Sunday, June 05, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Back in the U.S.S.R. 

It has been a while since I've been able to visit the States. The border might only be an hour's drive away from where I live but without my passport and papers I haven't exactly been able to cross it. This lack of documentation caused me to miss Jim's Mom's wedding, deprived me of cross-border factory outlet shopping and limited our vacation options. Not that there was anything wrong with our trip to Victoria but all the same, it would have been nice to have more options.

The second I consented to talking to my parents again I asked for my legal documents. Yesterday I was able to use them for the first time in a couple years.

It wasn't a day trip, we really just went to visit Jim's mom in the late afternoon and stay for dinner. It was my first time to her new place and it was so awesome. The house is located in a gated community with strictly enforced 30kmph (20mph for those Yankees) speed limits. Is the US the last place that has yet to switch to metric? Seriously! I mean petrol is bought in gallons, speed limits are in miles I don't understand the resistance. Metric makes so much more sense. I guess this isn't the first things about Americans that is rather stupid.

Anyways, back to the house. It's in a gated community by a beach that opens out into the Pacific. While her house is not on the ocean, there is a pond in the backyard that hosts families of ducks, a beaver or two and alot of cute fish. Visitors to her backyard also include bunnies (apparently the community have dozens of bunnies) and really interesting birds. Interesting to me at least, I'm still not used to the birds that you can find here. The best part about the house is that Lynne's offered to let Jim and I stay on weekends whenever we want to get away. I'm definitely planning a weekend around that. The place is about a two hours drive from Seattle and just a stone's throw from Bellingham (factory outlet!) so it will be well appreciated. I just love the freedom my passport is affording me!

I'll just take this moment to answer a question Puja posed to me. Considering that my final answer was for her to call the American Consulate, she might already know this, provided that the Americans that staff the consulate near where she is are more competent than the ones that staff the Vancouver branch. See when I called the consulate all they could tell me that because I had Permanent Resident (PR) status I needed a visa to get into the States. However, if I were just a Singaporean on holiday, I wouldn't. A visa costs $100USD which was way more than I was willing to bear just to cross the border.

Then I asked me dad (more recently, of course). Due to the fact that Singapore is a participating country in the Visa Waiver Program all I need to do at the border is present my passport and fill out a Visa Waiver form. They take the prints off both my index fingers, my photograph and $6USD of my money. Now I'm free to cross the border for 90 days. For vists longer than 90 days, then you will need a visa. After the 90 days has expired, all you have to do is fill out another Visa Waiver form and shell out another $6USD. So the Americans on my side couldn't tell me this, but there you go. For any of you who are wanting to visit the States now you know what to do. No $100USD. Just $6USD.

Once we got to Lynne's we took a walk to the beach. It was one of those rocky beaches, not sandy, with alot of seaweed and kelp. The Pacific was very cold but it felt good against my feet in their sandals. Always one to make the most out of every situation, I started looking for nice rocks. I have this thing for nice rocks. They have to be a nice smooth shape and an interesting colour. I have a white rock speckled with black-grey (dalmatian looking rock) that's a nice spheroid (I learnt what a "spheroid" was from Jeopardy) that sits satisfyingly in your palm. I also have a yellow one with dark purple dots. No really. I was surprised to find it. All in all I must've brought back at least 5lbs (~2kg) of rocks. I'm soaking them right now and changing the water every day. After a week they will be safe to introduce into a fresh water fish tank. Although I don't have fish in my fish tank right now, it doesn't mean I can't have a rock garden. I just want the rocks to be safe so that when I eventually do want to add fish I will be able to with minimal trouble. (Right now my fish tank is clean with gravel in it, a filter and a heater. No water.)

For dinner I whipped up a really good "Greek" salad. I have the word Greek in quotations because the only thing Greek about it was the feta cheese that I added right at the end. For the recipe, see below. Jim grilled New York strip steaks with fresh oregano from the garden. We enjoyed the whole meal with some really good red wine that, interestly enough, was available for purchase at a gas station. Ah...those wacky Yankees. After dinner we played Chinese checkers (man, haven't played that in a damn long time) and Scrabble (which was an excruciating game). Exhausted and satisfied we finally left Lynne's at about 8:30pm.

So that was my first sojourn into the States in almost three years. I had fun, and I can't wait to go back. Afterall, my Visa Wavier does last all Summer.

Joie's "Greek" Salad
Red Capsicum (Pepper)
English Cucumber
Sweet Onion (White or Red)
Feta Cheese
Salt & Pepper

1. Chop all the veggies into chunks. The size of the chunks depends completely on (a) how much work you are willing to put in and (b) how chunky you want your salad.

2. Melt the butter in a pan over high heat. It's a good thing if some of the butter solids burn a little and turn brown. It's a bad thing if this happens to all the butter. Toss in the chopped garlic (the more the merrier I say) and sauté over medium until most of (90%) the garlic is browned. If using an electric stove, turn off the element but leave the pan on for another minute or two to let the rest of the garlic brown. If using gas stove, just brown garlic and remove from heat.

3. Toss the veggies with the butter, garlic and feta cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Voilá!

posted by Joie! at 9:19 a.m.


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