. At 1:45, or flight finally did take off. Since our flight back to Cairo wasn’t until 2pm the following day, we pushed our Aswan tour to the next morning, and had the afternoon free in Aswan. Wise Guy and I took the opportunity to explore the markets without our group, and walk along the Nile bank, which was beautiful. We were attacked constantly by venders trying to get us to take horse and buggy rides, and falucca rides (sail boats) during sunset. I was so sick of the boat food (which was still good, just same thing again), I went to McDonalds which was half a block from our boat. I had a double burger, which was covered in salt and pepper but basically just like NY. Apparently, the apple pies are like the old school apple pies (so I got one for Val), and they sold beach towels (so I got one for Patty). That night, we saw some Egyptian Dancing. Here's a video:



Wise Guy:
I am still utterly surprised how well I got along w/Wise Guy. I decided that even though I hardly knew her, I’d just pretend we were best friends, and or she was my little sister, and treat her as such. When my roommate asked me 5 days in how it was going, I told him “no sparks either way,” which meant that we weren’t fighting and didn’t hate each other, but we weren’t hooking up either. She’s smart, a natural ball buster, and was always trying to make jokes. What she didn’t understand was that much of humor with foreigners is lost in translation, especially sarcasm, the most complicated type of humor. When she was in a bad mood, she would scream at random things. Our legs would hit and she would snap like I did it on purpose. Lucky I’m so laid back, or there would have been fights! Walking next to her through markets was awesome. Everyone we walked by would ask if we were married, and tell me how lucky I was. Hilarious. I would tease her and take care of her like a little sister, and accordingly she hit me (physically) in return. Of course, the others on our tour asked to invited to our wedding. One more thing, which is obvious from the pictures: I am more than 2x her size. This leads to GM vs MG below.

Our biggest fight surrounded the difference between the terms “good looking” and “looking good.” For some reason, she couldn’t get the concept that no matter what a good looking person was wearing, or how done up they were, they were still good looking. While someone who wasn’t good looking, could look good sometimes, IT IS OBVIOUS, no matter the circumstance, when someone is good looking. We also had the same conversation EVERY DAY:
Wise Guy – “Do you think I can eat this?”
Me - “Just be conservative.”
Wise Guy 30 minutes after she eats it - “I’m paranoid I’m going to be sick”

Fact of the Day:
Not ever Muslim is near a Mosque 5 times a day during prayers. To fix this problem, many of them, including our guide, would listen to his prayers over a cell phone. This was prevalent in Hurghada, where there definitely weren’t many Mosques, but all of the hotel staff were likely Muslim.

Day 10:
While Aswan is famous for many things (Spices, a Nubian Museum), we started our day with an unfinished obelisk. Finished, it would have been the largest ever made (out of one piece of stone, obviously it was no Washington Monument). It cracked, and thus, was abandoned (left 4,000 year old quarry). Following that, we jumped on a boat to the Philea Temple, built for the god Isis. The temple was on an island, in the middle of the Nile River, a really beautiful setting. We headed to the high dam, which isn’t so high as much as it is long. From there, it was to the airport, and then back to Cairo for a lazy evening.

The Pros and Cons of being a Giant Man (GM) vs a Midget Girl (MG):
A GM can date any sized girl.
A MG can date any sized boy.
A MG can fit into a cruise ship shower, a GM cannot.
A GM can get out of his bath tub, even the ones with high walls, a MG cannot.
A GM can stay warm in cold snorkeling water, a MG cannot.
A MG can wear the GM’s jacket when cold, a GM cannot.
A GM hits his head on things, a GM doesn’t.
A GM can change a light bulb easily, a MG cannot.
A GM slouches so he can look down when walking so he doesn’t trip, a MG does not.
A GM can walk fast and climb ruins easily, a MG cannot (but she can try).
A MG can get piggy back rides for free, a GM cannot.
A GM does not get bumped into at bars/clubs, a MG gets trampled.
A MG looks 5 years younger than she actually is, a GM does not.
And lastly, don’t even get GM started about sitting on Planes, Busses, Cars, or Mosque Floors.

Fact of the Day:
Lake Nasser is created by the Aswan High Dam. It was the longest in the world before the Chinese built the new dam that is blocking the Yangtze. The amount of cement that was used to create the dam is 7.0x more than the size of the Great Pyramid.

Day 11:
We switched our morning and afternoon today. We were supposed to have a half day playing w/ruins, and then a half day in on our own. Wise Guy and I would likely have walked around the streets of Cairo, who knows where we would have been. Instead, a few of us on the tour mentioned that we wanted to see a few more things, so our tour group was able to add a morning session, and move our morning to the afternoon. We headed to the Mohammed Ali Mosque, then to an old synagogue and then to a Coptic Church. From the Mosque, you can see much of Cairo, and in the background are the pyramids. They are an imposing figure on the Cairo skyline, they were just built 4,500 years before the other buildings. After lunch we went to the open air museum of Memphis (somewhat blah) and the step pyramid of Sakkara. The step pyramid, and the two others in the area were the predecessors to the Great Pyramid. We stopped at Egyptian Oriental Rug "factory" and an Egyptian Cotton “factory” briefly, so some of the ladies could get cotton sheets and I jumped out and got a few undershirts. The dust from the sand and wind at the Step Pyramid really ran me down, and I was sneezing for the next 3 day to rid myself of it. Wise Guy ditched me for the evening, to have dinner at Ihab’s. For one reason or another, I declined. It was a long day, it had been a long trip, it was a 1 hour drive each direction, and I was just feeling lazy. I ended up having pizza at the bar and purchasing some souvenirs in the “gift shop.” These were pretty much my only purchases for the trip, and obviously I had to barter w/the venders. Wise Guy said dinner was amazing, and I missed out, yet I don’t really feel regret.

The Bombing:
While the bombing didn’t impact us at all, it did shake quite a few of us. The bombing happened at 6pm on an afternoon we were supposed to have off. Wise Guy and I likely would have been wandering the streets of Cairo had we not requested that the extra Mosque, Church, Synagogue tours be added. Additionally, Kitty and Olga didn’t do the afternoon tour, and thus they were in that market hours before the attack. Our tour group, Gate 1, spend 2 hours finding everyone to make sure everyone was ok. Wise Guy and 3 others from our tour were at Ihab’s house having dinner, and thus tracking down the group wasn’t easy. Apparently, gate 1 called Kitty and Olga’s hotel room 10 times before they found them. I texted those who would worry first, so they wouldn’t have to text me to find out after….that’s always the best solution. My roommate texted me to ask when I was coming home. I figured he’d heard about the bombing and was checking in on me as well, so I wrote back that I was ok. An hour later he sends me an email about the bombing. I guess he just wanted to know how much longer he had the apartment to himself. Beth and Rachel also messaged me. I told them it missed me by 8 days.

Fact of the Day:
Coptic means Egyptian, so you wouldn’t say it’s an Egyptian Coptic church, because that would be repetitive. Jesus and his family supposedly stayed in the crypt at this church, or that is why the church was built on the site. I didn’t see any signs that said “JC was here.” The Synagogue was supposedly the site where Moses went before he gathered the Israelites to leave Egypt. I didn’t see any signs of that either.

Day 12:
Monday’s commute home killed me and I was totally sick by the end of it. I was up for 21 hours in a row before taking NyQuill at 7pm EST and getting 11 hours of sleep.

Silly / Stupid Questions Asked to Our Tour Guide:
I wish I had started this section earlier because there were plenty more of these from the first 6 days of the trip. While many of these questions are actually good questions, I don’t think an Egyptologist is the best suited person to answer all of them. The most common question was “What’s that?” with a finger pointed at some obscure object. I counted that question 15 times. Most of these occurrences took place, not at ancient sites, but on the bus, pointing at random people, buildings or agriculture. Here are some other examples:

“If we are going south, why is the sun in front of us?”
“What good is the security guard if he stays on the bus?”
“Is the sugar cane used to make papyrus?” (papyrus is used to make papyrus fyi)
“What are those rocks?” (Ihab – “Those are rocks.”)
“Are there are any people who still practice ancient Egyptian beliefs? “
“How do you pronounce your last name?” – “Wagdy”
Ihab – “The first Pharaoh of the 19th dynasty was Achos.” – “How do you spell that?”
Ihab – “The street venders speak all the languages.” – “How about pig latin?”
While at the perfumery, watching a glass blower: “Do you think he’s making a vase?”

Other Interesting Thoughts / Facts from the Trip:
I think if you take Adonai (G-d in Hebrew) and turn it upside down, it spells “Allah” in Arabic.
I think introduced myself as “Benjamin” to everyone… and accordingly they all called me “Benjamin.” I think it was a little strange, and I’ll probably continue to use Ben in the future.
I think Tom and Jerry were on Egyptian TV each time I turned it on. I don’t think I have seen Tom and Jerry on American TV since I was 7.
I think asking “front or back?” is an acceptable questions to ask on an airplane before you climb over someone to get out of your seat.
I think I had french fries or potatoes at every meal
I think at every hotel and every “factory” we went to, we were offered welcome drinks. I think I enjoyed the hibiscus juice.
I think every hotel and ship we got on had metal detectors that you were supposed to walk through. I think by the 3rd day I was walking around them and no one was stopping me.
I think it was cool when our ship was the 5th ship docked at a port. The captains lined up the lobbies and we would walk through each ships lobby before getting to land.
I think my clothes are preppy and my cologne smells good.
I think Wise Guy may be the only person to say “I don’t think the sun in Egypt is that strong.”
I think that due to my math expertise, I was the designated C to F converter.
I think there should have been more Vespas and Mopeds. I would think, considering the traffic, that people would use them to get around much easier.
I think I would go back to Egypt in 20-30 years with my kids, maybe, but I def couldn't live there.
I think the day I got back to NY was the day I got used to the cell phone Verizon lent to me, which I had to send back.
And finally, I think it was amazing how aggressive these guys were, sexually. The few times I left Wise Guy alone, there were men crawling all over her. I think it was worse than any construction site I’d ever walked by. No offense to her, but this was a constant distraction for quite a few of the older single women on our trip as well. I think when I left her in Karnak to hang with Robbie, a 14 year old asked for a kiss. I think when we were shopping in Aswan, a 18 year old grabbed her ass (he asked if he could touch and we thought it meant shake hands or hug at the most).

Words I didn’t know how to spell while typing this (I had to look them up or use spell check, but couldn’t fix on my own):

Upholstery, Genius, In Front (not one word), Wise (no “z” in there), lousy, aforementioned, midget, Muslim.

What does it say about me that it took me 9 tries to figure out how to spell “genius” properly?