Thursday, August 30, 2007

Greetings From Dubai

I'm back in Dubai for work for a couple of weeks. Ah...Dubai in refreshing!

This trip has been a little crazy. M and I are here together this time, so between his work obligations and mine, I've felt like I've been going 1000 miles per hour this week. Luckily, it's the weekend in Dubai now, so M and I will have a couple of days of lounging by the pool and generally being lazy. It's kind of hard to be anything but lazy when it's 115 degrees outside.

And in other news, on Monday, before I left KL, our new TV was delivered! M and I are now the parents - er, owners - of a beautiful, bouncing 47 inch LCD flat screen TV.

We bought our 42 inch TV back around the end of last year. It only took a matter of a few weeks before it started to malfunction. So, after several months of going round and round with Toshiba about getting it repaired, they finally agreed to just let us return it and upgrade. In the months since we bought the TV, the prices on LCDs have gone down considerably, enough that we were able to upgrade our 42 inch to a 47 inch for only a few hundred dollars. Since I don't have a penis, I'm not exactly sure why we need a 47 inch television, but M assured that we indeed do need it. Desperately. I'm having a hard time wading through the testosterone laden logic of that decision, but at any rate, we have it now and as long as it works, I'm happy!

We also found out that we will probably be getting our new car next week! Yay! We thought that we would have to wait six or seven weeks for ours to be delivered, but someone canceled their order which bumped ours up to the top of the queue. We can't wait - we will be mobile! Good thing M already has his license, because since I figured we wouldn't have the car for a number of weeks, I've kind of dicked around about submitting my paperwork for my license. Finally got the ball rolling on that today.

So by the time I get back from Dubai, we should have our car. We. Can't. Wait!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Girl's Lunch (Thanks Mr. Gore!)

Yesterday, I went and had my very first, non-work girl's lunch in KL. I met up with Reese, an American who just moved here with her husband.

We ended up at Santini's in KLCC. I was a bit worried because lunchtime on Friday's at KLCC can be crowded, the likes of which Toys R Us the week before Christmas has never seen. But we got there a bit early, so no problems at all.

By the way, Santini's? Ten ringgit ($2.80 US) glasses of wine during their happy hours. Move over Boone's Farm, Sarah has found something better!

By the way, Part Deux. I love how it's "Happy Hours" here, rather than just "Happy Hour". Because when you think about it, "Happy Hour" in the US isn't really just an hour, is it? It's usually three...or four...or six if you are so inclined. So Malaysia has hit the grammatically correct nail on the head, so to speak.

Anyway, we had a lovely lunch! Donna is the one who got us in touch with each other. Reese and Donna got to know each other a couple of years back, via the blogosphere. Donna and I have known each other since 1998, when we met at work and bonded over our shared love of Lulu's Bait Shack and sarcasm (What a great Dallas bar Lulu's was! It closed some years back, but I still look back fondly on their fishbowl drinks and John Denver singalongs.) Anyway, Donna and I have been friends ever since. So she, of course, knew that I moved to KL, and what do you know? She knew Reese, who also happened to be moving to KL. So Donna hooked us up online, and we went and had a really nice lunch.

Ain't the internet great?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ear Candy

I'm so behind the times. How come I never noticed what fantabulous, wonderful ear candy MIKA was?

Now, I loves me some Damien Rice, but that man will drive you to drink. MIKA? He's just poppy, bubbly goodness. He won't drive you to drink. He'll drive you to dance around in your kitchen, twirling your dishtowel, skipping around like an asshat, praying that no one walks in on you.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Daily Etiquette Lesson

There's a handy little buzzphrase going around the world these days. It's called "cultural sensitivity". Let's discuss, shall we?

I understand that what is considered proper, improper, rude, complimentary, etc. varies from culture to culture, and society to society. It would behoove all of us, as a global society, to remember that. I'm not talking about what our world leaders do; I'm just talking about the daily interactions with people who share our daily life. For example, waving to a stranger in Texas is considered polite - for example, the two finger "wave" that you do from your steering wheel to a passing car in a smaller town - that's just a nice thing to do. Try that in New York, and they are liable to kick your ass before putting you in a straight jacket.

Here in Malaysia, we have tried to be polite and acclimate ourselves to the culture here. We point with our thumb, not our finger. I don't run around in my dazzey dukes and my tube top here. Not that I'd do that anywhere (especially when the damn things are always at the dry cleaners), but I do try to dress a bit more modestly here, just because that's how it's done. Cultural sensitivity.

So, quid pro quo, here are a few points I'd like to make about what are considered inappropriate questions to ask Americans (or generally, any Westerners):

1. It is not okay for people to ask how much money we make. This is considered impolite. Ditto for how much large ticket items cost.

I can't tell you how many times we are dropped off by a cab driver who comments, "Oh, nice place. How much does it cost?" Now, I know that the driver, by asking this, is probably just being complimentary, but it's still uncomfortable. We typically respond with "We don't know, our company pays for it." It's much more polite than responding with "Well, that's actually none of your business is it?" Point being, I don't even know how much my sister's monthly mortgage payment is, and we're blood. If she wanted to tell me, fine, but I'm certainly not going to ask. Money issues are definitely a gray area to comment on to Westerners.

2. It's not okay to comment on someone's weight gain. EVER.

I understand that in some cultures, being a bit round is considered a sign of prosperity, or being taken care of well. That's great. I don't think that's the case in Malaysia, though, so I don't get the ease in which people will comment about someone else's weight. It can easily hurt someone's feelings.

I mean, first, there were the pregnancy pooch comments in Florida (from an American no less), then last week a colleague told me that, last time she saw me, I was much slimmer. Then, this week two of M's local colleagues asked him if I was pregnant. He said, "Uh, no. Why?" "Because she looks pudgier lately." M told me this today, and it was the thing, that one thing that sends someone like me, running at a generally high level of stress, that one thing that sends me into a feeling sorry for myself crying jag. In fact, M even told his colleague, "You know, if she knew that you had said that, it would probably make her cry." He was right. So I had my boo hoo fit and now I'm over being sad about it. Now I've moved onto Cultural Sensitivity Training 101, via the blogophere.

This brings me to my last point.

3. Don't ask if someone is pregnant.

This is especially bad, because, what if they aren't? If we are pregnant, and we want you to know, we'll tell you. Otherwise, my uterus is my business.

So, since I no longer wear my assless chaps around town, can you please not comment about how fat I look in them? Deal? Deal.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We have a car! Well, almost...

We bought a car!!

We took a test drive today, and beforehand, we had already decided that as long as it drove okay, we'd go ahead and order one today. So, the sales guy came to pick up M from work, and then they swung by to pick me up from the house, and off we went!

While we thought it was a little odd that we had to make an appointment to take a test drive, setting up the test drive was no problem at all. I called yesterday and set it up for 10am today. So, the sales guy came to pick us up this morning for our test drive - very convenient. We were able to drive it around for at least a half hour or so. We went around our neighborhood, up Jalan Tun Razak, and back through Kampung Baru. It's not like in the US, where it seems that you get to drive it around the block and that's it. All the while we discussed the car, reconfirming our conversation from the other day at the showroom about the car's features. We discussed the warranty, how insurance works, how the buying process works, etc.

So, at the end of our test drive, we had worked out all the details. So all that it took to complete the deal was 500 ringgit down to order the car, a first and second choice of color, and a copy of M's driver's license. He'll order the car and we should get it in about six weeks. We don't have to actually pay for the rest of the car until it's delivered. We're not crazy about having to wait, but like I've said in earlier posts, it's the most popular car in Malaysia, so it makes sense that there's a waiting list. Building cars for inventory isn't just commonly done here, I guess.

So here's a photo of our ordered car:

We got a car, and my People magazine came today too! Life is good today :)


Friday, August 17, 2007

Getting Twisted

Something's been bothering me lately. I find myself getting twisted over the littlest things. It makes me feel like a really unpleasant person to be around.

I left the office yesterday to head to the airport. Two hours later, we finally arrived at said airport. The traffic nearly made me crazy. So the twisting began. Keep in mind that I think I spent more time in traffic than I did in training, so this had been building all week. And luckily, Friday was Indonesia's Indepedence Day. Have you tried to get out of Houston on Fourth of July weekend? Take that times 1,000.

Then, I got to the airport check in line. There were two parties in front of me. Fifteen minutes later, I'm in the same place. I check the desks. Yes, all the desks have a customer service rep. Yet, we are not moving. They are all just sitting there. Maybe it's a computer problem. And here's where I know that I'm become a total bitch. See, at this point in time, I couldn't give a rat's ass about the computer problem. Maybe if you caught me at another time, I don't know. Sometimes this stuff doesn't bug me at all. But other times it's all I can do to not cause a scene and end up in airport security. I imagine it's not a pleasant place to me. All I know is that I'm in work clothes in an airport that has virtually no air conditioning. Move the fucking line. It's all about efficiency, folks. And the twisting continues.

So, I finally make it through the line and got to customs. Short line I observe, thankfully. Until the customs officer in the line that I chose to stand in seems to want to read through the couple in front of me's entire passports, and then discuss the next Harry Potter book's plotlines. MOVE. So I switch lines, which is never a good idea, but I just can't help myself. I have an uncanny knack for picking the slowest moving grocery/immigration/entry/check in line. As I move, another line becomes open next to me, so I try to get the guy's attention who is in that line. He finally he looks at me and I utter the only words I can politely say at this time. I motion to the empty line and say:


For the love of God, just go so that I have a chance to get through the line before midnight. Karma is busily chowing down on my ass.

I finally get through customs and breathe a sigh of relief.

See, I get twisted lately. The smallest things will, in my mind, build up to the point where I will, for example, exclaim "Well, for fucks sake!" to the poor Continental Airlines counter clerk when my flight is delayed (as is what happened in Austin a few weeks ago).

This is not healthy. Nor polite, which kills me more than you would know.

I could say that this is because we are living overseas. But we've been here damn near a year. I could say that this is because I've lowered my Lexapro to a pitiful 5mg a day. It's the stress. It's being a newlywed. It's work. There are lots of excuses for the fact that I get twisted over the tiniest things.

But the thing that scares me the most is that, maybe it's not the living situation. Maybe it's not the travel. Maybe it's not.......fill in the blank here.

Maybe I've just become a total bitch.

I'm well versed in the ways of chronic mild depression (which in my mind, is simply the result being too self reflective for my own good, coupled with the genetic predisposition to depression, which makes me truly unpleasant at times). I'm also very familiar with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) which plagues all the women in my family. I think it's a result of good ole' genetic Catholic guilt gone awry when combined with the white-bread Methodist background of my father.

I've suffered from GAD and depression since I hit my teens. It's easy when you are plagued with these particular ailments to blame everything on them. But I've finally gotten to the point where I think I know myself well enough to, well, know myself. And so because of my supposed self-awareness, I think I should be able to rise above this. As I've always said "The first step is understanding the root cause. The issue. Only then can you take the necessary steps to correct them."

Only, the problem is, I know my issues. But I can't seem to change my reactions.

I just feel that I'm spending a lot of my time here pissed off about one thing or another. And I just despise that. It makes me feel terribly ungrateful. But I can't help my reactions. Logically, I know that we have an unbelievable opportunity. Plus, I get to keep working, even though M's job is really the one that moved us here. So, ungrateful = guilty. Plus, the one person who understands my frustrations is M, but I worry about sharing my frustrations with him, because then he feels guilty. Like it's his fault, or rather his job's fault. But I encouraged him to take this job. So it's an endless cycle of me reassuring him, and him reassuring me.

So I'm going to assume that this is just work travel hangover. There are so many things we enjoy here.

If I could only get over myself and appreciate them.

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A New Olympic Sport

There are two basic concepts that I'm having a hard time grasping overseas. They are so basic that I feel ridiculous for not having mastered them.

1) I can't read military time.

2) I can't dial the phone anymore either.

Okay, the time issue first. In some parts of our life in KL, military time is used. For example, travel itineraries - which are a big part of our lives here, although it's usually for work and not for fun, which rates high on my list of Things That Suck. So I generally end up trying to quickly compute what time it is in "real time". "Oh, 2115? That's 7:15."


It's 9:15. It's simple mathematics really. I don't understand why I can't get this. But it's painfully obvious that I can't. I screw it up all the time. Had I read my itinerary correctly yesterday, then I would have been able to tell my colleagues that, no, I can't make a conference call at 8am Houston time. But rather than stop and do the simple math, I immediately think, "Oh sure, no problem - my flight lands at 2115 (which is 9:15pm), so sure, I can call in for an 8am Houston call (which is, uh, 9:00 KL time). But, see, for some reason I thought it was 7:15pm. Luckily, the flight was delayed just enough - we ended up landing close to 10pm - that I wouldn't have been able to make the call anyway, even calling in late. It's much easier to say that your flight was delayed rather than tell them that you are a moron who can't tell time.

I have the AM times down, as, well, they're the same. I even do okay during the afternoon. But the evening fucks me up. Always. The hours of 1700 to 2200 just don't compute in my head.

As far as dialing the phone goes, having to add in the country code is one thing. There are lots of people in the US who rarely have to dial internationally, so country codes aren't part of our every day existence. But, since some of my work in the US involved international folks, I had at least mastered that concept prior to moving overseas. But, when people give you their phone number overseas, they don't think to give you the country code. It's the same in the US. How many times have you given your number and said, "Well, the country code is this, then my number is this," and so on. It's just not something that occurs to us. Plus, since different countries all have a different phone number system, you may dial eight digits, 11 digits, or 1,529 digits to call someone, so you never know whether or not they've been kind enough to give you their country code.

Oh, and to dial internationally from the US, you dial 011 then the country code and number. But from overseas you dial 001 to dial internationally. Why must the US be different than the rest of the world with this? Sneaky bastards.

I don't even have the energy to point out all the other differences. But I'll try, since I know you are hanging on the edge of your seat and all. In some countries they add in extra digits. These digits all vary depending on not only if you are dialing internationally or locally, but also if you are dialing locally via home phone or mobile phone, and depending on if you are calling another home phone or mobile phone. Fun times.

For example:

The country code in Malaysia is 60. Or just 6, depending on the kind of number you are dialing. The city code for KL is 3. The mobile code for KL is 012. Other states have other codes, but they are all three digits, starting with 0. So to dial mobile to mobile in Malaysia just takes the three digit mobile code and the number. But to call land line to mobile means you also have to dial the country code (6), then the mobile code and the number. Landline to landline is just the number, no country code or city/mobile code.

Do you see why it takes me 30 minutes to order McDelivery? (Yes, McDonalds delivers here, via scooter. I'm surprised they don't know us on a first name basis.)

For those of you who are still reading...another thing. All those rules go out the window if you are dialing internationally. They may even throw in extra digits that you don't even need to dial - I've decided that's just for sport.

So, to find my driver in Jakarta this week, I dialed the number that was given to me, which was 018 blahblahblah. When I didn't see him in the airport, I called the number. I couldn't get through. Now, my cell phone is officially the biggest call dropping piece of shit you've ever seen, so when a call doesn't go through, sometimes it's the blasted phone, and sometimes it's user error.

So I called M.

"I can't find my driver and I can't call out on this mother fucking piece of shit phone," I explain to him in a not-so-discreet voice.

Yes, the people of Indonesia know that I am every inch a lady.

So M goes on a quest to figure out how to call the driver, because taking a taxi in Jakarta is taking your life into your own hands. Houston traffic, Dallas traffic, LA traffic...none of them hold a candle to Asia traffic. It's a sport, really.

Long story short (although it's too late for that), that "0" at the beginning of the phone number? Not necessary. The country code (which was not in the number given to me)? Obviously very necessary since I am calling from a Malaysia handphone. And the country code is one thing I didn't have.

So, rather than calling "018blahblahblah, it would be +62(country code)18blahblahblah. No 0 necessary. How do I know this? From getting twisted, i.e. "learning", from trial and error. Oh yeah, and to dial internationally, you have to use the + on the mobile phone. 001 won't work.

These are things that I generally don't bring up to other expats we associate with. See, most of them are seasoned expats who work for our company, and for me to turn to them and ask "Do you have a hard time using a phone?" would not help me in the HR credibility department.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Car Shopping

We ventured out to look for a car today. I've done a bit of research on the 'net and right now we are leaning towards a Perodua MyVi. This of course was after I had researched virtually every car available in Malaysia, new and used. I research and contemplate things to death, to the point that I suck all the joy out of it. Wedding planning was really fun with me.

The little Peroduas are too cute. Really. They are little boxy things that come in fun colors, although we will probably get one in silver because I am known to basically never wash cars. The back seat even folds down, so M can put his mountain bike in the back. Funny that a car small enough to fit in your backpack can fit a mountain bike inside, but there you go.

Okay, a few weird things...

1) All the dealerships are really small. There are maybe three or four cars on display. That's it. No big lot in the back. We aren't in the land of CarMax any more. So what you do is pick out what you want and it's ordered. Of course, we want the most popular car in Malaysia, so the waiting time is one to two months before the car is delivered. Don't they understand? I have no patience. I come from the land of 24 hour Walgreens and one hour dry cleaning. I want it yesterday. I want them to hand me the keys to something shiny, with the new-car smell and the plastic covers still on the seats, so I can drive it home today.

2) You have to make an appointment to take a test drive. That's fine and all, it's the way things are done here, but it still took us by surprise to ask about a test drive and the sales guy said that we had to call and make an appointment to take one. Huh? You mean I can't just give this one a go and see how I like it? I like to test drive the actual car that I'll be buying, but that's just not how it's done here. "So can we test drive it next Saturday?" we ask. "No," the sales guy replied, "you can only test drive cars from Monday through Friday. We have to arrange to bring a car here so that you can test drive it." Okay. So I guess we will be taking time off of work to test drive a car. K...

3) As far as the wheeling and dealing goes, that's basically nonexistent. The sticker price on the car is basically the price you will pay. Now this I really don't understand. There are like, ten, Perodua dealerships in KL. How do they compete with each other? How to they all stay in business if they charge virtually the same price? Maybe it's different with other dealerships, or maybe if you are a local you can bargain more, I don't know. I know that we have picked the most popular car in Malaysia, so they really don't have to negotiate in order to sell a buttload of them. They sell themselves. So maybe that's why there's no wiggle room, although from what I've heard, negotiating a price on a new car in Malaysia is a much more straightforward process than in the US. What this list price is, is what you will pay. Especially when there's a waiting list.

So we'll make an appointment to test drive it (at some point when M and I are both in town, which will be a rare event this month) and see how it goes. Barring any major issues, that's probably the car that we will get. Except that on the way home, M turns to be and says "Maybe we'll just buy a used Merc instead." Okay, now he's just messing with me. I can't handle too many options, or else we won't have a car until Christmas.

One Foot Out of the Closet

No, not that closet.

Are you a closet blogger?

I've had a couple of things come up this week to make me think about this. First, my husband recently started a blog. While I completely support him in this, and I think it's a great blog, he asked me if he could list my blog on his blogroll. That would be all well and good, however, he has no problem with blogging under his full name. Or sharing his blog with people from our "real life". There are even pictures of us on his blog. So when he asked me, I told him that I preferred to remain relatively anonymous in the blogosphere, to which he had a good chuckle. Actually, I think the words I used were, "I prefer to keep an air of anonymity on my blog". Okay, so that's probably why he laughed.

The second thing that happened is that this week I was approached by an expat website to participate in a survey about expatriate women working in Asia. I am listed in their blog directory, so I was asked if I could answer a few questions about who I am, the company I work for, my role and my some other questions centered around my thoughts as an expat woman working in Malaysia. This was in conjunction with a magazine article that they are writing for a US magazine. While I was flattered to be asked, I doubt that anything I sent to them will be included in the magazine. I mean, who knows how many people they are asking? But as I responded to them, I had to stop and think before I did so. See, they asked me for my name. My full name. The name of the company I work for. My title and job role. Things that could, horror of horrors, force me out of the blog closet.

I'm not sure what my intentions were when I started this blog. Was it to remain completely anonymous? Or not? Or somewhere in between? I didn't think about these things, so I just started writing and figured it would work itself out. Initially, I was so excited that I had joined the 21st century and started a blog of my own that I told some people in my "real life" about it. Some family members know, but some don't. Some friends know, but most don't. Now that I'm too far into it to remain completely anonymous, my main goal at this point is just not to have people from work read my blog. This is tough sometimes because most of our friends are also people we work with. So I've had to be pretty careful about who I tell about my blog. The last thing I need is a bunch of work colleagues reading about my visit to the gynecologist. I've learned that work people are far too interested in some HR chick's personal life. Not because I'm all that interesting, but because they are always on a mission to - gasp! - make us human and thus, forward the post about my latest gastrointestinal issues. "Wow! She goes poo just like the rest of us!" (Actually, I don't, thanks to the family curse known as IBS, but let's save that for another post, okay?)

So, do I censor myself? Sure. Would I censor myself if I was completely anonymous? Probably. I'm far too paranoid not to. But, sure, my blog would be less censored if I was just writing to the great, big blogosphere rather than write knowing that people I know are reading my blog. That's why I'm sometimes envious of bloggers who, whether or not they are truly anonymous, are completely candid and "let it all hang out", so to speak. The bloggers that write about those things that we all secretly think, or do, or say, but are scared to write about them. How incredibly liberating just to put it all out there. It reminds those of us who are too paranoid, or too embarrassed, or too self conscious to do so that in the end, we are all just people, made up of good and bad, highs and lows, crowning moments of glory and times that we want to crawl in a hole from shame, that really, we're all just human, trying to do the best we can.

So what about you? Are you out of the blog closet? Do people from your "real life" know about and read your blog? If so, do you find yourself censoring your posts, or having to deal with any consequences if you don't?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Settling In

I got back from the US yesterday, after a two week long trip. The trip was basically a blur of meetings, hotels, airplanes, fattening dinners and credit card swipes. On the plus side, I was able to spend some time in Austin with Triad 1 and hubby over the weekend. We ate yummy Mexican food and did some shopping, including a trip to Sparks, which is one of the most fun stores I've been in in a while. Then, last Thursday, my mom and my sisters came down to Houston and we were able to spend some time together, along with my stepdaugher and my wonderful friend B. Again, much overindulging food-wise and shopping-wise ensued.

While in the US, M called and told me that he talked to our landlord (landlady, I guess) and she's going to let us get a cat! I'm unnaturally excited about this, so much so that when I told my mom and sisters that I had an announcement to make, they automatically thought I was going to tell them I was pregnant. Nope. Just getting a cat. Still quite cool however.

We are also continuing to research how exactly to go about getting a car here. As it turns out, there are some leasing options available. Normally, I would opt for buying something used so that when we leave KL, we can sell it and at least recoup some of the money we spent on it. However, with the leasing option, the monthly cost includes road taxes, insurance, maintenance, etc. One stop shopping, basically. They take care of everything. So it really comes down to a question of convenience versus a return on investment. I need to do some more research on how to go about getting insurance here, the cost of it, how easy it will be to buy and sell the car, how easy it is to have maintenance done on the car, etc. etc. I haven't been able to find a lot on these things, although maybe I just haven't looked in the right place. We're planning on visiting a couple of dealerships this weekend before M heads off to Australia, so hopefully after that we will have more information so that we can make a decision. Because now that we've finally decided to get a car, I want it, like, yesterday. I'm all about the instant gratification.

Between the car and the cat, I'm pretty excited and it seems to have really improved my outlook on things. I can't pinpoint it exactly, but I guess some of it has to do with the fact that it will feel more like home. Settled, I suppose. So far, this has felt very temporary, which I think has really inhibited my adjustment. I've felt kind of...trapped. It's funny how the lack of car made me feel that way, and I didn't realize the full extent of it until we decided to get a car. I just felt this huge sigh of relief. It's a quality of life thing. I know that we can do most of those same things without a car, but having our own ride will make it far more convenient. It will cut down on the ick factor, the little niggling knot in my stomach every time we try to go anywhere here. It just pushes all our buttons and ultimately ends up being a frustrating experience. With a car, we won't be at the mercy of errant taxi drivers, or bad weather that makes it impossible to walk places sometimes. If we feel like having artichokes for dinner, I can just hop in the car and drive to Great Eastern Mall (the only place in KL that carries artichokes it seems) and get them. No trying to hail a cab only to have it start raining and my chances of getting one going down to zip. No calling my list of taxi drivers to try to find one that is working and that can come get me. No scheduling of a car and driver when we want to run a bunch of errands. We can head out to 1 Utama and The Curve and get cute things for the house, and it won't be an exercise in frustration from a transportation standpoint. I can sign up for yoga or dance classes and be comfortable that I'll make it there on time because I'll be the one driving there.

So, yeah, I'm pretty excited.