Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Friday, October 31, 2008


I can't believe it's November 1 already! Soon the election will FINALLY be over -- yea!

We had a good, if rather avante garde (sp?) Halloween. The kids and I hung close to the hotel in the early part of the day as our air shipment was supposed to arrive between 1 and 3. And at exactly 1:00 it was downstairs -- can you beat that?

(Air shipment contained Halloween candy, more clothes and shoes, beach towels, school books, mac n cheese, PB, OTC meds, all the stuff we felt would make transitioning the kids a bit easier. And let's face it; what is Halloween like without cheap American candy?!?)

Anyway, after escorting several boxes into our space we took off with Roop to pick up Joe and register ourselves as Americans living in Gurgaon -- a beaurocratic process that might be found anywhere, except for a few minor details:

The building had no A/C and while it said it was built in 2000, it was in far worse shape than my high school, constructed in the 1930's.

Apparently the man in charge of processing our documentation was on a bit of a power trip so he made the lackey prepping our papers remove staples and paste Joe's photos on his information. (Apparently it was ok for the kids and my images to be stapled.)

As seems typical so far with most of our interactions, the man carries all the weight in this culture. So when our paperwork pusher was getting details (height, eye color, etc.) he asked Joe for his, then without even glancing at me, he asked Joe for "madame's eye color."

I think my husband almost burst out laughing.

We sat for what seemed like forever in a stuffy room on the fourth floor. Claire completed an entire reading book for school; Ava sat on Joe in the "boss'" office, where I was convinced the game was to see how many people they could fit into the small space.

At one point someone from the UK (or some other English-speaking domain) forked over 9,000 rupees (around $100), apparently to smooth over the fact that his passport had expired two months prior.

Oh how the system functions. I also had to laugh as I looked around and saw stacks of papers in what appeared to be no semblance of order, labeled as foreign documentation. Seems like it would be easy to disappear without a trace in these parts...

I was heartened to see a young Indian man keying data into a computer -- until Joe said he was flipping back and forth between data input and his yahoo account.

After completing the sign-in process, we dropped Joe at the office and rushed to the hotel to get ready for the ex-pat Halloween party!

Both kids dawned their more-expensive-than-they-should-have-been) adult size Halloween costumes, we grabbed our Halloween treats and headed over to T.J.'s apartment for the party. (T.J. is an American woman who we met through the Gurgaon ex-at connect group.)

The kids had fun playing with other children & I had fun chatting with English-speakers from the UK, US, South Africa and Australia. A few had babies, several with kids Ava's age and one or two for Claire to play with.

Four rooms in the apartment were the "houses" for trick or treating, and the kids made off with plenty of candy. We were the stars of the party for our straight-from-America m&m's, snickers, etc.

The ex-pat group gets together regularly for coffee, playdates and parties so we hope to catch future activities. T.J. has invited us to a holiday bazaar next week which we may put on our calendar.

Hope all of you had a memorable Halloween and enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kiwis and motorcycles

Ok -- I forgot to make note of these observations yesterday:

- Kiwis -- had no idea they could taste so good. Each day fruit is delivered to our room; they're my new favorite. Ava's all about the kiwi too. Claire remains, as always, skeptical of anything green.

- Motorcycles. Who knew you could fit 5 people on one...while driving at 55 mph+ sans helmets, weaving in/out of EXTREMELY BUSY roads where lanes seem optional. It's actually quite common to see the entire family perched on said set of wheels, and we're not talking about a big Harley-sized one (no side cars, either).

Imprinted on my memory, I think, will be the brightly colored saris flapping in the wind as the Indian woman sits side saddle behind the male driver. She seems to casually hold on with one hand. I refrain from imagining what would happen in the event of an accident.

- Something I read in the paper yesterday. Apparently the pollution from the Divali fireworks/crackers has shrunk the population of dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes and other bugs. I can only imagine what it's doing for our lungs.

- Incense in the hotel. I thought the whole place was suffering from poor air quality every morning. It's actually incense. Maybe I'll recommend a different flavor. LOL it's great to be learning so much!

On that note, back to my coffee.

The Market & Qutub Minar

What a great day! We started off slow -- our schedule has flipped as Joe goes into the office late (i.e. 10 or 10:30). Now of course the down side to that is he walks in late (i.e. 9:30 tonight).

But we get to do breakfast with him, then Roop takes him to work and today we set off in search of Halloween costumes. Yes, I forgot to pack last year's "just in case" garb and we didn't have time to hunt down a ladybug and Native American costume before leaving so...

A tip from our Gurgaon yahoo group led us to the Khan Market, which is frequented by Embassy and ex-pat types. (Code: no deals here.)

It was a great market, though, lots of tiny shops crowded in, a few restaurants, bakery w/ m&m cookies, a whole lot of shoe and automobile parts stores, etc...

An Indian mom pointed us to the toystore that had a few costumes; neither of my children wanted to be a witch so they're both going to our ex-pat Halloween party as pumpkins. The sales person managed to slip in some face paint so I guess they'll be dolled up pumpkins.

From the toystore we of course had to check out the rest of the market; next stop was a bookstore that had children's books on level 2. After MUCH deliberation Claire and Ava chose the only two books they felt passionate about: a paperback pony chapter book and a princess picture book.

On level 2 the sales person took our books and told us we'd pay downstairs.

Thirty seconds later we were at the cashier's, where prices were tallied. Yet another person got involved in the transaction ($). However, when they opened the bag to show us the books, they were the wrong ones so suddenly someone shot out the door apparently in chase of the person who had OUR books.

(Frankly I think there were a few too many people involved in that transaction.)

With disappointed children in tow I headed back upstairs for another round of book sorting. Thankfully we found 2 books of interest and this time the three-person sales approach was successful. (Though we were told the people who made off with our books were no where to be found -- they told us to come back next week and check.)

From there we picked up a couple other items, decided we were hungry and, having heard good things about the Turtle Cafe (3rd floor of the infamous wrong-bag bookstore), we shlepped up there for sodas and pasta. Highly recommend it! Great ambience, music, food. Clean bathroom, too. BONUS

Next Roop took us to Qutub Minar, the tallest stone tower in India. (Gorgeous too, I might add.)

It is named for the Muslim sultan Qutub-ud-din Aibak, is 234 feet high and construction on it began in 1193 (it and all the other stone structures around it were completed in the 1300's). Description from guide book: "...handsome sandstone example of Indo-Islamic architecture with terra-cotta frills and balconies." (I wonder if "frills" is really an architectural term?)

At the foot of the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid, the first Muslim mosque in India (build on the site of a Hindu temple using pillers and other materials from 27 demolished Hindu and Jain shrines). Recycling at its best...

"The mosque is also famous for a 24-foot-high, 5th century iron pillar, inscribed with six lines of Sanskrit. According to legend, if you stand with your back to the pillar and can reach around and touch your fingers, any wish you make will come true."

Claire's still wondering how we can test that legend.

Several people again asked if they could have their photo taken with my children. We politely declined; no need for us to show up on someone else's blog. And if they're going to be famous we'd prefer to sign the contract first. (Frankly I think the Qutub Minar made for good photography material but what do I know.)

Tomorrow we hope to get our air shipment, though its delivery has already slid some so we're not holding our breath.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Divali and the zoo

Ok I'm really tired so will keep this short...
Yesterday we had a delightfully lazy Divali -- slept in, tried the chef-recommended dosas for breakfast (had another today -- like a crispy crepe rolled perfectly with a pototo curry filling, warm and yummy). Kids are sticking with pancakes, waffles and bacon.
We spent half the day by the pool, Ava and I swam (chilly water but fun!), Joe and Claire played cards. Apparently that's a common Divali pastime so you can say we jumped right into celebrating...
Yesterday evening we attended a big Divali feast and enjoyed all kinds of specialties from throughout the country. Don't ask me their names, I just know I tried a wide array of dishes, and most memorable were a couple items commonly sold on the street in Mumbai (sp). Stir-fried noodles with scallions, spices and tomatoes.
We went home with a box of special Divali desserts; rest assured I'm working my way through it.

We fell asleep to fabulous fireworks displays all around us!

The Zoo
Today, October 29, our driver took us to the Delhi Zoo. Thankfully we beat the crowd; I think many people had today off for the holiday so took the family to the zoo, too.
We all enjoyed the animals -- a wide array in nice settings, most in view even though it was warm. I had to laugh, though, I think we attracted as much or more attention than the animals. No doubt some of these folks haven't seen many foreigners, a contrast to many of the people we've encountered here in Gurgaon, where there are so many international companies. At the hotel alone the last few days we've encountered French, Germans, Australians, Japanese...

And at the local mall no one seemed to look twice at us tromping through.
I digress -- about the favorite were the hippos -- I really did think they were big bumps of mud until one of them finally came up for air or a break or whatever it is hippos do. Ava preferred the alligators, who were dragging their tails in the water, either to cool off or as bait (Claire's suggestion).

Claire was most fond of the white tigers, which were truly magnificent.

We did learn to assert ourselves rather clearly while at the zoo -- someone tried to cut in line once, someone pushed Claire out of the way later and a woman tried to cut in front of me twice in the bathroom line. Given Claire really had to go, and that it was our turn and that I really had no plans to spend any more time in that bathroom than we needed to, I told her "no" once nicely, and the second time I cut her off at the pass (after she tried to push in front of me).

This evening our driver took us through the parliament and India gate area for the views at night -- incredibly pituresque with the boulevards and buildings lit. We took a stroll around the area, then picked Joe up from work and are now collapsing after a very full day!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Jumped ship from yahoo360

My apologies -- and warning: if you read my last entry on, don't bother with the one below! It's a repeat (God forbid I miss any of my own writing.)

I just had a few challenges w/ the other blog so am hoping this site is user friendly for all of us!

More to come -- thanks for keeping up w/ me!
Anyway, back to today.
While I didn’t have much energy to attack the day, having slept from 1 to 3 and spent the rest of the night counting sheep, half heartedly reading, tossing around. (Chalk it up to jet lag and too much Indian food too late at night.)
Anyway, my family was up at 8 so I rallied and we ate breakfast together, then Joe headed off to work and we grabbed wipes, water & cameras and headed out with our driver, Roop.
He whisked us off to New Delhi; we’d been told traffic would be terribly cumbersome due to Divali but we didn’t spend much time en route. That may be in part due to the driver’s road sense – he keeps telling me 24 years of experience, sometimes 26, today it was 27 years driving.
(And having been warned a million times that it will take FOREVER to get ANYWHERE here my expectations are low so maybe it was a zoo out there today – I will say I’m amazed at what passes as traffic here…)
Back to New Delhi:
I found the Capitol area of New Delhi to be very clean, relatively orderly, with lovely green spaces, trees and flowers throughout. Many of the embassies, universities, homes of armed service leaders, etc. were recessed behind shrubbery so we were left imagining their auspiciousness or lack thereof. We did spot the American flag and the seal on the front of what Roop said is a huge American embassy.
Even the road, which featured a ton of roundabouts (Becky you would have been at home) seemed a bit less chaotic – until the ride home, when we saw an accident involving 2 cars, 1 bicycle, 3 angry men and from what I could see, no blood.
Back to touring: Roop gave us a driving tour of the Houses of Parliament and the President’s House, which were all appropriately auspicious.
Our first actual stop was the India gate, “a massive red sandstone arch, built to commemorate the Indian and British soldiers who died in WWI and those who fell in the battle in the NW Frontier Province and the 3rd Afghan War (good Lord how many wars have they had?).” – verbiage straight out of my guidebook (with some commentary from me on # of wars) -- guidebook courtesy of some of the beautiful women in my life.
Back to the Gate. At the bottom is an eternal flame in memory of soldiers who died in the 1971 India-Pakistan War.
Near the India Gate is an impressive Statue Canopy; together they make a lovely focal point into New Delhi.
Also near the Gate were a wide array of vendors, one with monkeys that do tricks (tied to payment, naturally), others selling peacock feathers, what looked like scrawny cotton candy, guide books, photos, etc. We passed.
Oh, and several foreigners who felt a need to take Ava and Claire’s photos. The kids declined; I don’t blame them.
From the Gate we went to Humayun’s Tomb, the “1st example of a Mughal garden tomb” and inspiration for the Taj Majal and other later monuments. It was built in 1565 by a Persian architect, commissioned by Humayun’s senior widow (so I have to ask: is there a junior widow too?).
Before checking out the Tomb (which Roop and now Ava refers to as the Baby Taj – they share the same type of dome), we wandered around the two crypts nearby, where other important Mughals are buried. (I swear someone said one was the king’s barber. Given my fondness for hair cuts, I’d agree with the high status of the barber.)
We were able to climb up to the 2nd story (for lack of a better word) on one of the crypts and on the Tomb, too, so were able to absorb more of the detailed stonework and surrounding gardens. We also spotted several temples in the area – fodder for future sight-seeing adventures.
The Tomb was truly magnificent; the arch leading in lends itself to the magnificence of the building. Both kids were enamored, Ava particularly in being a model in every photo, Tomb and otherwise. She perched right up on one of the tombs inside. No doubt it was non-spiritually correct but I can’t imagine the Moghals mind at this point.
After traipsing around the Tomb area and complaining about the quality of the bathroom (thank heavens one had a seat; the other 3 were squatters and the kids aren’t quite ready for that yet), we headed for a market recommended by Roop.
It was more like a regular store than street market -- sales people were quietly helpful, there was no bargaining, prices were established on each product. We oohed and aahed appropriately and managed to leave without a bunch of small carved elephants and such. (I’m not ready to fill up our hotel space w/ trinkets just yet…)
Roop then whisked us back to our hotel.
Our highlight for the evening was an in-kitchen demonstration of the tandoor oven. We expressed interest so the chef brought us around the counter to watch a ball of dough be flattened, then attached to the inside of one of the two big barrel-like (might I mention extremely hot) ovens (they burn coal and must burn 1 ½ hours to cool down enough for use). The dough remains on the side of the oven until done and peeled off with very long tongs (if too done it peels off by itself and I suspect would then incinerate).
As a final note, we are enjoying the light displays in and around the hotel for Divali – each day more lights are added to trees in the courtyard, candles in the water features, candles and ornate flower petal decorations inside and out.
Re: the petals – as we were waiting for our driver this morning, a very tall American man took a step back on the sidewalk and wiped out an entire Diwali petal decoration with his size 12 shoe. I think he wanted to crawl under the tiny Indian rental that retrieved him shortly thereafter.
And Ava has clearly settled into India already: “Mom, WHERE is our driver?!?”
Happy Divali in advance to all!

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India