Friday, December 17, 2010

First week with Dad and Alison

Our first guests have survived their first week with no major incidents! My dad and Alison arrived last Friday at 5am, greeted by myself and Darshan, a driver for the school. I decided to be "nice" and ease them into their Indian experience with a pick up at their airport in a spacious a/c van and driver. All went smooth at the pick up and we were back in time to see Greg before he headed off to work. Since they had the luxury of a business class seats, aka being able to lie horizontally and thus avoiding cankles, so they were not afforded much of a down time before I took them around Bandra. Helping them to stretch their legs and get the blood flowing, we walked close to five miles through side streets, up along Mount Mary, down to Lands End Fort, back up Bandstand, through the fishing village near jogger's park and up to Pali Market. Finally I was tired and begged to stop for a fresh lime soda and bagel. (I don't know if I've mentioned, or given the fresh lime soda the attention on this blog that it deserves. It's a wonderfully refreshing drink made with fresh lime juice, soda water and you can get "sweet, "salty" or "mixed." I'm a fan of the mixed variety. It's a must for any day that is hot or if you are exerting a lot of energy. Yuuuuummmmy! I think our guests agree on this matter as well.) After we got home, I talked them into a rickshaw ride to the school, where there was a holiday festival going on. They were good sports with cramming three of us in the rickshaw and then being introduced to many teachers and parents as we toured the booths. Greg joined us for the ride home and poor Alison was able to experience Greg's bad luck with rickshaws. Their driver didn't totally understand where to go, so they ended up getting out and walking the last bit. It ended up okay with a stop for some beer to have at home. I was impressed that both my dad and Alison made it until 6:30pm with only a 30 minute nap.

Day two: Your in Mumbai, so you might as well go to the largest slum in Asia, Duravi, for a tour! I had this on my list of things to see in Mumbai, so I was glad to have my dad and Alison come along for the trial run. This is a tour put on by Reality Tours and Travel. They actually started out as an agency providing early childhood education and IT training for adults in the slum. Since then, they have expanded to giving tours of the slum to give a more realistic look of what the slum is in India. The Dhuravi slum is a community that is on government land, so people build buildings, but the government can decide to get rid of those buildings at any time. This slum has sewers and running water, and an amazing industrial area. One million people are estimated to live in this slum, but that is just an estimation. The reality is probably much higher. The Dhuravi slum has numerous recycling industries, such as plastic, metal oil containers, and radiator filters. There are also leather and textile industries within the slum. We were all surprised at the lack of people begging. Actually no one was. Children were into saying hello and shaking our hands, and adults watching us. The last half of the tour was walking through a residential area which was a maze of narrow passages between buildings that barely allowed people to pass each other. It was fascinating. We all agreed it was an excellent experience and I hope to arrange this opportunities for as many of you who visit!

The rest of the week was spent walking around Bandra, many shopping excursions, a trip to Chor Bazaar (thieves market), and preparing for our holiday cocktail party on Friday night. The party went well, complete with Reid motivating us all to sing Twelves Days of Christmas. I was excited about our bright, multi-colored Christmas lights that dominated the decorating scheme. Very India.

Suzy and Ryan are arriving tonight and we all head off to Rajasthan on Monday for ten days.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Charlie's Choclate Factory experience.

Last night was the elementary school's Tree Lighting Festival. For over a month, staff members have been telling Greg and I, "You've got to go. The food is amazing. It's wonderful." We agreed we had to check out what the hype was all about. So, we found ourselves at the Hyatt last night, waiting with excited children running around and through adult legs, eagerly awaiting. At 6:20pm, we were allowed into the court yard that housed the gigantic Christmas Tree. This part of the evening would be filled with the tree lighting and then elementary school choirs performing. As the first group of kids took the stage, the count down was started and at zero the tree and other parts of the lobby blazed brightly. Each choir did well with their performances and at the end there was a sing along for the audience. At the end of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," gasps went up in the crowd. We had to reposition ourselves to see that Santa was rappelling down one of the walls. (Later on, some of Greg's students said they first thought it was him since Santa was rappelling). As Santa made his was to his red velvet couch, doors to the side of us opened up into a banquet hall.

(Let me take this moment to remind all that this is a school sponsored function).

There was a pause as those of us near the door peered into the room. The large hall was outlined in food stations carrying Thai, American, Continental, Japanese, and Chinese fare. There were also several bar areas placed in strategic places. In the center of it all was the desert station which looked like one of the counters in the cosmetic stations at a department store. We looked at each other, grabbed a glass of wine that was waiting as we broke the threshold and we began our exploration of what taste to first test with our palate. Santa was a great distraction for many people, so I was into my second tasting as the room became more crowded. I was delighted at the bar when they said they had eggnog. Yes! I then ran over to Greg and said, "Look what I have!" "What?" "I have eggnog!" Greg exclaimed, "Where!" Nothing beats the Tibboel family recipe, but it was pretty good, especially for India.

I think I started out with a Thai Green curry, which was spicy hot and one of the better I've had outside of Thailand. Then I marched over to the cheese area. "Ohhhhhh!" (Cheese is really expensive here. For those of you who know how much cheese is a part of my diet, it's been a struggle to resist the cheese cravings). Here were huge rounds of Parmesan, Brie, white cheddar, Blue Cheese, Swiss, and several more. I said, screw the crackers, and filled my plate with cheese and olives. My taste buds were in heaven. Next I stood firm in the long line for the sushi station. The salmon and tuna were yummy. Then I headed over for some prawns and a lox creation. My belly was becoming full...and I STILL had the dessert station.

I started walking around the center counter and first my eyes rested on some chocolate truffles. I choose three when a layered cake caught my eye. I had that added to my plate. Oooo, an array of custards and mousses. I added the chocolate one to my hand. As I rounded the corner there was ice cream! I grabbed a scoop of chocolate with chocolate flakes. Then the assortment of eclairs. I decided I needed something to cleanse my palate from all the chocolate, so I responsibly choose a vanilla one. I took my bounty back to our table with a big smile spread across my face. I dug in and it was delicious. About half way through I could feel my stomach beginning to ache and my body going into sugar overload. I enlisted others at the table to help me. Oh, what an amazing gorge fest. Luckily I didn't turn into a block of cheese or loose my way into the chocolate syrup vault. I live to tell the story of adults turning into children as the smells and tastes overwhelm them of sooooo much good food.

One of my favorite moments was while waiting for another eggnog, a group of kids were waiting for 7up to appear so that the server would pour it into the glass with the electric blue syrup in the bottom of their glasses. The 7up arrived and as the glass filled up to the rim, a brilliant blue, more kids eyes lighted up as they chirped, "I want on, I want one!" The server smiled and lined up another four glasses. It was a wonderful sight.

Again, this was a school function. Why would we ever leave?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Festive Weekend

Our weekend turned out to be centered on the upcoming Christmas holiday. It's hard to believe it's the Christmas season when it's 80 plus degrees out. Saturday, the German Chamber of Commerce hosted a Christmas Festival at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Central Mumbai. The festival had a lot activities for the kiddies including Santa. Greg has not been on his best behavior, so I decided to skip Santa for fear of his sadness in what Santa would be telling him. We arrived around 6:30pm in time to buy a couple of GERMAN beers (yes!!! Good beer, no Kingfisher for the evening) and a brat for Greg before the German band started up. We were there with our friends, Marc and Toni and later joined by Barbara and Mike and then Reid, Rory, and Wacuima. Marc, who is Belgium and speaks German, helped us with the singing and cheers. It was a fun filled night of dancing, merry making, eating and enjoying great company. A highlight was getting to stand in the back of the refrigerated container where the beer was being stored. Greg and I dreamed of snowy slopes and pretending to make a few telemark turns.

Sunday, we were treated with the Dutch celebration of St. Nicholas. Marc had the honor of being St. Nicholas. We went down to South Mumbai with Toni to witness this honor. Marc boarded a boat, along with four "black men," boated around the Gateway of India, and then met a group of eagerly awaiting children and parents of many nationalities. While we were waiting for Marc to arrive, we were spectacles in our own right. While standing the shade, many Indians were taking our pictures, without asking. I asked them to stop and said they should ask first. A few minutes later, a group of young Indian men regrouped and asked us for our picture. We agreed and they were respectful when we said enough. I did get a good picture of them taking pictures of us and their friends. It was just too funny.

Finally I spotted a tall, red pope hat bobbing along the street. Yes!! We quickly walked over and saw St. Nick and his four black women board the boat. I was wondering how Marc was surviving the heat in such an outfit. After taking his picture, we walked to the other side of the harbor to photograph the crowd greeting St. Nick. It was wonderful to see all the Indians curiously looking on. We heard one woman explaining, in Hindi, to her child about Santa Claus and Christmas. A lot of the Dutch children were dressed up as well. We walked with the group to the Dutch Residency, where St. Nick would get to meet with each child and give out gifts. After satisfying our curiosity and photo documenting to occasion, we headed to Cafe Indigo for lunch and to wait for St. Nick to transform back to Marc.

We enjoyed having some other cultural experiences with Christmas! Happy holidays!

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Goan Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving afternoon, after Greg and others finished their professional development half day, we, along with three friends - Rachel and Reid Wixson, and Wacuima, - jumped in some rickshaws and headed to the airport. Greg and I had a little side adventure with the rickshaw we chose. Half way to their airport, the rickshaw ran out of gas. The funny thing was earlier that day when I took a rickshaw to the school, a cool cab (A/C cab) was being pushed by several men down the road. Presumably it had run out of gas. My thought, "How often does that happen and are their gas gauges? I wonder when that will happen when I'm in one." The answer: 4 hours later. We hopped out and the first rickshaw wanted 100 rupees which was more than the full ride should cost, let alone half the trip. We shook our heads in disgust and waved another. He turned the meter on and off we went. When we arrived, he asked for 50 rupees. I pulled out my rickshaw price sheet, pointed at the meter, and then the sheet and told him "no, 34 rupees." He wagged his head and conceded. I've decided Greg must have some look about him that the Indians think, "sucker!" For as much as I ride rickshaws, I've had only 3-4 incidences. Greg has had many more issues and rarely takes rickshaws.

At the airport, along with half the staff at ASB, we boarded our JetLite plane for the one hour flight to Goa. In the 60s, Goa was hippie central and it's reputation for relaxation continues to this day. It's really one of the only places in all of India where I would wear my western two-piece swimsuit. Not entirely comfortable as all the hords of single Indian men traveling in packs just stare, but there's plenty of western tourists wearing the same thing. We went to Calangute, which is more of a touristy area, but we wanted to see some tourist sights. The further south you go, the less inhabited and more serene things become, so we are told. Calangute, surprisingly, attracts a high volume of Russian tourists and many signs and menus were translated into Russian.

We stayed at the Indian Kitchen guest house, a colorful, family run establishment that was very clean and welcoming. We were sad to hear that a family member had passed away and they did not have their dinning area open. The food was highly recommended in the Lonely Planet. After dropping our belongings off, we headed down the road, toward the beach, and had Thanksgiving dinner at Lazy Days restaurant. Upon looking around once we were seated, we noticed we were surrounded by retired European couples that were living it up. It was a funny sight. The food was excellent and my indulgence into the Goan fish curry began. Due to the seven mile dead zone around Mumbai and the tanker that spilled oil into the bay in August, I've pretty much decided I can't bring myself to eat seafood in Mumbai. (Having foreign fish again seems environmentally detrimental since we live next to an ocean. My exception has been a wonderful food stand in the market on Linking Road. So tasty, I try not to think about where the prawns are coming from). The two kinds of fish curry that we had we delicious! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Our first day, we hired a driver, Daya, to take us to Old Goa. The drive was a nice scenery of tropical farm areas, fields filled with some water buffalo and egrets, and in general still felt relaxing to me. The Portuguese colonized Goa in the early 1500s and I think finally gave it independence in 1961, so their presence is still felt. Old Goa was the first capital, until it had to be moved after the town was wiped out from the plague. What has been restored are all of these churches in the area. Huge churches. My favorite was the the ruins of St. Augustine. It has not been restored and was fun to wander around through the maze of what is left. In the Basilica de Bom Jesus, the remains of St. Xavier are kept and once a year, December 2nd, his remains are shown. Being there right before this occurred, we saw then huge tents set up to welcome all the visitors expected - thousands.

The second day we had Daya take us to the Tropical Spice Plantation. We had a great tour, our guide very knowledgeable about all the different spices they had growing. We saw pepper, cardamon, turmeric, cloves, vanilla, betel nut, tulsi, cinnamon, bay leaves, nutmeg, and ginger plants. At the end, one of the harvesters showed us how he climbed the betel nut tree and swung from one to the next to harvest the betel nut. Once he came down, Greg, Wacuima, and I tried it to climb a short way up a tree. There was a rope loop that fit around our feet and helped "cam" our feet around the tree. It was really quite secure. Just beefing up calluses on my feet where the rope was would be the training needed, as well was arm strength. At least I know of a job I could do if the counseling thing doesn't work out! After our "lesson" we were purified by water being poured down our backs and then invited to a wonderful lunch using fresh spices. Delicious!

The rest of our time was spent relaxing on the beach, playing in the water, reading, and eating. It was a marvelous break from Mumbai, aside from the hawkers, and my arm won't have to be twisted very hard to make it our Thanksgiving tradition while in India.